Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

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Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher
Blücher (nach Gebauer).jpg
contemporary portrait (ca. 1815-1819)
Born (1742-12-16)December 16, 1742
Rostock, Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Died September 12, 1819(1819-09-12) (aged 76)
Krieblowitz, Silesia Province (now Krobielowice in Poland)
Allegiance  Sweden
 Prussia
Years of service 1758–1815
Rank Kingdom of Prussia Generalfeldmarschall
Battles/wars Seven Years' War, Napoleonic Wars

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt (German pronunciation: [ˈɡɛphaɐ̯t ˈleːbəʁɛçt fɔn ˈblʏçɐ]; December 16, 1742 – September 12, 1819), Graf (count), later elevated to Fürst (prince) von Wahlstatt, was a Prussian Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal) who led his army against Napoleon I at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813 and at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 with the Duke of Wellington. The honorary citizen of Berlin, Hamburg and Rostock bore the nickname "Marschall Vorwärts" ("Marshal Forwards") because of his approach to warfare.[1]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher was born in Rostock in the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a Baltic port in northern Germany. His family had been landowners in northern Germany since at least the 13th century.

He began his military career at sixteen, when he joined the Swedish Army as a Hussar. At the time Sweden was at war with Prussia in the Seven Years' War. Blücher took part in the Pomeranian campaign of 1760, where he was captured in a skirmish with Prussian Hussars. The colonel of the Prussian regiment, Wilhelm Sebastian von Belling, was impressed with the young hussar and had him join his regiment.[2]

He took part in the later battles of the Seven Years' War, and as a hussar officer gained much experience of light cavalry work. In peace, however, his ardent spirit led him into excesses of all kinds, such as mock execution of a priest suspected of supporting Polish uprisings in 1772. Due to this, he was passed over for promotion to Major. Blücher sent in a rude letter of resignation, which Frederick the Great granted in 1773: Der Rittmeister von Blücher kann sich zum Teufel scheren (Cavalry Captain von Blücher can go to the devil).

He then settled down to farming, and within fifteen years he had acquired independence and membership in the Freemasons. He was twice married, in 1773 to Karoline Amalie von Mehling (1756–1791), and in 1795 to Amalie von Colomb (1772–1850), sister of General Peter von Colomb. By his first marriage, he had seven children, two sons and a daughter surviving infancy.

During the lifetime of Frederick the Great, Blücher was unable to return to the army, but after the king's death in 1786, he was reinstated as a major in his old regiment, the Red Hussars in 1787. Blücher took part in the expedition to the Netherlands in 1787, and the following year was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In 1789 he received Prussia's highest military order, the Pour le Mérite, and in 1794 he became colonel of the Red Hussars. In 1793 and 1794 he distinguished himself in cavalry actions against the French, and for his success at Kirrweiler was promoted to major general. In 1801 he was promoted to lieutenant general.[3]

Napoleonic Wars[edit]

"Marschall Vorwärts" by Emil Hünten (1863)

Blücher was one of the leaders of the war party in Prussia in 1805–1806 and served as a cavalry general in the disastrous campaign of the latter year. At the double Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, Blücher fought at Auerstedt, repeatedly charging at the head of the Prussian cavalry, but too early and without success. In the retreat of the broken armies he commanded the rearguard of the army of Frederick Louis, Prince of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen. Upon the capitulation of the main body after the Battle of Prenzlau on 28 October, he found his progress toward the northeast blocked. He led a remnant of the Prussian army away to the northwest, after having secured 34 cannon in co-operation with Gerhard von Scharnhorst. At the Battle of Lübeck his force was defeated by two French corps on 6 November. The next day, trapped against the Danish frontier by 40,000 French troops, he was compelled to surrender with 7,800 soldiers at Ratekau. Blücher insisted that a clause be written in the capitulation document that he had to surrender due to lack of provisions and ammunition, and that his soldiers be honoured by a French formation along the street. He was allowed to keep his sabre and to move freely, bound only by his word of honour, and soon was exchanged for future Marshal Claude Victor-Perrin, duc de Belluno, and was actively employed in Pomerania, at Berlin, and at Königsberg until the conclusion of the war.[4]

After the war, Blücher was looked upon as the natural leader of the Patriot Party, with which he was in close touch during the period of Napoleonic domination. But his hopes of an alliance with Austria in the war of 1809 were disappointed. In this year he was made general of cavalry. In 1812 he expressed himself so openly on the alliance of Russia with France that he was recalled from his military governorship of Pomerania and virtually banished from the court.

"Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher in Bautzen" by Bogdan Willewalde (1885)
Old Blucher beating the Corsican Big Drum, George Cruikshank, 8 April 1814.

