August Neidhardt von Gneisenau

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August Neidhardt von Gneisenau, painting by George Dawe , 1818. Gneisenau's signature:Signature August Neidhardt von Gneisenau.PNG
Gneisenau statue by Christian Daniel Rauch opposite the Neue Wache in Berlin, 1855

August Wilhelm Anton Neidhardt , later Neidhardt von Gneisenau , from 1814 Count Neidhardt von Gneisenau (born October 27, 1760 in Schildau , † August 23, 1831 in Posen ) was a Prussian field marshal and army reformer. After participating in the American War of Independence in 1783 and defending Kolberg in 1807, he rose to the military leadership and, together with Gerhard David von Scharnhorst, pushed ahead with the army reform . As chief of staff Gebhard Leberecht von Blüchers , he played a major role in the victories over Napoleon in 1813-1815. Gneisenau is one of the most important army reformers of the Wars of Liberation . His most famous descendant was the resistance fighter against National Socialism Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg .


Youth (1760–1782)

Gneisenau's birthplace in Schildau
Memorial plaque on the birthplace

Born August Wilhelm Antonius Neithardt, Gneisenau's parents were artillery lieutenant and master builder August Wilhelm Neidhardt (born January 24, 1734 in Reick , † June 6, 1802 in Opole ) and his wife Marie Margarethe, née Müller (born November 8, 1738 in Würzburg , † October 22, 1761). The father called himself "Neithardt"; only in the following years was the nickname "von Gneisenau" added from an earlier family estate in Upper Austria , Gneisenau Castle . When the future field marshal was matriculated at the University of Erfurt in 1777 , he was listed in the register as "Antonius Neithardt, Torgaviensis Stud. Phil.". In contrast, the Brandenburg-Ansbach ranking of 1783 called him "Neithardt von Gneisenau", and he kept this double name in Prussian service.

The father served in the Seven Years' War , from 1759 as an officer, in the Reichs Reserve Artillery Park of the Upper Saxon District of the Imperial Army against Prussia. As usual, his wife followed him in the entourage . When the Imperial Army evacuated Schildau from the advancing Prussians in the campaign of 1760, the heavily pregnant woman stayed behind in the quarter. There she gave birth to Gneisenau and fell seriously ill. Recovered in the winter of 1760/61, she and her son rejoined the entourage in the area around Hof and Saalfeld . After the Treaty of Hubertusburg in 1763, the father took on positions as a construction clerk in smaller towns in the empire. After his mother's death, he handed his son over to foster parents. One or two years later, the young Gneisenau came to his grandfather, the colonel of engineering in the Würzburg Monastery , Johannes Georg Müller (1693–1771), in Würzburg and attended the Jesuit school there until 1772. In 1773 Gneisenau lived temporarily with his aunt Eva Margarete Müller, who moved to Schwäbisch Gmünd after her marriage . Later that year his father took him to Erfurt . In the same year he became construction director for “City and State of Erfurt and Eichsfeld ”, got married and bought a house. In December 1773 Gneisenau got a half-brother. The father sent Gneisenau to the Catholic high school from 1773 to 1777. On October 1, 1777 Gneisenau enrolled at the University of Erfurt and studied military mathematics , artillery , fortification art and cartography . Due to his casual lifestyle, the 18-year-old lost his grandfather's inheritance and dropped out of his studies in 1778. He then joined the Austrian hussar regiment "Graf Wurmser", which was garrisoned in Erfurt, and went into the War of the Bavarian Succession as a commoner . After the Peace of Teschen ( Cieszyn ) in 1779, Gneisenau entered the service of Margrave Karl Alexander von Brandenburg-Ansbach . In the ranking of the local hunter battalion , Gneisenau is for the first time recorded with the name that his father had adopted in the meantime: Neithardt von Gneisenau .

Participation in the American War of Independence (1782/83)

Like other German princes, Margrave Karl Alexander, who suffered from lack of money, rented troops to Great Britain during the American War of Independence . Gneisenau volunteered for action in North America, was made a lieutenant and shipped to America in 1782 . With the war almost over, Gneisenau spent most of his time in the Québec garrison . At the end of 1783 he returned to the Bayreuth garrison and joined the infantry .

Advancement in the Prussian Army (1783–1806)

Also because of the monotonous service, he left the service of the Margrave of Ansbach-Bayreuth and applied for the Prussian army in 1785 . Before his actual employment, Gneisenau sat in with Frederick the Great as a second lieutenant in the Potsdam quartermaster staff. As the youngest prime lieutenant he was transferred to the Chaumontet light infantry regiment in the Löwenberg garrison ( Lwowek ) in 1786 . During his time as a garrison he learned English, French and Polish and studied history, literature and war studies. On March 17, 1788 he was transferred to the Masonic lodge "To the Three Rocks" of the Grand Lodge " Great National Mother Lodge To The Three World Balls " in Schmiedeberg i. Giant Mountains included.

In 1790 he was promoted to staff captain . From 1792 to 1795 Gneisenau and his battalion were deployed with Russian troops in the second division of Poland . In 1795 Gneisenau was promoted to captain and transferred to Jauer ( Jawor ) as company commander. In 1796 he married the wealthy Karoline von Kottwitz , with whom he had four daughters and three sons in the following years. After his wife bought the Mittel-Kauffung estate in 1803 , Gneisenau studied agricultural writings, drafted plans for amelioration and set up a potato distillery . At the same time, he continued to intensively study troop service, infantry, cavalry , artillery , engineering, tactics and military geography .

Army reformer during Napoleon's rule (1806–1812)

On October 10, 1806, under the command of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia , Gneisenau first took part in combat operations against Napoleon's troops in the battle near Saalfeld and was wounded. Nevertheless, he fought in the double battle near Jena and Auerstedt on October 14, 1806 in the entourage of the Prussian general Ernst von Rüchel . After the defeat of the Prussian troops, Gneisenau escaped to the assembly point of the defeated Prussian army in Graudenz . He was promoted to major on December 17, 1806 and transferred with his battalion to the Russian border in (Prussian) Lithuania . In memoranda , Gneisenau analyzed the mistakes of the Prussians in the battles near Jena and Auerstedt and called for a reform of tactics . From King Friedrich Wilhelm III. On the recommendation of General Ernst von Rüchel, now Governor General of the Province of Prussia, Gneisenau was sent by Prussia as the new commander to the besieged Pomeranian fortress Kolberg , where he arrived on April 29, 1807 by sea across the Baltic Sea. Gneisenau organized the successful defense of the fortress by including patriotic citizens around the citizen representative Joachim Nettelbeck . The armistice between Prussia and France ended the battle for Kolberg on July 2, 1807. Gneisenau had already been promoted to lieutenant colonel on June 13, 1807 and was appointed to the military reorganization commission at Scharnhorst's request .

Between 1807 and 1810 Gneisenau stayed mostly in Memel and Königsberg . Among other things, he worked with General Graf Yorck on the new drill regulations for the infantry (1812). Together with other officers he was entrusted with clearing up the events that led to the surrender of the fortresses of Erfurt , Magdeburg , Nienburg and Neisse and the Hohenlohe Corps near Prenzlau and the defeat of the battle near Jena and Auerstedt and the battle near Halle. In the summer of 1808, in a memorandum to the king, he called for the people to be armed, which revealed features of guerrilla tactics , and a little later he wrote the “Constitution for the general uprising of arms in northern Germany against France”. In May 1808 Gneisenau was appointed inspector of the fortresses and in September 1808 also head of the engineering corps. On March 1, 1809, he was appointed to the Prussian War Ministry as a member of the Artillery and Engineering Department . In May 1809 Gneisenau took up his idea of ​​the popular uprising again and suggested the establishment of a "Prussian Legion" on the side of the Austrians.

In May 1809 Gneisenau was promoted to colonel and in July 1809 resigned his service "for the duration of peace" after he and other reformers had been slandered by reactionary forces at court and accused of treason. Gneisenau traveled to Great Britain in August 1809 on an unofficial basis in order to sound out the possibilities of British aid in the fight against Napoleon. Knowing his military abilities, only Friedrich Wilhelm, Duke of Braunschweig , offered him command in his free corps , the Black Squad , and the British offered entry to the German-English Legion . Gneisenau returned to Berlin in December 1810, disappointed . To protect him from French informers, Clausewitz placed him with a carpenter in Pankow (near Berlin). Then Gneisenau went to his estate in Silesia , but kept in close contact with the reformers ( Scharnhorst , Boyen and Blücher ).

