Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Under Many Flags
Chapter XII. Field-Marshal James Keith

James Keith, the younger brother of the Earl Marischal, was born at Inverugie Castle, near Peterhead, on June 16, 1696. His father was William, ninth Earl Marischal (who died in 1712), and his mother was Lady Marie Drummond, daughter of the Earl of Perth—a zealous adherent of the old faith and the old dynasty.

James was educated for the law, and had prosecuted his studies at Aberdeen and Edinburgh, where he was induced to join his brother in the Jacobite rising of 1715. After the dispersion of the Highland clans, he made his way to the Western Isles, and concealed himself there for some months, until he was taken on board a French vessel, and conveyed to Brittany. Thence he made his way to Paris, where, at first, his experiences were of the harshest. It is true that he was well received by the Queen-Mother, Mary of Modena, who told him that he must stay in Paris, and that as he was so young, she would send him to the Academy to learn his sword exercise; but royal memories are proverbially short. He received no assistance from her for some time, and was reduced to pitiful straits. “Having left Scotland,” he says, “so abruptly that I had no time to provide any money to bring along with me, what I had was soon at an end, and my friends there, not knowing to what part of the world I was gone, had sent no bills for me. I lived most of that time by selling horse furniture and other things of that nature which an officer commonly carries with him; and though I had relations enough in Paris, who could have supplied me, and who would have done it with pleasure, yet was I then either so bashful or so vain, that I would not own the want I was in.”

Thus he had to suffer for the proud shame of young manhood, until at length he received supplies from Scotland, as well as donations from James and his Queen, in whose unlucky cause he had ventured and lost so much. The young adventurer went to the Academy, learned his exercises, and was favoured with a commission as Colonel of horse. But he was of a more restless temper than his elder brother, and thinking it was high time— at the advanced age of twenty-one!—to establish himself somewhere, and begin to carve out his fortune, he turned his eyes towards Spain, the Government of which was preparing to invade Sicily and make war against the Empire. But in the spring of life a young man’s fancy lightly turns to—other things. “I was then too much in love,” he naively says, “to think of quitting Paris, and though shame to my friends forced me to take some steps towards it, yet I managed it so slowly that I set out only in the end of the year (1718), and had not my mistress and I quarrelled, it’s probable I had lost many years of my time to very little purpose, so much was I taken up with my passion.”

But at last, early in 1719, he went to Spain, in company with his brother, the Earl Marischal; bound on a secret mission from King James to the Court of Madrid. Landing at Palamos, on the coast of Catalonia, they were subjected at first to a pretty close examination and cross-examination by the authorities, who, unable to make out the mystery of the two strangers, sent them on to Don Tiberio Caraffa, Governor of Giron, and the Duke of Leria, commandant of the garrison. “We arrived there in the evening,” says the future Marshal, “and were carried to the Duke’s quarters, who was no little surprised at our appearance, and immediately sent to acquaint the Governor that he answered for the two gentlemen, but concealed our names at the desire of the Earl Marischal. We lodged that night with him, and finding him ignorant of any intended enterprise in England, we concluded that we were sent for only to enter into the King of Spain’s service, and therefore resolved to continue our route slowly to Madrid, without fatiguing ourselves by going post. We accordingly hired chairs (sedan) there, and two days after arrived at San Andren, hard by Barcelona, and from thence sent a letter from the Duke of Leria to Prince Pio of Savoy, who was then Captain-General of that province, begging him to allow us to come into the town without being examined at the ports; and about an hour after we saw a coach and six mules (the first equipage of the kind we had ever seen), with the Prince’s livery, at the door of our inn. This surprised us, and still more the respect his doctor, whom he had sent in his coach to receive us, paid to two strangers he had never (before) seen.” Long afterwards they discovered the secret of this extraordinary courtesy. Cardinal Alberoni had sent word to Prince Pio that King James might shortly be expected incognito at one of the Catalonian ports, and had given directions for his becoming reception; and on the advent of the two young Scotchmen, tall, well-favoured, with the air noble about them, the Prince had too hastily concluded that they were King James and his confidential attendant. “This,” says Keith, “with the Duke of Leria’s letter, occasioned our entry into Barcelona in this manner; and I believe he was sorry to have given himself so much trouble about us, when he knew who we were; yet he received us very civilly, though with some embarrass The young Scotchmen duly arrived at Madrid, and on the following day were received by Cardinal Alberoni, who informed them of his design to support the Jacobite cause, and sent them to Valladolid to arrange the details of an expedition with the Duke of Ormond. They demanded, as essential to its success, 4000 stand of arms and 18,000 pistoles; but were obliged to be content with half of each. The Cardinal, however, also undertook to lend them six companies of infantry to protect a landing. Leaving George Keith to accompany the expedition from San Sebastian, where it was to embark, James set out for France, to open up secret communications with Tullibardine, Seaforth, and the other Jacobite exiles, and engage their co-operation. It was both a difficult and a dangerous task, as France and Spain were then at war, but James Keith carried it out successfully; and he and his friends sailed for Havre, in a small boat of twenty-five tons, on March 19, 1719, and after narrowly escaping capture by the British fleet, landed at Stornoway, in the Lewis, a few days later. Here they found George Keith, with the small body of Spanish troops promised by the Cardinal. Alberoni had intended that the Earl Marischal should take the chief command; but Tullibardine suddenly produced a commission from Prince James Edward, empowering him to act as Generalissimo. The Earl Marischal gave way so far as the land forces were concerned; but insisted on directing the movements of the ships of the expedition, as these had specially been entrusted to him by the Cardinal.

