Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit

LETTER XXIV: King Frederick William’s Proclamation to the Army 1 December 1806


WHILST Bonapartè was thus, by proclamation, beating up for volunteers in the very heart of the Kingdom, the poor half expatriated Monarch was, in a remote corner, issuing others of rather a different, though, for his country, more necessary tendency.  As this will prove the justice of my former remarks on the depraved state of the army, I shall here subjoin the proclamation from Ortelsburg, dated the first of December 1806:—

PROCLAMTION issued for the abolition of sundry abuses in the army.

“Whereas, it has been hitherto impossible to procure such authentic intelligence from the army as might enable his Prussian Majesty to discriminate betwixt the truth and the falsehood of the current reports, and thereby reward, or punish, those of his various troops who had taken the field against the French, but who unfortunately, at present, are nearly all dispersed:  his Majesty must therefore defer his determination on this point, until it be more in his power to form his judgement with certainty and precision.  His Majesty is far from attributing to his gallant army any share of those dreadful calamities and disappointments which have persecuted both himself and his country; on the contrary he has perceived, with the greatest satisfaction, that many, from the highest to the lowest, have distinguished themselves by their courage, perseverance, and true sense of honor:  but, there are also others, and to their shame be it spoken, who have been guilty of most atrocious conduct, which proclaim so loudly their own ignominy, as not to require any farther examination:  it is of so flagrant a nature that it cannot be passed over in silence, but must be, as an example to others, punished in the most severe and public manner: —amongst such are the numbered.”

FIRST.  “All those who had more or less share in delivering up to the enemy, in a must unexampled manner, the fortresses of Magdeburg, Stetting, Custrin, Spandau &c.

2d.  “All such officers, as not actually belonging to capitulating corps, have yet had the meanness, not only voluntarily to report themselves as such, but have also endeavoured to prevail upon their comrades and subalterns to follow their base example:—and, lastly, all those who without permission, or having been taken prisoners, have absented themselves from their regiments.—His Majesty in consequence orders, as guilty under the first article, and as a preliminary example, Major Prushoeck to be to be dishonorably dismissed for unnecessarily given up his charge at Erfurth; for though Erfurth itself had capitulated, yet there was no occasion to surrender the Petersberg and the Cyriacburg, if the commander had taken the proper measures.—Lieutenant-General Romberg, Governor and Commander of Stettin, and Major-General Knobelsdorff, shall be both broke; Major-General Rouch, Vice-Commander, dishonorably dismissed; Major Harenberg, Ingenieur de la Place, broke; Colonel Ingersleben, commander of Cüstrin, is condemned to be shot; Major Benkendorff, commander of Spandau, shall be dishonorably dismissed; General Kleist, Governor of Magdeburg, and Du Trossel, Commander of the same, are both dishonorably dismissed, as are also all those generals and other officers who have approved and subscribed this shameful act.—Further, as referring to the second article.—All those officers belonging to Prince Hohenlohe’s corps shall be dishonorably dismissed, who, before, during, or after, the capitulation of Prenzlau, have withdrawn themselves to Stettin, without being de facto included in the above capitulation, and yet have there been taken prisoners as if belonging to that garrison.—Also all those officers, who, before the capitulation of Anclam, had left that place, yet afterwards ridden back again, purposely to surrender themselves, shall be dishonorably dismissed; and, finally, with respect to the third article.—All officers, who, during the retreat of their respective corps, have left them, and, without being taken prisoners, returned to their own homes, or elsewhere; also all those, who, not belonging to any capitulated corps, have nevertheless applied to the enemy for passports, to bring themselves safe away, all such, shall be dishonorably dismissed.”

