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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Russian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars: General Peter Bagration

By Alexander Mikaberidze, FINS

(1765 - 24 September 1812, Simy)

General Bagration

General Peter Bagration

Peter Bagration descended from the Bagrationi royal dynasty of Georgia. His family immigrated to Russia in 1766 and he was brought up in a remote town of Kizlyar in Daghestan and received basic education at garrison school. He joined as private the Astrakhan Infantry Regiment in 1782 and participated in a number of campaigns on the Northern Caucasus in 1783-1787. He served under Alexander Suvorov in Crimea and distinguished himself at Ochakov in 1788 and was promoted to captain skipping the rank of sub lieutenant. Bagration was promoted to ensign [praporshik] on 9 July 1787, to captain on 18 December 1788 and nominally given rank of sub lieutenant [podporuchik] on 9 July 1789. In 1789-1790, Bagration served in Gregory Potemkins staff and participated in negotiations with representatives of Ali Mahmud Khan of Persia. He also served as adjutant to various generals, including Count Ivan Saltykov and Johann Hermann, who commanded Russian troops in the Caucasus. In 1790, he participated in the campaign against Chechens. By early 1792, Bagration was transferred to the Kiev Horse Jager Regiment and promoted to second major (9 July 1792) and then to premier major (8 December 1793). On 15 May 1794, he was transferred to the Sofia Carabineer Regiment and served in Poland in 1794. He took part in actions at Brest-Litovsk, Sedlitsy, Deryachin, Tatarovka, Sokolnya, In late October, he led his squadron in a surprise attack against a thousand Polish troops camped in woods with a cannon. Bagrations squadron captured 250 men and the gun, while the fleeing Poles lost up to 300 killed and wounded. For this success, Bagration was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 27 October 1794. In November, he followed the main army to Praga, the suburb of Polish capital, but he did not participate in the assault because his regiment was assigned to cover the artillery. Bagration was given command of the 1st Battalion of the Lifland Jagers at Volkovysk in the Grodno gubernia in June 1795. After the military reorganization in 1796, Bagration was appointed commander of the 7th Independent Jager Battalion on 28 May 1797. However, his battalion was soon transformed into the 7th Jager Regiment. On 24 February 1798, Bagration was promoted to colonel and, on 28 January 1799, appointed chef of his regiment, now renamed to Prince Bagrations Jager Regiment. He took part in Suvorovs campaign in Italy and Switzerland in 1799. Commanding the advance and rearguards of the Russian army, he distinguished himself at the battles at Brescia, Lecco, Tortona, Alexandria, Marengo, Turin, Tidone, Trebbia and Novi in Italy as well as during the crossing of the St. Gottard Pass, storming of the Devils Bridge, actions in Muothatal Valley, Nafels, Netstal, Glarus and the Panixer Pass. For his actions, he was awarded Orders of St. Anna (1st Class), of St. Alexander of Neva, of St. John of Jerusalem, Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, Austrian Order of Maria Theresa in late 1799. In 1800, his regiment was transformed into the 6th Jagers (10 April) and Bagration was appointed chef of the Life Guard Jager Battalion on 21 June 1800. In 1801, he was appointed commandant of imperial residence at Pavlovsk. In 1805, Bagration commanded the rearguard of the Austro-Russian army and fought with determination at Lambach and Amstetten. At Schngraben (Hollabrunn) on 16 November 1805, he commanded 7,000 men against 30,000 French under Marshals Joachim Murat and Jean Lannes. Loosing two thirds of his troops, Bagration halted the French for over eighteen hours and let the main Allied forces escape to safety. He was promoted to lieutenant general and awarded Order of St. George (2nd Class) on 20 November 1805. During the Allied offensive, he fought at Wischau and Raussnitz and commanded the right wing of the Allied army at Austerlitz on 2 December 1805. After the battle, he covered the retreat of the Russian army to Hungary. He was appointed commander of the Russian advance guard in early January 1807 and joined the army on 25 January. Bagration commanded the Russian advance and rearguards and distinguished himself at Wolfsdorf, Eylau, Altkirch, Guttstadt, Quest, Deppen, Heilsberg, Friedland, and Tilsit, receiving Order of St. Vladimir (2nd Class) and Prussian Orders Red and Black Eagles. During the Russo-Swedish War of 1808, he commanded the 21st Division and successfully occupied southwestern Finland, including Abo. He defeated the Swedish landing near Abo in September 1808. On 15 March 1809, he led the famous march across the frozen Gulf of Bothnia to occupy the Aland Islands and precipitated the coup detat in Stockholm. For his actions, he was promoted to general of infantry on 21 March 1809 and appointed assistant to commander-in-chief General Prozorovsky of the Army of Moldavia on 13 July 1809. After Prozorovskys death on 21 August, he became commander-in-chief and immediately launched offensive southward, capturing fortresses of Macin, Constanta, and Girsov and reaching Cavarna and Bazardjik. On 16 September 1809, Bagration defeated the Turks at Rassevat and on September 22, he besieged Silistra, forcing the Grand Vizier Yussuf to cancel his invasion of Serbia and Wallachia. Bagration halted superior Turkish army at Tataritsa on October 22, but had to lift the siege of Silistra because of lack of supplies and ammunition. He succeeded in taking Ismail and Braila in late 1809. In March 1810, he resigned after disagreement with the Tsar on the overall strategy and for over a year (March 1810 - August 1811) traveled in Austria and Russia arranging his private affairs. On 25 August 1812 he was appointed commander of the Army of Podolsk, which was reorganized into the 2nd Western Army in March 1812. During the Russian Campaign, Bagration successfully eluded Napoleons enveloping maneuvers and achieved victories at Mir and Romanovo. He outmaneuvered Marshal Nicholas Davout at Moghilev and joined Barclay de Tolly at Smolensk on 3 August. He was chief proponent of the Smolensk offensive, but was able to perceive Napoleons designs and successfully defended Smolensk on 15-16 August. His bitter opposition to the retreat led to the dismissal of Barclay de Tolly and the appointment of Mikhail Kutuzov. On September 7, Bagration commanded the Russian left flank at Borodino and fiercely defended the flches against the main French attacks. However, he was seriously wounded by a shell splinter to his left leg and died of wound complications on 24 September at Simy in Vladimir gubernia. He was buried at a local church but his remains were transferred to the Great Redoubt at Borodino battlefield in August 1839. His grave was destroyed by the communists in 1932, but restored in 1987. He was unhappily married to Countess Ekaterina Skavronsky, who had an illegitimate child with Clemence von Metternich in 1801 and played important role in the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

For more information on General Bagration, see: Peter Bagration: The Best Georgian General of the Napoleonic Wars

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2002; updated November 2003.