The plan of action decided upon was to disembark on the west coast, advance through the glens to Inverness, which was known to be very feebly garrisoned, and carrying it by a coup de main, assemble there the Highland clans. But the disputes and quarrels of the leaders so delayed their progress that the British Government obtained information of their movements, and were enabled to forestall them.

It was the middle of May before the little Jacobite flotilla sailed into Loch Alsh, which lies, deep and still, among the green mountains of Ross-shire. The troops having been landed, the vessels returned to Spain. Some fortifications were then thrown up at the mouth of the inner reach of the loch ; and a garrison was placed in Ulandonan Castle, once the stronghold of the “high chiefs of Kintail.” But the ancient fortress, though impregnable in the rude Highland warfare, could offer no effective resistance to modern artillery; and their English men-of-war, which broke into the loch, soon crumbled it into ruins. The Scotch, and their Spanish auxiliaries, about 1500 in all, then moved by Loch Duich into the high grounds of Glenshiel; where, on June 11, they were surprised and defeated by General Wightman, with 1600 regular troops. The Spaniards surrendered as prisoners of war; the Scots disappeared among the mountain ravines.

“As I was then sick of a fever,” writes James Keith, “I was forced to lurk some months in the mountains, and in the beginning of September, having got a ship, I embarked at Peterhead, and four days after landed in Holland at the Texel; and from there, with the Earl Marischal, went to the Hague, to know if the King of Spain’s minister at that Court had any orders for us. And his advice being that we should return with all haste to Spain, we set out next day by the way of Liege, to shun the Imperial Netherlands and enter France by Sedan, judging that route to be the least suspected; but, on arriving there, the town-major, finding we had no passports, stopped us, and without inquiring either our names or qualities, ordered us immediately to be carried to prison, which was executed with the greatest exactitude. I made no doubt but that at the same time he would have ordered our pockets to be searched, in which we both had our commissions from the King of Spain, then at war with France; but he was contented with having done the half of his duty, which was our good fortune,”—since it allowed time for their destruction. Afterwards, when a demand was made for papers, nothing was found upon them but a letter which the Earl Marischal had received from the Prince de Conti. This seemed so satisfactory a credential to the town-major that he ordered their release; and next day they set out for Paris. They arrived there during the fever of excitement caused by Law’s Mississippi scheme; but as they had no money with which to speculate in them, and neither gained or lost, Keith does not think it incumbent upon him either to praise or condemn.

Early in January 1720, the two brothers resolved on a visit to Prince James Edward, or the Chevalier, as he was called, at Rome. They embarked at Genoa on board a galley bound for Leghorn; and soon had an opportunity of ascertaining how sadly the Genoese seamen had deteriorated since the days of Doria, when Genoa contended with Venice for the mastery of the seas. They had a favourable breeze at starting; and about midday made Porto Fino, where, to the surprise of our young Scots, they dropped anchor. When one of the officers was asked the reason, he replied, that the galleys of the Republic never kept the sea at night, except in the middle of summer, and that the next harbour, Porto Vumo, was too far distant to be reached before nightfall. Next day they got into Porto Vumo about the same hour, and as it does not lie more than seventy miles from Leghorn, it would have been possible to have made the latter port before midnight. But the bold Genoese could not be induced to run the hazard; and as the wind veered round during the night, the Keiths were detained at Porto Vumo for ten weary days. At last, the weather becoming settled, the galley again put to sea; about half-way the wind freshened, and the heroic captain, in a panic, gave orders to return; nor was he persuaded very easily that there was no danger.

