- from the book
- 'Out of My Life '
- by Marshal von Hindenburg, 1920
The Memoirs of a German Field-Marshall - part 1
a soldier's progress - early portraits of von Hindenburg in 1860, 1866 and 1870
Chapter I - My Youth
One spring evening in the year 1859, when I was a boy of eleven, I said good-bye to my father at the gate of the Cadets' Academy at Wahlstatt, in Silesia. I was bidding farewell not to my dear father only, but to my whole past life. Overwhelmed by that feeling, I could not prevent the tears from stealing from my eyes. I watched them fall on my uniform. "A man can't be weak and cry in this garb," was the thought that shot through my head. I wrenched myself free from my boyish anguish and mingled, not without a certain apprehension, among my new comrades.
That I should be a soldier was not the result of a special decision. It was a matter of course. Whenever I had had to choose a profession, in boys' games or even in thought, it had always been the military profession. The profession of arms in the service of King and Fatherland was an old tradition in our family.
Our stock - the Beneckendorffs - came from the Alt-mark, where it had originally settled in the year 1289. From there, following the trend of the times, it found its way through the Neumark to Prussia. There were many who bore my name among the Teutonic Knights who went out, as Brothers of the Order, or "War Guests," to fight against heathendom and Poland. Subsequently our relations with the East became ever closer as we acquired landed property there, while those with the Marches became looser and ceased altogether at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
We first acquired the name "Hindenburg" in the year 1789. We had been connected with that family by marriage in the Neumark period. Further, the grandmother of my great- grandfather, who served in the von Tettenborn Regiment and settled at Heiligenbeil in East Prussia, was a Hindenburg. Her unmarried brother, who once fought as a colonel under Frederick the Great, bequeathed to his great-nephew, on condition that he assumed both names, his two estates of Neudeck and Limbsee in the district of Rosenberg, which had originally fallen to Brandenburg with the East Prussian inheritance but had subsequently been assigned to West Prussia. This received King Frederick William II's consent, and the name "Hindenburg" came into use through the abbreviation of the double name.
As a result of this bequest the estate at Heiligenbeil was sold. Further, Limbsee had to be disposed of as a matter of necessity after the War of Liberation. Neudeck is still in the possession of our family to-day. It belongs to the widow of one of my brothers who was not quite two years younger than I, so that the course of our lives kept us in close and affectionate touch. He too was a cadet and was permitted to serve his King as an officer for many years in war and peace.
During my boyhood my grandparents were living at Neudeck. They now rest in the cemetery there with my own parents and many others who bear my name. Almost every year we paid my grandparents a visit in the summer, though in the early days it meant difficult journeys by coach. I was immensely impressed when my grandfather, who had served in the von Langen Regiment after 1801, told me how in the winter of 1806-7 as Landschaftsrat he had visited Napoleon I. in the castle of Finckenstein nearby to beg him to remit the levies, but had been coldly turned away. I also heard how the French were quartered in and marched through Neudeck. My uncle, von der Groeben, who had settled on the Passarge, used to tell me of the battles that were fought in this region in 1807. The Russians pressed forward over the bridge, but were driven back again. A French officer who was defending the manor with his men was shot through the window of an attic. A little more, and the Russians would have been crossing that bridge again in 1914!
After the death of my grandparents my father and mother went to Neudeck in 1863. There, after a removal which was over familiar ground, we found the home of our ancestors. In that home where I spent so many happy days in my youth I have often, in later years, taken a rest from my labours with my wife and children.
Thus for me Neudeck is "home," and for my own people the firm rock to which we cling with all our hearts. It does not matter to what part of our German Fatherland my profession has called me, I have always felt myself an "Old Prussian."
The son of a soldier, I was born in Posen in 1847. My father was then a lieutenant in the 18th Infantry Regiment. My mother was the daughter of Surgeon-General Schwichart, who was also then living in Posen.
The simple, not to say hard, life of a Prussian country gentleman in modest circumstances, a life which is virtually made up of work and the fulfilment of duty, naturally set its stamp on our whole stock. My father too was heart and soul in his profession. Yet he always found time to devote himself, hand in hand with my mother, to the training of his children-for I had two younger brothers as well as a sister. The way of life of my dear parents, based on deep moral feeling and yet directed to practical ends, revealed a perfect harmony within as without. Their characters were mutually complementary, my mother's serious, often anxious view of life pairing with my father's more peaceful, contemplative disposition. They both united in a warm affection for us and thus worked together in perfect accord on the spiritual and moral training of their children. I find it very hard to say to which of them I should be the more grateful, or to decide which side of our characters was developed by my father and which by my mother. Both my parents strove to give us a healthy body and a strong will ready to cope with the duties that would lie in our path through life. But they also endeavoured, by suggestion and the development of the tenderer sides of human feeling, to give us the best thing that parents can ever give-a confident belief in our Lord God and a boundless love for our Fatherland and-what they regarded as the prop and pillar of that Fatherland- our Prussian Royal House.
From our earliest years our father also brought us into touch with the realities of life. In our garden or on our walks he wakened the love of Nature within us, showed us the countryside, and taught us to judge and value men by their lives and work. By "us" in this connection I mean my next brother and myself. Of course the training of my sister, who came after this brother, was more in the hands of my mother, while my youngest brother appeared on the scene just before I became a cadet.
The soldier's nomadic lot took my parents from Posen to Cologne, Graudenz, Pinne in the Province of Posen, Glogau and Kottbus. Then my father left the service and went to Neudeck.
I do not remember much about those Posen days. My grandfather on my mother's side died soon after I was born. In 1813 he had, as a medical officer, won the Iron Cross of the combatant services at the Battle of Kulm. He had rallied and led forward a leaderless Landwehr battalion which was in confusion. In later years my grandmother had much to tell us of the " French Days " which she had known when she was a girl in Posen. I have vivid memories of a gardener of my grandparents who had once served fourteen days under Frederick the Great. In this way it may be said that a last ray of the glorious Frederickian past fell on my young self. In the year 1848 the rising in Poland had its repercussion on the province of Posen. My father went out with his regiment to suppress this movement. For a time the Poles actually got control of the city. They ordained that every house should be illuminated to celebrate the entrance of their leader, Miroslavsky. My mother was in no position to resist this decree. She retired to a back room and, sitting on my cot, consoled herself with the thought that the birthday of the "Prince of Prussia" fell on that very day, March 22, so that to her eyes the lights in the windows of the front rooms were in honour of him. Twenty-three years later that same child in the cradle witnessed the proclamation of William I, that same "Prince of Prussia," as Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
We did not reside very long in Cologne and Graudenz. From the Cologne period the picture of the mighty, though then still unfinished, cathedral is ever before my eyes.
At Pinne my father, in accordance with the custom then obtaining, commanded a company of Landwehr as supernumerary captain. His service duties did not make very heavy demands on his time, so that just at the very period when my young mind began to stir he was able to devote special attention to us children. He soon taught me geography and French, while the schoolmaster Kobelt, of whom even now, I preserve grateful memories, instructed me in reading, writing and arithmetic. To this epoch I trace my passion for geography, which my father knew how to arouse by his very intuitive and suggestive methods of teaching. My mother gave me my first religious instruction in a way that spoke straight to the heart.
In these years, and as result of this method of training, there gradually developed for me a relation to my parents which was undoubtedly based on unconditional obedience, and yet gave us children a feeling of what was unlimited confidence rather than blind submission to too firm a control.
Pinne is a village bounded by a manor. The latter belonged to a certain Frau von Rappard, at whose house we were frequent visitors. She had no children, but was very fond of them. Her brother, Herr von Massen-bach, owned the manor of Bialakesz quite near. I found many dear playmates among his numerous family. My memories of Pinne have always remained very vivid. I visited the place when I was at Posen in the late autumn of 1914, and was greatly moved on entering the little modest house in the village in which we had once passed so many happy days. The present owner of the property is the son of one of my erstwhile playmates. His father has already gone to his long rest.
It was while I was at Glogau that I entered the Cadet Corps. For the previous two years I had attended the higher elementary school and the Protestant Gymnasium. I hear that Glogau has preserved so kindly a memory of me that a plate has been affixed to the house we then lived in to commemorate my residence there. To my great joy I saw the town again when I was a company officer in the neighbouring town of Fraustadt.
Looking back over the period I have referred to I can certainly say that my early training was based on the soundest principles. It was for that reason that at my departure from the house of my parents I felt that I was leaving a very great deal behind me, and yet that I was taking a very great deal with me on the path that was opening out before me. And it was to remain thus my whole life. Long was I to enjoy the anxious, untiring love of my parents, which was later to be extended to my own family. I lost my mother after I had become a regimental commander; my father left us just before I was appointed to the command of the 4th Army Corps.
It can certainly be said that in those days life in the Prussian Cadet Corps was consciously and intentionally rough. The training was based, after true concern for education, on a sound development of the body and the will. Energy and resolution were valued just as highly as knowledge. There was nothing narrow, but rather a certain force in this method of training. The individual should and could develop his healthy personality in all freedom. There was something of the Yorck spirit in the method, a spirit which has often been misjudged by superficial observers. Yorck was undoubtedly a hard soldier and master, to himself no less than to others, but it was he, too, who demanded unlimited self- reliance from each of his subordinates, the same self-reliance he himself displayed in dealing with everyone else. For that reason the Yorck spirit, not merely in its military austerity, but also in its freedom, has been one of the most precious traits of our army.
I have but little sympathy for the humanistics of other schools so far as they are principally concerned with dead languages. Their practical value in life has always been obscure to me. Considered as a means to an end, I am of opinion that the dead languages take up too much time and energy, and as a special study they are for the later years of life. At the risk of being pronounced an ignoramus I could wish that these schools would give greater prominence to modern languages, modern history, geography and sports, even at the expense of Latin and Greek. Must that which was the only thing to which civilisation could cling in the Dark Ages really be regarded as all- important even in modern times? Have we not, since those days, made our own history, literature and art in hard fighting and ceaseless toil? Do we not need living tongues far more than dead ones if we are to hold our just position in world trade?
What I have said is not intended to convey any contempt of classical antiquity in itself. Quite the contrary.
portraits in 1878 and the 1880's
II - My Youth
From my earliest years classical history has had a very great attraction for me. Roman history, in particular, had me in its grip. It seemed to me to be something mighty, almost demoniacal, and this impression possessed me particularly strongly when I visited Rome in later years, and expressed itself, inter alia, in the fact that the monuments of the ancient Eternal City appealed to me more than the creations of the Italian Renaissance.
Rome's clever recognition of the advantages and disadvantages of national peculiarities, her ruthless selfishness which scorned no method of dealing with friend or foe where her own interests were concerned, her virtuous indignation, skilfully staged, whenever her enemies paid her back in her own coin, her exploitation of all emotions and weaknesses among enemy peoples (the method which was used adroitly and with special effect in dealing with the Germanic peoples, and proved more effective than arms)-all this, as I was to learn later, found its mirror and perfection in British statesmanship, which succeeded in developing all these aspects of the diplomatic art to the highest pitch of refinement and duplicity.
But though I held the classic world in high honour I sought my youthful heroes among my own countrymen. I publicly state my honest opinion that in our admiration of an Alcibiades or a Themistocles, of the various Catos or Fabii, we ought not to be so narrow-minded and ungrateful as quite to lose sight of those men ,who played every bit as great a part in the history of our Fatherland s these did in the history of Greece and Rome. In this connection I am sorry to say I have often noticed, in con-sation with German youths, that with all their learning there is something parochial about their outlook.
