6 August 2010, 14:57

Russian general who humiliated Napoleon

Russian general who humiliated Napoleon
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Welcome to our series of programs dedicated to the Patriotic War of 1812. Today we'll tell you about General Matvey Platov, whose 253d birthday is marked today. Matvey Platov was one of the eldest generals participating in the Patriotic War of 1812.

Welcome to our series of programs dedicated to the Patriotic War of 1812. Today we'll tell you about General Matvey Platov, whose 253d birthday is marked today.

Matvey Platov was one of the eldest generals participating in the Patriotic War of 1812. By the time the French invasion took place he had already turned 60. He had been making a successful military career under three Russian emperors: Catherine the Great, Paul and Alexander I. Platov had always been honest and self-sacrificing.           

Platov was a soldier by birth. He came from a family of a Don Cossack. Cossacks were members of military communities from both urban and rural areas along the River Don in southern part of the Russian Empire. As a soldier, Platov took part in almost all wars Russia was involved in late 18th-in early 19th century. At the age of 23 Platov was a lieutenant colonel decorated with many awards for bravery and courage. However, Platov and several other officers were disgraced by Emperor Paul, a very suspicious and effusive person, who accused the officers of attempting to topple him.

Matvey was exiled to Kostroma and later spent a few years at the Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg. Luckily, when Alexander I ascended to the throne in 1801, Platov was freed and decorated with the rank of general. He continued to serve in the army for the sake of Russia. Even the enemies recognized Platov`s bravery.

In 1810 the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte decided to give Matvey the National Order of the Legion of Honor. Platov turned down the award, saying that he did not need it for he had never served Napoleon and would not ever do this. However, he was advised by Alexander I to receive from Bonaparte a snuffbox with engraved portrait of the French emperor.

Eyewitnesses said that Platov immediately took out precious stones the snuffbox was decorated with as well as Napoleon’s portrait and replaced it with his favorite cameo flower. Of course, Napoleon was insulted and waited for the right moment to take revenge on the proud general. He hoped he would have this chance during the invasion of Russia which began in June of 1812.           

But Napoleon`s hopes were vain. General Platov and his Cossack troops became one of the bitterest enemies of the French army. Platov`s soldiers used to attack all of a sudden and make every battle a very tense one. General Platov distinguished himself during the Battle of Borodino, when major arsenals of the French army were attacked, depriving the enemies of their weapons, food, medicines and uniform.

When the French troops hastily retreated, Platov`s cavalry followed them till the very borders of Russia. For his great contribution to the victory of Russia in the war against Napoleon, Matvey Platov was decorated with various orders. He became a field marshal and was also given an honorary title of Count.           

Then Platov, together with some other army commanders, accompanied emperor Alexander I to London, where he received a very cordial welcome and was awarded with an honorary degree by the University of Oxford. One of the warships of the British Royal Navy was named after Matvey Platov.

His full-length portrait was painted by Thomas Lawrence for the Windsor Castle in south-eastern England. Matvey Platov was a really outstanding Cossack and army commander, who first humiliated Napoleon Bonaparte and then brought so many hardships to the French army.   

Maria Kharlamova
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