At Rome they received a gracious welcome from the Chevalier, and spent six weeks very pleasantly. James Edward soon discovered that their funds were very low; and in order to relieve the wants of two such faithful partisans, applied to the Pope to advance him a thousand crowns on his ordinary pension. Clement XI. prudently excused himself on the plea of poverty, “which I mention,” says James Keith, “only to show the genius of the Pope, and how little regard Churchmen have for those who have abandoned all for religion.” The Chevalier eventually borrowed the money from a trustful banker, and sent away his two young Scots rejoicing.

They were back in Madrid in July 1720, and there, among courteous senhors and fascinating senhoras, James Keith lingered for many months, holding the commission of Colonel, but unattached to any regiment; finding no one to assist his advancement; and reduced eventually to such distress that, had not an old friend arrived in Madrid, and offered him his hospitality, it is probable that our adventurer’s career would have come to an unhappy and a premature end.

In 1722, at his mother’s urgent request, he was preparing to return to Scotland on business affairs; but on making known his intention to Mr. Stanhope, the British Ambassador, he was strongly dissuaded from it. Mr. Stanhope reminded him that the British Government was acquainted with his share in the Spanish expedition; and he added that just at that moment they were much embittered against all Jacobites by the discovery of the abortive conspiracy in which Bishop Atterbury and other leading men had been engaged. James Keith, therefore, changed his plans and went to Paris; where he loitered about the Court and the salons for a couple of years, seeking employment but finding none; and supporting himself on such small sums of money as reached him from Scotland.

In June 1726 the scent of battle rose in the gladdened nostrils of our adventurer. Hostilities were again on the point of being resumed between Great Britain and Spain. An English squadron had already sailed for the West Indies to lie in wait for the huge Panama treasure-ship; and another, carrying three regiments of foot, was cruising in the Bay of Biscay, with the intention, it was supposed, of making a descent upon the sea-fort of San Anders. As a counter-demonstration, Spain dispatched an army of twenty thousand men into Andalusia with instructions to attempt the recapture of Gibraltar. Keith flew at once to the scene of action; and late in December rode into the Spanish camp at San Roque, within three miles of the great fortress. To deceive the English garrison there, the army was employed in the erection of new defences at Algesiras.

“The English at first began to suspect,” says Keith, “that we had some design on the place; but when they saw how weak we were, they concluded that the new fort was all we had in view, and I don’t know if this presumption might not have cost them dear, had we had a more enterprising general at our head, for the garrison was then not full a thousand men, and the service of the place so negligently observed, that very often the guard of the port was not above a dozen men. They allowed our soldiers to come into the town in what numbers they pleased, without even searching them for hidden arms; and at less than four hundred yards from the place, there are sand-banks where a thousand men may lay concealed, and which they then had not the precaution to reconnoitre in the morning: how easy would it have been to have rendered ourselves masters of the gate, for sometimes we had above two hundred soldiers and forty or fifty officers at a time in the place, and then have made our grenadiers, hid amongst the sand-banks, advance ; but this was not the design of the Count de Las Torres, our General, who said that would the English give him the town, he would not take it but by the breach.” When all the Spanish forces were assembled, it was naturally supposed that the trenches would be opened ; but, unfortunately for the Spaniards, they had no cannon. To send them by sea was impossible on account of the vigilance of the English cruisers; they were therefore dragged across the mountains by rugged and difficult paths, which heavy rains had rendered almost impracticable. The collection of this battering-train made known to the garrison the ultimate object of the Spaniards, while the delay afforded them opportunity of communicating with Admiral Sir Charles Wager, who was in command of the British fleet. He immediately bore up for Gibraltar, and landed his three regiments of infantry. The besiegers then perceived that they had lost their chance, and would have retired; but the Court at Madrid insisted that the siege should go on, and on the night of February 21, a strong battery was raised to cover the men at work in the trenches. The British immediately opened a vigorous fire, but the battery proved to be out of range, and therefore innocuous. That night the Spanish troops began to break ground, and so near the Rock that our guns could not be pointed low enough, nor did our musketry do much execution.

