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His pact with the Russians made General Yorck a traitor

Even as a young Prussian officer, Ludwig von Yorck had proved that unconditional obedience was not his forte.

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His pact with the Russians made General Yorck a traitor

Even as a young Prussian officer, Ludwig von Yorck had proved that unconditional obedience was not his forte. When his superior boasted that he had "acquired" a piece of booty during the war, the lieutenant (1759 to 1830) openly showed his disapproval. A year in prison and expulsion from the army in 1780 were the rewards. 32 years later, on December 30, 1812, Yorck committed another insubordination, albeit of an entirely different dimension. With his Tauroggen Convention of December 30, 1812, he prepared Prussia's uprising against Napoleon I.

The son of an officer who had been awarded the highest order Pour le Mérite in the service of Frederick the Great, made a quick career despite his protests in 1780. Yorck enlisted with Swiss troops who were in Dutch service and fought as a captain for the French in the East Indies. When he returned, Frederick's successor, Frederick William II, took him back in honor. Suggestions for tactical reforms furthered his rise; In 1805 he was a colonel.

A year later, Yorck was one of the few senior commanders in the Prussian army who still had the courage to continue fighting after the devastating defeat by Napoleon I at Jena and Auerstedt. King Friedrich Wilhelm III appointed him for his successful rearguard actions. to the General and honored him with the Pour le Mérite. The highly conservative Yorck kept a political distance from the reformers who were preparing to rebuild the Prussian state, but provided important support as Governor-General of East Prussia and Inspector-General of Light Troops.

Although he was considered an ardent patriot and Napoleon hater, he bowed to the will of the king, who entrusted him in 1812 with the leadership of the Prussian auxiliary corps that was to march against Russia with the Grande Armée. The Prussians and Austrians, reluctant partners in the enterprise, were given the task of covering the northern and southern flanks of the advance. Yorck acted under the directive of the French Marshal Jacques MacDonald in the Baltic States.

Yorck proved to be loyal and an effective subordinate for a long time. Even when news of Napoleon's disastrous retreat from devastated Moscow reached him, he refused even to consider rapprochement with the Russian side, writes the English historian Adam Zamoyski. However, he allowed letters from tsarist officers to be forwarded to the king in Berlin.

Unlike the bulk of the army, MacDonald's 30,000-man corps remained reasonably intact when the Marshal gave the order to withdraw to East Prussia in December. In this situation, Yorck lagged behind a little. Either because the 14,000 Prussians had problems with the winter conditions, or because their commander wanted to distance himself from the French.

This enabled the Russian General Hans Karl von Diebitsch-Sabalkanski to push his troops between MacDonald and Yorck. While the Marshal in vain urged his subordinates to hasten their retreat, the Russians and Prussians kept a respectful distance. Diebitsch urged Yorck to let him advance unhindered into East Prussia. Yorck then agreed to a face-to-face meeting, which took place on December 25th. It was agreed that one of the numerous Prussians who had switched to the Russian side in 1812 should come to the Prussian headquarters as a negotiator.

The choice fell on none other than the reformer and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. Although Yorck received him with the words: "Stay away from me! I want nothing more to do with you. I have to march and now refuse any further negotiations that would cost me my head," he said, letting the negotiator's arguments be presented to him: the difficult military situation, the hatred of the Prussian population for the French occupation, the necessity of the procrastinating king to force to act.

"You have me," was finally Yorck's answer. "Tell General Diebitsch that we want to meet tomorrow morning at the Poscherun mill (near Tauroggen) and that I am now determined to part with the French and their cause." That was high treason. Because Friedrich Wilhelm III. had forbidden his general to change sides. Instead, he neutralized his corps against the Russians, who immediately began occupying East Prussia.

Yorck was aware of the consequences. "Eh. K.M. know me as a calm, cold man who doesn't get involved in politics," he explained to the king on January 3. "But the circumstances of the time have brought about a completely different relationship and it is also a duty to use these conditions, which will never return ... we will fight like real old Prussians and the throne of Ew. K.M. will stand rock solid and unshakable for the future... I beg Ew. K. M. that I will await the bullets on the sand heap (of the firing squad, ed.) just as calmly as on the battlefield.”

An almost monstrous process: A Prussian general gave the king the choice of either approving his measure or executing him. Friedrich Wilhelm did not want to go that far. He recalled Yorck and replaced him with a general, who refused. Instead, Yorck supported the assembly of the estates in Königsberg, which gave the signal for the uprising by mobilizing the Landwehr. “I hope to beat the French where I find them; I am counting on the strong participation of all; if the superiority is too great, now we shall die gloriously knowing.”

It didn't come to that. A commission of inquiry acquitted Yorck of all allegations. Thus rehabilitated, he regained his command and fought successfully in the so-called wars of liberation. The king then made him Count of Wartenburg, gave him an estate and appointed him Field Marshal. But he never forgave Yorck for his insubordination – the original text of the Tauroggen Convention was refused entry into the Prussian State Archives.

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