The intertwining of historical fates, forming an image of the historical past in the most fanciful and sometimes almost mysterious way, it is bound to become the subject of an interested search, sometimes leading to small, but still bright regional natural history discoveries. The assault of the Bendery Fortress, Baroness Korff, the Great French Revolution and King Louis XVI - such an unexpected combination of historical events and personalities can attract the attention of the most sophisticated history lover.
In July-September 1770, the 33-thousandth 2nd Russian army under the command of Count Peter Ivanovich Panin besieged the Bendery fortress, which was defended by an 18-thousandth Turkish garrison. On the night of September 15-16, 1770, after a two-month siege, the Russian army began to storm the fortress. Those who would climb the walls first were promised a reward: for officers it’s a rank through one step, and for each soldiers it’s a sum of 100 rubles. The attack began with the explosion of the “globe de compression” (French “squeezed ball”) weighing 400 pounds of gunpowder. The fortress was taken after a heavy and bloody hand-to-hand battle, and inside the fortress there were fights for almost every house.
The colonel Frangold-Christian Korff was killed during the storming of the Bendery fortress. Baron F.-H. Korff belonged to a well-known count and baronial family. The Korffs came from an old German family, leading their genealogy from the Red Cross knights. In Westphalia this surname was mentioned in the XIII century. In the XVI century, the Korff family was divided into three main branches: Azviken, Prekuln-Kreutzburg and Trekken. Each of these branches was divided into several lines, so that the generation of the Korffs was one of the most common in the Baltic region. The barons and counts of the Korffs are included in the matricula of the nobility of all 3 Baltic provinces and in the 5th part of the genealogical book of the St. Petersburg, Moscow and Kharkiv provinces.
Nikolai Andreevich Korff (1710-1766), general in chief, senator, Chief Police General of St. Petersburg belonged to the second branch of the Korffs’ generation (Prekuln-Kreutzburg). N. A. Korff was a remarkable person and left a significant mark in the Russian history of the XVIII century. It is known that Nikolai Korf reached the rank of premier major in the cavalry Koporsky regiment by the age of 30 and even became related to the reigning dynasty by marrying Marta Skavronskaya – a cousin of Catherine I. Due to this fact, under the Empress Elizabeth’s reign he quickly began to move up the ranks. At the behest of Elizabeth Petrovna, he was sent to Kiel to bring the nephew of the Empress, Duke Peter Ulrich, later Emperor Peter Fedorovich from there. On February 5, 1742, Korf arrived with the young duke and was nominated truly chamberlain. In 1744, N. A. Korff was entrusted with “a matter of national importance - to transport the Braunschweig family from Ranenburg to the Solovetsky Monastery, and he carried the former emperor John Antonovich all the time under his direct supervision. N. A. Korff was nominated a senator for the execution of this assignment.
During the Seven Years’ War of 1756-1763, he was nominated the rank of Lieutenant General by the Konigsberg Governor-General; and in this rank he managed the occupied Prussian regions until the end of 1760, he nominated the St. Petersburg general chief of police. In 1760-1762, N. A. Korff implemented important innovations for St. Petersburg:
- a Commission on the stone structure of St. Petersburg and Moscow was established;
-the Winter Palace was built;
- the church of the Virgin of Vladimir was founded;
- the works were begun on the creation of granite embankments of the Moika River, the Catherine Canal;
- a hospital for laborers and a charity house for the poor were opened with the donations collected by N. A. Korff;
- a decree was issued on the establishment of pickets to stop drunkenness, quarrels and fights.
With the enthronement of Emperor Peter Fyodorovich, he became a general in chief received the Order of St. Nicholas; On February 20, 1762, he became a lieutenant colonel of the Cuirassier regiment, the colonel of which was the Emperor Peter the 3rd. At the time when the behavior of Peter the 3rd began to cause general discontent, N. A. Korff was very cautious, according to the stories of his adjutant, there was every ground to think that N. A. Korff most likely knew about the upcoming revolution. On June 28, 1762, at the very beginning of the revolution, he immediately sided with Catherine. Until the end of his life, N. A. Korff retained his title of chief director over the police and enjoyed the confidence of Empress Catherine II.