In March 1811 he was called by State Chancellor Hardenberg to his Tempelberg estate near Fürstenwalde to discuss the new situation due to the worsening Russian-French relations. In the same year, Scharnhorst, Boyen, Clausewitz and Gneisenau prepared a popular uprising which Gneisenau wrote and which Hardenberg handed over to the king on August 8, 1811. However, this plan was rejected by the king. But Gneisenau continued to work on the plans for the uprising. After the treaty of February 24, 1812, in which Prussia committed itself to setting up an auxiliary corps for the French war against Russia , Gneisenau submitted his dismissal from civil service and traveled to Great Britain for the second time. Again he wanted to find out about the possibilities of British support. The journey takes him via Vienna to Vilnius to visit Tsar Alexander I , for whom he prepared an analysis of the Russian armed forces. Gneisenau came to London via Stockholm - again without an official commission . He held talks with the government without, however, receiving any specific commitments. Gneisenau traveled via Kolberg to the Prussian royal court in Breslau , where he arrived on March 11, 1813.

Work in the Wars of Liberation (1812-1815)

August Neidhardt von Gneisenau, drawing
The coat of arms awarded to the count in 1814

After the French defeat in the Russian campaign of 1812/13, the reformers were finally able to prevail in Prussia, and on March 16, 1813, King Friedrich Wilhelm III. from Prussia to Napoleonic France. In the same month Gneisenau was reinstated in the Prussian army as major general and transferred as second quartermaster general to Blücher's army , in which his son August also served in the cavalry. When moving into the federal state of Saxony, Gneisenau wrote a call for joint resistance. In Dresden , which had been cleared by the French, Gneisenau ordered the creation of river crossings because the Elbe bridges had been blown up by the French. In the battle of Großgörschen on May 2, 1813, Gneisenau commanded the cavalry of the left wing. Since the First Quartermaster General of the Blücher Army, Scharnhorst, was wounded in this battle, Gneisenau subsequently took over the duties of First Quartermaster General. In the battle of Bautzen, the united Prussian-Russian troops were defeated again, while the cavalry battle at Haynau ( Chojnow ) was won.

Gneisenau used the period of the armistice from June 4 to August 1813 to further train and equip the Prussian troops, especially Blucher’s Silesian army . At the same time he led - in the succession of the sick Friedrich Wilhelm von Götzen the Elder. J. - also the business of the General Government of Silesia. He also had the Silesian fortresses expanded and upgraded. In mid-August the Silesian Army had a strength of 105,000 men and consisted of two Russian and one Prussian corps . However, after the battles near Löwenberg, Bunzlau and Goldberg between August 21 and August 23, 1813, the Silesian army had to withdraw. But in the Battle of the Katzbach on August 26th, the allies achieved victory.

The Silesian Army led by Blücher and Gneisenau fought in Silesia until the end of September 1813 and then advanced north via Bautzen on September 26, 1813. On October 5, 1813, the army stood east of Bitterfeld . The other two allied armies, the Northern Army under the Swedish Crown Prince Bernadotte and the Bohemian Army under the Austrian Prince Karl Philipp zu Schwarzenberg , concentrated their forces in central Germany near Leipzig, where on October 18, 1813 the decisive Battle of the Nations near Leipzig took place . which ended in the victory of the allies. Blücher and Gneisenau were the first to enter the city with their troops. Both were in the market place by Tsar Alexander I of Russia, by Emperor Franz of Austria , by King Friedrich Wilhelm III. Commended by Prussia and Prince Schwarzenberg. Gneisenau, however, sorely missed a personal word of recognition from the Prussian king. On December 18, 1813, Gneisenau was promoted to lieutenant general. His campaign plan for the direct march of the allied armies was initially rejected for political reasons. It was not until the end of 1813 that Gneisenau managed to implement his plan. The Silesian Army crossed the Rhine at Kaub on January 1, 1814 and marched westwards towards France. In his letters, Gneisenau warned against negotiations with Napoleon about a peace treaty, which continued until February 1814. On March 31, 1814, the campaign ended with the surrender of Paris . Napoleon, whose civilian and military supporters then turned to the Bourbons , had to abdicate and leave France. The king elevated Gneisenau to the rank of count because of his services and on August 3, 1814, the Berlin University appointed him, together with Hardenberg, Blücher, Yorck, Kleist, Bülow and Tauentzien, Dr. phil. hc Gneisenau reported on his experiences in the War of Independence in numerous letters to General Ernst von Rüchel , who had since been dismissed and Gneisenau's old patron.

