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Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly : biography

27 December 1761 - 26 May 1818

Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (16 December (27 December) 1761 – 14 May (26 May) 1818), was a Russian Field Marshal and Minister of War during Napoleon's invasion in 1812 and War of the Sixth Coalition.

Early life

Barclay de Tolly, a member of the Scottish Clan Barclay, was born in Pamūšis, Courland and Semigallia (in present-day Pakruojis region, Šiauliai County, Lithuania) and raised in Jõgeveste, Livonia, Russian Empire (currently in Estonia). The commonly accepted birth date of 27 December 1761 is the actual day of his baptism in the Lutheran church of the town Žeimelis. He was a German-speaking descendant of a Scottish family which had settled in Livonia in the 17th century. His grandfather served as the mayor of Riga, his father Bogdan Barclay de Tolly was admitted into the ranks of Russian nobility, and the future Field Marshal entered the Imperial Russian Army at an early age.

De Tolly was a member of the Akademie gemeinnütziger Wissenschaften.

Napoleon's invasion

During Napoleon's Invasion of Russia in 1812 Barclay assumed the supreme command of the 1st Army of the West, the largest of the Russian armies facing Napoleon. He proposed the now famous scorched earth strategy of drawing the enemy deep into one's own territory and retreated to the village of Tsaryovo-Zaimishche between Moscow and Smolensk.

Nevertheless, the Russians keenly opposed the appointment of a foreigner as commander-in-chief. His rivals spread rumors of him being Napoleon's agent, and the populace condemned him as a coward. Barclay was forced by his subordinates and the Tsar to engage Napoleon at Smolensk (17 – 18 August 1812). Napoleon forced Barclay to retreat when he threatened Barclay's only escape route. After losing the Holy City of Smolensk, the outcry of officers and civilians grew to a point where the Tsar could no longer ignore it. He appointed Kutuzov, previously a general at the battle of Austerlitz, as the over-all commander of the Russian Forces. Barclay remained General of the 1st Army of the West.

Barclay commanded the right flank at the Battle of Borodino (7 September 1812) with great valor and presence of mind and during the celebrated council at Fili advised Kutuzov to surrender unfortified Moscow to the enemy. His illness made itself known at that time and he was forced to leave the army soon afterwards.

After Napoleon was driven from Russia, the eventual success of Barclay's tactics made him a romantic hero, misunderstood by his contemporaries and rejected by the court. His popularity soared, and his honour was restored by the tsar.

Foreign campaigns

Barclay was re-employed in the field and took part in the campaign in Germany. After Kutuzov's death, he once again became commander-in-chief of the Russian forces at the Battle of Bautzen (21 May 1813), and in this capacity he served at Dresden (26 – 27 August 1813), Kulm (29 – 30 August 1813) and Leipzig (16 – 19 October 1813). In the latter battle he commanded a central part of the Allied forces so effectively that the tsar bestowed upon him the title of count. Barclay de Tolly [[Mausoleum in Jõgeveste, southern Estonia]] Barclay took part in the invasion of France in 1814 and commanded the taking of Paris, receiving the baton of a Field Marshal in reward. In 1815 he again served as commander-in-chief of the Russian army which after the Hundred Days occupied France, and was created Prince at the close of the war.

As his health grew worse, he left the military and settled down in his Jõgeveste manor (German exonym: Beckhof, Polish: Tepelshof) (nowadays Southern Estonia). Barclay de Tolly died at Insterburg (Chernyakhovsk), East Prussia, on 26 May 1818 (14 May, Old Style) on his way from his Livonian manor to Germany, where he wanted to renew his health. His and his wife Helene Auguste Eleonore von Smitten's remains were embalmed and put into the mausoleum built to a design by Apollon Shchedrin and Vasily Demut-Malinovsky in 1832 in Jõgeveste (in Helme, Estonia). Bust of Barclay de Tolly in Tartu, Estonia.]]

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Living octopus

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