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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHistory Of The Thirty Years' War - Book 2 - Part 6
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History Of The Thirty Years' War - Book 2 - Part 6 Post by :dottystorer Category :Nonfictions Author :Frederich Schiller Date :May 2012 Read :1568

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History Of The Thirty Years' War - Book 2 - Part 6

During Tilly's expedition into Thuringia, Pappenheim commanded in Magdeburg; but was unable to prevent the Swedes from crossing the Elbe at various points, routing some imperial detachments, and seizing several posts. He himself, alarmed at the approach of the King of Sweden, anxiously recalled Tilly, and prevailed upon him to return by rapid marches to Magdeburg. Tilly encamped on this side of the river at Wolmerstadt; Gustavus on the same side, near Werben, not far from the confluence of the Havel and the Elbe. His very arrival portended no good to Tilly. The Swedes routed three of his regiments, which were posted in villages at some distance from the main body, carried off half their baggage, and burned the remainder. Tilly in vain advanced within cannon shot of the king's camp, and offered him battle. Gustavus, weaker by one-half than his adversary, prudently declined it; and his position was too strong for an attack. Nothing more ensued but a distant cannonade, and a few skirmishes, in which the Swedes had invariably the advantage. In his retreat to Wolmerstadt, Tilly's army was weakened by numerous desertions. Fortune seemed to have forsaken him since the carnage of Magdeburg.

The King of Sweden, on the contrary, was followed by uninterrupted success. While he himself was encamped in Werben, the whole of Mecklenburg, with the exception of a few towns, was conquered by his General Tott and the Duke Adolphus Frederick; and he enjoyed the satisfaction of reinstating both dukes in their dominions. He proceeded in person to Gustrow, where the reinstatement was solemnly to take place, to give additional dignity to the ceremony by his presence. The two dukes, with their deliverer between them, and attended by a splendid train of princes, made a public entry into the city, which the joy of their subjects converted into an affecting solemnity. Soon after his return to Werben, the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel appeared in his camp, to conclude an offensive and defensive alliance; the first sovereign prince in Germany, who voluntarily and openly declared against the Emperor, though not wholly uninfluenced by strong motives. The Landgrave bound himself to act against the king's enemies as his own, to open to him his towns and territory, and to furnish his army with provisions and necessaries. The king, on the other hand, declared himself his ally and protector; and engaged to conclude no peace with the Emperor without first obtaining for the Landgrave a full redress of grievances. Both parties honourably performed their agreement. Hesse Cassel adhered to the Swedish alliance during the whole of this tedious war; and at the peace of Westphalia had no reason to regret the friendship of Sweden.

Tilly, from whom this bold step on the part of the Landgrave was not long concealed, despatched Count Fugger with several regiments against him; and at the same time endeavoured to excite his subjects to rebellion by inflammatory letters. But these made as little impression as his troops, which subsequently failed him so decidedly at the battle of Breitenfield. The Estates of Hesse could not for a moment hesitate between their oppressor and their protector.

But the imperial general was far more disturbed by the equivocal conduct of the Elector of Saxony, who, in defiance of the imperial prohibition, continued his preparations, and adhered to the confederation of Leipzig. At this conjuncture, when the proximity of the King of Sweden made a decisive battle ere long inevitable, it appeared extremely dangerous to leave Saxony in arms, and ready in a moment to declare for the enemy. Tilly had just received a reinforcement of 25,000 veteran troops under Furstenberg, and, confident in his strength, he hoped either to disarm the Elector by the mere terror of his arrival, or at least to conquer him with little difficulty. Before quitting his camp at Wolmerstadt, he commanded the Elector, by a special messenger, to open his territories to the imperial troops; either to disband his own, or to join them to the imperial army; and to assist, in conjunction with himself, in driving the King of Sweden out of Germany. While he reminded him that, of all the German states, Saxony had hitherto been most respected, he threatened it, in case of refusal, with the most destructive ravages.

