Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815: Scharnhorst, Johann David von
Scharnhorst, Johann David von (1115)
Born on the 12 November 1775 in Bordenau, Kreis Neustadt am Rübenberge, northwest of Hanover. His father, Ernst Wilhelm, was a Quartermaster in the 8. Hanoverian Cavalry Regiment and Erbsasse (Master) of Bordenau. Young Scharnhorst was a farmer and largely self-educated. On 1 May 1771, he entered the Kriegsschule (War School) of the Graf of Lippe and Bückeburg on the island of Wilhelmstein fortress in lake Steihudermeer. In 1772, he was appointed Bombardier in the Graf`s artillery corps, and in 1774, he was promoted to NCO. In 1775 he was promoted to Kondukteur (senior NCO). On 28 July 1777, he was appointed Frch in the Hanoverian IR von Estorff, and in 1780, he was commissioned as Lt and instructor in the Kriegsschule in Hanover. In 1783 he toured Bavaria, Austria and Prussia and wrote reports on the states of their armies; he judged that of Bavaria to be very bad and Austria`s to be very good. By this time, he seems to have been transferred back into the artillery. He criticised the Prussian army for having too many different types and calibres of cannon. His paper was entitled: `Einige Nachrichten von der kaiserlich österreichischen und königlichen preussischen Artillerie von dem Artillerie-Fähnrich J . Scharnhorst auf enier Reise im Sommer 1783 gesammelt (Selected Details of the Imperial Austrian and Royal Prussian Artillery . . ).` In 1787 he wrote `Für Offiziere in den anwendbaren Teilen der Kriegwissenschaf t (For Officers in the Applicable Parts of the Science of War) . In 1792 his `Bibliothek für Offiziere`(Library for Officers) was retitled `Neues Militärisches Journal ` (New Military Journal), then later ``Militärische Denkwürdigkeiten unserer Zeiten `(Military Memoirsof our Time). He also wrote in 1792 the `Militärisches Taschenbuch für den Gebrauch im Felde`(Military Pocketbook for use in the Field). In this year he was also promoted to Stkpt. He fought in the war with France from 1792 – 1795, in GL von dem Busche`s Avant-Garde. He had little respect for his seniors. When the Hanoverian contingent crossed the River Maas he met his first emigres and was badly impressed by them. He fought in the battles of Famars, Courtray, Lincelles, Hochlede, and Hondschoote, in the clashes of Wormhout, Rexpoede, Veniers, Boxtel, Bentheim, the bombardment of Menin (at which he was wounded, very distinguished and received a sabre of honour); Werwick, the defence of Nijmwegen and the siege of Valenciennes. He made several suggestions for improving the conduct of the war in 1794 but they were ignored. They included: `Man muss dem Feinde, wo er sich sehen lässt, auf dem Hals fallen und bis Paris vordringen.`(One must fall on the enemy, wherever he appears, and drive on to Paris) General von Hammerstein wrote to his sovereign of Scharnhorst`s actions during the siege of Menin (27 – 30 April 1794) In this instance, in the night of 29/30 Apr 1794, he independently led the garrison and cut his way out of the town (whose defences were in a poor state) through the surrounding French force:
Scharnhorst was promoted major on the general staff of General von Wallmoden (`2. Aide-GQM`) on 27 June 1794, as a reward for his conduct at Hondschoote (6-8 September 1793), where he saved the Hanoverian troops by applying good artillery tactics, and for his initiative in saving the garrison of Menin. Scharnhorst wrote up this deed in his `Die Verteidigung der Stadt Menin und die Selbstbefreiung der Garnison unter dem General von Hammerstein.` (The Defence of the Town of Menin and the Escape of the Garrison Under General von Hammerstein) Kaiser Franz II was most impressed with the action.He wrote of it : ….diese glänzende Aktion, die mit so vieler Klugheit ausgeführt…(This brilliant deed, that was so cleverly executed). Scharnhorst was made Chef of a horse artillery battery. His career had now really taken off and he came to the attention of the king of Prussia. In 1796 he joined the staff of the Corps of Observation (15,000 men) in Westphalia under Wallmoden and the Duke of Brunswick. He came into close contact with von Blücher and the Freiherr von Stein, making very favourable impressions on both of them. At this time Denmark and Baden were also trying to woo him into their service. Oberst von Lecoq led the Prussian attempt to win him over and offered him a commission as a major with a salary of Thlr 3,000 p.a. as opposed to his Hanoverian pay of Thlr 1,000, but Wallmoden promoted him to Oberstleutnant which carried a salary increase of Thlr 550 p.a. in 1798. On 5 May 1801, Clausewitz was accepted into Prussian service as Obstlt (with his commission back-dated to 14 June 1800) as