The Death of Gustavus Adolphus
"His sword in his hand, the word of command between his lips." So died Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, the hero of the Thirty Years' War. The story of how he fought against the great Wallenstein on the battlefield of Lutzen, how he lost his life, and how his army fought recklessly on without him and won the day, is one of the most thrilling in history. A greater contrast than these two great commanders never existed. They had never met before on the field of battle. They were never to meet again.
Wallenstein, gloomy, silent, proud, ambition was the ruling power of his life; all stood in awe of him. Whole nights spent in a starry watch-tower with his astrologer had made him superstitious. He could not forget a prophecy, based on the appearance of a new star, that "a northern prince should arise, who should greatly advance the interests of the more pure religion." The fulfilment of the prophecy was to take place in this very year 1632. As the year advanced, and his enemy Gustavus carried all before him, Wallenstein became yet more gloomy; none dared approach him. "Hang the beast!" were his brief orders to enforce military discipline, which none dared disobey.
Gustavus Adolphus, on the other hand, was open as the day; blue-eyed, frank, fearless, he was a man to whom guile and treachery were unknown. He had two objects in view—the growth of Protestantism, and the good of Sweden. He was respected by all, adored by his soldiers, and loved by his wife and children.
It was on the twenty-eighth of October that Gustavus advanced with his army to Erfurt. It was Wallenstein's intention to establish himself firmly in Saxony; but Gustavus had resolved that he should not.
About a mile from Erfurt he drew up his army, reviewed every brigade, appointing their places and giving his orders. The same afternoon a deputation came from Erfurt to invite his majesty into the city, for his wife had already arrived to meet him there. But this was no time for royal processions, and it was not till night fell that the king made his entry privately into Erfurt. His first act was to go and visit one of the royal princes who had been ill a long time; then he hastened to the queen's lodgings.
The queen, Eleanora, with her train of ladies,' received him in the market square. Seeing her at a distance, the king dismounted, led the queen tenderly indoors, and gave himself up to military business. He felt strongly that the fate of Germany was approaching a great crisis. Allowing himself only half an hour for supper with the queen, he returned to his letters, and spent the greater part of the night in writing letters of importance to several princes, and dispatching messages to all troops that could reach him in ten days' time. He got up very early next morning, and, after taking a slight breakfast with the queen, he saw some of the city magistrates, who were waiting to see him. He spoke to them seriously, and ended his speech thus: "You know, gentlemen, that in human affairs there is no certainty. Some mischance may happen to me; and if God Almighty should please this, let me earnestly desire you to continue faithful to my dear queen, as becomes upright and honest men, and so I heartily pray to God to bless and preserve you." Then turning to his queen, Eleanora, he murmured, "God bless you!" and leaving them all in tears, he silently mounted his horse and rode off quickly to overtake his army, by this time in full march towards Saxony.
In three days, by easy marches of some twelve miles a day, the king and his army reached Nuremberg, and entered the city before Wallenstein could make himself master of the place, as he intended.
The inhabitants of the surrounding country flocked in crowds to look upon the Swedish hero. His presence among them gave them a feeling of security; he was as a saviour to men flying from the barbarities of Wallenstein's camp. Shouts of joy everywhere attended his progress. The people knelt before him, struggling for the honour of touching the sheath of his sword or the hem of his garment.
Gustavus disliked this tribute.
"Is it not," he said, "as if this people would make a god of me? I fear—I fear that because every man doth so adore and honour me that God Almighty will punish me for it, at one time or other. My God knoweth that I take no delight in it, nor am I desirous of it. Soon enough shall be revealed to this deluded multitude my human weakness and mortality."
The next day the king in person examined all the passes and roads around Nuremberg, though as yet he had not made up his mind to attack Wallenstein.
Meanwhile Wallenstein determined to take up his winter quarters in Saxony, even at the risk of a battle. There had been a rumour that he was unwilling to measure his powers with the hero of the north; he had declined a battle with him once. This could not be repeated. Besides, his astrologer had read in the stars that the good fortune of Gustavus should leave him in November. He called a council of war. His generals were against an attack at present—the winter was coming on, the army in need of rest. All voices were in favour of ending the campaign, and Wallenstein yielded. He felt so secure that he dispatched his general Pappenheim with a great part of the army away towards Cologne.
This was the news that was brought to Gustavus Adolphus one Sunday morning while he was yet at Nuremberg: Wallenstein had moved into winter quarters His army was divided. "Both these circumstances gave Gustavus uncommon joy," says the old story.
He at once called the Duke Bernard and other generals to his own room, and explained carefully to them the position of affairs. He did not disguise from them his longing to fight.
"Verily, God has given our enemies into our hands," he cried.
"Ho, brave occasion!" cried one of the dukes.