But in the morning it was discovered that the engineers had mistaken their position—a blunder which does not give one a very high opinion of Spanish military science !—and had drawn the parallel where it was exposed to the full observation of the garrison. At the same time three British men-of-war dropped out of the harbour, and sailing into the bay, let go their anchors in the rear of the Spanish position at a point where was such deep water that they were able to unite within a cable’s length of the shore. Throughout the day they kept up a heavy fire, killing or wounding two of the Spanish officers and seventy-two soldiers. At nightfall they weighed anchor, and returned to their former moorings.

Shortly afterwards a curious contretemps occurred, which might have had disastrous consequences. To obtain cover from the British cannonade, the Spanish troops had lain prone on their faces all day in the lines which they had occupied the night before ; and in a gap in the trenches which there had not been time to fill up, a battalion of the Guards sought shelter without being noticed or even remembered by the main body of the troops. On the departure of the British ships, the officer in command of the battalion marched them to rejoin their comrades. The way lying under the musketry of the town, they advanced with rapid step—an alacrity which, in the darkness, led the regiment nearest to them to conjecture that they were a British column which had sallied from the town. They accordingly fired a volley; but as the battalion continued their advance, most of these gallant Spaniards threw down their arms and took to their heels. The example proved contagious; and had not the nationality of the advancing troops been quickly discovered, it seems probable that the greater part of the Spanish army would have run away from an imaginary enemy. One can hardly believe that these poltroons were the countrymen of the Cid!

“We continued our works,” says the Field-Marshal, “above three weeks before our batteries were in condition to fire; and when they did, we found the effect did not answer our expectation, they being at too great a distance from the works of the place to do much execution. In this manner we continued cannonading one another till June 22, without any hopes of taking the town, which, by the works the Earl of Portmore had raised during the siege, was soon in a better condition than when we began it. At last, June 23, orders came from Court to cease all acts of hostility, and to agree on a suspension of arms with the Governor; and thus ended a siege of five months, in which we had about two thousand men killed or wounded, and in which all we gained was the knowledge that the place was impregnable by land.”

In 1747 George II. entered into an arrangement with the Czar for the hire of thirty thousand Russian infantry, four thousand Russian cavalry, and one thousand Cossacks, for an annual subsidy of £15,000. This force marched out of Moscow on Christmas Day, 1747, and all through the winter crept on through the “frozen peaty wildernesses” of Lithuania and Poland, in order to confront the French in the Rhineland in the early spring. It was supposed that the command would have been given to Keith, who was entitled to it by his services, his renown, his seniority; but owing to Court intrigues he was dishonourably passed over, and Repnin, his junior and inferior, obtained the coveted post. Keith, who had already undergone several slights, immediately threw up his commission, and departing from Russia without regret, sought employment in a more congenial field. On arriving at Hamburg, in September 1747, he wrote to Frederick the Great to offer him his sword. Frederick eagerly welcomed him, promising him the rank of Field-Marshal, and an income of £1200 a year. Negotiations, when both parties were willing, came to a swift conclusion, and in the following month I find the Field-Marshal writing from Potsdam to his brother, the Earl—

“1 have now the honour, and, which is still more, the pleasure, of being with the King at Potsdam; where he ordered me to come, two days after he declared me Field-Marshal; where I have the honour to dine and sup with him almost every day. He has more wit than I have wit to tell you ; speaks solidly and knowingly on all kinds of subjects; and I am much mistaken if, with the experience of four campaigns, he is not the best officer of his army. He has several persons with whom he lives in almost the familiarity of a friend; but has no favourite;—and shows a natural politeness for everybody who is about him. For one who has been four days about his person, you will say I pretend to know a great deal of his character: but what I tell you, you may depend upon. With more time, I shall know as much of him as he will let me know; and—all his Ministry knows no more.”

Keith seems to have become sincerely attached to Frederick, who, on his part, placed the greatest trust in both him and his ambassadorial brother, and included them in the narrow circle of his intimates. It was said by some that the Earl Marischal was the only human being whom Frederick ever loved.

