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KARL FRIEDRICH VON STEINMETZ (1796-1877)

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Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 874 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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KARL FRIEDRICH VON STEINMETZ (1796-1877), Prussian general field-marshal, was born at Eisenach on the 27th of December 1796 and educated at the cadet school of Stolp in Pomerania from 1807 to 1811, in the midst of the misery and poverty caused by the French occupation. At the outbreak of the War of Liberation he and his elder brother made their way through the French posts to Breslau, where, in spite of their poverty, they were at once appointed to the army, the elder as ensign on probation, the younger to the substantive rank of second lieutenant. After a vain attempt to obtain a transfer to the Blucher Hussars, for which regiment he had conceived an intense boyish admiration when it was quartered at Stolp, he was ordered to report himself to York, who treated him and the other officers sent from Breslau with coldness, until young Steinmetz asked " when he was to return to the king who had sent him ?" The brothers took part in the hardest fighting of the campaign of 1813, the elder being killed at Leipzig and the younger being more than once wounded. The short halt on the Rhine he utilized in improving his military and general education. In the battles in France he won the second class of the Iron Cross. After the peace he entered Paris but once, fearing to infringe upon the ten ducats that he saved monthly from his pay to send to his mother. For the same reason he held aloof from the pleasures of his more fortunate comrades. His avoidance of youthful excesses enabled him to overcome his earlier bad health and to acquire a physical vigour which he kept to the end of his long career as a soldier. His character as well as his physique was strengthened by his Spartan way of life, but his temper was naturally embittered by the circumstances which imposed this self-restraint. His poverty and want of influence were the more obvious as he was, shortly after the wars, assigned to the 2nd Foot Guards, stationed in Berlin. He rigorously devoted himself to study and to the routine duties of his profession. From 182o to 1824 he studied with distinction at the General War Academy, and was at the end of the course appointed to the topographical section of the general staff. General von Muffling reported of him that he was arrogant and that he resented " encouragement" —which he probably regarded as patronage—but that his ability would enable him to out-distance his comrades. Steinmetz was too poor to mount himself on the small allowance granted to general staff officers, and had to remain with his regiment in consequence. But shortly after this his marriage to his cousin Julie, the daughter of Lieutenant-General K. F. F. von Steinmetz (1768-1837), not only tempered his fierce and resentful state of mind, but in a measure improved his material prospects, for his father-in-law was generous to the young couple, and his appointment as captain at the Guard Landwehr depot at Potsdam, near where the general lived, brought them into daily contact. His brigade commander too, General von Roder, was an excellent soldier, and Steinmetz often spoke in later days of the thorough training he received at his hands. After this from about 1830 his regimental work and his promotion went on without incident for several years in various garrisons, until in 1839 he became major and battalion commander. In this position he had many official differences with his immediate superiors, for he urged a strenuous war training for the troops, in season and out of season, too vigorously for his more conservative comrades, but off parade his relations with all, thanks chiefly to the social gifts of his wife, were of the most pleasant character. In 1848 he was in command of a guard battalion during the disturbances in Berlin, but was not engaged, and soon found more active employment in the Danish War. At Schleswig he so distinguished himself that Wrangel, the commander-in-chief, told him that he had " decided the battle." He distinguished himself again at Duppel, and Prince William himself decorated him with the order pour le me rile on parade. For his campaign journals and letters see supplement to Milittir Wochenblatt for 1878. On returning he was entrusted with the difficult command of the troops at Brandenburg during the sitting of a democratic popular convention at that place, and after this with the control of some troops that were known to be affected by the prevalent spirit of revolution. At the time of the Olmutz-Bronnzell incident of 185o he was employed as military'governor of Cassel, and in 1851, becoming colonel commandant of the cadet school of Berlin, he at once set about the reformation of the prevailing system of instruction, the defects of which he had openly condemned as early as 1820. Though more than fifty years of age, he now learned Latin and English in order to be a more competent instructor. In 1854, after forty-one years of active service, he was promoted major-general. At Magdeburg, as at Berlin, his reforming zeal made him many enemies, and in October of this year he sustained a loss which almost unhinged his mind in the death of his youngest and only surviving child, a girl of twenty-six. From Magdeburg he was removed to the command of a guard brigade at Berlin (1857), and thence almost immediately to a divisional command in the I. Corps. Early in 1858 he was promoted lieutenant-general, and for the five years that he held this command he devoted himself particularly to acquiring knowledge of the cavalry arm. About 1863, learning that von Bonin, his senior by date, but his junior in age and length of service, was about to be appointed to command the I. Corps, he meditated retirement, but the authorities at the same time as they appointed Bonin made Steinmetz commander of the II. Corps, and shortly afterwards, when the crown prince of Prussia took over this post, commander of the V. Corps at Posen. Shortly after this his wife died. He was promoted general of infantry in 1864, and led the V. Corps to the war against Austria in 1866. This was the chance of his lifetime. His skilful and resolute leadership was displayed in his three battles, won on three successive days, of Nachod, Skalitz and Schweinschadel (see SEVEN WEEKS' WAR), and opened the way through the mountains in spite of the defeat of Steinmetz's rival Bonin at Trautenau. In 1867, in his loneliness, the " Lion of Nachod," as he was popularly called, contracted a second marriage with Elise von Krosigk (who after his death married Count Bruhl). He was now, for the first time in his life, a fairly wealthy man, having been awarded a money grant for his brilliant services in 1866. About this time he was elected a member of the North German Confederation parliament. At the outbreak of the war of 1870 Steinmetz was appointed to command one of the three armies assembled on the Rhine, the others being led by Prince Frederick Charles and the crown prince. It was not long before serious differences arose between Steinmetz and Prince Frederick Charles. The former, embittered by a lifelong struggle against the influences of wealth and position, and perhaps somewhat grist by his successes in 1866, considered an order to clear the roads for the prince's army as an attempt to crowd a humbler comrade out of the fighting line, and various incidents added day by day to his growing resentment until at last on the field of Gravelotte (see METZ and FRANCO-GERMAN WAR for an account of these quarrels) he lost his temper and wasted his troops. After this there was no alternative but to relieve him of the command of the I. Army and to send him home as governor-general of the V. and VI. Army Corps districts. In April 1871 he was retired at his own request, but his great services were not forgotten when victory had softened animosites, and he was promoted general field-marshal, given a pension of 2000 thalers and made a member of the upper chamber. In the spirit of loyalty which had guided his whole career as a soldier he made no attempt to justify his conduct in 1870 either against the criticisms of the general staff history or against unofficial attacks. His life in retirement was quieta.nd happy, and he retained his bodily healtlf to the STELLENBOSCH last. He died at Bad Landeck on the 2nd of August 1877, The 37th Fusiliers of the German army bear his name as part of their regimental title. See supplement of Milit¢r Wochenblatt (1877 and 1878).
End of Article: KARL FRIEDRICH VON STEINMETZ (1796-1877)
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