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Friedrich Karl Nikolaus

FRIEDRICH KARL NIKOLAUS (FREDERICK CHARLES), Prince (1828-1885), Prussian general field marshal, son of Prince Charles of Prussia and grandson of King Frederick William III., was born in Berlin on the 20th of March 1828. He was educated for the army, which he entered on his tenth birthday as second lieutenant in the 14th Foot Guards. He became first lieutenant in 1844, and in 1846 entered the university of Bonn, where he stayed for two years, being accompanied throughout by Major von Roon, afterwards the famous war minister. In 1848 he became a company commander in his regiment, and soon afterwards served in the Schleswig-Holstein War on the staff of Marshal von Wrangel, being present at the battle of Schleswig (April 23, 1848). Later in 1848 he became Rittmeister in the Garde du Corps cavalry regiment, and in 1849 major in the Guard Hussars. In this year the prince took part in the campaign against the Baden insurgents, and was wounded at the action of Wiesenthal while leading a desperate charge against entrenched infantry. After this experience the wild courage of his youth gave place to the unshakable resolution which afterwards characterized the prince's generalship. In 1852 he became colonel, and in 1854 major-general and commander of a cavalry brigade. In this capacity he was brought closely in touch with General von Reyher, the chief of the general staff, and with Moltke. He married, in the same year, Princess Marie Anne of Anhalt. In 1857 he became commander of the 1st Guard Infantry division, but very shortly afterwards, on account of disputes concerned with the training methods then in force, he resigned the appointment.

In 1858 he visited France, where he minutely investigated the state of the French army, but it was not long before he was recalled, for in 1859, in consequence of the Franco-Austrian War, Prussia mobilized her forces, and Frederick Charles was made a divisional commander in the II. army corps. In this post he was given the liberty of action which had previously been denied to him. About this time (1860) the prince gave a lecture to the officers of his command on the French army and its methods, the substance of which (Eine militärische Denkschrift von P.F.K., Frankfort on Main, 1860) was circulated more widely than the author intended, and in the French translation gave rise to much indignation in France. In 1861 Frederick Charles became general of cavalry. He was then commander of the III. (Brandenburg) army corps. This post he held from 1860 to 1870, except during the campaigns of 1864 and 1866, and in it he displayed his real qualities as a troop leader. His self-imposed task was to raise the military spirit of his troops to the highest possible level, and ten years of his continuous and thorough training brought the III. corps to a pitch of real efficiency which the Guard corps alone, in virtue of its special recruiting powers, slightly surpassed. Prince Frederick Charles' work was tested to the full when von Alvensleben and the III. corps engaged the whole French army on the 16th of August 1870. In 1864 the prince once more fought against the Danes under his old leader "Papa" Wrangel. The Prussian contingent under Frederick Charles formed a corps of the allied army, and half of it was drawn from the III. corps. After the storming of the Düppel lines the prince succeeded Wrangel in the supreme command, with Lieutenant-General Freiherr von Moltke as his chief of staff. These two great soldiers then planned and brilliantly carried out the capture of the island of Alsen, after which the war came to an end.

In 1860 came the Seven Weeks' War with Austria. Prince Frederick Charles was appointed to command the I. Army, which he led through the mountains into Bohemia, driving before him the Austrians and Saxons to the upper Elbe, where on the 3rd of July took place the decisive battle of Königgrätz or Sadowa. This was brought on by the initiative of the leader of the I. Army, which had to bear the brunt of the fighting until the advance of the II. Army turned the Austrian flank. After the peace he returned to the III. army corps, which he finally left, in July 1870, when appointed to command the II. German Army in the war with France. In the early days of the advance the prince's ruthless energy led to much friction between the I. and II. Armies (see Franco-German War), while his strategical mistakes seriously embarrassed the great headquarters staff. The advance of the II. Army beyond the Saar to the Moselle and from that river to the Meuse displayed more energy than careful strategy, but herein at least the "Red Prince" (as he was called from the colour of his favourite hussar uniform) was in thorough sympathy with the king's headquarters on the one hand and the feelings of the troops on the other. Then came the discovery that the French were not in front, but to the right rear of the II. Army (August 16). Alvensleben with the III. corps held the French to their ground at Vionville while the prince hurried together his scattered forces. He himself directed with superb tactical skill the last efforts of the Germans at Vionville, and the victory of St Privat on the 18th was due to his leadership (see Metz), which shone all the more by contrast with the failures of the I. Army at Gravelotte. The prince was left in command of the forces which blockaded Bazaine in Metz, and received the surrender of that place and of the last remaining field army of the enemy. He was promoted at once to the rank of general field marshal, and shortly afterwards the II. Army was despatched to aid in crushing the newly organized army of the French republic on the Loire. Here again he retrieved strategical errors by energy and tactical skill, and his work was in the end crowned by the victory of Le Mans on the 12th of January 1871. Of all the subordinate leaders on the German side none enjoyed a greater and a better deserved reputation than the Red Prince.

He now became inspector-general of the 3rd "army inspection," and a little later inspector of cavalry, and in the latter post he was largely instrumental in bringing the German cavalry to the degree of perfection in manœuvre and general training which it gradually attained in the years after the war. He never ceased to improve his own soldierly qualities by further study and by the conduct of manœvres on a large scale. His sternness of character kept him aloof from the court and from his own family, and he spent his leisure months chiefly on his various country estates. In 1872 and in 1882 he travelled in the Mediterranean and the Near East. He died on the 15th of June 1885 at Klein-Glienicke near Berlin, and was buried at the adjacent church of Nikolskoe. His third daughter, Princess Louise Margareta, was married, in March 1879, to the duke of Connaught.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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