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The Awakening of Europe by  M. B. Synge


 

 

THIRTY YEARS OF WAR

"It is without example

In the world's history."

—SCHILLER.

WHILE the Pilgrim Fathers were building their new homes on the shores of America, the eyes of Europe were turned towards Germany, where war had broken out. It was destined to be one of the most terrible wars waged in modern times. This feud between the Protestants and Roman Catholics of Germany had long been simmering; but the great armed struggle finally broke forth on May 23, 1618, and continued till it had drawn nearly every European nation into its conflict, till it had lighted the fires of battle from the Baltic to the Mediterranean Seas.

To follow the war through all its many phases would be impossible, but two great names stand out from amid the waste of war, names among the most [126] famous in the world's history—Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus. The war had raged for fourteen years when these two great generals met on the battlefield of Lützen. They had never met in battle before. They were never to meet again. A greater contrast than these two famous commanders never existed.

Wallenstein, fighting on the side of the Catholics, was cold, gloomy, silent. Ambition was the ruling power of his life.

"I must command alone or not at all," he had once said. All men stood in awe of him. He was a rich landowner, and raised armies at his own expense for the emperor; but "God help the land to which these men come!" said a frightened German who had just watched Wallenstein's troops marching past.

Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, was a very different man. Frank and fearless, he was a staunch Protestant and the very idol of his own people. He now came forward to defend the liberty of his country and the Protestant religion, which both seemed in danger from Germany. Landing on the northern coast of Germany in a storm of thunder and lightning, he had been the first to leap ashore and to kneel in thanks to God for his safe passage.

"A good Christian can never be a bad soldier," he said as he led his men forward. As he passed through German territory men flocked to his stand- [127] ard; they even knelt before him, struggling for the honour of touching the sheath of his sword or the hem of his garment.

"This people would make a king of me," he said sadly. "My God knoweth that I have no delight in it. Soon enough shall be revealed my human weakness."

Nevertheless his march through the Protestant states of Germany was like a triumphal procession, and tears of relief and joy streamed down the cheeks of bearded men as they welcomed this "Lion of the North," who had come to deliver the oppressed Protestants.

Gustavus Adolphus had reached the very heart of the nation. No wonder the emperor became alarmed and turned to Wallenstein, the only leader at all capable of measuring swords with the King of Sweden. Wallenstein answered his emperor's call. As if by magic he collected an enormous army. His military fame drew men of all nations to his banner. From north and south, from east and west, they came. "All swarm to the old familiar long-loved banner," and

"Yet one sole man can rein this fiery host

By equal rule, by equal love and fear

Blending the many-nationed whole in one."

It was in November 1632 that this mixed army under Wallenstein found itself at Lützen, a small town in Germany. The winter was coming on [128] and Wallenstein was moving into winter quarters, hoping his rival would do the same, when he heard that Gustavus Adolphus was marching on Lützen—indeed that he was near even now.

Through the long dark night the Swedish army had been marching, till with the first streaks of dawn, when they had intended to surprise Wallenstein, they found a thick fog hiding everything from view.

Kneeling in front of his army, the king burst into Luther's hymn, "God is a strong tower," following it with his own battle-song, which began,

"Be not dismayed, thou little flock."

Some of his officers begged Gustavus to clothe himself in steel, after the custom of the age.

"God is my armour," he cried, throwing it aside.

So he wore only a plain cloth coat and a buff waistcoat, which may be seen at Vienna to-day.

Toward eleven o'clock the sun burst forth, and the two armies could almost see the battle-light that glowed fiercely in each other's eyes. The Swedish king gave his last orders. Then drawing his sword and waving it above his head, he advanced with the Swedish war-cry: "God with us!"

"It will now be shown whether I or the King of Sweden is to be master of the world," said Wallenstein gloomily, as he led his men to the battle.

[129] They had not fought long when the fog came down once more, and Gustavus dashed unawares into a regiment of the enemy. One shot passed through his horse, another shattered his own arm and wounded him in the back. He fell to the ground.

"Who are you?" asked one of his foes.

"I was  the King of Sweden," gasped the dying king, and murmuring to himself, "My God! my God!" he died.

As the mournful tidings ran through the Swedish army it nerved the men to fresh effort. They cared not for their lives, now the most precious life had passed. With the fury of lions they rushed on the foe, and when the sun set that November night Wallenstein, defeated at last, was in full retreat.

Gustavus Adolphus, the great champion of Protestantism, was dead, but his men had won the victory as he would have had them do. They dragged a great stone to the place where their hero fell, and on it they wrote the words, "Our faith is the victory which overcometh the world."

Wallenstein was assassinated two years after this great battle. Years later peace was made, and there has never been a war of religion in Europe since those days.


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