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Battle of Narva is pure meme

Discussion in 'The Tavern' started by Zerwikaptur, Jun 6, 2018.

  1. Zerwikaptur
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    Zerwikaptur Brigand Donator

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    By courtesy of Voltaire:
    So at a time when frost and snow force nations in temperate climates to suspend hostilities Peter was besieging Narva, thirty degrees from the Pole, and Charles was advancing to its relief. The Czar had no sooner arrived before the place than he hastened to put into practice all that he had lately learned on his travels: he drew out his camp, fortified it on all sides, built walls at intervals, and opened the trench with his own hands. He had given the command of the army to the Duke of Croy, a German, and a clever general, who got little support from the Russian officers.

    The Czar himself had only the ordinary rank of lieutenant in his own army. He thought it necessary to give an example of military obedience to his nobility, who up till then had been undisciplined and accustomed to lead bands of ill-armed slaves without experience or order. There is nothing- surprising- in the fact that he who at Amsterdam turned carpenter to procure fleets for himself should at Narva turn lieutenant in order to teach his people the art of war.

    The Russians are strong- and indefatigable, and perhaps as brave as the Swedes, but it requires time to make veterans, and discipline to make them invincible. The only fairly reliable regiments were commanded by German officers, but there were very few of them ; the rest were savages torn from their forests, clothed in the skins of wild beasts, some armed with arrows and others with clubs. Few had muskets, none had seen a regular siege, there was not one good gunner in the whole army.

    A hundred and fifty cannon, which ought to have reduced the little town of Narva to ashes, hardly made breach, while every moment the artillery of the town were destroying whole lines at work in the trenches. Narva was practically unfortified, and Count Horn, who was in command, had not a thousand regular troops, and yet this immense army was not able to reduce it in ten weeks.

    On the 15th of November the Czar heard that the King of Sweden had crossed the sea with 200 transports and was on his way to the relief of Narva. There were not more than 20,000 Swedes, but superiority of numbers was the Czars only advantage. He was far, therefore, from despising his enemy, and used all his skill to crush him; and not content with 100,000 men he levied another army to oppose him and harass him in his advance. He had already sent for 30,000 men who were advancing from Plescow by forced marches. He then took a step which would render him contemptible if so great a legislator could be so. He left his camp, where his presence was necessary, to go to meet these reinforcements, which could quite well reach the camp without his aid; this step made it appear that he was afraid of fighting, in an entrenched camp, a young and inexperienced prince, who might attack him.

    However that may be, his plan was to hem in the King between two armies. Nor was this all: a detachment of 30,000 men from the camp before Narva was posted at a leagues distance from the town, on the King of Sweden's route, 20,000 Strelitz were further off on the same route, and 5,000 others formed an advanced guard. Charles would have to force his way through all these troops before he could reach the camp, which was fortified by a rampart and a double ditch. The King of Sweden had landed at Pernaw, on the Gulf of Riga, with about 15,000 foot and more than 4,000 horse. From Pernaw he made a forced march to Revel, followed by all his horse and only 4,000 of his foot. He continually advanced without waiting- for the rest of his troops.

    Soon he found himself, with only 8,000 men, in presence of the enemy's outposts. He did not hesitate to attack them one after the other, without giving- them time to find out with how small a number they had to contend. The Russians, when they saw the Swedes advancing against them, took it for granted that they had a whole army to encounter, and the advanced guard of 5,000 men, who were holding a pass between the hills where 100 men of courage might have barred the passage of a whole army, fled at the first approach of the Swedes. The 20,000 men behind them, terrified at the flight of their countrymen, were overcome by fear and caused panic in the camp to which they fled. All the posts were carried in three days and a half, and what would have been on other occasions reckoned three distinct victories did not delay the King an hour.

    At last he appeared with his 8,000 men, weaned with the fatigues of so long a march, before a camp of 80,000 Russians, protected by 150 cannon. He hardly allowed them time for rest before he gave orders for an instant attack.

    The signal was two musket-shots, and the word in German, "With God's help.

