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Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (December 16, 1742 in Rostock (Mecklenburg) - September 12, 1819 in Krieblowitz (Silesia) (now Krobielowice in Poland)), Graf (Count), later elevated to Fürst von Wahlstatt, was a Prussian general who led his army against Napoleon I at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Honorary citizen of Rostock, and Berlin. Blücher bore the nickname "Marschall Vorwärts" ("Field Marshal Forward") because of his approach to warfare.

Campaigns

  • 1760: Pomeranian Campaign (as Swedish soldier; captured by Prussia; changed sides)
  • Seven Years' War
  • 1787: Expedition to the Netherlands with Red Hussars
  • 1793-1794: French campaigns with Red Hussars
  • 1806: Auerstadt, Pomerania, Berlin, Königsberg
  • 1813: Lützen, Bautzen, Katzbach, Möckern, Leipzig
  • 1814: Brienne, La Rothière, Champaubert, Vauxchamps, Montmirail, Laon, Montmartre
  • 1815: Lower Rhine (Ligny), Waterloo

Career

In his fourteenth year he entered the service of Sweden, and in the Pomeranian campaign of 1760 he was taken prisoner by the Prussians. He was persuaded by his captors to enter the Prussian service.

He took part in the later battles of the Seven Years War, and as a hussar officer gained much experience of light cavalry work. In peace, however, his ardent spirit led him into excesses of all kinds. After he was passed over for promotion he sent in a rude letter of resignation, to which Frederick the Great replied "Der Rittmeister von Blücher kann sich zum Teufel scheren." In German, this phrase can mean either "Captain von Blücher can go to hell" or "Captain von Blücher can get lost for all I care." (1773).

He then settled down to farming, and in fifteen years he had acquired an honorable independence, but he was unable to return to the army until after the death of Frederick the Great. He was then reinstated as a major in his old regiment, the Red Hussars.

He took part in the expedition to the Netherlands in 1787, and in the following year was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. In 1789 he received Prussia's highest military order,the Pour le Mérite, and in 1794 he became colonel of the Red Hussars. In 1793 and 1794 he distinguished himself in cavalry actions against the French, and for his success at Kirrweiler he was promoted to major-general. In 1801 he was promoted lieutenant-general.

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Blücher monument in front of the University of Rostock's main building, created in collaboration with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

He was one of the leaders of the war party in Prussia in 1805-1806, and served as a cavalry general in the disastrous campaign of the latter year. At Auerstadt Blücher repeatedly charged at the head of the Prussian cavalry, but without success. In the retreat of the broken armies he commanded the rearguard of Prince Hohenlohe's corps, and upon the capitulation of the main body of Prenzlau he led a remnant of the Prussian army away to the north and in the neighborhood of Lübeck fought a series of combats, which, however, ended in his being forced to surrender at Ratkau (November 7, 1806). Blücher insisted that a clause be written in the capitulation document that he had to surrender due to lack of provisions and ammunition. He was soon exchanged for General Victor, and was actively employed in Pomerania, at Berlin, and at Königsberg until the conclusion of the war.

After the war, Blücher was looked upon as the natural leader of the patriot party, with which he was in close touch during the period of Napoleonic domination. His hopes of an alliance with Austria in the war of 1809 were disappointed. In this year he was made general of cavalry. In 1812 he expressed himself so openly on the alliance of Russia with France that he was recalled from his military governorship of Pomerania and virtually banished from the court.

Following the start of the 1813 War of Liberation, Blücher was again placed in high command, and he was present at Lützen and Bautzen. During the armistice he worked on the organization of the Prussian forces, and when the war was resumed Blücher became commander-in-chief of the Army of Silesia, with Gneisenau and Muffling as his principal staff officers, and 40,000 Prussians and 50,000 Russians under his command.

The irresolution and divergence of interests usual in allied armies found in him a restless opponent. Knowing that if he could not induce others to co-operate he was prepared to attempt the task in hand by himself often caused other generals to follow his lead. He defeated Marshal Macdonald at the Katzbach, and by his victory over Marmont at Möckern led the way to the decisive overthrow of Napoleon at Leipzig which was taken by Blücher's own army on the evening of the last day of the battle.

On the day of Möckern (October 16, 1813) Blücher was made a field marshal, and after the victory he pursued the French with his accustomed energy. In the winter of 1813-1814 Blücher, with his chief staff officers, was mainly instrumental in inducing the allied sovereigns to carry the war into France itself.