James Keith’s military talents shone conspicuously in the earlier stages of that great European conflict which historians designate the Seven Years’ War. The chief combatants in this prolonged struggle were Prussia and Austria, supported by Great Britain and France respectively. But Austria had also on her side Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and the Germanic body; so that the position of Frederick was both difficult and dangerous. With him it was a contest for everything that was dearest. If his antagonist prevailed, Silesia would return to Austria, East Prussia would go to the Russian Empress, Sweden would acquire part of Pomerania; and Augustus of Saxony, Magdeburg ; so that the House of Hohenzollern would at once fall back into the obscurity from which it had been raised by the ability of its successive chiefs. Relying on his genius, on the courage and discipline of his troops, and the unity of his councils, Frederick resolved on striking the first blow; and in the month of August 1756, suddenly poured into Saxony an army of sixty-five thousand troops, who quickly overflowed the country, captured Dresden, and laid siege to Pirna. Learning that a force of Austrians, under Marshal Browne, was preparing to traverse the mountain passes which connect Bohemia with Saxony, he left at Pirna a division strong enough to wrestle with the Saxons, and, accompanied by Field-Marshal Keith, invaded Bohemia.

Keith had been growing in the King’s favour, and in everybody’s confidence, since he first entered the Prussian service. Our great historian describes him, with picturesque felicity, as a man of Scottish type, whose broad accent, with its sagacities, vivacities, its steadily-fixed moderation, and its sly twinkles of defensive humour, is still audible to us through the foreign wrappages. Not given to talk, unless he had something to say; but then he talked well and wisely, and there were few subjects on which his opinion was not worth hearing, and his judgment worth taking.

Frederick, seizing the heights on either side of the Bohemian pass, threw himself across Browne’s line of march at Lobositz (October 1756), and inflicted upon the old Marshal a severe defeat, the Prussians fighting with extraordinary steadiness. “Never have my troops,” wrote Frederick, “done such miracles of valour, cavalry as well as infantry, since I had the honour to command them. By this tour de force—this masterly achievement—they have shown what they can do.” This notable victory placed all Saxony at Frederick’s feet. The Elector fled to Poland, and the whole Saxon army capitulated. Thenceforward, to the end of the war, he treated Saxony as a conquered province, levying troops and exacting contributions with merciless severity.

For the campaign of 1757 the King’s plans were well conceived. He left the Duke of Cumberland, with his British and Hanoverian force, to operate in Western Germany, and keep the French employed. The Russians were immured in their snows until spring opened. Saxony was prostrated, and Sweden ineffectual. There was time and opportunity, therefore, to attack Austria alone, though even in this single-handed contest the odds were against him. Early in 1757 he sent his army in four divisions through the Bohemian passes, intending to fall upon Prague, where Marshal Browne was encamped, expecting the arrival of Daun, the ablest and wariest of the Imperialist captains, with heavy reinforcements. Frederick resolved to attack and overhelm Browne before Daun could come up. On May 6 was fought the bloodiest battle which Europe witnessed during the long interval—nearly a century—between Malplaquet and Eylau. The King and Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick distinguished themselves in its fiercest throes by their hot and indomitable courage, but the honour of the day was with the veteran Marshal Schwerin, who had command of the Prussian infantry.

He and his fighting men advanced upon the Austrian front through a storm of case-shot. The general Prussian order of the day was, “By push of bayonet: no firing; none, at any rate, until you see the whites of their eyes.” Swift, steady as on the parade-ground, rapidly filling up the gaps torn in their close-set ranks, the Prussians continued to press forward, until they saw before them an expanse of “fine, sleek pasture-grounds, unusually green for the season.” But when they stepped upon them, they proved, alas! to be mere “mud-tanks,” verdant with “bearding oat-crop,” sown there as carp-provender!“ Figure the sinking of whole regiments to the knee; to the middle, some of them; the steady march become a wild scrawl through viscous mud, mere case-shot singing round you, tearing you away at its ease! Even on those terrible terms, the Prussians, by dams, by footpaths, sometimes one man abreast, sprawl steadily forward, trailing their cannon with them; only a few regiments, in the footpath parts, cannot bring their cannon. Forward; rank again, when the ground will carry; ever forward, the case-shot getting ever more murderous! No human pen can describe the deadly chaos which ensued in that quarter; which lasted, in desperate fury, issue dubious, for above three hours; and was the crisis, or essential agony, of the battle.”

In this fiery trial it is no matter of wonder that some of the Prussian regiments lost heart, and for a time fell back—recovering themselves thereafter, and returning to the field of slaughter. One of these was Schwerin’s regiment. The fiery veteran immediately seized the colours, and shouting, Heran, meineKinder,—“This way, my sons,”—rode straight into the chaos of the fight, followed by his “sons” in swift repentance. Five bits of grape-shot struck the white-haired hero, who fell dead upon his flag, clutching it with tenacious hands; but his spirit, as it were, continued to lead the desperate charge, and the Prussians, mad with grief and rage, fell so fiercely upon the enemy, that he was compelled to yield.

