Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kesselsdorf 1745 and A Fall of Dresden: A Saxon Account

Today marks the 265th anniversary of the Battle of Kesselsdorf, 15 December 1745, in which the old Prussian army smashed the old Saxon army even more convincingly than before, occupied Dresden and imposed a punishing peace just in time for Christmas.

Book Recommendation: Reed Browning, The War of the Austrian Succession
As mentioned in an earlier post the overall War of the Austrian Succession is notorious, even remarkable for its on-again, off-again nature for different countries at different times, including changing of sides for some, pretenses of peace while being hostile in another area, entering and re-entering the war with different treaties, self-serving actions and the like.

To sort it all out does require a scorecard from the attentive reader, and I highly recommend the recent book by Reed Browning, The War of the Austrian Succession, in which he suggests doing just that to understand this war. He particularly suggests writing down all the various characters named Carl, for instance.

I also enjoy his innovative use of languages in the text, although it can be a bit confusing when he uses original or current names for places I am glad of it nevertheless. Thus the German Pilsen would be Plzen, rendered in Czech, and various other examples abound.

I'll be getting another copy soon myself because the one I've got has been worn out from rough usage, including rolling over on it in my sleep many times and also being smashed up in a travelling duffel bag, but those are strong recommendations if you think about it, in themselves.
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Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men, in Time for Christmas
In this episode there was peace on earth at Dresden, provided one was a Saxon, as they pull out of the war in the aftermath of this disastrous battle.

At what price came peace is something that the thoughtful reader might contemplate among his musings.

This mode of contemplation comes especially naturally at this time of year. It's a time of taking stock and thinking about what has happened. I might draw a parallel to the process of digestion, after having taken a meal. Taking spare moments during the day to absorb lessons will prove rewarding to the reader who thinks to do it, and adds considerable value to the particular manner of bringing out the lesson in and of itself.

The meal for today will be a Saxon-centric account of what happened, at Kesselsdorf. It probably runs about five or six pages all told with some original photographs of the field today and a map hand-drawn by the author, as well as a good article. He wrote it for the anniversary in December 2001, and now it's available to a wider audience in a number of other countries by the expedient of the Google Translate tool installed front and center on the blog.

You'll also find a Saxon and Austrian order of battle which varies in some particulars from that of George Nafziger, given in the previous post. There's only some information on the Prussians in the OB section, and Brendler by way of apology asks that you will please excuse him for focusing more on his own countrymen
than on the opponents, because a Saxon stays a Saxon. He also mentions his sources, and for the OB that they are from Saxon reports.

Recommended Use of the Translate Tool
That tool can handle smaller bits such as a word or phrase right here on the blog. But for something more substantial I would recommend using your computer to open different windows to copy and paste sections at a time, I spent a wonderful hour or so doing that but it could be done in half the time by someone more interested in reading, than researching with close reading as I was doing. I found that the paragraph structure lends itself well to doing about two paragraphs at a time.

To do that, go to the tool and instead of trying to plug in large passages here, look for a tiny blue link called Translate Homepage. This does not translate my homepage here on the blog, but instead takes you to Google Translate's homepage, where you can then copy and paste larger chunks of text as needed, switching languages to whichever ones you need. Set the original text for Brendler's German, plug it in and in a few moments it will be rendered passably into whichever language you select.

One other point is that even without the translation, and even if your own command of German is minimal, there is still the set of images and also the hand-drawn map to be immediately taken in without needing to absorb the text the first time around. Also the Order of Battle is presented in a chart format with commanders and regiments and that can probably be absorbed understandably in the original well enough, at first glance.

Strange Words in Translations
It's not perfect but it is way better than the nothing we would have without it. In English you will see anomalies such as 'boiler village' for Kesselsdorf, because a Kessel is a Kettle. Or the White Ritz, when it mentions Weisseritz. No human translator could be that dumb, but this robot is for all of that a great improvement over the alternative of not reading the account, and thus never hearing the story from another point of view, and I ask your indulgence to use your human mind to sort it out. Actually I enjoy the linguistic insights gained from this exercise, myself. So did Thomas Carlyle, about whom more anon.
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Further Disquisitions Meant for Your Further Ruminations
Before the meat as it were of the link to the Saxon-centric account, I have some other introductory  remarks, observations and disquisitions to try to get in before heading back to the Salt Mines. I might not actually make it in time.

In the near future we will see a much more Prusso-centric account and before doing that I would call your particular attention to two things among the many others that will then be brought forth.

 One, we will see how it came about that Frederick II, King of Prussia, came to be called Frederick the Great. It came after Kesselsdorf.

Two, having seen that we will immediately see how he had but little interest in that, dodged out of everyone's welcome home ceremonies and instead made a beeline directly to see his old French tutor from his youth, M. Duhan, who at that very moment lay dying in a cold bedroom away from the adulation.