Our tutors and lecturers in the Cadet Corps guarded us against such limitation of vision, and I thank them for it now. My thanks are due more especially to the then Lieutenant von Wittich. I had been recommended to him by a relation of mine when I first went to Wahlstatt, and he always took a particularly friendly interest in me. He had left the Cadet Corps himself only a few years before, and he regarded himself as quite one of us, gladly took part in our games, especially snowballing in winter, and was a man of character and ideas. Above all he possessed a wonderful talent for teaching. In 1859 he taught me geography in the lowest form, and six years later he taught me land survey in the special class in Berlin. When I attended the Kriegsakademie some years after I found that Major von Wittich of the General Staff was once more one of my tutors.
Wittich was interested in military history even in his lieutenant days, and on our walks on fine days often set us little exercises in suitable spots to illustrate the battles which had just been fought in Upper Italy-Magenta and Solferino, for example. Later, in Berlin, he encouraged me, now a cadet, to take up the study of military history, and aroused my youthful interest in railways, which was important for my future progress. Who can doubt that military history is the best training for generalship? When I was subsequently transferred to the General Staff, Lieutenant-Colonel von Wittich was still attached to it in an important position, and finally we were simultaneously appointed G.O.C.'s-that is, to the command of an Army Corps. The little lowest-form boy at Wahlstatt hardly suspected that when Lieutenant von Wittich gave him a friendly whack with a ruler because he mixed up Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa.
Our high spirits did not suffer from the hard schooling of our cadet life. I venture to doubt whether the boyish love of larking, which no doubt at times reached the stage of frantic uproar, showed to more advantage in any other school than among us cadets. We found our teachers understanding, lenient judges.
At first I myself was anything but what is known in ordinary life as a model pupil. In the early days I had to get over a certain physical weakness which had been the legacy of previous illnesses. When, thanks to the sound method of training, I had gradually got stronger, I had at first little inclination to devote myself particularly to study. It was only slowly that my ambitions in that direction were aroused, ambitions which grew with success, and finally brought me, through no merit of mine, the calling of the specially gifted pupil.
Notwithstanding the pride with which I styled myself "Royal Cadet," I hailed my holidays at home with uncontrollable delight. In those days the journeys, especially in winter, were anything but a simple matter. According to one's destination, slow journeys in a train (the carriages were not heated) alternated with even slower journeys in the mail- coach. But all these difficulties took a back seat compared with the prospect of seeing my home, parents, and brothers and sister again. Her son's longing for home filled my mother's heart with the deepest joy. I can still remember my first return to Glogau for the Christmas holidays. I had been travelling with other comrades in the coach from Liegnitz the whole night. We were delayed by a snowstorm, and it was still dark when we reached Glogau. There, in the so-called "waiting-room," badly lit and barely warmed, my dear mother was sitting knitting stockings just as if, in her anxiety to please one of her children, she were afraid of neglecting the others.
In my first year as cadet, the summer of 1859, we had a visit at Wahlstatt from the then Prince Frederick William, later the Emperor Frederick, and his wife. It was on this occasion that we saw for the first time almost all the members of our Royal House. Never before had we raised our legs so high in the goose-step, never had we done such break-neck feats in the gymnastic display which followed as on that day. It was a long time before we stopped talking about the goodness and affability of the princely pair.
In October of the same year the birthday of King Frederick William IV. was celebrated for the last time. It was thus under that sorely tried monarch that I put on the Prussian uniform which will be the garb of honour to me as long as my life lasts. I had the honour in the year 1865 to be attached as page to Queen Elizabeth, the widow of the late King. The watch which Her Majesty gave me at that time has accompanied me faithfully through three wars.
At Easter, 1863, I was transferred to the special class, and therefore sent to Berlin. The Cadet School in that city was in the new Friedrichstrasse, not far from the AJexanderplatz. For the first time I got to know the Prussian capital, and was at last able to have a glimpse of my all-gracious sovereign, King William I., at the spring reviews when we paraded on Unter den Linden and had a march past in the Opernplatz, as well as the autumn reviews on the Tempelhofer Feld.
The opening of the year 1864 brought a rousing, if serious atmosphere into our lives at the Cadet School. The war with Denmark broke out, and in the spring many of our comrades left us to join the ranks of the fighting troops. Unfortunately for me I was too young to be in the number of that highly envied band. I need not try to describe the glowing words with which our departing comrades were accompanied.
We never troubled our heads about the political causes of the war. But all the same we had a proud feeling that a refreshing breeze had at last stirred the feeble and unstable structure of the German union, and that the mere fact was worth more than all the speeches and diplomatic documents put together. For the rest we followed the course of military events with the greatest eagerness, and, quivering with excitement, were joyful spectators when the captured guns were paraded round and the troops made their triumphal entry. We thought we were justified in feeling that within us resided something of that spirit which had led our men to victory on the Danish battlefields. Was it to be wondered at that henceforth we were all impatience for the day on which we ourselves would enter the army?
Before that day came we had the honour and good fortune to be presented personally to our King. We were conducted to the castle, and there had to tell His Majesty the name and rank of our fathers. It is hardly surprising that many of us, in our agitation, could not get a word out at first, and then poured them out pell-mell. Never before had we been so close to our old sovereign, never before had we looked straight into his kind eyes and heard his voice. The King spoke very earnestly to us. He told us that we must do our duty even in the hardest hours. We were soon to have an opportunity of translating that precept into action. Many of us have sealed our loyalty with death.
I left the Cadet Corps in the spring of 1865. My own personal experiences and inclinations throughout my life have made me grateful and devoted to that military educational establishment. It is a joy to think of my hopeful young comrades in the King's uniform. Even during the World War I was only too happy to have an opportunity of having sons of my colleagues, acquaintances and fallen comrades as guests at my table. A more favourable occasion, the celebration of my seventieth birthday, which fell during the war, gave me an opportunity of beginning the ceremonies by having three little cadets brought out of the streets of Kreuznach to my luncheon table, piled high with edible gifts. They came in before me cheery and unembarrassed, exactly as I would have boys come, the very embodiment of long-past days, living memories of what I myself had been.
Chapter II - In Battle for the Greatness of Prussia and Germany
On April 7, 1865, I became a second-lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards. The regiment belonged to those troops which had been reorganised when the number of active units was greatly increased in 1859-60. When I joined it the young regiment had already won its laurels in the campaign of 1864. The historic fame of any military body is a bond of unity between all its members, a kind of cement which holds it together even in the worst of times. It gives place to an indestructible something which retains its power even when, as in the last great war, the regiment has practically to be reconstituted time after time. The old spirit very soon permeates the newcomers.
In my regiment, which had been formed out of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, I found the good old Potsdam spirit, that spirit which corresponded to the best traditions of the Prussian Army at that time. The Prussian Corps of Officers in those days was not blessed with worldly goods-a very good thing. Its wealth consisted of its frugality. The consciousness of a special personal relation to the King - "feudal loyalty," as a German historian has put it - permeated the life of the officer and compensated for many a material privation. This ideal point of view was of priceless advantage to the army. The words "I serve" took on a quite special meaning.
It is frequently said that this point of view has led to the isolation of the officer from the other professional classes. Personally I have not found the sentiment of exclusiveness more noticeable among the officer class than in any other profession, the members of which keep to themselves and prefer the society of their equals. A picture, very accurate in its broad outlines, of the spirit of the Prussian Corps of Officers in those days may be found in a book on the War Minister, von Roon. In that work the Officer Corps is shown as an aristocratic professional class, very exclusive and jealous, but not in any sense hidebound or remote from ordinary life. Nor was it without a sprinkling of liberal elements. The new ideal of a severe professional training had revolted against the old ideal of broad humanitarianism. It found its most zealous representatives in the sons of the old monarchical-conservative stock of Prussia. It had been borne along by a strong conviction of the power of the State and by the Frederickian tradition, which longs to give Prussia an ever greater role in the world through her army.
At the time I joined the regiment, which was then stationed at Danzig, the political events of the following months were already casting their shadows before. It was true that mobilisation had not yet been ordered, but the decree for the increase of establishments had already been issued and was in course of execution.
In face of the approaching decisive conflict between Prussia and Austria our political and military ideas travelled over the tracks of Frederick the Great. It was in that train of thought that when we were in Potsdam, to which the regiment was transferred immediately our mobilisation was complete, we took our Grenadiers to the tomb of that immortal sovereign. Even the Order of the Day .which was issued to our army before the invasion of Bohemia was inspired by thoughts of him, for its closing words ran: "Soldiers, trust to your own strength, and remember that your task is to defeat the same foe which our greatest King once overthrew with his small army."
From the political point of view we realised the necessity of settling the question of Prussian or Austrian supremacy, because within the framework of the Union, as then constituted, there was no room for two great Powers to develop side by side. One of the two had to give way, and as agreement could not be reached by political methods the guns had to speak. But beyond that train of ideas there was no question of any national hostility against Austria. The feeling of community of race with the German elements in the Danube Monarchy, which at that time still predominated, was far too strong to allow sentiments of hostility to prevail. The course of the campaign proved the truth of this time after time. On our side we generally treated our prisoners as fellow-countrymen with whom we were only too glad to resume friendly relations after our little dispute had been fought out. The inhabitants of the enemy's country, especially the Czech population, showed themselves well disposed towards us, so much so that in our billets we lived and acted much as we did while on manoeuvres at home.
In this war we trod in the footsteps of Frederick the Great-in actual fact as well as in a metaphorical sense. The Guard Corps, for example, in invading Bohemia from Silesia by way of Branau was taking a route that had often been taken before. And the course of our first action, that at Soor, led us on June 28 into the same region and in the same direction-from Eipel on Burkersdorf-against the enemy as that in which, on September 30, 1747, Prussia's Guard had moved forward in the centre of the great King's army which was advancing in the rigid line of that time during the Battle of Soor.
Our 2nd Battalion, of which I was commanding the first skirmishing section (formed out of the third rank in accordance with the regulations of those days), had no opportunity that day of appearing in the front line, as we formed part of the reserve, which had already been separated from the rest before the battle, as the tactical methods of those days decreed. But all the same, we had found an opportunity of exchanging shots with Austrian infantry in a wood north-west of Burkersdorf. We had made some prisoners, and later on we drove off and captured the transport of about two squadrons of enemy Uhlans who were resting, all unsuspecting, in a glen. Among the transport we found, inter alia, the regimental safe, which was handed over, large supplies of bread, which our Grenadiers brought into our camp at Burkersdorf stuck on their bayonets, and the regimental diary which was kept in the same book as that of the Italian campaign of 1859. About twelve years ago I came across an old gentleman from Mecklenburg who was a lieutenant in the service of Austria in one of those very squadrons of Uhlans. He confided to me that in this affair he had lost his brand-new Uhlan uniform which he was to wear at the entry into Berlin.
As I had had so little to do at Soor I had to be content with having smelt powder and gone through some of the emotional experiences which are the lot of the soldier when he first comes face to face with the enemy.
