Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815

Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815: Pfül, Karl Ludwig August Friedrich von

By: Digby Smith

Pfül, Karl Ludwig August Friedrich von (1078)

Sometimes the name is spelled Pfull

Born on 6 November 1757 in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart in Württemberg; his father was Karl Ludwig Wilheln August, GL and Kammerherr (chamberlain) to the ducal court. On 13 February 1774, he entered Württemberg military service as Lt in the Leib-Garde zu Fuss, but, on 21 February 1778, he left Württemberg`s service. On 18 March 1778, he entered Prussian service as Sklt in the Freiregiment Graf Hordt in Oranienburg. On 2 August 1778, he was promoted to Prlt; he served in the war of 1778/1779 against Austria. On 26 June 1779, he was promoted to Kpt and appointed to be a QMLt on the general staff in Potsdam. On 12 July 1779, his salary was increased by Thlr 500 p.a. He became dissatified with his post and wrote to the king asking for a better position; on 4 November 1786, Friedrich Wilhelm II replied: `...if you are not satisfied with your current post you may leave my service.` On 29 November 1787, Pfuel went on 3 months` leave. On 22 February 1790, he was promoted to Maj and appointed mathematics instructor for officer cadets on a salary of Thlr 240 p.a. On 4 June 1790, he was appointed 2. QM in the county of Glatz, in Silesia. On 7 April 1791, he was posted to East Prussia. From 1792/3, he fought in the war with France, and on 18 April 1793, was awarded the PLM for his actions in the clash at Karlsberg. In 1795/6 he was a member of the joint commission which defined the new Russo-Prussian border, in what had until 1795 had been the kingdom of Poland. On 11 November 1796, he was promoted to Obstlt and on 3 January 1798, was appointed GQMLt on the Prussian army general staff. On 10 March 1798, he was appointed Amtshauptmann (steward) zu Gatersleben and Krottendorf. On 21 June 1798, he was promoted to Obst and in 1799, he was sent to the new Prussian provinces in ex-Poland to draw up contingency plans for defence against a possible Russian invasion. On 22 October 1799, he applied to resign due to ill health; his request was refused. In December 1801 he was tasked with drawing up contingency plans to oppose a possible Austrian invasion. In that same month, when France occupied Hanover, he drew up plans to oppose further French expansion. Pfül belonged to the `War Party` in Prussia and lobbied the Duke of Brunswick-commander of the Prussian army-to remove Graf von Haugwitz and other members of the `Peace Party` from their posts. On 19 December 1805, he was promoted to GM.

He, Massenbach and Scharnhorst were the three senior members of the Prussian General Staff during the campaign of 1806 and he was regarded by his contemporaries as somewhat of a genius. He was a great admirer of Julius Caesar and Frederick the Great but had no conception of modern warfare. He was a sworn enemy of common Philistines, superficialty, lies and weaknesses; this gave him an air of great strength, depth and genius. ` I have never seen anyone lose his head more quickly, or anyone who, obsessed by a great strategic vision, be so put out by simple, everyday, real-world problems. `He was extremely sensitive and could not stand any criticism of his theories; until 1812 he did not have to .

In the Revolutionary Wars he played only a minor part and only after the fighting ceased did he become General Quartermaster to Field Marshal Möllendorf.

In Möllendorf`s headquarters in Hochheim in 1795, Phull announced `I`m not bothering with anything anymore because it`s all going to the devil anyway !` This was a reference to the fact that Prussia was pulling out of the coalition against France.

During the subsequent years of peace as a staff officer, he lived-as did the other staff officers -in a world of war games and imaginary actions. `In 1806 he was a staff officer to King Frederick William III of Prussia but, as the king did not command, Phull did nothing. `

After the disasters of Jena and Auerstädt he lost his nerve completely. `In 1806, whilst fleeing from the French, he took off his hat and cried

`Adieu, Prussian monarchy !`

He then wrote:`

Von unsere Lage und Kräften lässt sich nichts mehr erwarten. Nicht ein Augenblick ist zu verlieren um mit dem Sieger in bestimmte Unterhandlungen zu treten, mit demselben die offenste Sprache zu führen und ihn mit schmeichelhaften Ausdrücken in Hinsicht auf sein Talent und seine Grossmut zu gewinnen zu suchen.` (There is nothing more to be expected from our situation and our strength. Not a moment is to be wasted, before entering into negotiations with the victor, to conduct certain dealings with him and to seek to profit from them by making referenceto his talent and generosity.)

His irony burst forth; he laughed like a maniac at the destruction of our army. `Instead of coming forward to help fill the great spiritual vacuum which had settled on the Prussian state and army after the defeat, to prove his practical virtuosity as Scharnhorst did, he resigned and took Russian service .

On 30 November 1806, he requested permission to transfer to Russian service, to which the king agreed on  12 December 1806. On 20 December 1806, von Pfül was appointed GM a la suite (on the staff) of the Russian army. He found great favour with the Czar and instructed him on strategy.

After the battle of Preussisch-Eylau (in 1807) he was sent to plan with Scharnhorst (an officer on the Prussian staff at this point) what next should be done; they recommended that Blücher`s corps be sent to Vorpommern and this plan was adopted. 

In early 1812 the Czar felt so confident that he felt that he could command the Russian armies against Napoleon.

`Alexander, although never having served in the army, wanted to exercise supreme command himself. He felt qualified for this post on the basis of the years of private tuition which he had received in St Petersburg at Phül`s hands.`

Having followed the success of the Duke of Wellington`s Lines of Torres Vedras, which stopped the French overrunning Portugal in 1810, von Pfull cast around the territory of western Russia, to find a site, where he might emulate them, to stop Napoleon`s invasion.

`Phull`s plan (in 1812 to build a great, fortified camp at Drissa on the River Dwina) was selected by the Tsar without reference to his Minister for War (Barclay de Tolly) who disagreed with it - as many others also did - but Barclay had no choice but to try to put it into effect.`

Clausewitz (also now on the Russian staff) had no faith in the plan either and indeed, its flaws were many, mainly because its author had developed it in splendid isolation in his ivory tower in Wilna. The basic problem was that western Russia contained precious few natural obstacles of any strength and even the major rivers were frequently fordable in many places. Extensive reconnaissances did locate a reasonably suitable site at Drissa on the River Dwina however, and Phull decided to make this the central feature of his entire defensive strategy. The main problem was that Drissa was in the wrong place.`

Happily for Russia - and the rest of Europe - this plan was abandoned at the last moment.

Phull had not troubled to learn Russian, had not acquainted himself with the leading members of the state or army and knew nothing of their organization. `Alexander decided to treat him as an abstract genius who could not be expected to carry out mundane, practical tasks.

On 12 July 1812 Freiherr von Stein, the great Prussian reformer of the post-1806 era, wrote of Pfuel:

`Pfül hat den grössten Einfluss auf den Zaren, der ihm vertraut als einem Mann von gründlichen militärischen Ansichten, von einem durchaus rechtschaffenen Character und er befolgt die ersten Elementen seines Plans zum Feldzug. In der Ausführung enstehen aber viele Reibungen. Pfül ist reizbar, hypochondrisch, sein Vortrag ist abstrakt systematisch, für Menschen die nicht ans Denken gewöhnt sind, unverständlich. Er wird leicht störrisch und statisch, ist nicht durchgreifend genug, er hat daher wenig Popularität.` (Pfül has the greatest influence on the Tsar, who trusts him as a man of thorough military knowledge, having an upright character; he follows the first elements of his plan for the campaign. The execution (of this plan) however, causes much friction. Pfül is very irritable, hypochondriac. His presentation is abstractly systematic – incomprehensible for those who are not used to thinking. He quickly becomes irritable and stubborn; he is not thorough enough, thus, he is not popular`)

The Tsar was convinced of the genius and validity of Pfül`s plan and expended much time and resources on having it built, much to the chagrin of the rest of his staff, who quickle saw the defects of the strategic nonsense on which it was based.

When Napoleon`s invasion was rolling forward, some members of Alexander`s staff, managed to convince him to visit the site with them; there, they explained the inadequacies of the place. This had nothing in common with the Lines of Torres Vedras; it could easily be bypassed or ignored, the defences were on the wrong side of the river, its flanks were open and so on. After listening in silence, Alexander ordered that all work should cease and the place was abandoned.

In November 1812, in St Petersburg, after the French had begun their retreat, he said to Freiherr von Stein: `Believe me, no good will come of this!`

`Phül had not changed one whit over the years; he did, however, have a true heart and a selfless character.`

On 20 November 1812 he was sent on a mission to London by the Tsar and in 1814 he became Russian ambassador to the Netherlands. He died on 25 April 1826.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2011


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