Peter Bagration: The Best Georgian General of the Napoleonic Wars
By Alexander Mikaberidze,
FINS, Chairman of the Napoleonic Society of Georgia
Chapter I: The Early Years
Note: All dates used in this article are in the old style calendar.
| General Peter Bagration
Soldiers called him "The Eagle," while among the population he was
known as "Bog-rati-on" ? "The God of the Army." Disciple of the legendary
Marshal Alexander Suvorov, he was a symbol of the Russian military triumphs.
Only a few contemporary commanders were as popular as General Peter
Bagration. His military career was astonishing. During thirty years
of his army service, Bagration fought in almost hundred and fifty battles
and minor actions, successfully commanding at all unit levels. In the
1812 Campaign he was commander-in-chief of the 2nd Western Army and
as a result of his successful retreat, he was able to unite with 1st
Western Army at Smolensk and oppose Napoléon at Borodino.
Peter (Ivanovich) Bagration descended from an ancient Georgian royal
dynasty of Bagrations. The Bagrations came from Tao-Klarjeti region
in the south-west Georgia. In second half of the 10th Century, during
the rule of the distinguished political figure David Kuropalates, the
great-great forefather of Peter Bagration. ("kuropalates" - a honor
title conferred by the Byzantine Emperor), Tao-Klarjeti became a large
principality, whose southern borders reached Lake Van and the town of
Erzink (Erzincan). The growth and consolidation of this principality
contributed to an expansion of its cultural and economic ties with other
kingdoms and principalities. King David Kuropalates even interfered
in the internal affairs of the Byzantine Empire in 979, during a rebellion
against the Emperor Basil. King David supported the emperor with his
troops under Torniké Eristavi and Jorjiki, thereby helping the
emperor to save his throne and empire. David Kuropalates' name was known
throughout the Orient, where he commanded great authority. The Armenian
historian Stepanos Taronets, a contemporary of David, wrote:
"The great David Kuropalates surpassed all the rulers of our time
... He established peace and good will in all eastern states, especially,
in Armenia and Georgia. He put an end to wars...and defeated all the
peoples living around, and all monarchs submitted to his authority
of their own free wil.l"
David Kuropalates initiated the political unification of Georgia. Supported
by Joané Marushisdze, his contemporary Kartlian (Iberia) eristavi
and active political figure, David Kuropalates raised his adopted son
Bagrat Bagration to the throne of Kartli (Iberia) (in 975) and Abkhazia
(in 978), thereby actually uniting Eastern and Western Georgia into
a single state. The Bagration Dynasty governed Georgia for almost 900
Among the ancestors of P. Bagration were many prominent kings and statesmen:
the greatest of Georgian kings, David IV the Builder, who liberated
the country from the Turk Seljuks, defeating a Muslim coalition in the
Didgori Valley on 12 August, 1121; legendary Empress Tamar, whose reign
was called "the Golden Century" in Georgian history; King George VI
the Brilliant, who liberated Georgia from the Mongols in 1330s and restored
Georgian monasteries in the Holy Land; King George VII, who fought with
the most fearsome enemy of Georgia, Timur (Tamerlan) who invaded Georgia
for eight times in 14 years; Kings Bagrat V, Luarsab, Simon, and others,
who are the Glory of the Georgia.
By 18th century the Bagrations became prominent in Persia as well.
King Giorgi XI (Gurji Khan) became the commander-in-chief of the Persian
Army, his brother Kaikhosro (Kusrow Khan) - Governor of the Persian
capital, and another brother, Levan - Chief Justice of Persia.
In 1700-1709, King Giorgi conquered and governed Afghanistan. However,
he and his Georgian troops were murdered by the Afghans during the uprising
in 1709. Kaikhsoro succeeded Giorgi as king of eastern Georgia, but
also perished in a battle with Afghans in 1711. They were succeeded
by Vakhtang IV, who brought prosperity and peace to Georgia. He attempted
to oppose to the Persian and Ottoman designs, but, in 1723, after several
years of struggle Vakhtang VI was compelled to flee to Russia together
with retinue of 1200 men. The nephew of King Vakhtang VI, Alexander
Bagration (son of Vakhtang's brother - Jese), stayed in Georgia until
1757 when he also moved to Russia. There he continued his military service
in the Russian army.
