The End of Two Great Soldiers
Two armies faced each other in central Bavaria, two armies on which the fate of Germany depended, those of Gustavus Adolphus, the right hand of Protestantism, and of Wallenstein, the hope of Catholic imperialism. Gustavus was strongly intrenched in the vicinity of Nuremberg, with an army of but sixteen thousand men. Wallenstein faced him with an army of sixty thousand, yet dared not attack him in his strong position. He occupied himself in efforts to make his camp as impregnable as that of his foeman, and the two great opponents lay waiting face to face, while famine slowly decimated their ranks.
It was an extraordinary position. Both sides depended for food on foraging, and between them they had swept the country clean. The peasantry fled in every direction from Wallenstein's pillaging troops, who destroyed all that they could not carry away. It had become a question with the two armies which could starve the longest, and for three months they lay encamped, each waiting until famine should drive the other out. Surely such a situation had never before been known.
What had preceded this event? A few words will tell. Ferdinand the emperor had, with the aid of Tilly and Wallenstein, laid all Germany prostrate at his feet. Ferdinand the zealot had, by this effort to impose Catholicism on the Protestant states, speedily undone the work of his generals, and set the war on foot again. Gustavus Adolphus, the hero of Sweden, had come to the aid of the oppressed Protestants of Germany, borne down all before him, and quickly won back northern Germany from the oppressor's hands.
And now the cruelty of that savage war reached its culminating point. When Germany submitted to the emperor, one city did not submit. Magdeburg still held out. All efforts to subdue it proved fruitless, and it continued free and defiant when all the remainder of Germany lay under the emperor's control.
It was to pay dearly for the courage of its citizens. When the war broke out again, Magdeburg was besieged by Tilly with his whole force. After a most valiant defence it was taken by storm, and a scene of massacre and ruin followed without a parallel in modern wars. When it ended, Magdeburg was no more. Of its buildings all were gone, except the cathedral and one hundred and thirty-seven houses. Of its inhabitants all had perished, except some four thousand who had taken refuge in the cathedral. Man, woman, and child, the sword had slain them all, Tilly being in considerable measure responsible for the massacre, for he was dilatory in ordering its cessation. When at length he did act there was little to save. All Europe thrilled with horror at the dreadful news, and from that day forward fortune fled from the banners of Count Tilly.
On September 7, 1631, the armies of Gustavus and Tilly met at Leipsic, and a terrible battle ensued, in which the imperialists were completely defeated and all the fruits of their former victories torn from their hands. In the following year Tilly had his thigh shattered by a cannon-ball at the battle of the Lech, and died in excruciating agonies.
Such were the preludes to the scene we have described. The Lutheran princes everywhere joined the victorious Gustavus; Austria itself was threatened by his irresistible arms; and the emperor, in despair, called Wallenstein again to the command, yielding to the most extreme demands of this imperious chief.
The next scene was that we have described, in which the armies of Gustavus and Wallenstein lay face to face at Nuremberg, each waiting until starvation should force the other to fight or to retreat.
Gustavus had sent for reinforcements, and his army steadily grew. That of Wallenstein dwindled away under the assaults of famine and pestilence. A large convoy of provisions intended for Wallenstein was seized by the Swedes. Soon afterwards Gustavus was so strongly reinforced that his army grew to seventy thousand men. At his back lay Nuremberg, his faithful ally, ready to aid him with thirty thousand fighting men besides. As his force grew that of Wallenstein shrank, until by the end of the siege pestilence and want had reduced his army to twenty-four thousand men.
The Swedes were the first to yield in this game of starvation. As their numbers grew their wants increased, and at length, furious with famine, they made a desperate assault upon the imperial camp. They were driven back, with heavy loss. Two weeks more Gustavus waited, and then, despairing of drawing his opponent from his works, he broke camp and marched with sounding trumpets past his adversary's camp, who quietly let him go. The Swedes had lost twenty thousand men, and Nuremberg ten thousand of her inhabitants, during this period of hunger and slaughter.
This was in September, 1632. In November of the same year the two armies met again, on the plain of Lützen, in Saxony, not far from the scene of Tilly's defeat, a year before. Wallenstein, on the retreat of Gustavus, had set fire to his own encampment and marched away, burning the villages around Nuremberg and wasting the country as he advanced, with Saxony as his goal. Gustavus, who had at first marched southward into the Catholic states, hastened to the relief of his allies. On the 15th of November the two great opponents came once more face to face, prepared to stake the cause of religious freedom in Germany on the issue of battle.
Early in the morning of the 16th Gustavus marshalled his forces, determined that that day should settle the question of victory or defeat. Wallenstein had weakened his ranks by sending Count Pappenheim south on siege duty, and the Swedish king, without waiting for reinforcements, decided on an instant attack.