It is known that Colonel F.-H. Korf was the native nephew of Baron Korf Nikolai Andreevich. Such a close relationship undoubtedly contributed to his promotion and appointment as an adjutant to Field Marshal Count Burchard Christoph Minich (1683-1767). During the Russian-Turkish war of 1735-1739 B. K. Minich commanded the Russian troops in the Crimea and Bessarabia. B. K. Minich took an active part in a rebellion, and after the enthronement of Elizabeth Petrovna in 1742, he was sent into exile, where he stayed for 20 years. Peter the 3rd in 1762 returned to him his freedom, field marshal, and other titles and privileges. Catherine II appointed B. K. Minich commander-in-chief over the ports of the Rogervik, Revelsky, Narva, Kronstadt and Ladoga Canals. And it was after his return from exile in 1762-1767 that F.-H. Korff became his adjutant.
During the Russian-Turkish war of 1768-1774, Baron Frangold-Christian Korff served as a colonel of the Kozlov’s regiment and was mortally wounded on September 16, 1770 during the storming of the Bendery fortress. His participation in the storming of the Bendery fortress and his death are mentioned in the “Notes” of G. E. von Strandmann, published in 1882. General of the infantry, a nobleman of the Livonia province, Gustav-Ernest von Strandmann, in 1769-1780, kept a diary in which a detailed description of military campaigns, the advance of troops, the localities and towns through which the troops followed was given. G. E. von Strandman describes in detail, in a military way, the storming of the Bendery fortress, he indicates the name of Colonel Korff in the description of the decisive actions for the capture of the fortress: “On September 15, everything was already arranged to detonate the last mine loaded with 400 poods of gunpowder, seize the covered path and settle down around it. For this purpose, Colonel Wasserman with 8 Grenadier companies were detached to the right side, Colonel Miller with 6 Grenadier companies in the middle in front of the mine, and Colonel Korаf with 8 Grenadier companies to the left side… All were ordered, as soon as they had mastered the covered path and found it possible to cross the main dry moat, to immediately take up the assault ladders (of which a large number were made) and begin the assault.”
The description of the assault is full of very vivid and important details: “At 10 o’clock p.m., the Globe de compression was blown up with a terrible crash and the grenadier companies, who were waiting for this signal in the second parallel, at the same moment rushed to the covered path and stabbed everyone who came across them. Grenadier companies detached to the middle attack, with continuous fire directed at the main shaft, defended the lodgment arranged in front of the covered way, namely on the glacis, for which 510 workers were detached. We met no resistance on the covered path, where ladders were brought and placed in a moat 3 fathoms deep. The enemy tried to prevent us from climbing the ladders with continuous fire, but this led to nothing: the courage of our grenadiers, and especially their desperate bitterness against the enemy, helped them to cross the moat, in the center of the attack, therefore approximately in front of our mine. Their march was like the flow of a stream, and through this channel everyone entered the fortress, so that our troops were already in it about an hour after midnight. Since they did not suffer much and the detachment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Repnin (who was in the trench that day), who was one of the first to climb the rampart, was especially thinned out, they were sent to the fortress with 4 grenadier companies and Major Bukhvostov with 4 companies of musketeers to take the last bastions from the Turks. In addition, the detachments that remained in the camp, under the command of Lieutenant-Generals Rennenkampf and Elempt, went at 8 o'clock to the first and second parallels in order to reinforce the rest of the army in case of need. Since the fortress gates had not yet been blown up, I entered the fortress by stairs and, on the orders of General Kamensky, went to attack the last of the remaining bastions of the Turks. It was the last bastion on the right side of the river. My advance was not a little delayed by the continuous fire of the Turks from the windows and doors of the houses, so that when about 100 Turks violently attacked the grenadier, they retreated about 200 steps in the greatest disorder. But at last I managed to build them up again, the people began to shoot and moved forward, under the protection of the fire of one cannon that we found in the fortress. Thus, my grenadiers disordered the Turks who were still defending themselves in the streets and took the aforementioned bastion from the battle. Leaving a part of my detachment there, I rushed with the rest of the enemy who was fleeing, who was hurrying to take refuge in the castle. Then the rifle fire began again. Among those who retreated to the castle were Seraskier, Agha janissaries, and many pashas; the Turks shot through the walls and killed many people at my place. Those who had gathered in front of the castle moat, after a short resistance, were killed, with the exception of a few people, whom I barely saved from the fury of the foot soldiers. Finally, at 9 o'clock, the Turks put up a white flag in the castle, threw their weapons over the wall and asked for permission to capitulation. I forbade our people to shoot and went to the castle myself to talk to Seraskier. After half an hour of negotiations conducted by me through the mediation of Mustafa Pasha, who spoke German well, I selected several deputies and sent them to General Kamensky, who immediately arrived here himself and forced the enemy to quickly capitulate. The Turks demanded a free pass across the Danube; but Kamensky did not agree to this; after that they were finally disarmed and sent to the Count.