Chef of a company of foot artillery in the 3. FAR. He actually left the service of the Electorate of Hanover on 19 May 1801. Much of the Prussian officer corps was hostile to him, but the king, Prinz Louis Ferdinand, Generals von Blücher, von Rüchel and others recognized his talents and supported him. He ran the autumn officers` military academy and his pupils included Clausewitz, Rühle and Tiedemann. Scharnhorst`s literary output continued; he wrote a handbook on artillery tactics and several other manuals as well as continuing to produce his periodica `Military Journal`. He suggested forming divisions in the army and other improvements in infantry and cavalry tactics. On 16 September 1802 he was ennobled. Von Scharnhorst convinced Friedrich Wilhelm III to take the Hanoverian artillery captain Christian Sigismund Ziehen into his service and tried to urge his old friend, von der Decken, to come over as well, but Decken had no love for the Prussians so this came to nothing. On 26 March 1804, von Clausewitz was appointed GQM (Chief of Staff) on the General Staff, and von Scharnhorst was appointed GQMLt on the general staff, but remained Chef of an artillery company until 17 September 1805. He was a great admirer of Napoleon`s and held discussions of the new French tactics with his students. On 20 May 1804, he was promoted to Obst with a salary of Thlr 2,500 p.a. In 1804 he suggested the introduction of general liability for military service in Prussia and the establishment of a national militia, but the king could not bring himself to follow his advice, still fearing to arm his own subjects on such a scale. He did however, agree to the increase of the establishment of the Kriegsschule and Scharnhorst was empowered to examine and approve all suggested improvements in artillery equipment and tactics. In the 1805 mobilisation of the Prussian army, von Scharnhorst was attached to the Duke of Brunswick and had to participate in the Prussian annexation of his homeland, Hanover.
In the 1806 campaign he was initially attached to Gen von Rüchel`s staff but on 6 September, he was transferred to that of the Duke of Brunswick. He made suggestions for the conduct of the forthcoming campaign but von Massenbach`s opposition was too strong. At the beginning of the battle of Auerstädt, the Duke, fearing that GM von Schmettau`s division was advancing too far too soon, sent von Scharnhorst to him to rein him in. He said to von Scharnhorst: `Ich mache Sie für alles, was bei der Division Schmettau geschiet, verantwortlich.` (I hold you responsible for everything that happens to Schmettau`s division). Scharnhorst was thus removed from army-level command and relegated to divisional level where he was unable to influence the course of the battle to any great degree. Shortly after he arrived at GL von Schmettau`s division, that general was mortally wounded and von Scharnhorst had to assume command of the formation. He soon achieved local success, but lack of cavalry under his command meant that he could not exploit it. Scharnhorst was the last Prussian officer to leave the battlefield that day and was slightly wounded during the action.
On 17 October, he met and joined Blücher`s corps at Nordhausen; they were both captured at the capitulation of Ratkau. Scharnhorst was exchanged on 9 November 1806; he went to Ostpreussen, reported to the king and was attached to the staff of L`Estocq`s corps from 14 January 1807. His reception was cool as the general`s ADC was very hostile to him.Von Scharnhorst now urged the king to have Blücher and Oberst von Yorck- who were still in French captivity- exchanged and on 5 February, Friedrich Wilhelm told him that the two officers would be exchanged for General Victor and Col. Lavasseur.
Scharnhorst fought at Preussisch-Eylau on 7 and 8 February 1807, and was influential in ensuring that the Prussians enjoyed a local victory in their sector of the battlefield. On 21 February, he was awarded the PLM for that battle. GL von Laurens was then appointed CoS of the Prussian army and von Scharnhorst complained to the king that this post was rightfully his. It transpired that Laurens was only a temporary replacement for the previous incumbent-GL von Geusau-who had been suspended from duty. Friedrich Wilhelm III apologized to von Scharnhorst:
Signed at Memel on 24 March 1807. (If you find that GM von Laurens` function of recommending to me promotions in the staff is a relegation for you, then I am sorry, for there is no way I could have known this and I did not mean to offend you. In order to soothe your feelings, I have removed this task from General-Leutnant von Laurenz and call upon you to make suggestions for promotions, which, by the way, are to made based on seniority.)
