Born in 1752 into a noble Russian family, Alexander was commissioned as a Porochuk (Lieutenant) in the Viatka Infantry Regiment at the age of 20. He saw action in the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-92, taking part in the storming of Ochakov, at the mouth of the Danube, in 1788, under the command of Prince Grigori Potemkin. This was a particularly brutal campaign, in which all Turkish inhabitants of the captured towns were massacred.
Having risen to Major-General, Tormassov led the left-flank cavalry under the command of Prince Repnin at the storming of Machin, in modern Romania, on 28 March 1791. He was awarded the Order of St. George, 3rd class, for his conduct in that battle.
Tormassov served under the great Suvorov in the campaign to suppress the Polish Uprising of 1794. He was in command of one of the seven columns which stormed the Polish bridgehead of Praga, on the right bank of the Vistula opposite Warsaw, on 4 November 1794. In the same manner in which they had treated the Turks, Polish civilians and soldiers alike were slaughtered to the number of some 13,000 (14,500 were made prisoner, and a further 2,000 drowned trying to swim the river to safety).
Tsar Paul promoted Tormassov to Lieutenant-General and named him Colonel-in-Chief of the Ordensky Cuirassier Regiment. That erratic monarch later abruptly dismissed Tormassov from the service, and then reinstated him.
Under Tsar Alexander I, Tormassov was promoted to General of Cavalry. From 1808 until early 1812 he was Commander-in-Chief of Russian forces in Georgia. Tormassov was recalled from the Caucasus to take command of the Third Army of the West, forming south of the Pripet Marshes.
As Napoleon's invasion of Russia progressed eastward toward Smolensk, Tormassov moved north to threaten the enemy's right flank and communications. The Third Army of the West mauled a Saxon brigade at Kobrin, near Brest-Litovsk, on 27 July 1812. It was apparent that Reynier's VII (Saxon) Corps would not be able to contain Tormassov, and Schwarzenberg's Austrian Contingent was sent to the area.
Tormassov launched a cavalry raid into Poland, sowing panic and disruption as far as Warsaw. On 30-31 July 1812 The Third Army of the West fought off the superior numbers of Schwarzenberg's and Reynier's Corps at Gordetschna, withdrawing in good order. The continuing threat of Tormassov's army prevented Schwarzenberg from moving east to join Davout as planned, and caused large numbers of Polish troops to be retained as garrisons inside the Grand Duchy of Warsaw rather than supporting Napoleon's operations in Russia. For his part in this signal strategic success, Tormassov was awarded the Order of St. George, 2nd Class.
With the arrival in September of Admiral Tchichagov's army marching north from Moldavia, recently released due to the peace treaty between Russia and the Turks, Tormassov took part in the sweeping advance west and north of the Pripet Marshes that resulted in the capture of Minsk on 16 November 1812.
Tormassov served under Kutusov, and then Wittgenstein through the winter of 1812-13. After the Battle of Lützen (2 May 1813), plagued by deteriorating health, Tormassov resigned his command and returned to Russia. He served on the Council of State, and in 1814 took up the post of Governor of Moscow, in charge of the rebuilding of the ruined city. His successful efforts in this immense task were rewarded with the title of Graf (Count). Tormassov's illness turned suddenly worse, and he died in the autumn of 1819, aged 67 years.
Alexander Petrovich Tormasov,
Duffy, Christopher. Eagles Over the Alps, The Emperor's Press, 1999.
Nafziger, George. Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, Presidio Press, 1988.
Petre, F. Lorraine. Napoleon's Last campaign in Germany, 1813, Arms and Armour Press, 1912/1974.
At the end of the 1809 campaign many of the high-ranking Austrian officers who had taken part were either decorated or promoted for their contribution to it, though many had neither showed much distinction nor demonstrated any special talent. One who was not promoted or decorated was Feld-Marschall-Leutnant Prinz Franz von Rosenberg-Orsini, a German officer of Italian descent. Rosenberg had fought with Archduke Charles in 1796 and 1805, and had just fought in most of the important battles of 1809, but was now ignored by Archduke Charles as he rewarded his most immediate officers for their services. It seems that Rosenberg was being blamed for losing the battle of Wagram, and therefore the war against Napoleon. To this author, it seems that he was more sinned against than a sinner. This essay is an attempt to show that Rosenberg did everything that could be expected of him at Wagram and Eckmühl.
