Field Marshal Friedrich Wilhelm, Count Buxhowden, 1750-1811

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Field Marshal Friedrich Wilhelm, Count Buxhowden (1750-1811) was one of the less able Russian generals of the Napoleonic Wars, and was prominent in the Austro-Russian defeat at Austerlitz.

Buxhowden was an Estonian German, born in Lifland. He married an illegitimate daughter of Catherine the Great of Russia. In 1764 he joined the Artillery and Engineer Cadet Corps. He first gained combat experience in 1770 during a war with the Turks, fighting at Bender in 1770 and Braila in 1771.

In 1772 he travelled through Germany and Italy as an adjutant to Prince Orlov, and impressed the prince enough to earn his patronage. Buxhowden was promoted to colonel in 1783, and given command of the Keksholm Infantry Regiment in 1787. He fought in the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-90, serving in the galley fleet. He fought at Rochensalmi in 1789 and was promoted to major general for his efforts.

Buxhowden served under Suvarov in Poland in 1793-94, fighting at Praga and being made commandant of Warsaw. Both Russian and Prussia rewarded him for his role in this war.

Tsar Paul I made him military governor of St. Petersurg, appointed him colonel-proprietor of the Keksholm Musketeer Regiment and made him a Count of the Russian Empire in April 1797. Like many others he then fell out of favour and in September was discharged from the army. He chose to go into exile in Germany, not returning to Russian until 1802, by which time Alexander was Tsar.

In 1803 Buxhowden re-entered the Russian army, with the rank of general of infantry. At the start of the War of the Third Coalition in 1805 he led one of the Russian armies that moved west to help the Austrians.

He commanded the first three columns in the combined Austro-Russian army that was defeated at Austerlitz. This gave him command of the Allied attack on the left, the key element of their plan for the battle. As the battle turned against the Allies Buxhowden panicked, and was described as being 'scarcely in possession of his wits' during the retreat.

His career survived the disaster at Austerlitz, and in 1806 he was given command of the Russian 2nd Army. This meant he had to cooperate with Bennigsen, but the two men were bitter rivals. Buxhowden was blamed for his army's failure to arrive in time to take part in the battle of Pultusk.

Early in 1807 he took command of the combined Russian armies, but this was short-lived and he was soon recalled and replaced by Bennigsen (his performance wasn't that impressive either and he lead his army to defeat at Friedland). Buxhowden protested the decision to appoint Bennigsen, and when his protests were ignored issued a challenge to a duel that was also ignored.

Despite his erratic behaviour he was made military governor of Riga in 1807. In 1808 he commanded the Russian army that forced the Swedes out of Finland. By the Treaty of Fredrikshavn (17 September 1809) Russia gained Finland from Sweden. Buxhowden was given the task of organising the new province and running its administration, but he disagreed with Alexander and was soon replaced. Buxhowden retired, dying in 1811.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 March 2012), Field Marshal Friedrich Wilhelm, Count Buxhowden, 1750-1811 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_buxhowden.html

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