Straight from the excitement of battle, I was familiarised on the very next day with what I may call the reverse side of the medal. I was assigned the sad duty of taking sixty grenadiers to search the battlefield and bury the dead-an unpleasant task, which was all the more difficult because the corn was still standing. By dint of enormous exertions and at times passing other units by running in the ditches by the roadside, I and my men caught up my battalion about midday. The battalion had already joined the main body of the division and was on the march to the south. I came up just in time to witness the storming of the Elbe crossing at Koniginhof by our advance guard.
On June 30 ,1 was brought face to face with the sober realities of .war's more petty side. I was sent with a small escort to take about thirty wagons, full of prisoners, by night to Tartenau, get a load of food supplies for the empty wagons, and bring them all back to Koniginhof. It was not before July 2 that I was able to join my company again. It was high time, for the very next day summoned us to the battlefield of Koniggratz.
The following night I went out on a patrol with my platoon in the direction of the fortress of Josephstadt, and on the morning of July 3 we were in our outpost camp, wet and cold and apparently unsuspecting, by the southern outskirts of Koniginhof. Soon the alarm was given, and shortly after we received the command to get our coffee quickly and be ready to march. Careful listeners could hear the sound of guns in the south-west. Opinions as to the reasons for the alarm being given were divided. The generally accepted view was that the 1st 'Army, under Prince Frederick Charles, which had invaded Bohemia from Lausitz-we formed part of the 2nd Army commanded by the Crown Prince-must have come into contact with a concentrated Austrian corps somewhere.
The order to advance which now arrived was greeted with joy. The Guardsmen, green with envy, remembered the brilliant victories which had previously been won by the 5th Corps, under General von Steinmetz, on our left. In torrents of rain and bathed in perspiration, though the weather was cold, our long columns dragged themselves forward along the bottomless roads. A holy ardour possessed me, and reached the pitch of fear lest we should arrive too late.
My anxiety soon proved to be unnecessary. After we had ascended from the valley of the Elbe we could hear the sound of guns ever more clearly. Further, about eleven o'clock we saw a group of the higher Staff on horseback standing on an eminence by the roadside and gazing south through their glasses. They were the Headquarters Staff of the 2nd Army, under the supreme command of our Crown Prince, subsequently the Emperor Frederick. Some years later General von Blumenthal, his Chief of Staff at that time, gave me the following account of what transpired at that moment:
"Just when the 1st Guards Division was passing us on the impossible roads I was asking the Crown Prince to give me his hand. As he looked at me questioningly I added that I wished to congratulate him on the victory that had been won. The Austrian artillery fire was now directed everywhere to the west, a proof that the enemy was held by the 1st Army along the whole line, so that we should now take him in the flank and partly in the rear. In view of this position it only remained for us to order the Guard Corps to advance to the right, and the 6th Corps to the left of a hill by Horonowes, crowned by two lime trees which were visible in the far distance in spite of the mist. The 1st and 5th Corps, which were still on their way to the battlefield, would have to follow these corps. Scarcely any other orders were required from the Crown Prince that day."
Our advance took us at first straight across country; then we deployed, and before long the first shells began to arrive from the heights by Horonowes. The Austrian artillery justified its old excellent reputation. One of the first shells wounded my company commander, another killed my wing N.C.O. just behind me, while shortly after another fell into the middle of the column and put twenty-five men out of action. When, however, the firing ceased and the heights fell into our hands without fighting, because they were only an advanced position lightly held by the enemy for the purpose of surprise and gaining time, there was quite a feeling of disappointment among us. It did not last for long, for we soon had a view over a large part of a mighty battlefield. Somewhat to our right heavy clouds of smoke were rising into the dull sky from the positions of our 1st and the enemy's army on the Bistritz. The flashes of the guns and the glow of burning villages gave the picture a peculiarly dramatic colouring. The mist, which had become much thicker, the high corn, and the formation of the ground apparently hid our movements from the enemy. The fire of the enemy batteries which soon opened on us from the south, without being able to stop us, was therefore remarkably innocuous. Later on most of them were captured after putting up a brave defence. And so we pressed on as fast as the formation of the country, the heavy, slippery ground, and the corn, rape and beet would allow. Our attack, organised according to all the rules of war then in vogue, soon lost cohesion. Individual companies, indeed individual sections, began to look for opponents for themselves. But everyone pressed on. The only co- ordinating impulse was the resolution to get to close quarters with the enemy.
Between Chlum and Nedelist our half battalion-a very favourite battle formation in those days-advancing through the mist and high-standing corn, surprised some enemy infantry coming from the south. The latter were soon forced to retire by the superior fire of our needle-guns. Following them with my skirmishing section in extended order, I suddenly came across an Austrian battery, which raced past us with extraordinary daring, unlimbered and loosed off case-shot at us. A bullet which pierced my helmet grazed my head, and for a short time I lost consciousness. When I recovered we went for that battery. We captured five guns, while three got away. I felt a proud man and gave a sigh of relief when, bleeding from a slight wound in the head, I stood by my captured gun.
But I had little time to rest on my laurels. Enemy jager, easily recognisable by the feathers in their caps, sprang up from among the wheat. I beat them off and followed them up to a sunken road.
As luck would have it, this, my first battle experience, became known in Austria during the last great war. A retired Austrian officer, a veteran of 1866, wrote to me from Reichenberg in Bohemia that at the battle of Koniggratz he had been a regimental cadet in the battery I had attacked, and illustrated his statement with a sketch map. As he added a few kind words I thanked him warmly, and so between the two former enemies a most friendly exchange of letters took place.
When I reached the sunken road to which I have referred I took a good look round. The enemy jager had vanished in the rain and mist. The villages in the neighbourhood- Westar was immediately in front, Rosberitz on my right, and Sweti on my left-were obviously still in possession of the enemy. Fighting was already going on for Rosberitz. I was quite alone with my section. Nothing was to be seen of our people behind me. The detachments in close order had not followed me southwards, and appeared to have veered to the right. I decided to bring my isolation on that far-flung battlefield to an end by following the sunken road to Rosberitz. Before I reached my goal several more Austrian squadrons shot past us, not noticing me and my handful of men. They crossed the sunken road at a level place just ahead of me, and shortly after, as the sound of lively rifle fire showed me, came into contact with some infantry north of Rosberitz, whom I could not see from where I was. Soon a number of riderless horses swept back past us, and before long the whole lot came pelting by again in wild confusion. I sent a few shots after them, as the white cloaks of the riders made an excellent target in the poor light.
When I reached Rosberitz I found the situation there very critical. Sections and companies of different regiments of our division were dashing themselves furiously against very superior forces of the enemy. At first there were no reinforcements behind our weak detachments. The bulk of the division had been drawn away to the end of Chlum, situated on a height, and was violently engaged there. My half battalion, which I had been lucky enough to rejoin at the eastern outskirts of Rosberitz, was therefore the first reinforcement.
I really cannot say which was the more surprised, the Austrians or ourselves. However, the enemy masses concentrated and closed in on us from three sides in order to recover complete possession of the village. Fearful as was the effect of the fire from our needle-guns, as each wave collapsed a fresh one came to take its place. Murderous hand-to-hand fighting took place in the streets between the thatched cottages on fire. All idea of fighting in regular units was lost. Everyone shot and stabbed at random to the best of his ability. Prince Anthony of Hohenzollern was seriously wounded and collapsed. Ensign von Woyrsch-now a field-marshal-remained with a handful of men by the prince while the battle swayed this way and that. The prince's gold watch was handed over to me to prevent its falling into the hand of enemy looters. Before long we were in serious danger of being cut off. Austrian bugles were being blown in a side street which came out behind us, and we could hear the roll of the enemy's drums, which made a more hollow sound than ours. We were hard pressed in front as well, and there was nothing for it but to retire. We were saved by a burning roof which had fallen into the street and formed a barrier of flame and thick smoke. We escaped under its protection to the shelter of a height just northeast of the village.
We were furiously disappointed, and refused to withdraw any further. As the most senior officer present, Major Count Waldersee of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards - who fell before Paris in 1870 at the head of the Queen Augusta" Guard Grenadier Regiment- ordered the two standards we had to be planted in the ground. The men flocked to them, and the units were reorganised. Reinforcements were already coming up from the rear, and so, with drums beating, we all stormed forward once more against the enemy, who had contented himself with recovering possession of the village. However, he soon evacuated it in order to conform to the general retreat of his army.
In Rosberitz we found the Prince of Hohenzollern again, but unfortunately he shortly afterwards succumbed to his wounds in hospital at Koniginhof. The enemy had carried off his faithful guard as prisoners with them. I lost several grenadiers from my section in that way. They had defended themselves very bravely in a brickworks. Two days later, as we were pitching our camp south-west of the fortress of Koniggratz in the course of our march to the south, these men came up and rejoined us. The Commandant of the fortress had sent them out in the direction of the Prussian camp-fires in order to be relieved of the responsibility of feeding them. They were lucky enough to strike their own unit at once.
In the evening of the battle we proceeded to Westar, and remained there until we left the battlefield for good. The doctor wanted to send me to hospital on account of my head wound, but as I expected there would be another battle behind the Elbe I contented myself with poultices and a light bandage, and for the rest of the march had to wear a cap instead of my helmet.
The feelings which assailed me on the evening of July 3 were of a very special kind. Next to thankfulness to our Lord God, the dominant emotion was a certain proud consciousness that I had co-operated in a feat which added a new page of glory to the history of the Prussian Army and our Prussian Fatherland. We had not yet appreciated the full extent of our victory; but it was already clear to us that it was a very different matter from the previous battles. I had kind thoughts for my fallen and wounded comrades. My section had lost half its strength-sufficient proof that it had done its duty.
When we crossed the Elbe by a temporary bridge at Pardubitz on the evening of July 6 the Crown Prince was waiting there for the regiment, and gave us his thanks for our behaviour in the battle. We thanked him with loud cheers and continued our march, proud of the praise lavished upon us by the Commander-in-Chief of our army, who was also the heir to the Prussian throne, and prepared to follow him to further battlefields.
However, the rest of the campaign brought us nothing but marches, certainly no events worth mentioning. The armistice which followed on July 22 found us in lower Austria about 30 miles from Vienna. When we began our homeward march soon after, we were accompanied by an unwelcome guest, cholera. We only got rid of it by degrees, and then not before it had exacted a large toll of victims from our ranks.
We remained a few weeks on the Eger. During that period I met my father in Prague. As a member of the Order of St. John he was employed in a hospital on the battlefield of Koniggratz. We did not let slip such an opportunity of visiting the neighbouring battlefield of our great King. To our intense surprise we found that adjacent to the monument to Field-Marshal Count Schwerin (who fell at Prague) erected by the State of Prussia after the War of Liberation, there was another which the Emperor Joseph II, a great admirer of Frederick the Great, had had erected to the memory of his enemy hero.
In the course of the last war I was again specially reminded of the visit to this battlefield. There was a close parallel between the situation of Prussia in 1757 and that of Germany in 1914. Just as Kolin followed Prague, so the failure of our great offensive in the battle of the Marne, which followed a succession of victories, involved a fateful prolongation of our Fatherland's fight for existence. But while the conclusion of the Seven Years' War showed us a mighty Prussia, we behold a shattered Germany at the end of the four years' desperate struggle. Have we been unworthy of our fathers?
Continuing our march home, we crossed the frontiers of Bohemia and Saxony on September 2, and on the 8th the frontier of the Mark of Brandenburg at the Grosen- hain-Elster road. A triumphal arch greeted us. We marched through it on our homeward way to the strains of "Heil dir im Siegerkranz." I need not try to describe our feelings!
