1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Blücher, Gebhard Leberecht von
BLÜCHER, GEBHARD LEBERECHT VON (1742–1819), Prussian general field marshal, prince of Wahlstadt in Silesia, was born at Rostock on the 16th of December 1742. 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, and being passed over for promotion he sent in his resignation, to which Frederick replied, “Captain Blücher can take himself to the devil” (1773). He now settled down to farming, and in fifteen years he had acquired an honourable independence. But he was unable to return to the army until after the death of Frederick the Great. He was then reinstated as major in his old regiment, the Red Hussars. He took part in the expedition to Holland in 1787, and in the following year became lieutenant-colonel. In 1789 he received the order 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 made a major-general. In 1801 he was promoted lieutenant-general.
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 Auerstädt 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 carried off a remnant of the Prussian army to the northward, and in the neighbourhood of Lübeck he fought a series of combats, which, however, ended in his being forced to surrender at Ratkau (November 7, 1806). His adversaries testified in his capitulation that it was caused by “want 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.
When at last the Napoleonic domination was ended by the outbreak of the War of Liberation in 1813, Blücher of course was at once placed in high command, and he was present at Lützen and Bautzen. During the armistice he worked at 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 Müffling as his principal staff officers, and 40,000 Prussians and 50,000 Russians under his control. The autumn campaign of 1813 will be found described in the article Napoleonic Campaigns, and it will here be sufficient to say that the most conspicuous military quality displayed by Blücher was his unrelenting energy. The irresolution and divergence of interests usual in allied armies found in him a restless opponent, and the knowledge 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 place was stormed 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 general field marshal, and after the victory he pursued the routed 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 direct upon 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 disposed 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 the 3rd of June 1814 he was made prince of Wahlstadt (in Silesia on the Katzbach battlefield), and soon afterwards he paid a visit to England, being received everywhere with the greatest enthusiasm.
After the peace he retired to Silesia, but the return of Napoleon 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 (see Waterloo Campaign). 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 the 7th of July. 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 on the 12th of September 1819, 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.
Of the various lives of Prince Blücher, that by Varnhagen von Ense (1827) is the most important. His war diaries of 1793–1794, together with a memoir (written in 1805) on the subject of a national army, were edited by Golz and Ribbentrop (Campagne Journal 1793–4 von Gl. Lt. v. Blücher).