Hans David Ludwig, count Yorck von Wartenburg - Encyclopedia

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HANS DAVID LUDWIG, YORCK VON WARTENBURG Count (1759-1830), Prussian general field-marshal, was of English ancestry. He entered the Prussian army in 1772, but after seven years' service was cashiered for disobedience. Entering the Dutch service three years later he took part in the operations of 1783-84 in the East Indies as captain. Returning to Prussia in 1785 he was, on the death of Frederick the Great, reinstated in his old service, and in 1794 took part in the operations in Poland, distinguishing himself especially at Szekoczyn. Five years afterwards Yorck began to make a name for himself as commander of a light infantry regiment, being one of the first to give prominence to the training of skirmishers. In 1805 he was appointed to the command of an infantry brigade, and in the disastrous Jena campaign he played a conspicuous and successful part as a rearguard commander, especially at Altenzaun. He was taken prisoner, severely wounded, in the last stand of Blucher's corps at Lubeck. In the reorganization of the Prussian army which followed the peace of Tilsit, Yorck was one of the leading figures. At first major-general commanding the West Prussian brigade, afterwards inspectorgeneral of light infantry, he was finally appointed second in command to General Grawert, the leader of the auxiliary corps which Prussia was compelled to send to the Russian War of 1812. The two generals did not agree, Grawert being an open partisan of the French alliance, and Yorck an ardent patriot; but before long Grawert retired, and Yorck assumed the command. Opposed in his advance on Riga by the Russian General Steingell, he displayed great skill in a series of combats which ended in the retirement of the enemy to Riga. Throughout the campaign he had been the object of many overtures from the enemy's generals, and though he had hitherto rejected them, it was soon borne in upon him that the Grand Army was doomed. Marshal Macdonald, his immediate French superior, retreated before the corps of Diebitsch, and Yorck found himself isolated. As a soldier his duty was to break through, but as a Prussian patriot his position was more difficult. He had to judge whether the moment was favourable for the war of liberation; and, whatever might be the enthusiasm of his junior staff-officers, Yorck had no illusions as to the safety of his own head. On December 30th the general made up his mind. The Convention of Tauroggen "neutralized" the Prussian corps. The news was received with the wildest enthusiasm, but the Prussian Court dared not yet throw off the mask, and an order was despatched suspending Yorck from his command pending a court-martial. Diebitsch refused to let the bearer pass through his lines, and the general was finally absolved when the treaty of Kalisch definitely ranged Prussia on the side of the Allies. Yorck's act was nothing less than the turning-point of Prussian history. His veterans formed the nucleus of the forces of East Prussia, and Yorck himself in public took the final step by declaring war as the commander of those forces. On March 17th, 1813, he made his entry into Berlin in the midst of the wildest exuberance of patriotic joy. On the same day the king declared war. During 1813-14 Yorck led his veterans with conspicuous success. He covered Blucher's retreat after Bautzen and took a decisive part in the battles on the Katzbach. In the advance on Leipzig his corps won the action of Wartenburg (October 4) and took part in the crowning victory of October 18th. In the campaign in France Yorck drew off the shattered remnants of Sacken's corps at Montmirail, and decided the day at Laon. The storm of Paris was his last fight. In the campaign of 1815 none of the older men were employed in Blucher's army, in order that Gneisenau (the ablest of the Prussian generals) might be free to assume command in case of the old prince's death. Yorck was appointed to a reserve corps in Prussia, and, feeling that his services were no longer required, he retired from the army. His master would not accept his resignation for a considerable time, and in 1821 made him general fieldmarshal. He had been made Count Yorck von Wartenburg in 1814. The remainder of his life was spent on his estate of Klein-Ols, the gift of the king. He died there on the 4th of October 1830. A statue (by Rauch) was erected to him in Berlin in 1855.

See Seydlitz, Tagebuch des Preussischen Armee Korps 1812 (Berlin, 1823); Droysen, Leben des G. F. M. Grafen Yorck von Wartenburg (Berlin, 1851).

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