Littell's Living Age/Volume 128/Issue 1651/A Prussian Campaign in Holland
From The Edinburgh Review.
A PRUSSIAN CAMPAIGN IN HOLLAND.
You are happy in going to be settled in a country where you will find all the pleasures of royalty with none of its inconveniences." With these words the great Frederick in the peaceful days of his later reign dismissed the niece whom the young Prince of Orange had come to Berlin to claim as his bride. For at that time (1766) the political horizon in the United Provinces was fair. The struggles against Spanish bigotry and French ambition, in which prince and people had nobly responded to each other's call, were not so long past that the benefits of the compact could be forgotten under which a few scattered trading communities had won a place in the councils of Europe. The Dutch were grateful to the line of rulers whose energy and tact had preserved the nation against external foes whilst maintaining its internal liberties. On their part the Princes of Orange had little of kingly honour or power wanting to their position. Commanding by hereditary right all land and sea forces, and holding all the chief executive powers these functions confirmed and renewed in the elder branch of the house of Orange first, by the five chief provinces; then extended to the junior, so adding the two others it had separately administered; then granted to successors by the female line; and finally to heirs adopted in default of any born: it might well seem that the Stadtholders of the Netherlands, though professedly only the first servants of a free State, held dignities as honourable and as sure of continuance as those of any royalty in the world.
Such was, no doubt, Frederick's view when he parted from his niece. The Prussian reigning house was the natural marriage mart for princes in those days. Princesses had abounded in it when Frederick was young, and had been disposed of freely to the first fitting suitor by the thrifty court. And there is small reason to believe that this young lady was despatched from Berlin with any special view to extending Prussian influence over a neighbouring State, much less with the far-seeing design of making her treatment by the Dutch a pretext for entering the land to overrun it with a Prussian army. If any such thought entered Frederick's subtle mind, it gained no utterance. And it was after he had passed away that events occurred which brought about the event then unforeseen, the invasion of Holland by Prussia, the excuse being mainly the ill-treatment of the Stadtholderess by Dutch officers, successors of those who had welcomed her with every demonstration of loyalty twenty years before.
To tell how this change came about would be to write the internal history of the Netherlands during the eventful epoch that preceded the great turning-point in modern history, the French Revolution. Such a task would be altogether beyond our scope. It is sufficient here to indicate, as one main cause of the unpopularity that in 1780 had begun to attach itself to the Stadtholder, the connection of Dutch affairs with our own unhappy war with America. Long jealous of our growing maritime supremacy, Holland was not a whit less ready than France to aid the new foes of our own kindred, whom an obstinate ministry and bigoted king had forced into rebellion. The time had come, it was thought in the United Provinces, when the Dutch flag should once more sweep the seas of those intrusive islanders, and strike terror far inland from the coast where it flaunted. And in the conduct of the operations that followed the declaration of war it came to he thought, whether with truth or not, that the Stadtholder, himself of British blood by his mother's side, was not hearty in the national cause. The anti-Orange party, which before the American war had dwindled into a mere faction, grew rapidly in importance. Its leaders in the various provinces skilfully used the opportunity of the hour; and the Prince of Orange, on his part, did so little to counteract the popular cry against his sluggishness, that when peace came in 1783, it failed to bring back with it his former constitutional powers, dependent as these were on a friendly majority in the legislature. The patriotic party, the name assumed by those who advocated war à outrance against England, had grown to be a formidable body in the States and in their General Assembly. Each exercise of the hereditary prerogatives of the house of Orange was closely watched, criticised, and contested. The rising tide of revolutionary feeling in France naturally gave strength to popular sentiment against a prince in a land so near. And despite the rigid efforts to adhere to the constitutional forms, which he did his best to maintain much later even when the opposition was put forcibly down by Prussian bayonets, the Prince of Orange found his task of administration becoming yearly more and more difficult. In truth the strange union of personal sovereignty with republican freedom which hard circumstances had made possible for several generations, was now becoming weakened in the absence of the external pressure which was probably necessary to its continued maintenance. It would be interesting to speculate on what the internal history of Holland might have been, had not the general convulsions of the revolutionary and Napoleonic eras that succeeded, settled the question decisively by superior forces. But we are here concerned chiefly to trace the actual facts that led to the special intervention of Prussian arms in her neighbour's territory. For this was an event of some historical importance in itself, and not without its bearing on the military questions of our own day; yet one which the din and clash of the greater wars that speedily followed that of 1787 have caused to be almost forgotten save by a few students of military problems.
The Stadtholder's difficulties were much increased by the conduct of Austria in 1785 in contesting the right of the Dutch to occupy the strong places on their own frontier in the Netherlands, and to close the navigation of the Scheldt; the doing of which was, according to the limited commercial notions of the day, the most pressing point for Amsterdam policy to carry out. The emperor Joseph II., reversing the whole policy of his house in foreign as well as in internal matters, had at this time patched up a temporary friendship with France, and let it be known to the Dutch that he could only be moved on the points in dispute by her mediation. This led the patriotic party to insist once more on the value of what they declared to be the purposely neglected alliance with France; and their attacks brought further unpopularity on the Prince of Orange, who from hereditary training, as well as by his marriage, was strongly opposed to French predominance in European politics. The continued differences on important points of policy between the Stadtholder and those who now had the majority in several of the provinces, and especially in Holland whose voice in the federation was nearly as powerful as that of the other six united, led to determined opposition to his administration on minor questions. The prince had so far lost sight of the wise advice given him by Frederick the Great, never to forget his true position of chief servant rather than ruler of the States, as to introduce certain semi-royal observances on which the patriots fastened offence, and so used them to diminish his influence with the masses. Thus it was observed that the officers of his guard now bore the arms of Orange on their caps, instead of those of the United Netherlands as their predecessors had done. Then the main gate of the palace at the Hague had been of late years reserved entirely for princely use. Like other free peoples, the Dutch were peculiarly sensitive as to any right of way being taken from them; and the restriction, when once brought clearly to public notice in the growing agitation, gave dire offence. And to these disputes there came to be added a more serious difference still, one of some real constitutional importance, as to the right to the command of the palace guard. The deputies of the provinces asserted an hereditary claim to appoint to it, granted to them expressly to secure the independence of their deliberations against a populace supposed from its local conditions to be subservient to the ruling house. Worsted on all these points, William V. not only showed his personal annoyance by suddenly ceasing to wear his own military uniform in public, but declined to reside any longer in a capital where he considered himself subject to insult. He withdrew altogether from the Hague, and dwelt for a time chiefly at his château of Loo in the province of Gelderland, where his party was still in a decided majority.
His retreat at this crisis, however, naturally gave increased strength to the opposition in Holland; and if Holland should decide to cast his authority off, he could hardly be deemed the actual Stadtholder of the Netherlands any longer. Yet she, powerful as her superiority in wealth and population made her, and in despite of her contribution of more than half the charges of the Federation, was for some months overborne in the votes of the States-General, where Utrecht (excepting only its capital), Zealand, Friesland, and Gelderland were faithful to the prince. Parties in each had been formed against him, and were in active correspondence with the patriots at Amsterdam; but the governments still adhered to their allegiance.
