The Storming Of Magdaburgh
From ' Memoirs Of A Cavalier' by Daniel Defoe (1720)

This calamity sure was the dreadfulest sight that ever I saw; the rage of the imperial soldiers was most intolerable, and not to be expressed; of twenty-five thousand, some said thirty thousand people, there was not a soul to be seen alive, till the flames drove those that were hid in vaults and secret places to seek death in the streets, rather than perish in the fire. Of these miserable creatures some were killed too by the furious soldiers, but at last they saved the lives of such as came out of their cellars and holes, and so about two thousand poor desperate creatures were left; the exact number of those that perished in this city could never be known, because those the soldiers had first butchered, the flames afterwards devoured.

I was on the other side of the Elbe when this dreadful piece of butchery was done; the city of Magdaburg had a sconce or fort over against it, called the toll-house, which joined to the city by a very fine bridge of boats.

This fort was taken by the imperialists a few days before, and having a mind to see it, and the rather because from thence I could have a very good view of the city, I was gone over Tilly's bridge of boats to view this fort. About ten o'clock in the morning I perceived they were storming by the firing, and immediately all ran to the works; I little thought of the taking the city, but imagined it might be some outwork attacked, for we all expected the city would surrender that day, or next, and they might have capitulated upon very good terms.

Being upon the works of the fort, on a sudden I heard the dreadfulest cry raised in the city that can be imagined; 'tis not possible to express the manner of it, and I could see the women and children running about the streets in a most lamentable condition.

The city wall did not run along the side where the river was with so great a height, but we could plainly see the market-place and the several streets which run down to the river. In about an hour's time after this first cry all was in confusion; there was little shooting, the execution was all cutting of throats, and mere house murders; the resolute garrison, with the brave Baron Falconberg fought it out to the last, and were cut in pieces, and by this time the imperial soldiers having broke open the gates and entered on all sides, the slaughter was very dreadful. We could see the poor people in crowds driven down the streets, flying from the fury of the soldiers, who followed butchering them as fast as they could, and refused mercy to anybody; 'till driving them to the river's edge, the desperate wretches would throw themselves into the river, where thousands of them perished, especially women and children. Several men that could swim got over to our side, where the soldiers, not heated with fight, gave them quarter, and took them up; and I cannot but do this justice to the German officers in the fort, they had five small flat boats, and they gave leave to the soldiers to go off in them, and get what booty they could, but charged them not to kill anybody, but take them all prisoners.

Nor was their humanity ill rewarded; for the soldiers, wisely avoiding those places where their fellows were employed in butchering the miserable people, rowed to other places, where crowds of people stood crying out for help, and expecting to be every minute either drowned or murdered; of these at sundry times they fetched over near six hundred, but took care to take in none but such as offered them good pay.

Never was money or jewels of greater service than now, for those that had anything of that sort to offer were soonest helped.

There was a burgher of the town, who seeing a boat coming near him, but out of his call, by the help of a speaking trumpet, told the soldiers in it he would give them twenty thousand dollars to fetch him off; they rowed close to the shore, and got him with his wife and six children into the boat, but such throngs of people got about the boat that had like to have sunk her, so that the soldiers were fain to drive a great many out again by main force, and while they were doing this, some of the enemies coming down the street desperately drove them all into the water.

The boat, however, brought the burgher and his wife and children safe; and though they had not all that wealth about them, yet in jewels and money he gave them so much as made all the fellows very rich.

I cannot pretend to describe the cruelty of this day, the town by five in the afternoon was all on a flame; the wealth consumed was inestimable, and a loss to the very conqueror. I think there was little or nothing left but the great church, and about one hundred houses.