But Tilly had chosen an unfavourable moment for so imperious a requisition. The ill-treatment of his religious and political confederates, the destruction of Magdeburg, the excesses of the Imperialists in Lusatia, all combined to incense the Elector against the Emperor. The approach, too, of Gustavus Adolphus, (however slender his claims were to the protection of that prince,) tended to fortify his resolution. He accordingly forbade the quartering of the imperial soldiers in his territories, and announced his firm determination to persist in his warlike preparations. However surprised he should be, he added, "to see an imperial army on its march against his territories, when that army had enough to do in watching the operations of the King of Sweden, nevertheless he did not expect, instead of the promised and well merited rewards, to be repaid with ingratitude and the ruin of his country." To Tilly's deputies, who were entertained in a princely style, he gave a still plainer answer on the occasion. "Gentlemen," said he, "I perceive that the Saxon confectionery, which has been so long kept back, is at length to be set upon the table. But as it is usual to mix with it nuts and garnish of all kinds, take care of your teeth."

Tilly instantly broke up his camp, and, with the most frightful devastation, advanced upon Halle; from this place he renewed his demands on the Elector, in a tone still more urgent and threatening. The previous policy of this prince, both from his own inclination, and the persuasions of his corrupt ministers had been to promote the interests of the Emperor, even at the expense of his own sacred obligations, and but very little tact had hitherto kept him inactive. All this but renders more astonishing the infatuation of the Emperor or his ministers in abandoning, at so critical a moment, the policy they had hitherto adopted, and by extreme measures, incensing a prince so easily led. Was this the very object which Tilly had in view? Was it his purpose to convert an equivocal friend into an open enemy, and thus to relieve himself from the necessity of that indulgence in the treatment of this prince, which the secret instructions of the Emperor had hitherto imposed upon him? Or was it the Emperor's wish, by driving the Elector to open hostilities, to get quit of his obligations to him, and so cleverly to break off at once the difficulty of a reckoning? In either case, we must be equally surprised at the daring presumption of Tilly, who hesitated not, in presence of one formidable enemy, to provoke another; and at his negligence in permitting, without opposition, the union of the two.

The Saxon Elector, rendered desperate by the entrance of Tilly into his territories, threw himself, though not without a violent struggle, under the protection of Sweden.

Immediately after dismissing Tilly's first embassy, he had despatched his field-marshal Arnheim in all haste to the camp of Gustavus, to solicit the prompt assistance of that monarch whom he had so long neglected. The king concealed the inward satisfaction he felt at this long wished for result. "I am sorry for the Elector," said he, with dissembled coldness, to the ambassador; "had he heeded my repeated remonstrances, his country would never have seen the face of an enemy, and Magdeburg would not have fallen. Now, when necessity leaves him no alternative, he has recourse to my assistance. But tell him, that I cannot, for the sake of the Elector of Saxony, ruin my own cause, and that of my confederates. What pledge have I for the sincerity of a prince whose minister is in the pay of Austria, and who will abandon me as soon as the Emperor flatters him, and withdraws his troops from his frontiers? Tilly, it is true, has received a strong reinforcement; but this shall not prevent me from meeting him with confidence, as soon as I have covered my rear."

The Saxon minister could make no other reply to these reproaches, than that it was best to bury the past in oblivion.

He pressed the king to name the conditions, on which he would afford assistance to Saxony, and offered to guarantee their acceptance. "I require," said Gustavus, "that the Elector shall cede to me the fortress of Wittenberg, deliver to me his eldest sons as hostages, furnish my troops with three months' pay, and deliver up to me the traitors among his ministry."

"Not Wittenberg alone," said the Elector, when he received this answer, and hurried back his minister to the Swedish camp, "not Wittenberg alone, but Torgau, and all Saxony, shall be open to him; my whole family shall be his hostages, and if that is insufficient, I will place myself in his hands. Return and inform him I am ready to deliver to him any traitors he shall name, to furnish his army with the money he requires, and to venture my life and fortune in the good cause.