On September 20 we made our triumphal entry into Berlin. The grand review followed on what is now the Konigsplatz, but was then a sandy parade-ground. The site of the present General Staff building was occupied by a timber yard, which was connected with the town by a lane bordered with willows. Starting from the parade-ground, the troops marched under the Brandenburger Tor, up the Linden to the Opernplatz. Here took place the march past His Majesty the King. Bliicher, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau looked down from their pedestals. They might well be pleased with us!
My battalion had assembled in the Floraplatz in order to take its place in the column. It was here that my Commanding Officer handed me the Order of the Red Eagle, 4th Class, with swords, and told me to put it on at once, as the new decorations were to be worn for the triumphal march. As I looked about me, apparently in some embarrassment, an old lady stepped out of the crowd of spectators and fastened the decoration to my breast with a pin. So whenever I have crossed the Floraplatz in later years, whether walking or riding, I have always gratefully remembered the kind Berlin lady who once gave the eighteen-year-old lieutenant his first order there.
After the war Hanover was assigned to the 3rd Guards Regiment as peace station. The intention was to pay the former capital a special compliment. We were not pleased to be sent there, but when the hour of parting struck, twelve years later, as the regiment was transferred to Berlin, there was not a man in its ranks who did not regret leaving it. I myself had to leave the beautiful town as early as 1878, but I had then grown so fond of it that I took up residence there after my retirement from the service later on.
We had soon made friendships in our new station. Of course, many Hanoverians held completely aloof from us for political reasons. We never condemned anyone for loyalty to the hereditary reigning House, however deep was our conviction that the union of Hanover with Prussia was essential. We regarded Guelph feeling as hostile only where, as illustrated by the conduct of individuals, it showed that it did not bear its sorrow with dignity, but expressed it in ill-mannered behaviour, insults or insubordination.
As the years rolled by we made ourselves ever more at home in Hanover, which, in the happiest way, seems to have all the advantages of a big town with none of its disadvantages. A lively, aristocratic social life, which attained its climax after the war with France when their Highnesses Prince Albert of Prussia and his wife resided there for several years, alternated with visits to the excellent Court Theatre which was made very cheap to Ihe young officer. Splendid parks and one of the finest of German forests, the Eilenriede, surround the town, and in them we could enjoy ourselves, walking or riding in our spare time. And if, instead of going to the autumn exercises of the Guard Corps at Potsdam, we attended manoeuvres in the province, we gradually got to know and appreciate the peculiar charm of all Lower Saxony from the mountains to the sea. The Waterloo Platz was the scene of such duties as there were. It was there that for three years I trained my successive batches of recruits, and had my first quarters-living and sleeping room-in one of its barracks. Even to-day, whenever I visit that part of the town, I go back in thought to the golden hours of youth. Almost all my comrades of that time have joined the great army. Quite recently I have had an opportunity of seeing Major von Seel (retired), who was my Company Commander for many years. I owe this man of more than eighty years more than I can say.
In the summer of 1867 His Majesty the King visited Hanover for the first time. When he arrived I was in the guard of honour which was drawn up before the palace in George's Park, and my War Lord made me happy by asking me on what occasion I had won the Order of Swords. In later years, after I had also won the Iron Cross in 1870-1, my Kaiser and King has often asked me the same question when I have been reporting for transfer or promotion. I always thought of this first occasion with the same joy and pride as possessed me then.
The political, military and social circumstances of Hanover became ever more stable. Before long this new province, too, was to prove on many a bloody battlefield that it was equally part and parcel of Prussia!
When the war of 1870 broke out I took the field as adjutant of the 1st Battalion. My Commanding Officer, Major von Seegenberg, had gone through the campaigns of 1864 and 1866 as a company commander in the regiment. He was a war-hardened old Prussian soldier of irresistible energy and tireless concern for the welfare of his troops. The relations between us were good on both sides.
The opening of the campaign brought my regiment, as indeed the whole Guard Corps, bitter disappointment, inasmuch as we marched for weeks and yet did not come into contact with the enemy. It was not until after we had crossed the Moselle above Pont a Mousson and nearly reached the Meuse that the events west of Metz on August 17 summoned us to that neighbourhood. We turned north, and after an extraordinarily tiring march reached the battlefield of Vionville in the evening of that day. Relics of the fearful struggle of our 3rd and 10th Corps on the day before met our eyes at every turn. Of the military situation as a whole we knew next to nothing. Thus it was in an almost complete mental fog that on August 18 we marched from our camp at Hannonville, west of Mars la Tour, and reached Doncourt about mid-day. Although this was a relatively short march, it required an enormous effort owing to the fact that it was carried out in close mass formation, and that we unfortunately crossed the Saxon (12th) Corps. Besides, the heat was terrific, the dust awful, and we had been unable to get enough water since the previous day. On the march I had visited the cemetery of Mars la Tour to see the grave of a cousin of mine in the 2nd Guard Dragoons who had fallen; and I availed myself of the opportunity of riding over the ground across which the 38th Infantry Brigade and the 1st Guard Dragoon Regiment had made their attack. Groups, in places whole mounds, of corpses, both Prussian and French, showed what a murderous encounter had taken place only quite a short distance away from us.
We halted at Doncourt, and began to think of cooking a meal. Rumours ran round that Bazaine had marched west and so got away. The enthusiasm of the previous day had somewhat waned. Suddenly a tremendous cannonade started in the east. The 9th Corps had got into touch with the enemy. The "stand to" cheered us all up. Our nerves began to brace themselves up again and our hearts to beat faster and stronger. We resumed our march to the north. The impression that we were on the eve of a great battle grew stronger from minute to minute. We went on, and quite close to Batilly received orders to unfurl our colours. This was done to the accompaniment of a threefold "hurrah." What a moving moment that was! Almost simultaneously some Guard batteries galloped past us, going east towards the enemy's positions. The main features of the battle became more distinct. From the heights of Amanweiler right to St. Privat thick, heavy clouds of smoke were rising. Enemy infantry and artillery were posted there in several successive lines. For the time being their fire was directed with extreme fury against our 9th Army Corps. Its left wing was apparently commanded by the enemy. We could not make out more.
To avoid a frontal attack against the enemy's lines we took a gulley which ran parallel to the enemy's front for about three miles, and turned north to Ste. Marie aux Chenes. This village had been attacked and captured by the advance guard of our division and part of the 12th Corps, which was marching on Auboue on our left. After the capture of Ste. Marie our brigade deployed immediately south of the village and on a front facing it. We rested. Truly a peculiar kind of rest! Stray bullets, from enemy riflemen pushed forward from St. Privat, fell here and there among our formations in close order. Lieutenant von Helldorf, of the 1st Guards Regiment, was shot quite close to me. His father, commanding a battalion of the same regiment, had fallen, also not far from where I stood, at Rosberitz in the Battle of Koniggratz in 1866. Several men were wounded.
I turned the situation over in my mind. Away to the east, almost on the right flank of our present front, lay St. Privat, crowning a gentle sloping hill and connected with Ste. Marie aux Chenes, about a mile and a quarter away, by a dead-straight road bordered with poplars. The country north of this road was for the most part concealed by the trees, but gave the same impression of lack of cover as that south of the road. On the height itself an almost unearthly silence reigned. Our eyes strove involuntarily to pierce the secrets we suspected there. Apparently it was not thought necessary on our side to try and pierce the veil by reconnaissance. So we remained quietly where we were.
About half-past five in the afternoon our brigade received orders to attack. We were to press forward in a northerly direction on the east side of Ste. Marie, and when we had crossed the road, wheel to attack St. Privat. The thought that these skilful movements could be taken in the right flank from St. Privat sprang to one's mind at once.
Just before our brigade rose up, the whole neighbourhood of St. Privat sprang to life and shrouded itself in the smoke of lines of French infantry. What had happened was that the 4th Guards Brigade, which was not in our division, was already pressing on south of the road. For the time being the whole force of the enemy's fire was turned against it. These troops would have been reduced to pulp in a very short time if we, the 1st Guards Brigade, had not immediately attacked north of the road, and thereby taken the burden off them. Indeed, it seemed almost impossible to get forward at all. My Commanding Officer rode forward with me to reconnoitre the country ahead and give the battalion its route direction within the orbit of the brigade. A hurricane of continuous fire now swept over us from every quarter. Yet we had to try and execute the movement which had been begun. We managed at length to cross the road. Once across, the compact columns formed a front against the enemy lines, and in open order stormed forward towards St. Privat. Every man tried his hardest to get to close quarters with the enemy in order to use his rifle, which was inferior to the chassepot. The sight was as terrible as impressive.
The ground behind the mass surging forward, as if against a hailstorm, was strewn with dead and wounded, and yet the brave troops pressed on without stopping. They were gradually deprived of their officers and N.C.O.s, who had to be replaced by the best of the fusiliers and grenadiers. As I was riding forward I saw the general of the Guard Corps, Prince Augustus of Wuertemberg, on horseback at the outskirts of Ste. Marie. He was following the terrible crisis in which his splendid regiment was involved and looked like being destroyed. It is said that just opposite him Marshal Canrobert was standing at the entrance to St. Privat.
To get his battalion out of the vortex of the masses north-east of Ste. Marie and give it the necessary room to fight, my Commanding Officer did not make it form a front against St. Privat, but at first made it follow a fold of the ground, and continue the original movement to the north. We had thus a certain amount of cover, but we made so great a detour that after wheeling we formed the left wing of the brigade. In these circumstances we managed, with increasing losses, to get half-way to Ste. Marie Roncourt.
Before we could prepare to envelop St. Privat we had to see what the situation was at Roncourt, which the Saxons from Aboue did not yet seem to have reached. I rode forward, found the village unoccupied either by friend or foe, but noticed that there was French infantry in the quarries east of the village. I was successful in getting two companies of my battalion into Roncourt in time. Soon after the enemy made a counter- attack from the quarry, but was beaten off. It was now possible for the two other companies, no longer anxious about their flanks and rear, to turn against the northern exit from St. Privat to relieve-at least to some extent-the fearful frontal attack of the rest of the brigade. Later, after Roncourt had been occupied by parts of the 12th Corps, the two companies we had used there were brought up.
Meanwhile the bloody struggle continued uninterruptedly in the front.
On the enemy's side it was an unceasing storm of rifle-fire from several lines of infantry, fire which strove to make all life impossible on the broad, exposed field of attack. On our side it was a line-a line with innumerable gaps-formed by remnants of units which did not merely cling to the ground, however, but strove time after time to close with the enemy in spasmodic rushes. I held my breath as I watched the scene in utter anguish lest an enemy counter-attack should hurl our men back. But except for an attempt to break out with cavalry north of St. Privat, an attempt which did not survive the first charge, the French did not leave their positions.
There was now a pause in the infantry action. Both sides were exhausted and lay facing one another, firing but seldom. The halt in the hostilities on the battlefield was so marked that I rode along the firing line from the left wing almost to the centre of the brigade without feeling I was running any risk. Now, however, our artillery which had been brought up began its work of preparation, and before long fresh forces, the 2nd Guards Brigade from Ste. Marie, made their appearance among the fast vanishing remnants of the 4th and 1st, while Saxon reinforcements approached from the north- west. The pressure on the tortured infantry was sensibly relieved. There, where death and ruin seemed the only prospect, a fresh battle spirit seemed to stir, a new will to victory was born, which reached its heroic climax in a fierce charge at the enemy. It was an indescribably moving moment when our foremost lines rose for the final assault just as the sun was going down. No orders urged them on. Spiritual enthusiasm, a stern resolve to conquer and the holy lust of battle drove them forward. This irresistible impetus carried everything away with it. The bulwark of the foe was stormed as darkness descended. A fierce exultation seized all our men.