"Now God bless us, 'tis a happy chance!" cried others. The opportunity had arrived; it should not be missed. "How far is it to Lutzen?" asked the King of Sweden of the country gentlemen.
"There, sire, there it lies directly under your eye," they replied.
But this was a mistake. The country was almost level, and the tall church and castle of Lutzen could be plainly seen. Moreover the ground chiefly consisted of corn-fields freshly ploughed, and the way to Lutzen was much longer and more tedious than the Swedish army had any idea of.
It was not long before the whole army was advancing rapidly towards Lutzen.
"The army advanced stoutly and doubled their march, but their legs found it a longer way than their eyes, it being a sad country, full eight English miles of ground to Lutzen. Besides all this," says the old story, "there was a filthy pass in the way at a bridge over a river, where but one or two men could go abreast, which hindered the army full two hours going."
So it was almost night before the army could get within two English miles of Lutzen. Had he had two hours more of daylight, Gustavus declared, he would have taken Wallenstein asleep.
Having crossed the bridge, they met two of the emperor's regiments of horse. These made as if they would dispute the king's passage; but they did not, and the Swedish army passed on.
At last it became too dark to go on any longer, and the king was forced to encamp in the open fields. He himself with some of his officers passed the night in his coach, and every regiment lay down in their marching order, with their arms beside them.
On one point Gustavus had made up his mind—he would give the enemy battle two hours before the break of day, before Wallenstein's forces could be ready.
Meanwhile Wallenstein's army "was in a terrible hubbub at the king's coming over the pass," says the old story. The alarm caused by Gustavus's march spread like wildfire. On pain of death every man was ordered to march to Lutzen with all possible speed. Pappenheim was sent for at once, and Wallenstein began to plan out his defence.
Across the plain of Lutzen ran a road, the highway to Leipsic, ornamented on each side with middle-aged willow trees; and the soil being moist, deep, and rich, a trench had been cut on either hand to prevent wayfarers from crossing the corn-fields.
That part of the plain occupied by Gustavus was level, but on Wallenstein's side was a bit of rising ground where some windmills stood. Here, about nine o'clock at night, he fixed two large batteries of heavy artillery, casting up trenches of earth around them.
At ten in the evening he ordered his soldiers to deepen and widen the ditches on the road side, and at this they worked till the battle began next morning.
The night was very dark.
Two hours before daylight Gustavus ordered his drums to beat. "Arm, arm! repair to your colours, stand to your arms!" This was the morning summons, this the awakening from the cold, hard ground.
With the first streaks of dawn it became evident that no orders for attack could be given yet, for an inpenetrable fog covered the plain and nothing could be seen at two pikes' length.
Kneeling down in front of his lines, the king offered up his morning prayer, and the whole army at the same moment, dropping on their knees, burst into Luther's hymn, to the accompaniment of brazen trumpets, "God is a strong tower." The king joined in his own battle song:—
And as if with some forebodings of the coming slaughter they sang of the "Saviour who was the conqueror of death."
The king was asked to take some breakfast, but he declined. He was also asked to clothe himself in steel, according to the custom of the age.
"The Lord is my armour!" he cried, throwing aside his cuirass in an enthusiasm of heroism. Having lately received a wound in one of his shoulders from a musket-ball, the pressure of his cuirass was very painful. So he only changed his yesterday's clothes, and wore a new plain cloth coat and an elk-skin buff waistcoat, which is still to be seen at Vienna.
About eight o'clock the sun broke through the mist and gave promise of a fine November day, but only to show an unforeseen difficulty to the Swedish king. For in a straight line on which the Swedish left wing meant to advance was a deep ditch, too deep for the troops to cross, so that Gustavus had to edge his whole army to the right.
This movement took some time, and it was nine o'clock before he rode down the lines, addressing first to the Swedes, then to the Germans, two of the noblest orations before a battle that history records.
"My dear brethren," he cried to the Swedish soldiers, "carry yourselves bravely this day. Fight valiantly in God's name for your religion and for your king. This if you do, God's blessing and the people's praises shall be your reward, and you shall ever be laden with honour and glory, nor will I forget to reward you nobly. But if you think of flight, I here call God to witness that not a bone of you shall ever return again into Sweden."
Turning to the German troops, he slightly lowered his tone of authority.
"Friends, officers, and soldiers of the German nation," he began, "fight manfully against your enemies this day, both with me and for me. Be not faint-hearted in the battle, nor for anything discouraged. Set me before your eyes, and let me be your great example, even me, who fearlessly adventure life and blood for your cause, to the utmost danger. If you do this, there is no doubt but that God Himself will from heaven reward you with a most glorious victory. If you do not this, farewell for ever to your religion; your liberties must for ever remain enslaved."
