The Lion of the North by G. A. Henty
Chapter IX. The Battle of Breitenfeld
Great joy was manifested as Malcolm's band marched into the village and it was found that they had accomplished the mission on which they went, had saved Mansfeld, and utterly defeated the Imperialists, and had returned in undiminished numbers, although two or three had received wounds more or less serious, principally in the first day's fighting. They only remained one night in the village.
On the following morning the baggage was placed in the wagons with a store of fruit and provisions for their march, and after another hearty adieu the detachment set out in high spirits. After marching for two days they learned that the Swedish army had marched to Werben, and that Tilly's army had followed it there.
After the receipt of this news there was no more loitering; the marches were long and severe, and after making a detour to avoid the Imperialists the detachment entered the royal camp without having met with any adventure on the way. His fellow officers flocked round Malcolm to congratulate him on his safe return and on his restored health.
"The change has done wonders for you, Malcolm," Nigel Graheme said. "Why, when you marched out you were a band of tottering scarecrows, and now your detachment looks as healthy and fresh as if they had but yesterday left Scotland; but come in, the bugle has just sounded to supper, and we are only waiting for the colonel to arrive. He is at present in council with the king with Hepburn and some more. Ah! here he comes."
Munro rode up and leapt from his horse, and after heartily greeting Malcolm led the way into the tent where supper was laid out. Malcolm was glad to see by the faces of his comrades that all had shaken off the disease which had played such havoc among them at Old Brandenburg.
"Is there any chance of a general engagement?" he asked Nigel.
"Not at present," Nigel said. "We are expecting the reinforcements up in a few days. As you see we have fortified the camp too strongly for Tilly to venture to attack us here. Only yesterday he drew up his army and offered us battle; but the odds were too great, and the king will not fight till his reinforcements arrive. Some of the hotter spirits were sorry that he would not accept Tilly's invitation, and I own that I rather gnashed my teeth myself; but I knew that the king was right in not risking the whole cause rashly when a few days will put us in a position to meet the Imperialists on something like equal terms. Is there any news, colonel?" he asked, turning to Munro.
"No news of importance," the colonel replied; "but the king is rather puzzled. A prisoner was taken today --one of Pappenheim's horsemen -- and he declares that a force of horse and foot have been defeated at Mansfeld by a Swedish army with heavy loss. He avers that he was present at the affair, and arrived in camp with the rest of the beaten force only yesterday. We cannot make it out, as we know that there are no Swedish troops anywhere in that direction."
Malcolm burst into a hearty laugh, to the surprise of his fellow officers.
"I can explain the matter, colonel," he said. "It was my detachment that had the honour of representing the Swedish army at Mansfeld."
"What on earth do you mean, Malcolm?" the colonel asked.
"Well, sir, as you know I went with a detachment to the village where I had before been well treated, and had earned the gratitude of the people by teaching them how to destroy a party of marauders. After having been there for a month I was on the point of marching, for the men were all perfectly restored to health; and indeed I know I ought to have returned sooner, seeing that the men were fit for service; but as I thought you were still at Old Brandenburg, and could well dispense with our services, I lingered on to the last. But just as I was about to march the news came that a party of Imperialist horse, three hundred strong, was about to attack Mansfeld, a place of whose existence I had never heard; but hearing that its count was a staunch Protestant, and that the inhabitants intended to make a stout defence, I thought that I could not be doing wrong in the service of the king by marching to aid them, the place being but twenty-four miles away across the hills. We got there in time, and aided the townspeople to repulse the first assault. After two days they brought up a reinforcement of four hundred infantry and some cannon. As the place is a small one, with but about two hundred and fifty fighting men of all ages, we deemed it impossible to defend the town, and while they were breaching the walls fell back to the castle. The Imperialists occupied it at sunset, and at night, leaving a party to hold the castle, we sallied out from the other side, and marching round, entered by the breaches, and, raising the Swedish war cry fell upon the enemy, who were for the most part too drunk to offer any serious resistance. We killed two hundred and fifty of them, and the rest fled in terror, thinking they had the whole Swedish army upon them. The next day I started on my march back here, and though we have not spared speed, it seems that the Imperialists have arrived before us."
