XXXV. On the Katzbach

The armistice expired on the 15th of August, and hostilities were resumed. The state of affairs, however, was essentially different from what it was at the commencement of the armistice; for, at that time, Napoleon had just obtained two victories. During the armistice, the allies had won an important victory over him; they had gained Austria over to their side, and now, at the renewal of hostilities, Austria reenforced the allies with two hundred thousand men. For nearly fourteen years Napoleon was invariably the more powerful enemy, not only on account of his military genius, but of the numerical strength and excellent organization of his forces.

For the first time the enemy opposed him with superior forces, and this vast host struggled, moreover, with the utmost enthusiasm for the deliverance of the fatherland--with the energy of hatred and wrath against him who had so long enslaved and oppressed it. But Napoleon still possessed his grand military genius. Soon after the expiration of the armistice, he gained a new victory over the allies, that of Dresden; [Footnote: The battle of Dresden lasted two days, the 26th and 27th of August. Moreau died on the 2d of September, and the battle of Culm was fought on the 29th and 30th of August.] and in this battle Moreau, the French general, who was fighting against his own countrymen, was struck by a French ball, which caused his death in a few days. But the allies took their revenge for the defeat of Dresden in the great victory of Culm, where they, also after a two days' battle, achieved a brilliant triumph over General Vandamme.

General Blücher and his Silesian army had not participated in these battles. At the time when the Russians, the Austrians, and a part of the Prussians, were fighting and yielding at Dresden, Blücher was at length to attain his object, and. meet the enemy in a pitched battle. Since the 20th of August he stood near Jauer with his army, which was ninety thousand strong, composed of Russians and Prussians, and awaited nothing more ardently than the approach of the enemy, in order to fight a general battle. Fortune seemed to favor his wishes, for Napoleon himself was advancing. On the 21st of August the scouts reported the approach of the hostile columns, who had crossed the Bober at Lowenberg. Blücher's eyes lit up with delight; he stroked his white mustache, and said: "We shall have a fight! To-morrow we meet the French!"

But the morning of the 23d of August dawned, and the eyes of the general were still unable to descry the advancing enemy. Yet his scouts reported that the French army was advancing, and that only a detachment had set out for Dresden. "Then Bonaparte has left with this detachment," grumbled Blücher; "for if he were still with them, the French would not creep along like snails."

At length, on the 26th of August, the general's wishes seemed to be near fulfilment. The French were advancing. They approached the banks of the Katzbach, to the other side of which the Silesian army was moving. "We shall have a fight!" shouted General Blücher, exultingly; "the good God will have mercy on me after all, and treat me to a good breakfast! I have been hungering for the French so long, that I really thought I should die of starvation. I shall furnish the roast; and, that there may be something to drink, the rain is pouring down from heaven as though all the little angels on high were weeping for joy because they are to have the pleasure of seeing old Blücher at work!--Glorious hosts in heaven!" added Blücher, casting a glance at the leaden sky, "now do me only the favor to put an end to your weeping, and do not give us too much of a good thing. Pray remember that you put under water not only the enemy, but ourselves, your friends. Do not soften the soil too much, else not only the French will stick in the mud, but ourselves, your chosen lifeguard!"

But "the little angels on high" poured down their "tears of joy" in incessant torrents from early dawn. It was one of those continuous rains from a dull gray sky, giving little hope of fine weather for many days. The soil was softened, the mountain-torrents swollen, and vast masses of water foamed into the Katzbach, so that this peaceful little stream seemed a furious river. A violent norther was blowing, and driving the rain into the faces of the soldiers, drenching their uniforms, penetrating the muskets, and moistening the powder.

"Well, if the boys cannot shoot to-day, they will have to club their muskets," said Blücher, cheerfully, when he and his suite rode out of Bollwitzhof, his headquarters, to reconnoitre the position of the French.

But the wind and rain rendered a reconnoissance a matter of impossibility. The enemy was nowhere to be seen, but still the dull noise of rumbling cannon and trotting horses was heard at a distance, and the patrols reported that they had seen the foe approaching the Katzbach in heavy columns; not, however, on the other bank, but on this side. At this moment General Gneisenau came up at a full gallop. He had gone out toward the pickets to reconnoitre, and came back to report that the French were forming in line of battle at a short distance on the plateau near Eichholz, and that they had crossed to the right side of the Katzbach.

