Mikhail Barclay de Tolly

Russian General

Mikhail Barclay de TollyOf Scottish descent, Mikhail Barclay de Tolly began his years of service for Russia as an army private and waited 14 years before becoming an officer.

He rose through the commissioned ranks with success against the Poles, Swedes and Turks and became a junior general in 1799.

Barclay de Tolly saw more fighting at Pultusk and Eylau, and then turned his talents towards reforming the Russian army, a project that picked up momentum when he became Minister of War in 1810.

When Napoleon Bonaparte sent his Grande Armee into Russia, Barclay de Tolly took over the First West Army and formulated his plan to retreat without offering battle.

Known for his caution, Barclay de Tolly was soon at odds with the commander of the Second West Army General Bagration, who was all for meeting the French head on.

With their discord threatening the entire army, Mikhail Kutusov took over and Barclay de Tolly took charge of the right wing at Borodino.

Ill health forced him to retire from command, although his administrative and political role continued for another year.

In 1813, he returned to the battlefield leading the Russians at Bautzen, then advanced with the army during the 1814 Campaign for France and, upon Bonaparte's return from exile, again moved against Paris.

Barclay de Tolly was one of the best commanders Russia could call upon and his cold, determined and scientific approach probably saved his army from early destruction at the hands of a full-strength Grande Armee.


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