The king had only desired to test the sincerity of the Elector's new sentiments. Convinced of it, he now retracted these harsh demands. "The distrust," said he, "which was shown to myself when advancing to the relief of Magdeburg, had naturally excited mine; the Elector's present confidence demands a return. I am satisfied, provided he grants my army one month's pay, and even for this advance I hope to indemnify him."

Immediately upon the conclusion of the treaty, the king crossed the Elbe, and next day joined the Saxons. Instead of preventing this junction, Tilly had advanced against Leipzig, which he summoned to receive an imperial garrison. In hopes of speedy relief, Hans Von der Pforta, the commandant, made preparations for his defence, and laid the suburb towards Halle in ashes. But the ill condition of the fortifications made resistance vain, and on the second day the gates were opened. Tilly had fixed his head quarters in the house of a grave-digger, the only one still standing in the suburb of Halle: here he signed the capitulation, and here, too, he arranged his attack on the King of Sweden. Tilly grew pale at the representation of the death's head and cross bones, with which the proprietor had decorated his house; and, contrary to all expectation, Leipzig experienced moderate treatment.

Meanwhile, a council of war was held at Torgau, between the King of Sweden and the Elector of Saxony, at which the Elector of Brandenburg was also present. The resolution which should now be adopted, was to decide irrevocably the fate of Germany and the Protestant religion, the happiness of nations and the destiny of their princes. The anxiety of suspense which, before every decisive resolve, oppresses even the hearts of heroes, appeared now for a moment to overshadow the great mind of Gustavus Adolphus. "If we decide upon battle," said he, "the stake will be nothing less than a crown and two electorates. Fortune is changeable, and the inscrutable decrees of Heaven may, for our sins, give the victory to our enemies. My kingdom, it is true, even after the loss of my life and my army, would still have a hope left. Far removed from the scene of action, defended by a powerful fleet, a well-guarded frontier, and a warlike population, it would at least be safe from the worst consequences of a defeat. But what chances of escape are there for you, with an enemy so close at hand?" Gustavus Adolphus displayed the modest diffidence of a hero, whom an overweening belief of his own strength did not blind to the greatness of his danger; John George, the confidence of a weak man, who knows that he has a hero by his side. Impatient to rid his territories as soon as possible of the oppressive presence of two armies, he burned for a battle, in which he had no former laurels to lose. He was ready to march with his Saxons alone against Leipzig, and attack Tilly. At last Gustavus acceded to his opinion; and it was resolved that the attack should be made without delay, before the arrival of the reinforcements, which were on their way, under Altringer and Tiefenbach. The united Swedish and Saxon armies now crossed the Mulda, while the Elector returned homeward.

Early on the morning of the 7th September, 1631, the hostile armies came in sight of each other. Tilly, who, since he had neglected the opportunity of overpowering the Saxons before their union with the Swedes, was disposed to await the arrival of the reinforcements, had taken up a strong and advantageous position not far from Leipzig, where he expected he should be able to avoid the battle. But the impetuosity of Pappenheim obliged him, as soon as the enemy were in motion, to alter his plans, and to move to the left, in the direction of the hills which run from the village of Wahren towards Lindenthal. At the foot of these heights, his army was drawn up in a single line, and his artillery placed upon the heights behind, from which it could sweep the whole extensive plain of Breitenfeld. The Swedish and Saxon army advanced in two columns, having to pass the Lober near Podelwitz, in Tilly's front.

To defend the passage of this rivulet, Pappenheim advanced at the head of 2000 cuirassiers, though after great reluctance on the part of Tilly, and with express orders not to commence a battle. But, in disobedience to this command, Pappenheim attacked the vanguard of the Swedes, and after a brief struggle was driven to retreat. To check the progress of the enemy, he set fire to Podelwitz, which, however, did not prevent the two columns from advancing and forming in order of battle.