The softer sides of human emotion came to the surface when, late in the evening, I counted the remnants of our battalion and on the next morning visited the yet smaller fragments of the other units of my regiment. At such times we think not only of the victory that has been won, but of the price which has been paid for it. The 3rd Guards Regiment had suffered losses of 36 officers and 1,060 non-commissioned officers and men, of which 17 officers and 306 men were killed. All the Guards infantry regiments had similar losses to show. During the last great war the losses in battle of our infantry regiments repeatedly reached the level of those suffered by the Guards at St. Privat. I was able to appreciate from my own experience what that meant to the troops. What a mass of the best, frequently irreplaceable, human energy has sunk into the grave. And, on the other hand, what a superb spirit must have lived in our people to enable them to keep our army resolute in a struggle lasting years!
On August 19 we buried our dead, and in the afternoon of the 20th we marched away to the west. On the way our divisional commander, Lieutenant-General von Pape, gave us his thanks for our victory, but laid special emphasis on the fact that we had only done our bounden duty. He concluded with these words, "In short, what applies to us is the old soldier's hymn: 'Whether thousands to left, Or thousands to right, Of all friends bereft, A soldier must fight.' " Our reply was a thunderous cheer for His Majesty the King.
Whatever military criticisms may be levelled at the Battle of St. Privat, they detract in no way from its inward grandeur. That grandeur lies in the spirit with which the men bore the terrible crisis for hours on end and finally overcame it victoriously. That feeling was thenceforth paramount in our minds whenever we remembered August 18. The stern mood which had possessed our men throughout the battle soon faded away. In its place came a sense of pride in individual prowess and collective achievement which lives to- day. Once more, in the year 1918, and again on hostile soil, I celebrated the anniversary of St. Privat with the 3rd Guards Regiment of which I was once more a member by the favour of my King. Many " old gentlemen " who fought with me in 1870, among them Major von Seel, whom I have mentioned, had come from home to the Front for the anniversary. It was the last time that I was to see the proud regiment!
I hear that the monuments to the Prussian Guard on the heights of St. Privat have now been thrown down by our enemies. If it really is so, I do not believe that German heroism can be degraded by acts of that kind. Many a time have I seen German officers and men standing before French monuments, even those on German soil, and giving expression to their respect for an enemy's achievements and sacrifices.
After the battle the commander of my battalion, as the only unwounded Staff officer, took over the command of the regiment. I remained his adjutant in his new post.
The course of the operations which came to such a memorable conclusion at Sedan brought little of note in my way. We were present at the prelude, the Battle of Beaumont, on August 30, but being in the reserve were only spectators. On September 1 also, I followed the course of the battle mainly in the role of a looker-on. The Guard Corps formed the north-eastern section of the iron ring which closed in on MacMahon's army during that day. In particular the 1st Guards Brigade was held in readiness behind the heights east of the Givonne valley from the morning to the afternoon. I used this period of inactivity to visit the long line of Guard batteries posted at the edge of the heights. They were firing across the valley at the French lying on the wooded heights on the far side. From this point we had a comprehensive view of the whole region from the Forest of Ardennes to the valley of the Meuse. I felt as if I could almost touch the heights of Illy and the French positions west of the Givonne stream, including the Bois de la Garonne. The catastrophe to the French Army thus developed practically before my eyes. I was able to observe how the German ring of fire gradually closed in on the unhappy enemy and watch the French making heroic efforts, though these were doomed to failure from the start, to break through our encircling lines by thrusts at different points.
The battle had a quite special interest for me. The fact is that on the previous day, as we were going through Carignan, a talkative French harness-maker from whom I had bought a riding-whip as we passed had told me that the French Emperor was with his army. I had handed this piece of news on, but no one would believe it. On the day of the battle, when speaking of the destruction of the enemy which was becoming more complete from minute to minute, I remarked: "Napoleon too is stewing in that cauldron.'' My remark was greeted with laughter. My triumph was great when my statement was subsequently confirmed.
That day my regiment took no more active share in the battle. About three o'clock in the afternoon we followed the 1st Guards Regiment over the Givonne sector. By that time the bottom had been knocked out of the French resistance by the fire of our artillery, coming as it did from all sides. All that remained to be done was to press the enemy back into Sedan to convince him once and for all that further resistance was perfectly hopeless. The picture of destruction which I beheld during this process from the north- eastern edge of the Bois de la Garonne surpassed all the horrors that had ever met my gaze, even on the battlefield.
Between four and five ,we went back to our bivouac. The battle was over. Only towards evening a shell flew by and a bullet whistled over our heads. When we looked towards the edge of the forest a scowling Turco waved his rifle threateningly at us and disappeared with great bounds into the darkness of the trees.
Never, either before or since, have I spent the night on a battlefield with the same feeling of quiet satisfaction as possessed me now. For after "Now thank we all our God" had resounded through the darkness, every man lay down to dream of a speedy end to the war. Of course, we were bitterly deceived so far as that was concerned. The war continued. There are those among us who have represented the continuation of the French resistance after the battle of Sedan as merely a piece of useless French self- mutilation. I was not able to share that view, for I cannot but approve the far-reaching views which animated the dictators of France at that time. In my opinion the fact that the French Republic took up arms at the point where the Empire had been compelled to lay them down was not only a proof of ideal patriotic spirit, but of far-seeing statesmanship as well. I firmly believe, even to-day, that if France had abandoned her resistance at that moment she would have surrendered the greatest part of her national heritage, and with it her prospects of a brighter future.
In the morning of September 2 we had a visit from the Crown Prince, who brought us the first news of the capture of Napoleon and his army, and in the afternoon it was followed by that of our King and military leaders. It is impossible to form any conception of the unexampled enthusiasm with which the monarch was received. The men simply could not be kept in the ranks. They swarmed round their dearly-loved master, and kissed his hands and feet. His Majesty saw his Guards for the first time in the campaign. With tears streaming down his face he thanked us for all we had done at St. Privat. This was indeed a rich reward for those fateful hours! Bismarck was also in the King's suite. In Olympian calm he was riding at the end of the cavalcade, but he was recognised and received a special cheer, which he accepted with a smile. Moltke was not present.
In the morning of September 3 my regiment received an order to advance on Sedan and drive any French who happened to be outside the fortress within its walls. The idea of this was to prevent the large bodies of our enemy who were roving round the outskirts from being tempted to pick up the enormous numbers of rifles that were lying about, and make the attempt, however hopeless, to cut their way through. I rode on ahead through the Bois de la Garonne to the heights immediately above the town. There I discovered that the "Red-Trousers," which added such a picturesque touch to the landscape, were merely harmless searchers for cloaks and coats which they wanted to take .with them into captivity.
The intervention of my regiment was therefore unnecessary; a few patrols from other troops which were encamped nearby were all that was required. When I rode back with this news to my regiment, which was coming up behind, I saw a cloud of dust in the woods on the road going north. A French military doctor who was standing in front of Querimont Farm (which had been converted into a hospital), and accompanied me part of the svay, told me that in that cloud of dust was the Emperor Napoleon, who was on his way to Belgium with a guard of Black Hussars. If I had reached that road a few minutes earlier I should have been an eye-witness of the historic spectacle.
In the evening of that day we left the battlefield and returned to our quarters. Then, after a day's rest, we resumed our march on Paris. Our advance brought us first over the battlefield of Beaumont, and then through districts which have been the scene of fateful encounters in the last great war. On September 11 and 12 the regiment was at Craonne and Corbeny, two pretty little villages lying at the foot of the Mont d'Hiver. Once more, on May 28, 1918, I stood on that same Mont d'Hiver with my All-Highest War Lord, while the battle of Soissons- Rheims was in progress. I told His Majesty that I had encamped there forty-eight years before. The two villages were now little more than heaps of rubbish. The house at the corner of the market-place of Corbeny in which I had had my quarters had vanished under rubble and ashes. The Mont d'Hiver, which was a green, partly wooded ridge in 1870, was now nothing but a bare, steep chalk cliff from which guns, the spade and the entrenching tool had removed every vestige of soil. What a melancholy return, even in that hour of triumph.
On September 19, from the plateau of Gonesse, five miles north-east of St. Denis, we had our first glimpse of the French capital. The gilded domes of the Invalides and other churches sparkled in the morning sunlight. I am sure that when the Crusaders gazed for the first time on Jerusalem their feelings were the same as ours when we saw Paris lying at our feet. We started off at three o'clock in the morning, while it was still dark, and spent the entire day-a beautiful autumn day-lying in the stubble fields ready to intervene if we or the neighbouring divisions met with difficulty in placing and occupying our outpost line. It was not until late in the afternoon that we got back to billets. We remained for some time in quarters at Gonesse, a place which enjoys some historical note from the fact that in 1815 Bluecher and Wellington, who had reached Paris, met here to discuss the future course of the operations.
Instead of a complete and speedy victory, we were to be faced with many months of thoroughly exhausting and thankless investment operations, which were but seldom interrupted on our front by any noteworthy sortie. Their monotony was first broken about Christmas, when the bombardment of the forts made things a little more lively in a military sense.
The middle of January brought me a special event. I was sent, with a sergeant, as representative of my regiment to the proclamation of the Emperor at Versailles. I received the order in question in the evening of January 16. Before the night was out I was to get to Margency, twelve miles away, where the Headquarters Staff of the Meuse Army had made arrangements! for the billeting of all deputations coming from the east. From there we were to proceed to Versailles on the 17th, passing through St. Germain. I could not negotiate the distance-about twenty-five miles-on horseback, as I had my kit to take with me. I therefore promptly planted myself, with my sergeant and soldier servant, on the transport wagon of the Body Company of the 1st Guards Regiment, which happened to be where I was and had also been summoned to Versailles. Off we went at a snail's pace in the dark, freezing night to Margency, where a warm fireside, a good bed of straw and tea were awaiting us.
Early on the 18th the commander of the Body Company told me that he had just received orders not to proceed to Versailles but to return to the regiment. Fortunately another comrade took me and my servant in his dogcart, and my sergeant met with a welcome reception somewhere else. So we trotted off on a bright winter morning to our next stage, St. Germain. But there is no such thing as a lasting compact with Fate. Our dogcart, piled high with our belongings, suddenly lost a wheel and pitched the whole lot of us on to the road. Fortunately we soon came across a field-smithy which repaired the damage, so that we were able to join the rest of our fellow-travellers at breakfast in the Pavilion d'Henri Quatre, splendidly situated on the terrace above the Seine. It was a peculiar collection of carriages which made its entrance into Versailles as the sun was setting. There were representatives of every type of vehicle which could be scraped up from the chateaux, villas and farms round Paris. The greatest sensation was made by a potato-wagon the driver of which was celebrating the day by displaying a huge Prussian flag-there was no German flag as yet-to right and left of his seat. I soon found myself in a good billet in the Avenue de Paris kept by a cheerful old lady, and in the evening we all assembled for an excellent supper-a luxury we had not known for ages- in the Hotel des Reservoirs.
