Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz

Generalleutnant
Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz
FriedrichWilhelmvonSeydlitz.jpg
Portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, by Adolph Menzel, 1854
Born(1721-02-03)3 February 1721
Kalkar, Duchy of Clèves in the Holy Roman Empire
Died8 November 1773(1773-11-08) (aged 52)
Ohlau, Prussian Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia in the Holy Roman Empire
Allegiance Kingdom of Prussia
Service/branchPrussian Army
Years of service1739–73
RankLieutenant General Cavalry
Battles/warsWar of Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
AwardsOrder of the Black Eagle
Pour le Mérite
Name inscribed on the Equestrian statue of Frederick the Great

Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Seydlitz[Note 1] (3 February 1721 – 8 November 1773[1]) was a Prussian officer, lieutenant general, and among the greatest of the Prussian cavalry generals. He commanded one of the first Hussar squadrons of Frederick the Great's army and is credited with the development of the Prussian cavalry to its efficient level of performance in the Seven Years' War. His cavalryman father retired and then died while Seydlitz was still young. Subsequently, he was mentored by the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. Seydlitz's superb horsemanship and his recklessness combined to make him a stand-out subaltern, and he emerged as a redoubtable Rittmeister (cavalry captain) in the War of Austrian Succession (1740–1748) during the First and Second Silesian Wars.

Seydlitz became legendary throughout the Prussian Army both for his leadership and for his reckless courage. During the Seven Years' War, he came into his own as a cavalry general, known for his coup d'œil, his ability to assess at a glance the entire battlefield situation and to understand intuitively what needed to be done: he excelled at converting the King's directives into flexible tactics. At the Battle of Rossbach, his cavalry was instrumental in routing the French and Imperial armies. His cavalry subsequently played an important role in crushing the Habsburg and Imperial left flank at the Battle of Leuthen. Seydlitz was wounded in battle several times. After the Battle of Kunersdorf in August 1759, he semi-retired to recover from his wounds, charged with the protection of the city of Berlin. He was not healthy enough to campaign again until 1761.

Frederick rewarded him with Order of the Black Eagle on the field after the Battle of Rossbach; he had already received the Pour le Mérite for his action at the Battle of Kolin. Although estranged from Frederick for several years, the two were reconciled during Seydlitz's final illness. Seydlitz died in 1773, and Frederick's heirs included his name on the Equestrian statue of Frederick the Great in Berlin, in a place of honor.

Early life

Seydlitz was born on 3 February 1721, in Kalkar in the Duchy of Cleves, where his father, Daniel Florian Seydlitz, was a major of Prussian cavalry[2] with the Cuirassier Regiment Markgraf Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg-Schwedt No. 5.[3] In 1726, his father left military service and moved the family to Schwedt, where he became a forestry master in East Prussia; the senior Seydlitz died in 1728, leaving a widow and children in restricted financial circumstances.[Note 2] Limited schooling was available to young Seydlitz; sources differ whether he knew how to speak and write in French, the lingua franca of Frederick the Great's Court. One biographer, Bernhard von Poten, maintained that his German was good, and if he knew French, he preferred German and wrote it with a "fine, firm hand, unusually correct, in well-formed sentences and with apt expression," and he knew enough Latin to express himself well.[3] His future sovereign, Frederick, always addressed him in German.[4]

By Seydlitz's seventh year, he could ride a horse well, raced with older boys, and he was, by most accounts, a wild and high-spirited child.[4] At the age of fourteen[5] he went as a page to the court of the Margrave Frederick Wilhelm of Brandenburg-Schwedt, who had been his father's colonel. The Margrave was a grandson of the Great Elector, and a nephew to both Frederick I of Prussia and Leopold of Anhalt Dessau. Himself a reckless man,[6] the "Mad" Margrave inspired in young Seydlitz a passion for feats of daredevil horsemanship.[7] Seydlitz did not limit this passion to horses: the Margrave once dared him to ride a wild stag, which he did.[6] Seydlitz became a skilled horseman, and many stories tell of his feats, the best known of which involved riding between the sails of a windmill in full swing.[6] Seydlitz remained in his position as a page to the Margrave until King Frederick William appointed him as cornet in the Margrave's Cuirassier Regiment No. 5 (his father's old regiment) on 13 February 1740.[3]

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