Tielcke's Book of
Up to Custrin, the Journal of the Operations of the Russian Army, which I could give from day to day, ["TAGEBUCH BEYDER &c. (Diary of both Armies from the beginning of the Campaign till Zorndorf"), in Tielcke, ii. 1-75; Tempelhof, ii. 136, 216-224;
East Preussen is quiet from the storms of War; holds its tongue well, and hopes better days: but the Russians themselves are little the better for it, a country so lately burned bare; they are merely flung so many scores of miles forward, farther from home and their real resources, before they can begin work, They have no port on the Baltic: poor blockheads, they are aware how desirable, for instance, Dantzig would be; to help feeding them out of ships; but the Dantzigers won't. Colberg, a poor little place, with only 700 militia people in it, would be of immense service to them as a sea-haven: but even this they have not yet tried to get; and after trying, they will find it a job. "Why not unite with the Swedes and take Stettin (the finest harbor in the Baltic), which would bring Russia, by ships, to your very hand?" This is what Montalembert is urgent upon, year after year, to the point of wearying everybody; but he can get no official soul to pay heed to him,--the difficulties are so considerable. "Swedes, what are they?" say the Russians: "Russians what?" say the Swedes. "Sweden would be so handy for the Artilleries," urges Montalembert; "Russians for the Soldiery, or covering and fighting part."--"Can't be done!" Officiality shakes its head: and Montalembert is obliged to be silent.
The Russians have got into the Neumark of Brandenburg, on those bad terms; and are clearly aware that, without some Fortress as a Place of Arms, they are an overgrown Incompetency and Monstrosity in the field of War; doing much destruction, most of which proves self- destructive before long. But how help it? If the carrying of meal so far be difficult what will the carrying of siege-furniture be? A flat impossibility. Fermor, aware of these facts, remembers what happened at Oczakow,--long ago, in our presence, and Keith's and Munnich's, if the reader have not quite forgot. Munnich, on that occasion, took Oczakow without any siege-furniture whatever, by boldly marching up to it; nothing but audacity and good luck on his side. Fermor determines to try Custrin in the like way,--if peradventure Prussian soldiery be like Turk?--
Fermor rose from Posen August 2d, almost three weeks ago; making daily for the Neumark and those unfortunate Oder Countries; nobody but Dohna to oppose him,--Dohna in the ratio of perhaps one against four. Dohna naturally laid hold of Frankfurt and the Oder Bridge, so that Fermor could not cross there; whereupon Fermor, as the next best thing, struck northward for the Warta (black Polish stream, last big branch of Oder); crossed this, at his ease, by Landsberg Bridge, August 10th [Tempelhof, ii. 216.] and after a day or two of readjustment in Landsberg, made for Custrin Country (his next head-quarter is at Gross Kamin); hoping in some accidental or miraculous way to cross Oder thereabouts, or even get hold of Custrin as a Place of Arms. If peradventure he can take Custrin without proper siege-artillery, in the Oczakow or Anti-Turk way? Fermor has been busy upon Custrin since August 15th;--in what fashion we partly heard, and will now, from authentic sources, see a little for ourselves.
The Castle of Custrin, built by good Johann of Custrin, and "roofed with copper," in the Reformation times,--we know it from of old, and Friedrich has since had some knowledge of it. Custrin itself is a rugged little Town, with some moorland traffic, and is still a place of great military strength, the garrison of those parts. Its rough pavements, its heavy stone battlements and barriers, give it a guarled obstinate aspect,--stern enough place of exile for a Crown-Prince fallen into such disfavor with Papa! A rugged, compact, by no means handsome little Town, at the meeting of the Warta and the Oder; stands naturally among sedges, willows and drained mire, except that human industry is pleasantly busy upon it, and has long been. So that the neighborhood is populous beyond expectation; studded with rough cottages in white-wash; hamlets in a paved condition; and comfortable signs of labor victoriously wrestling with the wilderness. Custrin, an arsenal and garrison, begirt with two rivers, and with awful bulwarks, and bastions cased in stone,--"perhaps too high," say the learned,--is likely to be impregnable to Russian engineering on those terms. Here, with brevity, is the catastrophe of Custrin.
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.