Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815

Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815: Yorck, Johann David Ludwig von

Yorck, Johann David Ludwig von. (1120)

Commander, I Corps in 1813.

Born on 26 September 1759 in Potsdam to David Jonathan von Yorck, captain in the Gren Bn von Klingspor Nr 4; died on 4 Oct 1833 in Klein - Oels, Kreis Oels (now Olesnica, east of Wroclaw, Poland), Silesia. He entered military service on 1 December 1772 as Gfkpl in the IR von Borcke Nr 16; on 1 July 1773, he transferred to Füs R von Luck Nr 53. On 4 March 1775, he was promoted to Frch, and on 11 June 1777, was commissioned as Sklt. From 1778 – 1779, he served in the war with Austria. On 10 January 1780, he was cashiered for insubordination to a captain whom he accused of looting, and was sentenced to one year`s fortress arrest in Friedrichsburg castle, east of Coburg.  In June 1781, he was transferred into Dutch service on the recommendation of his sister, the Crown Princess of Orange, as Captain in the Swiss IR de Meuron. From 1783 - 1784 - served against the British at the Cape of Good Hope and in the East Indies, together with the French Admiral Suffren. In 1786, he returned to Berlin and requested Frederic the Great to re-instate him in the Prussian army. On 3 February 1786, the king noted on his letter of application: `At his own admission, he served in the French fleet under Admiral Suffren. He may be familiar with naval service, but that is no reason to suppose that he would understand land warfare in one of my newly raised regiments. ` Next day, Frederic noted: `After his last service I would be silly to employ him in the infantry; that would be just like a cook wanting to be a dancing master.` After the old king died, von Yorck tried his luck once more; on 29 August 1786, King Friedrich Wilhem II again refused him, saying that he had no vacancies at the moment. At last, on 7 May 1787, he was taken back into Prussian service as a captain in the Füs Bn von Plüskow Nr 8;, and on 27 November 1792, was promoted toMaj. From 1794 – 1795, he served in the war with Poland, fought at Sczekoczyn and proved to be an excellent regimental officer. On 12 September 1797, he was appointed Chef of Füs Bn Nr 23, and on 16 November 1799, was given command of the Feldjäger R. He found the regiment to be in a very neglected state; the officers did not know their duties and were brawling drunks and gamblers. The men were indisciplined and spent their time poaching. Yorck sorted them out very quickly in no uncertain fashion and trained them in open order skirmishing. He reaped the king`s praise at the 1800 army review. On 11 June of that year, he was promoted to Obst Lt. Von Yorck did not get on well with the Chef of the Feldjägers (Gen von Voss) and applied to be transferred in 1803; the king refused his request. On 2 June 1803, he was promoted to Obst, and on 22 September 1805, he was appointed Chef of the Feldjäger R. In the 1806 campaign, he was in the Duke of Weimar`s corps and missed the battles. After Jena he commanded the rearguard and marched through the Harz mountains to Join Blücher`s corps and was again commander of the rearguard . He held up the French at Altenzaun on the River Elbe, north of Magdeburg, on 26 October. He was wounded and captured at Lübeck in Blücher`s corps on 6 November. Most of his Jägers evaded capture and rejoined the colours; they were an example to the entire army. Yorck was exchanged in Jan 1807 but was still sick from his wound. The defeat of 1806 had hardened and embittered him; he was known as `the man carved from iron`. On 18 June 1807, he was promoted to GM and awarded the PLM. On 12 July, he was appointed commander of Memel (now Klaipeda in Lithuania) on the Baltic coast. On 14 November 1807, he was transferred to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), and on 21 December 1808, was appointed Insp Gen of all light infantry (fusiliers and Jägers). He was initially strongly opposed to the proposed social and military reforms of Freiherr von Stein and von Scharnhorst, but later became close to Scharnhorst. He also disapproved of the disbandment of the old regiments following the debacle of 1806. On 12 November 1811, he was appointed Governor General of Prussia; he prepared plans to resist a possible British invasion. Von Yorck hated the French and took steps to move all state property out of their way. On 29 November, he was appointed Chef of the East Prussian Brigade. On 18 January 1812, he was awarded the RAO II with oakleaves. On 24 March, he was promoted GL and made deputy to Gen Grawert, the commander of the Prussian corps formed for operations with the French in Russia. On 17 August he assumed command of the corps when Grawert fell ill. All his subordinate commanders (Horn, Hünerbein, Kleist, Massenbach, Röder, Steinmetz) shared his hatred of the French and Yorck`s relationships with Macdonald were bad. During the campaign in Russia in 1812, Maj von Wrangel (ADC to king Friedrich Wilhelm III) was sent by the king as special attache to General von Grawert, the first commander of the Prussian corps in the invasion. He carried the following verbal orders from the king:

