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- The Thirty Years War, Book V. - 4/10 -


Swedes, and almost drove them to the Baltic. But, contrary to all expectation, Banner, who had been given up as lost, attacked the allies, on the 24th of September, 1636, at Wittstock, where a bloody battle took place. The onset was terrific; and the whole force of the enemy was directed against the right wing of the Swedes, which was led by Banner in person. The contest was long maintained with equal animosity and obstinacy on both sides. There was not a squadron among the Swedes, which did not return ten times to the charge, to be as often repulsed; when at last, Banner was obliged to retire before the superior numbers of the enemy. His left wing sustained the combat until night, and the second line of the Swedes, which had not as yet been engaged, was prepared to renew it the next morning. But the Elector did not wait for a second attack. His army was exhausted by the efforts of the preceding day; and, as the drivers had fled with the horses, his artillery was unserviceable. He accordingly retreated in the night, with Count Hatzfeld, and relinquished the ground to the Swedes. About 5000 of the allies fell upon the field, exclusive of those who were killed in the pursuit, or who fell into the hands of the exasperated peasantry. One hundred and fifty standards and colours, twenty-three pieces of cannon, the whole baggage and silver plate of the Elector, were captured, and more than 2000 men taken prisoners. This brilliant victory, achieved over an enemy far superior in numbers, and in a very advantageous position, restored the Swedes at once to their former reputation; their enemies were discouraged, and their friends inspired with new hopes. Banner instantly followed up this decisive success, and hastily crossing the Elbe, drove the Imperialists before him, through Thuringia and Hesse, into Westphalia. He then returned, and took up his winter quarters in Saxony.

But, without the material aid furnished by the diversion upon the Rhine, and the activity there of Duke Bernard and the French, these important successes would have been unattainable. Duke Bernard, after the defeat of Nordlingen, reorganized his broken army at Wetterau; but, abandoned by the confederates of the League of Heilbronn, which had been dissolved by the peace of Prague, and receiving little support from the Swedes, he found himself unable to maintain an army, or to perform any enterprise of importance. The defeat at Nordlingen had terminated all his hopes on the Duchy of Franconia, while the weakness of the Swedes, destroyed the chance of retrieving his fortunes through their assistance. Tired, too, of the constraint imposed upon him by the imperious chancellor, he turned his attention to France, who could easily supply him with money, the only aid which he required, and France readily acceded to his proposals. Richelieu desired nothing so much as to diminish the influence of the Swedes in the German war, and to obtain the direction of it for himself. To secure this end, nothing appeared more effectual than to detach from the Swedes their bravest general, to win him to the interests of France, and to secure for the execution of its projects the services of his arm. From a prince like Bernard, who could not maintain himself without foreign support, France had nothing to fear, since no success, however brilliant, could render him independent of that crown. Bernard himself came into France, and in October, 1635, concluded a treaty at St. Germaine en Laye, not as a Swedish general, but in his own name, by which it was stipulated that he should receive for himself a yearly pension of one million five hundred thousand livres, and four millions for the support of his army, which he was to command under the orders of the French king. To inflame his zeal, and to accelerate the conquest of Alsace, France did not hesitate, by a secret article, to promise him that province for his services; a promise which Richelieu had little intention of performing, and which the duke also estimated at its real worth. But Bernard confided in his good fortune, and in his arms, and met artifice with dissimulation. If he could once succeed in wresting Alsace from the enemy, he did not despair of being able, in case of need, to maintain it also against a friend. He now raised an army at the expense of France, which he commanded nominally under the orders of that power, but in reality without any limitation whatever, and without having wholly abandoned his engagements with Sweden. He began his operations upon the Rhine, where another French army, under Cardinal Lavalette, had already, in 1635, commenced hostilities against the Emperor.

Against this force, the main body of the Imperialists, after the great victory of Nordlingen, and the reduction of Swabia and Franconia had advanced under the command of Gallas, had driven them as far as Metz, cleared the Rhine, and took from the Swedes the towns of Metz and Frankenthal, of which they were in possession. But frustrated by the vigorous resistance of the French, in his main object, of taking up his winter quarters in France, he led back his exhausted troops into Alsace and Swabia. At the opening of the next campaign, he passed the Rhine at Breysach, and prepared to carry the war into the interior of France. He actually entered Burgundy, while the Spaniards from the Netherlands made progress in Picardy; and John De Werth, a formidable general of the League, and a celebrated partisan, pushed his march into Champagne, and spread consternation even to the gates of Paris. But an insignificant fortress in Franche Comte completely checked the Imperialists, and they were obliged, a second time, to abandon their enterprise.