On the right, the Swedes drew up in a double line, the infantry in the centre, divided into such small battalions as could be easily and rapidly manoeuvred without breaking their order; the cavalry upon their wings, divided in the same manner into small squadrons, interspersed with bodies of musqueteers, so as both to give an appearance of greater numerical force, and to annoy the enemy's horse. Colonel Teufel commanded the centre, Gustavus Horn the left, while the right was led by the king in person, opposed to Count Pappenheim.

On the left, the Saxons formed at a considerable distance from the Swedes, -- by the advice of Gustavus, which was justified by the event. The order of battle had been arranged between the Elector and his field-marshal, and the king was content with merely signifying his approval. He was anxious apparently to separate the Swedish prowess from that of the Saxons, and fortune did not confound them.

The enemy was drawn up under the heights towards the west, in one immense line, long enough to outflank the Swedish army, -- the infantry being divided in large battalions, the cavalry in equally unwieldy squadrons. The artillery being on the heights behind, the range of its fire was over the heads of his men. From this position of his artillery, it was evident that Tilly's purpose was to await rather than to attack the enemy; since this arrangement rendered it impossible for him to do so without exposing his men to the fire of his own cannons. Tilly himself commanded the centre, Count Furstenberg the right wing, and Pappenheim the left. The united troops of the Emperor and the League on this day did not amount to 34,000 or 35,000 men; the Swedes and Saxons were about the same number. But had a million been confronted with a million it could only have rendered the action more bloody, certainly not more important and decisive. For this day Gustavus had crossed the Baltic, to court danger in a distant country, and expose his crown and life to the caprice of fortune. The two greatest generals of the time, both hitherto invincible, were now to be matched against each other in a contest which both had long avoided; and on this field of battle the hitherto untarnished laurels of one leader must droop for ever. The two parties in Germany had beheld the approach of this day with fear and trembling; and the whole age awaited with deep anxiety its issue, and posterity was either to bless or deplore it for ever.

Tilly's usual intrepidity and resolution seemed to forsake him on this eventful day. He had formed no regular plan for giving battle to the King, and he displayed as little firmness in avoiding it. Contrary to his own judgment, Pappenheim had forced him to action. Doubts which he had never before felt, struggled in his bosom; gloomy forebodings clouded his ever-open brow; the shade of Magdeburg seemed to hover over him.

A cannonade of two hours commenced the battle; the wind, which was from the west, blew thick clouds of smoke and dust from the newly-ploughed and parched fields into the faces of the Swedes. This compelled the king insensibly to wheel northwards, and the rapidity with which this movement was executed left no time to the enemy to prevent it.

Tilly at last left his heights, and began the first attack upon the Swedes; but to avoid their hot fire, he filed off towards the right, and fell upon the Saxons with such impetuosity that their line was broken, and the whole army thrown into confusion. The Elector himself retired to Eilenburg, though a few regiments still maintained their ground upon the field, and by a bold stand saved the honour of Saxony. Scarcely had the confusion began ere the Croats commenced plundering, and messengers were despatched to Munich and Vienna with the news of the victory.

Pappenheim had thrown himself with the whole force of his cavalry upon the right wing of the Swedes, but without being able to make it waver. The king commanded here in person, and under him General Banner. Seven times did Pappenheim renew the attack, and seven times was he repulsed. He fled at last with great loss, and abandoned the field to his conqueror.

