Mikhail Kutuzov - Biography

Mikhail Kutuzov at the Battle of Borodino by Anatoly Pavlovich Shepelyuk (1906-1972)
Mikhail Kutuzov (Golenishchev-Kutuzov) was a world-famous military commander and diplomat, most widely known for brilliantly repelling Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.

He was born into a family of the Novgorod nobility. His father was a military engineer, a general lieutenant, and a senator. Mikhail’s mother died early and he spent his childhood with his grandmother. From his early years, Kutuzov was very physically fit and had a bright and sharp mind, combined with innate kindness and open-heartedness.

After receiving formidable home tutelage, 12-year-old Kutuzov entered the St. Petersburg artillery and engineering school as a corporal. He graduated as one of the best students of the school in 1759 and then resumed his career there as a math teacher. In 1761, he received his first officer’s rank, the ensign. In 1762 he was promoted to captain and made a company commander in the Astrakhan infantry regiment under the world famous general Aleksandr Suvorov. His skyrocketing career, considering his young age, has been attributed both to his good education and his father’s position.

In 1764-1765 he volunteered to take part in fighting rebels in Poland and in 1767 he was assigned to the commission established by Empress Catherine II to create a new code of laws.

The Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774 became a true school of military skill for Kutuzov. He occupied staff positions in General Pyotr Rumyantsev’s army, fighting in Moldova in the battles of Cahul and the River Larga and the siege of Bender.

In 1772 Kutuzov’s sense of humor played a bad joke on him. For mimicking his superiors, he was sent to fight as a line officer in the ranks of the Second Crimean Army. This taught him to watch his words and actions, developing the secretive, cautious and reserved personality that later became characteristic of his actions as a commander.

On 24 July 1774, while fighting Turkish landing troops near the Crimean town of Alushta, Kutuzov was severely injured – a bullet hit his temple, exiting near his right eye. He survived and was awarded a 4th Degree Order of St. George. He was sent to Europe for treatment. Up until 1776, he visited England, the Netherlands, Italy Germany and Austria, where he continued his military studies and was honored with an audience with King Friedrich II.

Upon returning to Russia, Kutuzov was again dispatched to the Crimea, to help Suvorov maintain order in the region. A year later, thanks to Suvorov’s good reference, Kutuzov acquired the rank of colonel.

On 27 April 1778, Kutuzov married 24-year-old Ekaterina Bibikova. She was the daughter of one of Empress Catherine’s close friends. The family had six children, among them only one boy, who died of illness in infancy.

Kutuzov was in command of various regiments and earned the rank of major general, until in 1784 he was assigned a diplomatic mission in the Crimea. He led talks with the Crimean khan and convinced him to step down from his throne and acknowledge the superiority of Russia in the Southern lands. For this feat of diplomatic prowess, Kutuzov was awarded the rank of general major, and tasked with the formation of a ranger corps at the Bug River in southern Ukraine.

While in command of the ranger corps, Kutuzov entered the Russo-Turkish war of 1787-1791. In that war, during the siege of the Ochakov Fortress (now a city in Ukraine’s Nikolaev region) in 1788, Kutuzov was again severely wounded. This time, a bullet passed through both of his temples and behind the eyeballs. The surgeon who treated him was astonished by the fact that Kutuzov “survived wounds that by all medical laws are mortal.” The medic believed that “destiny must yet have a great deed in store for him.”

Only a year later, Kutuzov was again fighting, this time in the sieges of the Akkerman (now Belgorod-Dnestrovsky city in southwestern Ukraine) and Bender Fortresses. Then, during the siege of the key fortress of Izmail (now the center of Ukraine’s Izmail region, a port on the Danube River), Suvorov appointed him commander of one of the columns, and, before the fortress was even captured, named him its first governor. That siege earned Kutuzov another promotion.

After the peace treaty of Jassy was signed in 1792, Kutuzov was unexpectedly appointed ambassador to Turkey. The Empress based this decision upon his quick wit, excellent education, social finesse, cunning and ability to find a common language with various peoples. In Istanbul, he succeeded in gaining the sultan’s trust and effectively managed a 650-member staff.

When Kutuzov returned to Russia in 1794, he was appointed commander of the Infantry Noble Cadet Corps. In 1795, he became commander and inspector of the Russian troops in Finland. From 1796 to 1801, Emperor Paul I ruled the Russian Empire. Unlike Suvorov, who crossed swords with the new Emperor over his willingness to impose the Prussian order in the Russian army, Kutuzov managed to remain on good terms with the capricious monarch, and spent those years as a diplomat in Prussia and a general governor in Lithuania, and even earned an Order of St. Andrew. ...


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