The Mobilisation and Tales of Self-sacrifice

"Father, I honor thee!

'Tis not a fight for the world's golden hoard.

Holy is what we protect with the sword.

Hence, falling or vanquishing, praise be to thee!

God, I submit to thee."

Korner, "Gebet während der Schlact"

Yorck, and the glorious defection at Tauroggen

General Yorck Enters Konigsberg, by Woodville

As the tattered remnants of Napoleon's 600,000 plodded their way westward across the frozen Russian wasteland, emmisaries of the Czar's army began to make overtures to the Prussian contigent still in the area of Riga. The Russian and Prussian armies had been acting to a sort of tacit agreement which would limit the fighting "as far as was compatible with the honour of Prussian Arms". The Russian overtures to defect had no effect because Yorck returned the answer that he'd been all of his life a soldier, knew nothing of diplomacy, and must carry out his orders.

On December 17, 1812 the Russians broke through to the south of the Prussians, cutting them off from their bases in East Prussia. Shortly thereafter, came to him a personal letter from the Czar, in which the Czar promised that he would not lay down his arms against the French until Prussia had been restored to her original strength. These two things decided Yorck to reopen negotiations with the Russians.

At the same time, he sent word to Frederick Wilhelm expecting to receive definite orders from his sovereign. What Yorck received instead was a verbal message that negotiations had been opened with the Austrians and that Yorck should act "according to the circumstances"...a blank check...

On 30 December, Yorck signed the Convention of Tauroggen which seperated him from the Corps of MacDonald and made the Prussian Army a neutral force. Turning to his officer's, Yorck said; "Gentlemen, I do not know what I shall say to the King about my action. Perhaps he will call it treason. Then I shall carry the consequences. I shall put my grey head willingly at the disposal of His Majesty and die gladly, knowing that I have not failed as a faithful subject and a true Prussian."

Indeed, it was considered treason by Frederick Wilhelm, who gave orders that Yorck be relieved of his command. Since, however no written order reached Yorck, and the only notification he had came from a newspaper, he refused to hand over command saying; "Up to now, no general has received his orders via the newspapers."

Yorck's defection at Tauroggen was to live with him for the rest of his life. It put a strain on the relationship he had with his king, and the rest of the officer corps. It was however to be the spark that ignited the smouldering embers of Prussian patriotism. Before Viceroy Eugene had quit Berlin, the first volunteers were being organized in Konigsberg.

As Napoleon raised a new army in France, Viceroy Eugene lead the remnants of the Grande Armee westwards, fearful of an openly hostile Prussian population. Behind him followed a screen of cossacks who hid from Napoleon the birth of a new Prussian Army....

Prussia Mobilizes

Prussian Volunteers Leaving Berlin, by Woodville

While well to do Parisians were jeering at the scarecrows of Napoleon's new army drilling on the Champs Elysees, all over Prussia and the rest of Germany men were flocking to the Prussian banner. Berlin was especially alive, with one man in twelve volunteering to fight the French. Over 9,000 of them in one day! Had all of Prussia mobilized at such a rate, the army would have grown to 400,000.

A Volunteer of 1813, by Woodville

At first Frederick Wilhelm did not want this huge army of volunteers. He had been fight Scharnhorst and the other reformers since before Jena. He'd have never allowed them to be called had he known of the tremendous response. Frederick Wilhelm had persisted with his French alliance because he believed the German people would not fight. Standing on a balcony as wagons of cheering volunteers clattered past, Scharnhorst said; "Does Your Majesty now believe?" Scharnhorst also sweetened this gift of the people by pointing out to his King that volunteers could supply some of their own clothing and equipment, saving him the expense.

This show of patriotism by his people emboldened Frederick Wilhelm to such an extent that on February 15, 1813 he sent a proposition to Napoleon to withdraw his troops beyond the Elbe, surrender the fortresses he had unjustly occupied, and to pay his debts to Prussia amounting to 94,000,000 francs. Although Frederick Wilhelm believed Napoleon would receive this in a friendly manner, nobody else did. It was in fact a declaration of war.

