Field Marshal Prince Mikhail Andreas Barclay de Tolly, 1761-1818

Mikhail Andreas Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818) was a Russian general who played a major part in the defeat of Napoleon in 1812 but whose career suffered because of his 'foreign' origins.

Barclay was born in Livonia, and had Scottish ancestry (thus making him part of the 'German' faction in the Russian army.. He joined the Russian army as an 'other rank', and served for fourteen years before becoming an officer. He took part in wars against Sweden (1790), Poland (1894) and the Turks (1788-89), and was promoted to major-general in 1799, an impressive rate of promotion. He was promoted to colonel in 1798 and major general in 1799.

He was promoted to lieutenant-general in 1806. He fought at Pultusk and was wounded at Eylau (February 1807), in both cases fighting under the command of General Bennigsen). From June 1809 to February 1810 he was governor-general of Finland and head of the Senate in the Grand Duchy of Finland.

Russia 1812 - The Road to Moscow
Russia 1812
The Road to Moscow

In 1810, after a successful period in Finland, he became Minister of War and began a reform of the Russian army. He was now one of the Tsar's favourites, and was given command of the First West Army in the 1812 campaign. Barclay de Tolly was in a difficult position. The Tsar failed to appoint a commander-in-chief, leaving Barclay in command only as minister of war.

He clashed badly with Bagration, commander of the Second West Army, in particular over Barclay's policy of trading space for time and retreated into the depths of Russia instead of offering battle. This policy was very unpopular at the time, but it eventually became clear that it played a major part in the destruction of Napoleon's army. 

He retained command of his army after Kutuzov was given overall command, and led the right wing at Borodino, where he performed well. After the battle the First and Second West Armies were combined. Barclay decided to retire from his army command on grounds of ill-health, although he remained Minister of War until 1813.

War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign
War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign

Barclay then returned to the field. After the battle of Bautzen (21 May 1813) he became command-in-chief of the Russian armies. He commanded the Russian forces at Dresden (26-27 August), Kulm (29-30 August) and Leipzig (16-19 October). He was created a count after Leipzig.

He commanded the Russian armies in France in 1814 and was promoted to Field Marshal.

In 1815 he commanded the Russian army that took part in the final campaign against Napoleon, invading France from the east (although arriving after the Battle of Waterloo and the end of the serious fighting). He was made a prince as a reward for his service.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 March 2012), Field Marshal Prince Mikhail Andreas Barclay de Tolly, 1761-1818 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_barclay_de_tolly.html

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