Acts of Personal Bravery
The Cities of the Hanseatic League Strike for Liberty
"When a people has prosperity, intelligence, civil liberty, and a sense of moral obligations, such a people will allow itself to be destroyed rather than to surrender these things." Gneisenau
The free city of Hamburg had been incorporated by Napoleon into his empire. Upon hearing that the Germans in Königsberg and Breslau were arming in the cause of liberty, the citizens of Hamburg also became rebels, making common cause with their fellow Germans.
On the 24th of February, nearly a month before Frederick Wilhelm's declaration of war, the republic at the mouth of the Elbe rose against the French garrison. Longshoremen and apprentices joined with their more prosperous fellow-citizens, and after soundly thrashing every Frenchmen they could find hoisted once more the free flag of Hamburg.
The commander of the French garrison barricaded himself in with his troops, and managed to take some vengeance on some of the brave citizens of Hamburg with drum-head courts martial, but by 12th march 1813 he had to evacuate the city as Tettenborn's cossacks drew near.
The French garrison retreated from Lübeck, the most northernly city of what Napoleon had called the Rhine Confederation, upon the arrival of 300 Cossacks commanded by a German Officer on 21 March 1813.
Bremen had also tried to strike for liberty. An English war brig had landed some men, and, in conjunction with peasants and boatmen armed with oars attacked the French coast-guard and customs officials.
But in Bremen, the French garrison was commanded by General Vandamme, who put down the uprising with such ferocity that his actions would be compared to the the worst excesses of the Spanish Inquisition.
The flag of Bremen wasn't to fly at the mouth of the Weser until October 12, 1813
In Lüneburg, the people sprang to arms at the first sight of a cossack. With pitchforks and shovels they drove out French police, spies, tax gatherers, customs officials and all representatives of that hated rule.
On March 26, 1813 a detachment of French gendarmes tried to force their way into the town but were driven back by the citizenry. Finally, on 1 April, the French again appeared bringing with them some 2300 Saxon troops.
The citizens held out as long as they could, but their farm implements and boat oars could do little against muskets and cannon. In consequence, many were shot and fifty were sent to jail to await a death-sentence.
But help was to appear shortly in the form of the Lützow Freikorps, a battalion of Pommeranian Infantry, a Russian battalion, and 2,000 cossacks coming from Stettin. The Prussian force marching fifty miles in twenty-four hours to save the fifty prisoners from death, the infantry keeping pace with the troops on horseback.
On April 2, 1813, the Prussians stormed the walls of Lüneburg. Desperate fights raged at every city gate and throughout the narrow streets. The French and their Saxon allies were thrown out, only to face cossack lances. They tried to retake the town, but failed. Lüneburg was free.
Taken prisoner were the French commanding general, 100 other officers, 2200 soldiers and three standards.
Spiking the Guns at Lange Brücke
The Blacksmith Spiking the Guns at Lange Brücke, by Woodville
As Yorck's Corps and the Russians advanced westward, King Frederick Wilhelm III had betaken himself to Breslau to be safe from any French attempts to imprison him. A month would pass before he would declare war against Napoleon. Berlin was still in the clutches of a French garrison.
On the 20th of February, 1813 a squadron of cossacks had entered Berlin from the east. The roamed through Berlin, ran down members of the French garrison, stopped and stared at Frederick Wilhelm's palace, made a short prance down the Unter den Linden, and then east, out of town. They caused no real damage, other than to shake the French up a bit. They did, however excite the citizens of Berlin into action.
Soon after the cossacks left Berlin, the French set up a battery of two guns to block passage of the Lange Brücke over the Spree River under the walls of the King's palace.
From east of the King's palace, down the Breitenstrasse, came a crowd of angry citizens. They were all blacksmiths, weilding their hammers, and ready to fight. On they rushed, past the Royal Mews, and to the Lange Brücke toward the two French cannon and their crews. At the head of this group marched a giant of a man, clad in blackened clothes and his leather smith's apron, brandishing a large sledge-hammer.
Swinging his heavy hammer, he floored two of the French gunners, causing the remaining gun crews to take to their heels. The gallant blacksmith then took two nails from his apron and rendered the cannon useless by driving the nails into the touch-holes.
Immediately, French reinforcements from the garrison came to the bridge endangering this small band of patriots. Bravely, the blacksmith met them on the bridge, dropping several more Frenchmen with powerful swings of his heavy hammer.