In the mean time, Tilly, having routed the remainder of the Saxons, attacked with his victorious troops the left wing of the Swedes. To this wing the king, as soon as he perceived that the Saxons were thrown into disorder, had, with a ready foresight, detached a reinforcement of three regiments to cover its flank, which the flight of the Saxons had left exposed. Gustavus Horn, who commanded here, showed the enemy's cuirassiers a spirited resistance, which the infantry, interspersed among the squadrons of horse, materially assisted. The enemy were already beginning to relax the vigour of their attack, when Gustavus Adolphus appeared to terminate the contest. The left wing of the Imperialists had been routed; and the king's division, having no longer any enemy to oppose, could now turn their arms wherever it would be to the most advantage. Wheeling, therefore, with his right wing and main body to the left, he attacked the heights on which the enemy's artillery was planted. Gaining possession of them in a short time, he turned upon the enemy the full fire of their own cannon.

The play of artillery upon their flank, and the terrible onslaught of the Swedes in front, threw this hitherto invincible army into confusion. A sudden retreat was the only course left to Tilly, but even this was to be made through the midst of the enemy. The whole army was in disorder, with the exception of four regiments of veteran soldiers, who never as yet had fled from the field, and were resolved not to do so now. Closing their ranks, they broke through the thickest of the victorious army, and gained a small thicket, where they opposed a new front to the Swedes, and maintained their resistance till night, when their number was reduced to six hundred men. With them fled the wreck of Tilly's army, and the battle was decided.

Amid the dead and the wounded, Gustavus Adolphus threw himself on his knees; and the first joy of his victory gushed forth in fervent prayer. He ordered his cavalry to pursue the enemy as long as the darkness of the night would permit. The pealing of the alarm-bells set the inhabitants of all the neighbouring villages in motion, and utterly lost was the unhappy fugitive who fell into their hands. The king encamped with the rest of his army between the field of battle and Leipzig, as it was impossible to attack the town the same night. Seven thousand of the enemy were killed in the field, and more than 5,000 either wounded or taken prisoners. Their whole artillery and camp fell into the hands of the Swedes, and more than a hundred standards and colours were taken. Of the Saxons about 2,000 had fallen, while the loss of the Swedes did not exceed 700. The rout of the Imperialists was so complete, that Tilly, on his retreat to Halle and Halberstadt, could not rally above 600 men, or Pappenheim more than 1,400 -- so rapidly was this formidable army dispersed, which so lately was the terror of Italy and Germany.

Tilly himself owed his escape merely to chance. Exhausted by his wounds, he still refused to surrender to a Swedish captain of horse, who summoned him to yield; but who, when he was on the point of putting him to death, was himself stretched on the ground by a timely pistol-shot. But more grievous than danger or wounds was the pain of surviving his reputation, and of losing in a single day the fruits of a long life. All former victories were as nothing, since he had failed in gaining the one that should have crowned them all. Nothing remained of all his past exploits, but the general execration which had followed them. From this period, he never recovered his cheerfulness or his good fortune. Even his last consolation, the hope of revenge, was denied to him, by the express command of the Emperor not to risk a decisive battle.

The disgrace of this day is to be ascribed principally to three mistakes; his planting the cannon on the hills behind him, his afterwards abandoning these heights, and his allowing the enemy, without opposition, to form in order of battle. But how easily might those mistakes have been rectified, had it not been for the cool presence of mind and superior genius of his adversary!

Tilly fled from Halle to Halberstadt, where he scarcely allowed time for the cure of his wounds, before he hurried towards the Weser to recruit his force by the imperial garrisons in Lower Saxony.

The Elector of Saxony had not failed, after the danger was over, to appear in Gustavus's camp. The king thanked him for having advised a battle; and the Elector, charmed at his friendly reception, promised him, in the first transports of joy, the Roman crown. Gustavus set out next day for Merseburg, leaving the Elector to recover Leipzig. Five thousand Imperialists, who had collected together after the defeat, and whom he met on his march, were either cut in pieces or taken prisoners, of whom again the greater part entered into his service. Merseburg quickly surrendered; Halle was soon after taken, whither the Elector of Saxony, after making himself master of Leipzig, repaired to meet the king, and to concert their future plan of operations.

