Tottleben, Count Gottlob Curt Heinrich von

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Tottleben, Count Gottlob Curt Heinrich von

Russian Major-General (1758-1763), Lieutenant-General (1771-1773)

born December 21, 1715, Tottleben, Saxony

died March 20, 1773, Warsaw, Poland


Portrait of Count Gottlob Curt Heinrich von Tottleben – Source: Wikimedia Commons

Count Tottleben was a Thuringian by birth, he was the son of Curt Heinrich von Tottleben and Johanna Sidonia Janus von Eberstädt. Their family estate was in Tottleben, near Langensalza.

Tottleben’s career began at the court of the Polish King and Elector of Saxony, August the Strong, first as a page, later as a chamberlain and finally as a court and justice councillor in the state government in Dresden.

On September 14, 1745, Gottlob Curt Heinrich von Tottleben was elevated to the status of count by the Saxon-Polish Regent Friedrich August II. He later married Elisabeth Christiane Baroness von Seifertitz.

Accused of corruption, Count Tottleben fled without waiting for the results of the investigation against him and was banished from Electoral Saxony in absentia. He went to the Dutch Republic, where he was authorised to recruit a new infantry regiment. His regiment remained in the hinterland in the vicinity of Breda and did not take part in the last campaigns of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48).

After the war, his regiment garrisoned Steenbergen, but was soon disbanded. Count Tottleben retained a pension as retired colonel. After seducing and kidnapping the 15 years old Maria Petronella Gratienne Victor, the sole heir to a huge fortune, he fled across the Rhine to flee from their pursuers.

On May 1, 1751, after applying in Kleve, Count Tottleben was permitted to reside in Prussia. After the death of his second wife, he married Maria Victor and moved to Berlin, where, thanks to his title and his wife's fortune, he frequented the best Prussian society. He neglected his wife so much that she initiated a divorce in 1755. Her assets were soon removed from his grasp. The Court sided with his wife, and he received the order to leave Berlin. He offered his services to Prussia’s enemies.

Tottleben’s offer to raise a regiment for the Austrians met with a favourable response in Vienna. However, due to lack of money, he failed to recruit enough men. He then returned to the Dutch Republic, where he contacted the Russian envoy.

In 1756, at the beginning of the Seven Years’ War, Count Tottleben resigned from his service in the Dutch Republic and volunteered for the Russian Army. As a result of his behaviour, he lost his Dutch pension, and some of his estates in Thuringia and Lower Silesia were taken into sequester by the Prussians during the war.

In 1758, Count Tottleben was promoted to major-general in the Russian service.

On July 23, 1759, Major-General Count Tottleben commanded a light cavalry division at the Battle of Paltzig. On August 12, just before the Battle of Kunersdorf, Tottleben’s light troops observed the Prussian camp near Bischofsee. They occupied the destroyed passages across the Hühnerfliess near the mills established on this stream (Gross-Mühl, Bäcker-Mühl and Rätsch-Mühl) as well as the bridge on the road leading from Kunersdorf to Zohlow. Detachments were also posted on the heights to the south-east of Kunersdorf and along the chain of ponds. The main body of Tottleben's light corps was posted at the edge of the forest near the Falkenstein-Berg, on the road leading from Frankfurt/Oder to the bridge on the Faule River. At daybreak, Tottleben informed General Saltykov that the Prussian army had marched out of its camp of Bischofsee during the night and was advancing towards the Russian right wing. Tottleben’s light troops then gradually retired in front of the advancing Prussians. After the battle, Tottleben pursued the Prussians with his Cossacks and hussars. In September, during the Russian campaign in Silesia, he covered the retreat of the main Russian army with a large party of Cossacks. At the end of the year, Tottleben’s light troops were charged to protect the winter-quarters. These troops remained on the left bank of the Vistula.

In January 1760, Tottleben’s Corps, having no provisions, constantly roamed Poland, East Pomerania and the eastern borders of Silesia to collect food. Tottleben also sent three large detachments to Eastern Pomerania, the Neumark and the Silesian border. On March 27, facing criticisms from the Russian high-command, Tottleben brusquely offered his resignation. Nevertheless, the raids continued until mid-April, when Tottleben was ordered to retire to Rummelsburg and Neustettin with his light troops. He then resigned his command and went to Marienburg to await the decision of St. Petersburg. On May 2, Fermor informed Tottleben that General Yeropkin was now in command of the light troops. In this letter he once more accused Tottleben of having unnecessarily campaigned with the light troops during the winter, without achieving any success. A quarter of the light cavalry had already lost their horses. On May 17, an ukase arrived at the Russian headquarters in Marienwerder, reinstating Tottleben in his command.

By the end of May 1760, Tottleben had initiated new attacks against the Prussian positions in Eastern Pomerania. At the beginning of July, he was recalled from Eastern Pomerania to secure the right flank of the Russian army during its advance.

In September 1760, General Chernishev with Tottleben as second in command was ordered to conduct a raid on Berlin. On October 9, Tottleben received the capitulation of Berlin. His troops occupied the city until October 13. Tottleben maintained good discipline in Berlin during the occupation and, when possible, exercised leniency towards the city and its inhabitants.

In November 1760, Tottleben and his Cossacks remained in Neumark and Pomerania, even launching raids in Ueckermark across the Oder. His Cossacks appeared near Freienwalde, Schwedt, Eberswalde but also near Prenzlau and Stettin.

In January 1761, Tottleben’s Corps occupied Stolp (present-day Slupsk), Markisch Friedland (present-day Mirosławiec) and Deutsch Krone (present-day Walcz) in Eastern Pomerania and launched several attacks on Prussian positions. On February 25, Tottleben made a truce with the Prussians. The Russians would not advance beyond the Stolp River, while the Prussians would not advance beyond the Wipper River. After the truce, prisoners of war were exchanged. During these negotiations,Tottleben had the opportunity to get in contact with the Duke von Bevern, who would later help him to join the Prussian service. Tottleben then tried to approach King Frederick, revealing to him the Russian order of battle and their operational plans for the beginning of the new campaign in the spring.

At the end of June 1760, Rumyantsev was informed by Colonel Asz about Tottleben's secret contact with Frederick. Sabatko, a messenger which Tottleben had sent to Kostschin (present-day Kostrzyn) with an escort of cossacks, was caught. He carried documents in which the route of march of the Russian army from Posen to Silesia was described. He was arrested but Tottleben gave as an excuse that Frederick had asked him for his intercession in Saint-Petersburg in return for his son who was prisoner of the Prussians. During interrogation, Sabatko admitted that he acted as a courier between Tottleben, Frederick and Prince Heinrich. Letters to Werner were also found in Tottleben's papers. Tottleben, his butler and Sabatko were arrested in Bernstein in Neumark. Tottleben was taken to St. Petersburg and court-martialled.

The trial dragged on for a long time, and in 1763 he was finally sentenced to death, even though Frederick had interceded in his behalf. However, Empress Catherine II pardoned him and expelled him from the country, which was not a harsh punishment for Tottleben since he owned a property in Lupow in Western Pomerania.

In 1769, the Empress took Tottleben back into her grace and reinstated him to the Russian Army. He took part in the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774), fighting in Georgia.

Tottleben died as a lieutenant-general in Warsaw in 1773.


This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books, which are now in the public domain:

  • Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 13 Torgau, Berlin, 1914, Anhang 31

This article also incorporates texts from the following Wikipedia articles:

N.B.: All paragraphs depicting Tottleben's actions during the Seven Years' War are directly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.