Category Archives: Austro-Prussian War


Bismarck: Letters to Johanna 3/3

Excerpt, “German Classics of the 19th and 20th Centuries,” Vol. X, 1914; translator Charlton T. Lewis et al.

Thought goes before the deed as lightning precedes thunder.
German thunder is indeed German, and not in a hurry,
and it comes rolling slowly onward;
but come it will,
and when ye hear it crash as naught ever crashed before
in the whole history of the world,
then know that der deutsche Donner,
our German thunder,
has at last hit its mark.

At that sound the eagles will fall dead from on high,
the lions in remotest deserts in Africa will draw in their tails
and creep into their royal caves.
There will be played in Germany a drama compared to which
the French Revolution will be only an innocent idyll.

Just now all is tolerably quiet,
and if here and there someone behaves in a lively manner,
do not believe that the great actors have as yet
appeared upon the stage.
They are only the little dogs who run round in the amphitheatre,
and bark and bite one another,
before the hour begins when the great array of gladiators will enter,
and war to the death … or for life.

Heinrich Heine, 1834

Vendresse, September 3, 1870.
To MRS. VON BISMARCK:
My Dear Heart,
Day before yesterday I left my quarters here before dawn, but came back today, and have meanwhile been through the great battle of Sedan on the 1st, in which we took some thirty thousand prisoners, and shut the remainder of the French army, which we had chased ever since Bar-le-Duc, into the fortress, where they had to surrender, with the Emperor, as prisoners of war.
At five yesterday morning, after I had discussed the terms of capitulation with Moltke and the French generals till one o’clock, General Reille, whom I know, called me up to say that Napoleon wished to speak with me. Without washing or breakfast, I rode towards Sedan, found the Emperor in an open carriage with three adjutants, and three more at hand in the saddle, on the main road before Sedan.
I dismounted, saluted him as politely as in the Tuileries, and asked his commands. He desired to see the King. I told him, as was true, that his Majesty’s quarters were fourteen miles away, at the place where I am writing now. Upon his question, whither he should betake himself, I offered him, since I was unfamiliar with the region, my quarters in Donchery, a village on the Maas close to Sedan; he accepted them, and drove, escorted by his six Frenchmen, by me; and by Carl, who meanwhile had ridden after me, through the lovely morning, towards our lines.
He was distressed before reaching the place because of the possible crowds, and asked me if he might not stop at a lonely workman’s house on the road. I had it examined by Carl, who reported that it was wretched and dirty. “N’importe,” said Napoleon, and I mounted with him a narrow, rickety stairway. In a room ten feet square, with a fig-wood table and two rush-bottomed chairs, we sat an hour, the others staying below. A mighty contrast to our last interview, in ’67, at the Tuileries.
Our conversation was difficult, if I would avoid touching on things which must be painful to those whom God’s mighty hand had overthrown. Through Carl, I had officers brought from the city, and Moltke requested to come. We then sent out one of the first to reconnoitre, and discovered, a couple of miles off, at Fresnoi’s, a little château with a park. Thither I conducted him, with an escort of the Cuirassier body-guards, which was meanwhile brought up, and there we concluded the capitulation with Wimpfen, the French general-in-chief. By its terms, from forty to sixty thousand French–I do not yet know the number more exactly–became our prisoners, with everything they have.
The two receding days cost France one hundred thousand men and an emperor. He started early this morning, with all his court, horses, and wagons, for Wilhelmshöhe, at Cassel. It is an event in universal history, a triumph for which we will thank God the Lord in humility, and which is decisive of the war, even though we must continue to prosecute it against headless France.
I must close. With heartfelt joy I have learned today, from your letter and Marie’s, of Herbert’s reaching you. I met Bill yesterday, as I telegraphed you, and took him to my arms from his horse before the King’s face, while he stood with his limbs rigid. He is entirely well and in high spirits. Hans and Fritz Carl and both the Billows I saw with the Second Dragoon guards, well and cheerful.
Farewell, my heart. Kiss the children.
Your v.B.

Bismarck and Napoleon

 Napoleon III. and Bismarck on the way to Wilhelm I on the morning after the battle of Sedan. Wilhelm Camphausen, 1877.

Bismarck: Letters to Johanna 2/3

Excerpt, “German Classics of the 19th and 20th Centuries,” Vol. X, 1914; translator Charlton T. Lewis et al.

If we are not unmeasured in our claims
And do not imagine we have conquered the world,
We shall achieve a peace that is worth the trouble.

