General Freidrich Wilhelm Graf Bülow von Dennewitz, 1755-1816

General Freidrich Wilhelm Graf Bülow von Dennewitz (16 February 1755-25 February 1816) was a Prussian commander who played a major part in the campaigns of 1813, 1814 and 1815, winning the first Prussian victory since the disasters of 1806 at Grossbeeren in 1813, and playing a major part in the Allied victory at Waterloo.

Bülow entered the Prussian army on 2 April 1768 as a corporal, aged only 13. Over the next few years he was promoted on a regular basis - to ensign on 24 December 1772, second lieutenant on 1 April 1778, first lieutenant on 26 May 1786 and captain second class on 2 March 1790. Before the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars he took part in the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778-1779).

Freidrich Wilhelm Graf Bülow von Dennewitz
Freidrich Wilhelm
Graf Bülow
von Dennewitz

Bülow spent much of his early career serving with a regiment that was based in Berlin. As well as his military career, he was a talented musician and composer, and this gained him access to the Prussian court. On 10 February 1793 he was promoted to captain, and made governor of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia (later to be seen as one of the most promising Prussian military commanders).

After the outbreak of the Revolutionary Wars he served with the Prussian army on the Rhine front (1793-94), and was promoted to Major on 3 April 1794. During this period he remained with Prince Louis Ferdinand. He served at the siege of Mainz, and was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his actions at the siege.

Prussia withdrew from the war in April 1795. He turned down an offer to become adjutant to Prince Heinrich of Prussia, preferring to gain some experience of active service instead. On 12 September he was appointed chief of the new Fusilier Battalion no.16. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 23 June 1803 and to colonel on 23 May 1806.

Prussia chose to keep out of the War of the Third Coalition, and after Napoleon's great victory at Austerlitz was forced to accept a humiliating treaty of 'friendship' in which she had to give up some of her western territory. A strong pro-war party soon developed in Prussia, and on 7 August 1806 the Prussians decided to go to war.

This decision quickly led to disaster. The main Prussian armies were defeated at Jena and Auerstädt (14 October 1806), and most of the remaining Prussian forces were quickly chased down and forced to surrender. During this period Bülow served under von Blücher, who was forced to surrender outside Lübeck on 6 September. The fighting continued in East Prussia, where Napoleon faced and eventually defeated the Russians. A small Prussian force took part in this campaign, under the command of General Lestocq. Bülow served with this force, and was made a brigadier (23 May 1807). After the Russian defeat the Prussians were forced to accept an even more humiliating peace, and even had to become allies of France.

On 25 November 1808 Bülow was promoted to Major General, but the promotion was dated to 21 November to make him senior to General Kleist.

On 24 March 1812 Bülow became provisional governor-general of East Prussia, replacing General Yorck. This put him in a difficult position during the French invasion of Russia, which involved a Prussian corps, commanded by General Yorck. During 1812 Prussia officially remained an ally of France, but on 25 December Yorck's column was cut off by the Russians. After a few days of negotiations, Yorck agreed the Convention of Tauroggen, and his corps became neutral. Over the winter of 1812-13 Prussia moved slowly towards war with France. The Treaty of Kalisch (28 February 1813) saw Prussia enter into an anti-French alliance with Russia, and finally on 17 March 1813 King Frederick William III declared war on France. During this difficult period Bülow managed to raise a Prussian reserve corps in East Prussia.

Bülow was promoted to Lieutenant General on 14 March 1813, just before the declaration of war, but this time the promotion was dated to 21 March to make him junior to General Kleist and Princes Heinrich, Wilhelm and August of Prussia)

War of Liberation 1813 - Spring Campaign
War of Liberation 1813 -
Spring Campaign

In the spring of 1813 Bülow's force acted independently in northern Germany. At the start of the spring campaign his corps formed part of the Allied right (northern most) column, under Peter Graf zu Wittgenstein (a German general in the Russian army). This column was to advance to Magdeburg on the Elbe, still held by the French. This came at the same time as Prince Eugène de Beauharnais had been ordered to advance east from Magdeburg and possibly threaten Berlin. The French pushed back part of Bülow's corps (under General Karl Leopold von Borstell), but then found themselves facing Bülow's main force, while Wittgenstein approached their flanks. The allies defeated the French at Möckern (5 April 1813), and forced Prince Eugène to retreat.

