|Original Signature of Count Yorck von Wartenburg under the Convention of Tauroggen|
On December 30, 1812, Prussian General Johann David Ludwig Count of Yorck von Wartenburg on his own initiative without permission of the Prussian King decleared a local ceasefire with the Russian General Hans Karl von Diebitsch-Sabalkanski at Tauroggen. The eponymous Convention of Tauroggen marks the starting point of Europe’s Liberation Wars against Napoleon Bonaparte.
Today, Tauroggen, or Taurogé, is a small industrial city in Lithuania not far from the Baltic coast, and almost nobody of you will have heart of it. By the end of the 18th century, Tauroggen belonged to Brandenburg-Prussia, and later – by marriage – to the Russian empire. And in 1812, it should become the starting point of a new age in Europe.
As a result of his alliance commitments to Napoleon in the 1812 Russian campaign, Prussia set up a contingent of troops to secure the northern flank of the Grande Armée, which was advancing towards Moscow, as part of the 10th Corps of French Marshal Jacques MacDonald. During the campaign, MacDonald had penetrated all the way to Riga and the Düna in Kurland, but neither the conquest of the city was sustained, nor were initiatives taken to facilitate the withdrawal of Napoleon’s troops. The leadership of the Prussian Corps had General Yorck since August 20,1812.
On Christmas 1812, a Russian army is approaching East Prussia. At Tauroggen, near the border of Lithuania, they encounter a Prussian supporting army corps, which is by treaty allied with Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France, who had conquered almost the entire European continent. But, instead of a fight, there will be a cheerful reunion. This is because at the head of the Russian army are the commanding general Count Diebitsch from Groß-Leipe in Silesia and General Inspector Freiherr vom Stein from Berlin. With great pleasure they recognize in the commander of the Prussians their old friend Count Yorck von Wartenburg from Potsdam. They meet in an old mill in the little village of Poscherunen, near Tauroggen, and together they forge an incredible plan: Count Yorck von Wartenburg, on his own account, should become a renegade and ally with the Russians against Napoleon. This, of course, is high treason, but at the same time it is a plan for the liberation of Prussia from Napoleon’s reign!
Yorck relieved his soldiers from their duty, absolved them from their oath to the King and put them in a neutralized state without the consent of their King. On December 30, the memorable Convention of Tauroggen is signed. According to the rules, Yorck von Wartenburg sent a messenger to Berlin to report his treason to the Prussian king. King Frederick Wilhelm III dismissed Yorck from his command immediately. But, the messenger never reached its destination, because Count Diebitsch didn’t let the bearer pass through his lines. Thus, Count Yorck von Wartenburg did receive the notice of his pending court-martial from the newspaper only. Yorck refused to resign from his command and ignored the King’s order with the following words:
“I will continue unobjectionable with all my duties, because as is well known in the state of Prussia a newspaper is not an official line of command. Up to now, no commanding general has ever received his orders via a newspaper.” (Count Yorck von Wartenburg)
Frederick Wilhelm III dared not to throw off the mask and preferred the flight to the unoccupied city of Breslau. Over there he is already received by the ministers and generals Hardenberg, Scharnhorst, Blücher and Gneisenau, followed by the Russian Tsar. The forces of Napoleon are almost overthrown. Russia and Austria are already on standby as forceful allies, as well as England, Sweden and Denmark. Also the Prussian people were in feverish anticipation and full of enthusiasm. Europe is ready to get rid of Napoleon’s reign. On March 17, 1813, Frederick William III signed a proclamation prepared by his ministers Stein and Hardenberg, which should become the initial signal to the European liberation wars, also known as the German Campaign, against Napoleon.
At yovisto, you can learn more about the time of the Napoleonic Wars in the lecture of Prof. John Merriman from Yale taken from his course on European Civilization: 1648-1945.
References and Further Reading
- The Convention of Tauroggen at Deutsche Welle
- 30. Dezember 1812: Tauroggen – Ein Hochverrat wird Fanal nationaler Erhebung. rbb Preußen-Chronik (in German)
- The Convention of Tauroggen at Wikidata
- Map of the Battles of the Napoleonic Wars, via Wikidata
- Timeline of the Battles of the Napoleonic Wars,