15. The Adventurous French Cavalryman Who Tricked a Prussian Fortress Into Surrender
In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte dealt Prussia a crushing defeat at the twin battles of Jena-Auerstedt. He then ordered a vigorous pursuit of the retreating Prussians and the rounding up of their garrisons. A key worry was that Prussian remnants would link up with and reinforce their Russian allies, who were still under arms and contesting the issue. The once-proud Prussian army, less than two decades removed from its glory days under Frederick the Great, was demoralized. It was against that backdrop that a French cavalry brigade approached the port city of Stettin.
The French were led by an adventurous general named Antoine Lasalle (1775 – 1809). His forces consisted of about 500 hussars and a pair of light field guns. Stettin was a well-fortified port city with a garrison of nearly 10,000 men, protected by 281 cannons. In charge was Prussian General Friedrich von Romberg, a veteran with over 50 years’ experience. Romberg’s career stretched back to the Seven Years’ War, during which he had fought under Frederick the Great. Stettin was well-provisioned by the British Royal Navy, whose supply-laden ships sailed in and out of the port with no hindrance. So Lasalle set out to bluff the garrison into surrendering to his small force.