For the thing is vital, if we knew it. Close ahead of Mollendorf, when he is through this Pass, close on Mollendorf's left, as he wheels round on the attacking Austrians, is the southwest corner of Siptitz Height. Southwest corner, highest point of it; summit and key of all that Battle area; rules it all, if you get cannon thither. It hangs steepish on the southern side, over the Rohrgraben, where this Mollendorf-Austrian fight begins; but it is beautifully accessible, if you bear round to the west side,--a fine saddle-shaped bit of clear ground there, in shape like the outside or seat of a saddle; Domitsch Wood the crupper part; summit of this Height the pommel, only nothing like so steep:--it is here (on tho southern saddle-flap, so to speak), gradually mounting westward to the crupper-and-pommel part, that the agony now is.
And here, in utter darkness, illuminated only by the musketry and cannon blazes, there ensued two hours of stiff wrestling in its kind: not the fiercest spasm of all, but the final which decided all. Lestwitz, Hulsen, come sweeping on, led by the sound and the fire; "beating the Prussian march, they," sharply on all their drums,--Prussian march, rat-tat-tan, sharply through the gloom of Chaos in that manner; and join themselves, with no mistake made, to Mollendorf's, to Ziethen's left and the saddle-flap there, and fall on. The night is pitch-dark, says Archenholtz; you cannot see your hand before you. Old Hulsen's bridle-horses were all shot away, when he heard this alarm, far off: no horse left; and he is old, and has his own bruises. He seated himself on a cannon; and so rides, and arrives; right welcome the sight of him, doubt not! And the fight rages still for an hour or more.
To an observant Mollendorf, watching about all day, the importance and all-importance of Siptitz Summit, if it can be got, is probably known; to Daun it is alarmingly well known, when he hears of it. Daun is zealously urgent on Lacy, on O'Donnell; who do try what they can; send reinforcements, and the like; but nothing that proves useful. O'Donnell is not the man for such a crisis: Lacy, too, it is remarked, has always been more expert in ducking out of Friedrich's way than in fighting anybody. [Archenholtz's sour remark.] In fine, such is the total darkness, the difficulty, the uncertainty, most or all of the reinforcements sent halted short, in the belly of the Night, uncertain where; and their poor friends got altogether beaten and driven away.
MAP FACING PAGE 527, BOOK XX--------
About 9 at night, all the Austrians are rolling off, eastward, eastward. Prussians goading them forward what they could (firing not quite done till 10); and that all-important pommel of the saddle is indisputably won. The Austrians settled themselves, in a kind of half-moon shape, close on the suburbs of Torgau; the Prussians in a parallel half-moon posture, some furlongs behind them. The Austrians sat but a short time; not a moment longer than was indispensable. Daun perceives that the key of his ground is gone from him; that he will have to send a second Courier to Vienna. And, above all things, that he must forthwith get across the Elbe and away. Lucky for him that he has Three Bridges (or Four, including the Town Bridge), and that his Baggage is already all across and standing on wheels. With excellent despatch and order Daun winds himself across,--all of him that is still coherent; and indeed, in the distant parts of the Battle-field, wandering Austrian parties were admonished hitherward by the River's voice in the great darkness,--and Daun's loss in prisoners, though great, was less than could have been expected: 8,000 in all.
Till towards one in the morning, the Prussians, in their half-moon, had not learned what he was doing. About one they pushed into Torgau, and across the Town Bridge; found 26 pontoons,--all the rest packed off except these 26;--and did not follow farther. Lacy retreated by the other or left bank of the River, to guard against attempts from that side. Next day there was pursuit of Lacy; some prisoners and furnitures got from him, but nothing of moment: Daun and Lacy joined at Dresden; took post, as usual, behind their inaccessible Plauen Chasms. Sat there, in view of the chasing Prussians, without farther loss than this of Torgau, and of a Campaign gone to water again. What an issue, for the third time! [Tempelhof, iv. 291-318,; Archenholtz, ii. 159-174; Retzow, ii. 299 et seq.; UMSTANDLICHE BESCHREIBUNG DES &C, (in Seyfarth,
On Torgau-field, behind that final Prussian half-moon, there reigned, all night, a confusion which no tongue can express. Poor wounded men by the hundred and the thousand, weltering in their blood, on the cold wet ground; not surgeons or nurses, but merciless predatory sutlers, equal to murder if necessary, waiting on them and on the happier that were dead. "Unutterable!" says Archenholtz; who, though wounded, had crawled or got carried to some village near. The living wandered about in gloom and uncertainty; lucky he whose haversack was still his, and a crust of bread in it: water was a priceless luxury, almost nowhere discoverable. Prussian Generals roved about with their Staff- Officers, seeking to re-form their Battalions; to little purpose. They had grown indignant, in some instances, and were vociferously imperative and minatory; but in tbe dark who needed mind them?-- they went raving elsewhere, and, for the first time, Prussian word- of-command saw itself futile. Pitch darkness, bitter cold, ground trampled into mire. On Siptitz Hill there is nothing that will burn: farther back, in the Domitsch Woods, are numerous fine fires, to which Austrians and Prussians alike gather: "Peace and truce between us; to-morrow morning we will see which are prisoners, which are captors." So pass the wild hours, all hearts longing for the dawn, and what decision it will bring.
Friedrich, at Elsnig, found every hut full of wounded, and their surgeries, and miseries silent or loud. He himself took shelter in the little Church; passed the night there. Busy about many things; --"using the altar," it seems, "by way of writing-table [self or secretaries kneeling, shall we fancy, on those new terms?], and the stairs of it as seat." Of the final Ziethen-Lestwitz effort he would scarcely hear the musketry or cannonade, being so far away from it. At what hour, or from whom first, he learned that the Battle of Torgau had become Victory in the night-time, I know not: the Anecdote-Books send him out in his cloak, wandering up and down before daybreak; standing by the soldiers' fires; and at length, among the Woods, in the faint incipiency of dawn, meeting a Shadow which proves to be Ziethen himself in the body, with embraces and congratulations:--evidently mythical, though dramatic. Reach him the news soon did; and surely none could be welcomer. Head-quarters change from the altar-steps in Elsnig Church to secular rooms in Torgau. Ziethen has already sped forth on the skirts of Lacy; whole Army follows next day; and, on the War- theatre it is, on the sudden, a total change of scene. Conceivable to readers without the details.