Levin August, Count von Bennigsen

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Portrait by George Dawe in the Military Gallery

Levin August Gottlieb Theophil (Russian: Лео́нтий Лео́нтьевич Бе́ннигсен, Leontiy Leontyevich Bennigsen), Count von Bennigsen (10 February 1745 in Braunschweig – 3 December 1826 in Banteln) was a German general in the service of the Russian Empire.

He was born into a Hanoverian family in Brunswick and served successively as a page at the Hanoverian court and as an officer of foot-guards where he participated in the Seven Years' War. In 1764, he retired from the Hanoverian army and entered the Russian service as a field officer in the Vyatka musketeer regiment in 1773. He fought against the Turks in 1774 and in 1778, becoming lieutenant-colonel in the latter year. In 1787 his conduct at the storming of Ochakov won him promotion to the rank of brigadier, and he distinguished himself repeatedly in smashing the Kościuszko Uprising and in the Persian War of 1796. In 1794 he was awarded the Order of St. George of the Third Degree and an estate in Minsk guberniya and promoted to Major General for his accomplishments in the former campaign.

In 1798 he was fired from military service by the Tsar Paul I allegedly because of his connections with Platon Zubov. It is known that he took an active part in the planning phase of the conspiracy to assassinate Paul I, but his role in the actual killing remains a matter of conjecture. Tsar Alexander I made him governor-general of Lithuania in 1801, and in 1802 a general of cavalry.

In 1806 he was in command of one of the Russian armies operating against Napoleon, when he fought the battle of Pultusk and met the emperor in person in the bloody battle of Eylau (8 February 1807). In the battle of Pultusk he resisted French troops under Jean Lannes before retreating. This brought him the Order of St. George of the Second Degree while after the battle of Eylau he was awarded Order of St. Andrew - the highest order in the Russian empire. Here he could claim to have inflicted the first reverse suffered by Napoleon, but six months later Bennigsen met with the crushing defeat of Friedland (14 June 1807) the direct consequence of which was the treaty of Tilsit.

Bennigsen was heavily criticised for the battle of Friedland and for the decline of discipline in the army and now retired for some years, but in the campaign of 1812 he reappeared in the army in various responsible positions. He was present at Borodino, and defeated Murat in the engagement of Tarutino where he himself was wounded in the leg, but on account of a quarrel with Marshal Kutusov, the Russian commander-in-chief, he was compelled to retire from active military employment.

After the death of Kutusov he was recalled and placed at the head of an army. Bennigsen participated in the battles of Bautzen and Lützen, leading one of the columns that made the decisive attack on the last day of the battle of Leipzig (16–19 October 1813). On the same evening he was made a count by the emperor Alexander I, and he afterwards commanded the forces which operated against Marshal Davout in North Germany, most notably in the year-long Siege of Hamburg (1813–14). After the peace treaty of Fontainebleau he was awarded the St. George order of the First Degree - the highest Russian military order - for his actions in the Napoleonic wars in general.

After the general peace he held a command from 1815 to 1818, when he retired from active service and settled on his Hanoverian estate of Banteln near Hildesheim. By the end of his life he completely lost his sight. He died, aged 81. His son, Alexander Levin, Count von Bennigsen (1809-1893) was a distinguished Hanoverian statesman.

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