Purely by coincidence I just started reading about the Battle of Mollwitz in “Ausgewählte Werke Friedrichs des Großen“, Erster Band, on the same day that I was repairing one of my editions of Thomas Carlyle’s History of Frederick the Great ready for rebinding and came across the following map. So I scanned it before it all goes back together.
Today is the 258th anniversary of the battle of Kunersdorf, not Frederick the Great’s greatest moment. The king himself lost 3 horses, 1 shot from under him, and was saved from a musket ball by the snuff box in his coat pocket, after the battle he said:
It is a cruel failure that I will not survive. The consequences of the battle will be worse than the battle itself. I do not have any more resources, and—frankly confessed—I believe that everything is lost. I will not survive the doom of my fatherland. Farewell forever!
As the date happens to fall on my birthday I treated myself to a small book: Die Schlacht von Kunersdorf by von Eberhardt from 1903, which contains some good sketches and a map of the battle.
Russian or Prussian? Hero or Villain?
Marwitz states in his memoirs (Seite 210), apparently relating what he had heard from Major (later Field Marshall) von Knesebeck regarding Kamenskoi, commander of the Russian troops in Prussia in 1806:
Kamenskoi war ein preußischer Offizier, im 7jährigen Kriege von den Russen gefangen, und in ihre Dienste übergtreten, also eigentlich ein Deserteur, der sich durch seine Tapferkeit, vorzüglich unter Suvarow, emporgeschwungen hatte.
So, a Prussian officer, captured in the 7 Years War who went over to the Russians and rose through the ranks due to his bravery.
Wikipedia however, clearly states that he was a Russian, with Russian forenames, born in St. Petersburg. Strange that Marwitz got it so wrong, particularly since Marwitz assures us that he got the story from Knesebeck who had had private meetings with Kamenskoi, couldn’t he tell a Russian from a Prussian?
The standard account surrounding the Battle of Pultusk seems to be that Kamenskoi lost his grip, possibly his mind, left the army, General Bennigsen particularly, in the lurch, and was removed from his command.
The account from Knesebeck and Marwitz is that Kamenskoi went out to reconnoitre the left flank of his troops, got separated and lost in the dark and the terrible weather and, getting on in years, became ill. However he managed to retain enough of his wits to order a regrouping of the army near Novograd, in order to prepare for a large scale offensive against the French.
This order was obeyed by General Buxhöwden but ignored by Bennigsen, who saw an opportunity to attack a weak French force, and thereby increase his own prestige, furthermore, by writing a scathíng report about both Kamenskoi and Buxhöwen he hoped to take command of the army. As indeed happened.
If Helen Mirren (a descendant apparently?) is reading this, which I doubt, then if it’s any consolation Marwitz seemed to think Kamenskoi was a decent man and that the confusion around the battle of Pultusk was not down to him, but to the “greedy” and “arrogant” Bennigsen.
Even more curiously Marwitz says that Kamenskoi died shortly after this event (Seite 216), not murdered by one of his mistreated serfs as stated by Wikipedia:
Wo dieser in dem Augenblick gewesen? weiß man nicht, wahrscheinlich todtkrank, denn er starb bald darauf, vermuthlich aus Aerger über seinen Fehlgriff.
Marwitz’s account differs wildly from the received one, personally I trust him more than Wikipedia, but I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the complete truth.
So to partially put the record straight, or confuse it even more, here’s Marwitz’s conclusion (Seite 217/218):
So war also zuerst Kamenskoi, der noch ein Preußisches Herz hatte, und den Zweck des Krieges erkannte, dann der tapfere Buxhöwden beseitigt, der Kaiser war betrogen, und der hochmüthige, geldgierige Intriguant (Bennigsen) führte die Armee nach seinen, nicht nach des Krieges Zwecken.
Ich habe letzte Nacht “Die Schlacht bei Zorndorf” ausgelesen. Es hat mir sehr gut gefallen.
Ein Paar anschließende Anmerkungen:
Schließlich, für den heutigen Geschmack ein bißchen übertrieben, aber was für ein Ende:
Wendet, Preußen, den Blick! o, wende zurück ihn auf Zorndorf!
Seht, wie mit Geistes Tritt Friedrich dem Osten sich stellt!
Furchtbar naht sich der Schwarm als dräunde rohe Naturmacht;
Aber mit Donnerton ruft ihm der König das: “Halt!”
Am Ende ist die Sache nicht so gut gegangen…