Eylau: Precis Des Travaux de la Grande Armée
Letter from a Senior Prussian on the Situation in Prussia: 18 October 1806
Letter written at Helmstadt, in the duchy of Brunswick, October 18, 1806.
With my wife and my children.
In the melieu of the crash of the war, which approaches more and more our peaceful abode, and of the news of a total defeat that is announced here by the Prussian fugitives which pass by the troops, and (what here is more dreadful for me) without any news on the fate of my two elder sons, I am in such an anxiety, which I am hardly able to think or write some thing of reason.
Our good duke is mortally wounded; some even already say that he is no more. Prince Louis of Prussia was killed. Mollendorff has bad wounds and remains infirmed; the king managed with sorrow to escape the enemies, Halberstadt is full of casualties. God! what will have become of my two sons, especially the elder one? Pray to heaven that he had died for his fatherland his weapons in hand, provided that he could contribute to beat the enemy. But to die in such a ignoble way! It would be for me a step further towards the grave to know he was one of victims yesterday when the French were avenged with the centuple for their defeat for Rosbach, and which will give the death-blow to the military reputation of the Prussians. There remain only approximately a hundred men of the regiment of the duke; there is not the least possibility for the Prussians of fighting only one more battle to repair such a great loss: that is what is affirmed by the Prussian Generals who pass here. And when one asks them what became of their comrades, and where they were running away to, they cannot give any satisfactory answer: it would be said that their army was dispersed towards the four cardinal points.
“I finally did what you wish, and here is the result.” It is this language that rightly the good king Frederick William with these young officers can speak who, with this parade, testified their high dissatisfaction and with what it was long felt should be carried out against the French.
It is time that the Prussians, Russians, Austrians are finally convinced that the French are and will remain invincible as long as the other powers of Europe will be stubborn and obstinate, in spite of the lessons of the experience, to preserve their old military routine instead of adopting the system of the French and to seek to overcome them with their own weapons. A Prussian officer while passing here, said them: “These French are small-fries, dwarves; if it were simply a question of measuring with them body to body, I would be very able to finish them off in between six and making them jump through the window: but as troops in rows, they are devils; that move, that deploy with a promptitude without example; the bullets pass through them; while the useless and heavy Prussian close order file makes only once a right half-turn, the French already repeated this movement a half-dozen of time.”
What couldn’t one add yet to these words of a very-distinguished officer? For example, these small-fries do not become military machines through blows of baton, like dogs; but through a note of honor in truth of fact hero, who start, they say this is true, by dedicating themselves extremely reluctantly with the trade of soldier which they are forced to embrace as well as the Prussian recruits, but end up preferring it beyond every other, so much because of the humanity with which one treats them, that honorable prospect that the private can even have.
In spite of impossibility that, of 400,000 men, each one can reach the rank of officer, and even less that of the first order of military dignities, it is non the less true that the soldier can say to himself: It is not impossible that I may become a marshal of the Empire, prince or duke like so many others, must be well encouraged by this thought. A man who would not know what honor is, the must acquire the feeling of it, while familiarizing himself with this thought, and must go into combat with a courage without example, when he knows that he faces death for a goal higher than to receive five pennies per day. When I act myself, on the contrary, to the poor devil of a soldier in the service of such or such power; when I think of innumerable blows of the baton that I have seen distributed, and that I am convinced that as a former soldier, aged with the service of these powers, it would be a thought worthy of the madhouses to dare to hope, after faint bad treatment, painful services and battles to which it will have assisted, to arrive only at the rank of carrier of a flag or cornet; in the moment that the Prussians were beaten by the French, and I would have looked like a wonder to see them overcoming.
At Rosbach, that was very different. Then also were with the leaders of the French Army, people of quality who owed their rank only from their birth and the protection of Pompadour, and which ordered from these so-called soldiers, on the trace of which, after their escape, one found only silk purses and powdered wigs. But how much all that changed!
It is very sad that the belligerent powers take so little note of this change, and that they seek also little to take measures to similar new circumstances. They prefer the comfort to fight the French than to take lessons from them, and however it is only possible these measures now, or to resort to an inevitable ruin.
P. S. From October 20. – About to leave this letter, I was retained one moment by the thought which the details that I give you, though coming from sure source, could appear exaggerated, and increase your alarms unnecessarily; but unfortunately the most recent news is even more distressing, and becomes more from one moment to the other.
On today Monday, I had dinner with an officer of the dragons of General Blukers corps, belonging to the one of the two regiments which escorted the king during the night through the French Army, that was as follows placed:
And with him is in the interval marked A, that H. M. was obliged to pass with his escort not to be crossed. During this walk, one easily distinguished the cries of joy from the two French corps as they celebrated the victory. The Prussian officers persist in saying that it is impossible with their army to reform in a corps to oppose the French. It is doubtful still that there is a Russian army moving and in the vicinity, etc.
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