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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

General Count Carl Johan Adlercreutz (1757-1815)

By Göran Frilund

The purpose of this article is to provide a short overview of the life and career of General Count Carl Johan Adlercreutz, with emphasis on the war of 1808-09.

General Count Carl Johan Adlercreutz

General Count Carl Johan Adlercreutz

Carl Johan Adlercreutz was born in 1757 in Borgå, Finland, on the family estates. As a thirteen-year old he was signed onto the army at the Finnish light cavalry brigade. Adlercreutz was present when King Gustav III made his coup and seized total power in Sweden. Adlercruetz climbed in the military ranks and he then commenced military studies in Stockholm. In 1777, he joined the Savolax Brigade, which was formed to protect the Finnish border in case of Russian attack. In the war against Russia in 1788-90, Adlercreutz served with distinction and saw action for the first time. He steadily rose in the ranks and after the war he was promoted to major in 1791 and squadron commander in 1792. During the mutiny of the Anjala-Conspiracy Adlercreutz remained faithful to the King and took part in the trials against the conspirators after the war. The conspiracy was an alliance of officers that wanted to declare an independent Finland and end the war with Russia. The war of 1788-90 was never the success the Swedish King Gustav III wanted and anger rose against him in the military ranks. The only great Swedish victory came at sea, at the naval battle of Svensksund in 1790. There the entire Russian coastal fleet was annihilated.

Adlercreutz took command of the Nyland Dragoon Corps after the war and remained its commander until 1804. He married two times during this period. In 1804 he was made commander of a newly formed regiment, the Adlercreutz Regiment, but although it carried his name, he was not to command it in the coming war. Instead he was made commander of the Second Brigade of the Swedish Army during the first phases of the war of 1808-09, and was later made second in command under the Mauritz Klingspor.

The Russian Army during the invasion of Finland in February 1808 , was commanded by Fredrik Wilhelm von Buxhoevden and a strength of 24,000 men. It consisted of the following:

Left Wing: 17th Division commanded by Lieutenant GeneralGortschakoff (8,000 men)

The Centre: 21st Division commanded by Lieutenant General Peter Ivanovitsch Bagration (8,700 men)

Right Wing: 5th Division commanded by Lieutenant General Nikolai Alexejvitsch Tutschkoff (7,000 men)

The Swedish-Finnish Army had 17,323 troops at its disposal, and while the commander of the army, Mauritz Klingspor was away in Sweden, General Klercker collected the troops at Hämeenlinna. From here Klingspor began a planned retreat. The Swedish plan of war was to retreat north, while relying on the fortifications of Sveaborg to keep the dagger in the back of the Russians. Once re-inforcements arrived from Sweden, the Swedish army would go on the offensive. This was where the plan failed - Sveaborg surrendered without a fight and insufficient reinforcements arrived from Sweden.

At the battle of Siikajoki, on April 18 1808, Adlercreutz turned a defeat into victory as he gave the order to attack, despite the Klingspor's objections. The ended the Swedish retreat. During the summer campaign of 1808, Adlercreutz came to the test time upon time and he showed his worth on the field of battle. On June 24, he attempted to surprise the Russian troops in Nykarleby by surrounding them in the town. The Russians retreated however, before a full encirclement could be made.

The battle that is probably Adlercreutz's greatest victory came at Lappo on July 14. The Russian general Rayevskij stood with 4,000 troops against Adlercreutz, who had 4,700 at his disposal. Rayevksij had chosen bad defensive positions and Adlercreutz tried to cut off the Russians avenue of retreat. The Swedes were unsuccessful, but this was still considered an important victory. One interesting incident from the battle was the Swedish storming of the village of Lappo, where Russian troops were entrenched. Russian skirmishers laid in the fields outside the village and within it, formations of infantry stood waiting. Georg Carl von Döbeln and his Björneborg Regiment attacked without thinking twice, and under this great and legendary commander, the Swedes were able to clear the village of all Russians. In August, Adlercreutz won another victory at Alavo, where a daring attack saved the day.

