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General Peter Bagration (1765-1812) was one of the most popular and aggressive Russian generals of the Napoleonic Wars, best known for his role in the 1812 campaign and his death at Borodino.
Bagration was born into the Georgian royal family, the Bagratides. He was raised in a remote part of Daghestan and educated in the garrison school, before joining the Russian army in 1782. He saw early service in the Caucasus (1782-91) and Poland (1793-94). During this period he fought under Marshal Suvorov, and in 1799 he commanded the advance and rear guards of Suvorov's army that was sent to Switzerland and Italy to oppose the French.
He took part in the battles of Cassano (26-28 April 1799), San Giuliano (16 May), Tidone, the Trebbia and Novi (15 August 1799), the crossing of the St. Gotthard Pass (24 September 1799) and the storming of the Devil's Bridge in the Alps (September 1799).
From 1800-1804 he served as commandant of the Imperial residence at Pavlovsk.
He fought in the campaigns of 1805, commanding the rearguard of the combined Austro-Russian Army. He commanded the Russian rearguard during the retreat after the Austrian defeat at Ulm, fighting defensive battles at Altenhofen, Oed, Amstetten (5 November 1805) and Schöngraben (Hollabrünn) (16 November 1805). At Schöngraben he lost two-thirds of his army but delayed the French for eighteen hours.
He commanded the Army Advance Guard at Austerlitz (2 December 1805), taking a position at the northern end (the right wing) of the Allied line. He was thus not involved in the main events of the battle, which took place further south. His force held its position until forced to retreat by the Allied disasters elsewhere. He then commanded the rearguard during the Russian retreat into Hungary.
He commanded the advance and rear guard of the Russian army during the campaign 1807, fighting at Eylau, Heilsberg (10 June 1807) and Freidland (14 June 1807). In the days before Heilsberg he was able to delay the French and allow the Russians to reach a defendable position. At Freidland he commanded on the Russian left and then the rearguard during the Russian defeat.
During the Russian-Swedish War of 1808 he captured the Aland Islands and south-western Finland. During 1809 he crossed the frozen Gulf of Bothnia, a move that triggered a coup d'état in Stockholm.
In 1809 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Army of Moldavia for the war with the Ottoman Empire. He captured the forts of Macin, Constanta and Girsov, defeated the Turks at Rassevat (or Rassow) on 16 September 1809. On 22 September he began a siege of Silistra that forced the Turks to withdraw from Serbia and Wallachia. He fought a drawn battle against a larger Turkish army at Tatarisa (22 October), prevented the Turks from reaching Silistra and then took Ismail and Braila. Despite his successes he argued with the Tsar, and in March 1810 resigned his command.
From March 1810 until August 1811 he toured Europe and Russia, before returning to the army for the campaign of 1812, where he commanded the Second West Army. His relationship with Barclay de Tolly, command of the First West Army, was poor. Barclay wanted to avoid battle and lure Napoleon deep into Russia, while Bagration wasn't to fight. During the retreat into Russia Bagration won victories at Mir and Romanovo, and fought a drawn battle at Mogilev (23 July) that allowed him to evade a French trap. The two armies combined at Smolensk, but a counterattack (see battle of Smolensk, 17 August 1812 for more details) failed and the retreat continued. Kutuzov was appointed commander-in-chief of all Russian armies, and he joined Bagration and Barclay on 29 August.
When Kutuzov took over Bagration retained his post. He commanded the left wing at Borodino where he was mortally wounded, dying of an infected wound on 24 September.
Bagration was a popular general. He was considered to have been an excellent battlefield commander, but lacking in theoretical knowledge and not a great army commander. His was courteous and kind but also had a violent temper and sometimes let his ambition get the better of him, most notably during 1812 when he actively campaigned to get Barclay de Tolly removed from command.
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