Soon he was overpowered by a dozen French who stained the bridge with his blood. The crowd was enraged. On to the bridge they charged, driving back the French soldiers. As the French withdrew, the citizens picked up their hero, the brave blacksmith, bearing him upon their shoulders to an honourable resting place in the Royal Mews.
The Citizens of Dresden Try to Save Their Bridge
Of the three most famous bridges of Europe, the one over the Elbe at Dresden, was the most valuable of all of Dresden's works of architecture to it's citizens.
Before the Napoleon had returned with his new Grande Armee, the Allies had advanced to threaten the small French force holding Dresden.
On march 9, 1813 the French sent a party of laborers to tear up the road-bed on the bridge. These were driven off by a band of patriotic citizens after being forced to re-lay every paving stone they had removed.
The next morning, the French reappeared, and so did the townspeople. A French officer then undertook to measure off the space required for the charge of gunpowder. The citizens, rushed over the police barricade, and threw the measuring line over the bridge into the Elbe, and were on the verge of doing the same to the French soldiers had not a large force of gendarmes appeared to restore the quiet.
Then came a troop of Saxon Curiassiers who trotted up bravely to the conflict who had orders to cut down their own people and keep the bridge clear. A public spritied stonemason stepped out from the crowd, and ordered the troopers to halt in a booming voice which stopped the cuirassiers cold. To them he said: "Fellows, we are all of us brothers and Germans; don't cut in among us. I have a better plan. Let us unite and give the French a thrashing."
This was followed by a tremendous amount of cheering, which caused the cuirassiers to beat a retreat, preferring to rather incur a flogging in their barrack yards than the odium of assisting the French to blow up this beautiful bridge.
The French garrison had shut itself up, waiting for the storm to pass, and the citizens, emboldened by their ability to cause the Saxon Curiassiers to quit the field marched to the Brühl Palace which ahd been occupied by the French commander. They drove away the French sentries, smashed the windows and those of the Saxon Minister of Foreign Affairs. The French commander was not hurt, and realized that had the same thing occured in Paris, from every convenient lamp-post would have dangled the body of an obnoxious official, while the remainder of the stinking corpses would have been floating in the river.
That night, the citizens went to bed, content that they had done their work thoroughly. But the secret police of Napoleon remained awake, and one-by-one hunted down the patriots who had made themselves conspicous during the day. These were arrested, and thrown into Königstein Fortress...a place full of blackholes, mostly occupied by those whose political views differed from that of the Saxon King.
The French commander had sent for reinforcements, and these appeared in the form of Marshall Davout and 10,000 men. The Brühl Terrace was crowded with cannon which pointed at the citizens of Dresden. The 'Iron Marshall' then ordered that the streets be patroled by the cavalry, and to arrest or cut down any gathering larger than three people.
On March 19, 1813, the bridge was blown up...a bridge that had been dear to the Saxons for five hundred years. The French had not even the apology of military neccessity for thier ungenerous act.
Within a week, Old Blücher had entered Dresden. The French garrison had anticipated his arrival, stealing away in the night followed by the jeers of the citizens of Dresden.
The Lützow Freikorps
"Let flags and banners, all ye can,
Wave o'er our heads on high!
To-day we swear, yes, man for man,
The hero's death to die.
Wave o'er the daring phalanx, wave,
Thou flag of victory!
We'll vanquish, or seek in the grave
The pillow of the free."
The preparation for the war against the French began shortly after Napoleon forced his harsh terms on Prussia. The patriotic party, represented by Blücher, Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, and Stein at once began to make secretive plans for a war which patriotic Germans felt must come soon. Each year, between 1807 and 1813 they hoped their King would give the order to take up arms and march against the French.
It was arranged, in the event of war, that there should be raised a number of independent small corps, who should operate on the French lines of communication, and arouse insurrection in the German states under Napoleon's rule. The King of Prussia was against any military movement that would irritate his French ally, but this preparation continued nevertheless.
With interest, Scharnhorst had watched the activities of Major Adolf von Lützow. Lützow had fought at Auerstadt and in 1807 was under the walls of Kolberg with Schill making raids upon the French beseigers. In 1808, he had left the army and taken part in Schill's raid. Because his name had been on the retired list, he wasn't court-martialled with the rest of Schill's force. Frederick Wilhelm took him back into Prussian service in 1811.
