Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Old Dessauer

Anna Louise (left) and Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau (images from Wikipedia)

There is a new blog that you can find on the list of "imaginations" over at the Emperor versus Elector web site. It is titled, "At The Old Dessauer's Table". That got me to thinking that I did not know very much about the Old Dessauer, so I copied some information from the Encyclopedia Britannica, courtesy of Wikipedia, that provides the full run down.

For those who are interested, the Old Glory SYW Prussian Generals pack of 25mm figures has the Old Dessauer in his famous pose wherein he is praying in front of his troops at the outset of the Battle of Kesselsdorf, against the Saxons in 1745. I tried to find a copy of the famous Rochling print of this event, but was not successful.

ANHALT-DESSAU, LEOPOLD I., PRINCE OF (1676-1747), called the "Old Dessauer" (Alter Dessauer), general field marshal in the Prussian army, was the only surviving son of John George II., prince of Anhalt-Dessau, and was born on the 3rd of July 1676 at Dessau. From his earliest youth he was devoted to the profession of arms, for which he educated himself physically and mentally. He became colonel of a Prussian regiment in 1693, and in the same year his father's death placed him at the head of his own principality; thereafter, during the whole of his long life, he performed the duties of a sovereign prince and a Prussian officer.
His first campaign was that of 1695 in the Netherlands, in which he was present at the siege of Namur. He remained in the field to the end of the war of 1697, the affairs of the principality being managed chiefly by his mother, Princess Henriette Catherine of Orange. In 1698 he married Anna Luise Föse, an apothecary's daughter of Dessau, in spite of his mother's long and earnest opposition, and subsequently he procured for her the rank of a princess from the emperor (1701). Their married life was long and happy, and the princess acquired an influence over the stern nature of her husband which she never ceased to exert on behalf of his subjects, and after the death of Leopold's mother she performed the duties of regent when he was absent on campaign. Often, too, she accompanied him into the field.
Leopold's career as a soldier in important commands begins with the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession. He had made many improvements in the Prussian army, notably the introduction of the iron ramrod about 1700, and he now took the field at the head of a Prussian corps on the Rhine, serving at the sieges of Kaiserswerth and Venlo. In the following year (1703), having obtained the rank of lieutenant-general, Leopold took part in the siege of Bonn and distinguished himself very greatly in the battle of Höchstädt, in which the Austrians and their allies were defeated by the French under Marshal Villars (September 20, 1703). In the campaign of 1704 the Prussian contingent served under Prince Louis of Baden and subsequently under Eugene, and Leopold himself won great glory by his conduct at Blenheim. In 1705 he was sent with a Prussian corps to join Prince Eugene in Italy, and on the 16th of August he displayed his bravery at the hard-fought battle of Cassano. In the following year he added to his reputation in the battle of Turin, where he was the first to enter the hostile entrenchments (September 7, 1706). He served in one more campaign in Italy, and then went with Eugene to join Marlborough in the Netherlands, being present in 1709 at the siege of Tournay and the battle of Malplaquet. In 1710 he succeeded to the command of the whole Prussian contingent at the front, and in 1712, at the particular desire of the crown prince, Frederick William, who had served with him as a volunteer, he was made a general field marshal. Shortly before this he had executed a coup de main on the castle of Mörs, which was held by the Dutch in defiance of the claims of the king of Prussia to the possession. The operation was effected with absolute precision and the castle was seized without a shot being fired.
In the earlier part of the reign of Frederick William I., the prince of Dessau was one of the most influential members of the Prussian governing circle. In the war with Sweden (1715) he accompanied the king to the front, commanded an army of 40,000 men, and met and defeated Charles XII. in a severe battle on the island of Rügen (November 16). His conduct of the siege of Stralsund which followed was equally skilful, and the great results of the war to Prussia were largely to be attributed to his leadership in the campaign. In the years of peace, and especially after a court quarrel (1725) and duel with General von Grumbkow, he devoted himself to the training of the Prussian army. The reputation it had gained in the wars of 1675 to 1715, though good, gave no hint of its coming glory, and it was even in 1740 accounted one of the minor armies of Europe. That it proved, when put to the test, to be by far the best military force existing, may be taken as the summary result of Leopold's work.
The "Old Dessauer" was one of the sternest disciplinarians in an age of stern discipline, and the technical training of the infantry, under his hand, made them superior to all others in the proportion of five to three (see AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, WAR OF THE). He was essentially an infantry soldier; in his time artillery did not decide battles, but he suffered the cavalry service, in which he felt little interest, to be comparatively neglected, with results which appeared at Mollwitz. Frederick the Great formed the cavalry of Hohenfriedberg and Leuthen himself, but had it not been for the incomparable infantry trained by the "Old Dessauer" he would never have had the opportunity of doing so. Thus Leopold, heartily supported by Frederick William, who was himself called the great drill-master of Europe, turned to good account the twenty years following the peace with Sweden.