A burst of laughter and applause greeted the solution of the mystery.
"You have done well, sir," Munro said cordially, "and have rendered a great service not only in the defeat of the Imperialists, but in its consequences here, for the prisoner said that last night five thousand men were marched away from Tilly's army to observe and make head against this supposed Swedish force advancing from the east. When I have done my meal I will go over to the king with the news, for his majesty is greatly puzzled, especially as the prisoner declared that he himself had seen the Scots of the Green Brigade in the van of the column, and had heard the war cry, 'A Hepburn! A Hepburn!'
"Hepburn himself could make neither head nor tail of it, and was half inclined to believe that this avenging force was led by the ghosts of those who had been slain at New Brandenburg. Whenever we can't account for a thing, we Scots are inclined to believe it's supernatural.
"Now tell me more about the affair, Malcolm. By the way do you know that you are a lieutenant now? Poor Foulis died of the fever a few days after you left us, and as the king had himself ordered that you were to have the next vacancy, I of course appointed you at once. We must drink tonight to your promotion."
Malcolm now related fully the incidents of the siege.
"By my faith, Malcolm Graheme," Munro said when he had finished, "you are as lucky as you are brave. Mansfeld is a powerful nobleman, and has large possessions in various parts of Germany and much influence, and the king will be grateful that you have thus rendered him such effective assistance and so bound him to our cause. I believe he has no children."
"He has a daughter," Malcolm said, "a pretty little maid some fourteen years old."
"In faith, Malcolm, 'tis a pity that you and she are not some four or five years older. What a match it would be for you, the heiress of Mansfeld; she would be a catch indeed! Well, there's time enough yet, my lad, for there is no saying how long this war will last."
There was a general laugh, and the colonel continued:
"Malcolm has the grace to colour, which I am afraid the rest of us have lost long ago. Never mind, Malcolm, there are plenty of Scotch cadets have mended their fortune by means of a rich heiress before now, and I hope there will be many more. I am on the lookout for a wealthy young countess myself, and I don't think there is one here who would not lay aside his armour and sword on such inducement. And now, gentlemen, as we have all finished, I will leave you to your wine while I go across with our young lieutenant to the king. I must tell him tonight, or he will not sleep with wondering over the mystery. We will be back anon and will broach a cask of that famous wine we picked up the other day, in honour of Malcolm Graheme's promotion."
Sir John Hepburn was dining with Gustavus, and the meal was just concluded when Colonel Munro was announced.
"Well, my brave Munro, what is it?" the king said heartily, "and whom have you here? The young officer who escaped from New Brandenburg and Tilly, unless I am mistaken."
"It is, sir, but I have to introduce him in a new character tonight, as the leader of your majesty's army who have defeated the Imperialists at Mansfeld."
"Say you so?" exclaimed the king. "Then, though I understand you not, we shall hear a solution of the mystery which has been puzzling us. Sit down, young sir; fill yourself a flagon of wine, and expound this riddle to us."
Malcolm repeated the narrative as he had told it to his colonel, and the king expressed his warm satisfaction.
"You will make a great leader some day if you do not get killed in one of these adventures, young sir. Bravery seems to be a common gift of the men of your nation; but you seem to unite with it a surprising prudence and sagacity, and, moreover, this march of yours to Mansfeld shows that you do not fear taking responsibility, which is a high and rare quality. You have done good service to the cause, and I thank you, and shall keep my eye upon you in the future."
The next day Malcolm went round the camp, and was surprised at the extensive works which had been erected. Strong ramparts and redoubts had been thrown up round it, faced with stone, and mounted with 150 pieces of cannon. In the centre stood an inner entrenchment with earthworks and a deep fosse. In this stood the tents of the king and those of his principal officers. The Marquis of Hamilton had, Malcolm heard, arrived and gone. He had lost on the march many of the soldiers he had enlisted in England, who had died from eating German bread, which was heavier, darker coloured, and more sour than that of their own country. This, however, did not disagree with the Scotch, who were accustomed to black bread.