A quite amazing letter for any monarch – at any time – to write to a middle-ranking staff officer, and indicative of the respect in which von Scharnhorst was held.
On 23 April 1807, von Scharnhorst was called to the king in Bartenstein to partake in a planning session with the Russians. When he returned to L`Estocq`s headquarters the situation there was very difficult and the general`s health had deteriorated dramatically. Von Scharnhorst reported this matter, and the state of the corps, to the king on 7 June. The king answered on 14 June that he could not exchange L`Estocq at the moment, but that he was sure that Scharnhorst`s motives in bringing it to his attention were pure and that he would work to minimise any potential problems.
The Peace of Tilsit shattered von Scharnhorst and initially he considered leaving Prussian service. Czar Alexander offered him a post but he refused to accept it. He also considered going into British service but on 17 July 1807 he was promoted GM,and on 25 July 1808, was appointed Chairman of the Militair-Reorganisations-Kommission des Heeres (Military Reorganization Commission of the Army; MRKH ). On 17 August 1807, the king made him Amtsmann (steward) of the estate in Rügenwalde, East Prussia.
Scharnhorst called on his old friends Gneisenau, Grolmann, Götzen and Boyen to help him in the massive task of reconstructing the Prussian army, but Gneisenau and Boyen were so disheartened by the state of Prussia that they fell away in 1809. Before they left however, they supported von Scharnhorst in breaking the opposition of the old reactionary generals in the Commission, several of whom were removed at Scharnhorst`s insistence. In the following years, von Scharnhorst reorganized the Prussian army and succeeded in inducing the king to bring in universal military service liability as both were now convinced that Prussia`s salvation lay in an army of native patriots and not foreign mercenaries. Such a radical change meant a complete revision of the entire social, economical and political systems in Prussia.
The old Kantonpflicht, which meant that the nobility and the peasant farmers were exempt from military service liability, was abolished; the nobility-who in the past had enjoyed the monopoly of supplying officers to the army were now allowed to sell their lands to anyone they chose and were free to adopt any profession that they wished. If the peasant farmers were to be allowed to join the army, they would have to be freed from their massive feudal obligations towards the landowners. The foundations were also laid for the formation of the Landwehr, or territorial army. Flogging as a military punishment was abolished and a more liberal code of military justice was introduced. All able-bodied Prussian male citizens of certain age groups were theoretically liable for military service; exemptions were minimised and the recruitment of foreigners was forbidden. Birth and status were no longer alone the keys to entry into the officer class; anyone who thought they had the required qualities could apply for a commission. The entire scheme seems to have been based on the French conscription system. The army was organized into brigades containing elements of all three arms. In fact, in 1813, these brigades were almost as large as the divisions in the French army. Von Scharnhorst wrote:
By the terms of the humiliating Peace of Tilsit in 1807, the Prussian army had been reduced to a maximum strength of 42,000 men by Napoleon. On 31 July 1807 von Scharnhorst presented to the king a plan to allow the rapid expansion of this small force in case of need. In the first three years of the plan, 20 able-bodied, trained men of each company were to be `beurlaubt` i.e. sent on long leave; in each subsequent year, ten men per company were to be sent on long leave. The missing men were to be replaced by new recruits. An ever-increasing pool of trained men would thus be formed who could easily be remobilized if and when needed. On 25 September 1807 the MRKH accepted this plan in principle and the `Krümpersystem` was born. The name harks back to the old method of recriuting soldiers whereby `crimps` would tour the village taverns enlisting anyone they could find to take `The King`s Shilling`.
On 5 May 1808 von Scharnhorst received the Russian OV III Ch from the Czar. On 6 August 1808 the king ordered that the ` Krümpersystem` should make a modest start in that each company was to rotate from 3 – 5 men in this year. The new recruits were to be drilled for one month then released; they were subsequently drilled on Sundays and holidays by officers and NCOs sent out into the towns for the purpose.
Gradually, these rotation quotas were increased. The reports of October 1812 show that 33,337 Krümper were trained and fit for duty in the field and a further 3,087 were fit for garrison duty. Earlier estimates of available trained manpower were wildly exaggerated; some spoke of 150,000 being achieved.
On 15 July 1808 von Scharnhorst convinced the king to raise a corps of Gendarmerie and on 19 July 1809 the new code of military justice was introduced; in all cases, it was to be subservient to the code of civil justice.
The production of weapons and ammunition caused many problems; von Scharnhorst took over the arsenals in Spandau and Potsdam and re-started production; he also started up new weapons production centres in Silesia, further to the east and away from the intense French spying. A new musket was presented for inspection by the Schickler brothers; it was tested and accepted for service. The first 1,000 were bought for the price of Thlr 11 each. Due to compromises forced on the designers from the need for these weapons to be compatible with existing stocks of the Nothardt musket (introduced in 1805), the so-called `Neupreussisches Gewehr `was a technological step backwards, being modelled on the French M 1772/1802 pattern.
On 25 December 1808 von Scharnhorst was appointed Director of the Allgemeinen Kriegsdepartement (General War Department), Chef of the Ingeneur-und Pionierkorps and Inspector General of fortresses. This rapid rise to a position of considerable influence generated great jealousy among many of the officer corps but the king firmly supported his protégé.
Prussia was, of course, awash with French secret agents watching every move that was made and on 21 March 1810 Napoleon forced Friedrich Wilhelm to remove von Scharnhorst from his key post; on 7 June 1810 von Scharnhorst handed over the Allgemeinen Kriegsdepartement to another general but he remained CoS and director of the Kriegsschulen, which the king had founded in this year at von Scharnhorst`s urging. He also retained responsibilty for the testing of new equipment and of tactics for the artillery and for the fortresses.
In 1809 he said :`Zur Sicherung grosser Erfolge gehört, dass eine Seele den Plan entwerfe, den Entschluss fasse und diese ausführe.` (To ensure great success, it is right that one soul developes the plan, takes the decision and executes it.)
On 14 January 1811, von Scharnhorst was appointed chairman of a commission charged with producing new drill regulations for all arms of the army. The other members were the infantry Majors von Clausewitz, von Krauseneck and von Natzmer; the cavalry sent the Oberst von von Zieten, Obstlt von Dolffs and Ritter von der Göltz.
On 23 July 1811, von Scharnhorst was given leave to tour the fortresses in Pomerania and Silesia and to take the waters in the spas of Silesia and Bohemia. This whole scheme was a cover to allow him to go to St Petersburg and to win the Czar over to the Prussian side in the increasingly threatening political climate.
On 24 September, von Scharnhorst met with Alexander and in November he returned to Prussia with a draft treaty. Friedrich Wilhelm III, characteristically, dithered, largely due to his ignorance of the Austrian position. Von Scharnhorst was sent secretly to Vienna in December 1811 and held negotiations with Metternich, the Austrian Chancellor, but failed to convince him and returned to Berlin on 24 December.
On 18 January 1812 he was awarded the RAO II with oak leaves. On 5 March 1812, von Scharnhorst resigned all his posts, in protest against the fact that the king had entered into a treaty with Napoleon against Russia.
Friedrich Wilhelm answered;
Von Scharnhorst retained direction of the Kriegsschulen, weapon production and the fortress system. He left Berlin on 26 March 1812 and went to Silesia, operating mostly out of Breslau.
Many other high-calibre Prussian officers also resigned from the army in disgust at the pact with France and the king had to introduce a rule that qualified general staff officers could not resign for at least some years after completing the staff training course.
On 15 May 1812, von Scharnhorst was permitted to tour the battlefields in the Austrian empire. As soon as he heard of Napoleon`s defeat in Russia, he plunged into a whirwind of activity to increase weapons production. On 3 February 1813, the formation of `Freiwillige-Jäger-Detachements` (Volunteer Jäger Detachments), attached to all regiments and designed to attract academics and the professional classes to the colours, was announced. Volunteers could choose which regiment they wished to serve in. On 9 February 1813, all exemptions from military service liability were suspended for the duration of the coming war. Von Scharnhorst also headed the organization of the Landwehr and the Landsturm in the kingdom. On 11 March 1813, he was promoted GL and appointed GQM on Blücher`s staff. On 17 March 1813, he published his `Verordnung über die Organisation der Landwehr` (Regulation for the Organization of the Landwehr) which called up all able-bodied men from 17 to 40 years of age and on the 21 April he published his second Regulation, in which he stated: `all who have grown a beard are liable for service in the Landsturm`(home guard). On 27 February, von Scharnhorst left the headquarters, at Alexander`s invitation to visit Imperial Headquarters in Kalisch to discuss joint plans; the Czar later said:` Never have I seen a man with such a clear sense of planning and comprehensive knowledge as Scharnhorst`.
The result of this conference was agreement that the old Kutusov (at age 68) was to be C-in-C of the allied armies; Prussia was to command one of the two armies to be formed; von Blücher was to command the Army of Silesia, with von Scharnhorst as his Chief of Staff.
The king wrote:
Von Scharnhorst joined Blücher`s headquarters in Allenburg and on 15 April, just as they heard that Napoleon had crossed the Rhine, and presented a plan which altered the hitherto cautious allied stance into a bold offensive.
Scharnhorst wanted to attack Eugene`s forces around Magdeburg, then swing left with both armies-south around the Harz mountains-and take post across the road from Frankfurt to Eisenach to block Napoleon`s advance. This plan had the advantages that it would force Napoleon to split his forces and would encourage the northern Germans to rise up in revolt against him. On 24 April, von Scharnhorst presented this plan in Dresden to his king and to Czar Alexander. Kutusov was severly ill at this point and his place was taken by General von Toll; he and General von Knesebeck combined to have the plan rejected.
On 2 May the battle of Gross-Görschen was fought; due to the failure of the allies to exploit their great superiority in cavalry, it was a wasted opportunity. The French held firm and the allies withdrew in good order. It did, however, show how great were the improvements that had been wrought in the Prussian army.
On 6 May 1813, von Scharnhorst was awarded the EK II.
There was one significant event – Sharnhorst had been mortally wounded in that battle; he died eight weeks later in Prague. Prior to his death, the Austrian FML Prince von Schwarzenberg and General Radetzky (his chief of staff in the autumn campaign) visited him there on 31 May and together they hammered out the principles of what later became known as the successful `Trachenberg Plan`.
On 28 June 1813 von Scharnhorst died; the entire Prussian army was shattered by the news. Blücher`s reaction was:` Lieber noch eine Schlacht verlieren, nur nicht Scharnhorst.` (I would sooner lose another battle than lose Scharnhorst)
Von Gneisenau wrote the following eulogy:
Die höchste Besonnenheit, Mut und Ausdauer in der Gefahr, endlich die umfassendste Kenntnis des Kriegswesens, machen ihn zu einem der merkwuerdigsten Staatsmänner und Soldaten, auf welche Deutschland je stolz sein duerfte. Billig und gerecht im Urteil, sanft und ruhig in allen Verhältnissen, mit anderen freundlich, herzlich im ganzen Lebensumgaenge, zart und edel in der Empfindungsweise, war er eine der liebenswuerdigsten Menschen, die den Kreis des geselligen Lebens zierten. Was er dem Staate gewesen ist und dem Volke und der ganzen deutschen Nation mögen wenige oder viele erkennen; aber es waere unwürdig, wenn einer davon gleichgültig bleibe bei den traurigen Todesfall. Es müsste keine Wahrheit und keine Tiefe mehr in der Menschlichen Natur sein, wenn dieser Mann je von denen vergessen werden könnte, die ihm nahe standen, ihn verehrt und geliebt haben.` (On 28 June, the royal Prussian General-Leutnant von Scharnhorst died in Prague as a result of wounds received in the battle of Gross-Görschen. He was one of the most distinguished men of our time. His restless, constant, systematic achievement of his target, his clarity of mind and the staunchness of his intelligence, the grandeur and comprehension of his visions, his openmindedness, his proud disdain for cosmetic decorations and awards, his courage in the most unspectacular conditions, with the most modest means, to pursue the greatest aims, just with the pure strength of his youthful enthusiasm.
His extreme calmness, courage and stamina when in danger, finally, his most comprehensive knowledge of the art of war, make him one of the most remarkable statesmen and soldiers, of which Germany may be proud. Fair and just in his decisions, gentle and calm under all conditions, friendly to others, hearty in his whole person, gentle and noble in his sensitivity, he was one of the most admirable persons to have graced social life. What he has been to the state, to the people and to the entire German nation, few or many may recognize, but it would be unworthy for one to be apathetic at his death. There would have to be no truth and no depth in human nature, if this man could ever be forgotten by those who were close to him, honoured and loved him.)
Scharnhorst was buried in the Invalidenfriedhof in Berlin .
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2012
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