Monday, November 4, 2013

November 1757

The lead-up to the Battle of Rossbach

Dear Readers,

Tomorrow is the 5th of November. The one day a year college students can pretend to be anarchists for a few hours. "Remember, Remember," the saying goes. Well, today, here on Kabinettskriege, I am going to take you to a different 5th of November. Forget the Gunpowder Plot. This 5th of November has much more significance to British history than a few disgruntled Catholics.

At the beginning of November, 1757, England, and the liberties of Englishmen everywhere, were in much greater danger than in 1605. The French had defeated the forces of the English king at the battle of Hastenbeck on the 26th of July, 1757. This led to the surrender of the army which fought for Britain, mostly comprised of Hessian, Hanoverian, and Braunschweiger soldiers. At surrender following the Convention of Kloster-Zeven, Britain had been all but knocked out of the Seven Years' War in Europe. This would allow the French to send more troops to serve in North America, potentially threatening England's overseas colonies.

The English could only hope for their allies on the continent, the Prussians, to somehow pull their European irons out of the fire. And in November 1757, this did not look very likely. The Prussians were reeling from three important defeats. On the 18th of June, 1757, King Frederick II of Prussia's army had been badly defeated at the battle of Kolin. On the 30th of August, a minor Prussian army had been defeated at the battle of Gross-Jägersdorf. And finally, On the 7th of September, the Prussians were worsted in the small battle of Moys.

The defeat at Moys was particularly damaging to Frederick II of Prussia. His most trusted friend, and confidant, Hans Karl von Winterfeldt, had been killed in this skirmish. Winterfeldt was Frederick's chief of staff, and spymaster. But even more importantly, he was Frederick's close personal friend. After being told of Winterfeldt's death, Frederick responded, "Einen Winterfeldt finde ich nie wieder. Er war ein guter Mensch, ein Seelenmensch. Er war mein Freunde." Roughly translated, "I will never find another Winterfeldt. He was a good man, a soulful man. He was my friend." For spiky old Fritz, close personal friendships did not come easy-he would often recall this as one of the greatest blows of the war.

After a year of repeated defeats, the English and the Prussians appeared as if they were about to lose the Seven Years' War.

In early November, Frederick was shadowing a French and Reichsarmee, which significantly outnumbered his own. Most historians agree that the French and Imperials had an army of between 38,000 to 44,000 men, and Christopher Duffy gives the figure of 44,750. Franz Szabo states without proof that the army had a, "total strength... about 30,000." Even if we accept Szabo's figure, we can generally agree that the French and Imperials had a generous margin of error over the Prussians, which historians agree had 22,000 men.

Ernst Friedrich Rudolf von Barsewisch, a twenty-year-old Fahnen-Cadet (Junior Ensign), recalled his experiences directly before the battle:
"On the 1st of November, near Halle, an Imperial Corps burned 200 Ducats, plundered different locations during the night, and broke a bridge over the river Saale on the 2nd. On this day, we constructed three bridges over the Saale. The 3rd (of November) brought us to pass by Merseburg on the Saale, and we moved one mile passed Merseburg to Braunsdorf, and camped there. We marched three miles. Here, we stood close to the combined French and Reichsarmee force, so that our Advanced-Guard attacked and skirmished with their outposts.  During this night, His Majesty the King reconnoitered the enemy camp. They were met with a violent cannonade. On the Morning of the 4th of November,  the army broke up, and his Majesty the King was minded to attack the enemy with his cavalry and the left wing of the army. But because the enemy army past with their flank in sight, the enemy in four detachments, in such a way that opened the camp, that the cavalry camped behind the infantry in a valley, meanwhile, constantly the Hussars and the Freibattalions  skirmished with the enemy. The headquarters was near Rossbach."

The battle that followed, on the 5th of November, would change the balance of power in Europe, and North America. Tune in tomorrow, to see how the epic battle on this 5th of November occurred, and how it changed western history.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

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