The Lion of the North by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVII. The Death of Gustavus
The determination of Gustavus to march to the assistance of Saxony once taken, he lost not a moment in carrying it into effect. General Banner, whom he greatly trusted, was unfortunately suffering from a wound, and until he should recover he appointed the Prince Palatine of Burkenfeldt to command a corps 12,000 strong which he determined to leave on the Danube; then strengthening the garrisons of Augsburg, Rain, and Donauworth, he set out with the remainder of his army on his march to Saxony.
From Donauworth he marched to Nuremberg, stayed there forty-eight hours to recover the fortress of Lauf, and, having forced the garrison of that place to surrender at discretion, pushed on with all possible speed to Erfurt, which he had fixed upon as the point of junction for his several corps. The Green Brigade formed a portion of the force which Gustavus left behind him in Bavaria under the Prince Palatine. So terribly weakened were the Scottish regiments by the various battles of the campaign, in all of which they had borne the brunt of the fighting, that Gustavus determined reluctantly to leave them behind for rest and reorganization.
Hepburn, Sir James Hamilton, Sir James Ramsay, and the Marquis of Hamilton, who like Hepburn had quarrelled with Gustavus, left the Swedish army the day after they arrived at Neustadt, after marching away from Nuremberg. All the Scottish officers in the Swedish army accompanied Hepburn and his three companions along the road for a long German mile from Neustadt, and then parted with great grief from the gallant cavalier who had led them so often to victory.
Malcolm Graheme did not remain behind in Bavaria with his comrades of the Green Brigade. Gustavus, who had taken a great fancy to the young Scotch officer, whose spirit of adventure and daring were in strong harmony with his own character, appointed him to ride on his own personal staff. Although he parted with regret from his comrades, Malcolm was glad to accompany the king on his northward march, for there was no probability of any very active service in Bavaria, and it was certain that a desperate battle would be fought when Gustavus and Wallenstein met face to face in the open field.
At Erfurt Gustavus was joined by Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar with his force, which raised his army to a strength of 20,000. The news of his approach had again revived the courage of the Elector of Saxony, who had occupied the only towns where the Elbe could be crossed, Dresden, Torgau, and Wittenberg -- he himself, with his main army of 15,000 men, lying at Torgau. From him Gustavus learned that the Imperial army was divided into three chief corps -- that of Wallenstein 12,000 strong, that of Pappenheim 10,000, those of Gallas and Holk united 16,000, making a total of 38,000 men.
So great was the speed with which Gustavus had marched to Erfurt that Wallenstein had received no notice of his approach; and believing that for some time to come he should meet with no serious opposition, he had on the very day after the Swedes reached Erfurt despatched Gallas with 12,000 men into Bohemia. A division of his troops was at the same time threatening Naumburg, whose possession would enable him to block the only easy road with which Gustavus could enter the country held by him.
But Gustavus at Erfurt learned that Naumburg had not yet fallen, and marching with great rapidity reached the neighbourhood of that town before the Imperialists were aware that he had quitted Erfurt, and cutting up a small detachment of the enemy who lay in his way, entered the town and at once began to intrench it. Wallenstein first learned from the fugitives of the beaten detachment that Gustavus had arrived at Naumburg, but as his own position lay almost centrally between Naumburg and Torgau, so long as he could prevent the Swedes and Saxons from uniting, he felt safe; for although together they would outnumber him, he was superior in strength to either if alone. The Imperialist general believed that Gustavus intended to pass the winter at Naumburg, and he had therefore no fear of an immediate attack.
In order to extend the area from which he could draw his supplies Wallenstein despatched Pappenheim to secure the fortress of Halle; for although that town had been captured the fortress held out, and barred the main road to the north. From Halle Pappenheim was to proceed to the relief of Cologne, which was menaced by the enemy.
