The New International Encyclopædia/Gneisenau, August, Count Neithardt von

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
The New International Encyclopædia
Gneisenau, August, Count Neithardt von
Edition of 1906. See also August Neidhardt von Gneisenau on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

GNEISENAU gnī'ze-nou, August, Count Neithardt von (1760-1831). A Prussian field-marshal and one of the most prominent figures in the War of Liberation. He was born in Schildau, in Prussian Saxony, October 27, 1760. In 1777 he entered the University of Erfurt, and two years later joined an Austrian regiment. In the following year he entered the service of the Margrave of Ansbach-Bayreuth, and in 1782 went to America as an officer in the mercenary force raised by Great Britain in Germany. He returned, however, in the following year without having seen any actual fighting. In 1786 he entered the Prussian service as lieutenant of infantry. The next twenty years, with the exception of a year's active service in Poland in 1793-94, were spent in the quiet of garrison life. During this time, however, Gneisenau became a profound student of military and political history. In 1806 he took the field against Napoleon and fought at Saalfeld and Jena. He was raised to the rank of major, and was intrusted, in April, 1807, with the defense of Kolberg, which was invested by a large French army. With the aid of Schill and Nettelbeck he carried on a heroic resistance against the greatly superior forces of the French until hostilities were concluded by the Peace of Tilsit. For his services he was raised to the post of chief of engineers, and was made a member of the council to which was intrusted the task of reorganizing the Prussian State, which had exhausted its forces in the disastrous war against Napoleon and had been dismembered by the Peace of Tilsit. In this work of national revival he coöperated heartily with Stein and Scharnhorst, and though primarily devoted to the problem of military reorganization, exercised considerable influence on the general policy of the Ministry. After Stein's dismissal he resigned (1809), owing to the hostility of Napoleon, and from 1811 to 1813 was intrusted with secret missions to Austria, Sweden, Russia, and England. Upon the outbreak of the War of Liberation in 1813, he became major-general in the corps of Blücher, and subsequently chief of staff to the Army of Silesia. In this position Gneisenau displayed remarkable strategic talents, a relentless energy, and a daring which contributed, in no small degree, to the success of the Prussian arms. He became lieutenant-general after the battle of Leipzig, and upon the return of Napoleon from Elba was made once more chief of staff under his old commander, Blücher. After the repulse of the Prussians at Ligny, June 16, 1815, he executed a skillful retreat, and to him was due, in large measure, the opportune arrival of the Prussians on the battlefield of Waterloo, June 18th. After the decision of the battle he led the pursuit, turning the French retreat into a complete rout. He was made Governor of Berlin in 1818 and field marshal in 1825. Soon after the outbreak of the Polish insurrection of 1830 he was assigned to the command of the Prussian corps on the Polish frontier, but he died at Posen, August 24, 1831. Gneisenau has assumed in Prussian history the dimensions almost of a national hero. He was with Stein, Scharnhorst, and York, one of the small band of patriots who, in the hour of Prussia's deepest degradation, never despaired of their country, and later, when an opportunity offered for overthrowing Napoleon, devoted themselves to the destruction of the hateful French domination. In Gneisenau, moreover, ardent patriotism was combined with a most lovable nature, marked by natural gentleness and refined by years of study and by travel. There is a monumental life of Gneisenau in five volumes by Pertz and Delbrück (Berlin, 1864-80); an abridgment of this was published by Delbrück in two volumes (Berlin, 1894).