During this time two incidents in his career call for special mention: first, his intervention in the case of the crown prince Frederick, who was condemned to death for desertion, and his continued and finally successful efforts to [v.02 p.0047] secure Frederick's reinstatement in the Prussian army; and secondly, his part in the War of the Polish Succession on the Rhine, where he served under his old chief Eugene and held the office of field marshal of the Empire.
With the death of Frederick William in 1740, Frederick succeeded to the Prussian throne, and a few months later took place the invasion and conquest of Silesia, the first act in the long Silesian wars and the test of the work of the "Old Dessauer's" lifetime. The prince himself was not often employed in the king's own army, though his sons held high commands under Frederick. The king, indeed, found Leopold, who was reputed, since the death of Eugene, the greatest of living soldiers, somewhat difficult to manage, and the prince spent most of the campaigning years up to 1745 in command of an army of observation on the Saxon frontier.
Early in that year his wife died. He was now over seventy, but his last campaign was destined to be the most brilliant of his long career. A combined effort of the Austrians and Saxons to retrieve the disasters of the summer by a winter campaign towards Berlin itself led to a hurried concentration of the Prussians. Frederick from Silesia checked the Austrian main army and hastened towards Dresden. But before he had arrived, Leopold, no longer in observation, had decided the war by his overwhelming victory of Kesselsdorf (December 14, 1745).
It was his habit to pray before battle, for he was a devout Lutheran. On this last field his words were, "O Lord God, let me not be disgraced in my old days. Or if Thou wilt not help me, do not help these scoundrels, but leave us to try it ourselves." With this great victory Leopold's career ended. He retired from active service, and the short remainder of his life was spent at Dessau, where he died on the 7th of April 1747.
He was succeeded by his son, LEOPOLD II., MAXIMILIAN, PRINCE OF ANHALT-DESSAU (1700-1751), who was one of the best of Frederick's subordinate generals, and especially distinguished himself by the capture of Glogau in 1741, and his generalship at Mollwitz, Chotusitz (where he was made general field marshal on the field of battle), Hohenfriedberg and Soor.
Another son, PRINCE DIETRICH OF ANHALT-DESSAU (d. 1769), was also a distinguished Prussian general.
But the most famous of the sons was PRINCE MORITZ OF ANHALT-DESSAU (1712-1760), who entered the Prussian army in 1725, saw his first service as a volunteer in the War of the Polish Succession (1734-35), and in the latter years of the reign of Frederick William held important commands. In the Silesian wars of Frederick II., Moritz, the ablest of the old Leopold's sons, greatly distinguished himself, especially at the battle of Hohenfriedberg (Striegau), 1745. At Kesselsdorf it was the wing led by the young Prince Moritz that carried the Austrian lines and won the "Old Dessauer's" last fight.
In the years of peace preceding the Seven Years' War, Moritz was employed by Frederick the Great in the colonizing of the waste lands of Pomerania and the Oder Valley. When the king took the field again in 1756, Moritz was in command of one of the columns which hemmed in the Saxon army in the lines of Pirna, and he received the surrender of Rutowski's force after the failure of the Austrian attempts at relief.
Next year Moritz underwent changes of fortune. At the battle of Kolin he led the left wing, which, through a misunderstanding with the king, was prematurely drawn into action and failed hopelessly. In the disastrous days which followed, Moritz was under the cloud of Frederick's displeasure. But the glorious victory of Leuthen (December 5, 1757) put an end to this. At the close of that day, Frederick rode down the lines and called out to General Prince Moritz, "I congratulate you, Herr Feldmarschall!" At Zorndorf he again distinguished himself, but at the surprise of Hochkirch fell wounded into the hands of the Austrians. Two years later, soon after his release, his wound proved mortal.
AUTHORITIES.—Varnhagen von Ense, Preuss. biographische Denkmale, vol. ii. (3rd ed., 1872); Militar Konversations-Lexikon, vol. ii. (Leipzig, 1833); Anon., Fürst Leopold I. von Anhalt und seine Sohne (Dessau, 1852); G. Pauli, Leben grosser Helden, vol. vi.; von Orlich, Prinz Moritz von Anhalt-Dessau (Berlin, 1842); Crousatz, Militarische Denkwurdigkeiten des Fürsten Leopold von Anhalt-Dessau (1875); supplements to Militär Wochenblatt (1878 and 1889); Siebigk, Selbstbiographie des Fürsten Leopold von Anhalt-Dessau (Dessau, 1860 and 1876); Hosäus, Zur Biographie des Fürsten Leopold von Anhalt-Dessau (Dessau, 1876); Würdig, Des Alten Dessauers Leben und Taten (3rd ed., Dessau, 1903); Briefe Konig Friedrich Wilhelms I. an den Fürsten L. (Berlin, 1905).


  1. Thanks for the history lesson. I also had very little knowledge of this illustrious military family...Bill

  2. My thanks as well! Interesting stuff!

  3. I agree. I knew the name, of course, but I really didn't know anything about him.

    -- Jeff

  4. Thought you might like to know that there's a good copy of the Rochling print on the Net here: