Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov (Алексей Петрович Ермолов), or Ermolov (June 4 n.s. (May 24 o.s.) 1777 - April 23 n.s. (April 11 o.s.) 1861), was the premier Russian military hero during the golden age of Russian Romanticism. His charismatic leadership of imperial armies was praised in the poems by Alexander Pushkin, Vasily Zhukovsky, and others.
Yermolov was born to a Russian noble family from the Orlov
gubernia. He graduated from the boarding school of the Moscow University
and enlisted in the Life Guard Preobrazhensky Regiment
on 16 January 1787. Four years later, he was promoted to lieutenant
and transferred to the Nizhegorod Dragoon
Regiment with the rank of captain
. He briefly taught at the Artillery and Engineer Cadet Corps in 1793 before being sent to fight the Polish
insurgents in the Polish campaign of 1794
. He participated in the assault on Praga
and received the Order of St. George
(4th class) on 12 January 1795. The next year, Yermolov took part in the Persian
Campaign along the Caspian Sea
. However, he was arrested on 7 January 1799 for alleged participation in conspiracy
against the Tsar
and Yermolov spent two years in exile
. He taught himself Latin
After the assassination of Paul I in 1801, the new emperor, Alexander I, pardoned Yermolov, who returned to the military and began studying the works of Suvorov, whose disciple he now considered himself. Yermolov was appointed to the 8th Artillery Regiment on 13 May 1801; he then transferred to the horse artillery company on 21 June 1801.
His own military genius blossomed during the Napoleonic Wars
. During the 1805 Campaign, Yermolov served in the rear and advance guards and distinguished himself at Amstetten
. For his actions, he was promoted to colonel
on 16 July 1806. The following year, he participated in the campaign in Poland
, serving in Prince Bagration's advance guard. He distinguished himself commanding an artillery company in numerous rearguard actions during the retreat to Landsberg
as well as in the Battle of Eylau
. In June 1807, Yermolov commanded horse artillery company in the actions at Guttstadt
, garnering the Order of St. George
(3rd class, 7 September 1807). He was promoted to major general
on 28 March 1808 and was appointed inspector of horse artillery companies. In early 1809, he inspected artillery companies of the Army of Danube
. Although his division took part in the 1809 Campaign against Austria
, Yermolov commanded the reserves in Volhynia
gubernias where he remained for the next two years. In 1811, he took command of the guard artillery company and in 1812, became the Chief of Staff
of the 1st Western Army.
During the 1812 Campaign, Yermolov took part in the retreat to Smolensk and played an important role in the quarrel between Generals Barclay de Tolly and Bagration. He opposed Barclay's strategy and appealed to Emperor Alexander to replace him with Bagration. After the Russian armies united on 2 August, Yermolov fought at Smolensk and Lubino (Valutina Gora) for which he was promoted to lieutenant general on 12 November 1812 with seniority dating from 16 August 1812. He distinguished himself at Borodino, where he was lightly wounded leading a counterattack that recaptured the Great Redoubt. For his courage, Yermolov received the Order of St. Anna (1st class). During the rest of campaign, he served as a duty officer in the headquarters of the main Russian army and fought at Maloyaroslavets. In October-November 1812, Yermolov served in the advance guard under Miloradovich and fought at Vyazma and Krasnyi. In late November, he commanded one of the detachments in the advance guard under General Rosen taking part in the combats on the Berezina. On 3 December 1812, he was recalled to the main headquarters where he became the Chief of Staff of the Russian army. Three weeks later, he was appointed commander of the artillery of the Russian armies.
During the European campaigns of 1813 and 1814, Yermolov was in charge of the artillery corps of the allies. His able command proved crucial to their success in the Battle of Kulm. In 1813, Yermolov fought at Lützen, where he was accused of insubordination and transferred to command the 2nd Guard Division. He then fought at Bautzen, commanding the Russian rearguard during the retreat, and at Kulm where he was decorated with the Prussian Iron Cross. In 1814, he distinguished himself in the battle around Paris and was awarded the Order of St. George on 7 April 1814.