The ceremony of the 18th is familiar enough. I have countless impressions of it. It goes without saying that the personality of my all-gracious King and master had the most inspiring and yet the most touching effect upon me. His calm and simple, yet commanding presence gave the ceremony a greater sanctity than all external pomp. The affectionate enthusiasm for the illustrious sovereign was fully shared by all present, no matter to .what German tribe they belonged. Indeed our South German brothers gave the most vociferous expression to their joy at the foundation of the "German Empire." For historic reasons we Prussians were somewhat more reserved, for we had learned to know our own value at a time when Germany was but a geographical expression. That cannot be said in future!
For the evening of the 18th the generals present in Versailles were invited to His Majesty's table in the Prefecture. The rest of us were the Emperor's guests at the Hotel de France.
January 19 began with an inspection of the old French royal palace with its proud collection of pictures immortalizing the glories of France. We also visited the great park. Then the sudden thunder of cannon from the town burst upon us. The garrison of Versailles had already received the alarm and was on the march. What had happened was that the French had made their great sortie from Mont Valerien. We watched the battle for a considerable time in the capacity of idle spectators. In the afternoon we started out on our homeward journey, and late that night I reached the headquarters of my regiment at Villers le Roi, five miles north of St. Denis, thankful that I had been privileged to witness the great historic event and do honour to him who was now my Emperor.
The fruitless sortie from Mont Valerien was France's last great effort. It was followed on the 26th by the capitulation of Paris and on the 28th by the general armistice. Immediately after the surrender of the forts our brigade was pushed forward into the western bend of the Seine between Mont Valerien and St. Denis. We found good, well- furnished billets just on the bank of the river, opposite Paris and close to the Pont de Neuilly.
There I had an opportunity to make at least a nodding acquaintance .with Paris. In the morning of March 2 I went for a ride in the company of an orderly officer of the Guard Hussars, across the Pont de Neuilly, to the Arc de Triomphe. I could not keep away from it any more than my friend Bernhardi, then lieutenant of Hussars and the first man to enter Paris, had been able to the day before. Then I rode down the Champs Elysees, through the Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries to the Louvre, and finally returned home along the Seine and through the Bois de Boulogne. Throughout my ride I let the historical monuments of the past of a great enemy produce their full effect upon me. The few inhabitants who showed themselves adopted an attitude of aloofness.
Although I am little inclined to cosmopolitanism I have always been free from prejudice towards other nations. Though their peculiarities are somewhat foreign to me, I do not fail to see their good side. I admit that the temperament of the French nation is too vivacious, and therefore too capricious for my taste. On the other hand the elan which these people display in a fashion all their own even in times of crisis has a particular attraction for me.
But what I appreciate most of all is the fact that strong personalities can produce such an effect on the masses and subject them so completely to their influence that the French nation is able to lay aside every kind of private interest, even to the point of complete self-sacrifice, out of devotion to a patriotic ideal. In contrast to this I must mention the behaviour of the French to defenceless prisoners in the last war, behaviour which frequently approached sheer sadism and could not be condoned on the ground of their vivacious temperament.
The day after my visit to Paris the Guard Corps had the high honour and immense joy of being paraded at Longchamps before His Majesty the Kaiser and King. The war-tried regiments defiled in the old Prussian manner before their War Lord, at whose command they were ever ready to give their lives for the protection and glory of the Fatherland.
There was no longer any question for us of a proper march through Paris, that having been assigned previously to other army corps, because the preliminary peace had meanwhile been signed and Germany had no mind to force a foe, whom she had beaten in honourable fight, to drink the cup of humiliation to the dregs.
It was before Paris too that we celebrated His Majesty's birthday on March 22. It was a lovely, warm spring day, and we had a field service in the open air, a salute of guns from the forts, and banquets for both officers and men. The cheerful prospect of a speedy return home, our duty loyally done, doubled our enthusiasm.
But we were not to leave France quite so soon as we hoped, for at first we had to remain on the northern front of Paris in and around St. Denis, and were thus witnesses of the struggle between the French Government and the Commune.
Even during the siege we had been able to follow the first developments of the new revolutionary movement. We knew of the insubordination displayed by certain circles of political extremists towards the Governor of Paris. When the armistice was concluded the revolutionary movement began to show its head even more openly. Bismarck had said to the French plenipotentiaries: "You came by revolution and a second revolution will sweep you away." It looked as if he were going to be right.
Speaking generally, our interest in this Revolution was small at first. It was only from the beginning of March, when the Commune began to get the upper hand and the development of events seemed to point to an open conflict between Paris and Versailles, that we paid more attention. And now while German corps isolated the capital of France on the north and east, in a certain sense as the allies of the Government troops, the latter began their long and weary attack on Paris from the south and west. Events outside the walls of the fortress could best be followed from the heights above the Seine at Sannois, four miles north-west of Paris. Certain commercially-minded Frenchmen had established telescopes there which they allowed, on payment, any German soldier to use who wished to see the drama of a civil war. I myself made no use of these facilities, but contented myself with getting a peep at what was going on in Paris from a top window in the Cerf d'Or Hotel at St. Denis (when I reported for the daily orders there), or when I went out riding on the island in the Seine by St. Denis. Tremendous fires from the end of April revealed the track of the fighting in the centre of the town. I remember that on May 23, in particular, I had the impression that the whole of the inner quarters of Paris were threatened with destruction.
Refugees painted the situation in the city in the most lurid colours, and the facts did not seem in any way to fall short of the descriptions. Arson, looting, the murder of hostages, in short all those diseases (now called Bolshevism) which are symptomatic of a body politic broken in war were already of common occurrence. The threat of a released Communist leader: "The Government hasn't the courage to have me shot, but I shall have the courage to shoot the Government," seemed about to be put into practice. How completely the once so strong and sensitive national feeling of the French had been extinguished by the Communists is shown by the following declaration: "We glory in bayoneting our Government in the back under the enemy's nose." It will be seen that the Bolshevist system for the regeneration of the world, the system of which we too have had recent experience, cannot even lay claim to originality.
At long last I saw the end of the Commune one day from my top window in St. Denis. Outside the main walls of Paris Government troops surrounded Montmartre, and from its northern declivity, then unbuilt on, stormed the commanding height which was the last bulwark of the insurgents.
It seems to me a bitter irony of fate that the only political party in Europe which then glorified the movement, in complete ignorance of the true facts as I must presume, is to- day compelled to take the sharpest measures against Bolshevist attempts in our own Fatherland. It is a further proof of what doctrinaire prejudice can lead to until corrected by practical experience.
With the warning example of the events I have just described before our eyes we turned our backs on the French capital at the beginning of June, and after three days in the train reached our happy, victorious Fatherland.
This time the entry into Berlin was made from the Tempelhofer Feld. For the occasion representatives of all the German troops were present in addition to the Guard Corps. My hope of a third triumphal entry through the Brandenburg Gate, a hope I long cherished not for my own sake but for that of my Kaiser and King and my country, was not to be fulfilled!
Chapter III - Work in Peace-Time
With a rich fund of experiences in every military sphere we had returned home from French soil. With the single Fatherland we had created a single Army, the fundamental form of which was only affected superficially by the demands of State particularism. Uniformity of military plans was now assured as effectively as uniformity of organisation, armament and training. It was in the natural course of German development that Prussian experience and the Prussian system should have decisive weight in the reconstruction of the Army.
Peace training was again resumed in all quarters. For the next few years I was still employed on regimental duty. I then followed my own inclination for a higher military training, sat for the Kriegsakademie, and was duly accepted in 1873.
The first year did not quite come up to my expectations. Instead of studying military history and the lessons of recent battles we were mostly regaled on the history of the art of war and the tactics of earlier days. These were secondary matters. In addition we were compelled to take mathematics, which only a few of us would require later in the form of trigonometry in the Survey Department. It was only with the last two years and his posting to other arms that the ambitious young officer could be completely satisfied. Then it was that my horizon was materially extended, thanks to the guidance of splendid teachers of whom I must mention, in addition to Major von Wittich, Colonel Ketzler and Captain Villaume of the General Staff, as well as the historians, Geheimrat Duncker and Professor Richter-and in company with gifted contemporaries such as the later Field-Marshals von Buelow and von Eichorn as well as the later General von Bernhardi.
The many-sided social life of Berlin also comes into the picture. I had the honour to be invited into the exclusive circle of His Royal Highness Prince Alexander of Prussia, and thereby came into touch not only with leading soldiers, but also with men of science as well as those in the State and Court service.
When my time at the Kriegsakademie came to an end I first returned to my regiment at Hanover for six months, and then in the spring of 1877 was attached to the General Staff.
In April, 1878, my transfer to the General Staff followed, and I was promoted to the rank of captain. A few weeks later I was posted to the Headquarters Staff of the 2nd Army Corps at Stettin. My military career outside regimental duty begins at this point, for subsequently I was only twice employed with troops until I was appointed to the command of a division.
The General Staff was certainly one of the most remarkable structures within the framework of our German Army. Side by side with the distinctly hierarchical form of the commands it constituted a special element which had its foundation in the great intellectual prestige of the Chief of Staff of the Army, Field-Marshal Count von Moltke. The peace training of the General Staff officer offered a guarantee that in case of war all the commanders in the field should be controlled from a single source, and all their plans governed by a common aim. The influence of the General Staff on those commanders was not regulated by any binding order. It depended far more on the military and personal qualities of the individual officer. The first requirement of the General Staff officer was that he should keep his own personality and actions entirely in the background. He had to work out of sight, and therefore be more than he seemed to be.
I believe that, taking it all round, the German General Staff has known how to perform its extraordinarily difficult tasks. Its achievements were masterly to the last, though there may have been mistakes and failures in individual cases. I could imagine no more honourable testimony in its favour than the fact that the enemy has demanded its dissolution in the Peace conditions.
It has been suggested in many quarters that there was something mysterious about the work of the General Staff. Nothing more preposterous could be imagined. As has been the case with all our military achievements, those of the General Staff are the result of the application of sound reasoning to the immediate problem in hand. Accordingly it is often necessary for the General Staff officer to turn his attention to all sorts of trivial affairs as well as to high military questions. I have known many most gifted officers who failed in this respect, and were therefore useless as General Staff officers, or proved themselves a positive disadvantage to the troops in that capacity.
As I was the youngest Staff Officer at Corps Headquarters I was naturally mainly occupied with these smaller matters. That was very disappointing for me at first, but then I subsequently acquired a love for the work, because I recognised its importance for the execution of the larger plans and the welfare of the troops. It was only in the annual General Staff rides that I had a chance of interesting myself in higher matters, in my capacity as the handy-man of the Corps Commander. At this time I also took part in the first Fortress General Staff ride at Konigsberg conducted by General Count Waldersee, Chief of Staff of the 10th Army Corps. My Corps Commander was General Hans von Weyherrn, an experienced soldier who had fought in the service of Schleswig- Holstein in his youth, commanded a Cavalry Division in 1866, and an Infantry Division in 1870-1. It was a real pleasure to see the old officer, a magnificent rider, on horseback in the uniform of his Blucher Hussars. To both my Chiefs of Staff, Colonel von Petersdorff at first and then Lieutenant-Colonel von Zingler, I owe my thanks for a thorough training in practical General-Staff work.