While our troops were occupied in the town, a hundred Turkish cavalry tried to escape to Belgorod; but they were overtaken by our light horse and almost all were killed, so that for several days the entire road for 30 versts was littered with Turkish naked corpses. Around 9 o'clock, the shooting stopped everywhere. During the assault, some of our bombs hit the Turkish powder rooms and produced a strong explosion and fire, which at first after the assault we had no time to put out the fire and so it took on such dimensions that the next night another powder room flew up into the air, as a result of which not only 37 soldiers and about 400 Turks died, but the whole city also burned down, so that there was not a single house left in Bendery except for the castle. Due to the carelessness of our soldiers, the suburb also fired. In a word, this old and beautiful town, which has seen the enemy at its walls many times, turned into ashes in three days. The unfortunate inhabitants who were escaping in the cellars finally came out and surrendered, but still many of them burned down. The property and all the belongings of the inhabitants went to the soldiers and heavy weapons, ammunition and 50,000 pounds of crackers went to the treasury. 250 cannons of various calibers, 25 mortars as well as a huge amount of gunpowder with ammunition were found in the fortress. We captured about 8,000 Turks capable of carrying weapons, and with women and children the number reached over 14,000. All these prisoners were sent to Kiev. During the assault, the Turks lost 4,000 people from terrible artillery and rifle fire, which lasted 5 hours on the rampart and then 7 hours more in the town. Our losses were as follows: 5 field officers were killed, namely Colonel Miller of the Tambov Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Sazonov, Prime Majors Balvits and Simbulatov and Second-Major Fedotov. Baron Shtein, a knight of the German Order, who served as a volunteer with us, remarkably smart and brave, also remained on the battlefield. In addition, 19 chief officers and 686 non-commissioned officers and foot soldiers were killed. 98 field and company officers were wounded, among them Colonel Wasserman, Colonel Korf, Brigadier Larionov, retired colonel and volunteer Alduevsky, Lieutenant Colonels Michelson and Repnin; 1,154 non-commissioned officers and foot soldiers were seriously wounded, and 715 were lightly wounded. And so there were 2,555 people wounded and killed in total. Many seriously wounded people soon died. However, according to the exact calculation, during the two-month stubborn siege, more than 4,000 people were killed and wounded in our army; among them, 254 field and company officers were killed and wounded. G.E. von Strandmann further reported that Colonel Korff was “shot through both cheeks and tongue” during the assault, he died of a fatal wound on September 27, 1770.
The assault in Bendery became the bloodiest battle in the war of 1768-1774 for Russia. “Rather than lose so much and get so little, it was better not to take Bender at all,”- the Russian Empress Catherine II reacted to this event. However, her indignation was unfounded. The capture of Bender was not an ordinary victory, it conducted a heavy attack to the Turkish army. The Turks even declared three days of mourning on this occasion. After the fall of Bender, the Dniester-Prut interfluve came under the control of Russian troops. For the capture of Bender, P. I. Panin received the Order of St. George of the 1st class. However, under the terms of the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, the signing of which ended the Russian-Turkish war of 1768-1774, the whole Moldova, including the Bendery fortress, was again ceded to Turkey.
The death of Colonel F. H. Korff during the storming of the Bendery fortress had consequences not only for his family, but also, as it turned out later, for the fate of the French monarchy. The young widow of the colonel, Baroness Anna-Kristina Korf, was born in St. Petersburg in the family of the famous St. Petersburg banker and court supplier G. H. Stegelmann, a Swede by birth. The Stegelmanns belonged to the largest Lutheran community in St. Petersburg, the community of St. Peter. The community originated on the left bank of the Neva River near the Admiralty, in the area where the most influential representatives of the German diaspora settled. Back in 1730, they consecrated their first church on Nevsky Prospekt in the name of St. Peter. In terms of its composition, wealth, influence and scope, it eventually became the most brilliant Lutheran community in Russia. In the XVIII century the patrons of the community were the highest dignitaries of the empire, Count B. K. Minich and Count A. I. Osterman. The community included many representatives of the Ostsee nobility from among the bureaucratic and military elite of Russia, officials of all types and ranks, bankers, entrepreneurs, scientists, architects, doctors, pharmacists, craftspeople. The Community of St. Peter owned large real estate, a wide network of various charitable institutions. Its Petri-Schule school enjoyed European fame. In 1760, a special stone building was built for the school. Being at that time the headman of the Lutheran community, it was G. H. Stegelmann who financed the construction and supervised the construction of the school building. According to one version, the author of the architectural project is F. B. Rastrelli, with whom G. H. Stegelman had friendly relations. In 1761, the educator and theologian Pastor A. F. Bushing was invited from Germany as the director of the school.