The crisis in Germany forced Napoleon to take command in person, and at Lützen (2 May 1813) he managed to escape from an Allied trap, fighting off Wittgenstein's army. Napoleon then won a clear victory at Bautzen on 20-21 May 1813. The first phase of the German campaign was then ended by the Armistice of Pleischwitz (4 June 1813). While the main Allied armies were focusing on Napoleon during this period, Bülow, with 30,000 men, was given the task of defending Berlin and was able to hold off a French threat to the city

The armistice lasted for seven weeks. While it was in place Bülow's force became III Corps, and on 16 July it became part of the Army of the North under Crown Prince Bernadotte of Sweden (the former French marshal). During this pause the Austrians also finally decided to join the Allies, after Napoleon refused peace terms that would have left him with Italy, Belgium and the west bank of the Rhine.

War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign
War of Liberation 1813 - Autumn Campaign

Bernadotte's army was based around Berlin, which soon became one of the main French targets. When the war resumed in mid-August, Napoleon decided to focus on Blücher while Marshal Oudinot was ordered to capture Berlin. Bülow commanded III Corps at the battle of Grossbeeren (23 August 1813), where Oudinot's attack on Berlin was repulsed. Oudinot had 66,000 men at his disposal, but many of them were Germans, who reliability was no uncertain. On the Allied side Bülow had 40,000 men and General Tauentzien another 33,000, but his IV Corps was largely made up of militia, and most of it didn't take part in the battle. The battle began with a clash between the French left and the Prussian militia, and Bülow's main force didn't arrive until the early afternoon, having been on the march all day. Heavy rain and limited time meant that Bülow ended up launching a frontal assault on Reynier's corps. After heavy fighting, this attack ended with a Prussian victory. Oudinot was able to move reinforcements to the area to allow Reynier to disengage. The French then retreated from the battlefield, although the heavy rain prevented any Prussian pursuit. Although the French only lost 3,000 men in this battle, it was significant as the first Prussian battlefield victory since the disastrous campaign of 1806.

Napoleon was still determined to capture Berlin. This time Marshal Ney was given command of the attacking forces, the 58,000 men strong Army of Berlin. He was opposed by Crown Prince Bernadotte's Army of the North, which had two Prussian, one Russian and one Swedish corps, and was 120,000 men strong. The battle of Dennewitz (6 September 1813) involved around 43,000 Prussians from this force. Bülow's corps bore the brunt of the fighting on the Allied side, holding off several French attacks and launching a series of counterattacks of his won. Towards mid-afternoon the French were close to victory, aided by the arrival of Oudinot's corps, but Ney then decided to switch Oudinot from the French left to right. This gave Bülow the chance to carry out yet another counterattack, but eventually his men ran out of ammunition. The battle was decided by the arrival of Russian and Swedish troops, who forced the French into a costly retreat. Ney lost 22,000 men, the Prussians around 10,000, mainly from Bülow's corps.

Between the two attacks on Berlin Napoleon had won a potentially significant victory over the Austrians at Dresden (26-27 August 1813), but he was then forced to leave the pursuit in the hands of General Vandamme, who was heavily defeated at Kulm (30 August 1813). Despite Napoleon's best efforts it soon became clear that he would have to fight a great battle against the united Allied armies. Blücher was able to cross the Elbe at the start of October, and Bernadotte soon joined up with him. The combined armies came together at the massive battle of Leipzig (16-19 October 1813).  Bernadotte's army didn't enter the battle until 18 October, when it was given the task of attacking Leipzig from the north-east.

After the Allied victory at Leipzig Bülow's corps helped force the French out of northern and western Germany, and then took part in the Allied invasion of the Netherlands. An uprising began in the Netherlands late in 1813, initially supported by the British and Russians. Bülow's troops moved into the area in late November, taking Doesburg and Zutphen on 23 November and Arnhem on 30 November.

Battles of the French Campaign of 1814
Battles of the
French Campaign
of 1814

At the start of the Allied invasion of France of 1814 Bülow's corps was still part of Bernadotte's Army of the North, and was not initially expected to take part in the main campaign against Napoleon and Paris. Bülow's role was to join up with a British force under Sir Thomas Graham, which was to operate in the Low Countries. They were to take Antwerp, then advance through Belgium into northern France. The rest of Bernadotte's army was to concentrate on Hamberg and Magdeburg, so there would soon be quite a gap between the two parts of the army. Early in February Bülow's men occupied Brussels, and cut off Antwerp. This news reached Napoleon on the same day that he learnt that Murat had betrayed him and changed sides.

