General Levin August Theophil, Count Bennigsen, 1745-1826

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General Levin August Theophil, Count Bennigsen (1745-1826) was a Russian officer of Hanoverian origin who held high command in the campaigns of 1806-7, 1812 and 1813, despite a lack of genuine command ability at the highest levels.

Bennigsen was born into a Hanoverian family, and served in the Hanoverian Foot Guards for a short period, 'retiring' in 1764 after the death of his father and his own marriage (when still under 20). Nine years later, after the death of his wife and a brief return to Hanoverian service he joined the Russian army.

He took part in the wars against the Turks, the Polish war of 1793-94 and the war with Persia of 1796. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1779, to command of the Izumsk Light Cavalry Regiment in 1787 and to brigadier in 1788. He was promoted to major general on 9 July 1794 and to command of a brigade in 1795.

Under Tsar Paul I he was promoted to lieutenant general (1798) but then dismissed from the army during the purges of the same year. He was involved in the plot that resulted in the assassination of Tsar Paul I. His later career was possibly held back by this, and by the general suspicion of foreigners within the Russian army.

In 1801 he became Governor-General of Lithuania. He was promoted to general of cavalry in 1802.

In 1806 Napoleon defeated the Prussians and then turned east to deal with their Russian allies. Bennigsen commanded the main Russian army in Poland, and was thus Napoleon's main target. The first clash came at Pultusk (26 December 1806) and was a minor French victory at best. Eylau (8 February 1807) was a costly draw, and the two sides went into winter quarters. When the fighting resumed Bennigsen ordered an offensive, but was defeated at Heislberg (10 June 1807) and decisively at Freidland (14 June 1807). Bennigsen retired (for the second time) after this defeat, while Tsar Alexander was forced to negotiate with Napoleon, agreeing to the Treaty of Tilset in July 1806.

Bennigsen was in exile from 1807 until his recall in May 1812. He served as Kutuzov's chief of staff in 1812, and was the victor at the battle of Vinkovo. His then argued with Kutuzov and resigned his position.

After the death of Kutuzov he was appointed to command the Army of Reserve. He was then given command of the Russian Army of Poland, and fought at Lutzen, Bautzen and Leipzig. He was made a count on the last day of the battle of Leipzig as a reward for his impressive performance during the battle. After Leipzig he commanded the Russian armies in northern Germany. He went on to besiege Torgau, Magdeburg and Hamburg (1813-14).

Benningsen commanded the Russian 2nd Army from 1815 until 1817. He was forced to retire once again in 1818, this time because of poor administration. He returned to Hanover where he spent the last eight years of his life. 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 March 2012), General Levin August Theophil, Count Bennigsen, 1745-1826 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_bennigsen.html

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