During his tenure as commander-in-chief in the Caucasus, Yermolov (by that time promoted to the rank of full artillery general) was responsible for ruthless Russian military policies in Caucasus
, where his name became byword for brutality. In a reply to the outraged Alexander I, he wrote. "I desire that the terror of my name shall guard our frontiers more potently than chains or fortresses. He was appointed as commander-in-chief
of the Russian forces in Georgia and commander of the Independent Georgian Corps on 21 April 1816. His promotion to the position was seen as a personal insult by his superiors and earned him many enemies at home. He proved himself an able administrator and successfully negotiated with Persia
in 1818, receiving promotion to general of infantry on 4 March 1818.
In 1817, he fortified a ford on the Sunzha river and founded the fortress of Grozny the following year. After reppelling an attack by the highlanders, he undertook a brutal punitive raid against them. His brutal measures did succeed in keeping many of the allied tribes loyal.
For ten years he was both commander-in-chief of the Georgian armies and the imperial ambassador in Persia. His independent character would often lead him to conflicts with the Ministry of War, exacerbated by the personal antagonism of many of its members. He was adored by his soldiers, often fraternising with them, and generally successful in combatting the highlanders of Dagestan, but failed to prevent multiple uprisings.
When, in 1825, Yermolov found out that Griboedov was about to be arrested on charges relating to the Decembrist revolt, he warned him of it, enabling Griboedov to destroy some compromising papers and avoid arrest.
Yermolov's career came to an abrupt end in 1827 and was replaced with Nicholas I's favorite Ivan Paskevich. The exact reasons are unclear, but he was disliked by Nicholas and was blamed for not keeping the tribes in check. Yermolov was discharged on 7 December 1827 with a full pension. However, four years later, Emperor Nicholas restored him in the rank (6 November 1831) and appointed him to the State Council; Yermolov's rank of general of infantry was confirmed in 1833.
During the last 30 years of his life, Yermolov lived in seclusion at his manor near Oryol. He was asked to lead a peasant militia during the Crimean War but declined on account of poor health. He died on April 11 (o.s.)/April 23 (n.s.), 1861 in Moscow and was buried at the Trinity Church in Oryol. Yermolov's memoirs were published posthumously in two volumes.
In addition to the already mentioned decorations, Yermolov was also decorated with the Russian Orders of St. Andrew the First Called
, of St. Vladimir
(1st class), of St. Alexander Nevsky
, of the White Eagle
, and of St. Anna
(1st class); foreign orders received included the Prussian Orders of the Red Eagle
(1st class) and the Pour le Mérite
, the Austrian Order of Maria Theresa (3rd class), the Baden Order
of Karl Friedrich, the Persian Order of the Lion and the Sun
, and two golden swords for courage (including one with diamonds).
Impact and trivia
Yermolov was one of the best artillery officers in the Russian army. He proved his abilities throughout the Napoleonic Wars and later in the Caucasus
. However, he was also shrewd and cunning courtier, who often intrigued against his superiors. Because of his enigmatic character, Yermolov was often described as the "Modern Sphinx". He proved himself a ruthless ruler in the Caucasus and distinguished himself brutally suppressing Chechen
uprisings. Yermolov left very interesting and valuable memoirs on his service in 1796-1816. His Zapiski
(Memoirs) are divided into three parts covering his early career, the Napoleonic Wars
and his service in the Caucasus.
He was a character in Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, and in Prokofiev's opera of the same name, based on the novel.
- In 2005, Ravenhall Books published his memoirs under titles The Czar's General: The Memoirs of a Russian General by Alexey Yermolov, translated and edited by Alexander Mikaberidze.
- Gammer M. "Proconsul of the Caucasus": a Re-examination of Yermolov. Social Evolution & History 2(1): 177-194.