There was a sort of armed truce during the summer of 1786, in which the more cautious spirits were striving to patch up the difference, while the more far-seeing prepared for the armed struggle that was inevitable. This was presently broken by the warmth of party-spirit in Gelderland, the most Orange in opinion of the seven States. Here two small towns, Hattem and Elburg, where the patriotic party had gained the upper hand in the municipalities, refused further obedience to the decrees of the provincial legislature or States, declaring it incompetent to act in the absence of their deputies. The States then called upon the Prince of Orange in his capacity of captain-general of the province to use armed force in defence of their prerogative. Nothing loth to act under constitutional powers, William marched on the recusant towns with such troops as he had at hand, acting, as his party put the matter, in his magisterial rather than his strictly military capacity. But his opponents did not wait his coming. Protesting against the violence intended, they left their homes to go a few miles into the neighbouring province of Overyssel, where feeling, was strong against the Stadtholder; thus giving the appearance of the first call for armed forces as coming from the Orange side. Holland then decided on action from which there could hardly be any appeal but to the sword. She had temporized hitherto, according to such Prussian writers as Baron Troschke, chiefly because her leaders were endeavouring to get back from distant parts of the United Provinces the regiments quartered there, but raised and paid by her. The proceedings in Gelderland caused caution and concealment to be laid aside and on September 22nd the province by its States directed that the Prince of Orange should be suspended from his functions of captain-general of Holland. The glorious federation that had astonished the world hardly less by the firmness of its union than the gallantry of its actions seemed at once to be dissolved by this daring step. Order and counter-order from either side contended for observance; and the hour had at last come when constitutional forms were strained till they broke, and personal choice for prince or province became a hard duty to be incumbent upon all. Out of the general confusion of the few months that followed, the truth appeared that if the prince trusted to the armed power at his command for the restoration of his hereditary rights, his trust would be in vain. The troops he had had under him were raised, as he himself had been appointed their commander, by separate provincial commissions. Known to the outside world as one national army, the Dutch regiments were constitutionally far more distinctly separate levies than those bodies of cantonal militia which the Swiss are now slowly striving to weld into a federal force. Holland had no sooner openly pronounced against the prince, than her allies in the patriotic party in the Assembly, Groeningen and Overyssel, gave direct orders to their own regiments not to use arms against any other province of the federation. Zealand and Friesland presently followed the example, seeking the neutrality favoured by weaker spirits in all such national crises. Utrecht was paralyzed from action on either side; for although her Orange-governed States had moved their sittings from the hostile capital, so important was the latter to the province that its defection made it useless to count on the regiments siding with the Stadtholder. There remained, therefore, for him to rely on no more than his faithful Gelderland, with its handful of three thousand or four thousand troops, a force quite inadequate to do more than for the present guard his own person. Even the Swiss contingent of the army which had lately obeyed him did so no longer. There had long been, it should here be noticed, such a body in federal pay, raised chiefly in the canton of Berne, and quartered along the defensive southern frontier of the seven provinces which, at first held for reasons of a strictly military character, had grown to be the common care and property of all in peace as well as war. These regiments, having never known orders come to them except through the prince, might have been thought certain for his cause. But though mercenaries, the Swiss soldiers never forgot that they had come to a land which professed freedom as full as that won by their own forefathers. And when private instructions came from Berne that they were to remain strictly neutral in the, political conflict in the Netherlands, they made it known that neither party could reckon on their services for putting down the other. The patriots, in fact, felt for the time that matters were going their own way; and they were occupied in Holland with fresh proposals for striking at the hereditary powers of the Stadtholder, when a sudden act of violence by partisans on their side at once forced on open hostilities, and brought an ally to the prince's side no less able than Willing to give him the mastery over his adversaries.
On June 28th, 1787, the Princess of Orange, unaccompanied by her husband, was on her way to their château near the Hague. To reach this it was necessary to pass a cordon of posts formed by some of the provincial troops of Holland. But she had no armed escort with her. The prince himself had not been in any way outlawed, or officially declared the enemy of the province, which had simply by its legislature suspended him from his military offices. Nevertheless, a certain local commission of defence, formed no doubt of warm partisans of the popular cause, took on itself to consider the journey as either dangerous or illegal, and after roughly stopping the cortége, finally sent it back. It was a time of much hot blood on either side; and there is little doubt that the Prussian story is true, and that the officer charged personally with the unpleasant business behaved with great and needless violence. He is said, on his being refused admission to the princess‘s chamber, to have forced his way in with drawn sword, and remained until she left; and his subsequent act of suicide when his party succumbed to Prussian intervention, seems to show him either consciously guilty, or despairing of clearing his name of the charge laid on it.
The report of this act of violence no sooner reached the Hague than Prussia came upon the scene. Thulemeier, the ambassador, who was previously conducting, conjointly with the French plenipotentiary, an attempt at the difficult task of reconciling the prince with the recusant provinces, and had never ceased to show perfect deference to the claim of sovereign rights maintained by each of the latter, now took an altogether different tone. The injured princess was the sister of his king, Frederick William II., who had not long succeeded to the throne of what was already recognized as one of the most powerful, if not the very foremost, of the military monarchies of Europe. Moreover the sympathies of the king had all along been privately much more on the side of the Prince of Orange than those of his predecessor were, so far as had been known, in the earlier difficulties in his day of the Stadtholder with the provinces. If far more humane and liberal in his administration of home affairs than the great Frederick, his successor was certainly wanting in that breadth, or, as it might by some be judged, coldness of view which caused his uncle to regard with the utmost equanimity any troubles of his friends or neighbours that did not chance to touch the welfare of Prussia. And although revolution at that time, it should be observed, could certainly not in the abstract have been so repulsive and detestable a thing in the eyes of a German ruler of the ordinary type, such as Frederick William, as it became but a few years later when identified with the Phrygian cap, the guillotine, the abolition of royalty, and all the excesses of the Reign of Terror; still personal and family sentiment, no doubt, made the prospect of intervention on fair excuse a pleasant one politically at Berlin. The only difficulties anticipated were those of a military nature, and these were at first overrated, as the events to be narrated prove; but even estimating them at their worst, the Prussian court was confident in the invincibility of soldiers brought up under the eye of the great master of war himself: and the order was unhesitatingly given to collect a force sufficient to enforce compliance with the ambassador's demands, and to march it, or so much of it as must get across the Rhine, forthwith into the duchy of Cleves. Mobilization, with all its elaborate machinery, was in those days a thing unknown. Such standing armies as States chose to maintain distinct from the militia which all had, in some form or other, inherited from feudal days, were supposed to be fully ready for war at all times; just as our own army affected to be until the necessity for its reorganization was lately forced on us. The war-bureau, then very recently formed at Berlin, to replace as far as possible the personal supervision to which the great king had trusted, found no difficulty in moving twenty-six thousand troops speedily to the required points; and it was believed that full occasion would be found for all their services before Prussian honour, now pledged to the Stadtholder's side, could be vindicated.