Following the start of the 1813 War of Liberation, Blücher was again placed in high command, and he was present at Lützen and Bautzen. During the armistice, he worked on the organization of the Prussian forces; when the war was resumed, he became commander-in-chief of the Army of Silesia, with August von Gneisenau and Karl von Müffling as his principal staff officers and 40,000 Prussians and 50,000 Russians under his command.

The irresolution and divergence of interests usual in allied armies found in him a restless opponent. Knowing that if he could not induce others to co-operate he was prepared to attempt the task at hand by himself which often caused other generals to follow his lead. He defeated Marshal MacDonald at the Katzbach, and by his victory over Marshal Marmont at Möckern led the way to the decisive defeat of Napoleon at Leipzig. This was the fourth battle between Napoleon and Blücher and the first that Blücher won. Leipzig was taken by Blücher's own army on the evening of the last day of the battle.

On the day of Möckern (October 16, 1813) Blücher was made a field marshal, and after the victory he pursued the French with his accustomed energy. In the winter of 1813–1814 Blücher, with his chief staff officers, was mainly instrumental in inducing the allied sovereigns to carry the war into France itself.

The Battle of Brienne and the Battle of La Rothière were the chief incidents of the first stage of the celebrated campaign of 1814, and they were quickly followed by victories of Napoleon over Blücher at Champaubert, Vauchamps, and Montmirail. But the courage of the Prussian leader was undiminished, and his victory against the vastly outnumbered French, at Laon (March 9 and 10) practically decided the fate of the campaign.

After this, Blücher infused some of his energy into the operations of the Prince Schwarzenberg's Army of Bohemia, and at last this army and the Army of Silesia marched in one body directly towards Paris. The victory of Montmartre, the entry of the allies into the French capital, and the overthrow of the First Empire were the direct consequences.

Blücher was inclined to punish the city of Paris severely for the sufferings of Prussia at the hands of the French armies, but the allied commanders intervened. Blowing up the Jena Bridge near the Champ de Mars was said[by whom?] to have been one of his contemplated acts.

In gratitude for his victories in 1814, Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III created Blücher Prince of Wahlstatt and awarded him estates near Krieblowitz (now Krobielowice, Poland) in Lower Silesia. Soon afterward he paid a visit to England, where he was received with royal honors and cheered enthusiastically everywhere he went.

Hundred Days and later life[edit]

Statue of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Unter den Linden, Berlin, created by Christian Daniel Rauch.
Blücher monument in front of the University of Rostock's main building, created by Johann Gottfried Schadow in collaboration with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

After the war he retired to Silesia, but the return of Napoleon from Elba soon called him back to service. He was put in command of the Army of the Lower Rhine, with General August von Gneisenau as his chief of staff. In the campaign of 1815, the Prussians sustained a serious defeat at the outset at Ligny (June 16), in the course of which the old field marshal was repeatedly ridden over by cavalry and lay trapped under his dead horse for several hours, his life saved only by the devotion of his aide-de-camp, Count Nostitz. He was unable to resume command for some hours, and Gneisenau drew off the defeated army and rallied it. After bathing his wounds in brandy, and fortified by liberal internal application of the same, Blücher rejoined his army. Gneisenau feared that the British had reneged on their earlier agreements and favored a withdrawal, but Blücher convinced him to send two Corps to join Wellington at Waterloo.[5] He then led his army on a tortuous march along muddy paths, arriving on the field of Waterloo in the late afternoon. With the battle hanging in the balance Blücher's army intervened with decisive and crushing effect, his vanguard drawing off Napoleon's badly needed reserves, and his main body being instrumental in crushing French resistance. This victory led the way to a decisive victory through the relentless pursuit of the French by the Prussians. The allies re-entered Paris on July 7.

Prince Blücher remained in the French capital for a few months, but his age and infirmities compelled him to retire to his Silesian residence at Krieblowitz, where he died on September 12, 1819, aged 76. After his death, an imposing mausoleum was built for his remains. Blücher retained to the end of his life the wildness and tendency to excesses which had caused his dismissal from the army in his youth, but these faults sprang from an ardent and vivid temperament which made him a leader of people. While by no means a military genius, his sheer determination and ability to spring back from errors made him a competent leader.[6]

Legacy[edit]

Blücher mausoleum, Krobielowice, 2012.

Upon his death, statues were erected to his memory at Berlin, Breslau, Rostock and Kaub.

In gratitude for his service, George Stephenson, the pioneering British locomotive engineer, named a locomotive after him, and Oxford University granted him an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Laws), about which he is supposed to have said that if he was made a doctor they should at least make Gneisenau an apothecary.