"Right or left," said Blücher, "it is all the same to me, provided we have them. If they have already crossed the river, well then they know the road, and will be better able to find their way back. Let us allow them to cross, until there are enough of them on this side." Then, turning with noble dignity toward his officers, he added, in an entirely changed, grave, and measured tone: "Gentlemen, the battle will commence in a few hours. Promptness and good order are of vital importance now.--The orderlies!"

The orderlies hastened to him. "You will ride to General York, who is occupying the plateau of Eichholz, and tell him to allow as many French as he thinks he can beat to march up the ascent, and then he is to charge them!" shouted Blücher to the first orderly, and, while he sped away at a furious gallop, the general turned to the second. "You will hasten to General von Sacken and tell him that it is time for attacking the French!--And we, gentlemen," he added, addressing his staff, "will place ourselves at the head of our troops. The soldiers must have their meals cooked by two o'clock; all the columns will then commence moving. When the enemy falls back, I expect, above all, the cavalry to do their duty, and to act with great courage. The foe must find out, that on retreating he cannot get out of our hands unhurt. And now, forward! The battle begins at two o'clock!" He spurred his horse, and galloped again toward the troops. With a serene face and joyful eyes he rode along the front. "Boys," he shouted, "cook your dinners quickly, do not burn your mouths, and do not eat your soup too hot; but when you have eaten it, then it is time for cooking a whipping soup for the French."

"Yes, Father Blücher, we will cook it for them!" shouted the soldiers.

"I am afraid that soup won't agree with the French," said Blücher, with a humorous wink. "Blue-bean soup is hard to digest. But they will have to swallow it, whether they like it or not, won't they?"

"Yes, they will!" laughed the soldiers; and Blücher galloped over to the other regiments, to fire their hearts by similar greetings.

It was two o'clock! "Boys, the fun will commence now!" shouted Blücher's powerful voice. "Now I have French soldiers enough on this side of the river. Forward!"

Forward they went, at a double-quick, directly at the French. The cannon boomed, the musketry rattled; but the rain soon silenced the latter.

"Boys," shouted Major von Othegraven to his battalion of the Brandenburg regiment, "if we cannot shoot them, we can club them!" And amid loud cheers the soldiers turned their muskets, and struck their enemies with the butts. A terrible hand-to-hand struggle ensued--howls of pain, dreadful abuse and imprecations burst from both sides; but at length they ceased on this part of the field: the Brandenburg soldiers had killed a whole French battalion with the stocks of their muskets! [Footnote: Beitzke, vol. ii., p. 204.]

The battle raged on amid the terrible storm beating on the combatants. The wind blew violently, and the rain descended in torrents. The men sank ankle-deep in the softened soil, but "Forward!" sounded the battle-cry, and the soldiers left their shoes in the mud, rushing in their socks or bare-footed on the enemy, who fought with lion-hearted courage, here receding and there advancing.

"Father Blücher, we are doing well to-day!" shouted the soldiers to their chieftain, galloping up to the infantry.

"Yes, we are doing well," cried Blücher; "but wait, boys--we shall do still better!"

At this moment the artillery boomed from the other side. Two officers galloped up to Blücher. One was the orderly he had sent to General von Sacken.

"What reply did General von Sacken make?" shouted Blücher.

"'Reply to the general, "Hurrah!"' [Footnote: Beitzke, vol. ii., p. 201.] was all he said, your excellency."

"A splendid comrade!" cried Blücher, merrily.

"General," said the second officer, in an undertone, "I beg leave to make a communication in private."

"In private? No communications will be made in private to-day," replied Blücher, shaking his head; "my staff-officers must hear every thing." And he beckoned to his aides and officers to come closer to him.

"Your excellency then commands me to utter aloud what I have to say?"

"Well, speak directly, and, if you like, so loudly that the French will hear, too!"