We suspect that if the difficulties of the undertaking were much over-estimated then, they are certainly not less so in the narrative of Baron Troschke. No doubt this writer is supported to some extent by the example of his great countryman, Clausewitz, who has left an elaborate narrative of this campaign, as one of special importance to be studied. But Clausewitz was writing with a special view to theory, being in fact a military teacher and critic first, and an historian only so far as served his main purpose. It was natural, as no branch of warfare is neglected in his great work, that he should take for analysis a single study of the science, on a theatre so peculiar as Holland, in order to show how far the usual principles are to be modified in a land of marshes, canals; and inundations. And certainly this example was very ready to his hand, the chief materials for dissecting it being found in the German archives, and the invasion conducted throughout with success and credit by his own national army. It seems to us, however, altogether a mistaken view to put it in the first class of military achievements. Nor is the attempt to be justified by the historical fact that the same country which was overrun with comparative ease by a single Prussian corps in 1787, had resisted the whole efforts of Spain and of France in preceding centuries. For in the first place, the art of war had been altogether changed since the era when Alva led his fanatic legions against the Protestant rebels of the Netherlands; or to come lower down in history, when the horsemen of Louis XIV., the maison du roi at their head, swam the Rhine at Tollhuys to commence their campaign against the same obstinate foes. The progress in wealth and civilization, which, while it makes countries seemingly more powerful as well as prosperous, in reality puts them more than ever (as the world is discovering rather late) at the mercy of a stronger and not less civilized invader, had operated in Holland as much as elsewhere. The rude energy of the measures of defence by wide inundations which baffled the Grand Monarque in 1672 were hardly likely to be fully repeated in the more crowded Netherlands of a century later; and if they had been adopted, it may be doubted whether even this means of defence would have proved as effectual against the improved facilities for the attack which the Prussians could have brought to bear. Nevertheless, the prestige of former heroic resistance no doubt magnified the apparent difficulties of the invader. But in this campaign that we are about to notice a new and decisive element was to act on his side. The war was, in fact, not a national struggle, but an act of armed intervention; and the Prussians were therefore to be aided in what should have been the most difficult part of their task, not merely by the moral support of the Stadtholder and his party, but by the material possession through the hands of his supporters of some of the most important strategic points that had to be gained for their purpose. This will appear from even a brief consideration of the task originally set before the Duke of Brunswick, whose high reputation at that period, and the favour he had constantly enjoyed in Frederick's old age with that king, whose favourite nephew he was acknowledged to have been, secured him the command of the Prussian army in the field beforehand in any serious operation it undertook.
Four separate possible lines of defences (increased in Clausewitz's review to five) oppose the invader moving westward on the heart of Holland, the half seagirt district of country round Amsterdam. Of these the outermost, and by far the most important geographically, is the Yssel, the branch which leaves the main Rhine stream near Arnheim, and taking its course first to the east, soon turns to make its way due north by Duisburg and Deventer into the south-eastern corner of the Zuyder-Zee. The province of Overyssel, which has been mentioned as one of those which from the first strongly supported that of Holland in its rupture with the Stadtholder, lies on the eastern or German side of this stream, and might be supposed therefore ready to aid in resisting the Prussian passage. But on the other hand, that of Gelderland lay to the west of it; and the Prince of Orange, by his faithful contingent from that province, held secure passages over the river more than sufficient for his coming allies. This fact, no doubt, fully justifies the statement of Baron Troschke that in the campaign we are writing of, this famous line had no importance whatever. But it does far more than this in our view. It shows that an examination, however careful, of the military problem of 1787 cannot solve the present question, one very carefully studied in both countries, of the possibility of the defence of Holland against Germany. And when the war-office of the former sketches a project, as has recently been done, for protecting the line of the Yssel with certain intrenched points, which would act as it were as large guard-houses from which to regulate the extensive inundations which it may be desirable to make in case of war; one may be sure that there is naturally no thought of dealing with any state of things like that of 1787, when the keys of this line were already placed beforehand at the disposal of the Prussian army, by the prince whom it came to restore to his rights.
For a similar reason there was no more importance at the time we are speaking of to be attached to the second line, which runs rather to the westward of and parallel to the Yssel, along the small streams, the Grebbe and Ehm, flowing respectively into the Rhine and Zuyder-Zee from the same marsh, and is continued again across the Rhine above its separation into the Old Rhine and the Leck, to its southern branch, the Waal, at Ochten. For behind, or to the westward of this, lay the town of Amersfoort belonging to Utrecht, to which place the Orange party in that province, being in the legal majority, had transferred its seat of government, and which might therefore be looked on beforehand as safe for the Stadtholder and his friends. Occupied early in June, as it was certain still to remain, it rendered the intrenchments that had long marked the line of the Grebbe useless, and indeed there was no serious attempt made to hold them.
Such resistance as could really be expected in 1787 would rest naturally on the third line, the renowned bulwark of Holland itself in former wars; formed for the first forty miles, from the Old Rhine at Utrecht, its most important part, by the Vecht flowing to the Zuyder-Zee. Through Utrecht again it is continued south-westward along the Vaardt, another cross channel running from the Old Rhine to the Leck, and then by similar canalized streams to Gorkum on the Waal, a place so strong that the French held it nearly three months in 1814, after they were driven from the rest of Holland. The lower part of the Vecht pierces the Goiland, the most intersected and marshy district of all the Netherlands; and the skill of Cohorn, exercised to prepare the country within against the genius of Vauban, urged on to proof in the invasion of the Netherlands by Louis XIV., had strewn this difficult country with small but formidable works that seemed to cover every possible point of passage against a foe coming from the east. Opened to the French however, by the unhappy surrender of herself to them by Utrecht, the advantage they unexpectedly gained in thus turning it in the end proved vain; for the undaunted Hollanders had already inundated a new line just within it (treated by Clausewitz as a distinct one, and made the fourth of his series), which started like that of the Vecht from Naarden, on the Zuyder-Zee, and ran also to Gorkum, so as in fact to make a loop with it; and on this unlooked-for obstacle the French invasion of 1672 was shattered. The inner line thus formed was in fact a vast lake of prolonged shape, cutting the country between the Zuyder-Zee and the Waal in two; and the republic was saved indeed, but only by such a tremendous sacrifice as the less united and determined generations that succeeded cannot, in our view, be expected to repeat.
Behind these lines running from Naarden to Gorkum, is a last barrier to the invader. Amsterdam possessed its own works, of no great strength in themselves, but easily covered by a skilful system of inundation. And it must be borne carefully in mind by the reader that the whole south and west of the then very limited district adjoining the capital was covered at the time we are writing of by the vast Haarlem Lake, the greatest impediment the Prussians met with. But where broad waters rolled in 1787, there are now, thanks to Dutch industry and ingenuity, nothing but fertile pastures. So that of the thirty detached forts which we understand to be in the lately-framed project of the Dutch war-office for the defence of the city and its ship-canals, a mere fraction would have closed all the land-approaches three-quarters of a century since.
It is needless to follow Baron Troschke in his analysis of the characters of the chief actors on the scene. Yet in one point this might well be done did space permit; for no more careful account can anywhere be found than that he gives of the brilliant qualities which made the Duke of Brunswick's at that time one of the foremost names of Europe. On the whole, however, the Prussian writer deliberately decides that the dukes mind was just one of that class which fails under the test of very serious responsibility; and this verdict will hardly be disputed by any English reader. The events of his more famous campaign of 1792 shattered effectually such political and military reputation as he had won; and as much of this was owing to the success of his operations in Holland five years before, we must plainly look for the cause of this success somewhere else than in the exceptional genius of the commander. Yet Brunswick certainly on this occasion showed no want of any personal activity, or of promptitude to master the needful details. On receiving from Berlin the first private instruction of his coming appointment, he left his hereditary dominions at once for the future scene of action, and a few days later, on August 7th, was found at Nimeguen, attending the birthday reception of the Princess of Orange, nominally of course to offer his compliments to his cousin, but in reality to gather information for his enterprise. Many of the chief adherents of the Stadtholder from the various provinces had made a point of paying their respects to his wife on this occasion; and hence Brunswick was enabled to ascertain without difficulty what aid might he hoped for from each. And doubtless also, one so conversant with public affairs knew enough of the world (though this we are not told) as to discount rather largely the sanguine views of the partisans with whom he was mingling. This first part of his task done, he made his way back to Wesel, where on his passage through he had informed the governor, General Gaudy, that it would probably become his line of operations, and directed him to take forthwith the necessary preliminary measures for supply.