Having done this, Wallenstein withdrew from the line of the Saale and prepared to distribute his army in winter quarters in the towns of the district, he himself with a portion of the force occupying the little town of Lutzen. But Gustavus had no idea of taking up his quarters for the winter at Naumburg; and he proposed to the Elector of Saxony that if he would march to Eilenberg, midway to Leipzig, he himself would make a detour to the south round Wallenstein's position and join him there. Without waiting to receive the answer of the elector, Gustavus, leaving a garrison in Naumburg, set out at one o'clock in the morning on the 5th of November on his march; but before he had proceeded nine miles he learned from a number of gentlemen and peasants favourable to the cause that Pappenheim had started for Halle, that the remainder of the Imperial army lay dispersed among the towns and villages of the neighbourhood, and that Wallenstein himself was at Lutzen.
Gustavus called his generals together and informed them of the news. Learning that Lutzen was but five miles distant -- as it turned out, a mistaken piece of information, as it was nearly twice as far -- he ordered that the men should take some food, and then wheeling to the left, push on towards Lutzen.
It was not until some time later that Wallenstein learned from the Imperial scouts that Gustavus was upon him. It was then nearly five o'clock in the evening, and darkness was at hand. Considering the heavy state of the roads, and the fact that Gustavus would have in the last three miles of his march to traverse a morass crossed by a bridge over which only two persons could pass abreast, he felt confident that the attack could not be made until the following morning.
Mounted messengers were sent in all directions to bring up his troops from the villages in which they were posted, and in the meantime the troops stationed around Lutzen were employed in preparing obstacles to hinder the advance of the Swedes. On either side of the roads was a low swampy country intersected with ditches, and Wallenstein at once set his men to work to widen and deepen these ditches, which the troops as they arrived on the ground were to occupy. All night the troops laboured at this task.
In the meantime Gustavus had found the distance longer and the difficulties greater than he had anticipated; the roads were so heavy that it was with difficulty that the artillery and ammunition wagons could be dragged along them, and the delay caused by the passage of the morass was very great.
Indeed the passage would have been scarcely possible had the men of an Imperial regiment of cuirassiers and a battalion of Croats, who were posted in a village on the further side of the morass, defended it; but instead of doing so they fell back to an eminence in the rear of the village, and remained there quietly until, just as the sun set, the whole Swedish army got across. The cuirassiers and Croats were at once attacked and put to flight; but as darkness was now at hand it was impossible for Gustavus to make any further advance, and the army was ordered to bivouac as it stood. The state of the roads had defeated the plans of Gustavus. Instead of taking the enemy by surprise, as he had hoped, and falling upon them scattered and disunited, the delays which had occurred had given Wallenstein time to bring up all his forces, and at daybreak Gustavus would be confronted by a force nearly equal to his own, and occupying a position very strongly defended by natural obstacles.
Before the day was won, Pappenheim, for whom Wallenstein would have sent as soon as he heard of the Swedish advance, might be on the field, and in that case the Imperialists would not only have the advantage of position but also that of numbers. It was an anxious night, and Gustavus spent the greater part of it in conversation with his generals, especially Kniphausen and Duke Bernhard.
The former strongly urged that the army should repass the morass and march, as originally intended, to effect a junction with the Saxons. He pointed out that the troops were fatigued with their long and weary march during the day, and would have to fight without food, as it had been found impossible to bring up the wagons with the supplies; he particularly urged the point that Pappenheim would arrive on the field before the victory could be won. But Gustavus was of opinion that the disadvantages of retreat were greater than those of action. The troops, hungry, weary, and dispirited, would be attacked as they retired, and he believed that by beginning the action early the Imperialists could be defeated before Pappenheim could return from Halle.
Gustavus proposed to move forward at two o'clock in the morning; but fate was upon this occasion against the great Swedish leader. Just as on the previous day the expected length of the march and the heavy state of the roads had prevented him from crushing Wallenstein's scattered army, so now a thick fog springing up, making the night so dark that a soldier could not see the man standing next to him, prevented the possibility of movement, and instead of marching at two o'clock in the morning it was nine before the sun cleared away the fog sufficiently to enable the army to advance. Then, after addressing a few stirring words to his men, Gustavus ordered the advance towards Chursitz, the village in front of them.