These speeches were accompanied by the clashing of armour, and one shout passed from regiment to regiment—where their hero led they would follow. "And now, my hearts, let us on bravely against our enemies, and God prosper us."
Then drawing his sword, and waving it above his head, he advanced, the foremost of all his army, with the Swedish war-cry on his lips: "God with us!"
It had been his watchword at the battle of Leipsic; it was a good omen for Lutzen.
"I thank God I have both wind and sun to favour me," said the king joyously, as he rode forward.
Wallenstein's army far outnumbered his; the front of the enemy extended some two miles from one wing to the other. Wallenstein had a bad attack of gout in his feet, and though his stirrups were padded with silk, he could not ride on this famous November day, but had to be carried in a litter.
"It will now be shown whether I or the King of Sweden is to be master of the world," he said, shortly before the battle.
The battle began. As the fog lifted, the village of Lutzen was seen to be in flames, having been set on fire by Wallenstein, to prevent his being outflanked on that side. The cannonade soon began to grow extremely violent, for Wallenstein's artillery was exceedingly heavy, and Gustavus had only field-pieces and small, portable cannons.
The whole Swedish army had to cross the ditches, which were well lined with musketeers, and had been made five feet deep, which rendered them most dangerous for cavalry and infantry alike to cross; so much so indeed that four of the Swedish brigades, the finest body of infantry then in the world, found such difficulty in crossing under a severe fire that at one time they seemed to fall back.
Gustavus was some considerable distance off, but seeing them pause, he flew to them in an instant, dismounted, seized a pike from one of the officers, and proceeded to lead them over the ditch.
"If," he said, in a tone of severity, as he marched along, "if, having passed so many rivers, scaled numberless fortresses, and fought so many battles, your old courage has deserted you, stand firm at least some minutes longer and have the curiosity to see your master die in the manner he ought and in the manner he chooses."
"Stop, sire!" cried his soldiers, as with one voice, "stop, for heaven's sake, and spare that valuable life of yours. Distrust us not, we will do this business well."
Springing his horse across the ditch, he rode recklessly forwards. The horsemen he had ordered to follow him struggled in vain to keep up with the long strides of their master's horse.
Suddenly the fog came thickly down once more. The king, left almost alone in the darkness, dashed unawares into a regiment of the enemy's cuirassiers. One shot passed through his horse's neck. A second shattered his own left arm.
At this moment his squadron came hurrying up. "The king bleeds, the king is shot!" they cried in confusion. Terror and consternation spread through the ranks.
"It is nothing—follow me!" cried Gustavus, collecting his whole strength together.
But he was overcome by pain.
"Cousin," he cried to a young duke by his side, "I am sore wounded; help me to make my retreat."
The young duke held the wounded king up in his saddle while they turned round to retreat.
At this moment one of the enemy's officers, who knew the king by sight, came up.
"Who are you?" he cried.
"I was the King of Sweden," replied Gustavus. "I seal with my blood the Protestant religion and the liberties of Germany."
"This is the right bird," remarked the cuirassier, and drawing his pistol he shot the king.
"Alas, my poor queen, my poor queen!" murmured the king, as he fell wounded in five places. Then with his last strength he whispered, "My God, my God!" and the King of Sweden was dead.
His white charger, flying without his rider, and covered with blood, soon made known to the Swedish cavalry the fate of their king. They rushed madly forward to rescue his precious remains from the hands of the enemy, and a fearful conflict ensued over his body, till it was buried beneath a heap of slain.
As the mournful tidings ran through the Swedish army, far from destroying the courage of those brave troops, it excited them wildly. Life had lessened in value now that the most sacred life of all was gone; death had no terrors for the lowly since the royal head was not spared.
With the fury of lions the Swedes rushed a second time upon the left wing of the enemy, and drove it entirely from the field.
Duke Bernard made a grand leader, and the spirit of Gustavus seemed still among them. For nine long hours they fought, until the mist fell again, and sunset found Wallenstein and his troops making their retreat.
The Swedes had won. But it was a dear conquest, a dearer triumph. It was not till the fury of the contest was over that the full weight of the king's death came over his soldiers. The shout of triumph died away into the silence of a gloomy despair. He who had led them to the charge could never return; he lay upon the field he had won, his body slain with those of his men.
The "Stone of the Swede" is the name given to a great stone which fifty peasants, "with much toil and sweat," dragged towards but not up to the place where the warrior lay. On it are inscribed the words, "Our faith is the victory which overcometh the world."
It was a bitter cold night that the remains of the Swedish army spent on the battlefield of Lutzen, and in the words of the old story, which so faithfully records every detail of the king's last days, "All this night there was a pitiful crying heard."