In early 1809 the Austrian army organised itself into a number of Corps d'Armée along the French model. Feld-Marschall-Leutnant Rosenberg found himself appointed commander-in-chief of the IV Corps. Like many other high-ranking officers of the Austrian Army, Rosenberg had had little experience of handling a formation of such size, the average Austrian corps consisting of about 30,000 men, 2,000 cavalry and 8 or more batteries of artillery. Rosenberg's corps for the campaign initially consisting of 27 battalions, 16 squadrons of cavalry and 10 batteries of artillery or 27,800 men and 60 guns organised into 3 divisions, a large formation for any General inexperienced in the command of such numbers. Rosenberg, like his colleagues, had previously been used to an army of columns of "division" sized formations, with which he could and did perform well, notably at Marengo and the 2nd battle of Caldiero. A whole corps would be a different matter, though Archduke Charles had tried to tackle this problem with his manual, The Fundamentals of the Higher Art of War for the Generals of the Austrian Army, which covered everything from Strategy to the basic principles of war, such as protection of convoys or field fortifications. Nevertheless there still remained a fundamental flaw in the Austrian higher command as the day of renewed war with France approached, and that was the lack of experience that Archduke Charles' generals possessed, though some were to perform well enough and amongst these we must place Rosenberg.
On 10th April 1809 the Austrian Army invaded Bavaria, and thus began the Franco-Austrian war of 1809. At first, all went well as the Austrian Army drove back the Bavarian Army and seized a central position between two major elements of the French Army: Marshal Davout in the Regensburg area, and the rest of the French Army at Donauworth. This ultimately led the Archduke Charles (the Austrian Commander-in-chief) to direct his main forces to encircle and destroy Davout at the earliest moment. One of the officers involved in this manoeuvre was General Rosenberg, who with his IV Corps soon found himself immersed in a life-and-death struggle with Davout's veteran 3rd Corps in the wooded and hilly terrain of the Regensburg area.
Their first clash occurred during the battle of Teugn-Hausen on the 19th of April, when Davout's left-hand divisions fought their way past both Rosenberg's IV Corps and General Hohenzollern-Hechingen's III Corps. But, the battle which really demonstrates Rosenberg's military talent, and the Archduke Charles' unhelpful attitude towards some of his Generals, occurred a couple of days later at Eckmühl. Here Rosenberg found himself under attack from a number of directions and was left to get out of it the best way he could.
The morning of the 22nd of April 1809 found Rosenberg in the Laichling area, to the north east of Eckmühl, a few kilometres above the Gross Laaber River. It was a strong position, consisting of the Unter and Ober Laichling villages with a range of hills behind. The right of the position was anchored on extensive woodland, and the left by the Gross Laaber River, which in turn was covered by the Bettel Berg, where Rosenberg had placed his reserve artillery under an energetic officer. Indeed, the position had demonstrated its strength the day before when Rosenberg's men had successfully held out against a determined attack by Marshal Davout's formidable divisions. The combat had raised the morale of Rosenberg's men and proved that they could, given the right environment, fight as well as the French.
However, the coming battle promised a somewhat different type of affair from that of the 27th, simply because, and perhaps unknown to Rosenberg, the Austrians were to be heavily outnumbered from the very beginning. Rosenberg's orders for the day were to hold his current position whilst the Archduke Charles attacked Davout's right with the main body of his army. Luckily for Davout, but unfortunately for the Archduke, the French Marshal had moved the majority of his forces to his left and had left only his cavalry under the redoubtable General Montbrun to entertain the Austrians on his right. The net result was that the Archduke's attack had very little impact to Davout's Corps, and even less on the overall strategic picture. The main development and fighting of the day occurred on Rosenberg's front, a sector the Archduke ignored and left strictly in the hands of Rosenberg. Indeed, it can be argued that Rosenberg found himself placed in an impossible position and was left to get out of it the best way he could.
To understand the true nature of Rosenberg's position on that April day, one has to be aware of the bigger strategic picture, for not only did Rosenberg face Davout's Corps, but also Lefebvre's Bavarians, and these were to be joined by other formations which Napoleon had hurried up from Landshut, guaranteeing the French numerical superiority in the battle of Eckmühl. Nevertheless, Rosenberg and his men fought a courageous and valiant battle that afternoon, and did the reputation of the Austrian Army great honour.