"I wonder," Malcolm said to Nigel Graheme, "that when the king has in face of him a force so superior to his own he should have sent away on detached service the four splendid regiments which they say the marquis brought."
"Well, the fact was," Nigel said laughing, "Hamilton was altogether too grand for us here. We all felt small and mean so long as he remained. Gustavus himself, who is as simple in his tastes as any officer in the army, and who keeps up no ostentatious show, was thrown into the shade by his visitor. Why, had he been the Emperor of Germany or the King of France he could not have made a braver show. His table was equipped and furnished with magnificence; his carriages would have created a sensation in Paris; the liveries of his attendants were more splendid than the uniforms of generals; he had forty gentlemen as esquires and pages, and 200 yeomen, splendidly mounted and armed, rode with him as his bodyguard.
"Altogether he was oppressive; but the Hamiltons have ever been fond of show and finery. So Gustavus has sent him and his troops away to guard the passages of the Oder and to cover our retreat should we be forced to fall back."
Tilly, finding that the position of Gustavus was too strong to be forced, retired to Wolmirstadt, whence he summoned the Elector of Saxony to admit his army into his country, and either to disband the Saxon army or to unite it to his own. Hitherto the elector had held aloof from Gustavus, whom he regarded with jealousy and dislike, and had stood by inactive although the slightest movement of his army would have saved Magdeburg. To disband his troops, however, and to hand over his fortresses to Tilly, would be equivalent to giving up his dominions to the enemy; rather than do this he determined to join Gustavus, and having despatched Arnheim to treat with the King of Sweden for alliance, he sent a point blank refusal to Tilly.
The Imperialist general at once marched towards Leipzig, devastating the country as he advanced. Terms were soon arranged between the elector and Gustavus, and on the 3d of September, 1631, the Swedish army crossed the Elbe, and the next day joined the Saxon army at Torgau. By this time Tilly was in front of Leipzig, and immediately on his arrival burned to the ground Halle, a suburb lying beyond the wall, and then summoned the city to surrender.
Alarmed at the sight of the conflagration of Halle, and with the fate of Magdeburg in their minds, the citizens of Leipzig opened their gates at once on promise of fair treatment. The news of this speedy surrender was a heavy blow to the allies, who, however, after a council of war, determined at once to march forward against the city, and to give battle to the Imperialists on the plain around it.
Leipzig stands on a wide plain which is called the plain of Breitenfeld, and the battle which was about to commence there has been called by the Germans the battle of Breitenfeld, to distinguish it from the even greater struggles which have since taken place under the walls of Leipzig.
The baggage had all been left behind, and the Swedish army lay down as they stood. The king occupied his travelling coach, and passed the night chatting with Sir John Hepburn, Marshal Horn, Sir John Banner, Baron Teuffel, who commanded the guards, and other leaders. The lines of red fires which marked Tilly's position on the slope of a gentle eminence to the southwest were plainly to be seen. The day broke dull and misty on the 7th of September, and as the light fog gradually rose the troops formed up for battle. Prayers were said in front of every regiment, and the army then moved forward. Two Scottish brigades had the places of honour in the van, where the regiments of Sir James Ramsay, the Laird of Foulis, and Sir John Hamilton were posted, while Hepburn's Green Brigade formed part of the reserve -- a force composed of the best troops of the army, as on them the fate of the battle frequently depends. The Swedish cavalry were commanded by Field Marshal Horn, General Banner, and Lieutenant General Bauditzen.
The king and Baron Teuffel led the main body of infantry; the King of Saxony commanded the Saxons, who were on the Swedish left. The armies were not very unequal in numbers, the allies numbering 35,000, of whom the Swedes and Scots counted 20,000, the Saxons 15,000. The Imperialists numbered about 40,000. Tilly was fighting unwillingly, for he had wished to await the arrival from Italy of 12,000 veterans under General Altringer, and who were within a few days' march; but he had been induced, against his own better judgment, by the urgency of Pappenheim, Furstenberg, and the younger generals, to quit the unassailable post he had taken up in front of Leipzig, and to move out on to the plain of Breitenfeld to accept the battle which the Swedes offered.