Unluckily for him the morning dawned in fog. The entire plain lay shrouded. It was not until after eleven o'clock that the mist rose and the sun shone on the plain. During this interval Count Pappenheim, for whom Wallenstein had sent in haste the day before, was speeding north by forced marches, and through the chance of the fog was enabled to reach the field while the battle was at its height.
The troops were drawn up in battle array, the Swedes singing to the accompaniment of drums and trumpets Luther's stirring hymn, and an ode composed by the king himself: "Fear not, thou little flock." They were strongly contrasted with the army of their foe, being distinguished by the absence of armor, light colored (chiefly blue) uniforms, quickness of motion, exactness of discipline, and the lightness of their artillery. The imperialists, on the contrary, wore old-fashioned, close-fitting uniforms, mostly yellow in color, cuirasses, thigh-pieces, and helmets, and were marked by slow movements, absence of discipline, and the heaviness and unmanageable character of their artillery. The battle was to be, to some extent, a test of excellence between the new and the old ideas in war.
At length the fog rose and the sun broke out, and both sides made ready for the struggle. Wallenstein, though suffering from a severe attack of his persistent enemy, the gout, mounted his horse and prepared his troops for the assault. His infantry were drawn up in squares, with the cavalry on their flanks, in front a ditch defended by artillery. His purpose was defensive, that of Gustavus offensive. The Swedish king mounted in his turn, placed himself at the head of his right wing, and, brandishing his sword, exclaimed, "Now, onward! May our God direct us! Lord! Lord! help me this day to fight for the glory of Thy name!" Then, throwing aside his cuirass, which annoyed him on account of a slight wound he had recently received, he cried, "God is my shield!" and led his men in a furious charge upon the cannon-guarded ditch.
The guns belched forth their deadly thunders, many fell, but the remainder broke irresistibly over the defences and seized the battery, driving the imperialists back in disorder. The cavalry, which had charged the black cuirassiers of Wallenstein, was less successful. They were repulsed, and the cuirassiers fiercely charged the Swedish infantry in flank, driving it back beyond the trenches.
This repulse brought on the great disaster of the day. Gustavus, seeing his infantry driven back, hastened to their aid with a troop of horse, and through the disorder of the field became separated from his men, only a few of whom accompanied him, among them Francis, Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg. His short-sightedness, or the foggy condition of the atmosphere, unluckily brought him too near a party of the black cuirassiers, and in an instant a shot struck him, breaking his left arm.
"I am wounded; take me off the field," he said to the Duke of Lauenburg, and turned his horse to retire from the perilous vicinity.
As he did so a second ball struck him in the back. "My God! My God!" he exclaimed, falling from the saddle, while his horse, which had been wounded in the neck, dashed away, dragging the king, whose foot was entangled in the stirrup, for some distance.
The duke fled, but Luchau, the master of the royal horse, shot the officer who had wounded the king. The cuirassiers advanced, while Leubelfing, the king's page, a boy of eighteen, who had alone remained with him, was endeavoring to raise him up.
"Who is he?" they asked.
The boy refused to tell, and was shot and mortally wounded.
"I am the King of Sweden!" Gustavus is said to have exclaimed to his foes, who had surrounded and were stripping him.
On hearing this they sought to carry him off, but a charge of the Swedish cavalry at that moment drove them from their prey. As they retired they discharged their weapons at the helpless king, one of the cuirassiers shooting him through the head as he rushed past his prostrate form.
The sight of the king's charger, covered with blood, and galloping with empty saddle past their ranks, told the Swedes the story of the disastrous event. The news spread rapidly from rank to rank, carrying alarm wherever it came. Some of the generals wished to retreat, but Duke Bernhard of Weimar put himself at the head of a regiment, ran its colonel through for refusing to obey him, and called on them to follow him to revenge their king.
His ardent appeal stirred the troops to new enthusiasm. Regardless of a shot that carried away his hat, Bernhard charged at their head, broke over the trenches and into the battery, retook the guns, and drove the imperial troops back in confusion, regaining all the successes of the first assault.
The day seemed won. It would have been but for the fresh forces of Pappenheim, who had some time before reached the field, only to fall before the bullets of the foe. His men took an active part in the fray, and swept backward the tide of war. The Swedes were again driven from the battery and across the ditch, with heavy loss, and the imperialists regained the pivotal point of the obstinate struggle.
But now the reserve corps of the Swedes, led by Kniphausen, came into action, and once more the state of the battle was reversed. They charged across the ditch with such irresistible force that the position was for the third time taken, and the imperialists again driven back. This ended the desperate contest. Wallenstein ordered the retreat to be sounded. The dead Gustavus had won the victory.