After Napoleon's return in 1815, Gneisenau remained Chief of Staff of Blücher's army. He was therefore denied a command of his own, a decision that went back to the court's continuing distrust of him as a “ Jacobin ” (with his former people's armament plans) and which deeply offended him. Nevertheless, he fulfilled his tasks with drive and energy. He tried to get arms and money from Great Britain for the army in order to ensure the supply of the troops with food and clothing and planned the campaign with Blücher. The planned unification of the British-Dutch army under Wellington with the Prussian army under Blücher failed when Napoleon attacked and defeated the Prussians at Ligny . The battle of the French against the British at Quatre-Bras ended in a draw. Blücher was missing in an attack he led; responsibility for the army passed to Gneisenau. So he only came up with the plan to march not to the east, but to the north, giving up the supply lines, in order to achieve a union with Wellington's troops. This decision will have been made easier by the fact that the retreat to the east by the advancing IV Army Corps under Bulow was impossible. Wellington surrendered to Napoleon on June 18, 1815 at Belle Alliance in Belgium for the battle of Waterloo . It was only when the Prussian troops reached the battlefield in the late afternoon that the decision was made in favor of the allies. Napoleon was defeated and later exiled to St. Helena by decision of the Allies. The Prussian troops captured numerous items from Napoleon's possession. Gneisenau kept the imperial seal and was promoted to general of the infantry in July 1815 . The Bavarian King Maximilian I Joseph awarded him the Grand Cross of the Military Max Joseph Order .

Loss of influence, old age and death (1815–1831)

After the war, Gneisenau, suffering from gout, initially withdrew to his indebted estate. But already in October 1815 he took over the general command on the Rhine. Gneisenau kept in touch with progressive intellectuals, especially in Berlin, and - as a "Jacobin" - was reinforced and permanently targeted by attacks by conservative-reactionary circles at the royal court. He then submitted his departure in April 1816. The king refused and instead grants “leave for an indefinite period”. When Gneisenau returned weeks later, his position was already occupied by someone else. Gneisenau was appointed to the Prussian Council of State by the king , but Hardenberg was the first to persuade Gneisenau to accept the appointment. He was chaired the Foreign Affairs and Military Affairs departments. In 1818 Gneisenau was appointed governor of Berlin (serving only the representation) by the king . In 1819 the independence of the Landwehr was abolished without consulting Gneisenau as chairman of the department for military affairs. He was appointed President of the Upper Military Examination Commission, which held the officers' scientific aptitude test, and was there purely administrative work. He was thus deprived of any influence on decisions; his opponents had turned him off. On Gneisenau's own recommendation, the position of governor of Berlin was canceled in 1820 to relieve the state treasury, but his title and Berlin official residence were retained. He commuted between Berlin and his Gut Erdmannsdorf near Hirschberg , which he had exchanged for Gut Mittel-Kauffung. Gneisenau was committed to the arts, advocated the restoration of the old palace gardens in Berlin and, together with Schinkel , Christian Daniel Rauch and Carl von Clausewitz, ensured that Scharnhorst received a worthy tomb, which can still be seen today in the Invalidenfriedhof in Berlin.

In 1822 the daughter Agnes, married to Scharnhorst's son Wilhelm , died giving birth to their third child. Gneisenau now looked after his grandchildren because his son-in-law was abroad.