As a lieutenant colonel, Alexander Bagration participated in the battles
in the northern Caucasus, in a defense of southeast borders of the Russian
Empire. He passed his military service on to his son Ivan Bagration,
who became a colonel. He resigned and moved to the city of Kizlyar with
his family. His son Peter, the future commander, was born in 1765, prior
to the move, in Georgia.
Unfortunately, little information is available about the early period
of Bagration's life. He himself recalled that the parents often told
him stories of his ancestors and their struggle. Perhaps for this reason,
he showed great interest in and a love of military life. "With the milk
of my mother, I have poured in myself a spirit of dash bravery" - wrote
later Peter Bagration. Soon his dream was fulfilled. On February 21,
1782, at the age of 17 he enlisted as a sergeant in Astrakhan Infantry
Regiment and, thus, his military career of almost 30 years had began.
Bagration's regiment was assigned to defend the southern border of
the Russian Empire,- near the Kuban and Terek Rivers. The Ottoman Sultan
held in the submission a significant territory of the Caucasus and organized
continuous attacks along the Russian border. Occasionally, these attacks
were coordinated with local princes, in particular with Circassians
and Chechens. In one of battles with the Chechens, the Russian troops
surrounded and almost entirely annihilated. Peter Bagration was seriously
wounded and left on a field among the killed and wounded soldiers. The
Chechens, who were searching for weapons during the night, initially
thought that young Bagration was one of them and rescued him. Soon they
discovered who he was, and out of respect for his father, who had rendered
them assistance in the past, returned him to his unit without demanding
Astrakhan Infantry Regiment sustained such heavy casualties in this
campaign that it was merged with Tomsk Infantry Regiment and transformed
into the Caucasian Musketeer Regiment. With this regiment, Bagration
participated in the campaigns of 1783, 1784, 1785, and 1786, having
shown himself as a brave and courageous soldier, he was prepared the
difficulties of military life. He studied his military duties and learned
from his experiences in the field - giving back to his enemies more
than he received. In 1788, the Caucasian Musketeer Regiment was directed
to Fortress Ochakov, to participate in
actions against this Turkish stronghold.
The commander-in-chief of the Russian army was Gregory Potyemkin, a
favorite of the Empress Catherine. Alexander Suvorov, the great Russian
commander, led the left wing of the army. Prior to the battle, Suvorov
suggested to Potyemkin launching a frontal assault on the fortress,
but the proposal was rejected. Owing to his disagreements with Potyemkin,
Suvorov was compelled to leave. Only after a couple of months, when
the siege failed to force the surrender, Potyemkin decided to support
Suvorov's idea of
assault. On 6 (17) December, 1788, the Russians attacked Ochakov and
captured the fortress. Bagration distinguished himself during the assault
and was among the first to rush into the fortress.
After the capture of Ochakov, Bagration returned to the Caucasus, where
he took part in the campaign of 1790. He served in Caucasian Musketeer
Regiment till June 1792 and consecutively pass all steps of a military
service from the sergeant up to the captain.
From June, 1792 until May 1794 he served in the Kiev Cavalry Regiment
in the ranks of second major and premier-major.
On 4 May 1794 he transferred to the Sofia Carabineers Regiment. He served
with this regiment during the Polish campaign of 1794, which was headed
by A. Suvarov.
During the battles and campaigns of 1783-1794 Bagration showed himself
as a skillful commander. He was known for his calmness and boundless
bravery in battle, speed and decisiveness of actions, and an eye for
striking the enemy at the right moment. Stories about Bagration's courage
were widespread among both the soldiers and officers.
Bagration soon came to the attention of General Suvarov, who grew fond
of him -- referring to him as "Prince Peter" ("Knyaz Pyetr") - and always
showed his respect and trust of him.
On 15 October 1794, Bagration was promoted lieutenant colonel. In 1798,
he was promoted to colonel and, the next year, he was a major general.
He took part in the Italian and Swiss campaigns of 1799, which brought
him new fame and glory.