Due to Russian reinforcements and the fact that the victories at Lappo and Alavo were never exploited to their advantage, the Swedes retreated north after the summer offensive. The decisive battle of the war came at Oravais, on September 14, 1808. Here Adlercreutz planned to fight only a delaying engagement against the following Russians under Kamenskij. Adlercreutz committed many of his troops, draining his reserves and not following the initial plan. The Swedish main army was severely defeated and this ended the summer offensive. Adlercreutz retreated back north, eventually leaving Finland to the Russians in the winter of 1808. Disease and bad logistics finally defeated the Russian army and it was eventually disbanded.

General Count Carl Johan Adlercreutz

General Count Carl Johan Adlercreutz

Adlercreutz moved on to Stockholm where the political climate was boiling. The generals were very displeased with how the insane King Gustav IV Adolf (he actually thought Napoleon was the beast in the book of Revelations) had run the war. The northern army, under Adlersparre, began a march on Stockholm from the vicinities of the Norwegian border, and he openly proclaimed that he was going to throw over the king. Civil war threatened in Sweden. A military "Junta", led by Adlercreutz took charge. Eirik Hornborg tells us in his book När riket sprängdes ("When the kingdom was cut up", the title freely translated):

"Then Adlercreutz seized the opportunity, as the political tension had kept him in Stockholm. For the second time in his life he heightened himself to decisive and great action. This time it was just as needed as tragic. He had earlier refused to stand in the front of the conspiracy [against the king], but now the further existense of the kingdom was at stake"

The coup-d'etat was as tragic as it was humourous. On March 13 1809 - in the midst of war against Russia - the junta approached the king in his castle and told him that he was under arrest. In a never before seen display of bravery, the weak king reached for a sword and escaped out through a secret passage in the castle, screaming "treason!". The king knew the castle like the back of his hand and escaped unseen out in the yard, where he tried to stick his sword in one of the conspirators when he was finally detected. The king received help from a woodcutter who aggressively swung a piece of wood against one of the plotters. The king was arrested and the junta seized the control of Sweden.

After the coup, Adlercreutz continued his intrigues at the court in Stockholm. On the question of who should become the new king, Adlercreutz first supported the idea of making Gustav IV Adolf's son king. He then raised the idea of himself taking the throne! This was not to be though, and after the death of Karl XIII, French Marshal Bernadotte was finally made crown prince. Adlercreutz was made count and participated in the government. During Napoleon's attack on Russia in 1812, the count supported Russia and worked very hard to better the relations between Russia and Sweden. He also participated in the campaign in Germany in 1813 and in Norway in 1814, as chief of the general staff.

Carl Johan Adlercreutz died in august 1815.

In Fänrik Ståls sägner, a book of poems that deal with the war of 1808-09, Runeberg tells about the bravery and heroism of Adlercreutz and this image has stuck. Although the general's actions during the war are open to question, the image of the heroic general has stayed in Finnish and Swedish hearts for a hundred years. Fänrik Ståls Sägner was written in the 1840's and was such an important and nationalistic book that the beginning words of the book have become the words of the national anthem of Finland. It is full of great stories, often unreliable and of no historical worth, but interesting nonetheless. The follow is my free translation from the first and final verses of the poem "Adlercreutz."

"Who is that high man there on the river banks,
who is looking out over the waters and the fields?
His appearance, his costume, his lips and the fire in his eyes
And the sword, shiny in his manly hand,
everything gives the picture of the hero and the warrior.
He stands alone, noone is him near,
every minute they see soldiers coming to him with messages;
but in front of him army stands against army,
with blood and death, threatening each other...

...But if in the land of heroes, in the years of the future,
his work fades away for larger and happier memories,
if by his name a heart does not beat with fire,
and alone, unvisited, with faded runes stand,
the grave in which he dwells, the faithful finn;
then has his praise and honour not yet died,
then shall his spirit rest over the seas
with pride to the land that gave him birth:
here he shall not be forgotten, here where he bled,
here he shall live, although he is buried."


Martin Hårdstedt, Martin. Krig kring Kvarken, Oravais historiska förening, 1999. Pages 34-35.
Hornborg, Eirik. När riket sprängdes, Holger Schildts förlag; 1955.
Petander, C-B. J. Kungliga Österbottens regemente under slutet av den svenska tiden, Svensk-Österbottniska samfundet; 1978.
Runeberg, J. L. Fänrik Ståls sägner Fabel; 1991. Note: The first edition came out in 1848, of which part two came out in 1860.
Widding, Lars. Svenska äventyr 1788-1900 AB; 1997.