On June 18, 1825, during the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, Gneisenau was appointed Field Marshal General . He received the Sommerschenburg estate in the Prussian province of Saxony as a royal gift . He continued to be suspected of revolutionary ideas, although he had long since held conservative views; so his correspondence was checked.

When the fighting in the November uprising in Russian Poland , which broke out in 1830 , approached a decision in March 1831, Friedrich Wilhelm III appointed. Gneisenau as commander in chief of the troops in the four eastern provinces of Prussia: Des I. (Prussia), II. (Pomerania), V. (Posen) and VI. Army Corps (Silesia) and provided it with special powers. His chief of staff was Clausewitz. Tsar Nicholas I of Russia wanted to overthrow the rebellious Poles alone. The Prussian troops behaved neutrally along the border, forming a cordon against the cholera epidemic advancing from Russian Poland . Nevertheless, Neidhardt von Gneisenau fell victim to cholera on August 23, 1831 in Posen, after he had written to Wilhelm von Scharnhorst on May 1 : "For my part, I do not consider cholera to be so contagious or dangerous."


Gneisenau's sons August, Hugo and Bruno embarked on a military career. The daughter Agnes (1800–1822) was married to Wilhelm von Scharnhorst , the daughter Hedwig (1805–1890) from 1828 to Count Friedrich von Brühl , the daughter Emilie to Count Karl von Hohenthal at Püchau Castle . The daughter Ottilie remained single.

The Hitler assassins Berthold and Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg were great-grandsons of Gneisenau from the family of his daughter Emilie.

Mausoleum: burial place and memorial

Gneisenau mausoleum by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in Sommerschenburg

The mortal remains of Field Marshal Count Neidhardt von Gneisenau were first laid out on a bastion in the Posen fortress . After the cholera subsided, they were transferred to the church in Wormsdorf ( Borde district ) and found their final resting place in 1841 in Sommerschenburg .

According to the will of the king, a worthy tomb with a marble statue of the old freedom fighter should be erected for the honored soldier. The well-known architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel was entrusted with the planning and construction of the mausoleum, while the sculptor Christian Daniel Rauch - who owed his training, including several years in Italy, to Queen Luise - was commissioned with the execution of the monument. However, the production of the latter was delayed because the ship carrying the block of marble from Carrara , Italy, went down in a storm in the Bay of Biscay . More years passed before a new block was commissioned, selected in Carrara marble quarries, broken out and sent on its way. When King Friedrich Wilhelm III. died on June 7, 1840, there was another delay. In spring 1841 everything was finally ready for the memorial to be erected and the coffin to be transferred to Sommerschenburg.

The new King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. , Who had greatly adored the Field Marshal General, saw it as one of his first government measures to finally carry out the long-delayed public honor. On June 18, 1841 - 26 years after Waterloo - the inauguration of the mausoleum took place in the presence of the king and the royal house and court. Generals from all branches of service, representatives of the authorities and the clergy were invited as guests of honor. The population was also allowed to take part in the celebration.

The grave monument was a donation from the king and the Prussian officer corps. A friend of Gneisenau's Kolberger times, the Consul General of the British Empire in Danzig, Alexander Gibsone , also contributed to the building with a well-known foundation .

In agreement with the Neidhardt von Gneisenau family, at Gibsone's request, a memorial guard house was built in the Swiss style, which is "to be guarded and cared for by a deserving war veteran for all time".
However, the inflation of 1923 consumed the foundation's capital. After the death of the last veteran, Count Friedrich August Neidhardt von Gneisenau - owner of Sommerschenburg since 1882 - entrusted an employee of the estate administration with the part-time supervision of the mausoleum. The last watchman was the forester Tomaschewski; he became a victim of the war.

A Doric temple by the architect Köppe from Magdeburg stands on a semicircular wall made of sandstone blocks above the crypt, which forms the background for the statue of the General Field Marshal. Inside the temple, sandstone steps lead down to the actual crypt, which consists of a barrel-vaulted vestibule behind which the general's bronze sarcophagus stands. The floor and side walls of the vestibule consist of marble slabs, which are inscribed on the sides with grave inscriptions of the Gneisenau family. The room receives blue light from the ceiling.
On the wall above the sarcophagus was the saying:

" I fought a good fight
I've completed the run
I got faith
From now on I will be settled
the crown of righteousness.
2. Tim.4.7 "

This saying was illuminated by an eternal lamp .

