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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815

Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815: Kleist, Friedrich Heinrich Ferdinand Emil

By: Digby Smith

Kleist, Friedrich Heinrich Ferdinand Emil (1145)  

Commander, II Corps in 1813. Born on 9 April 1762 in Berlin; his father was an official of the cathedral in Brandenburg. In 1775 he became a page in the court of Prinz Heinrich von Preussen; on 21 March 1777 he entered a novitiate for the Order of the Knights of St John. Kleist entered military service on 2 July 1778 as Frch in the IR von Lettow Nr 46. From 1778 - 1779 he took part in the war with Austria. On 2 April 1783 he was promoted to Sklt; in 1784 he was appointed Adj; on 16 May 1790 he was appointed QM Lt on the general staff. On 22 October 1792 he was promoted to Kapt, still on the general staff. From 1793 - 1795 he served in the war with France, fighting at Ober-Ursel, Ottange, the storm of Frankfurt / Main (4 December 1792, where he won the PLM), Hochheim, Alsheim, Zweibrücken and at the battle of Kaiserslautern. On 5 November 1793 Kleist was appointed ADC to GFM von Möllendorf in the Berlin Infantry Inspectorate. On 10 January 1795 he was promoted to Maj. On 21 August 1796 he was invested in the Order of St John. On 9 November 1799 he transferred to IR von Arnim Nr 13 as commander of the grenadiers of the 1st Bn. On 30 April 1803 he was appointed Gen Adj of the Infantry to King Friedrich Wilhelm III. On 20 May 1805 he was promoted to Obst Lt; in 1806 he visited St Petersburg with the Duke of Brunswick. On 9 October of that year, he was awarded the OStA III . Kleist fought at Auerstädt. On 20 May 1807 he was promoted to Obst; on 25 November 1808 he was promoted to GM and appointed GOC, Niederschlesische-Brigade. On 1 May 1809 he was appointed Commandant of Berlin. Kleist was cool towards Scharnhorst`s army refoms initially and was in the Peace Party until 1812. On 9 September 1810 he was awarded the RAO III; On 12 March 1812 he was appointed GOC of the infantry mobilised for the Russian campaign; he proved to be a very competent field commander. On 12 August 1812 he was awarded the RAO II and on 4 September he was awarded the LdH Ch for Eckau; Kleist never wore the decoration but hung it around the neck of a bust of Napoleon which he had in his office. On 9 October he was awarded the RAO I and a gift of Thr 1,000. On 26 November 1812 he was promoted to GL. When the news of the Convention of Tauroggen reached Berlin, the nervous king sent an order on 6 January 1813 to Kleist (who was Yorck`s deputy) to arrest Yorck and take command of the corps. History moved so quickly that it was impossible for Kleist to carry out this order. On 5 January 1813 he was appointed GOC of a Russo-Prussian corps. He fought a successful rearguard action at Lindenau on 2 May after the allied defeat at Gross-Görschen (where he won the EK II and the OStV II). He also fought at Bautzen (where he won the EK I) and held up Murat`s cavalry all day with two regiments of infantry. On 28 May he took command of Blücher`s corps when the latter took command of all the troops in Silesia. At the start of the autumn campaign he became GOC II Corps and joined Schwarzenberg`s Army of Bohemia. Kleist fought at Dresden, Nollendorf, Kulm (where he was presented with HOSA Ch on the battlefield), Leipzig and Erfurt. At Markleeburg on 16 October Kleist`s corps took 9 colours and standards. At Probstheida, two days later, he had his horse shot from under him; he won the day but it cost him over 8,000 men. He then blockaded the town of Erfurt, with the twin fortresses of Petersberg and Cyriaksberg, from 30 October but had no siege artillery until some Russian and Austrian guns came up in late November. The town surrendered to him on 20 December 1813, but the two forts held on until hostilities ceased . In 1814 he fought on the Marne at Champaubert, Vauchamps, Etoges, Laon and Paris. At one critical point in the battle of Vauchamps, Blücher, Gneisenau and Kleist were forced to draw their swords but Kleist`s stuck firm in its scabbard. He muttered:` If this is going to happen often, I`ll have to buy a new sword.` On 31 March 1814 he was appointed Chef of the 1st West Prussian IR Nr 6 and awarded oakleaves to his PLM. On 10 April 1814 he handed over command of II Corps to Gen von Zieten and on 30 May he was appointed GOC of I Corps. On 3 June 1814 Kleist was ennobed as Graf Kleist von Nollendorf. On 3 October 1815 he was appointed GOC of IV Corps in the Saxon Duchies. Kleist retired due to ill health (which had plagued him since 1814) on 5 May 1821, as GFM with a pension of Thlr 3,000 p.a. On 7 July 1821 he was made an honorary citizen of Berlin; he died on 17 February 1823 in that city. Kleist was a brave and popular commander and a friend of Clausewitz, who wrote of him: `Neither his knowledge nor his intelligence were outstanding. He was, however, gifted with the right knowledge and character to handle his command very well without being able to develop it further. This was not adequate for a time such as the year of 1806`. This is a little harsh, as no-one else in the Prussian army was `up to` the year of 1806 either.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2011


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