By Neil Cogswell
In his lifetime, Horace St Paul had prepared his ‘Journal of the First Two Campaigns of the Seven Years War’ for publication, but it was not until a century after his death in 1812 that, under the guidance of his descendent George Grey Butler, it finally appeared in its original French in a publication by Oxford University Press. It took another century before the first English language version ‘From Lobositz to Leuthen’ became available from Helion Books. Horace
St Paul would continue to serve with the Austrian army throughout the campaigns of 1758, 1759 and 1760 and papers from his Journal are now lodged in the Northumberland County Archives at Ashington. It was to those papers that I turned to try to reconstruct the account that St Paul might have written. By comparison with his accounts of 1756 and 1757, the Journal of St Paul is somewhat fragmented – he was then a valued volunteer member of the staff of Field Marshal Daun and busy about his duties. Nevertheless, his papers provide a good framework; this I have expanded by drawing upon accounts to which, in principle, Horace St Paul might have himself have turned.
The account opens in the Spring of 1758. Following the disaster at Leuthen the Austrian army in Bohemia seeks to recover its poise and recruit its strength. Frederic of Prussia meanwhile re-establishes his control of all of Silesia and then turns his eyes South to complete his victory. Only the fortified town of Olmütz – a town that his armies had captured with ease some 17 years before – lies between him and Vienna.
Geographically, Olmütz lies at the South-Eastern extremity of the theatre over which the Austrians and Prussians fought. Some 400 km (about 250 English miles) to the North-West, the town of Torgau marks an important crossing point of the Elbe River. There, two and a half years later, as Winter gripped the land, the King of Prussia would face no less a peril; his resources at an end, he controlled only the ground on which his army stood. Between these two tidelines the fortunes of war flowed back and forth in the intervening years.
Between those two crises, the very nature of warfare also changed, but not for technological reasons. Battles no longer adhered to the rigid formality of earlier times; often the more decisive movements take place under the cloak of darkness and the objective of battle becomes no less than the encirclement and total destruction of the opposing force. In siege warfare, brutality – in the form of bombardment – takes the place of the more scientific methods beloved of the students of Vauban. Whilst great battles, such as Hochkirch, Kunersdorf, Maxen, Landeshut, Leignitz and Torgau and major sieges, notably of Dresden, Glatz and Breslau necessarily occupy many of the pages it is the connective tissue, charting the movements of the armies between such major actions that is, to me, the most interesting element of St Paul’s Journal. Often for days – sometimes weeks – the contending armies lie close to each other; here the text is ripe with ‘what if’ scenarios that are suitable for translation to the tabletop.
Because of his duties, St Paul had less time to compile his journal than in the first two campaigns. In places it is necessary to include material from other sources and to balance his perspective with the view from the ‘other side of the hill’. In this latter role, I often call upon the Memoirs of Henri de Catt, Reader to the King of Prussia, to whom Frederic often explained what was going on. When possible, I have tried to constrain my choice of such additional material to accounts that might, in principle, have been available to St Paul during his lifetime. In particular, I value those accounts where the author writes without knowledge of what is to come after.
You can order ‘Olmütz to Torgau’ on our website here.