The king himself led the right wing, consisting of six regiments of Swedes, supported by musketeers intermingled with cavalry. The left, composed of cavalry and infantry intermixed, was commanded by Duke Bernhard. The centre, consisting of four brigades of infantry supported by the Scottish regiments under Henderson, was commanded by Nicholas Brahe, Count of Weissenburg.
The reserves behind each of these divisions were formed entirely of cavalry, commanded on the right by Bulach, in the centre by Kniphausen, and on the left by Ernest, Prince of Anhalt. The field pieces, twenty in number, were disposed to the best advantage between the wings. Franz Albert of Lauenburg, who had joined the army the day before, rode by the king. A short halt was made at Chursitz, where the baggage was left behind, and the army then advanced against the Imperialists, who at once opened fire.
Wallenstein had posted his left so as to be covered by a canal, while his right was protected by the village of Lutzen. On some rising ground to the left of that village, where there were several windmills, he planted fourteen small pieces of cannon, while to support his front, which was composed of the musketeers in the ditches on either side of the road, he planted a battery of seven heavy pieces of artillery.
The main body of his infantry he formed into four massive brigades, which were flanked on both sides by musketeers intermixed with cavalry. Count Coloredo commanded on the left, Holk on the right, Terzky in the centre.
As the Swedish army advanced beyond Chursitz the seven heavy pieces of artillery on the side of the road opened upon them, doing much execution, while their own lighter guns could not reply effectively. The Swedes pressed forward to come to close quarters. The left wing, led by Duke Bernhard, was the first to arrive upon the scene of action. Gallantly led by the duke his men forced the ditches, cleared the road, charged the deadly battery, killed or drove away the gunners, and rushed with fury on the Imperialist right.
Holk, a resolute commander, tried in vain to stem the assault; the ardour of the Swedes was irresistible, and they scattered, one after the other, his three brigades. The battle seemed already lost when Wallenstein himself took his place at the head of the fourth brigade, and fell upon the Swedes, who were disordered by the rapidity and ardour of their charge, while at the same moment he launched three regiments of cavalry on their flanks.
The Swedes fought heroically but in vain; step by step they were driven back, the battery was recaptured, and the guns, which in the excitement of the advance the captors had omitted to spike, were retaken by the Imperialists.
In the meantime on the right the king had also forced the road, and had driven from the field the Croats and Poles opposed to him, and he was on the point of wheeling his troops to fall on the flank of the Imperialist centre when one of Duke Bernhard's aides-de-camp dashed up with the news that the left wing had fallen back broken and in disorder.
Leaving to Count Stalhaus to continue to press the enemy, Gustavus, accompanied by his staff, rode at full gallop to the left at the head of Steinboch's regiment of dragoons. Arrived on the spot he dashed to the front at a point where his men had not yet been forced back across the road, and riding among them roused them to fresh exertions. By his side were Franz Albert of Lauenberg and a few other followers. But his pace had been so furious that Steinboch's dragoons had not yet arrived. As he urged on his broken men Gustavus was struck in the shoulder by a musketball. He reeled in his saddle, but exclaimed, "It is nothing," and ordered them to charge the enemy with the dragoons. Malcolm Graheme and others on his staff hesitated, but the king exclaimed, "Ride all, the duke will see to me." The cavalry dashed forward, and the king, accompanied only by Franz Albert, Duke of Lauenberg, turned to leave the field, but he had scarcely moved a few paces when he received another shot in the back. Calling out to Franz Albert that it was all over with him, the mortally wounded king fell to the ground.
Franz Albert, believing the battle lost, galloped away; the king's page alone remained with the dying man. A minute later three Austrian cuirassiers rode up, and demanded the name of the dying man. The page Leubelfing refused to give it, and firing their pistols at him they stretched him mortally wounded beside the dying king. Gustavus then, but with difficulty, said who he was. The troopers leapt from their horses and stripped his rich armour from him, and then, as they saw Steinboch's dragoons returning from their charge, they placed their pistols close to the king's head and fired, and then leaping on their horses fled.
Great was the grief when Malcolm, happening to ride near the body, recognized it as that of the king. An instant later a regiment of Imperialist cavalry charged down, and a furious fight took place for some minutes over the king's body. It was, however, at last carried off by the Swedes, so disfigured by wounds and by the trampling of the horses in the fray as to be unrecognizable.
The news of the fall of their king, which spread rapidly through the ranks, so far from discouraging the Swedes, inspired them with a desperate determination to avenge his death, and burning with fury they advanced against the enemy, yet preserving the most perfect steadiness and order in their ranks.
In vain did Wallenstein and his officers strive to stem the attack of the left wing, their bravery and skill availed nothing to arrest that furious charge. Regiment after regiment who strove to bar their way were swept aside, the guns near the windmills were captured and turned against the enemy. Step by step the Imperial right wing was forced back, and the centre was assailed in flank by the guns from the rising ground, while Stalhaus with the right wing of the Swedes attacked them on their left.
Hopeless of victory the Imperialist centre was giving way, when the explosion of one of their powder wagons still further shook them. Attacked on both flanks and in front the Imperialist centre wavered, and in a few minutes would have been in full flight. The Swedish victory seemed assured, when a mighty trampling of horse was heard, and emerging from the smoke Pappenheim with eight regiments of Imperial cavalry dashed into the fray.
Pappenheim had already captured the citadel of Halle when Wallenstein's messenger reached him. To wait until his infantry, who were engaged in plundering, could be collected, and then to proceed at their pace to the field of battle, would be to arrive too late to be of service, and Pappenheim instantly placed himself at the head of his eight regiments of magnificent cavalry, and galloped at full speed to the battlefield eighteen miles distant. On the way he met large numbers of flying Poles and Croats, the remnants of the Austrian left, who had been driven from the field by Gustavus; these he rallied, and with them dashed upon the troops of Stalhaus who were pursuing them, and forced them backward. The relief afforded to the Imperialists by this opportune arrival was immense, and leaving Pappenheim to deal with the Swedish right, Wallenstein rallied his own right on the centre, and opposed a fresh front to the advancing troops of Duke Bernhard and Kniphausen. Inspirited by the arrival of the reinforcements, and burning to turn what had just appeared a defeat into a victory, the Imperialists advanced with such ardour that the Swedes were driven back, the guns on the hills recaptured, and it seemed that in this terrible battle victory was at last to declare itself in favour of the Imperialists.
It needed only the return of Pappenheim from the pursuit of the Swedish right to decide the day, but Pappenheim was not to come. Though driven back by the first impetuous charge of the Imperial cavalry, the Swedes under Stalhaus, reinforced by the Scottish regiments under Henderson, stubbornly opposed their further attacks.
While leading his men forward Pappenheim fell with two musketballs through his body. While lying there the rumour for the first time reached him that Gustavus had been killed. When upon inquiry the truth of the rumour was confirmed, the eyes of the dying man lighted up.
"Tell Wallenstein," he said to the officer nearest to him, "that I am lying here without hope of life, but I die gladly, knowing, as I now know, that the irreconcilable enemy of my faith has fallen on the same day."
The Imperialists, discouraged by the fall of their general, could not withstand the ardour with which the Swedes and Scottish infantry attacked them, and the cavalry rode from the field. Elsewhere the battle was still raging. Wallenstein's right and centre had driven Count Bernhard, the Duke of Brahe, and Kniphausen across that desperately contested road, but beyond this they could not force them, so stubbornly and desperately did they fight. But Stalhaus and his men, refreshed and invigorated by their victory over Pappenheim's force, again came up and took their part in the fight. Wallenstein had no longer a hope of victory, he fought now only to avoid defeat. The sun had already set, and if he could but maintain his position for another half hour darkness would save his army.
He fell back across the road again, fighting stubbornly and in good order, and extending his line to the left to prevent Stalhaus from turning his flank; and in this order the terrible struggle continued till nightfall. Both sides fought with splendid bravery. The Swedes, eager for the victory once again apparently within their grasp, pressed on with fury, while the Imperialists opposed them with the most stubborn obstinacy.
Seven times did Piccolomini charge with his cavalry upon the advancing Swedes. Seven times was his horse shot under him, but remounting each time, he drew off his men in good order, and in readiness to dash forward again at the first opportunity. The other Imperialist generals fought with equal courage and coolness, while Wallenstein, present wherever the danger was thickest, animated all by his courage and coolness. Though forced step by step to retire, the Imperialists never lost their formation, never turned their backs to the foe; and thus the fight went on till the darkness gathered thicker and thicker, the combatants could no longer see each other, and the desperate battle came to an end.
In the darkness, Wallenstein drew off his army and fell back to Leipzig, leaving behind him his colours and all his guns. In thus doing he threw away the opportunity of turning what his retreat acknowledged to be a defeat into a victory on the following morning, for scarcely had he left the field when the six regiments of Pappenheim's infantry arrived from Halle. Had he held his ground he could have renewed the battle in the morning, with the best prospects of success, for the struggle of the preceding day had been little more than a drawn battle, and the accessions of fresh troops should have given him a decided advantage over the weary Swedes. The newcomers, finding the field deserted, and learning from the wounded lying thickly over it that Wallenstein had retreated, at once marched away.
In the Swedish camp there was no assurance whatever that a victory had been gained, for nightfall had fallen on the Imperialists fighting as stubbornly as ever. The loss of the king, the master spirit of the war, dispirited and discouraged them, and Duke Bernhard and Kniphausen held in the darkness an anxious consultation as to whether the army should not at once retreat to Weissenburg. The plan was not carried out, only because it was considered that it was impracticable -- as the army would be exposed to destruction should the Imperialists fall upon them while crossing the terrible morass in their rear.
The morning showed them that the Imperialists had disappeared, and that the mighty struggle had indeed been a victory for them -- a victory won rather by the superior stubbornness with which the Swedish generals held their ground during the night, while Wallenstein fell back, than to the splendid courage with which the troops had fought on the preceding day. But better far would it have been for the cause which the Swedes championed, that they should have been driven a defeated host from the field of Lutzen, than that they should have gained a barren victory at the cost of the life of their gallant monarch -- the soul of the struggle, the hope of Protestantism, the guiding spirit of the coalition against Catholicism as represented by Ferdinand of Austria.
The losses in the battle were about equal, no less than 9000 having fallen upon each side -- a proportion without precedent in any battle of modern times, and testifying to the obstinacy and valour with which on both sides the struggle was maintained from early morning until night alone terminated it.
It is said, indeed, that every man, both of the yellow regiments of Swedish guards and of the blue regiments, composed entirely of English and Scotchmen, lay dead on the field. On both sides many men of high rank were killed. On the Swedish side, besides Gustavus himself, fell Count Milo, the Count of Brahe, General Uslar, Ernest Prince of Anhalt, and Colonels Gersdorf and Wildessein. On the Imperialist side Pappenheim, Schenk, Prince and Abbot of Fulda, Count Berthold Wallenstein, General Brenner, Issolani, general of the Croats, and six colonels were killed. Piccolomini received ten wounds, but none of them were mortal.
Holk was severely wounded, and, indeed, so close and desperate was the conflict, that it is said there was scarcely a man in the Imperial army who escaped altogether without a wound.