The Great Elector

After a reign of forty-eight years, Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, left behind him in 1688 a military and bureaucratic system that endured until 1945. F.L. Carsten describes how it was the army he had founded that accomplished, in 1871, the triumphant unification of the German Empire and fought the battles of the Third Reich.

No other ruler has exercised such a far-reaching influence on the history of modern Germany as Frederick William, the “Great Elector,” who ruled in Brandenburg from 1640 to 1688. The Prussian state founded by him survived for three centuries—to be dissolved in 1945 by the victorious Allies at Potsdam.

It was this state that gradually expanded—until only fragments of non-Prussian territory remained to the north of the River Main—and finally unified Germany, imprinting its stamp indelibly upon the German Empire of 1871.

It was the army created by the Great Elector that accomplished the work of unification “through blood and iron” and gained famous victories—from Fehrbellin to Hohenfriedberg and Leuthen, Leipzig and Waterloo, Sadowa and Sedan—to meet its doom at Stalingrad and in Normandy.

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