A thick fog came on as night fell and prevented pursuit, even if the weariness of the Swedes would have allowed it. They held the field, while Wallenstein hastened away, his direction of retreat being towards Bohemia. The Swedes had won and lost, for the death of Gustavus was equivalent to a defeat, and the emperor, with unseemly rejoicing, ordered a Te Deum to be sung in all his cities.
On the following day the Swedes sought for the body of their king. They found it by a great stone, which is still known as the Swedish stone. It had been so trampled by the hoofs of charging horses, and was so covered with blood from its many wounds, that it was difficult to recognize. The collar, saturated with blood, which had fallen into the hands of the cuirassiers, was taken to Vienna and presented to the emperor, who is said to have shed tears on seeing it. The corpse was laid in state before the Swedish army, and was finally removed to Stockholm, where it was interred.
Thus perished one of the great souls of Europe, a man stirred deeply by ambition, full of hopes greater than he himself acknowledged, a military hero of the first rank, and one disposed to prosecute war with a humanity far in advance of his age. He severely repressed all excesses of his soldiery, was solicitous for the security of citizens and peasantry, and strictly forbade any revengeful reprisals on Catholic cities for the frightful work done by his opponents upon the Protestants. Seldom has a conqueror shown such magnanimity and nobility of sentiment, and his untimely death had much to do with exposing Germany to the later desolation of that most frightful of religious wars.
His defeated foe, Wallenstein, was not long to survive him. After his defeat he acted in a manner that gave rise to suspicions that he intended to play false to the emperor. He executed many of his officers and soldiers in revenge for their cowardice, as he termed it, recruited his ranks up to their former standard, but remained inactive, while Bernhard of Weimar was leading the Swedes to new successes.
His actions were so problematical, indeed, that suspicion of his motives grew more decided, and at length a secret conspiracy was raised against him with the connivance of the emperor. Wallenstein, as if fearful of an attempt to rob him of his power, had his superior officers assembled at a banquet given at Pilsen, in January, 1634. A fierce attack of gout prevented him from presiding, but his firm adherents, Field-Marshals Illo and Terzka, took his place, and all the officers signed a compact to adhere faithfully to the duke in life and death as long as he should remain in the emperor's service. Some signed it who afterwards proved false to him, among them Field-Marshal Piccolomini, who afterwards betrayed him.
Just what designs that dark and much revolving man contemplated it is not easy to tell. It may have been treachery to the emperor, but he was not the man to freely reveal his secrets. The one person he trusted was Piccolomini, whose star seemed in favorable conjunction with his own. To him he made known some of his projected movements, only to find in the end that his trusted confidant had revealed them all to the emperor.
The plot against Wallenstein was now put into effect, the emperor ordering his deposition from his command, and appointing General Gablas to replace him, while a general amnesty for all his officers was announced. Wallenstein was quickly taught how little he could trust his troops and officers. Many of his generals fell from him at once. A few regiments only remained faithful, and even in their ranks traitors lurked. With but a thousand men to follow him he proceeded to Eger, and from there asked aid of Bernhard of Weimar, as if he purposed to join with those against whom he had so long fought. Bernhard received the message with deep astonishment, and exclaimed, moved by his belief that Wallenstein was in league with the devil,—
"He who does not trust in God can never be trusted by man!"
The great soldier of fortune was near his end. The stars were powerless to save him. It was not enough to deprive him of his command, his enemies did not deem it safe to let him live. One army gone, his wealth and his fame might soon bring him another, made up of those mercenary soldiers of all nations, and of all or no creeds, who would follow Satan if he promised them plunder. His death had been resolved upon, and the agent chosen for its execution was Colonel Butler, one of the officers who had accompanied him to Eger.
It was late in February, 1634. On the night fixed for the murder, Wallenstein's faithful friends, Illo, Terzka, Kinsky, and Captain Neumann were at a banquet in the castle of Eger. The agents of death were Colonel Butler, an Irish officer named Lesley, and a Scotchman named Gordon, while the soldiers employed were a number of dragoons, chiefly Irish.
In the midst of the dinner the doors of the banqueting hall were burst open, and the assassins rushed upon their victims, killing them as they sat, with the exception of Terzka, who killed two of his assailants before he was despatched.
From this scene of murder the assassins rushed to the quarters of Wallenstein. It was midnight and he had gone to bed. He sprang up as his door was burst open, and Captain Devereux, one of the party, rushed with drawn sword into the room.
"Are you the villain who would sell the army to the enemy and tear the crown from the emperor's head?" he shouted.
Wallenstein's only answer was to open his arms and receive the blow aimed at his breast. He died without a word. Thus, with a brief interval between, had fallen military genius and burning ambition in two forms,—that of the heroic Swede and that of the ruthless Bohemian.