In the year 1879 the 2nd Corps had Kaiser Manoeuvres and received the thanks of His Majesty. It was on this occasion that I met the Russian General Skobeleff, who was then at the pinnacle of his fame after the war with Turkey. He gave me the impression of a man of ruthless energy; alert of mind and undoubtedly a very efficient higher commander. His habit of boasting was a less pleasant characteristic.
I must not omit from my story the fact that I had been married at Stettin. My wife, too, is a soldier's child, being the daughter of General von Sperling, who was Chief of Staff of the 6th Corps in 1866 and Chief of Staff of the 1st Army in 1870-1. He had died after the war with France.
I found in my wife a loving mate who shared with me loyally and untiringly my joys and sorrows, my cares and labours. She presented me with a son and two daughters. The son did his duty in the Great War as an officer on the General Staff. Both daughters are married, and their husbands likewise fought in the Great War.
In 1881 I was transferred to the 1st Division at Konigsberg. This change gave me greater independence, brought me into closer contact with the troops, and took me back to my native province.
Of the events of my military life there I must specially mention the fact that the well- known military writer, General von Verdy du Vernois, was for a time my general.
The general was a highly gifted and interesting personality. As a result of his wealth of experience in high Staff posts during the wars of 1866 and 1870-1 he possessed an extraordinary knowledge of the decisive events of that period. Further, he had previously been attached to the Headquarters of the Russian Army in Warsaw during the Polish rising of 1863, and had thus gained a deep insight into the political conditions on our eastern frontier. What he had to tell about his life-and he had brilliant powers of description-was therefore extremely instructive, not only from the military, but also from the political point of view. General von Verdy was a pioneer in the domain of applied war technics. Under his guidance and in the mutual exchange of ideas I learnt very much that .was to be useful to me later on when I was myself teaching at the Kriegsakademie. This brilliant man thus had a most inspiring influence upon me in many directions. He was always a kind superior who gave me his fullest confidence.
I have also grateful memories of Colonel von Barten-werffer, the Chief of Staff of my Corps at that time. His General Staff rides and exercises for the winter syllabus of the General Staff were masterly conceptions, and his criticisms were particularly instructive.
After three years on the Staff of the 1st Division I was transferred to the command of a company in the 58th Infantry Regiment, stationed at Fraustadt in Posen.
In this return to regimental duty I was taking charge of a company which was recruited almost exclusively from Poles. I thus learned to know the very great difficulties which the ignorance of officers and men of each other's tongue placed in the way of a good understanding between them. I myself did not know Polish except for a few expressions which I had picked up in childhood. It was thus very difficult for me to have any influence on the company, and it was made even more difficult by the fact that the men were distributed in thirty-three civilian billets, even including the windmills on the outskirts of the town. Taking it all round, however, my experiences with Polish recruits were not unfortunate. The men were industrious, willing and - what I must particularly emphasize - devoted so long as I bore in mind their difficulties in learning their work, and also did all I could for their welfare. At that time I considered that the somewhat marked frequency of cases of theft and drunkenness among the Poles was due far less to any moral inferiority than to unsatisfactory training in early years. It is a matter of sincere regret that I have been compelled to revise my favourable opinion of the Poles of Posen since I have heard of all the horrors which the insurgents have perpetrated upon non- combatants. I could never have expected that from the countrymen of my old Fusiliers!
My thoughts travel back pleasantly even to-day to the time, unfortunately only five years and a quarter, when I was commanding a company. For the first time I was familiarized with life in a small, semi-rural garrison. Besides the comrades of my circle I found a kind welcome in the neighbouring estates, and I was once again in direct contact with the men. I admit I took great pains to know the peculiarities of each individual, and thus knit a firm bond between myself and those under me. For that reason I found it very hard to part from my company, in spite of the apparent advantages my recall to the General Staff brought me.
This event occurred in the summer of 1885 when I was transferred to the Great General Staff. A few weeks later I was a major. I was in the department of Colonel Count von Schlieffen, subsequently General and Chief of the General Staff of the Army, but I was also placed at the disposal of the department of Colonel Vogel von Falkenstein, who was subsequently Corps Commander of the 8th Army Corps, and then Director of the Corps of Engineers and Pioneers. In this latter department I co-operated for more than a year in the first working-out of the Field Service Regulations, a fundamental code of instruction issued by His Majesty's command. I thus came into touch with the most distinguished departmental heads of that time.
In the spring of 1886 His Royal Highness, Prince William of Prussia, took part in the manoeuvres at Zossen, which lasted several days. These were intended to provide a practical test of the soundness of the new regulations before they were actually introduced. It was the first time I had the honour of meeting him who later was to be my Kaiser, King and Master, William II. In the following winter the Prince attended a war game of the Great General Staff. On this occasion I was the commander of the "Russian Army."
It was in these years that Field-Marshal Count von Moltke handed over all direct business with the departments of the Great General Staff to his assistant, General Count Waldersee. But in spite of the change his spirit and prestige still governed everything. No special guarantee was required that Count Moltke should at all times be held in infinite honour, or that any of us could forget his wonderful influence.
In the circumstances I have described, I myself seldom came into immediate official contact with the Field-Marshal, but I was fortunate enough to meet him unofficially from time to time. At a dinner party in the house of Prince Alexander I once witnessed a scene which throws an interesting light both on his views and his personality. After dinner we were looking at a picture by Camphausen, representing the meeting of Prince Frederick Charles with the Crown Prince on the battlefield of Koniggratz. General von Winterfeldt, who was present, told us from his personal knowledge that at the moment of the meeting Prince Frederick Charles had said to the Crown Prince: "Thank God you've come, Fritz, or it would probably have gone hard with me." As Winterfeldt said this, Count Moltke, who was just then choosing a cigar, came up to us in three great strides, and said very emphatically: "The Prince needn't have said that. He knew quite well that the Crown Prince had been summoned, and was to be expected on the battlefield about mid-day, so that victory was certain." With these words the Field- Marshal returned to the cigars.
On the occasion of the Emperor's birthday the generals and officers of the General Staff were the guests of the Field-Marshal. At one of these gatherings one of the gentlemen asserted that Moltke's toast of the Kaiser would not contain more than ten words, including the speech and the first "Hoch." Bets were laid. I myself did not take any part. The gentleman who took the bet lost, for the Field-Marshal merely said: " Meine Herrn der Kaiser hoch." ("Gentlemen, Hoch der Kaiser.") Words which were certainly enough in our circle, and coming from such a mouth. The same bet was to have been made the next year, but the other side would not close. He would have won this time, for Count Moltke said: "Meine Herrn, Seine Majestat der Kaiser und Koniger lebe hoch." ("Gentlemen, I give you the toast of His Majesty the Kaiser and King.") That makes eleven words with the first "Hoch."
On the other hand, in the ordinary relations of life, Count Moltke was not at all uncommunicative, but a charming and challenging conversationalist with a great sense of humour.
In the year 1891 I saw the Field-Marshal for the last time-it was on his death-bed. I was permitted to see him the morning after he had passed peacefully away. He lay in his coffin as if asleep and without his usual wig, so that his splendid head could be seen to perfection; only a laurel wreath round his temples was wanted to complete the picture of an ideal Caesar-head. How many great thoughts had emanated from that brain; what a lofty idealism had had its seat there! What nobility of mind had dwelt there to work unselfishly for the welfare of our Fatherland and its Sovereign! In my opinion, our people have not since produced his equal in intellect and character. Yes, Moltke's greatness was unique in its combination of these qualities.
Our first Emperor-a great Emperor-had left us three years before. I took part in the vigil in the Cathedral, and was permitted to render the last services there to my Imperial and Royal master, whom I so dearly loved. My thoughts took me through Memel, Konig- gratz and Sedan to Versailles. They culminated in the memory of a Sunday in the previous year on which I had stood under the historic corner window of the Imperial Palace in the midst of a jubilant throng. Carried away by the general enthusiasm I held up my five-year-old son, and showed him our aged Master, with the words: " If you never forget this moment as long as you live you will always do right." The great soul of a great man and Sovereign had departed to the comrades to whom he had sent his greeting a few years before by the dying Field-Marshal von Roon.
There is a block of grey marble on my desk. It comes from the very spot in the old Cathedral on which the coffin of my Emperor had been laid. No more valued present could have been made to me. I need not attempt to clothe in words the thoughts which rise within me, even to-day, when I look at that piece of stone.
His son, the Emperor Frederick, Germany's pride and hope, was permitted to reign for but a short time. He died of an incurable disease a few months after his father. The Great General Staff was then away on a General Staff ride in East Prussia. We therefore took the oath to His Majesty the Emperor and King, William II., in Gumbinnen. I thus pledged my fealty to my present War Lord in the same spot at which twenty-six years later I was to translate it into action.
Fate was kind to me in that I found a very great variety of employment within the General Staff. Even while I was attached to the Great General Staff I was assigned the duty of teaching tactics at the Kriegs-akademie. I derived great pleasure from this work, and continued it for five years. It is true that the demands on me were very great, as in addition to this I had to do other work simultaneously, both in the Great General Staff and subsequently as the first General Staff Officer with the Headquarters Staff of the 3rd Army Corps. In these circumstances the day of twenty-four hours often seemed too short. It was quite usual for me to work the whole night through.
I got to know many gifted young officers, who justified the brightest hopes, during this period when I was teaching at the Akademie. Many of their names now belong to history; I can only mention here Lauenstein, Luttwitz, Freytag-Loringhoven, Stein and Hutier. Two Turkish General Staff Officers were also under me for about two years at this time-Schakir Bey and Tewfik Effendi. The first became a marshal in his own country, the second a general.
At the Headquarters Staff of the 3rd Corps my general was General von Bronsart the younger, a very gifted officer who had been employed on the General Staff in 1866 and 1870-1, and subsequently, like his elder brother, became War Minister.
My transfer to the War Ministry in 1889 brought me a totally different sphere of work. I there took over a section of the Common War Department. This change is attributable to the circumstance that my former divisional general, General von Verdy, had become War Minister, and summoned me to the Ministry when he remodelled it. I was therefore director of a section when I was still a major.
Although at the start this change did not correspond to my wishes and inclinations, I subsequently attached a very high value to the experience I gained by my occupation with affairs and a sphere of work which had hitherto been unknown to me. I had plenty of opportunity of becoming acquainted with formality and red tape (which are scarcely altogether avoidable) and the bureaucratic attitude of the minor officials. But I also came to realize the strong sense of duty with which everyone was imbued, though working at the highest pressure.
The most stimulating part of my work was the issue of Field Engineering regulations, and the initiation of the use of heavy artillery in an ordinary action. Both stood the test of the Great War.
Everything that was done, in peace as well as-and more particularly-in the recent war, deserves the highest recognition. But only a calm, judicial and expert investigation will confirm the justness of that view.
But although I came to realize that my employment at the War Ministry had been extremely valuable to me, I was none the less very glad to be freed from the bureaucratic yoke when I was appointed to the command of the 91st Infantry Regiment at Oldenburg in 1893.
The position of commander of a regiment is the finest in the army. The commander sets the stamp of his personality on the regiment, and it is the regiment which carries on tradition in the army. The training of his officers, not only in service, but also in social matters, and the control and supervision of the training of the troops are his most important tasks. I endeavoured to cultivate a sense of chivalry among my officers, and efficiency and firm discipline in my battalions. I also fostered the love of work and independence side by side with a high ideal of service. The fact that infantry, artillery and. cavalry were all comprised in the garrison gave me an opportunity for frequent exercises with combined arms.
