The Worlds Famous Orations. Continental Europe (3801906). 1906.
II. To His Generals Before the Battle of Leuthen
Frederick II (171286)
Born in 1712, died in 1786; became King of Prussia and invaded Silesia in 1740; defeated the Austrians in 1741, 1742 and 1745; invaded Saxony, beginning the Seven Years War in 1756; defeated the Austrians in 1756; invaded Bohemia in 1757; defeated the Austrians at Prague, but himself defeated at Kolin and driven out of Bohemia in 1757; in the same year defeated the French at Rossbach and the Austrians at Leuthen; defeated the Russians at Zorndorf in 1758, but himself defeated at Kunersdorf in 1759, his fortunes being now reduced to their lowest ebb; finally, through changes in foreign relations, he, in 1763, concluded a treaty with Austria which secured what he formerly had gained and then had lost, and in 1772 he joined in the partition of Poland.
IT1 is not unknown to you, gentlemen, what disasters have befallen here while we were busy with the French and Reichs army. Schweidnitz is gone; Duke of Bevern beaten; Breslau gone, and all our war stores there; a good part of Silesia gone; and in fact my embarrassment would be at the impossible pitch, had not I boundless trust in you and your qualities which have been so often manifested as soldiers and sons of your country. Hardly one among you but has distinguished himself by some nobly memorable action: all these services to the State and to me I know well and will never forget.
I flatter myself, therefore, that, in this case, too, nothing will be wanting which the State has a right to expect of your valor. The hour is at hand. I should think I had done nothing if I left the Austrians in possession of Silesia. Let me apprise you, then: I intend, in spite of the rules of art, to attack Prince Karls army, which is nearly twice our strength, wherever I find it. The question is not of his numbers or the strength of his position; all this by courage, by the skill of our methods, we will try to make good. This step I must risk, or everything is lost. We must beat the enemy, or perish all of us before his batteries. So I read the case; so I will act in it.
Make this, my determination, known to all officers of the army: prepare the men for what work is now to ensue and say that I hold myself entitled to demand exact fulfilment of orders. For you, when I reflect that you are Prussians, can I think that you will act unworthily? But if there should be one or another who dreads to share all dangers with me, he can have his discharge this evening, and shall not suffer the least reproach from me!2 Hah! I knew it;3 none of you would desert me. I depend on your help, then, and on victory as sure
The cavalry regiment that does not on this instant, on orders given, dash full plunge into the enemy, I will, directly after the battle, unhorse and make it a garrison regiment. The infantry battalion which, meet with what it may, shows the least sign of hesitancy, loses its colors and its sabers, and I cut the trimmings from its uniform! Now, good night, gentlemen: shortly we have either beaten the enemy, or we never see one another again.
Note 1. Delivered at Parchnitz on December 3, 1757, after defeating the French at Rossbach in November. The tide in Fredericks fortunes had now turned, and on December 5 rose to a flood in the victory of Leuthen, by which the Austrians were driven from Silesia. An authentic meeting, this at Parchnitz, says Carlyle, and the words were taken down. [back]
Note 2. Carlyle says that at this point Frederick gave an interrogative look and paused for an answer, which came as a modest, strong, bass murmur, meaning, no, by the Eternal! [back]
Note 3. Spoken, says Carlyle, with his most radiant smile. [back]