Peter Bagration: The Best Georgian General of the Napoleonic Wars
By Alexander Mikaberidze, Chairman of the Napoleonic Society of Georgia
Chapter II: General Bagration: 1799- 1810
The Italian Campaign of 1799
During the Italian campaign of 1799, Major General Bagration, leading the advance guard of the Russian army, took by assault a citadel of Breshia (April 10), attacked and occupied Lecco, and was wounded by a bullet in a leg, but refused to give up command during the battle. On April 16 the French army was broken by Suvarov at the Adda River, and capture Milan, where there was a ferry across the River Po.
Bagration, still in command of the advance guard, advanced to the fortress Alessandria and cut off direct communications of the French with Genoa.
On May 6, according to Suvarov's direction, Bagration hastened to St. Juliano, to serve as a flank guard for the army along the Cesia River. Having heard shots from Marengo, Bagration turned to support the Austrians and magnanimously conceded command to General Luiziany, who was junior to him in rank. He covered both flanks of the allied army. When one of the French columns tried to bypass the right flank of the allies, Bagration with the 7th Regiment and Cossacks prevented them from making contact with the troops in Genoa.
On the morning of June 6, news arrived that French forces under General McDonald attacked the Austrians commanded by General Tott at Tidone. Suvarov immediately placed the advance guard under his command and together with Bagration hastened to the battle. The Russians arrived at three o'clock and halted the French by a valiant cavalry charge. When Suvarov ordered the infantry forward, Bagration approached Suvarov and, probably not understanding the importance of the moment, in a low voice asked him to delay the attack, since some of the infantry battalions had less than 40 men. Suvarov answered: "But McDonald has not even 20 men, attack with the God! Hurrah!"
Bagration immediately obeyed and struck the enemy, forcing to retreat in disorder from Tidone. McDonald collected the army on Tidone and made a new attack on Russian army on June 7, during which Bagration was wounded. However, this second wound was not enough to keep him from commanding.
On August 4 at Novi, Suvarov assigned Bagration to carry out an important task The legendary campaign of Russian army through Alps to Switzerland has followed. Bagration led the army, being the first in all of the fights and the first to overcome all natural obstacles. By the time the army was safely out of the trap, in which they were placed by their Austrian allies, only 16 officers and 300 soldiers remained in Bagration's division. He was wounded for a third time in the battle of Klyontal.
After returning to Russia, Bagration was appointed the chief of the jager regiments.
At the beginning of the war with Napoleon, in 1805, Bagration was entrusted with the advance guard of the army. When the army arrived in Austria, the 40-thousand Russian Army encountered several French armies, thanks to the capitulation of the Austrian army at Ulm. Kutusoff began a hasty retreat to Russian and the advance guard of Bagration became the rear guard of the army. During the 400 mile retreat, Bagration was engaged in several fights -- Laymbakh, Amshteten, and Krems -- but was successful in slowing the French and gave the Russian army an opportunity to get out of thes trap. They had barely passed Krems on the left bank of Danube, when Vienna surrendered. Napoleon crossed the Danube and rushed to Znaim forcing Kutusoff away from Krems and on to Brunn, the capital of Moravia.
The Russian army was in a critical situation. And for second time Bagration rescued it. Kutusoff's men were so weary that they could proceed no farther without a rest, and from Schrattenthal he sent back Bagration, to Hollabrunn, with six thousand of the freshest troops, to check the French advance and to detain the French by all means, even if he had to sacrifice all his troops.
Believing the main army of Kutusoff to be before him, Murat was reluctant to fight. Accordingly,he dispatched a messenger under a flag of truce with the statement, purely fictitious, though speciously based on certain irrelevant facts, that negotiations had been opened for a general armistice. Kutusoff, pretending to be familiar with the details of the falsehood, heartily entered into a proposition to negotiate, using the time thus gained to prepare his further retreat. A paper was duly drawn up, signed, and sent to Napoleon at Schönbrunn. The Emperor, seeing how Murat had been outwitted, immediately sent off an adjutant to him with peremptory orders to attack at once. When this order arrived at Hollabrunn, Soult also came with three divisions, but Kutusoff with his army was far away on the highroad to Znaim.
On November 4, near Hollabrunn, Bagration fought a vastly superior French force for 8 hours. He did not even abandon the position when Legrand's Division was in his rear. When Bagration received news that Kutusoff had passed Znaim with the main part of the army and was outside of danger, Bagration led his division with bayonets fixed through the ring of French divisions and burning settlements of Hollabrunn and Grund and joined army.
Napoleon had by this time come up to take charge in person, but was too late: Murat had "destroyed the fruits of a campaign." Near Brünn, Kutusoff met the Vienna garrison, and at Wischau the united force of forty-five thousand men joined the first detachment, fourteen thousand strong, of a second Russian army, which was advancing under Buxhöwden.
For this brilliant feat Bagration was made lieutenant general, and the 6th Jager Regiment, first among others in Russian army, received as an award silver trumpets with stripes of St. George.
After Kutusoff and Buxhowden joined forces, Bagration again led the advance guard. On the march to Austerlitz, Bagration defeated the French at Wischau and Raustnitsa.
On December 2, 1805 at Austerlitz, the advance guard of Bagration was on the extreme right flank of the allied army and when the columns of the center were beaten, it was their turn to undergo the severe assaults of their victorious opponent. Once again they resisted and covered retreat of the broken army. For Austerlitz, Bagration was awarded the Order of St. George of 2 class.
