The King Of Sweden Outwits Count Tilly At Lech
From ' Memoirs Of A Cavalier' by Daniel Defoe (1720)

The king resolved to go and view the situation of the enemy. His majesty went out the 2nd of April with a strong party of horse, which I had the honour to command; we marched as near as we could to the banks of the river, not to be too much exposed to the enemy's cannon, and having gained a little height, where the whole course of the river might be seen, the king halted, and commanded to draw up. The king alighted, and calling me to him, examined every reach and turning of the river by his glass, but finding the river run a long and almost a straight course, he could find no place which he liked, but at last turning himself north, and looking down the stream, he found the river fetching a long reach, double short upon itself, making a round and very narrow point. There's a point will do our business, says the king, and, if the ground be good, I'll pass there, let Tilly do his worst.

He immediately ordered a small party of horse to view the ground, and to bring him word particularly how high the bank was on each side and at the point; and he shall have fifty dollars, says the king, that will bring me word how deep the water is. I asked his majesty leave to let me go, which he would by no means allow of; but as the party was drawing out, a sergeant of dragoons told the king, if he pleased to let him go disguised as a boor, he would bring him an account of everything he desired. The king liked the motion well enough, and the fellow being very well acquainted with the country, puts on a ploughman's habit, and went away immediately with a long pole upon his shoulder; the horse lay all this while in the woods, and the king stood undiscerned by the enemy on the little hill aforesaid. The dragoon with his long pole comes down boldly to the bank of the river, and calling to the sentinels which Tilly had placed on the other bank, talked with them, asked them if they could not help him over the river, and pretended he wanted to come to them. At last being come to the point, where, as I said, the river makes a short turn, he stands parleying with them a great while, and sometimes pretending to wade over, he puts his long pole into the water, then finding it pretty shallow, he pulls off his hose and goes in, still thrusting his pole in before him, till being gotten up to his middle, he could reach beyond him, where it was too deep, and so shaking his head, comes back again. The soldiers on the other side laughing at him, asked him if he could swim? He said no. Why you fool you, says one of the sentinels the channel of the river is twenty feet deep. How do you know that? says the dragoon. Why our engineer, says he, measured it yesterday. This was what he wanted, but not yet fully satisfied; Ay but, says he, may be it may not be very broad, and if one of you would wade in to meet me till I could reach you with my pole, I'd give him half a ducat to pull me over. The innocent way of his discourse so deluded the soldiers, that one of them immediately strips and goes in up to the shoulders, and our dragoon goes in on this side to meet him; but the stream took the other soldier away, and he being a good swimmer, came swimming over to this side. The dragoon was then in a great deal of pain for fear of being discovered, and was once going to kill the fellow, and make off; but at last resolved to carry or. the humour, and having entertained the fellow with a tale of a tub, about the Swedes stealing his oats, the fellow being cold, wanted to be gone, and as he was willing to be rid of him, pretended to be very sorry he could not get over the river, and so makes off.

By this, however, he learned both the depth and breadth of the channel, the bottom and nature of both shores, and everything the king wanted to know. We could see him from the hill by our glasses very plain, and could see the soldier naked with him; says the king, He will certainly be discovered and knocked on the head from the other side: he is a fool, says the king, if he does not kill the fellow and run off; but when the dragoon told his tale, the king was extremely well satisfied with him, gave him one hundred dollars, and made him a quarter-master to a troop of cuirassiers.

The king having farther examined the dragoon, he gave him a very distinct account of the shore and ground on this side, which he found to be higher than the enemy's by ten or twelve foot, and a hard gravel.

Hereupon the king resolves to pass there, and in order to it, gives himself particular directions for such a bridge as I believe never army passed a river on before nor since.

His bridge was only loose planks laid upon large trestles, in the same homely manner as I have seen bricklayers raise a low scaffold to build a brick wall; the trestles were made higher than one another to answer to the river, as it became deeper or shallower, and was all framed and fitted before any appearance was made of attempting to pass.

When all was ready, the king brings his army down to the bank of the river, and plants his cannon as the enemy had done, some here and some there, to amuse them.

At night, April 4th, the king commanded about two thousand men to march to the point, and to throw up a trench on either side, and quite round it, with a battery of six pieces of cannon, at each end, besides three small mounts, one at the point and one of each side, which had each of them two pieces upon them. This work was begun so briskly, and so well carried on, the king firing all the night from the other parts of the river, that by daylight all the batteries at the new work were mounted, the trench lined with two thousand musketeers, and all the utensils of the bridge lay ready to be put together.

Now the imperialists discovered the design, but it was too late to hinder it. The musketeers in the great trench, and the five new batteries, made such continual fire, that the other bank which, as before, lay twelve feet below them, was too hot for the imperialists; whereupon Tilly, to be provided for the king, at his coming over, falls to work in a wood right against the point, and raises a great battery for twenty pieces of cannon, with a breastwork, or line, as near the river as he could, to cover his men, thinking that when the king had built his bridge, he might easily beat it down with his cannon.

But the king had doubly prevented him, first, by laying his bridge so low that none of Tilly's shot could hurt it; for the bridge lay not above half a foot above the water's edge, by which means the king, who in that showed himself an excellent engineer, had secured it from any batteries to be made within the land, and the angle of the bank secured it from the remoter batteries on the other side, and the continual fire of the cannon and small shot beat the imperialists from their station just against it, they having no works to cover them.

And in the second place, to secure his passage, he sent over about two hundred men, and after that two hundred more, who had orders to cast up a large ravelin on the other bank, just where he designed to land his bridge; this was done with such expedition too, that it was finished before night, and in condition to receive all the shot of Tilly's great battery, and effectually covered his bridge. While this was doing, the king on his side lays over his bridge. Both sides wrought hard all day and all night, as if the spade, not the sword, had been to decide the controversy, and that he had got the victory whose trenches and batteries were first ready. In the mean while the cannon and musket bullets flew like hail, and made the service so hot, that both sides had enough to do to make their men stand to their work; the king in the hottest of it, animated his men by his presence, and Tilly, to give him his due, did the same; for the execution was so great, and so many officers killed, General Attringer wounded, and two serjeant-majors killed, that at last Tilly himself was obliged to expose himself, and to come up to the very face of our line to encourage his men, and give his necessary orders.

And here, about one o'clock, much about the time that the king's bridge and works were finished, and just as they said he had ordered to fall on upon our ravelin with three thousand foot, was the brave old Tilly slain with a musket bullet in the thigh. He was carried off to Ingolstat, and lived some days after, but died of that wound the same day as the king had his horse shot under him at the siege of that town.

We made no question of passing the river here, having brought everything so forward, and with such extraordinary success; but we should have found it a very hot piece of work if Tilly had lived one day more; and, if I may give my opinion of it, having seen Tilly's battery and breastwork, in the : face of which we must have passed the river, I must say, that whenever we had marched, if Tilly had fallen in with his horse and foot, placed in that trench, the whole army would have passed as much danger as in the face of a strong town in the storming a counterscarp. The king himself, when he saw with what judgment Tilly had prepared his works, and what danger he must have run, would often say, that day's success was every way equal to the victory of Leipsic.