Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815

Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815: Thielmann, Johann Adolf Freiherr von

Thielmann, Johann Adolf Freiherr von (1215)

Born on 27 April 1765 in Dresden; his father, Johann Friedrich, was Oberrechnungsrat (senior accounts adviser) to the Elector of Saxony. Thielmann junior was one of the most interesting and controversial  characters of the Napoleonic era. From 19 October 1776 to 7 January 1779 he attended the Fürstenschule of St Afra in Meissen and was thence privately tutored. In 1780 he entered Saxon military service as a Junker in the cavalry and on 7 June 1782, was promoted to Pfrch in the ChLR Herzog von Kurland in Grimma, near Leipzig. On 30 March 1784, he was commissioned as Sklt, and on 13 July 1791, was promoted Prlt in the newly raised HusR von Kölleda. He served in the war against France from 1793 to 1796 and fought in the clashes of Limbach, Bliescastel (where he captured a cannon), Biesingen, Neunkirchen, Bildstöcker Hof, the siege of Mainz, the clashes of Limburg an de Lahn, Hahnstätten and Uckerath an der Sieg, where he won the St Heinrichsorden. Thielmann was an enlightened political thinker; on 22 August 1796 he wrote: `Überhaupt die Deutschen bedürfen eine neue Aufgabe, die alte taugt nichts mehr. (The Germans need a new ideology, the old one doesn`t work any more) As a young lieutenant he also wrote: `Das Gefühl, dass der Soldat nie vergessen muss, ein Bürger seines Vaterlandes zu sein, ist heute mir zur deutschen Idee geworden.` (The feeling that a soldier must not forget, that he is a citizen of his fatherland, has today become my German idea.)  Later in his diary he wrote:` Willst Du weise werden, so lerne Dich selbst kennen.`  (If you wish to become wise, know thyself) On 3 May 1798, he was promoted to Strtmstr.

In 1801 he visited Paris and was mightily impressed with much that he saw; this experience shaped his future life.  On 15 July 1804 he tendered his resignation, which was rejected. In 1805, he was sent to Weimar with a squadron of 100 hussars to attend upon the Czar`s visit. This meeting was to have great influence on his career eight years later. In the same year he was appointed ADC to Prinz Loius Ferdinand of Prussia. In the war of 1806 he fought at Jena and was then sent to Napoleon to negotiate an armistice for Saxony, in this he was successful; he also fell totally under the great man`s spell. Their meeting lasted an hour and was key to Saxony abandoning Prussia and becoming one of Naopleon`s most loyal allies. On 15 January 1807, he was promoted Rtmstr and ChEs and on 5 February that same year, was promoted to Maj and ADC ( Flügeladjutant ) to the king of Saxony. On 1 April 1807, he was appointed ADC to General von Polenz, GOC of the Saxon contingent operating with the Grande Armee. He fought at the siege of Danzig, and at the battles of Heilsberg and Friedland. On 24 June 1807, he attended the grand review at Tilsit and was awarded the French LdH Ch. On 15 June 1808, he was appointed ADC to Marshal Davout, first in Warsaw, then in Erfurt. On 1 March 1809, he was promoted to Obstlt, and on 12 April that same year, to Obst and General Adjutant. On 28 April 1809, he was given command of a mixed corps charged with destroying the corps of the dispossessed Duke of Brunswick. He fought in the clashes at Peterswalde, Zittau and Dresden. On 17 July 1809 he was promoted GM, and on 26 Feb 1810, again promoted, to GL, and given command of the Kürassier Brigade (Garde du Corps and von Zastrow Kürassiers). This was a truly meteoric career. On 16 February 1811, he was awarded the French LdH O and the next month was awarded the Commander`s Cross, Order of the Westfalian Crown. In 1812, he took part in the invasion of Russia in command of his 7th Heavy Cavalry Division, in the IV Cavalry Corps; he was distinguished at Borodino, on 7 September, where his brigade was the first to enter the Grand Battery. It was in this battle that the scales finally fell from his eyes and his admiration for Napoleon turned into bitter hatred when he saw his brigade- and many other fine reiments torn to pieces to satisfy the Emperor`s lust for glory and power. On 8 October 1812 he was ennobled. On 2 January 1813, he was appointed to command the Saxon cavalry division in Torgau fortress on the River Elbe. On 24 February 1813, he was appointed governor of the fortress; the gathering place for the Saxon survivors of the Russian disaster.

He now wanted to pull his dithering king over to the allied side and took up communications with the Prussian minister Freiherr von Stein and with Blücher to this end. On 27 April he tried to win over other Saxon officers of the garrison to his cause but failed. On the day of the battle of Gross-Görschen (2 May) he wrote to von Stein` Bei Torgau geht kein Franzose ueber die Elbe`. (No Frenchman will cross the Elbe at Torgau).  On the 9 May he received an order from King Friedrich August of Saxony to hand over control of the strategically important fortress, with its 11,000 strong garrison and all the warlike stores and artillery, to the French. He called all the officers together, read them the order and told them that he and his Chief of Staff (the later Prussian General von Aster) would not execute it but would leave the fortress. On 10 May he wrote to the king: `Die Festung Torgau, die ich Euer Majestät treu erhalten habe, ist Übergeben. Euer KöniglicheMajestät lege ich meine 32-jährigen Dienste hiermit untertänigst zu Füssen.`( The fortress of Torgau, which I have loyally held for your majesty, has been handed over. I now lay my 32 years of service most humbly at your feet.).  He and Aster then went and presented themselves to the Csar and that same day both entered Russian service, Thielmann with the same rank, as a reward for not handing Torgau fortress over to the French until this point. Until the battle of Kulm (29/30 August 1813) he remained in Alexander`s suite and his first task was to organize the arming of the Lausitz area for the allied cause. On 1 September 1813, he was given command of a Streifkorps of 2,200 Austrian, Prussian and Russian cavalry to operate deep in the enemy`s rear areas. He carried out this task with great success and was a natural partisan commander. His actions included Lützen, Leipzig, Altenburg, Gössnitz, Weissenfels, Merseburg, Kösen (for which he was awarded the Russian OStA GC), Meuselwitz, Zeitz, Dornburg and Stössen (which earned him the OStG I). At the battle of Leipzig, his force operated on the allied left wing under the Austrian FML Gyulai against superior enemy forces at Lindenau. After the battle, his corps led the chase of the beaten enemy to Erfurt. On 25 September 1813, he was awarded the Prussian RAO I, and on 26 October 1813, he was appointed GOC of the Ducal Saxon corps and joined with the III German Federal Corps of the Herzog von Weimar. In 1814 he fought at Courtrai. On 9 March 1815, Thielmann and Aster transferred to Prussian service, the former as GOC III Corps. In 1815, Thielmann fought at Sombreffe and Wavre helping to prevent Marshal Grouchy from marching to Waterloo. On 11 July 1815, he was awarded the EK II, and on 3 October of that year, was appointed GOC in Westphalia province. Two days later, he received a gift of Thlr 25,000 from the king. On 16 January 1816, he was given a porcelain bust of Napoleon, made in the factory at Sevres. On 3 April 1820, he was appointed GOC VIII Corps, and on 30 March 1824, was promoted to GdK. Thielmann died in Koblenz on the Rhine, on 10 October 1824.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2012


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