    A general officer pointed out to him the greatness of the danger. " Surely you have no doubt," he replied, " but that I with my 8,000 brave Swedes shall trample down 80,000 Russians!"

    Then a moment after, fearing that his speech was boastful, he ran after the officer. " Do you not agree with me," he said, " that I have a double advantage over the enemy? First because their horse will be useless to them, and secondly because, as the position is cramped, their numbers will only incommode them, that I shall really possess the advantage." The officer thought it best not to differ from him, and so they attacked the Russians about noon, on the 30th November.

    As soon as the cannon of the Swedes had made a breach in the entrenchments they advanced with fixed bayonets, having the snow, which drove full in the face of the enemy, behind them. The Russians stood the fire for half-an-hour without quitting their posts. The King attacked the Czar s quarters, on the other side of the camp, and hoped to meet him in person, for he was ignorant of the fact that he had gone to meet his 40,000 reinforcements who were expected shortly. At the first discharge the King received a ball in the shoulder; but it was a spent ball which rested in the folds of his black cravat and did him no harm.

    His horse was killed under him, and it is said that the King leapt nimbly on another, exclaiming, "These fellows make me take exercise. Then he continued to advance and give orders with the same presence of mind as before. Within three hours the entrenchments were carried on all sides: the King chased the enemy's right as far as the river Narva with his left, if one may speak of " chasing " when 4,000 men are in pursuit of nearly 50,000. The bridge broke under them as they fled; in a moment the river was full of dead bodies; the rest in despair returned to their camp without knowing the direction in which they were going. They found some huts behind which they stationed themselves; there they defended themselves for a time because they had no mean of escape; but finally their generals, Dolgorouky, Gollofkin and Federowitz surrendered to the King and laid down their arms at his feet. Just then the Duke of Croy arrived to surrender with thirty officers.

    Charles received all these prisoners with as charming and engaging a manner as if he were fating them in his own Court. He only put the general officers under a guard; all the under officers and soldiers were disarmed and taken to the river Narva, where they were provided with boats to convey them to their own country. In the meantime night came on, and the right wing of the Russian force was still fighting. The Swedes had not lost 1,500 men; 18,000 Russians had been killed in their entrenchments, many had been drowned, many had crossed the river; but still there remained enough to entirely exterminate the Swedes.But it is not the number lost, but the panic of survivors which spells defeat in war.

    The King made haste to seize the enemy's artillery before nightfall. He took up an advantageous position between their camp and the town, and there got some hours sleep on the ground, wrapped inhis cloak, waiting till at daybreak he could fall on the enemy's left wing, which was not yet completely routed.

    At two o'clock in the morning General Wade, who was in command of that wing, having heard of the King’s gracious reception of the other generals and his sending home of the subalterns and soldiers, asked the same favour of him. The conqueror sent him word that he need only approach at the head of his troops and surrender his arms and standards. Soon the general appeared with his Russians, to the number of about 30,000. Soldiers and officers marched bare-headed in front of less than 7,000 Swedes. As the soldiers passed before him they threw down their muskets and swords; the officers surrendered their ensigns and colours.

    He let the whole band cross the river without keeping one single prisoner. Had he put them under guard the number of prisoners would have been at least five times that of the conquerors.

    He then victoriously entered Narva, attended by the Duke of Croy and the other Russian officers; he ordered their swords to be restored to them, and when he heard that they wanted money, because the tradesmen of Narva refused to trust them, he sent the Duke of Croy 1,000 ducats, and 500 to every Russian officer, who were full of admiration for this treatment, which they had never conceived possible.

    An account of the victory was at once drawn up to send to Stockholm, and to the allies, but the King erased with his own hands whatever redounded too much to his own credit or to the discredit of the Czar. His modesty could not hinder them from striking several medals to commemorate the event at Stockholm. One of these represented him, on one face, standing on a pedestal, to which a Russian, Dane and Pole were chained; and on the reverse a Hercules, armed with a club, trampling a Cerberus, and the inscription, "Tres uno contudit ictu."
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