`1. Alles Blutvergiessen womöglich soweit verhindern, als es die Ehre der Truppen erlauben würde. 2. Im Falle eines allgemeinen Rückzuges sich von der französischen Armee zu trennen und das preussische Korps in Graudenz zu konzentrieren, ohne Franzosen oder Russen in der Festung aufzunehmen.3. Daselbst die weiteren Befehle des Königs abzuwarten.`

(1. Avoid all possible casualties that the honour of the troops will permit. 2. In the case of a general withdrawal, part from the  French army and concentrate the Prussian corps in Graudenz, without allowing either the French or the Russians to enter the fortress. 3. Wait there for further orders from the king.)

This must have had great influence on Yorck`s conduct in concluding the Convention of Tauroggen with the Russians in December 1812.

On 1 October, he was awarded the RAO I and a gift of Thr 4,000. He was distinguished in the actions from 26 September to 26 November in Latvia (Eckau, Mesoten, Gräfenthal, Lautschkruge, Garosse River, Dahlenkirchen). On 30 December 1812 he concluded the Convention of Tauroggen with the Russian Gen Diebitsch, by which the Prussian corps became neutral. He had previously sought guidance from the Prussian king as to what he should do but had been given only evasive replies. Yorck ignored the king`s subsequent order to hand over command of his corps to Gen von Kleist. At last, on 11 March 1813, the king issued an army order confirming von Yorck in his post. On 17 March 1813, Yorck`s corps entered Berlin. His action was investigated by a court of enquiry (the members were the generals Diericke, Kanitz and Schuler von Senden) and he was prounced blameless.

During the campaigns of 1813 – 1815, von Yorck was GOC I Corps. Before he left Berlin on 27 March, he attended church service and, kneeling before the altar, said: `From this moment on, none of us now owns his own life, none of us must count on seeing the end of the war, everyone must be ready and willing to give his life for king and fatherland. Now we go off to war. I swear, an unhappy fatherland will never see me again!` He fought at Möckern on 5 April and defeated Prince Eugene`s troops; for this he was the first one to be decorated with the Iron Cross, second class (EK II). At Lützen on 2 May, as he led his corps past the Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm asked him: `Where`s the Iron Cross I gave you?` Yorck responded: `Your Majesty, I won`t wear it until those I recommended for it get theirs. ` `You recommended a lot.` said the king. `Only those who deserved it for bravery!` retorted Yorck. He also fought at Gross-Görschen on 6 May 1813 and was the first to be decorated with the EK I . His other battles included Bautzen, and on 10 June, he was awarded oakleaves to his PLM. In the autumn campaign, von Yorck was placed under Blücher and felt himself slighted. He had many violent arguements with Blücher and Gneisenau about strategy but remained loyal. He fought at the Katzbach (31 Aug and was awarded the HOSA Ch). His great tactical skill was demonstrated when he forced the Elbe crossing at Wartenburg on 3 October and robbed Napoleon of that river barrier. Of the 22 Prussian battalions in that battle, 11 were Landwehr. After the action Yorck said: `Now the Silesian Landwehr has passed the great test with all honours!` For this victory, he was ennobled as Graf Yorck von Wartenburg. On 16 October, his corps won the battle of Möckern, for which he received the Russian OStG I. On 8 December, he was promoted to GoI. In the 1814 campaign he fought at Chalons, Montmirail (Yorck was rightly criticised for not joining the fight soon enough), Laon (Yorck had a blazing row with Gneisenau, because the latter forbade him to exploit his initial surprise) and Paris. He was presented with the EK GC on 31 March 1814. On 30 May of that year, he accompanied the allied monarchs to London, and on 18 June 1814, he was appointed GOC in Silesia. On 15 April 1815, he was appointed GOC V Corps, but the war was over before he reached the front. His eldest son was killed at Versailles on 1 July 1815. On 3 October 1815, he was again appointed GOC of Silesia. He retired on 26 December 1815, and was promoted to GFM on 5 May 1821.  


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2012


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