Otto von Bismarck

 Hohenmauth, Monday, September 7, '66.*
Do you remember, sweetheart, how we passed through here nineteen years ago, on the way from Prague to Vienna? No mirror showed the future then, nor in 1852, when I went over this railway with good Lynar. How strangely romantic are God’s ways! We are doing well, in spite of Napoleon; if we are not unmeasured in our claims and do not imagine we have conquered the world, we shall achieve a peace that is worth the trouble. But we are as easily intoxicated as disheartened, and it is my thankless part to pour water into the foaming wine, and to insist that we do not live alone in Europe, but with three other powers which hate and envy us.
The Austrians hold position in Moravia, and we are bold enough to announce our headquarters for tomorrow at the point where they are now. Prisoners still keep passing in, and cannon, one hundred and eighty from the 3d to today. If they bring up their southern army, we shall, with God’s gracious help, defeat it too; confidence is universal. Our people are ready to embrace one another, every man so deadly in earnest, calm, obedient, orderly, with empty stomach, soaked clothes, wet camp, little sleep, shoe-soles dropping off, kindly to all, no sacking or burning, paying what they can and eating mouldy bread.
There must surely be a solid basis of fear of God in the common soldier of our army, or all this could not be. News of our friends is hard to get; we lie miles apart from one another, none knowing where the other is, and nobody to send–that is, men might be had, but no horses. For four days I have had search made for Philip, who was slightly wounded by a lance-thrust in the head, as Gerhard wrote me, but I can’t find out where he is, and we have now come thirty-seven miles farther.
The King exposed himself greatly on the 3d and it was well I was present, for all the warnings of others had no effect, and no one would have dared to talk so sharply to him as I allowed myself to do on the last occasion, which gave support to my words, when a knot of ten cuirassiers and fifteen horses of the Sixth Cuirassier Regiment rushed confusedly by us, all in blood, and the shells whizzed around most disagreeably close to the King.
He cannot yet forgive me for having blocked for him the pleasure of being hit. “At the spot where I was forced by order of the supreme authority to run away,” were his words only yesterday, pointing his finger angrily at me. But I like it better so than if he were excessively cautious. He was full of enthusiasm over his troops, and justly so rapt that he seemed to take no notice of the din and fighting close to him, calm and composed as at the Kreuzberg, and constantly meeting battalions that he must thank with “Good-evening, grenadiers,” till we were actually by this trifling brought under fire again. But he has had to hear so much of this that he will stop it for the future, and you may feel quite easy; indeed, I hardly believe there will be another real battle.
When you have of anybody no word whatever, you may assume with confidence that he is alive and well; for if acquaintances are wounded it is always known at latest in twenty-four hours. We have not come across Herwarth and Steinmetz at all, nor has the King. Schreck, too, I have not seen, but I know they are well. Gerhard keeps quietly at the head of his squadron, with his arm in a sling.
Farewell–I must to business.
Your faithfullest v.B.
~~~~~
Zwittau, Moravia, July 11, ’66.
Dear Heart,
I have no inkstand, all of them being in use; but for the rest I get on well, after a good sleep on a camp bed with air mattress; roused at eight by a letter from you. I went to bed at eleven. At Königgrätz I rode the big sandy thirteen hours in the saddle without feeding him. He bore it very well, did not shy at shots nor at corpses, cropped standing grain and plum-leaves with zest at the most trying moments, and kept up an easy gait to the last, when I was more tired than the horse. My first bivouac for the night was on the street pavement of Horic, with no straw, but helped by a carriage cushion.
It was full of wounded; the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg found me and shared his chamber with me, Reuss, and two adjutants, and the rain made this very welcome to me. About the King and the shells I have written you already. All the generals had a superstition that they, as soldiers, must not speak to the King of danger, and always sent me off to him, though I am a major, too. They did not venture to speak to his reckless Majesty in the serious tone which at last was effectual. Now at last he is grateful to me for it, and his sharp words, “How you drove me off the first time,” etc., are an acknowledgment that I was right. Nobody knew the region, the King had no guide, but rode right on at random, till I obtruded myself to show the way.
Farewell, my heart. I must go to the King.
Your most faithful v.B.

544px-BismarckRoonMoltke

Minister-President Otto von Bismarck; Minister of War Albrecht von Roon;

Helmuth Karl von Moltke, Chief of the Prussian General Staff.

Bismarck: Letters to Johanna 1/3

Excerpt, “German Classics of the 19th and 20th Centuries,” Vol. X, 1914; translator Charlton T. Lewis et al.

For I married you in order to love you in God
And according to the need of my heart,
And in order to have in the midst of the strange world
A place for my heart,
Which all the world’s bleak winds cannot chill,
And where I might find the warmth of the home fire,
To which I eagerly betake myself when
It is stormy and cold without.
Otto von Bismarck
Berlin, April 28, 1851.
My Dear Sweetheart,
Mother’s premonition that I would remain long away has, unfortunately, proved correct this time. The King was the first to propose my nomination, and that at once, as a real delegate to the Diet; his plan has, of course, encountered much opposition, and has finally been so modified that Rochow will, it is true, remain Minister at Petersburg, whither he is to return in two months, but meanwhile, provisionally, he is commissioned to Frankfort, and I am to accompany him, with the assurance that, on his leaving for Petersburg, I shall be his successor. But this last is between ourselves.
