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Barclay de Tolly Mausoleum

Rulli, Torva vald, Estonia

History Hit

24 Nov 2020

About Barclay de Tolly Mausoleum

The Barclay de Tolly Mausoleum is the final resting place of Field Marshal Mikhail Andreas Barclay de Tolly, one of the most talented military commanders in Russian history and a key contributor to Russia's victory over Napoleon in the 1812 and 1813-15 campaigns.

A member of minor Baltic German nobility with Scottish ancestry (descended from Clan Barclay of Towie Castle in Aberdeenshire), Barclay enlisted in the Russian Imperial Army at a young age and participated in a number of campaigns against the Ottoman Empire and Poland during the second half of Catherine the Great's reign.

Serving as a Major General in the 1807 campaign against Napoleon, Barclay skillfully commanded part of the rearguard at the Battle of Eylau (7-8 February 1807) and received a heavy wound to the arm in the process. His exploits in the campaign won him promotion to the rank of Lieutenant General and brought him to the attention of Tsar Alexander I.

Having narrowly avoided the amputation of his arm through the efforts of the Tsar's personal physician James Wylie, Barclay returned to service during the Russo-Swedish War of 1808-09. During this campaign Barclay led a column of men on a daring march across the frozen Gulf of Bothnia to capture the Swedish fortress of Umeå. The Russian victory in the war resulted in the incorporation of Finland into the Russian Empire. Barclay was appointed as the second Russian Governor-General of Finland.

Having achieved a reputation as a fine administrator in Finland, Barclay was appointed to head the Ministry of Military Affairs in 1810. By 1810 the diplomatic relationship between Russia and France was deteriorating and Russia began to make preparations for a future conflict with Napoleon. Barclay proved to be a talented military reformer, making improvements in the field of logistics to ensure the Russian army would be well-supplied in terms of men and resources, as well as establishing an espionage network throughout Europe. Barclay's greatest contribution as Minister of War was to produce a new set of field regulations known as the Yellow Book which simplified the chain of command and allowed lower-ranking officers to take greater initiative.

Barclay had scarcely finished his reforms when Napoleon began his invasion in June 1812. Barclay was appointed commander of the First Army, some 120,000 men, while Prince Pyotr Bagration commanded the Second Army of 50,000. The Tsar did not grant either man the supreme command, but as the commander of the larger army and the Minister of War, Barclay assumed de facto overall command for the first half of the campaign.

Heavily outnumbered, Barclay pursued a defensive strategy which was opposed by Bagration. Barclay's scorched earth strategy was unpopular in the ranks and at court, especially after the loss of Smolensk, which Barclay evacuated after the Russians successfully held on to the city for two days. Suspected of being a general traitor, Barclay lost his overall command, which went to the newly-appointed Mikhail Kutuzov. Responding to the general clamour to make a stand, Kutuzov fought the Battle of Borodino.

At Borodino Barclay sought to redeem himself and exposed himself to great danger, rallying the troops at the crucial positions in the battlefield. Five horses were killed underneath him and most of his staff was either killed or wounded. After a bloody stalemate, at the Council of Fili Barclay persuaded Kutuzov to avoid another engagement with Napoleon before Moscow.

Soon after Borodino, where Bagration was fatally wounded, Kutuzov merged the First and Second Armies, leaving Barclay without an effective command. Barclay decided to leave the army on grounds of ill health and returned to his estate in southern Estonia. When Kutuzov died in the spring of 1813 at army headquarters in Silesia, Barclay soon succeeded him to become commander-in-chief.
Over the course of 1813 Barclay distinguished himself in the battles of Kulm and Leipzig, as an allied coalition of Russia, Prussia, and Austria drove Napoleon back to France. In 1814 he led a detachment of Russian soldiers into Paris and forced Napoleon to abdicate. In 1815 following Napoleon's escape from Elba Barclay once again commanded the Russian contingent, but Russian soldiers arrived after Napoleon had already between defeated by the Britain and Prussia at Waterloo. Nevertheless, Barclay was awarded the title of Knyaz' (prince), a title usually reserved for hereditary Russian nobility.

From 1815 to 1818 Barclay continued to serve as commander-in-chief of the peacetime army despite failing health. In early 1818 he finally obtained permission from the Tsar to seek treatment in Germany. By then it was too late and he died en route at the East Prussian town of Insterburg (modern day Chernyakhovsk, Kaliningrad, Russia). His embalmed body was transported back to Russia and buried according to his wishes at his estate of Beckhof (modern day Jõgeveste, Estonia) despite the Tsar's wishes of interring him in the Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg next to Kutuzov.

In 1823 a neoclassical mausoleum was built to the design of architect Apollon Shchedrin. Inside the mausoleum is a grandiose funerary monument, the work of sculptor Vasily Demut-Malinovsky. The caskets of Barclay and his wife Auguste Eleanora are placed in a vault beneath the mausoleum. According to local testament, the embalmed body of the Russian Field Marshal was once on display in the 1950s-60s though the coffin is now closed.

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