The battle itself did not begin until noon that day, when Davout's 10th Légère attacked and captured the village of Unter Laichling, though not without casualties. The combat then escalated, as more and more troops from both sides were drawn into the affair. Furious skirmishes took place in the adjacent woods. The Austrians delivered a few memorable cavalry charges, and their infantry fought with their usual professionalism, but the French slowly gained the upper hand and Rosenberg lost his position to Davout's well-planned attack. The really decisive moment came when a French Cuirassier attack overwhelmed the artillery position on the Bettel Berg, a position that the Bavarian cavalry and infantry had been unable to secure earlier in the day. Despite his evident defeat, Rosenberg managed to pull back his Corps and retreat down the road toward Regensburg, as the French attacking forces had become entangled and confused in the developing twilight.
French cavalry did catch up, but by then the Austrian Reserve Cavalry had also come up, and a very large cavalry battle developed near the village of Alt Eglofsheim. This combat allowed Rosenberg's battered Corps to escape the field of Eckmühl and eventually reach the safety of Bohemia. From there it would move to take part in the great battles of Aspern-Essling and Wagram, and it is to the latter we must turn in our discussion.
Rosenberg's role in the battle of Wagram was very important, for not only did he hold a key position, but he also held the Austrian left flank, and therefore was the General who would be the first to receive the support of Archduke John and his Army of Italy. Rosenberg's position on the edge of the Wagram escarpment was essentially a strong one. The village of Markgrafneusiedl, which was protected in front by the Russbach stream, acted as a major redoubt, formed the centre of his defensive line, and was undoubtedly the pivot of the position. In addition there were infantry trenches on the escarpment behind, which added extra support to the troops defending Markgrafneusiedl. Rosenberg's command consisted of his own IV Corps, General Nordmann's Advance Guard, and General Nostitz's light cavalry division. Many of the regiments were under-strength, especially Nordmann's Advance Guard, which had sustained heavy casualties in fighting against the French advance the previous day. Nevertheless, Rosenberg had positioned his forces carefully: His infantry divisions defended Markgrafneusiedl and the Russbach stream. Nordmann positioned his Advance guard in close support, forming his infantry and cavalry in a double line ready to intervene at a moment's notice. Nostitz formed his 26 squadrons of light cavalry to the left of Rosenberg's main position. Together these military formations faced the divisions of Marshal Davout; in some cases for a second or third time in the campaign.
Rosenberg's orders for the 6th July of 1809 were delivered at very short notice, about 2.00 AM; he was due to attack at 4.00 AM! It may be worthwhile if we take a brief look at the overall strategic picture: Napoleon had crossed the River Danube on the night of the 4th of July in a brilliant manoeuvre that combined perfect timing with audacity, and drove the Austrian army back onto the Marchfeld on the 5th of July. The Marchfeld was a ground that was familiar to most Austrian soldiers, for it was the place where peacetime manoeuvres were held. It was also the place Archduke Charles had chosen to fight on. There are a number of reasons for this: Firstly, it offered some good defensive positions with the numerous villages that lay dotted about the area; secondly, the flatness of the ground offered the Austrian artillery a perfect killing ground; and perhaps more importantly, the ground offered the Austrian Army the type of terrain it preferred to fight upon.
In the early hours of the 6th of July the Austrian Army was deployed in a semicircle facing the French army. On its left flank stood Rosenberg's Corps in position behind the Russbach stream and the village of Markgrafneusiedl. Next came Hohenzollern's and Bellegarde's Corps behind the villages of Bauemdorfs and Wagram respectively. At right angles to them stood the Reserve Corps under Prince Johann Liechtenstein, opposite the village of Aderklaa, where there had been some particularly fierce fighting against the Saxons on the night of the 5th. Finally, on the Austrian right stood Klenau's and Kollowrat's Corps, which were actually out of sight of the French.
On the French side, Davout opposed Rosenberg whilst his colleagues Oudinot and Eugène de Beauharnais faced the villages of Bauemdorfs and Wagram. Bernadotte with the Saxons, supported by Masséna's excellent Corps, stood opposite Liechtenstein's Reserve Corps. Archduke Charles had conceived a Cannae-like plan, wherein his flanks would descend upon the French in a manner similar to that employed by Hannibal against C. Terentius Varro and his legions in 216 BC. Indeed, at times in the forthcoming battle, it looked as if something along these lines might very well happen to the French. As the French army fought off one crisis after another, the battle of Wagram proved to be a very close-fought affair, and Rosenberg was to play a very full part.
