TUESDAY, 15th AUGUST, 1758. At two in the morning, several thousand Russians, grenadiers, under Quartermaster General Stoffeln, whom the readers of Mannstein know from old Oczakow times, are astir; pushing along from Gross Kamin, through the scraggy firwoods, and flat peat countries; intending a stroke on Custrin, if perhaps they can get it: [Tempelhof, ii. 217; but Tielcke, ii. 69 et seq., the real source.]--not the slightest chance to get Custrin; Prussian soldiership and Turkish being two quite different things! The pickeering and manoeuvring of Stoffeln shall not detain us. Stoffeln came along by the Landsberg road (course of the now Konigsberg-Custrin Railway); and drove in the Prussian out-parties, who at first took him for Cossacks. Stoffeln set himself down on the north side of the place; planted cannon in certain clay-pits thereabouts, and about nine o'clock began firing shells and incendiary grenadoes at a great rate. Tielcke saw everything,--and had the honor to take luncheon, that evening, with certain chief Officers, sitting on the ground, after all was over, and only a few shots from the Garrison still dropping. [Tielcke, ii. 75 n.]
At the third grenade, which, it seems, fell into a straw magazine, Custrin took fire; could not be quenched again, so much dry wood in it, so much disorder too, the very soldiers some of them disorderly (a bad deserter set); so that it soon flamed aloft,--from side to side one sea of flame: and man, woman and child, every soul (except the Garrison, which sat enclosed in strong stone), had to fly across the River, under penalty of death by fire. Of Custrin, by five in the evening, there was nothing left but the black ashes; the Garrison standing unharmed, and the Church, School-house and some stone edifices in a charred skeleton condition. "No life was lost, except that of one child in arms." All Neumark had lodged its valuables in this place of strength; all are fled now in horror and terror across the Oder, by the Bridge, before it also unquenchably takes fire, at the western or non-Russian end of the place. Such a day as was seldom seen in human experience;--Fermor responsible for it, happily not we.
Fermor, in the evening, said to his Artillery People: "Why have you ceased to fire grenadoes?" "Excellency, the Town is out; nothing now but ashes and stone." "Never mind; give them the rest, one every quarter of an hour. We shall not need the grenadoes again. The cannon-balls we shall; them, therefore, do not waste." On the morrow morning, after this performance on the Town, Fermor sends a Trumpeter: "Surrender or else--!" rather in the tremendous style. "Or else?" answers the Commandant, pointing to the ashes, to the black inconsumable stones; and is deaf to this EX-POST-FACTO Trumpeter. The Russians say they sent one yesterday morning, not EX-POST-FACTO, but he was killed in the pickeerings, and never heard of again. A mile or so to rear of Custrin, on the westward or Berlin side of the River, lies Dohna for the last four days; expecting that the Laws of Nature will hold good, and Custrin prove tenable against such sieging. So stands it on Friedrich's arrival.
We left Friedrich in the Lebus Suburb of Frankfurt, Sunday, August 20th, listening to the distant cannonade. Next morning, he is here himself; at Dohna's Camp of Gorgast, taking survey of affairs; came early, under rapid small escort, leaving his Army to follow; scorn and contemptuous indignation the humor of him, they say; resolution to be swiftly home upon that surprising Russian armament, and teach it new manners. The black skeleton of Custrin stares hideously across the River; "Custrin Siege" so called still going on;--had better make despatch now, and take itself away! He greatly despises Russian soldiership: "Pooh, pooh," he would answer, if Keith from experience said, "Your Majesty does not do it justice;"--and Keith has been known to hint, "If the trial ever come, your Majesty will alter that opinion." A day or two hence, amid these hideous Russian fire-traceries, the Hussars bring him a dozen of Cossacks they have made prisoners: Friedrich looks at the dirty green vagabonds; says to one of his Staff: "And this is the kind of Doggery I have to bother with!"--The sight of the poor country-people, and their tears of joy and of sorrow on his reappearance among them, much affected him. Taking inspection of Dohna, he finds Dohna wonderfully clean, pipe-clayed, complete: "You are very fine indeed, you;--I bring you a set of fellows, rough as GRASTEUFELN ["grass-devils," I never know whether insects or birds]; but they can bite,"--hope you can!