A short distance in his front was the village of Podelwitz. Behind his position were two elevations, on which he placed his guns, forty in number. In rear of these elevations was a very thick wood. The Imperialist right was commanded by Furstenberg, the left by Pappenheim, the centre by Tilly himself. Although he had yielded to his generals so far as to take up a position on the plain, Tilly was resolved, if possible, not to fight until the arrival of the reinforcements; but the rashness of Pappenheim brought on a battle. To approach the Austrian position the Swedes had to cross the little river Loder, and Pappenheim asked permission of Tilly to charge them as they did so. Tilly consented on condition that he only charged with two thousand horse and did not bring on a general engagement. Accordingly, as the Scottish brigade under Sir James Ramsay crossed the Loder, Pappenheim swept down upon them.
The Scots stood firm, and with pike and musket repelled the attack; and after hard fighting Pappenheim was obliged to fall back, setting fire as he retired to the village of Podelwitz. The smoke of the burning village drifted across the plain, and was useful to the Swedes, as under its cover the entire army passed the Loder, and formed up ready for battle facing the Imperialists position, the movement being executed under a heavy fire from the Austrian batteries on the hills.
The Swedish order of battle was different from that of the Imperialists. The latter had their cavalry massed together in one heavy, compact body, while the Swedish regiments of horse were placed alternately with the various regiments or brigades of infantry. The Swedish centre was composed of four brigades of pikemen. Guns were behind the first line, as were the cavalry supporting the pikemen. The regiments of musketeers were placed at intervals among the brigades of pikemen.
Pappenheim on his return to the camp ordered up the whole of his cavalry, and charged down with fury upon the Swedes, while at the same moment Furstenberg dashed with seven regiments of cavalry on the Saxons. Between these and the Swedes there was a slight interval, for Gustavus had doubts of the steadiness of his allies, and was anxious that in case of their defeat his own troops should not be thrown into confusion. The result justified his anticipations.
Attacked with fury on their flank by Furstenberg's horse, while his infantry and artillery poured a direct fire into their front, the Saxons at once gave way. Their elector was the first to set the example of flight, and, turning his horse, galloped without drawing rein to Torgau, and in twenty minutes after the commencement of the fight the whole of the Saxons were in utter rout, hotly pursued by Furstenberg's cavalry.
Tilly now deemed the victory certain, for nearly half of his opponents were disposed of, and he outnumbered the remainder by two to one; but while Furstenberg had gained so complete a victory over the Saxons, Pappenheim, who had charged the Swedish centre, had met with a very different reception.
In vain he tried to break through the Swedish spears. The wind was blowing full in the faces of the pikemen, and the clouds of smoke and dust which rolled down upon them rendered it impossible for them to see the heavy columns of horse until they fell upon them like an avalanche, yet with perfect steadiness they withstood the attacks.
Seven times Pappenheim renewed his charge; seven times he fell back broken and disordered.
As be drew off for the last time Gustavus, seeing the rout of the Saxons, and knowing that he would have the whole of Tilly's force upon him in a few minutes, determined to rid himself altogether of Pappenheim, and launched the whole of his cavalry upon the retreating squadrons with overwhelming effect. Thus at the end of half an hour's fighting Tilly had disposed of the Saxons, and Gustavus had driven Pappenheim's horse from the field.
Three of the Scottish regiments were sent from the centre to strengthen Horn on the left flank, which was now exposed by the flight of the Saxons. Scarcely had the Scottish musketeers taken their position when Furstenberg's horse returned triumphant from their pursuit of the Saxons, and at once fell upon Horn's pikemen. These, however, stood as firmly as their comrades in the centre had done; and the Scottish musketeers, six deep, the three front ranks kneeling, the three in rear standing, poured such heavy volleys into the horsemen that these fell back in disorder; the more confused perhaps, since volley firing was at that time peculiar to the Swedish army, and the crashes of musketry were new to the Imperialists.