Keith, in this great battle, commanded three thousand men, on the Moldau side of the battlefield, and when the Austrian retreat began, prevented them from escaping up the Moldau, and helped to shut up part of them in Prague. The remainder fled to swell the ranks of Daun’s army, which was rapidly approaching.

Frederick’s victory was dearly won. He admitted that he had lost eighteen thousand men. The loss of the Austrians was a third greater— twenty-four thousand killed, wounded, or taken prisoners; but then the Austrians had another great army in the field, and Frederick had not.

Leaving a large force, under Keith, to besiege Prague, Frederick, with three thousand men, marched against Daun, who, though he had the superiority in numbers, was resolved to risk nothing, and had encamped in a very strong position at Kolin. The battle began before noon on June 1, and was maintained on both sides with terrible resolution and great shedding of blood. The Prussians behaved with a gallantry worthy of their fame ; but the deadly fire of the Austrian batteries from every point of vantage proved too much for them, and at length their decimated regiments could no longer be brought up to the attack. Even then, Frederick was unwilling to admit the indispensableness of retreat, and the officers of his personal staff were constrained to put the question to him straight —“Will your Majesty storm the batteries alone?” Entering the battle thirty-four thousand strong, he lost thirteen thousand seven hundred and seventy-three, of whom the prisoners (including all the wounded) numbered five thousand three hundred and eighty. They lost also forty-five cannon and twenty-two flags, but held so resolute an attitude even in defeat, that the victors meddled not with their baggage. The Austrian forces in the field are estimated at sixty thousand; their killed, wounded, and missing amounted to eight thousand one hundred and fourteen.

Retiring upon Prague, Frederick immediately raised the siege, and by different routes marched his army out of Bohemia, Keith bringing up the rear, and having charge of the magazines and stores.

In November, having recruited his weakened army, Frederick opened a new campaign. He himself led the van; the main body was under Marshal Keith; and the rear under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, one of the ablest captains of the time. A great French army was moving up from the west, under the command of Marshal Soubise, a prince of the great house of Rohan; this was the enemy at whom Frederick resolved to aim his first blow. He came up with him at Rosbach on November 5, and though considerably inferior in numbers, obtained a complete victory. The French lost three thousand killed and wounded, and five thousand taken prisoners, with about seventy cannon, besides standards, flags, kettledrums, and meaner baggage. Those who fled, fled in the greatest confusion. The Prussians had only one hundred and sixty-five killed, and three hundred and seventy-six wounded. In number they had been little more than one to three; twenty-two thousand of all arms, and of these not more than half were under fire.

Victorious in the West, Frederick next turned his arms towards Silesia, which had been overrun by the Austrians, under Duke Charles of Lorraine. He marched thither with indefatigable energy, and on December 5, exactly one month after the battle of Rosbach, fought the battle of Leuthen —perhaps the most signal of his victories. Recognizing the magnitude of the issue, he had summoned Keith and his principal officers to his presence a day before; and made known to them his intentions in terse and forcible language. After commenting on the critical position of affairs in Silesia, he remarked that his embarrassments would be insuperable but for the entire confidence he had in them, and in their high military qualities.

Hardly one among them but had distinguished himself by some nobly memorable action ; but all their services to the State and to himself he knew well, and would never forget. He flattered himself, therefore, that on the present occasion nothing would be wanting which the State had a right to expect of their valour. The hour was at hand. He should think nothing done if he left the Austrians in possession of Silesia. He wished to inform them, therefore, that he intended, in spite of the Rules of Art, to attack Prince Charles’s army, though it was nearly thrice their strength, wherever and whenever he found it. Of its numbers or the strength of its position he should take no account. He hoped to neutralize these advantages by his tactical skill and the courage of his soldiers. This step, he said, he must risk, or all was lost. “We must beat the enemy,” he cried, “or perish, all of us, in front of his batteries. Make this my resolve known to all the officers of the army; prepare the men for the work they will have to do, and say that I expect absolute fulfilment of my orders.”