His orders for the 6th of July 1809 were to attack Davout around the villages of Glinzendorf and Grosshofen, whilst Klenau and Kollowrat simultaneously attacked the French left and rear. Bellegarde and Liechtenstein would hold themselves in readiness to administer the coup de grâce. The attack would go in at 4.00 AM. Unfortunately, the late arrival of orders everywhere meant that only Rosenberg found himself in a position to attack on time. He did so dutifully, caught Davout off guard, and was even making some progress against Davout's fearsome troops when he received an order to break off his attack and return to his original position. This was because Rosenberg had been the only one who had attacked on time, and thus if he pressed too hard he could find himself out on a limb if the enemy counter-attacked. Archduke Charles was wise to order Rosenberg to pull back as he did. Rosenberg had had an important impact upon the battle already, for his attack had totally wrong-footed the French, who would take several hours to recover from it. As a direct result, the rest of the Austrian Army would find itself with several opportunities to not only defeat, but possibly smash the French army as Archduke Charles had intended.
Meanwhile, the battle on Rosenberg's front had sprung into action around the village of Markgrafneusiedl, for it was here that Davout concentrated his initial efforts with two of his divisions (Pacthod and Gudin). Rosenberg's Austrians (the Stain infantry regiment, the Erzherzog Karl Legion and several hundred Landwehr) defended the village of Markgrafneusiedl with a stubbornness that had hardly been known in earlier battles. Repeatedly, Rosenberg's men stopped the advance of the French, but Pacthod and Gudin persevered with their assault and gradually gained a foothold in Markgrafneusiedl. Elsewhere, Davout's other divisions assaulted Rosenberg's left wing, but here too his men held out and even counterattacked with some success. However, the fight was taking its toll, especially amongst Rosenberg's commanders: General Nordmann fell in a counterattack, and General Vecsey was killed in the fight for Markgrafneusiedl. Eventually exhaustion and fire drove Rosenberg's men out of the village, and by 11.00 AM the French had captured the devastated ruins that had once been Markgrafneusiedl. Yet, the fighting continued in the rear of the village for a tower that dominated the area. That, too, was soon in French hands as Friant (one of Davout's other Division Commanders) successfully stormed the tower at the second attempt and joined up with Pacthod and Gudin.
At this point Rosenberg pulled back his line and stood to face all that Davout's four divisions could throw against him. Davout's renewed assault was not long in coming, hut Rosenberg very nearly overwhelmed him in a spectacular and well-timed cavalry attack that scattered much of Davout's first line. Fortunately for Davout, the attack was made piecemeal. Davout's cavalry came to the rescue and began to turn the tables on Rosenberg's exhausted men, for Davout's cavalry had found Rosenberg's flank and driven off General Nostitz who had been positioned there. Rosenberg's position was now compromised and he could only retreat. This meant his neighbours had to retreat too, namely Hohenzollern and Bellegarde. It was a decisive moment in the battle. Luckily, the French too were exhausted. The Austrian commander-in-chief, the Archduke Charles, had realised the exposed nature of his position once Rosenberg had been compelled to retreat. As a result Rosenberg, like the rest of the Austrian Army, was able to retreat to fight another day. Rosenberg himself had, throughout the battle, fought well with what he had, often in dangerous situations and against a numerically superior enemy. He carried out his duty, remarkably well under the circumstances.
After the battle of Wagram, Rosenberg successfully withdrew his Corps into Bohemia, exchanging shots with Masséna as he did so. Indeed, his rearguard under General Radetsky convinced Masséna he faced a lot more troops then he did. As a result, Rosenberg got away to Brunn via Nikolsburg, and thus missed the last battle of the campaign at Znaim.
What can be said of Rosenberg's performance in the campaign as a whole? On the whole it appears no worse then could be expected of an Austrian General of the period, but on deeper investigation it can be seen that Rosenberg did better than could be expected of an Austrian General. Again and again he found himself placed in unenviable positions and, to the surprise of many and to the honour of the Austrian army, skilfully extracted himself at both Eckmühl and Wagram. In both cases he was outnumbered, up against the formidable Davout, attacked from different directions, and held a key position in the Austrian line, but nevertheless performed creditably, even well under the circumstances.
Under any criteria, especially those of a military operation, his performance has to be applauded. For, not only did he attempt and partially carry out his orders to the letter, but when they proved impossible, given the local circumstances, he was able to withdraw his forces and break contact with the enemy, retreating to fight another day. It can he argued, of course, that he was aided in this by the disorganised and disordered state of the enemy at those times. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that Archduke Charles was wrong to blame Rosenberg for defeat at Wagram and use him as a scapegoat for the failure of the campaign, when there were others who deserved the opprobrium more then he. I do not believe he did a wrong thing in the entire campaign. Indeed, he demonstrated a thoroughly professional approach to his position and was a credit to the Austrian Army whilst others, it has to he said, demonstrated a capacity that was hardly equal to the name of "General."
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