Book Review: Blücher, by Michael V. Leggiere

Blücher: Scourge of Napoléon, by Michael V. Leggiere, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2014, $34.95

On Aug. 29, 1760, the official report made to Frederick the Great by Maj. Gen. Joachim Friedrich von Stutterheim stated the day’s catch to be 10 prisoners, including a French lieutenant and an ensign in the Swedish hussars. The latter was 17-year-old Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. So, as a Prussian prisoner, began the military career of the future marshal and national hero of Prussia.

In Vol. 41 of the University of Oklahoma Press’ Campaigns and Commanders series, Michael V. Leggiere, author of Napoléon and Berlin and The Fall of Napoléon, provides a full biography of the commander who, alongside Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoléon Bonaparte at Waterloo. Leggiere relied on writings and letters by Blücher himself, as well as the archives of the Prussian General Staff, previously believed lost during World War II. What emerges—sometimes counter to Blücher’s popular image as the quintessentially relentless, hardheaded Prussian—is a portrait of a thoughtful, loving family man, who personally hated war. Regardless, Blücher was indeed the implacable enemy of Napoléon.

Blücher’s rise was attended by a constant learning curve. During the Saxony campaign of 1813 the man whom Prussian troops would call “Marshal Forward” retreated before Napoléon on four occasions. Knowing the Sixth Coalition could only overcome the French emperor through mutual support, Blücher and his staff were instrumental in setting the stage for victory at Leipzig. In the campaign of 1814 he assumed that the level of cooperation between him and Austrian Field Marshal Karl Phillip, Prince of Schwarzenberg, would continue. He was wrong and paid for that mistake by suffering five defeats over a period of six days. Those lessons taught Blücher not to wait on others to create the conditions for a decisive battle. Thus in 1815 Blücher saw no other choice but to stand at Ligny and then, despite his defeat, regroup and march to Wellington’s aid at Waterloo.

Among the strange facts Leggiere unearthed: It was East Germany that created the Blücher Order—which it never awarded, as the Nationale Volksarmee never fought a war; it also established the Scharnhorst Order, in honor of Blücher’s chief of staff. In another irony, a German landlord who had fought under Blücher bestowed his surname on a Russian peasant family in his employ, one of whose descendants became Soviet Marshal Vasily Konstantinovich Blyukher.

—Thomas Zacharis

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