Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815: Blücher, Gebhart Lebrecht, Fürst von Wahlstatt
By: Digby Smith
Blücher, Gebhart Lebrecht, Fürst von Wahlstatt.
Born on 16 December 1742 in Rostock in Mecklenburg, his father was a retired cavalry captain who had served in Hessen – Kassel; died on 12 September 1819 on his estate at Kriblowitz 9now Krobielowici, Poland). Entered military service in 1758 in Swedish service against Prussia, as a Junker in a hussar squadron raised by Graf Putbus. In 1759, he fought with his squadron at Kunersdorf with the Russians against Prussia. On 20 July of that year, he was promoted to Kornett. On 22 August 1760, he was captured at the Cavel pass by the Prussian Hus R von Belling Nr 8. He then changed sides and on 20 September 1760, became a Kornett in Hus R von Belling. On 4 January 1761, he was promoted to Sklt, and on 4 July 1761, to Prlt. From 1761 – 1762, he served in the war against Sweden and Austria, and was W at Freiberg. On 3 March 1771. he was promoted to Strttm. The Belling Hussars were a rough regiment which gave rise to many complaints about their conduct in Poland in 1772. Blücher had a Polish priest, whom he suspected of being an enemy spy, subjected to a dummy firing squad to loosen his tongue. Frederick the Great was so exasperated with the regiment that he sacked several of the officers and passed over others – including Blücher – for promotion. Blücher resigned in disgust on 31 October 1772; Frederick the Great responded: `This is not a regiment of hussars but of gypsies; those who just stood aside and let this happen deserve no promotion!` Herr Blücher may go to the devil.
Blücher left Prussian service and went back to farm the family estate in Mecklenburg, but applied for a new commission on 20 January 1773. This request – and several others – was refused. To one such, Frederick the Great wrote on 3 June 1782: `It is his fault that he did not stay in my service`. 23 Mar 1787 – finally taken back into service by King Friedrich Wilhelm II after the old king`s death as Maj and EsCh in the Prussian Hus R von der Schulenberg Nr 8. In 1787, he took part in the war in the Netherlands, but Blücher saw no action. 3 June 1788, he was promoted to Obst Lt, and on 4 June 1789, he was awarded the PLM. On 20 August 1790, he was promoted to Obst. On 10 May 1792, he asked to be given an active role in the forthcoming war with France, but this was refused. On 3 December 1792 – his regiment (von der Goltz Nr 8) was mobilised. From 1793 to 1795, he fought on the Rhine at the battle of Kaiserslautern and the clashes at Kirrweiler, Fischlingen, Edesheim, Luxemburg, Saarbrücken, Pfeddersheim, Hasnon, Diedesheim and Moorlautern. On 3 March 1794, he was appointed CO of Hus R Nr 8, and on 10 April 1794, he was promoted to GM. On 13 June 1794, he was appointed Chef of Hus R Nr 8. It was in these years that he made his reputation as a daring and successful hussar commander. On 16 November 1795, he was appointed GOC of the mobilised Prussian troops in Westfalia. On 20 March 1801, he was promoted to GL. On 10 February 1802, he was appointed Governor of Münster / Westphalia. In 1806, he fought at Auerstedt then withdrew through Waren, Criwitz, Wismar, to Lübeck where he was defeated by M Bernadotte on 6 November, capitulating at Ratkau next day. He signed the capitulation and added : `I capitulate because I have no bread and no ammunition.`
He was exchanged for M Victor on 27 April 1807. On 5 May 1807, he was awarded the HOSA Ch and appointed GOC of a corps in Vorpommern. On 1 August 1807, he was appointed Governor General in Pommerania and the Neumark. In 1808 he became so agitated at Massenbach`s charge that he had been responsible for the shameful capitulation of Prenzlau on 28 Oct 1806 that he became mentally ill and thought that he had a baby elephant in his stomach. His obsessional hatred of the Emperor of the French reached such heights that he was often seen trying to kill flies with his sabre; every time he succeeded he shouted `Napoleon!` He did not recover until April 1809. Even in 1808, the relationship between Blücher and Scharnhorst was already so close that Scharnhorst told the old general one day: `Sie sind unser Führer und Held und müssten Sie in einer Sünfte uns vor- oder nachgetragen werden. Nur bei Ihnen ist Entschlossenheit und Glück.` ( You are our leader and hero, even if you have to be carried before or behind us in a litter. Only with you is there determination and happiness). On 20 May 1809, von Blücher was promoted to GoC.