For the next five weeks preparations went actively forward with a spirit worthy of one trained in Frederick's practical school. Three divisions of Prussian troops were formed in the duchy of Cleves, close to the Netherlands frontier, under Generals Knobelsdorff, Gaudy, and Lottum, and equipped specially for service which might lead to unusual exposure. Brunswick showed much forethought in the care he bestowed on the bridge-train which was to accompany him, having large wooden pontoons specially supplied by boat-builders at points behind him in Prussia, besides hiring a small squadron of boats and lighters, some ready decked, from the traders of the Lower Rhine. Other vessels were taken up for the transport of supplies; and it is worthy of special notice in these days, when all military improvements are supposed new, that eight large Rhine-boats were specially fitted up under the duke's own eye as floating hospitals, to be accompanied by others carrying a proper staff of doctors and nurses. He had an army which Clausewitz declares not properly adequate in numbers for its purpose; for his twenty-six thousand men had to overcome the resistance of provincial troops not much fewer in number, strongly posted, and likely to be supported by large reserves, such as the Holland militia, who in former wars for independence had played their part manfully. But a more serious anxiety beset him at this time in the reports which came both from Paris and Amsterdam, that the French government had not only resolved to intervene on the side of the provinces, but had actually given orders for the formation of a camp of one hundred thousand men in the north-eastern angle of France about Givet, with a view of taking the Germans in flank during their enterprise. Brunswick, however, was a master in the art of spying, a part of warfare then conducted with thoroughness: so taking his measures for getting early and complete information from the spot, he was presently reassured by the fact that nothing was yet done up to the time that his little army was all ready for its business. The foreign policy of France, in those last years of the unfortunate Louis XVI., was in one of the fits of indecision and nervousness which alternate strangely in the nation's history with acts of passionate and dangerous temerity. There was a great desire universally felt to avenge Rosbach and humble Prussia. But no doubt the pecuniary difficulties which brought on the great revolutionary crisis two years later were already pressing heavily on the ministry of Louis. At any rate the opportunity, such as it was, was suffered to slip away; and "the sharp German axe that (according to a national boast) can cut the tightest knot," had fully done its work before the unready court of Versailles had resolved on any action. Still there was present throughout on the other side the fear that the talked-of French preparations might be begun; and both the diplomatic action and military preparations of Prussia were hurried forward in consequence, so that all attempts at a pacific solution had been openly abandoned by September 12th, and the army received its orders that day to be ready to cross the frontier on the following morning.
Of the forces disposable for Brunswick's operations the strength, and its distribution in three divisions of about eight thousand men each, have been already mentioned; and as usual with Prussian writers, Baron Troschke goes, at this portion of his task, into elaborate detail.
It is sufficient for us here to say in the first place, that the boasted invention of horse-artillery by Frederick did not help his successor here, the maintenance of that arm having been abandoned by the great captain from motives of economy in his later years. Four field-batteries, therefore, and these hardly capable of more rapid motion than a walking pace, represented the artillery arm, as the word is now understood, in the duke's force. But his infantry battalions, according to the custom of the day, were each accompanied by their own light field-guns.
The cavalry, on the other hand, viewed also as at present known in Prussia, were thus early represented in each branch except that of the famous uhlan or lancer. Brunswick had with him two regiments of cuirassiers (a branch that had then just laid aside the cumbrous armour it took its name from); one of dragoons, still (by what was fast becoming the fiction it now has long been) supposed to be specially capable of doing dismounted service; and portions of two regiments of hussars for his light duties, one being that which had been so gloriously distinguished under Zieten in Frederick's early days, and still bore the name of the greatest sabreur of modern war.
Of engineers, a single detachment, known as a "troop," was assigned to the army, and this probably in consideration of the coming siege-work. For the days had not yet come when the great organizer Scharnhorst was to make of this new branch a component element of every Prussian field-force.
Of the infantry, which of course formed the bulk of the twenty-six thousand fighting men, one part must be particularly noticed. Out of eight regiments detailed for the campaign, one only, and that of small strength, was formed of fusiliers — in other words, of infantry soldiers dressed in green, carrying rather lighter arms than the rest, and specially taught to skirmish. The tradition then was, and it remained long after France, Austria, and Russia successively abandoned it, indeed until the Prussian army went down helpless under its weight at Jena, that the infantrymen must as a rule fight solely in the steady shoulder-to-shoulder line which Frederick had so often led to victory. So to a proportion of some sixteen thousand of these closely-drilled soldiers, it was thought quite sufficient, according to the routine of those days, to allot two moderate battalions of light infantry, intended to cover the front and flank from annoyance; to which were, however, added two companies of riflemen recruited originally from the royal foresters, and probably the most efficient troops of their class in the world. In such figures, and a close adherence to the dead system they represent, may be readily found the key to the utter defeat of Prussian pride not many years after by the Frenchmen trained to more agile warfare in the revolutionary campaigns. But English soldiers of all men should be the last to criticise the error. The sounds of the centenary anniversaries of Lexington and Bunker's Hill still ring across the Atlantic. And Lexington and Bunker's Hill celebrations only really record the historical truth, that British soldiers trained closely on Frederick traditions were found at heavy disadvantage, alike in defence and attack, against the rough provincial levies that had learnt under our own flag in the struggle with France for the American continent, the simple secret of suiting their form of infantry battle to the ground on which they fought.
Of the disposition and arrangements of the Dutch forces for the contest, little that is exact is known to the German writers and it is probable enough that, as they believe, the details were never put on record. About twenty thousand men, or rather fewer, were left to the popular cause from the regular contingents maintained by the seven provinces, after deducting the small part that had adhered to the Stadtholder. It was hoped to double this by the addition of twenty thousand militia, chiefly to be raised in Holland. And as a final reserve, the large towns all had their independent city companies, fairly equivalent in value to our own metropolitan volunteers of to-day, and not unlike them in their practice and organization. Of these Amsterdam alone could turn out sixty companies on occasion; and behind works they might make a formidable addition to the defensive power of the nation. In cavalry the Dutch were naturally weak yet they had four small regular regiments of this arm at their command. And their artillery, largely served, according to what had become a national tradition, by Frenchmen, was abundant in number and well-supplied with matériel. On the whole, therefore, there could have seemed to be no reason for ridiculing beforehand their confident expectation that the new enemy would find the task of penetrating into Amsterdam as serious a business as the Spaniard or Frenchman had in days gone by. For plain reasons, already given, their leaders made no attempt to defend the two more advanced lines of the Yssel and the Grebbe. The regulars were therefore dispersed, according to the military ideas of the time, in small bodies along the third line which was to be obstinately held, that which first follows up the Vecht to Utrecht, and crosses the Old Rhine and the Leck successively, to end at Gorkum. The latter place and Utrecht, as the two main points on it, were strongly held. Some ten thousand troops occupied the open lines where not wholly protected by inundations. The rest were thrown into such smaller fortresses as Naarden and Muiden at the Zuyder-Zee extremity. It was thought in Holland that the opening of hostilities would be followed by deliberate sieges of some of the permanent works. A double attack of this nature on Naarden and Utrecht was especially prepared for. And this misconception of his purpose, it is due to Brunswick's reputation to add, had been skilfully led up to by his own orders. One part of the singular conditions of this campaign was that, during the sort of five-weeks' armistice that preceded it, Prussian staff-officers, carrying the Orange colours, had been allowed to carry on their reconnoissances from day to day, almost up to the very works they had presently to turn or take. Brunswick had fully availed himself of this exceptional advantage, and that in a twofold sense; for his assistants had not only examined every road leading to the Vecht line that could possibly be used, but by his special orders had shown themselves conspicuously and frequently at various points along its lower section from Utrecht to Naarden, in order to impress the enemy with the belief that the blow would fall on that side.