1806 - 1807
During the campaigns of 1806-1807, Bagration again was the commander of the advance guard or rear guard of the Russian army, depending on the success of Russians.
Bagration covered the 70 miles retreat of the Russian army from Jashma to Preussisch-Eylau, and took part in battle at Preussisch-Eylau (26 and January 27). On the 27th he commanded not only of his guard, but also Dokhturov's Regiment, who was wounded. Having received an order of the commander-in-chief, General Benningsen, to force the French from Preussisch-Eylau, Bagration, led the assault with a banner and took the town. Despite his successes, the Russian army was compelled to retreat to Konigsberg and once again Bagration led the rear guard.
After three months in winter bivouac, the Russian Army again goes on the offense. General Bagration, led the advance guard, occupied Gulshtadt. On May 24, he attacks the French at Altkirkhen and forces them from a rather favorable position. He pursues the beaten French force and completes the victory by inflicting a new defeat on them on the next day at the village of Ankerdorf.
Attacked on May 28, by French cavalry, Bagration defends Gutshtadt, and prevents the French from ferrying across the River Alle. His actions buys the Russian army time to strengthen their positions at Gelsberg. Bagration covers the withdrawal of Russian army as well as its retreat to Bartenshtein, remaining in Gelsberg till morning of May 31.
At the battle of Friedland, Bagration is deployed on the left flank of the Russian army. After 16 hours of severe fighting, the Russian army has had enough and begins to retreat. Bagration, with a sword in hand, encourages the soldiers of the Moscow Grenadier Regiments, which surrounds his horse, reminding the soldiers their feats in Italy with Suvarov ... But all was vain. Once again, Bagration commands the rear guard and for 5 days prevents the French from closely pursuing the broken Russian to Tilsit.
For his actions at Friedland, Bagration was awarded a gold sword decorated with diamonds, with an inscription "For brave"
The War With Sweden: 1808 - 1809
Despite the extreme hardships of the campaigns, Bagration accepted a command in the Russian force war with Sweden and becomes the hero of this war. Nominated as commander of 21st Infantry Division, he made an attack on the night of 15 / 16 February against the Swedish forces under General Adlercrutz at Artchio. On the 28th he occupied Tamerfor and on March 4th, he defeats the Swedish commander-in-chief General Klingspor at Biernerborg. He pursued the retreating Swedish Army for 8 days on 200 miles of primitive roads. By March 10th, he has captured Abo, the 12th - Khristianshtadt, the 26th - Vase, and on the 31st the Aland islands.
Illness, brought on by the almost 3 years of continuous campaigning forces Bagration to take a temporary leave of absence. He returned to Finland in the late summer, and on September 16, defeated Generals Boye and Lanshtisgauzen at Gelsing.
To keep the pressure on the Swedes, Emperor Alexander planned a winter attacking across the frozen Gulf of Bothnia to Stockholm. The majority of his generals, including the commander-in-chief, spoke against such operation and hesitated from the beginning. Only Bagration, answered Count Arakcheev, sent by the Emperor to organize this campaign: "If ordered - I shall go"'.
In command of one of the three Russian columns, Bagration proceeded from Abo to Sweden through the Aland islands. The advance guard under Kulnev reached the Swedish coast and seized Grisselgam near Stockholm.
The Turkish War: 1809 - 1810
In early August 1809, Bagration assumed command of the Moldavian Army battling against the Turkish forces. The noted historian of the period from the end of the 18th Century and the beginning 19th Century, E. Shumigorsky believes that this rapid transfer of Bagration from Finland, where the war had just ended, to Turkey, where it would last without results for three years, was, in effect, a punishment for Bagration. The Royal Court in St.-Petersburg did not wish more to see him in capital, due to intimate issues.
Of average height, thin, with wavy brunette hair, Peter Bagration had the typical Georgian hooked nose, that gave occasion to a number of witticisms and jokes. Once, Denis Davidov came to Bagration and told him that an enemy is very close - already "on their nose". Bagration calmly replied - "on whose nose ? If mine, we have enough time to have a breakfast. If yours, we have to hurry!" Bagration was not handsome, but the glory and reputation of Suvarov's disciple made stronger impression: for his soldiers called him "the Eagle".
Bagration was probably involved with the grand princess Ekaterina Pavlovna, who was 18-20 years old. The princess was forced to marry Prince George of Oldenburg in April 1809. But as Bagration did not want to reconcile to this fact, he was promoted to the General of Infantry and directed to Moldavia.
Upon arriving in Moldavi, Bagration carried out military operations with his usual speed and determination. Despite only having an army of 20,000 man, he continues the blockade of Ismail, and goes on the offense, taking Machin on August 18, Fursov on the 22nd and Kustenji on the 29th. On 4 September, he defeats the Turkish army at Rossevat and on 11 September has started to besieged Silistria. On the 14th, Ismail falls and on the 27th of the month, Brailov.
On 10 October, at Tataritsa, General Bagration defeats the Turkish Grand Vizir, who had hurried to Silistria with an army the size of the Russian force. When the commanders of the other Turkish armies learn of the Grand Vizir's defeat, they rush to Slistria to support him. General Bagration decides to lift the siege and on October 14 placing his forces in winter quarters along the left bank of the Danube.
The Royal Court in St.-Petersburg remained very dissatisfied with Bagration and in March 1810, he is replaced in command Count H. Kamensky. General Bagration is awarded the Order of Saint Andrew for his actions during the Turkish War and is appointed the commander-in-chief of the 2nd Western Army.
© Copyright 1995-2009, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.