Their Royal Highnesses, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess, were very gracious to me, and the same applies to the heir and his wife. Indeed, I found a kindly reception everywhere, and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the garden-like town. The quiet, homely character of the Oldenburg people appealed to me. I have pleasant and grateful memories of my time amongst them. By the favour of my Emperor, on my seventieth birthday I was once more, to my great joy, brought into touch with my old regiment by being placed a, la suite. So I can still call myself an Oldenburger to-day.
On my appointment, in 1896, as Chief of Staff to the 8th Army Corps at Coblenz I came for the first time into close contact with our Rhine Provinces. The high spirits and friendly attitude of the Rhinelanders were particularly pleasant to me. To tell the truth, I had to get used to their habit of sliding over the serious questions of life, as also to their temperament, which is more sentimental than that of the North Germans. The course of our historical development and the difference in geographical and economic conditions entirely explain certain contrasts of thought and feeling. But the view that this involves the necessity of separating the Rhineland from Prussia seems to me an outrage and base ingratitude.
The merry life on the Rhine had me, too, under its spell, and I spent many a happy time there.
At the start my general was General von Falkenstein, who was known to me when I was at the Great General Staff as the head of a section, and also at the War Ministry as the Director of my department. However, he was soon succeeded by His Royal Highness the Grand Duke of Baden.
I was to stand at the side of this royal officer for three and a half years. I remember these years as among the best of my life. His noble mind, in which dignity united with charming cordiality, his typically unflagging sense of duty combined with his soldierly manner and talents, quickly won him the affection and confidence of all his subordinates as well as of the Rhenish population.
It was while I was Chief of Staff that the 8th Corps had Kaiser Manoeuvres in 1897. His Majesty the Kaiser and King was satisfied with what he saw both at the review and in the field. The festivities at Coblenz were also marked by the unveiling of the monument to the Emperor William I at the " German Quadrangle," that beautiful spot at which the Moselle joins the Rhine opposite the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein.
As the result of my employment for nearly four years as Chief of Staff of an Army Corps I was so advanced in seniority that there was now no question of my appointment to the command of an infantry brigade. At the conclusion of that period I was therefore appointed to the command of the 28th Division at Karlsruhe in 1900.
I obeyed this command, emanating from His Majesty, with quite special satisfaction. My previous official relations with the Grand Duke's heir secured me the lasting good will of their Royal Highnesses the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess, a good will which was extended to my wife and made us very happy. In addition, we had the splendid country of Baden, with all its natural beauties and its warm-hearted inhabitants, and Karlsruhe with all its wealth of art and science, not to mention its society, less concerned with details, which embraced all professional circles.
In the division all three arms were united for the first time under one command. The duties of a divisional commander are therefore more varied, and demand a sphere of activity which is principally concerned with the great business of war.
With a feeling of deep gratitude I left Karlsruhe in January, 1905, when the confidence of my All-Highest War Lord summoned me to the command of the 4th Army Corps.
In assuming my new duties I took over a position of unlimited responsibility, a position which is usually held longer than other military posts and on which the holder, like the commander of a regiment, sets the stamp of his personality. I myself pursued the principles that had previously guided me, and I think I may claim some success. The affection of my subordinates, to which I had always attached high importance as one of the mainsprings of efficiency, was, at any rate, expressed in the most moving way when I left this splendid post after eight and a quarter years. As early as the first year I had the honour to present my army corps to His Majesty in the Kaiser Manoeuvres, which began with a review on the battlefield of Rossbach. His Majesty expressed his gratitude, which I gladly attributed to my predecessors and my troops.
I had the distinction of being presented to Her Majesty the Empress during these manoeuvres. This first meeting was to be followed by others in more serious times, when I could appreciate more and more how much this noble lady meant to her exalted husband, her Fatherland, and myself.
In my time the 4th Army Corps was in the Army Inspection of His Royal Highness Prince Leopold of Bavaria. In him I knew a superb leader and splendid soldier. We were to meet again later in the Eastern theatre of war. The Prince then placed himself under my orders, in the most generous manner, in the interests of the whole situation, although he was substantially senior to me in the service.
In December, 1908, at His Majesty's command I and the then General von Biilow, whose corps also belonged to the Army Inspection of the Prince, took part at Munich in the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the entry of His Royal Highness into the service. On this occasion we had the honour to be most graciously received by His Royal Highness the venerable Prince Regent Leopold. Magdeburg, our station, is often not appreciated as it should be by those who do not know it. It is a fine old town, and its "Broad Way" and venerable cathedral ought to be of great interest to sightseers. Since its fortifications were dismantled their place has been taken by imposing suburbs fulfilling all modern requirements.
Extensive parks have been laid out to make up for what the country round Magdeburg lacks in natural beauties. Theatres, concerts, museums and lectures see to the representation of art and science. It will thus be seen that it is possible to have a pleasant time there when off duty, especially if as agreeable society is available as fell to our lot.
Social life in the town was supplemented by social life at the Courts of Brunswick, Dessau and Altenburg, as well as at numerous country houses. It would take too long to mention them all by name. But I have particularly grateful memories of our annual several days' visit to my venerable and fatherly friend, General Count von War- tensleben, now ninety years of age, at Carow.
Nor was there any lack of sport. Quite apart from the well-known excellent hare and pheasant shooting to be obtained in the Province of Saxony, the Court hunting at Letzlingen, Mosugkau near Dessau, Blankenberg in the Hartz and Altenburg, as well as drives and deer-stalking on several private estates, guaranteed us plenty of wild boar, fallow deer, red deer, roe-deer and game shooting.
All this time the resolution to retire from the army was taking shape in my mind. My military career had carried me much farther than I had ever dared to hope. There was no prospect of war, and as I recognised that it was my duty to make way for younger men, I applied in the year 1911 to be allowed to retire. As the hand of legend has descended upon this unimportant event also, I declare emphatically that this step was not the result of any disagreement, whether of an official or private nature.
It was anything but easy for me to put an end to a relationship that had lasted for years, a relationship that was very dear to me, and more especially to part from my 4th Corps, for which I had a great affection. But it had to be! I never suspected that within a few years I should gird on the sword again and, like my men, be permitted to serve my Army Corps, my Emperor and Empire, my King and Fatherland once again.
In the course of my career I have learned to know almost all the German tribes. I believe I am therefore in a position to judge what a wealth of the most valuable qualities our nation has at its disposal, and to say that hardly any other country in the world possesses, in the versatility of its people, so many conditions precedent to an abounding intellectual and moral life as Germany.
Chapter IV - Retirement
I had said farewell to service on the active list with a feeling of loyal gratitude to my Emperor and King, with the warmest wishes for his army, and in full confidence in the future of our Fatherland. But at heart I always remained the soldier.
Thanks to the wealth of experience I had gained in every department of my profession, I could look back gratefully and feel satisfied with what I had done in the past. There was nothing that could cloud the vision over which lay the magic of youthful dreams come true. My voluntary retirement was therefore not without a certain feeling of home- sickness for the life I had left behind me, nor without many a longing to be back in the army. In the peace of my new life my hope that my Emperor would again summon me if danger threatened the Fatherland, my wish to devote the last ounce of my strength to his service, lost nothing of their force.
At the time I left the army an extraordinarily strong intellectual wave was sweeping over it. The invigorating contest between the old and the new, between ruthless progress and careful conservatism, was reconciled to a happy medium in the practical experiences of the recent war. In spite of the new path which those experiences opened to us, they leave no doubt that with all the increased importance to be attached to material in war, the value of the training and moral education of the soldier is as high as ever. Stout- hearted action has maintained its precedence over all the refinements of intellect. Presence of mind and strength of character take a higher place in war than fertility of ideas. Weapons of destruction have been brought to perfection, but war has none the less preserved its simple, I might almost say coarse, forms. It tolerated no weaknesses of human nature, and permitted no fastidiousness in military training. What it demanded as the primary necessity was that a man should be turned into a resolute personality.
In peace-time a good many people believed that the army could be reproached with unproductivity. That reproach was perfectly justified if by unproductivity the creation of material values was meant. But it was certainly false if productivity was regarded from the higher, moral point of view.
Everyone who does not, either from prejudice or mere spite, condemn our military work in peace-time offhand, must admit that the army is the finest school for will and action. How many thousands of men have first learnt under its influence of what physical and moral feats they were capable, and acquired that self-confidence and inward strength that have never left them through life? Where have the idea of equality and the sense of unity among our people found more striking expression than in the all-levelling school of our great national army? In the army the human inclination to unlimited egotism, with its tendency to disintegrate society and the State, is blessedly purified and transformed by the rigid self-discipline of the individual for the good of the whole. The army trained and strengthened that mighty organising impulse which we found everywhere in our Fatherland, in the domain of politics as in that of science, in trade as in technical studies, in industry as in the labour world, in agriculture as in the professions. The conviction that the subordination of the individual to the good of the community was not only a necessity but a positive blessing had gripped the mind of the German Army, and through it that of the German nation. It was only thus that the colossal feats were possible which were needed, and which we performed under the stress of dire necessity and against a world of enemies.
On the battlefields of Europe, Asia and Africa the German officer and the German soldier have given proof that our training was on right lines. Even if the long duration of the last war with its multiplicity of impressions had a demoralising effect on some natures, even if the moral principles of others were confused by the unnerving action of mental and physical overstrain, and characters, hitherto blameless, succumbed to the many temptations, the true core of the army remained sound and worthy of its task in spite of the unprecedented strain.
The reproach has often been cast at the old army that it endeavoured to degrade a free man into an automaton. But the battlefields of the Great War have shown what a strengthening influence our training has had even in the midst of the disintegrating influences of incessant fighting. Innumerable glorious and yet terrible events have shown to what heights of voluntary heroism the German soldier can rise, not because he says, "I must," but because he says, "I can."
It is inherent in the course of events that with the dissolution of the old army new paths for the training of the nation and its defensive forces should be demanded.
As regards that demand I stand by the old tried principles. Even if there are some who do not consider there is anything final about the means by which we are to recover the power to repeat our former achievements, they will certainly agree with me at least in this, that it is vital for the future of our Fatherland that we should recover that power. If not, it means that we should renounce our position in the world, and let ourselves be degraded to the role of the anvil because we have neither the courage nor the resolution to be the hammer when the hour comes.
The question how we are to recover the great school of organisation and energy which we possessed in our old army is possibly a fateful one, not only for the future political prosperity of our German Homeland, but even for its economic welfare. Germany can recover and succeed as easily as any other country on earth, and maintain a tolerable place in the world, but only by putting forth and concentrating all her creative energies. Unfortunately there is a marked reaction against the existing strong order, thanks to the disintegrating influences of an unsuccessful war and the fallacious idea that the sub- ordination of all the national forces to one controlling will could not have prevented the disaster to the Fatherland. Resentment against the ancient voluntary or compulsory subjection burst the old barriers, and wandered aimlessly in new paths. Can we hope for success along these lines? Hitherto we have lost far more in moral and ethical values from the effects of political dissolution than from the war itself. If we do not soon create new educative forces, if we continue to exhaust the spiritual and moral soil of our nation as we have done hitherto, we shall soon convert the foundations of our political existence to a barren waste!
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