Friday, September 20, 2013

484 plus 2

From this place, and from this day forth begins a new era in the history of the world, and you can all say that you were present at its birth.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Image via Wikipedia
Frederick der Grosse was an entirely unsympathetic man.  He sneered at the populations that he conquered, saying that the Poland that he partitioned with Russia and Austria was the "worst governed principality in Europe, excepting only the Turks."  He compared the Polish peasants to the Iroquois (perhaps this was true, because in 1760 the Iroquis Nation might have kicked a** on the Polish army).

The Prussian Army was feared in late 18th Century Europe, even though it had been 35 years since Frederick had personally led his famous oblique order of battle, crushing the Austrians at Rossbach.  This was only one of the decisive victories that led to that most coveted of Royal monikers, der Grosse (the Great).  It was only six years since the Grosse Koenig was in his grave when Prussia invaded France.

The Prussian army of 1792 advanced carefully and prudently, as war was fought at the time - even in the New World, as George Washington had shown only a decade hence, when he did more or less what they did, only against General Cornwallis at Yorktown.  But Washington didn't have to face Revolutionary France.

It wasn't even the extreme Jacobin government of the Terror and guillotine fame, rather it was the Assembly Nationalle that was trying to sort out a Constitutional Monarchy.  The Duke of Brunswick, ably mis-aided by Frederich William (Prince of Hohenlohe-Kirchberg) changed history on this day in 1792.

The French Army was in turmoil, as was the Kingdom itself.  However, the Prussians had invaded, and were sweeping towards Paris itself.  The core of the Royalist French army (in traditional white French uniforms0 joined with enthusiastic revolutionary volunteers (in new, revolutionary blue uniforms) and soundly thrashed the invaders at the battle of Valmay. As George Washington's regulars might have put it, the Prince of Hohenlohe-Kirchberg's forces skedaddled, putting an end to the invasion of the fledgling French Republic.  300 French and 184 Prussian dead were left on the field, for a total of 484.

But that wasn't the end, it was the beginning.  The uncertain French Revolution was crystallized into a national, patriotic movement from this battle.  The King and Queen joined the dead of Valmy, taken by the tumbrils through the streets of Paris to their date with Madame Guillotine.

It was perhaps the smallest tactical loss that was ever a massive strategic defeat, fought on this day in 1792.  The true winner of Valmy was Napoleon, who visited the tomb of Frederick der Grosse in 1807, fifteen years after the battle of Valmy.

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