Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst (Prince) von Wahlstatt (December 16 1742 - September 12 1819), Graf (Count), later elevated to Fürst (Prince) von Wahlstatt, was a Prussian Generalfeldmarschall who led his army against Napoleon I at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813 and at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 with the Duke of Wellington.

To his honour a bust of him is placed in the German Walhalla temple near Regensburg.

The honorary citizen of Berlin, Hamburg and Rostock bore the nickname "Marschall Vorwärts" ("Marshal Forwards!") because of his approach to warfare. There is a German idiom to this day, "ran wie Blücher" ("on it like Blücher"), meaning that someone is taking a very direct and aggressive action, in war or otherwise.


Early life

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher was born in Rostock, Mecklenburg, a Baltic port in northern Germany. His family had been landowners in northern Germany from at least the 13th century.

He began his military career at sixteen, when he joined the Swedish Army as a Hussar. At the time Sweden was at war with Prussia in the Seven Years' War. Blücher took part in the Pomeranian campaign of 1760, where he was captured in a skirmish with Prussian Hussars. The colonel of the Prussian regiment, Belling, was impressed with the young hussar and had him join his regiment.

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, like a fake execution of a priest suspected to support Polish uprisings in 1772. Due to this, he was passed over for promotion to Major. Blücher sent in a rude letter of resignation, which Frederick the Great granted in 1773: Der Rittmeister von Blücher kann sich zum Teufel scheren (Cavalry Captain von Blücher can go to the devil).

He then settled down to farming, and in fifteen years he had acquired an honorable independence, a wife, 7 children, and membership in the Freemasons. During the lifetime of Frederick the Great, Blücher was unable to return to the army, but after the king's death in 1786, he was reinstated as a major in his old regiment, the Red Hussars in 1787.

Blücher 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.

Napoleonic Wars

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 Auerstedt Blücher repeatedly charged at the head of the Prussian cavalry, but too early and 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, after having secured 34 cannon in cooperation with Scharnhorst. In the neighborhood of Lübeck he fought a series of combats, which, however, ended in his being forced to surrender at Ratekau (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, and that his soldiers were honoured by a French formation along the street. He was allowed keep his sabre and to move freely, only bound by his word of honour, and soon was exchanged for Marshal Claude Victor-Perrin, duc de Belluno, 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 August von 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 at hand by himself often caused other generals to follow his lead. He defeated Marshal Macdonald at the Katzbach, and by his victory over Marshal 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, Vauchamps 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 atrocities and overall severe calamities that Prussia had suffered from the armies of France had not the allied commanders intervened to prevent it. Blowing up the Jena Bridge near the Champ de Mars 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.

Hundred Days and later life

After the war he retired to Silesia, but the return of Napoleon from Elba soon called him to return to service. He was put in command of the Army of the Lower Rhine, with General August von Gneisenau as his chief of staff. In the campaign of 1815, the Prussians sustained a serious defeat at the outset at Ligny (June 16), in the course of which the old field marshal was run over by cavalry and lay trapped under his dead horse for several hours, his life 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, rallied it and sent it off to join Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo. After a tortuous march along muddy paths, Blücher's army intervened with decisive and crushing effect. This victory led the way to a decisive victory through the relentless pursuit of the French by the Prussians. The allies re-entered Paris on July 7.

Prince Blücher remained in the French capital for a few months, but his age and infirmities compelled him to retire to his Silesian residence at Krieblowitz (now Krobielowice in Poland), where he died in 1819 aged 76. In 1945 his grave was destroyed by Soviet troops, his corpus exhumed, and his skull used as a ball to play football. As of 2008, in Poland, von Blücher's grave looks exactly as Soviet troops left it in 1945.

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 people. Whilst by no means a military genius, his sheer determination and ability to spring back from errors made him a competent leader.

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

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


  • 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, Vauchamps, Montmirail, Laon, Montmartre
  • 1815: Lower Rhine (Battle of Ligny), Battle of Waterloo


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]

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

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

A second edition of this diary, together with some of Blücher's letters, 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]

An account of his life, with his death at Krieblowitz and family history, was written by Gebhard Leberecht, the fourth Prince Blücher, and edited by his wife Evelyn Princess Blücher with Desmond Chapman-Huston:

  • Memoirs of Prince Blücher. London: Murray, 1932


  • Crepon, Tom (1999). Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher: sein Leben, seine Kämpfe. Rostock: Hinsdorff. ISBN 3-356-00833-1.
  • von Ense, K. A. Varnhagen (1826). Leben des Fürsten Blücher von Wahlstadt. Berlin: G. Reimer.
  • Henderson, Ernest F. (1994). Blücher and the uprising of Prussia against Napoleon, 1806-1815. Aylesford: R.J. Leach. ISBN 1-873050-14-3.
  • Parkinson, Roger (1975). The Hussar general: the life of Blücher, man of Waterloo. London: P. Davies. ISBN 0-432116-00-1.
  • (1996). The life and campaigns of Field-Marshal Prince Blücher of Wahlstatt. London: Constable. ISBN 0-09-476640-1.

External links

See also

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