On February 9, 1813, only six days after Frederick Wilhelm's call for volunteers, Lützow presented his king with a petition, begging that he might raise an independent corps. He laid stress that some of these men would also come from other German states eager to serve the Prussian cause. Frederick Wilhelm granted this request on February 18th for a formation officially designated "The Royal Prussian Free Corps". The crown was only to furnish pay and weapons that couldn't be procured by other means. The King also granted these volunteers permission to wear a special uniform of black...a favour which enabled them to dress at lower cost than the traditional Prussian blue. Though Napoleon chose to brand them as brigands, there is ample evidence to prove that they were part of the Prussian army, and subject to military law as it pertained to regular combattants.
Lützow's Wild Huntsmen, by Woodville
Lützow's task was not an easy one. first, there was no money. Secondly, Prussia was actively recruiting volunteers very liberally. Despite all of this, on March 19, 1813, two days after the Prussian declaration of war against France, the Freikorps was declared fit to take the field. On march 27th, 1813, the Freikorps departed Breslau. Gathering strength as it marched, it numbered 1,400 infantry and 340 cavalry as it entered Leipzig for the first time on 17 April 1813.
Upon entering Saxony, Lützow on April 5, 1813 issued a manifiesto, enumerating the French sins against Germany, calling upon Germans to raise up against the French tyrant. He called upon the young men of Saxony to join his freikorps saying: "In our ranks is no distinction of birth, class, or country. We are all free men. We defy hell and her allies, and we shall drown them, though be it with our own blood!"
Lützow Captures Two Hundred Recruits for the French Army at Roda, by Woodville
Lützow's freikorps marched through Saxony toward Weimar. On June 3, 1813 they reached Roda, seven miles southeast of Jena, coming upon 200 German recruits for the confederation armies being drilled by their officers. Most of Lützow's troops were still coming up. Lützow didn't hesitate a second. with the few hussars available he charged into their midst. The Confederation officers had no idea that there were any Prussians within one-hundred miles and were totally surprised. At Lützow's command, all grounded their arms as if he were their true commander. The Confederation officers were made prisoners on parole, while the 200 recruits enthusiastically joined the freikorps.
The Betrayal of the Armistice
By June 8th, 1813 the Lützow Freikorps had entered Bavaria and were on the verge of capturing the town of Hof. On the 11th of June, he learned of the armistice through an unofficial message, and therefore had to give up this great prize. He also learned that he had to return the prisoners he had taken after the 5th of June, the official beginning of the armistice.
One provision of the armistice was that all Allied troops should be withdrawn to the east side of the Elbe by 12 June. This was clearly impossible for the freikorps, because the Elbe was over 100 miles away...far too long a distance to cover in 24 hours. Nor had Lützow been informed formally of the armistice until the 14th of June. Accordingly, the next day, he started for the Elbe choosing the shortest route via Leipzig.
His force marched free from anxiety, because they had been supplied a young Saxon officer to act as a guide and protector. On the evening of 17 June, 1813 they prepared to set up camp about 10 miles southwest of Leipzig. They had also sent two troopers to forage. These had been made prisoners by the French. Thinking that the capture was a form of mistake, Lützow forbade any type of reprisal. He then learned that his force had been followed by a column of south Germans marching with all the appearance of being at war.
Cheering Lützow's Flag of Truce in Leipzig, by Woodville
Lützow immediately sent a flag of truce to the commander of the south German force and was told in return to await a message from General Arrighi who commanded the Leipzig garrison. Halting his force, Lützow sent a letter to Arrighi demanding the release of the two troopers that had been made prisoner.
Upon seeing the Lützow uniform the citizens of Leipzig cheered the officer as he moved to Arrighi's headquarters. But, here the triumphal procession ceased. The officer was arrested and brought into Arrighi's presence. Arrighi pronounced him an outlaw and brigand, and ordered him thrown into jail. Meanwhile French forces were closing up the freikorps.
Upon sighting clouds of dust at seven in the evening, Lützow sent his bugler to investigate. The remainder of the horces had been tethered, and the men of the freikorps were preparing their evening meal. Learning that French columns were closing upon his band of soldiers, Lützow forbade any counter demonstration by his men, hopoing against hope that the word of honour given by Napoleon's officer would shield his men from this outrage. He had an interview with the French commander of the approaching formations, a General Fournier. Fournier promised to him that he wouldn't be attacked as long as his force stayed upon the Leipzig highway.
Hereupon, Lützow ordered his men to march on to Leipzig. No sooner had the march commenced when he noticed a column of French dragoons break into a trot. He demanded an explanation of this and got it: "Truce for all, but not for you!" was the answer he got from the man who had just given his word of honor that he would not attack.
