JOHAN HERMAN (IVAN IVANOVICH GERMAN),
A LATE 18TH-CENTURY GENERAL.
German, Ivan Ivanovich. [Johan Herman M.C.] General-of-Infantry, a Saxon by birth, but according to other information descended from Livonian nobility. Bantysh-Kamenskii calls him Baron Herman von Ferzen, and Gelbig relates that he was the son of a village blacksmith in Saxony, studied theology in his native land, and then set off to Livonia with recommendations. Here he received a palace position. His master, to whom he had expressed his yearning for a military vocation, approved his plans to become a soldier and obtained his first military rank for him. However, Gelbigs story should be considered unreliable since it is known that Herman received an excellent education in German universities, and in his service record it is noted that he could speak Russian, German, Latin, French, and English, and also knew mathematics, engineering, philosophy, history, natural law, and politics. Being of the Saxon nation and of civil servant status, he entered Russian service on 18 January 1770 as a conductor 2nd class [konduktor 2-go klassa, i.e. officer candidate M.C.] in the Corps of Engineers. (According to another service record he entered as an ensign [praporshchik, officer candidate M.C.] in 1769.) He then transferred to the general staff as a column-leader officer [kolonnovozhatyi ofitser, i.e. general-staff officer], namely a divisional quartermaster of lieutenants rank (24 November 1770).
Soon Herman attracted attention by his many-sided knowledge. He was an excellent fighting officer, engineer, and topographer all at once. Herman took part in the first Turkish war, serving with Boure, and was at the battles at the Larga and Kagul rivers. During a reconnaissance of the Danube he was wounded (contusion). At this same time he was charged with preparing a map of Moldavia and a description of Walachia, and at the end of this work in 1772 he was named senior quartermaster of Graf Elmpts corps in Poland. In 1773 he was with a corps of observation on the Swedish border and made a map of Finland, and then he was assigned as senior quartermaster to General-in-Chief Bibikov in the Orenburg territory. In 1774, during the suppression of Pugachevs revolt, he was in P.M. Golitsyns force and commanded its vanguard. He was in fighting at the Tatishchev fortress, the town of Sakmarsk, and other places, for which he was promoted to ober-kvartirmeister with majors rank (7 May). Meanwhile he produced a map of the entire Orenburg campaign.
In 1775 Herman was tasked by Catherine II to draw up a plan for the Tsaritsyn suburban palace near Moscow. In the same year he was sent as a secret courier to Astrakhan and Kizlyar to observe the region and the Persian border. He made a map of the area between the Terek, Kuban, Don, and Volga rivers, and wrote a journal of his travels. In 1776 he was tasked to determine the borders of the lands of Don Host. In the following year he completed that mission and made a map of these lands. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 24 May 1777 and left the general staff.
From 1778 to 1782 Herman was in the Kabarda Infantry Regiment. He then was given the task of closing the Volga and Don to raids by Caucasian natives, and he founded nine forts and thus laid the basis for the Caucasian Line. In 1778 he drew up plans for the Kherson fortress, the construction of which was also entrusted to him. This continued to 1782, and in that year he was promoted to colonel (1 January). In 1783 he was decorated with the order of St. Vladimir 4th class and named commander of the Vladimir Infantry Regiment, located on the Caucasian Line. While in command of the regiment, Herman was constantly taking part in expeditions against the mountaineers, and in 1784 built the Barrier Wall [Pregradnyi Stan] and Strong Trench [Prochnyi Okop] for the Kuban fortress. In 1787 he was given command of one of the forces forming the Caucasus Corps and carried out the duties of quartermaster-general. He took part in military actions against the mountaineers and Turks, distinguishing himself in affairs with the mountaineers at the Laba River, Black Mountains, and Mamy River, and with the Turks at Anapa (1788). At this time he also produced a map of the Caucasus. On 21 April 1789 he was promoted to brigadier, and on 5 February 1790 was given the rank of major general and named brigade commander of the Kabarda, Vladimir, and Kazan regiments. When Herman received news that the Turks under seraskier Batal-Pasha were moving from the Laba River toward the Kuban in order to invade Russian territory, he hurried to meet them. On 30 September 1790 he defeated the Turks and mountaineers on the heights of the Kuban, at the Tokhtamysh (Abazinka) and Podbakleya rivers, and put them to flight. He seized the enemy camp, taking all their artillery (30 guns), and capturing the seraskier. For this victory the empress awarded Herman the order of St. George 2nd class (21 January 1791) and 500 serfs in Polotsk Province.