G. H. Stegelmann himself owned a two-story palace built in the middle of the XVIII century (1750-1753) by the architect F. B. Rastrelli with two symmetrical wings framing the front yard. This building has been rebuilt several times and has not retained its original Baroque decoration (50 Moika Embankment, building 2), currently it houses the building of the A. I. Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University.
There is no exact data on the date of birth of the future Baroness Korff, but according to indirect data, it can be assumed that she belongs to the early 50s of the XVIII century. Anna-Kristina’s father died in 1864, and the funeral of the “rich banker Stegelmann” in St. Petersburg is mentioned in the autobiographical notes of the German pastor A. F. Bushing. After the death of her husband, Anna-Kristina’s mother sold the palace that belonged to him to the state treasury for 55,000 rubles. After the death of Colonel F.H. Korff in Bendery, Anna-Kristina went to France with her mother and lived permanently for twenty years in Paris.
In Paris, the widow of Colonel Korf was on friendly terms with the famous Count Hans Axel von Fersen, a Swede who was in the French service. According to some sources, Anna-Kristina was a cousin of Count H. A. von Fersen, which is quite possible, if we take into consideration the Swedish origin of her father. Because of this relationship, she and her mother were even considered Swedish citizens in Paris, although they were both born in St. Petersburg and both were Russian citizens.
It is known about Hans Axel von Fersen that he was born in 1755 in Stockholm, was the eldest son of Count Frederick Axel von Fersen. At the age of 15, H. A. von Fersen was sent to study at a military school in Braunschweig, then, after making a trip to several European countries, in 1775 he returned to Sweden, where he was promoted to captain of the Dragoon Regiment. In 1778, he went to France, where in 1770 he entered the service as a lieutenant in the Royal-Baviere regiment, and was promoted to colonel.
Count H. A. Fersen was well received in the high society of Paris and became a member of Queen Marie Antoinette. The latter circumstance gave rise to rumors that the Swedish count was a close friend of the queen. The Swedish ambassador to France, G. F. Kreutz, even suggested in a letter to Gustav III that Marie Antoinette was in love with H. A. von Fersen. The assumptions of a number of authors that H. A. von Fersen was the father of Louis XVII are rejected by some modern researchers for reasons of chronology. In 1780-1783, as an adjutant to Count Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau, he participated in the War of Independence of the British Colonies, distinguishing himself in 1781 at the siege of Yorktown. In 1783, H. A. von Fersen led the regiment of Royal Svedua. At the same time, he was promoted in Sweden, becoming a colonel in 1782, a lieutenant colonel of the Dragoon regiment in 1783, and a lieutenant-captain of the Dragoon corps and a lieutenant colonel of the Adelsfan in 1788, in which capacity he took part in the Russian-Swedish war of 1788-1790.
From 1788 to 1791, H. A. von Fersen was almost continuously in France. Standing well with the royal family to H. A. von Fersen, the Swedish king Gustav III often used his mediation in negotiations, bypassing the official Swedish representative. After the beginning of the revolution in France and the emigration of many members of the royal family abroad, H. A. von Fersen became one of the closest advisers to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It was H. A. von Fersen who in June 1791 prepared the escape of the royal couple from France. After the king and queen were captured in Varenna, H. A. von Fersen moved to Belgium, where he remained as a Swedish diplomatic agent until 1794. He continued to maintain secret correspondence with the royal couple, who were under house arrest in the Tuileries, and in February 1792, at the risk of his life, changing clothes, personally paid her a visit. In the future, H. A. von Fersen continued to save the royal family and participated in the creation of a European coalition against revolutionary France. After the execution of Marie Antoinette, which took place on October 16, 1793, his ties with France were cut off. Fersen’s diary and correspondence were published in Sweden in 1878 under the title “Le comte de Fersen et la cour de France” (“Count Fersen and the French Court”). In 1810, he was killed in Sweden by an angry crowd.