There was no mistake about the temper of this Prussian army; it was as dogged and inflexible as if its ranks had been filled with Keith’s countrymen. And then it had such a noble faith in its kingly leader! “Never mind,” the soldiers used to say in Marlborough’s time, “Corporal John will get us through it!” And this, too, was the feeling of the Prussian fighting-men as regarded their “Vater Fritz.” That same evening (I am condensing from Carlyle) he rode into the camp, and went from regiment to regiment, exchanging frank soldierly speech with all. The first he came upon was the Life Guard Cuirassiers: the men, in their wonted manner, gave him good-evening, which he returned cheerily. Some of the veterans addressed him confidentially: “What is thy news, then, at this late hour?” “Good news, children: to-morrow you will drub the Austrians soundly” “That we will" they said, “by Heaven!” “But look how many of them there are yonder, and how strongly they have entrenched themselves!” “If they had the devil in their front, and all round them, we would knock them out: only thou lead us on!” “Well, I shall see what you can do! Now, lay down, and sleep soundly; good sleep to you!” “Good-night, Fritz,” they cried with one consent; and the King moved on to the next regiment, the Pommern or Pomeranian. “Well, children, how do you think it will go to-morrow? They are twice as strong as we.” “Never thou mind that; there are no Pommerners among them; thou knowest what the Pommerners can do!” “Yea, truly,” answered the King, “that I do, or I durst not risk the battle. Now, good sleep to you! to-morrow, then, by this time, we shall either have beaten the enemy, or shall all be dead.” “Yes,” resumed the regiment, in chorus, “dead, or else the enemy beaten.”

I do not propose to describe the battle of Leuthen. To the non-professional reader the description of one battle is very much like that of another, and even when it is written by a brilliant expert, it carries no conviction to the mind. He understands that A is beaten, and that B conquers; but he does not understand the why or the wherefore; nor can he separate the part played by the stubborn courage of the men from the part played by the genius of their leader. At Leuthen it would be difficult to do so; for though it was Frederick’s manoeuvres1 which conferred upon forty thousand men an insuperable superiority over sixty thousand, these manoeuvres could have been carried out only by troops of the highest discipline and courage. The Austrian overthrow was complete; they left three thousand killed and seven thousand wounded on the field, and twenty thousand to twenty-one thousand were taken prisoners. Necessarily such a victory was not cheaply won; it cost the victors one thousand one hundred and forty-one killed, and five thousand one hundred and eighteen wounded. “Gentlemen,” said Frederick that night, when the hurly-burly was over, “after such a spell of work you deserve rest. This day will hand down the renown of your name and your nation to the latest posterity.”

Marshal Keith’s share in these notable military achievements I have not attempted to indicate. He was a lieutenant, and, therefore, can claim little of the glory that on such occasions surrounds the commander. He had to obey orders, and he obeyed them with sagacity, promptitude, and resolution. There was no one of his officers whom Frederick more thoroughly trusted; no one whose counsel carried greater weight with him; but his was not the initiative genius, and Rosbach and Leuthen are Frederick’s victories, and neither Keith’s nor Schwerin’s nor any other of the Prussian generals, except in so far as each did his duty with true soldierly instinct.

Having recovered Silesia, Frederick passed the winter at Breslau in the studies he loved, and in making vigorous preparations for his next campaign. Fresh levies brought up the fighting strength of his army to the normal standard, and in the spring of 1758 he again took the field. Leaving Prince Ferdinand to deal with the French, he marched to encounter the Russians, who had sided with Austria, and slaying, ravaging, and burning, had penetrated into the heart of his dominions. His first movement was against Olmtitz. Starting from Neisse, on April 27, with vanguard and first division under his own command—Keith, with second division and rearguard, following at a day’s march distance,—he silently threaded the mountain villages and upper streamlets of the Oder and Morawa, and on May 12 suddenly debouched in front of Olmiitz, near which (at Leutomischl) Marshal Daun lay entrenched with a strong force. Frederick at once invested Olmtitz, entrusting the general direction of the siege to Keith, who pressed it with unconquerable tenacity; but was ill served by his engineers, and inadequately supplied with ammunition. The capture of an important convoy by Daun made Frederick’s position untenable; and on July 1 he ordered Keith to raise the siege, and began his retreat. Keith, who covered the retreat, is acknowledged to have behaved with masterly tactical skill. He was suffering from asthma at the time, but exhibited his usual vigilance, energy, and judgment, and though upwards of sixty, much of the elasticity and promptitude of youth. The hosts under Loudon made some attacks upon his long column; he brushed them off quite easily. It was at Holitz, within a march of Konigsgratz, that Loudon struck most heavily, and at one time there was some risk of disaster. But Keith, hearing the brisk artillery combat in front of him, galloped to the scene of action with his cavalry, and by a series of skilful manoeuvres drove back the enemy in confusion. “A man fiery enough,” says Carlyle, “and prompt with his stroke when wanted, though commonly so quiet. ‘Tell Monsieur,’—some general who seemed too stupid or too languid on this occasion,—‘Tell Monsieur from me,’ said Keith to his aide-de-camp, ‘he may be a very pretty thing, but he is not a man (giCil pent Ure une bonne chose, mais qu'il n'est pas un Jiomme’). The excellent vernacular Keith — still a fine breadth of accent in him, one perceives!”