The combat of Brienne and the Battle of La Rothière were the chief incidents of the first stage of the celebrated campaign of 1814, and they were quickly followed by the victories of Napoleon over Blücher at Champaubert, Vauxchamps and Montmirail. But the courage of the Prussian leader was undiminished, and his great victory of Laon (March 9 to 10) practically decided the fate of the campaign.

After this Blücher infused some of his own energy into the operations of Prince Schwarzenberg's Army of Bohemia, and at last this army and the Army of Silesia marched in one body directly towards Paris. The victory of Montmartre, the entry of the allies into the French capital, and the overthrow of the First Empire were the direct consequences.

Blücher was inclined to make a severe retaliation upon Paris for the calamities that Prussia had suffered from the armies of France had not the allied commanders intervened to prevent it. Blowing up the bridge of Jena was said to be one of his contemplated acts.

On June 3, 1814 he was made Prince of Wahlstatt (in Silesia on the Katzbach battlefield), and soon afterwards he paid a visit to England, being received everywhere with the greatest enthusiasm.

After the war he retired to Silesia, but the return of Napoleon from Elba soon called him to further service. He was put in command of the Army of the Lower Rhine, with General Gneisenau as his chief of staff. In the campaign of 1815 the Prussians sustained a very severe defeat at the outset at Ligny (June 16), in the course of which the old field marshal was ridden over by cavalry charges, his life being saved only by the devotion of his aide-de-camp, Count Nostitz. He was unable to resume command for some hours, and Gneisenau drew off the defeated army. The relations of the Prussian and the English headquarters were at this time very complicated, and it is uncertain whether Blücher himself was responsible for the daring resolution to march to Wellington's assistance. This was in fact done, and after an incredibly severe march Blücher's army intervened with decisive and crushing effect in the Battle of Waterloo. The great victory was converted into a success absolutely decisive of the war by the relentless pursuit of the Prussians, and the allies re-entered Paris on July 7.

Prince Blücher remained in the French capital for some months, but his age and infirmities compelled him to retire to his Silesian residence at Krieblowitz, where he died aged seventy-seven.

He retained to the end of his life that wildness of character and proneness to excesses which had caused his dismissal from the army in his youth, but however they may be regarded, these faults sprang always from the ardent and vivid temperament which made Blücher a dashing leader of horse. The qualities which made him a great general were his patriotism and the hatred of French domination which inspired every success of the War of Liberation.

He was twice married, and had, by his first marriage, two sons and a daughter. Statues were erected to his memory at Berlin, Breslau and Rostock.

In gratitude for his service at Waterloo and before, an early British locomotive engineer named his invention after Blücher, and Oxford University granted him an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Laws).


Further reading

The most recent biography of Blücher in German is:

  • Tom Crepon: Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher: sein Leben, seine Kämpfe. Rostock: Hinsdorff, 1999 ISBN 3-356-00833-1

...and in English, is:

  • Roger Parkinson: The Hussar general: the life of Blücher, man of Waterloo. London: P. Davies, 1975 ISBN 0-432116-00-1

Several acounts of Blücher have appeared over the years in German, at least two of which perhaps deserve special mention:

  • K. A. Varnhagen von Ense: Leben des Fürsten Blücher von Wahlstadt. Berlin: G. Reimer, 1826 (Biographische Denkmale; Th. 3) (Preussische biographische Denkmale; 2)

and:

  • The life and campaigns of Field-Marshal Prince Blücher of Wahlstatt translated in part from the German of Count Gneisenau ... London, 1815 (and this is available in a reprint edition: London: Constable, 1996 ISBN 0-09-476640-1)

His collected writings and letters (together with those of Yorck and Gneisenau) appeared in 1932:

  • Gesammelte Schriften und Briefe / Blücher, Yorck, Gneisenau; zusammengestellt und hrsg. von Edmund Th. Kauer. B.-Schöneberg : Oestergaard, [1932]

A diary he wrote while he was with the Hussars was published in 1914:

  • Vorwärts! : ein Husaren-Tagebuch und Feldzugsbriefe von Gebhardt Leberecht von Blücher; eingeleitet von Generalfeldmarschall von der Goltz ... hrsg. von Heinrich Conrad. München: G. Müller, [1914]

His campaign journal covering the years 1793 to 1794 was published in 1796:

  • Kampagne-Journal der Jahre 1793 und 1794. Berlin: Decker, 1796

See also

de:Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher fr:Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher nl:Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher pl:Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher fi:Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher pl:Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher ru:Блюхер, Гебхард Леберехт sv:Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

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