The marble statue of the count stands in front of the temple facade on a high marble pedestal. The draped cloak gives it an antique look, the head is uncovered, the left hand is supported on the sword. He is holding a scroll in his right hand, his gaze is turned to the west.
On both sides of the base are two Prussian mortars from 1838 from the Berlin-Spandau gun factory; later, as a gift from Emperor Wilhelm I, two French cannons from 1870/71 were added; in the Second World War they were melted down to extract raw materials .

More monuments

  • The Roßgärter Tor had its relief in yellow sandstone. In the Hufen (Königsberg) a street had been named after him since 1911.
  • In Berlin, Christian Daniel Rauch created a bronze gneiss statue in 1855 for the monument ensemble on the Neue Wache in the street Unter den Linden . Cleared and stored in 1951, it was given a new space in 1964 in the rear area of ​​a green area at the Opernpalais .
  • Out of gratitude and in memory of the glorious defense of the city of Kolberg against the superior French army in 1807, a memorial for Gneisenau and the captain Joachim Nettelbeck was unveiled in front of the Mariendom in Kolberg on July 2, 1903. The memorial was the work of the Berlin sculptor Georg Meyer-Steglitz ; it was destroyed after Kolberg was taken over by Poland in 1945.
  • For space conditioning of Borussia National monument of Peter Breuer in Memel included a Herme Gneisenau. The occupation of the city by Lithuania in 1923 led to the destruction of the complex.
  • In Schildau ( Torgau district ) a Gneisenau bust stood on the market square. The bust is lost.
  • In 1960 a bust of the army reformer by the Dresden sculptor Walter Flemming with four relief medallions on the base was placed in Schildau at the same place .
  • In Erfurt, a memorial plaque on Gneisenau's former house at Marktstrasse 7 reminds of his biographical connections to Erfurt.


Gneisenau- Nettelbeck monument in Kolberg
Gneisenau monument in Schildau
Deutsche Post (GDR) special postage stamp for the 200th birthday of Neidhardt von Gneisenau, 1960

Official nickname of the city of birth

Since 1952 carries Schildau , the birthplace of Field Marshal and military reformer , the official surnamed Gneisenaustadt .


The eponymous Gneisenau Colliery was a 1873 based coal - mine in Dortmund district Derne , which was in operation until 5 August 1985th

German armies

Three German navies christened ships in the name of Gneisenau:

In the border troops of the GDR , the 25th border regiment bore the honorary name Neidhardt von Gneisenau .


Civil ships

  • Gneisenau , Reichspostdampfer of the general class of the North German Lloyd .
  • Gneisenau , passenger ship of the North German Lloyd, christened on May 17, 1935 by Ursula Countess von Gneisenau.


Streets and paths

In many German towns, streets, avenues and paths were named after Gneisenau.

Postage stamps

To commemorate Gneisenau's 200th birthday, the GDR postal administration issued a special postage stamp .


  • Letters from August Neidhardt von Gneisenau: a selection. Munich: Koehler and Amelang, 2000, ISBN 3-7338-0236-5 .
  • Letters written by August Neidhardt von Gneisenau in 1813 .


Web links

Commons : August Neidhardt von Gneisenau  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  2. The biographer Hans Delbrück deduces from this matriculation name that on the one hand Gneisenau had the nickname Anton in his youth, and on the other hand that he did not want to become popular among his colleagues as a “ Schildbürger ” (cf. Schildau ), and therefore stated Torgau as his place of origin .
  3. ^ Rudolf von Kramer, Otto Freiherr von Waldenfels: VIRTUTI PRO PATRIA. The Royal Bavarian Military Max Joseph Order of War Deeds and Book of Honor 1914-1918. Self-published by the Royal Bavarian Military Max Joseph Order, Munich 1966, p. 444.
  4. ^ Robert Albinus: Königsberg Lexicon . Würzburg 2002, p. 104
  5. Steffen Raßloff : Prussian military reformer . In: Thüringer Allgemeine from August 31, 2013.