61. A Bad Omen

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The decisive word had been uttered! Prussia was at length going to draw the sword, and take revenge for years of humiliation.

The army received this intelligence with unbounded exultation and the people embraced every opportunity to manifest their martial enthusiasm. They demanded that Schiller's "Maid of Orleans" should be performed at the theatre, and replied to every warlike and soul- stirring word of the tragedy by the most rapturous applause. They again broke all the windows in Count Haugwitz's house, and serenaded Prince Louis Ferdinand, Minister von Hardenberg, and such generals as were known to be in favor of war.

All the newspapers predicted the most brilliant victories, and gloated already in advance over the triumphant battles in which the Prussian army would defeat the enemy.

But the proudest and happiest of all were the officers who, in the intoxication of their joy, saw their heads already wreathed with laurels which they would gain in the impending war, and whose pride would not admit the possibility of a defeat. The army of Frederick the Great, they said, could not be vanquished, and there was but one apprehension which made them tremble: the fear lest war should be avoided after all, and lest the inevitable and crushing defeat of Bonaparte should be averted once more by the conclusion of a miserable peace. [Footnote: Vide Varnhagen's "Denkwurdigkeiten," vol. i., pp. 389, 390.]

The old generals who had served under Frederick the Great were the heroes in whom the officers believed. "We have got generals who know something about war," said the haughty Prussian officers; "generals who have served in the army from their early youth. Those French tailors and shoemakers who have gained some distinction only in consequence of the revolution, had better take to their heels as soon as such generals take the field against them." [Footnote: Hausser's "History of Germany," vol. ii., p. 358.]

And in the enthusiasm inspired by their future victories, the officers gave each other brilliant farewell festivals, and indulged in liberal potations of champagne and hock in honor of the impending battles, singing in stentorian voices the new war-songs which E. M. Arndt [E. M. Arndt, the celebrated author of the German hymn, "Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland?"] had just dedicated to the German people. When their passions had been excited to the highest pitch by dreams of victory, by wine and soul-stirring songs, they went in the evening to the residence of the French minister to whet their sword- blades on the pavement in front of his door.

"But what should we need swords and muskets for?" shouted the officers up to the windows of the French minister; "for when the brave Prussians are approaching, the French will run away spontaneously; cudgels would be sufficient to drive the fellows back to their own country." [Bishop Eylert, "Frederick William III.," vol. iii., p. 8.]

But there were among the officers, and particularly among the generals, some prudent and sagacious men who shared the king's apprehensions, and who looked, like him, anxiously into the future.

These prudent men were aware of the condition of the Prussian army, and knew that it was no longer what it had been in the Seven Years' War, and that there was no Frederick the Great to lead it into battle.

It is true, there were still in the army many generals and officers who had served under Frederick the Great, and these, of course, were experienced and skilled in warlike operations. But they were weighed down by the long number of their years; old age is opposed to an adventurous spirit, and in favor of the comforts of life. Nevertheless, these men believed in themselves and felt convinced that victory would adhere to them, the warriors of Frederick the Great, and that no army was able to defeat soldiers commanded by them.

The more prudent men looked with feelings of reverence on these ruins of the magnificent structure which the great king had erected, but they perceived at the same time that they were decayed and crumbling. They well knew that the Prussian army was behind the times in many respects, and not equal to the occasion. Not only were the leaders too old, but the soldiers also had grown hoary--not, however, in wars and military camps, but in parading and garrison life. They knew nothing of active warfare, and were only familiar with the duties of parade-soldiers. They were married, and entered sullenly into a war which deprived their wives and children of their daily bread.

The Prussian army, moreover, was still organized in the old- fashioned style, and none of the improvements rendered indispensable by the rapid progress of the art of war had been adopted by the Prussian ministers of war.

The arms of the infantry were defective and bad; the muskets looked glittering and were splendidly burnished, but their construction was imperfect. They were calculated only for parades, but not for active warfare. Besides, the infantry was drilled in the old tactics, which looked very fine on parade, but were worse than useless in battle. ["The War of 1806 and 1807." By Edward von Hopfner, vol. 1., p. 46.]

The artillery was well mounted, but its generals were too old and disabled for field service; the youngest of them were more than seventy years of age.


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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach

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