While thus dexterously deceiving them, Brunswick prepared to manœuvre so as completely to turn the portion of their lines he thus appeared to threaten. Breeswyk, a hamlet which stands at the angle where the so-called Vaardt, which is no more than the Upper Vecht, branches off from the important Rhine-mouth, known as the Leck, was the particular point at which he resolved to break through. It was known, indeed, to be strongly intrenched. But still there was of course more hope of carrying it at once than of taking without regular siege such a place as Utrecht. And there was the special political advantage in avoiding the latter, that the province it formed the capital of had not officially renounced its allegiance to the Stadtholder, and it was desirable as far as possible to isolate the resistance of Holland by refraining from attacking the neutral states. To carry out the purpose, General Gaudy, whose division formed the centre column, and was made stronger than the others, would march direct on Breeswyk down the Leck. General Knobelsdorff, who, with the left division, was to follow the line of the Waal, was directed to detach troops to his right at the proper time, so as to assist Gaudy's assault by making feints or even real attacks on neighbouring parts of the enemy's line. The right division, Lottum's, which took with it most of the cavalry, was to occupy the attention of the Hollanders as much as possible on the Vecht. The Utrecht line once carried, Brunswick would act according to circumstances; and obviously such a success, even in face of the expected opposition, ought of itself prove sufficient to enforce submission to the Stadtholder. For public opinion was known to be divided even in Holland, except, perhaps, in one or two of the larger towns; though how greatly does not appear to have been known either to the prince or the Prussians.
The plan of defence prepared on the other side, as it may still be found in the orders of the day by Count Salm, who had been appointed to command for Holland, was simple enough. It consisted chiefly in directing that whatever part of the line was threatened should be reinforced at once; that the inundating means at command should be freely used wherever necessary; that the militia should "as far as possible" take up their quarters with the regulars; and in short, as the count summed his instructions up, that every effort should be used to prolong the conflict "until the damp of autumn turns the ground into a swamp, and compels the enemy, whose men and horses alike will then suffer from sickness, to close this campaign without touching the boundaries of our own Holland at all." All these fine words meant very little, however, in reality. For the dejected Orange party within Holland had lifted up its head again when the certainty was heralded of the approach of the Stadtholder with his formidable escort. Doubt and dissension prevailed at every important part of the line, and observing how rapidly the difficulties of his task, increased, Count Salm himself, as will presently appear, had made up his mind that it was a hopeless case, and resolved to throw it up as soon as this could be done with safety. At the present moment it was too late to draw back from the charge he had accepted, and any proposal to treat would have been met with the cry of treason.
Early on the morning of September 13th, the Prussian divisions, each in a separate column, headed by small detachments of riflemen and hussars, crossed the Dutch border on their respective roads. The weather at first was fine, though after the first three days it changed, and the rains began which are so common in a Dutch autumn, and made every movement somewhat slow and difficult. The left column however, with which was the duke himself, and which was kept according to his plan slightly in advance of the others, had made its way by the 16th to the vicinity of Gorkum, and summoned that place, the east front of which had been watched up to the arrival of the Prussians by a small body of Orange troops detached to keep the garrison from reconnoitring or obstructing the advance. The defenders at first refused to treat when summoned early on the 17th, and even drove off by threats and shots the Prussian officer who strove to parley with them; so that for the moment Brunswick had reason to expect energetic resistance here at any rate, where good information from Orange partisans had told him that twelve hundred Dutch troops lay not many hours before. He happened to be absent with his main body when the advanced guard, according to orders, opened fire later in the morning on the place with a battery of howitzers, rather to test the enemy's intention to resist than with any hope of beating down the heavy guns at the command of the garrison, should they choose to use them. Not a dozen shells had been fired, when a white flag was suddenly hoisted, the gate was opened, and a staff-officer rode out authorized to treat for terms. Colonel Romberg, who commanded the Prussians, could hardly believe his own good fortune; but had the readiness of wit, as he perceived there must be strong cause for this sudden abandonment of the defence, to insist on an absolute and immediate surrender to his detachment, which was presently acceded to by the commandant from within! And on entering the place the Prussians soon discovered that there was good cause for the change of mind on the latter's part; for the garrison, refusing to obey orders since the time that the enemy appeared, had been deserting all the morning in the opposite direction in every boat they could lay hands on; and but ninety men were left or had voluntarily remained to give themselves up as prisoners of war.
Brunswick, hearing the cessation of firing, had by this time ridden up and heard of his success. But so difficult was the communication between the Prussian columns, or so poor (as we are more disposed to believe) the means of intelligence at the command of their staff, that the true cause of this strange conduct on the part of the Dutch soldiers remained unknown to him for many hours afterwards; though the fugitives who had thus begun to abandon Gorkum from daybreak had only mutinied after discussing news which was freely circulated among them the night before. This was that the defence of the ancient lines of Utrecht had suddenly collapsed; the commissions of defence established throughout Holland been abandoned by their commander-in-chief; and the Stadtholder himself that morning, escorted by the loyal States from Amersfoort, received with shouts of greeting in the city which had previously been so hot against him, but which had now given itself suddenly over to the Orange party. How this actually came about may be very brief3y told. Indeed, the details scarcely belong to that military narrative with which we are here concerned. Plainly Count Salm had for some time previous made up his mind that the cause his commission represented was a foregone failure, there being a strong Orange minority throughout Holland itself ready to declare for the Stadtholder as soon as he showed himself anywhere; and the hoped-for support of the French, which alone in the commander's view could have saved the patriotic party from succumbing to superior forces, being evidently for the present withheld. Under pretence, therefore, of moving forward to meet and delay the enemy on his march, he obtained the "march-routes," without which no troops paid by the jealous States of Holland could lawfully be moved by their commander. These once issued to him in blank, he lost no time in drawing his forces at first out of Utrecht eastward, and soon breaking them right and left along the lines, marched them back round the city. This once done he left them, to save his own person by concealment and flight. His main object in all this manœuvring had in fact been to get safely out of the way of the heated patriots of the city, who would have probably sacrificed his life at the first appearance of treason to their cause. Once free from this danger, he quietly abandoned his trust, and disappeared from the scene, leaving some of his battalions taking up chance quarters under their own officers; whilst others dispersed over the country pillaging their own countrymen, and spread such terror before them that the committee of defence of Amsterdam at first shut the gates in the face of those who marched that way. In fact the end of what came here to be called a rebellion rather than a civil war could now not be long delayed.