The activity of Duke Bernard had hitherto been impeded by his dependence on a French general, more suited to the priestly robe, than to the baton of command; and although, in conjunction with him, he conquered Alsace Saverne, he found himself unable, in the years 1636 and 1637, to maintain his position upon the Rhine. The ill success of the French arms in the Netherlands had cheated the activity of operations in Alsace and Breisgau; but in 1638, the war in that quarter took a more brilliant turn. Relieved from his former restraint, and with unlimited command of his troops, Duke Bernard, in the beginning of February, left his winter quarters in the bishopric of Basle, and unexpectedly appeared upon the Rhine, where, at this rude season of the year, an attack was little anticipated. The forest towns of Laufenburg, Waldshut, and Seckingen, were surprised, and Rhinefeldt besieged. The Duke of Savelli, the Imperial general who commanded in that quarter, hastened by forced marches to the relief of this important place, succeeded in raising the siege, and compelled the Duke of Weimar, with great loss to retire. But, contrary to all human expectation, he appeared on the third day after, (21st February, 1638,) before the Imperialists, in order of battle, and defeated them in a bloody engagement, in which the four Imperial generals, Savelli, John De Werth, Enkeford, and Sperreuter, with 2000 men, were taken prisoners. Two of these, De Werth and Enkeford, were afterwards sent by Richelieu's orders into France, in order to flatter the vanity of the French by the sight of such distinguished prisoners, and by the pomp of military trophies, to withdraw the attention of the populace from the public distress. The captured standards and colours were, with the same view, carried in solemn procession to the church of Notre Dame, thrice exhibited before the altar, and committed to sacred custody.

The taking of Rhinefeldt, Roeteln, and Fribourg, was the immediate consequence of the duke's victory. His army now increased by considerable recruits, and his projects expanded in proportion as fortune favoured him. The fortress of Breysach upon the Rhine was looked upon as holding the command of that river, and as the key of Alsace. No place in this quarter was of more importance to the Emperor, and upon none had more care been bestowed. To protect Breysach, was the principal destination of the Italian army, under the Duke of Feria; the strength of its works, and its natural defences, bade defiance to assault, while the Imperial generals who commanded in that quarter had orders to retain it at any cost. But the duke, trusting to his good fortune, resolved to attempt the siege. Its strength rendered it impregnable; it could, therefore, only be starved into a surrender; and this was facilitated by the carelessness of the commandant, who, expecting no attack, had been selling off his stores. As under these circumstances the town could not long hold out, it must be immediately relieved or victualled. Accordingly, the Imperial General Goetz rapidly advanced at the head of 12,000 men, accompanied by 3000 waggons loaded with provisions, which he intended to throw into the place. But he was attacked with such vigour by Duke Bernard at Witteweyer, that he lost his whole force, except 3000 men, together with the entire transport. A similar fate at Ochsenfeld, near Thann, overtook the Duke of Lorraine, who, with 5000 or 6000 men, advanced to relieve the fortress. After a third attempt of general Goetz for the relief of Breysach had proved ineffectual, the fortress, reduced to the greatest extremity by famine, surrendered, after a blockade of four months, on the 17th December 1638, to its equally persevering and humane conqueror.

The capture of Breysach opened a boundless field to the ambition of the Duke of Weimar, and the romance of his hopes was fast approaching to reality. Far from intending to surrender his conquests to France, he destined Breysach for himself, and revealed this intention, by exacting allegiance from the vanquished, in his own name, and not in that of any other power. Intoxicated by his past success, and excited by the boldest hopes, he believed that he should be able to maintain his conquests, even against France herself. At a time when everything depended upon bravery, when even personal strength was of importance, when troops and generals were of more value than territories, it was natural for a hero like Bernard to place confidence in his own powers, and, at the head of an excellent army, who under his command had proved invincible, to believe himself capable of accomplishing the boldest and largest designs. In order to secure himself one friend among the crowd of enemies whom he was about to provoke, he turned his eyes upon the Landgravine Amelia of Hesse, the widow of the lately deceased Landgrave William, a princess whose talents were equal to her courage, and who, along with her hand, would bestow valuable conquests, an extensive principality, and a well disciplined army. By the union of the conquests of Hesse, with his own upon the Rhine, and the junction of their forces, a power of some importance, and perhaps a third party, might be formed in Germany, which might decide the fate of the war. But a premature death put a period to these extensive schemes.

"Courage, Father Joseph, Breysach is ours!" whispered Richelieu in the ear of the Capuchin, who had long held himself in readiness to be despatched into that quarter; so delighted was he with this joyful intelligence. Already in imagination he held Alsace, Breisgau, and all the frontiers of Austria in that quarter, without regard to his promise to Duke Bernard. But the firm determination which the latter had unequivocally shown, to keep Breysach for himself, greatly embarrassed the cardinal, and no efforts were spared to retain the victorious Bernard in the interests of France. He was invited to court, to witness the honours by which his triumph was to be commemorated; but he perceived and shunned the seductive snare. The cardinal even went so far as to offer him the hand of his niece in marriage; but the proud German prince declined the offer, and refused to sully the blood of Saxony by a misalliance. He was now considered as a dangerous enemy, and treated as such. His subsidies were withdrawn; and the Governor of Breysach and his principal officers were bribed, at least upon the event of the duke's death, to take possession of his conquests, and to secure his troops. These intrigues were no secret to the duke, and the precautions he took in the conquered places, clearly bespoke the distrust of France. But this misunderstanding with the French court had the most prejudicial influence upon his future operations. The preparations he was obliged to make, in order to secure his conquests against an attack on the side of France, compelled him to divide his military strength, while the stoppage of his subsidies delayed his appearance in the field. It had been his intention to cross the Rhine, to support the Swedes, and to act against the Emperor and Bavaria on the banks of the Danube. He had already communicated his plan of operations to Banner, who was about to carry the war into the Austrian territories, and had promised to relieve him so, when a sudden death cut short his heroic career, in the 36th year of his age, at Neuburgh upon the Rhine (in July, 1639).

He died of a pestilential disorder, which, in the course of two days,


The Thirty Years War, Book V. - 4/10

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