The fight was over quickly. The men, huddled on the highway were cut down like sheep. Some attempted to make a stand, but these too were mowed down. Lützow's horse was shot from under him, but under cover of darkness escaped with his life. Three hundred and five horsemen were killed or taken prisoner. A remnant of the freikorps succeeded in cutting their way through French lines. They travelled to Leipzig, still thinking the wanton attack was the result of a misunderstanding, and that Arrighi would disavow the attack.
Reaching the city gate, they were promised safe escort, but after travelling only a short distance further, they were seized and thrown in jail. There, they learned that Napoleon himself had given the order that the men of the Lützow Freikorps were to be treated not as soldiers but as brigands. There was to be no medical assistance for the wounded who were locked up seperately in a church. These men would have died, not for the kindly assistance of citizens of Leipzig who begged permission to look after them.
As the wounded healed, they were thrown into jail, and then marched by way of Erfurt, Mainz, Metz, and through France, chained, where they were imprisoned in the cruel fortresses on the Mediterranean. They were to live the life of slave laborers until the Allies entered Paris in 1814.
Lützow, after making his escape entered Leipzig and was entertained to dinner by Arrighi as a courtesy. He was then set free to make his way over the Elbe. Upon hearing of this, Napoleon ordered Arrighi to Dresden to explain his conduct. Arrighi, sought to explain this conduct, saying that Lützow had acted in perfect accord with the rules of war, but napoleon interrupted him, heaping insults upon him. Napoleon told him: "that he should have seized and immediately tried him for highway robbery, or better yet, have him shot without trial.
Napoleon was so incensed about Lützow's escape that he snatched the epaulets from Arrighi's uniform, and told him to "go to the devil!" Lützow learned of this occurence after the Allies had entered Paris.
Leipzig Pays for It's Acts of Kindness
Arrighi returned to Leipzig and anounced that "the town of Leipzig has incurred the displeasure of His Majesty the Emperor to a high degree, on acount of bad behavior in connection with recent military and politcal event. Therefore, be it eancted that whosoever shall hereafter show aversion towards the French, or incur suspicion for behavior towards their allies, shall be treated as a traitor, arrested at once, and brought before the French military authorities for the severest punishment." The citizens of Leipzig were stripped of every weapon they had, and all provisions were confiscated. They were then further punished by being forced to supply the fortress of Wittenberg with all of the supplies it needed.
The city fathers of Leipzig travelled to Dresden, begging an audience with Napoleon. Before they even began to make their point, Napoleon heaped insults upon them, then turned about and slammed the door in their faces.
A well-born maiden left here home in Potsdam and joined the Lutzow Freikorps. She fought with a singleness of purpose, the deliverance of her King. Not a man in the Lutzow Regiment suspected that one of their best troopers was a woman until September 16, 1813. On that day they charged into a French battery, Eleanora in front. A cannonball smashed her right leg. She fell from her horse, supported by a comrade, and only in death did she disclose the fact that she was a woman.
An Eagle of the Imperial Guard for Private Timm
A Mecklenburg Hussar's Capture, by Woodville
During the battle of Leipzig, Private Timm, of the Mecklenburg Hussars, noticed two French officers galloping away from the battlefield. Not wishing to allow them to escape, he put his spurs to his horse, chasing after them. He knocked the first from his horse, and delivered a mighty blow to the head of the second with his sabre. As the officer fell, he noticed a gold Eagle of the Imperial Guard sticking out from under the officer's coat. Despite the first sabre blow, the French Officer was still alive, clinging to the Eagle. Knowing that no Imperial Guard Eagles had yet been captured, Private Timm launched himself from his, throwing himself upon the Frenchman.
The Frenchman clung to his Eagle so fiercely that the shaft broke as he and Timm wrestled in the mud. Again, Private Timm had to resort to the sword, finally wresting the Eagle from the dead man's hands as guns boomed overhead.
He rode back to his regiment swinging aloft the great trophy...the most precious of the whole war. There had been plenty of Eagles taken from French line regiments, but this was the first taken from the Imperial Guard. Timm was sent to Blücher and then to the monarchs. He received all sorts of high medals and many compliments. As the Allied soveriegns passed the golden bird from one to another, Timm remarked: "Now that I have tamed that bird of Prey, it's not difficult to let him hop from one finger to another; yesterday I don't think these people would have cared to play with him."
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