Alexander Ivanovich Ostermann-Tolstoy, 1771-1857

Alexander Ostermann-Tolstoy (1771-1857) was a Russian general who served in the Russian army throughout the Napoleonic Wars, but who later agued with the Tsar and spent the last years of his life in exile.

Ostermann-Tolstoy was born into the wealthy Tolstoy family in 1771. He was always destined for a military career, and in 1774 was signed up for service in the Life Guard Preobrazhensk Regiment. He fought in the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792, taking part in the fighting at Ismail and Macin, and was promoted to lieutenant of the Guard.

In 1792 Tolstoy transferred to the 2nd Battlaion of the Bug Jäger Corps in 1793 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In November 1796 he was promoted to colonel and in February 1798 he was promoted to major general and became colonel-proprietor of the Schlüsseburg Musketeer Regiment. In April 1798 he left the military and joined the civil service as a civil counsellor. By then he had been given permission to adopt the name and title of his maternal grandfather, Paul I's Chancellor Count Ostermann and for the rest of his career was known as Ostermann-Tolstoy.

Ostermann-Tolstoy returned to the Army in 1801 when he was given command of an infantry division. In 1805 Russian joined the Third Coalition. Ostermann-Tolstoy was part of Count Peter Tolstoy's army, which operated in Pomerania. He was promoted to lieutenant-general on 27 June 1806 and commanded the 2nd Division during the Polish campaign of 1806-1807, fighting at Czarnow and Pultusk (26 December 1806). At Pultusk he helped prevent the French from winning a victory late in the day. He was present during the retreat from Jankovo and commanded the left flank of the Russian army during the costly and inconclusive battle of Eylau, one of Napoleon's first major setbacks. His troops were the target of Murat's famous cavalry charge at Eylau. Ostermann-Tolstoy was wounded at Guttstadt on 5 June 1807 and had to leave the army.

During the period of peace between the Treaty of Tilset and the revival of war in 1812 Ostermann-Tolstoy led the opposition to peace with the French, but ill health forced him to retire in November 1810.

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

After the outbreak of war in 1812 Ostermann-Tolstoy joined 1st Corps as a volunteer. He fought at Wilkomir in June 1812, but was soon returned to command, and on 13 July was appointed commander of IV Corps in the 1st Western Army (Barclay de Tolly), replacing General Shuvalov who had been forced to retire due to ill heath. In this role he commanded the Russian army at Ostrovno (25 July 1812) and fought at Valutino (18 August 1812), and was wounded at Borodino (7 September 1812). At Borodino his corps began on the Russian right but was moved into the centre to bolster the line after early French successes. Despite his wound he refused to leave his post and was in the heart of the action for much of the day. He was awarded the Order of Alexander of Neva for his actions at Borodino.

After Borodino he was one of the officers who argued in favour of abandoning Moscow to the French.

Ostermann-Tolstoy fought at the battle of Vinkovo or Tarutino (18 October 1812), a key battle that helped trigger the retreat from Moscow. He also fought at the second battle of Krasnyi (15-16 November 1812), but in the following month poor health forced him to leave the army.

He was fit enough to rejoin the army for the campaign in Germany in 1813. He was wounded at the battle of Bautzen, but soon recovered and was given command of the Guards Corps in August. He played a major part in the victory at Kulm (29-30 August 1813), which negated Napoleon's earlier victory at Dresden (26-27 August 1813), but during the battle a cannon ball cut off his left hand and once again he had to leave the army.

At first Ostermann-Tolstoy was well rewarded for his efforts. In March 1814 he was appointed adjutant-general, in December 1815 he became colonel-proprietor of the Life Guard Pavlovsk Regiment, in 1816 he was given command of the Grenadier Corps and in 1817 he was promoted to General of Infantry.

His later career went less smoothly. In 1826 he lost his posts and in 1831 he left Russia to serve as military adviser to Ibrahim Pasha in Egypt. He returned to Russia, but quickly argued with Tsar Nicholas I and was forced into exile in 1834. He died in Switzerland in 1857.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 April 2014), Alexander Ivanovich Ostermann-Tolstoy, 1771-1857 ,

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