"For King and Fatherland", by Woodville

The Prussian Monarchy was still in a terrible financial state. It had not the money to raise and equip a new army. Here, the people stepped in. Those with the least, giving the most. Women sold their hair, and married couples sold their gold wedding bands, having new bands made of iron by blacksmiths. The best calcualtion is that upon the Altar of German Liberty were laid over 160,000 gold rings in the early days of 1813. Within a few days of Frederick Wilhelm's famous proclamation "An mein Volk" public collections raised a six and one-half million thalers. In the 1890's, in the Korner Museum in Dresden could be found an iron wedding band inscribed: "Gold gave I for iron, 1813"

One of the most touching acts of devotion to the cause of liberty was that of a girl of 18 living in Breslau, famed for her beauty and masses of golden hair. Having nothing else to give, she went to a barber and asked what her hair was worth. He answered "ten Thalers". She asked the barber to cut it off, but he refused. So, she went home, cut it off, and sent it to the King's officials saying "The barber has offered ten Thalers for this hair. I am happy to make this small gift to my country". The committee conceived the idea of making and selling bracelets and rings of this famous hair. They sold so successfully that from this source alone they recieved 250 Thalers.

The list of gifts given freely by the Prussian people to their King is quite impressive. Here are a few more things laid at the altar of German Liberty as carried in German newspapers:

'Franz Lami of Berlin offers to do the work of poor teachers that desire to go and fight for their country. He will forward to them their monthly salary with no charge whatsoever.'

'The peasant Mayor of Elsholz had only two horses, the better of the two he gave to the army without asking pay.'

'The widow D.P. give four thalers and her engagement ring.'

'Proffesor Cravenhorst of the Breslau University begged the government to keep half of his small salary for the sake of helping with the war.'

'Herr Lanzfeld from Weisdorf sends to the army a beautiful troop-horse with this message: "The Frenchman has stolen five of my horses, so I send the sixth after them."

'Little mary sends one thaler and eight groschen, which had been given her so that she might buy a doll.'

'Professor Steffens is honourably mentioned as merely not shouldering a musket, but as also having raised seventy-one thalers to equip volunteers.'

.............. The Poet Fichte, by Woodville........................Prussia's Peasant Soldiers of 1813, Woodville

Prussia's volunteer army prepared itself for battle as best as possible. The poet Fichte reporting in with a leather belt which served as some sort of cuirass in which he placed two pistols. Others reported with whatever they had, some wearing wooden shoes, and some armed only with pitchforks or other farming implements. Some units appeared more as carnivals than groups of soldiers.

More money, uniforms, and weapons came from England, so that some entire units were dressed and outfitted with English gear. The Krumpers were called to duty, and some antiquated pieces of artillery issued to complete the oputfits of some units.

The spirit of Queen Luise was powerful in these days. The poet Korner wrote:

As when an army, gathering up it's strength,

Goes forth in courage in a righteous war,

A holy picture glows upon it's flag,

An oriflamme to lead them goes before,

So shall thy picture upon our banners wave,

And light us on to victory once more.

Luise, be thou our guardian in the fight,

To lead us out of darkness into the night!

The mobilisation had progressed to such an extent, that by 2 May, 1813, the day of the battle of Lutzen, the Prussian army could field 60,000 men, with another 60,000 in the depots who would become ready during the armistice.

Although this may seem like a small accomplishment compared to the miraculous raising of almost 400,000 by Napoleon in the same period, it should be remembered that France was a nation of some thirty million peoples with a healthy economy and that Prussia only numbered some six million people and had been bankrupted by Napoleon's sanctions. Napoleon's miracle had been created by an all-powerful emperor who had to use conscription and call up men who were too young and sometimes physically unfit for duty. Prussia's miracle is all the more great, because it stemmed from the will of the people. The numbers of French deserters and stragglers will tell the story of the fatal flaw within Napoleon's miracle. As for the Prussian miracle, there are few notes of desertion or tales of large numbers of able men hiding in hospitals under the slightest of pretexts.

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