Gottlob Heinrich Curt von Tottleben

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Count von Tottleben

Gottlob Curt Heinrich Graf von Tottleben, Herr auf Tottleben, Zeippau und Hausdorf im Saganschen (also Tottleben, Todtleben Todleben; Russian: Готлиб-Генрих Тотлебен) (21 December 1715 – 20 March 1773) was a German-born Russian Empire general known for his adventurism and contradictory military career during the Seven Years' War and, then, the Russo-Turkish War (1768–74) as a commander of the first Russian expeditionary force in Georgia.

Early career[edit]

Totleben was born in Tottleben, Thuringia, and served at the court of Augustus III, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony. He fled Saxony after being accused of corruption. He then served for various periods at the courts of Saxe-Weissenfels, Bavaria, the Dutch Republic during the War of the Austrian Succession, and the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1747 he is mentioned as commander of a regiment of infantry of the Dutch Republic, but the regiment existed only on paper and was never realized. By then he already had a reputation as a scoundrel.[1]

Count Totleben entered the Russian service during the Seven Years’ War (1757-1763). He distinguished himself at the Battle of Kunersdorf (1759) and was promoted to General. Totleben gained particular fame for his brief occupation of the Prussian capital Berlin in 1760.[2] Shortly, the advance of Frederick the Great’s Prussian army forced him to retreat, however. In June 1761, he was accused of treachery and arrested in Pomerania. Sent in chains to St. Petersburg, he was sentenced to death via quartering, but Empress Catherine the Great pardoned him in 1763. Nevertheless, Totleben was deprived of all his titles and awards and sent into exile abroad (or to Siberia, according to one account[2]).

Expedition to Georgia[edit]

In 1768, with the outbreak of the war with the Ottoman Empire, he was summoned to active service again, this time in Transcaucasia, where, for the first time in the history of the Russo-Turkish wars, Catherine decided to stage a military diversion against the Ottomans' frontier provinces. Thus, Totleben became the first commander to have brought an organized Russian military force to Transcaucasia through the Daryal Pass.[3] He was instructed to join his forces with King Heraclius II of Georgia who hoped to reconquer the Ottoman-held southern Georgian lands in conjunction with Russia. However, Totleben soon quarrelled with the Georgian king and his commanders, whom he despised as "ignorant orientals"[4] and demanded the exclusion of all Georgian officers from a combined army. Several Russian officers plotted against Totleben who, in his turn, accused Georgians of instigating all intrigues.[5] The relations between the Russian commander and Heraclius were subjected to greater strain in April 1770, when the Russo-Georgian army marched against Akhaltsikhe, the Ottoman stronghold in Georgia. Totleben suddenly showed reluctance to engage in battle and abandoned the king on the battlefield. While the battle raged between the Georgians and Turks, Totleben marched to Tiflis and allied himself with a party of oppositionist Georgian nobles to stage a coup. However, Heraclius' victory over the Turks at the Battle of Aspindza made this plan unrealizable. The Russian government sent Captain Yazykov to investigate the affair, but Totleben had already crossed into Imereti, western Georgia, where he acted more energetically. Totleben dispossessed the Turks of the fortresses of Shorapani and Baghdati and helped King Solomon I of Imereti recover his capital Kutaisi on 6 August 1770. He then routed 25,000 Ottoman troops on his march to the Black Sea and laid siege to the fortress of Poti. However, Totleben again found himself in the centre of intrigues between Solomon and his defiant vassal princes of Mingrelia and Guria who wanted to secure Russian support against each other. The siege of Poti did not go well for the besiegers, and Totleben's relations with Solomon rapidly deteriorated.[5] Totleben was recalled from Georgia in January 1771[6] and assigned to lead a division at Warsaw where he soon died. (For background, see Russian conquest of the Caucasus.)


  1. ^ F.L. Kersteman, "Den oorlog zwerver of het leven van den grave van Tottleven" , published by J.W. Karreman, Zaltbommel, 1761.
  2. ^ a b The Russian Biographical Dictionary
  3. ^ Avtorkhanov and Broxup, page 73.
  4. ^ Lang, page 36.
  5. ^ a b Potto (2006)
  6. ^ His successor, Major General Sukhotin, continued the fruitless siege of Poti, and after an abortive attempt at storming the fortress, withdrew to Tiflis. The Russian expedition was finally recalled by Catherine early in 1772, leaving behind several gangs of deserters. One of them, of 300 men strong and commanded by Captain Semitryev, engaged in widespread robbery and looting, and penetrated the Caspian whence it reached the Volga only to be routed by the regular army. Potto (2006)


  • Potto, Vasily (2006, originally published 1899), Кавказская война. В 5 томах. Том 1. От древнейших времен до Ермолова (The Caucasus War. Vol. 1: From the earliest times to Yermolov), Центрполиграф (Tsentripoligraf), ISBN 5-9524-2105-9, 5-9524-2104-0 (in Russian).
  • Lang, David Marshall (1962), A Modern History of Georgia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • D. M. Lang, "Count Todtleben's Expedition to Georgia 1769–1771 according to a French Eyewitness". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 13, No. 4 (1951), pp. 878–907.
  • Avtorkhanov, Abdurakhman & Broxup, Marie (1992), The North Caucasus Barrier: The Russian Advance Towards the Muslim World. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, ISBN 1-85065-305-4.
  • (in Russian) Готлиб-Генрих Тотлебен, in: The Russian Biographical Dictionary.
  • Kneschke, Ernst Heinrich, Prof. Dr.: Neues allgemeines Deutsches Adels-Lexicon im Vereine mit mehreren Historikern herausgegeben von Prof. Dr. Ernst Heinrich Kneschke, unveränderter Abdruck des im Verlage von Friedrich Voigt zu Leipzig 1859–1870 erschienenen Werkes, Band IX, Verlag Degener&Co., Inhaber Oswald Spohr, Leipzig 1930
  • (in Russian)Репинский, Г. К.: Граф Готтлоб-Курт-Генрих Тоттлебен в в 1715–1763 г.г. Материалы для биографии, в : «Русская старина» за октябрь 1888 г., июнь, сентябрь и октябрь 1889 г. (выпуски LX, LXII, LXIII, LXIV)