Blücher was inflamed with a violent hatred of the French and belonged to the War Party in Prussia as did Gneisenau and Scharnhorst with whom he worked on the reforms of the Prussian army. His activities in politics brought him into conflict with the Peace Party his and his attitude was known to Napoleon who exerted pressure on King Friedrich Wilhelm III to have him removed from his post in Pommerania. In 1809 he presided over the court – martial of Schill`s surviving officers and urged the king to join Austria in the war against France but the king dithered until Austria was defeated. At the end of 1811, Blücher, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst were sacked and exiled from Berlin by the king at Napoleon`s insistence. Blücher went to Silesia to grind his teeth in rage and frustation throughout 1812. In 1813 he was given command of the Prussian army after the declaration of war against France over Gen von Yorck which was the cause of much friction between the two. Blücher trusted his CoS – Gerhard Johann David von Scharhorst – utterly. They fought at Lützen, where Scharnhorst was mortally wounded, dying in Prague on 8 Jun 1813. Blücher then worked with Gneisenau as his CoS; they formed a very successful team who later helped Wellington win at Waterloo. Together they fought at Bautzen and Haynau, for which von Blücher was awarded the Russian OstG II and the EK II. On 28 May, he was appointed GOC–in–C of all troops in Silesia and of the Army of Silesia. He fought at the Katzbach (EK GC), Leipzig – where he was promoted GFM on the battlefield and awarded the Austrian MTO GC. The Czar took the star of the OStAw GC from his own breast and pinned it on Blücher`s. When the allies stormed Leipzig on 19 October, the Russians gave Blücher his nickname of `Marschall Vorwärts` (Marshal Forwards). In 1814 he fought at Brienne, La Rothiere, Laon etc. On 3 June 1814, he was created Fürst Blücher von Wahlstatt. On 6 June he accompanied the allied monarchs on a state visit to Britain, where he was feted with shouts of `Blücher for ever!`
The Prince Regent presented him with a diamond – studded miniature portrait of himself and he received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. To this honour Blücher replied: `Well, if you make me a doctor, you must make Gneisenau an apothecary because we two belong together!` Blücher was also made an honorary citizen of Oxford. In 1815 he was again appointed commander of the Prussian army and fought at Ligny on 16 June (where he was crushed under his horse and saved by his Adj Graf Nostitz) and at Waterloo two days later. For this he was awarded the `Blücherstern` to his EK. Blücher`s implacable hatred of the French was undiminished; he searched out all the art treasures that they had robbed from Prussia and took them back to Berlin as he did their trophies - those which the French had not burned in 1814. He was also only just prevented from blowing up the `Pont de Jena` in the city as the mine he had ordered installed was too weak to do much damage. The timely arrival of the allied monarchs in Paris saved the structure from his second attempt. On 13 March 1819 Blücher was awarded the Karl–Friedrich Verdienst Orden GC of Baden, and on 10 April 1819, the Ernestinischer Hausorden GC of Saxony. Blücher`s command of German grammar was sketchy at best; he was a soldiers` general and beloved by his troops and by his staff.
General Langeron wrote of him in his memoirs: `His energy was prodigious, he was always on horseback. His eye for ground was excellent, his heroic courage inspired his troops, but his talent as a general was limited to just these qualities. They were many, but would not have been enough if they had not been backed up. He had little knowledge of strategy, he could not find where he was on a map and he was incapable of making a plan of campaign or a troop disposition.`
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2010
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