M. Duhan the tutor who talked to him about history, kings, cabbages, philosophy, French, the arts, he who planted mere seeds and attitudes that grew to fruition in the mature imagination.

Now you know Duhan couldn't have said everything there is to say but his enthusiasms and seeds grew into what Frederick liked about himself later on. As a rebellious son and a punished one some of his father's lessons must have also sunk in, but decidedly not quite in his father's way.

I Did It My Way
Frederick as an old man must in his own ruminations have presaged the emotions behind Frank Sinatra's famous song, My Way. And doing it that way was what he respected about himself later.

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 The Prusso-centric account alluded to will be in a further posting soon. The link today is to Dirk Brendler's article Kesselsdorf 1745: Eine Winterschlacht bei Dresden.

Kesselsdorf was a disaster for the Saxons and Dresden came under occupation by the Prussians over the following few days, as their own army's remnants limped along with the relatively intact Austrians east towards Pirna and further points south.

In the English language most accounts have heretofore been Prusso-centric and that is not so much for sympathy, which changes anyway, so much as for reasons having to do with publishers and their ideas about demographics and the marketplace.

Consider, too, that the English were to some degree or other, (see Browning) at war with Prussia during the WAS because they were allies, from time to time, of the French. It was later during the Seven Years War that
the British allied with Prussia, due to some other changes that took place. At this time George II, Frederick's uncle, from Hannover in Germany but King of Great Britain, saw his nephew as a crude upstart who was not looking out for the best interests of Germany as a whole in seeking to upset the apple cart only to benefit himself, which is not what Prussia was then accustomed to doing. I bring this forth to put some insight into what publishers of books think and have thought English readers want, which plays a role in their deciding what to publish.

This vicious circle sustains itself. It's not even as simple as the trite expression sometimes seen that history is written by the victors, and so it is His-Story. It doesn't have to be, for one, and second that only works in English. In German the word is Geschichte, and one never hears anyone break that word up to say Geschichte is written by the victors, so it is Ge-Schichte.

Geschichte als Ge-Schichte?
Until now, that is. Breaking it down the Ge- in a noun can imply a collection of something, and the Schichte could be seen as layers, as in layers of paint.

A Da Vinci Code in the Mona Lisa
This very week the papers are howling that they have found yet another secret Da Vinci code,  the number 72 and some other cryptic messages are found inside the layers of paint on the Mona Lisa, in the pupils of her eyes, and have been there all along for the people who have stared into them.

With Dirk Brendler's article let's add another layer of paint to our own understanding, in the spirit of Duhan awakening the ruminations of his pupil so long ago, and awakening his mind, to widen his horizons. We can widen our own by seeing what the Saxons have to say about it all.

And speaking of painting, for those painting Saxon troops there are further Brendler works on Saxon uniforms and organization.

Dirk Brendler on Kesselsdorf

Dirk Brendler on Saxon Uniforms and organization


  1. Thanks, welcome to the blog. There's plenty of room on the bench.

    I was pressed for time at the end and forgot to point out at the bottom of Brendler's Infantry uniform page there is a link to the Cavalry, and then to the Artillery, and then to the Kesselsdorf article.

    Also the enterprising searcher will be able to find a wargame shop in Wilhelmshaven with plastics, books and other interesting items by reducing the URL in the link. It looks like they are hosting the pages and articles.

  2. Thank you very much for this information, mekelnborg. I am seriously considering a visit to Kesselsdorf amongst other 18th century battlefields as I really enjoyed visiting Leuthen at the end of last year. I'm very lucky in that there are plenty of cheap flights to Central and Eastern Europe available from NW England so I really should take advantage of it. If I stick to hostels and the cheapest hotels like last time it wouldn't be too expensive at all, and at the time of year I went before I ended up with whole dorms to myself sometimes.

    Thank you very much again for this post, and all your other posts on Kesselsdorf. It's a very important battle that often doesn't get the attention it deserves.


  3. That sounds great. A couple times the Seven Years War Association took trips to as many battlefields as they could, led by the best guide one could get, Dr. Christopher Duffy. I couldn't afford it, and missed both. I can actually reach three Duffy books from this chair, right now!

    Dresden was even more a bone of contention in the SYW than Prague, and there were several sieges and bombardments, plus in the vicinity would be Meissen, Maxen, and Pirna-Koenigstein, and we haven't even mentioned Napoleon, and all what happened in 1813, much less what happened to Kurt Vonnegut, et al, much later there.

    Down at the bottom of the Dirk Brendler article he has a section on how to get there today, and try to find that memorial stone at the edge of town where the Saxon grand battery stood. In the narrative he talks about leaders buried at that church in his photo.

    Also it's kind of exclusive to his map that he's put in the times of events. The whole thing lasted about two hours.

    Don't forget a camera. Looking forward to images.

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