As Breeswyk, on which General Gaudy's column had been originally directed, is not far from Utrecht, it is needless to detail the march of the centre division, which was of course unopposed. Such fighting as the Prussians had to do on the Vecht line fell entirely on their right, where the Dutch troops about Naarden, divided from Utrecht by the marshy district before mentioned, were for some time unconscious how completely they were abandoned and turned. Hence the resistance here for a few days was a real one. An attempt made on Naarden itself with shellfire had no effect, and Count Kalkreuth, who commanded under Lottum on this side, withdrew his troops from before the place, and threw detachments along the dykes to seek for a passage higher up. Three of these failed, but the fourth, sent to reconnoitre the works of Weesp, a small fortress on the Lower Vecht, was guided by a peasant friendly to the Orange cause to another passage at Uiterdam, said to be less strongly covered. The Prussians were headed by Lieutenant Wirsbytzki, an officer of whom the Berlin records, travelling out of cold official praise, state that "he would dare anything man's bodily power might attempt." This young soldier, discovering on his reconnoissance that a guard posted opposite had all taken shelter from the pouring rain inside their watch-house, leaving a peasant outside in charge of their bridge, rode up to the latter and threatened to shoot him if he did not instantly let it down. The astonished Dutchman complied, and in a few moments men enough of the Prussian party had crossed to surprise the guard before it got under arms. The lieutenant followed up this first success with such speed that he got into the main works with his party of about sixty men before the garrison of nearly an equal number was alarmed; and so captured the whole of it without difficulty. This affair happened on September 17th, and his lodgment at Uiterdam enabled Lieutenant Wirsbytzki on the following day, by means of a couple of canoes, to lodge secretly a party of his men in rear of the next post, which was to be attacked by signal in front. The surprise was decisive, and eighty more Dutch soldiers being here taken with their works, the line of the Lower Vecht was effectually pierced. Niedersluys, the chief point on it between Naarden and Utrecht, finding itself enveloped, surrendered on the 21st. Despite increasing inundations, Lottum, after this success, managed to secure post after post with little loss. Reports of an armistice no doubt aided him in his later operations, though some of his affairs were bloody enough, especially the repulse of a spirited sortie made from Weesp; in which, however, the Dutchmen were cut off nearly to a man in their retreat. Finally, however, this place and Naarden, on which it depended, fell into Prussian hands quietly enough on September 27th. The governor, General Ryssel, having heard that Amsterdam was itself treating for terms, and received private authority to deliver up his trust to the Prussians if he chose to do so, declined the responsibility of carrying out the order in person, and took his way secretly to Brussels, making over his charge to the senior colonel. This officer in his turn being doubtful how to act, and the water passage being open to him, started off soon afterwards for Amsterdam to demand definite instructions; and his temporary successor, receiving a few hours later a fresh summons from Lottum, solved the dilemma effectually by admitting the Prussians without further parley. This was early on September 27th, and from that hour all further resistance to their arms was necessarily confined to the immediate neighbourhood of Amsterdam; for that city found itself by this time isolated in its resistance.
Those who imagine that a proud tradition of freedom preserved inviolate by their forefathers' arms is the sure promise that succeeding generations will emulate their deeds, would do well to study in more detail than we can here give to them, the events that had passed elsewhere during the short campaign on the Vecht just narrated. In truth the burghers of Dordrecht, Delft, and Schiedam had talked as loudly but a few weeks before of readiness to die in the breach if necessary, as ever did their stout-hearted ancestors. But either some genuine doubt of the justice of their own recent conduct towards the house of Orange; or the want of any religious motive to steel their feelings to endurance; or, what seems more probable still, the knowledge that the French supports, on which they had relied, had abandoned them, made resistance an unprofitable sacrifice when once the foe was known to have fairly entered Holland. The towns we have mentioned, with others less important, vied with each other in the haste and readiness of their submission. Rotterdam itself, where the municipality had gathered in arms in the market-place on hearing that the States at the Hague were preparing to yield, and had promised their fellow-citizens magniloquently enough to defend the place to extremity, surrendered without firing a shot at the summons of a lieutenant of hussars, when once the Prussians were known to be near. The Hague itself alone was spared foreign occupation, as a special favour to the deputies who had now assembled there in haste to pass a vote in favour of the Stadtholder; and by September 23rd, Brunswick could feel that his flanks and rear were sufficiently secure to permit of his advancing against his final object, Amsterdam, with Knobelsdorffs division, presently supported by Lottum's from the Vecht. Reconnoissances had already been pushed almost within sight of the city; and on the 21st the remnants of Salm's own regiment of dragoons had been driven by the Prussian hussars through the village of Amstelveen, six miles to the south of it, after a skirmish of some severity, the only military affair worth mention in this part of the operations. On the 16th, when the duke was preparing to gather his somewhat scattered troops on a semicircular front facing the city from the south and east, its two land sides, he was suddenly met by a deputation from the municipality asking a truce.
The duke had little objection to grant the favour so often sought in war by the weaker party, and here an almost sure sign that his adversaries were disheartened. His advices had told him that the position in front of him, running through Amstelveen and covering Amsterdam, was strong in itself, and that its defences, well furnished with artillery, were held by the six regular battalions which remained to the patriots, aided by a strong body of militia, probably all that the city could muster. The municipality had therefore little to gain by delay, except so far as it might lie in the hope of conciliating the Prince of Orange; and Brunswick granted the request, reminding the embassy that it was for the princess, now with her husband at the Hague, that he came to demand redress; and that he therefore reserved to himself the right of resuming hostilities if the proposals they bore, with which it was not his business to interfere should fail instantly to satisfy her. Accordingly, a temporary armistice was signed forthwith, the conditions being that no further works should be thrown up or inundations made, and that it should not interfere with the surrender of Naarden, which was hourly expected. The advantage of this truce was, in fact, entirely on the Prussian side. The duke, however, took care to use the next four days in closing up his troops for their final work, and reconnoitring the Haarlem Lake, the now extinct, but then wide, and in rough weather dangerous sheet of water which covered the right flank of the Dutch and his own left. Colonel Gordon, an officer of the Scotch brigade maintained in the Dutch army, but a warm partisan of the Stadtholder, was here of the greatest service. Being well acquainted with the lake, he at once secured a number of boats on its south side for the Prussians, and reconnoitred with their staff up to the opposite shore, thus discovering that the Hollanders had no armed vessel anywhere on it. They had apparently so underrated the energy or the skill of the invaders as to believe that no attempt would be made to cross it; a fatal error, as it proved, to their last chance of successful resistance. It was found that they had confined their preparations on that side entirely to intrenching the narrow neck of land then existing at its northern extremity, by which the only direct road from Amsterdam to Haarlem in those days passed, through the village of Halwege. Brunswick at once ordered the boats to be formed into two flotillas prepared to carry separate bodies of troops across it; one to turn these intrenchments of Halwege, and the other to take in rear the defences of the western end of the line before him by landing behind Amstelveen, where the Dutch flank reached the lake, and was evidently supposed to be secured by it. He himself would conduct the front attack on this place with the main body of the Knobelsdorff division. More to the right, Lottum's, which had now come up fully into line, was to make demonstrations at various points and keep the Dutch from any attempts to reinforce Amstelveen. As the Amsterdam plenipotentiaries came back on the night of September 30th, on their passage through for more powers, not having been able to arrange matters peaceably with the Stadtholder and his wife at the Hague, Brunswick denounced the armistice on the spot. Nothing could have happened more opportunely, indeed, for him; for the preparations for turning Amstelveen by the secret passage of the lake had just been reported complete. Before daybreak both the detached columns, unknown to the Dutch, were well on their way over the water, and landed without being discovered at the points on which they were directed. Entirely unexpected on this side, each was completely successful. Major Burghagen, with the northernmost force, turned the works of Halwege so suddenly and completely as easily to drive the Dutch in them confusedly away towards Haarlem, and then occupied the neck, thus closing in Amsterdam from either aid or issue on that side. So effectually, indeed, was he soon lodged there that he was enabled to detach some companies to support the column of Major Hirschfeld, who had landed to the south of him with one of the fusilier battalions, prepared to take directly in rear the defenders of Amstelveen, who were commanded by a picked officer, a French artillerist, Colonel De Porte. Again, between Hirschfeld's landing-point and the duke's own left, two companies had been detached to climb along a narrow dam which would bring them just in upon the right of De Porte's line. This dam was known to be cut and intrenched, but the Prussian party carried ladders, and it was hoped that with the aid of Hirschfeld's turning movement they would force their passage along it across the obstacles.
This proved so in the event. The fight that ensued about Amstelveen early on October 1st, the chief action of this singular campaign, was sharp, but not prolonged. It was complicated, as against the Prussians, by a sortie made from Amsterdam on the news reaching the city of Hirschfeld's troops having got between it and its defenders. But the ground north of Amstelveen was much enclosed and built on, and the Prussians, dexterously occupying with some companies a knot of houses which covered them towards Amsterdam, were able to hold their own on the defensive there successfully, and with the rest to make De Porte's position quite untenable by pressing his rear. Before the day was far advanced that officer was compelled to abandon his part of the lines precipitately, leaving all his guns and three hundred prisoners in the hands of the Prussians, who lost about sixty-five men in the capture of the village. Of the others, which were really false attacks, it is hardly necessary to speak in detail. As Clausewitz has justly pointed out, the omission to guard the waters of the Haarlem Lake effectually ruined the whole plan of the defence of Amsterdam, on which the more belligerent members of the municipality had confidently relied.
The next day found the city authorities again begging and again granted a brief truce. As this was used by the now Orange States at the Hague to send the march-routes, so potent in Dutch eyes, to the regulars, and draw them off from the side of the patriots, there was little means of resistance left. On October 9th Amsterdam finally agreed to capitulate at discretion. But in consideration of its distinguished history and the proud spirit of its citizens, Brunswick generously spared it the humiliation of occupation, and contented himself with merely marching a detachment of his army within its walls; an example which was brought forward, and that successfully, in favour of conquered Paris four years and a half ago, showing forcibly that precedent has its claims in war no less than peace. On the political changes that followed it is unnecessary to dwell; for the great revolution none of the actors in the drama we have followed could have dreamed of was close upon them; and not many years elapsed after the Stadtholder's triumphant return to the shout of "Orange Boven," when he was once more driven from his hereditary dominions by the cry of "Vive la Republique," heralding the advance of the revolutionary troops pressed into Holland under Pichegru.
Perhaps those affected most powerfully by this campaign were the Prussians themselves. The army had done its work skilfully and rapidly; and as it returned by steady marches from Holland, the soldiers enjoying a grant voted by the States-General in gratitude for escaping war-contribution, and the officers well paid by the proceeds of the prize-fund raised from captured war-matériel they found themselves loaded with honours by their country. The enterprise that had proved so easy in execution was judged of rather by the supposed difficulties that had been conjured up for it. The national curiosity had been very great to see whether the army that under Frederick had been the admiration of Europe would retain its traditions of success under his successor. And even the military longings of Prussia were for the time gratified to the full. There is no more monstrous delusion among us as to our Continental neighbours than that which makes Englishmen speak of the Germans as essentially a pacific people. As applied to the lesser States, and especially those of central Germany, where division and weakness has caused them to live only upon sufferance for generations past, there may be some truth in the view. But if used of Prussia it ignores all the facts of history for the past two centuries, and the sentiment which grew up from these facts the feeling which every Prussian has at heart that it is to the sword his country owes its long and steady growth in the path of greatness. From the great elector's time until the thirty thousand picked troops from the crown-prince's army rode into the Champs Elysées in 1871 to typify the final and complete triumph of Berlin over Paris, Prussia has been, as she is to all appearance likely to remain, the most truly military nation of Europe, her people ready to make greater sacrifices than any other would to maintain a foremost position. The very work we have been reviewing bears testimony to the fact indirectly. So great was the exultation produced by the success of 1787, coming at the close of the Frederick era, that Baron Troschke especially tells us that it prepared the humiliation of Jena by the overconfidence it inspired. And he quotes Count Kalkreuth, for example, as writing to a friend not long after, just before the revolution broke out fully in France: "No war this time. What a glorious epoch it is for Prussia! She has just to tap her sword, and Europe comes to terms at once." But having begun his moral thus, our Prussian historian goes on to pursue, as though involuntarily, and certainly more fully than is usual, a line of thought familiar to his countrymen, and deserving study from those Englishmen who would trust them for the future peace of the world. The passage is so striking that we give it in full.
"Although," says Baron Troschke, "people have been accustomed to treat this catastrophe of Jena as a consequence of our stepping, during the events of 1787, out of the ordinary path of Prussian policy and its modest measure of firmness; yet it should not be forgotten that through it the foundation was laid for the reception of the teachings of history, out of which from the era of deepest humiliation grew the policy, as steadfast as successful, which we still find ourselves developing." Jena, in fact (so runs our historian's moral), was well worth suffering, as giving Scharnhorst and Stein their opportunity, and repaying Prussia with the glories of Leipsic, Sadowa, and Sedan, not to speak of those of the yet undeveloped future.
The rapidity with which its political results were swept away has contributed hardly less than the smallness of its dimensions to cause this campaign of 1787 to be little regarded by historians. Yet its military lessons would be important enough if they helped us to solve the problem of the possible defence of Holland against Germany in the event of that collision which no prudent statesman can pretend to be beyond the political horizon. Dutchmen themselves are certainly not such optimists as to ignore the subject, nor so unpatriotic as to sit still after it has been brought home to them, in hopes that those vague influences of wealth and trade which have of late proved ineffectual to preserve peace, may suffice to avert the day of peril. An elaborate and well-weighed scheme, the cost of which was originally estimated at somewhat less than two millions, but afterwards increased to three, was fully sanctioned by the legislature last year for the purposes of defence; and experts declare that this sum must be doubled if the works are to be thoroughly executed as designed, and the army completely reorganized within the eight years fixed by the law. Readers who have followed us thus far will have no difficulty in comprehending the brief outline of its purpose here offered.
The line of the Yssel, once thought so formidable, has been condemned for permanent occupation, chiefly because the volume of that stream is at certain times so small that it becomes easily fordable at many points, and there are no features along it which are specially suitable for defence. This being so, it is not thought worth while to erect regular forts on this advanced line. Certain strong points only are to he partially intrenched, so as to give a defending army the choice of occupying it if the weather and other conditions made this suitable, as well as of abandoning it at discretion without the appearance or indeed the reality of serious loss. Very similar has been the decision of the Dutch government as regards the next line westward, that of the Grebbe and Ehm; though, as stated to us, it is here arrived at on somewhat different grounds. The Vale of Gelderland, across which this runs, is to this day a difficult and only partially cultivated country, with a good deal of wooded high ground on the eastern or further side of the stream. If the Dutch army is at all able to face its enemy in the open field, somewhere here would be the proper position to take up for the purpose of fighting an action. To restore the old continuous lines which ran along the streams, and which still exist, though in a ruinous condition, would be a work of vast expense if carried out in conformity with the demands of modern defensive science. It is thought better, therefore, to spend the national grant in thoroughly strengthening the heart of the country, which is of course, as of old, the old state of Holland and especially the district near Amsterdam, than to throw away a large sum on a line so far advanced, and so extended, that if held merely on the defensive it might be dangerously pierced through at some single point. The Dutch general would therefore be left, if he found himself unable to hold Gelderland by open force, to retire on his real line of defence behind. And this is to be no other than the line through Utrecht already described, called strangely enough, in the government scheme, the "New Water Line." Here every preparation is to be made that care and experience can suggest for laying the whole belt of country along the Vecht and Vaart at need under a wide sheet of water, shallow indeed, but with deep cuts carefully drawn across it making it impassable except at a few fixed points. These openings are to be strongly protected by works. Naarden, with Weesp, and the other old fortress of Muiden that forms with these a triangle covering the mouth of the Vecht, are to be thoroughly reconstructed on modern principles. Breeswyk, and other points likely to be attempted, will be guarded by large other roomy forts armed with plenty of short-ranging but powerful rifled guns, and well provided with bomb-proof cover for troops. Utrecht is to be itself surrounded to the east by a chain of the same defences. And a separate second or inner line of detached forts will protect the westernmost parts of the inundation, being so disposed that no surprise of any single passage will allow a hostile army to get through. All important landing-places on the coast behind, where an enemy might endeavour to debark a force sufficient to turn these front lines, such as the Helder, and the mouth of the Meuse, are to be separately fortified on the ordinary principles. Finally, and as a last resort, Amsterdam will be treated, as in days of old, as the citadel of the whole; only the new works for its special protection will be advanced so far as to save the city from the terrors of bombardment for even long-ranging guns and will be supported on the side the Zuyder-Zee by a strong squadron of monitors and floating batteries built especially for this purpose.
The arrangements thus sanctioned are, of course, as well known, and perhaps nearly as closely studied, in Germany as in Holland. Indeed our information respecting them is drawn mainly from German sources. It is perfectly understood on both sides that the chief object of the Dutch in making these sacrifices is to protect their independence against the gigan military empire that has grown up on their eastern border. It remains, therefore, only to inquire briefly how far their means may enable them to compass the end in view with a fair prospect of success. Supposing, in short, that the proposed works were all completed; that the reorganized army which is decreed to man them under the same act that has voted the millions, were raised and ready; and that, finally, a not less important condition, the people of Holland, instead of being as distracted and doubtful of their cause as when the Prussians marched across the frontier under Brunswick, were as united and resolute as their forefathers in their early struggles for liberty: could they enter on the great trial of a war with the German empire with any prospect of closing it short of ruin, or at least complete submission?
To answer this question decidedly could only be done on a correct forecast of the policy of the other nations of Europe. If the hope of the Dutch were by the mere strength of their unrivalled line of defences (unrivalled, because sea and river would aid them as no other Continental works can be aided), to maintain such a contest single-handed for an indefinite time; then they would be altogether self-deceived. German strategy understands how to be patient in season, as well as vigorous when a blow has to be struck. With a fleet probably far superior to the Dutch at sea, and an army of which a mere fraction could safely and continuously hold every acre of Dutch ground up to the "New Water Line" of the defence scheme; it would not be necessary for their commander to do more than use the necessary pressure of an occupation which would be in fact an investment, in order to enforce his terms in time. If the lines were indeed impregnable, or nearly so, they would be left alone; but they would not save the heart of Holland for all that. These are not the days when a campaign breaks up at the end of summer; and a Dutch winter would hardly drive from good quarters in the rich plains of the Waal and Leek such generals and soldiers as bivouacked round Orleans and Le Mans in the severest cold that France has for many years experienced.
If, on the other hand, all that the Dutch desire is to imitate the prudent example set them by neighbouring Belgium guided by Brialmont's skill, and to make of the land within their "New Water Line" a grander and more roomy Antwerp, where the whole national army might for a time be sheltered from a tenfold force of enemies, whilst calmly waiting such succour by sea or land as the political combinations of the time might promise; then indeed the design lately begun may be pronounced far-seeing, wise, and suited to the national purpose: and success may be hoped for it, if proper forethought and care be used, with as much certainty as failure and discredit might have been prophesied by any skilled observer who watched unseen the doubt and discord that pervaded the council-chamber and the camp of the patriots of 1787.
It is not for a moment to be supposed that the Dutch, if threatened by the powerful neighbour who holds the frontier, until now covered largely by Hanover, can do much more than protect themselves against a coup de main. They would doubtless imitate the gallant resistance of the Danes to the invasion of Slesvik, and we trust less ineffectually. But it cannot be too loudly proclaimed that the independence of the Netherlands is a cardinal point in the political system of Europe, and one which we regard of absolutely vital importance to ourselves. The two most formidable crises in modern history occurred whilst the Low Countries were under the dominion of Spain in the sixteenth century, and again when they passed under the dominion of France in the eighteenth. The native love of freedom, not unaided by England, enabled them twice to throw off the yoke; and the men of Holland would be equally impatient of the dominion of a Teutonic empire, which is at this moment the object of their apprehensions. We trust those apprehensions may prove altogether unfounded. But we believe that the first sign of an aggression on Holland would kindle the entire sympathy of Europe; and it is one of the first of British interests that the coasts and harbours within a few hours' sail of our shores should ever remain in the hands of a friendly people, and as inviolate as our own territory.
- Der Preussische Feldzug in Holland, 1787. Von Freiherr von Troschke. Berlin: 1875.
- The political details of these transactions are related with inimitable vivacity in the despatches of Sir James Harris, then British minister at the Hague, which were published in 1844 by his grandson in the second volume of the "Malmesbury Correspondence." In fact, Sir James Harris had been throughout the moving spirit whose energy and courage kept life in the Stadtholder's party, and eventually defeated the cabal of the patriots and the French. The Prussian court refused to act without the support of England, which was extorted with considerable difficulty from Mr. Pitt. But in August 1787 the two governments of St. James and Potsdam agreed on six preliminary points: to act as mediators by mutual consent; to resist all foreign interference; to disarm and dissolve the Free Corps, and restore the Prince of Orange to all his rights as Stadtholder; to march a Prussian army into Holland, England agreeing to prepare forty ships of the line to support it; and finally, in the event of any power disapproving of this intervention, to defend each other and accomplish it by force of arms. A secret convention embodying these articles was signed between Prussia and England on the 2nd October, 1787. But the whole operation was no more than the fulfilment of the policy of which Sir James Harris was the real author.