Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher: Prince of Wahlstatt (b. 1742-d. 1819)
Essentially Blücher was a simple man with simple convictions. He was Napoleon’s implacable enemy, and wanted to see him dead. Physically he was very strong and in character as immovable as a rock. He was a warm man, jovial if somewhat foul-mouthed, fond of hunting and gaming and a passionate gambler. He was shrewd enough to recognize that his intellect was not the equal of his other talents and, unlike his great enemy, he would accept advice, but once his mind was made up nothing would move it.
A Mecklengerger, he drifted into the Prüssian Army and early showed his mettle. He overstepped the mark when questioning a priest and his superiors passed him over for promotion. Blücher, furious, characteristically took the matter up with his monarch, Frederick the Great. Frederick told him that he ‘might go to the devil’, and cashiered him. He saw some talent in the angry young Mecklenberger, but though him too intractable ever to make a good officer.
The Prüssian Army was barred to him while Frederick lived. He took up farming in Pomernia with some success, but immediately the old monarch died (1786) Blücher applied to his successor, Frederick William (Wilhelm) II, to take him back. The King not only did so, he restored to him all the seniority that he had lost. Blücher was at this time aged 45 and had become a man of some consequence in Pomerania. He threw it all aside to wear the uniform once again.
He learned his basic soldiering under the Duke of Brunswick. When in 1794 he was made a Major-General, he proclaimed that he had ‘achieved the goal of all his desires’. He earned a reputation for energy and integrity, and in 1806, when Napoleon trounced Prüssia at Jena and Auerstädt, he refused to be discourged and was one of the last to surrender. He loved his men and treated them as his ‘children’, and they rewarded him with unswerving devotion. Scharnhorst, the Prüssian Chief-of-Staff, believed he was the only man who could lead a renascent Prüssian Army.
The French occupation of Prüssia after the Treaty of Tilsit (1807) was anathema to him. He became seriously ill and began to suffer from delusions. On one occasion he though himself pregnant and about to be deliver of an elephant, on another that his head was a ball of stone. Scharnhorst, however remained unshaken in his belief and was heard to declare that Blücher should still lead the Prüssian Army, even if he thought he had a hundred elephants inside of him. Fortunately, he recovered with his zest undiminished. After the French debacle in Russia he implored his Sovereign (Frederick William (Wilhelm) III) to attack the French: even so, whatever his feelings, he would never act against the wishes of his King; his loyalty to the throne was unqualified as his hatred of the French. In the next three years he probably did more that any other man to ruin his great enemy, the humiliator of Prüssia. In 1813, at the age of nearly 71, he was to reach his greatest heights.
Prince Karl Philipp of Schwarzenberg (1771-1820)
It had been trenchantly observed that the Holy-Roman Empire was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. When Napoleon abolished it, Austria emerged as the dominate power in Germany-though she looked a little nervously at the rising power of Prüssia. When in 1813 Austria once more took up arms against Napoleon and the German states started to change their allegiance. It seemed natural that the Commander-in Chief of the Austrian Army should be elevated to the position of supreme commander under the Council of Monarchs who established by the Allies’ long-term policy. The job was given to Prince Schwarzenberg.
Born in Vienna, he joined the Imperial cavalry in 1788 and fought against the Turks under Marchals Lacy and Loudon, and was already a major in 1792. He won the Maria Theresa Order for a famous charge at Chateau Cambrésis (1794): at the head of his regiment and 12 British squadrons, he routed a French Corps, causing 3,000 casualties and taking 32 guns. Promotion came fast. In 1796 he was made a Major-General and in 1799 Lieutenant-Field-Marshal. His promptitude and courage saved the Austrian right wing in the disaster at Hohenlinden (1800), and when Mack surrendered Ulm (1805), he was one of the few who cut their way out.
In 1808 he, who was persona grata with the Russians, was a special envoy to the Court of St. Petersburg. Returning in time for Wagram (1809), he won the highest Austrian honor, the Golden Fleece. It fell to him to negotiate the marriage between Napoleon and the Archduchess Marie-Louise, and the Emperor greatly esteemed him. He commanded the Austrian contingent in 1812. Early in 1813 he was promoted to Field-Marshal and was, therefore, the senior officer serving with the Allied armies in 1813 and 1814.
He had a task of astonishing difficulty. The Council of Monarchs followed him about and the Tsar in particular was constantly pressing advice on him. His own Emperor was by no means clear how much he desired the fall of Napoleon, and he himself had none of the virulent hatred that distinguished Blücher. He was fighting to preserve the existing status quo, not to usher in some ‘brave new world’. He has been accused of excessive timidity both by his contemporaries and by subsequent historians. Although he would not have reached his rank by being timid, he accept have reached his rank by being timid, he accepted it as self-evident that if he confronted Napoleon on level terms. Napoleon inevitably would win. If he was to give battle he had to possess some significant advantage; in the meantime he sought to confine Napoleon with a reasonable compass rather that to destroy him.
