VI. EXHAUSTION: 1760-62

What was the hunted Prussian fox doing in that harsh winter of 1759-60? He was raising and debasing money, conscripting and training men, writing and publishing poetry. In January a pirate Parisian publisher issued Oeuvres du philosophe de Sans-Souci,joyfully printing those reckless poems which Voltaire had carried off with him from Potsdam in 1753, and for which Frederick had had him intercepted and detained at Frankfurt-am-Main. Those poems would amuse uncrowned heads, but would make royal wigs tremble with rage, including those of Frederick’s ally George II. Frederick protested that the pirated publication was corrupted by malignant interpolations; he bade his friend the Marquis d’Argens (director of fine arts at the Berlin Academy) to issue at once an “authentic edition” carefully purged. It was so done in March, and Frederick could turn back to war. On February 24 he wrote to Voltaire:

Steel and death have made terrible ravages among us, and the sad thing is that we are not yet at the end of the tragedy. You can easily imagine the result of such cruel shocks upon me. I wrap myself up in stoicism as well as I can. … I am old, broken, gray, wrinkled; I am losing my teeth and my gaiety.59

Vast masses of soldiery were being marshaled to determine which ruler should tax most men. Saltykov, in April, was returning from Russia with 100,000; Laudon had 50,000 Austrians in Silesia, against Prince Henry’s 34,-000; Daun at Dresden, with 100,000, hoped to break through Frederick’s 40,000, who were now encamped near Meissen; the French, with 125,000, were waiting to advance against Ferdinand’s 70,000; altogether 375,000 men were being aimed at Berlin. On March 21, 1760, Austria and Russia renewed their alliance, with a secret clause giving Prussia to Russia as soon as Silesia should be restored to Austria.60

Laudon drew first blood of the year 1760, overwhelming 13,000 Prussians at Landeshut (June 23). On July 10 Frederick began to besiege Dresden with heavy artillery, laying most of Germany’s then loveliest city in ruins. The bombardment availed him nothing; hearing that Laudon was approaching Breslau, he abandoned the siege, marched his men one hundred miles in five days, encountered Laudon’s army at Liegnitz (August 15, 1760), inflicted upon it a loss of 10,000 men, and entered Breslau. But on October 9 an army of Cossacks under Fermor captured Berlin, ransacked its military stores, and exacted a ransom of two million thalers—equal to half the British subsidy that Frederick was receiving annually. He marched to relieve his capital; the Russians fled on hearing of his approach, and Frederick turned back to Saxony. On the way he wrote to Voltaire (October 30): “You are fortunate in following Candide’s advice, and limiting yourself to the cultivation of your garden. ‘Tis not granted to everyone to do so. The ox must plow the furrow, the nightingale must sing, the dolphin must swim, and I must fight.”61

At Torgau on the Elbe (November 3) his 44,000 Prussians met 50,000 Austrians. Frederick sent half his army under Johann von Ziethen to detour and attack the enemy in the rear. The maneuver did not succeed, for Ziethen was delayed by an enemy detachment on the way. Frederick led his own divisions personally into the fury of the battle; here too three horses were shot under him; a shell struck him in the chest, but with spent force; he was knocked unconscious to the ground, but soon recovered; “It is nothing,” he said, and returned to the fray. He won a Pyrrhic victory; the Austrians gave way, with a loss of 11,260 men, but Frederick left 13,120 Prussians on that field. He retired to Breslau, now his main center of supplies. Daun still held Dresden, waiting patiently for Frederick to die. Winter again gave the survivors rest.

The year 1761 was one of diplomacy rather than war. In England the death of George II (October 25, 1760), who had cared deeply for Hanover, and the accession of George III, who cared for it much less, gave a royal sanction to popular resentment of a war that was weighing heavily upon English pounds. Choiseul put out feelers from France for a separate peace; Pitt refused, and kept full faith with Frederick; but the British contingent in Hanover was reduced, and Ferdinand had to yield Brunswick and Wolfen-büttel to the French. Choiseul turned to Spain, and in a “Pacte de Famille”—a family pact between Bourbon kings—persuaded her to join in the alliance against Prussia. Military developments concurred with these diplomatic reverses to bring Frederick again to the verge of debacle. Laudon with 72,000 men affected a junction with 50,000 Russians; they completely severed Frederick from Prussia, and laid plans to take and keep Berlin. On September 1, 1761, the Austrians again took Schweidnitz and its stores. On October 5 Pitt, overwhelmed by the popular demand for peace, resigned rather than betray Frederick. His successor, the Earl of Bute, thought Frederick’s cause hopeless, and saw, in the negotiation of peace, a means of strengthening George III against Parliament. He pleaded with Frederick to admit defeat at least to the extent of surrendering part of Silesia to Austria. Frederick demurred; Bute refused him any further subsidy. Nearly all Europe, including many Prussians, called upon Frederick to make concessions. His troops had lost any hope of victory; they warned their officers that they would not attack the enemy again, and, if attacked, would surrender.62 As the year 1761 ended Frederick found himself alone against a dozen foes. He admitted that only a miracle could save him.

A miracle saved him. On January 5, 1762,63 Czarina Elizaveta, who hated Frederick, died, and was succeeded by Peter III, who admired him as the ideal conqueror and king. When Frederick heard the news he ordered all Russian prisoners to be clad, shod, fed, and freed. On February 2 3 Peter declared the war with Prussia at an end. On May 5 he signed a treaty of peace drawn up, at his request, by Frederick himself; on May 22 Sweden followed suit; on June 10 Peter re-entered the war, but as an ally of Prussia. He donned a Prussian uniform and volunteered for service “under the King my master.” It was one of the most remarkable overturns in history.

It warmed Frederick’s heart, and restored morale in his army, but he half agreed with his enemies that Peter was crazy. He was alarmed when he heard that Peter proposed to attack Denmark to recover Holstein; Frederick used every effort to dissuade him, but Peter insisted; finally, Frederick tells us, “I had to keep silent, and abandon this poor prince to the self-confidence that destroyed him.”64

Bute, now actively hostile to Frederick, asked Peter to let the twenty thousand Russians now in the Austrian army continue there; Peter sent a copy of this message to Frederick, and ordered the Russian troops to join and serve Frederick. Bute offered Austria a separate peace, promising to support the cession of Prussian territory to Austria; Kaunitz refused; Frederick denounced Bute as a scoundrel.65 He was pleased to learn that France had ended her subsidies to Austria, and that the Turks were attacking the Austrians in Hungary (May, 1762).

On June 28 Peter was deposed by a coup d’état that established Catherine II as “Empress of all the Russias”; on July 6 Peter was assassinated. Catherine ordered Czernichev, who commanded the Russians under Frederick, to bring them home at once. Frederick was just preparing an attack upon Daun. He asked Czernichev to conceal for three days the news of the Czarina’s instructions. Without using these Russian auxiliaries Frederick defeated Daun at Burkersdorf (July 21). Czernichev now withdrew his troops, and Russia took no further part in the war. Relieved of danger in the north, the King drove the Austrians before him, and recaptured Schweidnitz. On October 29 Prince Henry, with 24,000 men, defeated 39,000 Austrians and Imperials at Freiberg in Saxony; this was the only major action of the war in which the Prussians were victorious when not under Frederick’s command. It was also the last important battle of the Seven Years’ War.

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