Now I want to go, first of all, to Frankfort, and take a look at the situation, and hear how I shall stand pecuniarily pending my definite appointment, of which I know nothing at all as yet. Then I shall see whether I can leave again shortly after the start, and whether I am to count on staying any longer; for, although I have, indeed, accepted, still I am not yet sufficiently familiar with the ground to be able to say definitely whether I shall stay there or shortly get out again. As soon as that is decided, we shall probably, after all, have to consider for you, too, the prospect of exchanging your quiet Reinfeld existence for the noise of the Diet’s diplomacy.
Your folks have often complained that nothing was made of me by those above me; now this is, beyond my expectations and wishes, a sudden appointment to what is at this moment the most important post in our diplomatic service; I have not sought it; I must assume that the Lord wished it, and I cannot withdraw, although I foresee that it will be an unfruitful and a thorny office, in which, with the best intentions, I shall forfeit the good opinion of many people. But it would be cowardly to decline.
I cannot give you today further particulars as to our plans, how we shall meet, what will be done about your going to the seashore; only I shall try to make leisure, if possible, to see you before. I feel almost like crying when I think of this sudden upsetting of our innocent plans, as well as of the uncertainty when I shall see you again, my beloved heart, and the babies; and I earnestly pray God to arrange it all without detriment to our earthly welfare and without harm to my soul.
God be with you, my dear, and bring us together again soon.
With heartfelt love.
Your most faithful v.B.
~~~~~
Frankfort, May 14, 1851.
My Little Dear,
It seems to be getting constantly more certain that I shall take Rochow’s position in the summer. In that event, if the rating remains as it was, I shall have a salary of twenty-one thousand rix-dollars, but I shall have to keep a large train and household establishment and you, my poor child, must sit stiff and sedate in the drawing-room, be called Excellency, and be clever and wise with Excellencies. The city is not so bad as you suppose; there are a great many charming villas before the gates, similar to those in the Thiergarten, only more sunny.
As Councilor of Legation, it will be difficult for us to live there, owing to distance and expense; but as Ambassador, quite as charming as is possible in a foreign land.By letters of introduction I have quickly become acquainted with the charming world hereabouts. Yesterday I dined with the English Ambassador, Lord Cowley, nephew of the Duke of Wellington; very kind, agreeable people; she is an elegant woman of about forty, very worldly, but benevolent and easy to get acquainted with; I have immediately put myself on a friendly footing with her, so that when you step into the cold bath of diplomatic society she may be a powerful support for you.
Previously I called on a Frau von Stallupin (pronounce Stolipine), a young woman without children, kindly, like all Russian women, but terribly rich, and settled in a little castle-like villa, so that one hardly dares to take a step or to sit down; a Scharteuck interior is a rude barn compared with it.Day before yesterday evening I called on Frau von Vrintz, a sister of Meyendorf’s wife; the diplomatic folks assemble every evening in her drawing-room. Countess Thun was there, a very handsome young woman, in the style of Malvinia; also the Marquis de Tallenay, French Ambassador, a polite fifty-year-old; Count Szechenyi, a gay young Magyar, full of pranks, and divers other foreign personages.
They gamble there every evening, the lady of the house, too, and not for very low stakes; I was scolded for declaring it boresome, and told them it would be my rôle to laugh at those who lost. Society probably does not appeal to you very strongly, my beloved heart, and it seems to me as though I were harming you by bringing you into it, but how shall I avoid that?
I have one favor to ask of you, but keep it to yourself, and do not let mother suspect that I have written you one word about it, otherwise she will worry needlessly over it: occupy yourself with French as much as you can in the meantime, but let it be thought that you yourself have discovered that it is useful. Read French, but, if you love me, do not do so by artificial light, or if our eyes pain you; in that case you had better ask mother to read to you, for it is almost harder to understand than to speak. If you know of any agreeable piece of baggage you can get in a hurry to chatter French to you, then engage one; I will gladly pay the bill.
You will enter here an atmosphere of French spirit and talk, anyway; so you cannot avoid familiarizing yourself with it as far as possible. If you know of no person whom you like and who is available, let it go; and, at any rate, I beg you sincerely not to consider this advice as a hardship, or otherwise than if I asked you to buy yourself a green or a blue dress; it is not a matter of life and death; you are my wife, and not the diplomats’, and they can just as well learn German as you can learn French. Only if you have leisure, or wish to read anyway, take a French novel; but if you have no desire to do so, consider this as not written.
For I married you in order to love you in God and according to the need of my heart, and in order to have in the midst of the strange world a place for my heart, which all the world’s bleak winds cannot chill, and where I may find the warmth of the home-fire, to which I eagerly betake myself when it is stormy and cold without; but not to have a society woman for others, and I shall cherish and nurse your little fireplace, put wood on it and blow, and protect it against all that is evil and strange, for, next to God’s mercy, there is nothing which is dearer and more necessary to me than your love, and the homelike hearth which stands between us everywhere, even in a strange land, when we are together.
Do not be too much depressed and sad over the change of our life; my heart is not attached, or, at least, not strongly attached, to earthly honor; I shall easily dispense with it if it should ever endanger our peace with God or our contentment.
Farewell, my dearly beloved heart. Kiss the children for me, and give your parents my love.
Your most faithful v.B.

Bismarck and Johanna