Tuesday, August 32d, at five in the morning our Army has all arrived, the Frankfurt people just come in; 30,000 of us now in Camp at Gorgast. Friedrich orders straightway that a certain Russian Redoubt on the other side of the River, at Schaumburg, a mile or two down stream, be well cannonaded into ruin,--as if he took it for some incipiency of a Russian Bridge, or were himself minded to cross here, under cover of Custrin. Friedrich's intention very certainly is to cross,--here or not just here;--and that same night, after some hours of rest to the Frankfurt people,--night of Tuesday-Wednesday, Friedrich, having persuaded the Russians that his crossing-place will be their Redoubt at Schaumburg, marches ten or twelve miles down the River, silently his 30,000 and he, till opposite the Village of Gustebiese; rapidly makes his Bridges there, unmolested: Fermor, with his eye on the cannonaded Redoubt only, has expected no such matter; and is much astonished when he hears of it, twenty hours after. Friedrich, across with the vanguard, at an early hour of Wednesday, gets upon the knoll at Gustebiese for a view; and all Gustebiese, hearing of him, hurries out, with low-voiced tremulous blessings, irrepressible tears: "God reward your Majesty, that have come to us!"--and there is a hustling and a struggling, among the women especially, to kiss the skirts of his coat. Poor souls: one could have stood tremendous cheers; but this is a thing I forgive Friedrich for being visibly affected with.
Friedrich leaves his baggage on the other side of the Oder, and the Bridge guarded; our friend Hordt, with his Free-Corps, doing it, Friedrich marches forward some ten miles that night; eastward, straight for Gross Kamin, as if to take the Russians in rear; encamps at a place called Klossow, spreading himself obliquely towards the Mutzel (black sluggish tributary of the Oder in those parts), meaning to reach Neu Damm on the Mutzel to-morrow, there almost within wind of the Russians, and be ready for crossing on them. It was at Klossow (23d August, evening), that the Hussars brought in their dozen or two of Cossacks, and he had his first sight of Russian soldiery; by no means a favorable one, "Ugh, only look!"--As we are now approaching Zorndorf, and the monstrous tug of Battle which fell out there, readers will be glad of the following:--
"From Damm on the Mutzel, where Friedrich intends crossing it to-morrow night, south to Gross Kamin, not far from the Warta, where Fermor's head-quarter lately was, may be about five miles. From Custrin, Kamin lies northeast about eight or ten miles: Zorndorf, the most considerable Village in this tract, lies--little dreaming of the sad glory coming to it--pretty much in the centre between big Warta and smaller Mutzel. The Country is by nature a peat wilderness, far and wide; but it has been tamed extensively; grows crops, green pastures; is elsewhere covered with wood (Scotch fir, scraggy in size, but evidently under forest management); perhaps half the country is in Fir tracts, what they call HEIDEN (Heaths); the cultivated spaces lying like light-green islands with black-green channels and expanses of circumambient Fir. The Drewitz Heath, the Massin or Zither Heath, and others about Zorndorf, will become notable to us. The Country is now much drier than in Friedrich's time; the human spade doing its duty everywhere: so that much of the Battle-ground has become irrecognizable, when compared with the old marshy descriptions given of it. Zorndorf, a rough substantial Hamlet, has nothing of boggy now visible near by; lies east to west, a firm broad highway leading through: a sea of forest before it, to south; to north, good dry barley-grounds or rye-grounds, sensibly rising for half a mile, then waving about in various slow slight changes of level towards Quartschen, Zicher, &c.: forming an irregular cleared 'island,' altogether of perhaps four miles by three, with unlimited circumambiencies of wood. It was here, on this island as we call it, that the Battle, which has made Zorndorf famous, was fought.
"Zorndorf (or even the open ground half a mile to north of it, which will be more important to us) is probably not 50 feet above the level of the Mutzel, nor 100 above Warta and Oder, six miles off; but it is the crown of the Country;--the ground dropping therefrom every way, in lazy dull waves or swells; towards Tamsel and Gross Kamin on southeast; towards Birken-Busch, Quartschen, Darmutzel [DAR of the Mutzel, whatever "DAR" may be.] on northwest; as well as towards Damm and its Bridge northeast, where Friedrich will soon be, and towards Custrin southwest, where he lately was, each a five or six miles from Zorndorf.