"Well, then, general, I have to tell you that no time is to be lost, and that we must hasten to advance, for the Emperor Napoleon himself is coming up at the head of his troops; he is already in the rear of your excellency,"

"Ah," inquired Blücher, with perfect composure, "is the Emperor Napoleon in my rear? Well, I am glad of it; then he is able to do me a great favor." He turned his eyes again toward the battle array with a defiant smile, as if confident of final victory.

The victory was not decided, although the murderous struggle had lasted already an hour. Marshal Macdonald constantly moved up fresh troops, and Blücher had sufficient reserves to meet them. Here the Prussians gave way, and there the French. 'From the right wing of the Prussian army orderlies informed General Blücher that General York, with his troops, had repulsed the enemy, and was advancing victoriously; messengers hastened to him from the left wing, and told him that General Langeron was about to fall back, that the Prussian cavalry were retreating, and the French cavalry approaching in dense masses, and that the Prussian batteries were in imminent danger of falling into the hands of the enemy.

Blücher uttered an oath--a single savage oath; then he turned his head aside and shouted, "Hennemann! pipe-master!"

Christian Hennemann galloped up immediately. He was in full hussar- uniform, but did not belong to the ranks; he was in the suite of his general, and had to be constantly near him. On the pommel of his saddle was a long iron box, and in his mouth a short clay pipe. "General, here I am!"

"Give me a short pipe, for now we charge the enemy!"

Hennemann took the pipe from his mouth, handed it to the general, and said, with the utmost equanimity: "Here it is! It has been burning some time already, and I began to think the general had entirely forgotten the pipe and myself."

Blücher put the pipe into his mouth. At this moment a Brandenburg regiment of lancers galloped up, headed by Major von Katzeler, Blücher's former adjutant. "We are going to assist our men!" shouted Katzeler, saluting the general with his sword.

"We are moving to the relief of our comrades!" cried a captain of hussars, thundering up at the head of his regiment.

"Very well!" said Blücher. "God bless me. I must go with them! I can stand it no longer!" Drawing his sword, he galloped with the courage and ardor of a youth to the head of the column of hussars, who received him with deafening cheers. The bugles sounded, and forward sped Blücher at an impetuous gallop.

Suddenly some one shouted by his side: "General! general!" It was the pipe-master. Blücher, looking at him with eyes flashing with anger, said: "Begone! Ride to the rear!"

"God forbid!" said Hennemann, composedly; "here is my place; did not the general order me always to remain near him and hold a short pipe in readiness? Well, I am near, and the pipe is ready."

"I do not want it now, Christian; we are about to charge the enemy. To the rear, pipe-master!"

"I cannot think of it, general; no one is at liberty to desert his post, as you told me yourself," cried Hennemann. "I am at my post, and will not allow myself to be driven from it. You will soon enough need me."

"Forward!" cried the general. And amid loud cheers the hussars rushed upon the enemy, Blücher fighting at their head, brandishing his sword with the utmost delight, forcing back the enemy, and wresting from him the advantages he had already gained. The French being driven back, Blücher suddenly commanded a halt.

"Boys!" he shouted, in a clarion voice, "this is a butchery to-day; let us stop a moment, take a drink, and fill our pipes.--Pipe- master, my pipe!"

"Did I not say that you would soon need me?" asked Hennemann, in a triumphant voice. "Here is your pipe, general!"

When the horses had taken breath, and the bold hussars a drink, and filled their pipes, the general's voice was again heard: "Forward in God's name!--we shall soon be done with the French!"

Toward dusk the battle was decided. In wild disorder fled the enemy, delayed by the softened soil, blinded by the rain, and obstructed by the Katzbach and the Neisse, with their roaring waters swelling every moment. In hot pursuit was the exultant victor, thundering with his cannon, and hurling death into the ranks of the fugitives. Field-pieces were planted on the banks of those streams, and when the French approached, they were greeted with fearful volleys. Turning in dismay, flashing swords and bayonets menaced them. Piles of dead were lying on the banks of the Katzbach; thousands of corpses were floating down the foaming waters, showing to Silesia the bloody trophies of battle, and that Blücher had at length taken revenge upon his adversary. At seven o'clock in the evening all was still. On all sides the French had fled.

Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches Napoleon and Blücher