Frederick now marched to encounter the Russians, and gave them battle, 011 August 25, at Zorndorf, near Frankfort-on-the-Oder. The fight was “long and bloody" but it ended in a great victory for the Prussians and their King. The Russian loss amounted to eight thousand killed, and thirteen thousand five hundred wounded and taken prisoners. The Prussian loss was about half, namely three thousand six hundred and eighty killed, and seven thousand seven hundred wounded or missing. Zorndorf was the bloodiest field of the Seven Years’ War, and one of the most furious recorded in military annals. On both sides men were animated by a feeling of personal hate; and the sight of the ravages committed by the ruthless invaders had filled the breast of every Prussian with an insatiable thirst of vengeance.

Having thus disposed of his enemies from the east, the indefatigable Frederick swept round against the Austrians, who, under the command of the two most brilliant Imperialist generals, Daun and Loudon, were advancing into Saxony. As Frederick approached, Daun drew back, and encamped at Stolpen, one of the strongest posts in Germany, with Pirna on his left, and Loudon’s division on his right, barring the road to Bautzen, which was Frederick’s objective. By a series of skilful manoeuvres Frederick passed Loudon, and got round to Bautzen, where he pushed forward on the road to Weissenberg, but finding that Daun was again ahead of him, he halted at Hochkirch, and posted his troops on a low range of hills directly opposite to the Austrian camp. But Frederick, unwisely contemptuous of the Austrian commander, had allowed his army to slip into a dangerous position. “The Austrian generals deserve to be hanged,” cried Keith, “if they don’t attack us here!” They did attack them there! During the night of Friday, October 13, Daun, dexterously manoeuvring, and helped by a thick fog, drew his ninety thousand men in a silent circle round the Prussian camp, and at five o’clock next morning, fell suddenly on the astonished Prussians, under cover of a tremendous fire. Though taken by surprise, they made an obstinate resistance; and Frederick exercising all his genius for war, they contrived to extricate themselves from what seemed certain destruction, though not without defeat and carnage.

About six, or half-past, Keith, who had command of the right wing, ascertained that his main battery had been captured, and prepared to recover it. Mounting his horse in hot haste, he assembled a couple of battalions, and through the heavy mist which obscured the battle-field, led them forward. After a sharp struggle, the battery was retaken. But fresh Austrian troops came upon the ground, and Keith began to look round him anxiously for assistance. “Where are my aides-de-camp?” he repeatedly inquired; but obtaining neither reply nor reinforcement, was at length compelled to fall back, his men clearing the way with levelled bayonets. Suddenly he stopped short, and, with a bullet through the heart, dropped dead into the arms of his groom, John Tebay, thus closing, amid the gloom and clang of the fight, his adventurous career.

Tebay endeavoured to carry off his body, but failed; and the Austrians conveyed it into Hochkirch church, where, on the morrow, the Field-Marshal was honourably buried. Four months after, his remains were removed, by Frederick’s order, to Berlin, and interred with full military honours in the Garnison Kirche—where they still lie, far from the bonnie glades of Inverugie and the ruins of Dunnottar. A statue of him was erected (about 1780) on the Wilhelm Platz. He has also a memorial in Hochkirch church; an urn of black marble on a pedestal of grey; with an inscription which records how he “Dum in praslio non procul hinc, inclinatam suorum aciem, mente manu voce et exemplo restituebat, pugnans ut heros decet, occubuit.”

That he was no mere soldier of fortune—no unscrupulous mercenary, intent on selling his sword to the highest bidder—is proved by the record of his career. “My brother,” said the aged Earl Marshal, “leaves me a noble legacy; last year he had Bohemia under ransom; and his personal estate is seventy ducats” Yes; that was the fortune he left behind him—about twenty-five pounds—the result of so many years of adventure and so much gallant service.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus