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Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815

Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815: Rüchel, Ernst Friedrich Wilhelm Philipp von

Rüchel, Ernst Friedrich Wilhelm Philipp von (878) 

Born 21 July 1754 in Ziegeneff, Kreis Belgard. His father, Adam Georg, was a retired major, who had first served in IR Anhalt - Zerbst Nr 8, then in the LandR Nr 4.

On 14 January 1767, he entered Prussian military service as a Kadett in Berlin, and on 1 March 1770, was appointed Gfkpl in the IR v Stojentin Nr 27. The commander of this regiment was young Rüchel`s uncle, Obstlt Valentin Friedrich von Rüchel but they did not get on well. GL von Saldern in Magdeburg took a liking to the young man and arranged for him to take war studies under Major Fallois. On 2 September 1772, he was promoted to Frch, and on 26 December 1774, commissioned as Sklt. On 30 March 1778, he was appointed Gadj (ADC) to the regimental Chef, Gen von Knobelsdorf. In 1778 – 1779, he was on campaign in the war with Austria, and fought in the clashes at Gabel and Grumbach. On 29 June 1782, he was promoted to Kpt and appointed QM Lt in king Friedrich`s suite. On 27 November 1790, he was promoted to Plt and appointed FlAdj (ADC) to the king with a rise of 200 Thr p.a. When King Friedrich Wilhelm II succeeded to the throne in November 1786, he assured young Rüchel of his continued favour at court. On 12 May 1789 Rüchel presented the king with his schemes for a new method forming square and for conducting a withdrawal over a wide river obstacle; both were well received. He became to be regarded as one of the most capable and promising young officers in the army. In 1790 he was sent to Silesia to make preparations for the advance of the army into this province and did so well that he was awarded the PLM.

From 1792 to 1794, he fought in the war against France at the siege of Mainz, the storm of Frankfurt / M, the battle of Kaiserslautern and the clash at Zweibrücken.

In 1792, after the fall of Longwy (23 August) he was sent to act as liaison officer to the Landgraf of Hessen- Cassel. It was thanks to Rüchel that the French General Custine (who had already taken Mainz and Frankfurt) was not able to sieze Koblenz as Rüchel had improved and manned its fortifications. On 2 December 1792 Rüchel took part in the storm and recapture of Frankfurt by Hessian troops. He was rewarded with a further 1,000 Thr, the Hessian Order Pour la Virtu Militaire and, on 9 January 1793, the Stewardship of Marienwalde.

On 4 February 1793, he was promoted to Obst, and on 27 February 1793, was given command of IR Pz Ferdinand Nr 43, retaining his status as FlAdj. On 23 July 1793 (after the fall of Mainz and at the very unusually young age of 39) he was promoted GM.

 On 23 August 1793, he was relieved of regimental command duties. On 20 October 1793, he was appointed Chef of IR v Wegnern Nr 30, and on 22 January 1794, was awarded the GC RAO for distinguished conduct in the clashes of Frankenthal and Monsheim, west of Worms. He was also distinguished in the battle of Kaiserslautern on 23 May 1794 where, as commander of the Avantgarde, he ambushed the French, drove them back repeatedly, took 2,000 PW and several guns and colours. At Zweibrücken he set himself at the head of two squadrons and overthrew a strong enemy cavalry force.

After the Peace of Basel (22 Jul 1795) Rüchel was tasked with suggesting improvements in military education which were approved by the king on 3 February 1796. He was then sent to tour the Pommeranian coast to develope plans for its defence. He based his study on v Gräwert`s work `Űber die Küstenverteidigung der pommerschen Küste` and suggested additionally the formation of a flottilla of gunboats.

In 1797 Rüchel was sent to St Petersburg on a diplomatic mission; on his return, on 30 October 1800, he received the Hessian Order of the Golden Lion. Tactically he experimented with mixed divisions on the French model, the formation of infantry in two ranks and the distribution of artillery.

On 20 November 1797, he was appointed GInsp of the Kadettenanstalt and the Ecole Militair. On 13 January 1798, he was given command of the IR Garde Nr 15b and appointed GInsp of the Potsdam Inf Insp with 4,000 Thr p.a. On 20 May 1799, he was promoted to GL, and on 18 May 1802, was awarded the HOSA Ch. On 5 October 1802, he was appointed bailiff of Balga, a castle of the Teutonic Order, on the Baltic coast, west of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad).

As Rüchel was chairman of the Military Society in Berlin, he became close friends with Scharnhorst, a relationship which lasted until the latter`s death in 1813. Rüchel, Blücher and v Stein belonged to the `War Party` which wanted to break with Napoleon; this fact became an embarrassment at state level and Rüchel was posted on 17 August 1805 to Ostpreussen to get him out of the way. On this same date, he was appointed Chef of IR v Brünneck Nr 2 and appointed GInsp of the Ostpr Inf Insp, Governor of Königsberg and Cmdt of Memel and Lyck. On 22 Sep 1805, as war with Russia threatened, he was given command of the troops in Ost - and Westpreussen. After Bernadotte`s march through the neutral Prussian province of Anspach - Bayreuth, he took command of the reserve corps in Schlesien. On 25 November 1805, he was sent on a secret mission to Kassel to plan the co-operation between Prussian and Hessian troops.

In 1806 he was in the party headed by Prinz Louis Ferdinand, which pressed the king for the removal from office of the men of the `Peace Party`. He foresaw Prussia`s defeat in 1806, but he - like all Prussian generals - underestimated France`s military might.

On 14 October 1806, he fought in the battle of Jena. The late arrival of his corps on the field of Jena that day was not his fault, but that of Hohenlohe and Massenbach who, even on the morning of 14 October did not believe that a battle would take place. There was only one way that his commanders could have assured the participation of Rüchel`s corps in the battle that day and that was for them to have given him appropriate, clear orders on 13 October for him to be where they wanted him the next day. Due to the lack of unity in the Prussian high command no such order was given. Rüchel`s corps arrived on the battlefield too late to influence the battle and he was badly wounded.

Clausewitz, who did not like Rüchel, said of him:`Rüchel sei eine aus lauter Preussentum gezogene concentrierte Säure `(Rüchel is a concentrated acid, formed out of everything Prussian). All subsequent attacks on Rüchel were based on this remark, but Rüchel`s critics forget that Clausewitz also said of him:`Ausgezeichnet brav vor dem Feinde, offen und eines gewissen Enthusiasmusses fähig`(Splendidly brave in the face of the enemy, frank and capable of certain ehthusiasm).

Prussia`s defeat shattered Rüchel; he withdrew to his estate at Haseleu. In November 1806 however, he reported himself to HM as fit for duty even though his wound was not yet healed. On 7 December 1806, he was appointed Gov Gen of Ostpreussen.

He retired on 11 July 1807, with a pension of 2,500 Thr p.a.Rüchel died on 13 January 1823, in Haseleu, Kreis Regenwalde.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2012

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