On 22 February a full scale council of war was held, after Blücher had moved south to join Schwarzenberg at Mery-sur-Seine. Schwarzenberg was given permission to retreat east instead of fighting the battle Blücher had expected, but the blow was slightly cushioned by the decision to transfer Bülow and Winzingerode from the Army of the North to Blücher's army. Blücher then returned north to the Marne to join up with his new reinforcements. At this point Bülow was somewhere near Laon, while Winzingerode was acting as a link between the main Allied armies. The two men now decided to operate together, and by 1 March they were besieging Soissons on the Aisne. This was lucky for Blücher - at the start of March he was attempting to trap Marmont and Mortier on the Marne, but on 1 March he discovered that Napoleon was closing in on him, and Blücher decided to cross to the north bank of the Marne and try and find his reinforcements. He decided to head towards Laon. On 3 March the bridge at Soissons was captured intact by Bülow and Winzingerode, allowing Blücher to cross to the north bank of the Aisne and unite his army.

Blücher decided to make a stand at Laon, still believing that Napoleon had many more men than he actually did. Bülow's infantry was posted in the southern suburbs of Laon, and as a result it bore the brunt of Napoleon's main attack on the first day of the battle of Laon (9-10 March 1814). The French attack made little progress, and later in the day Blücher was able to inflict a heavy defeat on Marmont's isolated corps, which was some way to the east of the main battlefield. Blücher ordered a general pursuit for 10 March, but then fell ill, and Gneisenau, his chief of staff, cancelled the Allied attack. Napoleon was thus able to escape south with his army largely intact. 

During the brief peace between the fall of Paris and Napoleon's return from exile Bülow was rewarded for his efforts. On 30 May 1814 he was promoted to General of Infantry, dated to 4 April for purposes of seniority. On 3 June he was ennobled as Graf Bülow von Dennewitz. On 18 June 1814 he was appointed commander of the Prussian armies based in East and West Prussia.

On 1 March 1815 he was given command of IV Corps, part of Blücher's Army of the Lower Rhine. His corps missed the battle of Ligny (16 June 1815), after poor staff work delayed its movements from Liege. Blücher suffered a defeat at Ligny, and was forced to retreat away from Wellington's Anglo-Belgian army. Bülow's corps caught up with the main Prussian army soon afterwards, more than making up for the Prussian losses in the battle.

Bülow played a major role at the battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815). Blücher's troops spent the first part of the day marching west towards the battlefield. Bülow's corps was the freshest part of the Prussian army, and was thus the first to move off, despite being furthest from Waterloo. Its march was slowed down as it moved through Wavre, but Bülow's leading troops begin to arrive on Wellington's left at around 1.30pm. As more of his troops arrived, Bülow was able to take the Bois de Paris and Frischermont, pushing back a French force under General Georges Mouton, comte Lobau. Bülow outnumbered Lobau by three-to-one, and was eventually able to capture the village of Plancenoit. Napoleon had to commit the Young Guard to this fight, and they were able to retake the village by 7pm. However by then more Prussian reinforcements had arrived, and this had allowed Wellington to move troops to vulnerable points in his own line. The Young Guard was eventually forced to retreat by Bülow's men, and the Prussians began to threaten Napoleon's headquarters at La Belle Alliance. Part of the Old Guard was committed to the fight, and was able to retake Plancenoit. However Bülow's men were able to stop them advancing any further east. This fighting on the French right helped distract Napoleon from the task of breaking Wellington's line, and eventually the French army was forced to retreat in some disorder. Wellington himself acknowledged the important of Bülow's contribution, and suggested that even if his own final attack had failed, Bülow's efforts would have denied Napoleon a victory. 

After the end of the war Bülow returned to his command in East and West Prussia, but he died on 25 February 1816 after a short illness.

Napoleonic Home Page | Books on the Napoleonic Wars | Subject Index: Napoleonic Wars

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 December 2016), General Freidrich Wilhelm Graf Bülow von Dennewitz, 1755-1816 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_bulow_von_dennewitz.html

Delicious Save this on Delicious

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us -  Subscribe in a reader - Join our Google Group - Cookies