This Second Exploit — suggested or not by that prior one of Karl Gustav on the ice — is still a thing to be remembered by Hohenzollerns and Prussians.
Continuing The Great Elector Grows Prussia,
our selection from History of Friedrich II of Prussia by Thomas Carlyle published in 1858. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Great Elector Grows Prussia.
Place: Koenigsberg, East Prussia
He himself follows hard; swift riding enough in the summer night through those damp Havel lands, in the old Hohenzollern fashion; and, indeed, old Freisack Castle, as it chances — Freisack, scene of Dietrich von Quitzow and Lazy Peg long since — is close by. Follows hard, we say; strikes in upon this midmost party (nearly twice his number, but Infantry for most part); and after fierce fight, done with good talent on both sides, cuts it into utter ruin, as proposed; thereby he has left the Swedish Army as a mere head and tail without body; has entirely demolished the Swedish Army. Same feat intrinsically as that done by Cromwell on Hamilton and the Scots in 1648. It was, so to speak, the last visit Sweden paid to Brandenburg, or the last of any consequence, and ended the domination of the Swedes in those quarters — a thing justly to be forever remembered by Brandenburg; on a smallish modern scale, the Bannockburn, Sempach, Marathon of Brandenburg.
Exploit Second was four years later — in some sort a corollary to this, and a winding up of the Swedish business. The Swedes, in further prosecution of their Louis XIV speculation, had invaded Preussen this time, and were doing sad havoc there. It was in the dead of winter — Christmas, 1678 — more than four hundred miles off; and the Swedes, to say nothing of their own havoc, were in a case to take Koenigsberg, and ruin Prussia altogether, if not prevented. Friedrich Wilhelm starts from Berlin, with the opening Year, on his long march; the Horse-troops first, Foot to follow at their swiftest; he himself (his Wife, his ever-true “Louisa,” accompanying, as her wont was) travels toward the end, at the rate of “sixty miles a day.” He gets in still in time; finds Koenigsberg unscathed; nay, it is even said the Swedes are extensively falling sick, having after a long famine found infinite “pigs near Insterburg,” in those remote regions, and indulged in the fresh pork overmuch.
I will not describe the subsequent maneuvers, which would interest nobody; enough if I say that on January 16, 1679, it had become of the highest moment for Friedrich Wilhelm to get from Carwe (Village near Elbing), on the shore of the Frische Haf, where he was, through Koenigsberg, to Gilge on the Curische Haf, where the Swedes are, in a minimum of time. Distance, as the crow flies, is about a hundred miles; road, which skirts the two Hafs (wide shallow Washes, as we should name them), is of rough quality and naturally circuitous. It is ringing frost to-day, and for days back. Friedrich Wilhelm hastily gathers all the sledges, all the horses of the district; mounts Four thousand men in sledges; starts with speed of light, in that fashion; scours along all day, and after the intervening bit of land, again along, awakening the ice-bound silences. Gloomy Frische Haf, wrapped in its Winter cloud-coverlids, with its wastes of tumbled sand, its poor frost-bound fishing-hamlets, pine hillocks — desolate- looking, stern as Greenland, or more so, says Busching, who traveled there in winter-time — hears unexpected human voices, and huge grinding and trampling; the Four thousand, in long fleet of sledges, scouring across it in that manner. All day they rush along — out of the rimy hazes of morning into the olive-colored clouds of evening again — with huge, loud-grinding rumble, and do arrive in time at Gilge. A notable streak of things, shooting across those frozen solitudes in the New Year, 1679; little short of Karl Gustav’s feat, which we heard of in the other or Danish end of the Baltic, twenty years ago, when he took islands without ships.
This Second Exploit — suggested or not by that prior one of Karl Gustav on the ice — is still a thing to be remembered by Hohenzollerns and Prussians. The Swedes were beaten here on Friedrich Wilhelm’s rapid arrival; were driven into disastrous, rapid retreat Northward, which they executed in hunger and cold, fighting continually, like Northern bears, under the grim sky, Friedrich Wilhelm sticking to their skirts, holding by their tail, like an angry bear-ward with steel whip in his hand; a thing which, on the small scale, reminds one of Napoleon’s experiences. Not till Napoleon’s huge fighting-flight, a Hundred and thirty-four years after, did I read of such a transaction in those parts. The Swedish invasion of Preussen has gone utterly to ruin.
And this, then, is the end of Sweden, and its bad neighborhood on these shores, where it has tyrannously sat on our skirts so long? Swedish Pommern; the Elector already had: last year, coming toward it ever since the Exploit of Fehrbellin, he had invaded Swedish Pommern; had besieged and taken Stettin, nay Stralsund too, where Wallenstein had failed; cleared Pommern altogether of its Swedish guests, who had tried next in Preussen, with what luck we see. Of Swedish Pommern the Elector might now say, “Surely it is mine; again mine, as it long was; well won a second time, since the first would not do.” But no; Louis XIV proved a gentleman to his Swedes. Louis, now that the Peace of Nimwegen had come, and only the Elector of Brandenburg was still in harness, said steadily, though anxious enough to keep well with the Elector, “They are my allies, these Swedes; it was on my bidding they invaded you: can I leave them in such a pass? It must not be.” So Pommern had to be given back: a miss which was infinitely grievous to Friedrich Wilhelm. The most victorious Elector cannot hit always, were his right never so good.
Another miss which he had to put up with, in spite of his rights and his good services, was that of the Silesian Duchies. The Heritage-Fraternity with Liegnitz had at length, in 1675, come to fruit. The last Duke of Liegnitz was dead: Duchies of Liegnitz, of Brieg, Wohlau, are Brandenburg’s, if there were right done; but Kaiser Leopold in the scarlet stockings will not hear of Heritage-Fraternity. “Nonsense!” answers Kaiser Leopold: “a thing suppressed at once, ages ago by Imperial power; flat zero of a thing at this time; and you, I again bid you, return me your Papers upon it.” This latter act of duty Friedrich Wilhelm would not do, but continued insisting: “Jagerndorf, at least, O Kaiser of the world,” said he, “Jagerndorf, there is no color for your keeping that!” To which the Kaiser again answers, “Nonsense!” and even falls upon astonishing schemes about it, as we shall see, but gives nothing. Ducal Preussen is sovereign, Cleve is at peace, Hinter-Pommern ours; this Elector has conquered much, but Silesia, and Vor-Pommern, and some other things he will have to do without. Louis XIV, it is thought, once offered to get him made King, but that he declined for the present.
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