As the cavalry fell back in disorder, Gustavus led his horse, who had just returned from the pursuit of Pappenheim, against them. The shock was irresistible, and Furstenberg's horse were driven headlong from the field. But the Imperialist infantry, led by Tilly himself, were now close at hand, and the roar of musketry along the whole line was tremendous, while the artillery on both sides played unceasingly.
Just as the battle was at the hottest the Swedish reserve came up to the assistance of the first line, and Sir John Hepburn led the Green Brigade through the intervals of the Swedish regiments into action. Lord Reay's regiment was in front, and Munro, leading it on, advanced against the solid Imperialist columns, pouring heavy volleys into them. When close at hand the pikemen passed through the intervals of the musketeers and charged furiously with levelled pikes, the musketeers following them with clubbed weapons.
The gaps formed by the losses of the regiment at New Brandenburg and the other engagements had been filled up, and two thousand strong they fell upon the Imperialists. For a few minutes there was a tremendous hand-to-hand conflict, but the valour and strength of the Scotch prevailed, and the regiment was the first to burst its way through the ranks of the Imperialists, and then pressed on to attack the trenches behind, held by the Walloon infantry. While the battle was raging in the plain the Swedish cavalry, after driving away Furstenberg's horse, swept round and charged the eminence in the rear of the Imperialists, cutting down the artillerymen and capturing the cannon there.
These were at once turned upon the masses of Imperialist infantry, who thus, taken between two fires --pressed hotly by the pikemen in front, mown down by the cannon in their rear -- lost heart and fled precipitately, four regiments alone, the veterans of Furstenberg's infantry, holding together and cutting their way through to the woods in the rear of their position.
The slaughter would have been even greater than it was, had not the cloud of dust and smoke been so thick that the Swedes were unable to see ten yards in front of them. The pursuit was taken up by their cavalry, who pressed the flying Imperialists until nightfall. So complete was the defeat that Tilly, who was badly wounded, could only muster 600 men to accompany him in his retreat, and Pappenheim could get together but 1400 of his horsemen. Seven thousand of the Imperialists were killed, 5000 were wounded or taken prisoners. The Swedes lost but 700 men, the Saxons about 2000.
The Swedes that night occupied the Imperial tents, making great bonfires of the broken wagons, pikes, and stockades. A hundred standards were taken. Tilly had fought throughout the battle with desperate valour. He was ever in the van of his infantry, and three times was wounded by bullets and once taken prisoner, and only rescued after a desperate conflict.
At the conclusion of the day Cronenberg with 600 Walloon cavalry threw themselves around him and bore him from the field. The fierce old soldier is said to have burst into a passion of tears on beholding the slaughter and defeat of his infantry. Hitherto he had been invincible, this being the first defeat he had suffered in the course of his long military career. Great stores of provision and wine had been captured, and the night was spent in feasting in the Swedish camp.
The next morning the Elector of Saxony rode on to the field to congratulate Gustavus on his victory. The latter was politic enough to receive him with great courtesy and to thank him for the services the Saxons had rendered. He intrusted to the elector the task of recapturing Leipzig, while he marched against Merseburg, which he captured with its garrison of five hundred men.
After two or three assaults had been made on Leipzig the garrison capitulated to the Saxons, and on the 11th of September the army was drawn up and reviewed by Gustavus. When the king arrived opposite the Green Brigade he dismounted and made the soldiers an address, thanking them for their great share in winning the battle of Leipzig.
Many of the Scottish officers were promoted, Munro being made a full colonel, and many others advanced a step in rank. The Scottish brigade responded to the address of the gallant king with hearty cheers. Gustavus was indeed beloved as well as admired by his soldiers. Fearless himself of danger, he ever recognized bravery in others, and was ready to take his full share of every hardship as well as every peril.
He had ever a word of commendation and encouragement for his troops, and was regarded by them as a comrade as well as a leader. In person he was tall and rather stout, his face was handsome, his complexion fair, his forehead lofty, his hair auburn, his eyes large and penetrating, his cheeks ruddy and healthy. He had an air of majesty which enabled him to address his soldiers in terms of cheerful familiarity without in the slightest degree diminishing their respect and reverence for him as their monarch.