“His Majesty further reserves to himself, to make all generals and other officers both high and low; as also the commissaries of every description, still responsible, if their conduct should be found dubious, or that they have been otherwise deemed guilty, in the eye of the army, of any breach of duty; farther, if upon a nearer examination of the examples already stated, there should be found a still higher degree of culpability, the above sentence will, in proportion, be aggravated:  and now—

“To obviate, in future, all similar disloyal and perfidious conduct, his Majesty thus publicly makes known—

FIRST,  “That all governors and commanders, who, from apprehension of a bombardment, or under the pretext of want of necessary means of defence, or, in short, from any other cause whatever, shall not exert themselves and garrisons to the utmost extremity, shall, without mercy, be shot.  Farther, whatever governor or commander, if forced to capitulate, shall presume to insert any article for the convenience of himself, or of his garrison, as has now been the notorious case in Magdeburg, he shall forthwith be broke.”

2d.  “If any regiment commanded to attack should hesitate, or retire from the attach without orders, it shall, after the fact be reported to his Majesty, be broke, and dispersed among other regiments.”

3d.  “Any officer, in future, who shall be found guilty of the 2d and 3d articles, or leave the field of battle, without being wounded, shall be broke with infamy.”

4th.  “Every soldier who, in flight, throws away his arms shall be shot.  Every officer who meets with fugitives, is in duty bound to collect and forward them, in the safest manner, to their corps, or other appointed rendezvous.”

5th.  “All surgeons of corps or regiments must, on the day of battle, be near their respective posts, provided with every thing necessary for their profession; should any one on such an occasion be found absent, he shall be discharged with disgrace.”

6th.  “There shall always be a staff officer or captain commanded to attend the baggage, and maintain order during the march; and if any officer ordered upon this duty shall quit it, he shall be broke.  Every attendant on the baggage who shall, from wantonness, fire his musket, and thereby cause any false alarm, shall be shot.  Every driver who unharnesses a horse to make his escape, shall be shot.”

“As a serious reform with respect to the baggage is become absolutely necessary; the Instructions on this subject will be transmitted to the respective corps as soon as possible.”

7th.  “In extraordinary and unexpected cases, as on marches, retreats, &c. every commanding officer is authorized to put under requisition every district where he may be for a sufficient quantity of such necessaries as he may want for his troops or horses, on giving his receipt; but if he abuses this power by exacting more, he shall be shot.”

8th.  “The superior officers with their adjutants must each conduct their separate divisions of a column, which they must not quit on any occasion whatever.”

“The pioneers of each battalion must march at the head of the column and collectively adjust the roads.”

“The superior officers have it also in charge to conduct, facilitate, and assist, in hastening the marches as much as possible; and should their column be under the necessity of forming in the presence of the enemy, they must attend to the straightest road, and reconnoiter the ground upon the spot.”

9th.  “During the war, each non-commissioned officer, or common soldier, who may distinguish himself by his military talent, or presence of mind in action, shall be equally entitled to advancement as any prince:  those only who have been guilty of real crimes are to be excluded from ranking with officers.”

10th.  “Whoever shall distinguish himself with bravery, and unfortunately remain on the field, his widow shall enjoy such a pension as his rank may entitle her to.”

11th.  “That all offences against subordination must be punished in the severest manner is what every soldier ought to know; but, as experience has proved that this has latterly not been properly attended to, it is therefore now, in the most decided manner, recalled to their remembrance, that every one may be aware of the consequence.”

12th.  “Extortions of all sorts, pillaging, ill treatment of the burghers, or of the peasantry, in short, excesses of any kind whatever, shall be punished with death.”

13th.  “Natural born subjects who may have entered into the service of the enemy, and be taken in battle, shall, without mercy, be shot.”

“This Proclamation, which is particularly addressed to every officer, shall be read in each corps; and every individual, for his own particular instruction, shall take a copy.  An Extract, therefore, shall be also made, which must contain those points that are peculiarly intended for the subaltern and common soldier, as also for every menial attendant on the army; to all whom it must be distinctly read in their mother tongue, and be repeated every week or fortnight, as must also the earlier decree respecting the medal of merit.”

“Ortelsburg, Dec. 1, 1806.”

                                    “FREDERICK WILLIAM.”




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