Ludwig Adolf Peter: Count Wittgenstein (1769-1843)
When the Tsar dismissed the dying Kutuzov, he selected Wittgenstein to replace him. It was a curious choice since he was junior to such generals as Barclay de Tolly, Count Langeron, and Mihailovich, and although his service had been distinguished there appeared to be no outstanding feat that justified his early promotion. He was a compromise candidate. The Tsar resented Kutuzov appearing as the ‘saviour of Russia’, and the independent attitude he had on occasion adopted. Barclay de Tolly had pursued an energetic feud with Prince Bagration, Probably the most competent of the Russians. Nevertheless the feud had scarcely been in the interest of Russia, and when Bagration fell at Borodino the Tsar looked elsewhere for his next commander.
Wittgenstein was the son of a Westphalian nobleman settled in Russia. He had distinguished himself in the Polish war (1894-95) and afterwards served in the Caucasus. He fought at Austerlitz (1805) and Friedland (1807), and in 1812 he commanded the Russian right wing, which fought the Battles of Polotsk; in addition he concluded the Convention of Tauroggen with the Prüssian General, Count Yorck. The Tsar eventually split Wittgenstein’s forces between the Allied armies, and he himself became little more than corps commander under Scharzenberg; Count Langeron with his army served under Blücher’s newly formed army of Silesia and Barclay de Tolly came to command the Reserve, which included the Russian Guards. Count Langeron generously wrote of the junior who had superseded him, ‘ of all the secondary generals he was most distinguished and had the most brilliant success against Oudinot and Saint-Cyr’. It was no disgrace not to be outstanding in the company in which Wittgenstein served in the campaigns of 1813 and 1814.
Arthur Wellesley: 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)
In 1813 Wellington, the British Commander-in-Chief in Spain who had been quietly nibbling away at the French with markedly inferior forces achieved the culmination of his five-year campaign and drove the French out of the Spanish Peninsula, except for a small stretch on the east coast still held by Marshal Suchet. However, not until the Hundred Days of 1815, were Wellington and Napoleon to meet on the battlefield. Before 1815, therefore, Wellingtons’ effect on Napoleon’s fortunes, although considerable, was indirect.
Wellington was arguably the greatest British general there has been. Born 1769, the same year as Napoleon, Soult and Ney, he was in his prime when he met Napoleon at waterloo. He was one of the younger sons of an impoverished Irish peer. The young Wellington, or Welsley as he then was (he progressed by easy stages to Wellesley then to Wellington) enjoyed the social round on Dublin and showed a certain affection for playing violin. However, the younger sons had to make their own way in the world, and he joined an infantry regiment.
He was chased by his creditors out of India. There he threw away his violin and found that serious soldiering appealed to him; he also paid off his creditors. Hi elder brother, the then Lord Mornington, also went to India, as Governor-General; this was, obviously, no handicap for an aspiring soldier, but Wellington soon showed that he had no need of such influence. By his brilliant victories at Assaye and Argaum he did much to break the hold of the powerful Mahrattas. He came home to England and in 1808 forced Junot out of Portugal. At last was a British general able to fight the French on equal terms. His lack of numbers forced his on to the defensive and the French generals, while admitting his skill in defense, doubted his ability to launch an offensive. Then in 1812 at the Battle of Salamanca he made a sudden surprise attack and destroyed an army under the able Marshal Marmont. French power in Spain was rocked, but it recovered and Wellington had to winter in the northeastern part of Portugal. The next year he drove the French out of Spain and took the British up to the outskirts of the Pyrenees.
He was a general after the typical British model. Contemptuous of flamboyance or the carefully rehearsed gesture, he had a cool analytical mind that was never carried away by success. He possessed a determination of steel and could be a tiger on the battlefield, but never allowed his judgement of a situation to influence by personal considerations, however unpalatable the result might be. He kept his own counsel, asking advice from no one, and was harsh with any who sought gratuitously.
Friedrick Wilhelm Count Bülow of Dennewitz (1755-1816)
Was Governor of East and West Prüssia before, in 1813, as a Lieutenant-General in Bernadoote’s Army of the North, he defeated Oudinot at Grossbeeren and Ney at Dennewitz, victories that early endorsed the Allied plan to erode Napoleon’s strength by beating his lieutenants. Bülow served under Blücher in 1814-15, leading the Prüssian VI Corps at Waterloo.
Hans David Ludwig, Count Yorck of Wartenberg (1759-1830)
He led Napoleons Prüssian contingent in the Russian Campaign of 1812. After Moscow, he boldly extricated his corps from French control and signed a neutrality pact with the Russians. He fought in Germany and France in 1813-14. An independent man, Blücher said of him, ‘He does nothing but argue, but when he attacks, he gets stuck in like nobody else.
August Count Neithardt of Geneisenau (1760-1831)
Was a Saxon who fought with the Prüssian army from 1786, rising to become Blüchers Chief-of-Staff. After the Peace of Tilsit (1807) he worked with Scharnhorst to reorgianize the Army. His ctitical moment came after Ligny when, with Blücher injured, he took the decision to withdraw on Wavre, so creating the circumstances for the decisive battle at Waterloo
THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE®
SOURCE: Napoleon: The Last Campaigns 1813-15
BY: James Lawford
CONTRIBUTOR: Martin F. Elkins