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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Research Subjects: Biographies

Military Paper Award

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

General Peter Bagration

General Peter Bagration

Note:  All dates used in this article are in the old style calendar.

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 Field
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 and powerful
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 years.

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 were
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 a ransom.

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 powerful
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.


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