The role of Baroness Anna-Kristina Korff in the conspiracy of 1791 was as follows: at the request of H. A. von Fersen, the widow of the Russian colonel Korff passed a duplicate passport on her own name and gave it to the royal family, a Berlin traveling carriage (a custom-made luxury carriage on high red wheels, upholstered inside with white velvet, with green curtains and all sorts of fashionable amenities at that time, for example, the vase de voyage) was ordered in her name and, apparently, paid for by her in order to escape from the revolutionary Paris of the Bourbon royal family.
The Varennes crisis of 1791, connected with the story of the escapement of King Louis XVI from Paris, is one of the turning points in the history of the Great French Revolution of the XVIII century. By the summer of 1791, the institution of the monarchy in France was experiencing a deep crisis, the final fall of its prestige was facilitated by an unsuccessful attempt to escape of the royal family, his arrest in Varennes.
On Monday, June 20, 1791, around midnight, Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, their children (Charles-Louis, Marie Therese), Princess Elizabeth (Louis ' sister) and the Duchess de Tourzel (Louise-Elizabeth de Croy d'Avray, the teacher of the royal children) went on foot to the Place Carousel, where they got into a carriage, the horses of which were driven by Count H. A. von Fersen, disguised as a coachman. They drove to Saint Martin from here. Here Berlin with six horses, was waiting for them, having changed into this road carriage, they set off, being provided with a passport in the name of a Russian citizen, Baroness Korff. H. A. von Fersen accompanied them to Bondy, which was a few miles from Paris, then went by another road to throw the pursuers off the trail. The king’s brother, the Count of Provence, left and reached Belgium by another road. The king’s escape took place two days later than the deadline set by the conspirators, and therefore some detachments that had been placed in advance by the royalist General Bouillet on the route of the carriage had to be withdrawn so as not to arouse suspicion.
The real Baroness Korff with exactly the same passport left for Germany, to Frankfurt, in the first days of June. Baroness Korff received a duplicate passport at the Russian embassy under the pretext that the original was burned. This was later testified by the Russian Ambassador I. M. Simolin, who was forced to give explanations about a serious political case. On the basis of the Russian citizen Baroness Korff’s participation in the king’s escape, in Paris the rumors spread about the involvement of the Russian ambassador I. M. Simolin in the conspiracy. Only the guards placed at his house saved the diplomat from the crowd massacre during the Varennes crisis.
Versions regarding his participation in the preparation of the escape are still debated in historiography, in some publications it was explicitly stated: “Simolin handed the passport to the Queen in the name of Korf.” According to the famous Russian historian V. N. Vinogradov, this version is doubtful. As an argument, he cites the fact that the passport indicated a smaller number of accompanying persons than there were passengers in the carriage: Princess Elizabeth, the king’s sister, wasn’t “included”. According to V. N. Vinogradov, if I. M. Simolin had really prepared documents for the escapees, he would have been able to count how many people were. In our opinion, this argument is not a definitive proof. But the materials of the correspondence of Ambassador I. M. Simolin indicate that most likely the use of a duplicate passport issued by him to Baroness Korff was unexpected for him and caused him a lot of troubles.
The future fate of Anna-Kristina Korf turned out in an unenviable way. Finding herself virtually without funds in the Habsburg monarchy, she was forced to ask the Austrian court about compensation for the material damage she suffered in connection with the failure of the conspiracy to save Louis XVI and his family. Count H. A. von Fersen also appealed to Empress Catherine II to compensate the Baroness for the losses. His long-term efforts, apparently, were not crowned with success: the reigning personages were in no hurry to assist the baroness who got into the history of an adventurous conspiracy.
The name of Colonel Frangold-Christian Korf is imprinted on the marble slabs of the memorial complex “Bendery Fortress” as the name of the Russian soldier who died during the heroic assault of the Pridnestrovian stronghold, and the name of his widow is inscribed in a remarkable page of world history, which is still of great interest to historians, publicists, playwrights, writers, everyone who is not left indifferent by the mysterious ways of History.
Autor: Irina Blagodatskih. Candidate of Historical Sciences