The victory was gained, but only a prudent use of it could render it decisive. The imperial armies were totally routed, Saxony free from the enemy, and Tilly had retired into Brunswick. To have followed him thither would have been to renew the war in Lower Saxony, which had scarcely recovered from the ravages of the last. It was therefore determined to carry the war into the enemy's country, which, open and defenceless as far as Vienna, invited attack. On their right, they might fall upon the territories of the Roman Catholic princes, or penetrate, on the left, into the hereditary dominions of Austria, and make the Emperor tremble in his palace. Both plans were resolved on; and the question that now remained was to assign its respective parts. Gustavus Adolphus, at the head of a victorious army, had little resistance to apprehend in his progress from Leipzig to Prague, Vienna, and Presburg. As to Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, and Hungary, they had been stripped of their defenders, while the oppressed Protestants in these countries were ripe for a revolt. Ferdinand was no longer secure in his capital: Vienna, on the first terror of surprise, would at once open its gates. The loss of his territories would deprive the enemy of the resources by which alone the war could be maintained; and Ferdinand would, in all probability, gladly accede, on the hardest conditions, to a peace which would remove a formidable enemy from the heart of his dominions. This bold plan of operations was flattering to a conqueror, and success perhaps might have justified it. But Gustavus Adolphus, as prudent as he was brave, and more a statesman than a conqueror, rejected it, because he had a higher end in view, and would not trust the issue either to bravery or good fortune alone.

By marching towards Bohemia, Franconia and the Upper Rhine would be left to the Elector of Saxony. But Tilly had already begun to recruit his shattered army from the garrisons in Lower Saxony, and was likely to be at the head of a formidable force upon the Weser, and to lose no time in marching against the enemy. To so experienced a general, it would not do to oppose an Arnheim, of whose military skill the battle of Leipzig had afforded but equivocal proof; and of what avail would be the rapid and brilliant career of the king in Bohemia and Austria, if Tilly should recover his superiority in the Empire, animating the courage of the Roman Catholics, and disarming, by a new series of victories, the allies and confederates of the king? What would he gain by expelling the Emperor from his hereditary dominions, if Tilly succeeded in conquering for that Emperor the rest of Germany? Could he hope to reduce the Emperor more than had been done, twelve years before, by the insurrection of Bohemia, which had failed to shake the firmness or exhaust the resources of that prince, and from which he had risen more formidable than ever?

Less brilliant, but more solid, were the advantages which he had to expect from an incursion into the territories of the League. In this quarter, his appearance in arms would be decisive. At this very conjuncture, the princes were assembled in a Diet at Frankfort, to deliberate upon the Edict of Restitution, where Ferdinand employed all his artful policy to persuade the intimidated Protestants to accede to a speedy and disadvantageous arrangement. The advance of their protector could alone encourage them to a bold resistance, and disappoint the Emperor's designs. Gustavus Adolphus hoped, by his presence, to unite the discontented princes, or by the terror of his arms to detach them from the Emperor's party. Here, in the centre of Germany, he could paralyse the nerves of the imperial power, which, without the aid of the League, must soon fall -- here, in the neighbourhood of France, he could watch the movements of a suspicious ally; and however important to his secret views it was to cultivate the friendship of the Roman Catholic electors, he saw the necessity of making himself first of all master of their fate, in order to establish, by his magnanimous forbearance, a claim to their gratitude.

He accordingly chose the route to Franconia and the Rhine; and left the conquest of Bohemia to the Elector of Saxony.

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The capture of Demmin opened to the king a free passage into Mecklenburg; but a more important enterprise drew his arms into another quarter. Scarcely had Tilly commenced his retrograde movement, when suddenly breaking up his camp at Schwedt, the king marched his whole force against Frankfort on the Oder. This town, badly fortified, was defended by a garrison of 8,000 men, mostly composed of those ferocious bands who had so cruelly ravaged Pomerania and Brandenburg. It was now attacked with such impetuosity, that on the third day it was taken by storm. The Swedes, assured of victory, rejected