Three ships of the German navy have been named in honour of Blücher. The first to be so named was a corvette built at Kiel's Norddeutsche Schiffbau AG (later renamed the Krupp-Germaniawerft) and launched 20 March 1877. Taken out of service after a boiler explosion in 1907, she ended her days as a coal freighter in Vigo, Spain.

On 11 April 1908, the Panzerkreuzer SMS Blücher was launched from the Imperial Shipyard in Kiel. This ship was sunk on 24 January 1915 in WWI at the Battle of Dogger Bank.

The World War II German heavy cruiser Blücher was completed in September 1939, and pronounced ready for service on 5 April 1940 after completing a series of sea trials and training exercises. The vessel was sunk four days later near Oslo during the invasion of Norway.

When Krieblowitz was conquered by the Red Army in 1945, Soviet soldiers broke into the Blücher mausoleum and scattered the remains — despite the fact that Blücher had been instrumental in the final defeat of Napoleon, the would-be conqueror of Russia. Soviet troops reportedly used his skull as a football. After 1989, his profaned remains were taken from the desecrated grave by a priest and buried in the catacomb of the church in Sośnica (German: Schosnitz), 3 km from the now Polish Krobielowice.[7]

Blücher is honoured with a bust in the Walhalla temple near Regensburg.

Blücher also has a boarding house named after him at Berkshire based Wellington College. The Blucher, as it is known, is a boys house renowned for sporting and academic prowess.

A popular German idiom, ran wie Blücher ("charge like Blücher"), meaning that someone is taking very direct and aggressive action, in war or otherwise, refers to Blücher.[citation needed]

Campaigns[edit]

  • 1760: Pomeranian Campaign (as Swedish soldier; captured by Prussia; changed sides)
  • Seven Years' War
  • 1787: Expedition to the Netherlands with Red Hussars
  • 1793–1794: French campaigns with Red Hussars
  • 1806: Auerstadt, Pomerania, Berlin, Königsberg
  • 1813: Lützen, Bautzen, Katzbach, Möckern, Leipzig
  • 1814: Brienne, La Rothière, Champaubert, Vauchamps, Château-Thierry, Montmirail, Laon, Montmartre
  • 1815: Lower Rhine (Battle of Ligny), Battle of Waterloo

Works[edit]

His collected writings and letters (together with those of Yorck and Gneisenau) appeared in 1932:

  • Gesammelte Schriften und Briefe / Blücher, Yorck, Gneisenau, compiled and edited by Edmund Th. Kauer (Berlin-Schöneberg: Oestergaard, [1932])

His campaign journal covering the years 1793 to 1794 was published in 1796:

  • Kampagne-Journal der Jahre 1793 und 1794 (Berlin: Decker, 1796)

A second edition of this diary, together with some of Blücher's letters, was published in 1914:

  • Vorwärts! Ein Husaren-Tagebuch und Feldzugsbriefe von Gebhardt Leberecht von Blücher, introduced by General Field Marshal von der Goltz, edited by Heinrich Conrad (Munich: G. Müller, [1914])

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Michael V. Leggiere, Blucher: Scourge of Napoleon (University of Oklahoma Press; 2014)
  2. ^ Leggiere, Blucher: Scourge of Napoleon (2014)
  3. ^ Leggiere, Blucher: Scourge of Napoleon (2014)
  4. ^ Leggiere, Blucher: Scourge of Napoleon (2014)
  5. ^ Barbero, A., The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, tr. John Cullen, Walker & Company, 2006
  6. ^ Leggiere, Blucher: Scourge of Napoleon (2014)
  7. ^ Wroclaw.hydral.com.pl

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Blücher, Gebhard Leberecht von". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Leggiere, Michael V. Blucher: Scourge of Napoleon (University of Oklahoma Press; 2014) 536 pages;
  • Memoirs of Prince Blücher (London: Murray, 1932)
  • Crepon, Tom (1999). Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher: sein Leben, seine Kämpfe. Rostock: Hinsdorff. ISBN 3-356-00833-1. 
  • von Ense, K. A. Varnhagen (1826). Leben des Fürsten Blücher von Wahlstadt. Berlin: G. Reimer. 
  • Henderson, Ernest F. (1994). Blücher and the uprising of Prussia against Napoleon, 1806-1815. Aylesford: R.J. Leach. ISBN 1-873050-14-3. 
  • Parkinson, Roger (1975). The Hussar general: the life of Blücher, man of Waterloo. London: P. Davies. ISBN 0-432-11600-1. 
  • The life and campaigns of Field-Marshal Prince Blücher of Wahlstatt translated in part from the German of Count Gneisenau. London: Constable. 1815 repr. 1996. ISBN 0-09-476640-1. 

External links[edit]