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Frederick II ("the Great") on the Eve of the Battle of Leuthen (November 28 and December 3, 1757)

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December 3, 1757

[ . . . ]

“Gentlemen! I have had you brought here, firstly, in order to thank you for the loyal services that you have rendered to the Fatherland, and to me. I recognize them with feelings of deep emotion. There is hardly one among you who has not distinguished himself by great and most honorable feats. Relying on your courage and experience, I have prepared a plan for the battle that I shall, and must, wage tomorrow. I shall, against all the rules of the art, attack an enemy which is nearly twice as strong as ourselves and entrenched on high ground. I must do it, for if I do not, all is lost. We must defeat the enemy, or let their batteries dig our graves. This is what I think and how I propose to act. But if there is anyone among you who thinks otherwise, let him ask leave here to depart. I will grant it him, without the slightest reproach.”

At this point Frederick paused. There was a dead silence, broken, we are told, only by some sobs; but no one moved. Frederick went on:

“I thought that none of you would leave me; so now I count entirely on your loyal help, and on certain victory. Should I fall, and be unable to reward you for what you will do tomorrow, our Fatherland will do it. Now go to the camp and tell your regiments what I have said to you here, and assure them that I shall watch each of them most closely. The cavalry regiment that does not charge the enemy at once, on the word of command, I shall have unhorsed immediately after the battle and turned into a garrison regiment. The infantry regiment which begins to falter for a moment, for whatever reason, will lose its colors and its swords, and I will have the braid cut off its uniforms. Now, gentlemen, farewell: by this hour tomorrow we shall have defeated the enemy, or we shall not see one another again.”

Source of English translation: C.A. Macartney, ed., The Habsburg and Hohenzollern Dynasties in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, in Documentary History of Western Civilization. New York, Evanston, and London: Harper & Row, 1970, pp. 351-52. Introduction, editorial notes, chronology, translations by the editor; and compilation copyright © 1970 by C.A. Macartney. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source of original German texts: Gustav Berthold Volz, ed., Der Große König, Werke, Briefe und Gespräche [The Great King, Works, Letters, and Conversations]. Berlin: Verlag von Reimar Hobbing, 1923, pp. 108ff; and Gustav Berthold Volz, ed., Die Werke Friedrichs des Großen [The Works of Frederick the Great], vol. 3, Geschichte des Siebenjährigen Krieges [The History of the Seven Years War]. Berlin: Verlag von Reimar Hobbing, 1913, pp. 224-25.

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