Herman left the Caucasus in 1791, spent some time with the Baltic galley fleet, built a port and fortress in Rochensalm, and in 1792 was named quartermaster-general in the army of General-in-Chief Krechetnikov in Lithuania. At this time he drew up a map of Lithuania and Podlyakhia [Podlasia? M.C.]. In 1793 he commanded a corps on the right wing of this army and was awarded the order of St. Anne, and then in 1794 in Poland he commanded a special corps in Prince Repnins army. During the capture of Vilna he led the attack on the retrenchment and Ostraya Gate. For the Polish campaign he was decorated with the order of St. Vladimir 2nd class. The plan of campaign as drawn up by Herman during this war was crowned with success and still further enhanced his reputation as a fine strategist. In 1795 Herman occupied the position of quartermaster-general at Prince Repnins headquarters. In 1796 he drew up plans for joining the Dnieper with the Western Dvina by a canal.
Apparently, at the beginning of Paul Is reign Herman was in retirement, since on 19 December 1796 he was accepted into service as previously and named chef of the Schlüsselburg Musketeer Regiment (in this order he was called Baron Herman von Ferzen). On 27 December 1797 he was promoted to lieutenant general and in 1798 named quartermaster-general of the entire army and awarded the order of St. Alexander Nevsky. Upon being assigned to the post of quartermaster-general, Herman turned his attention to surveying the frontier areas and sent out officers to various places to make maps. He himself traveled that summer (1798) to southern Russia in order to take measures to strengthen the fortifications of Sevastopol and the Black-Sea coastline.
The cartographic work done under his direction attracted the attention of Emperor Paul I, who saw in him a man of sound basis and usefulness for service. In 1799 Herman was awarded the order of St. John of Jerusalem and received command of one of the corps designated to be sent to Italy to face the French. The sovereign directed him to join Rosenbergs corps and help him with advice, and if required by circumstancesto assume command of both corps. Paul I had such a high opinion of Hermans talents that he even wanted to place the greatest Russian military leader under his control. When it was decided to send Suvorov as commander-in-chief to Italy, Paul ordered Herman to keep watch over his, Suvorovs, actions which might lead the forces to harm and be detrimental to the general situation when he becomes too taken away with his imagination so that he sometimes forgets everything. Although by his advanced age he is not suited to be Telemachus, wrote the sovereign to Herman, nonetheless, however, you will be a mentor whose advice and opinions should moderate the outbursts and audacity of a warrior grown gray under his laurels.
Hermans reply to Paul I may be an expression of his profession de foi regarding the art of war: In battle he (Suvorov) loves the column, and I myself prefer that formation with only the difference that in my opinion it must be adaptable to a parallel tactical deployment in order to diminish the casualties caused by enemy artillery. From these words D.A. Milyutin drew the conclusion that Herman belonged to the number of learned tacticians of that time who placed all the essence of the military art into one mechanical formation, and in A.Th. Petrushevskiis opinion Herman by his answer showed himself to be a guild tactician who looked upon military operations as a kind of graphic art. In Suvorov, Herman saw only old years, the glitter of the victories and fortune that accompanied all his undertakings. However, Herman did not after all become Suvorovs mentor. Instead of the corps sent to Italy, he received command of another corps designated for joint operations with English forces against the French in Holland. Herman with one division arrived off the coast of Holland on 31 August 1799, but due to bad weather was able to disembark only on 2 September. The Russians, unused to travel by sea, were very worn out, but on that same day they had to make a forced march over shifting sand. By 7 September Hermans whole force was gathered together, and on the 8th the Duke of York, commander-in-chief of the allied army, initiated a battle with the French. Apparently, Herman did not find it necessary to postpone a meeting with the enemy on account of his Russian soldiers exhaustion. He received command of the first part of the allied army and moved forward early in the morning while it was still dark, without guides and lacking materials with which to cross streams and canals. The English marched forth much later and moved slowly with great caution, so they were unable to support Herman in good time. At first the Russians seemed to be have the upper hand in spite of all these unfavorable circumstances,. They drove the French out of three retrenchments, took several batteries, occupied three fortified villages, and captured 1000 Frenchmen and 14 guns, but then the French took advantage of the slowness of the English in order to strike with all their might the Russians who had ensconced themselves in the town of Bergen. Herman beat off the enemy twice, but since he saw it was no longer possible to remain in Bergen, he was already beginning to withdraw from there when he was attacked by cavalry and infantry. The Russians charged with the bayonet but were unable to overpower the numerically superior enemy. Herman was taken prisoner along with his entire staff. In this battle the Russians lost about 3000 men killed, wounded, and captured. On 24 September 1799, before news was received of his defeat, Herman was promoted to general-of-infantry. But when the sad tidings reached St. Petersburg, Emperor Paul I became extremely angry and on 27 September expelled Herman from service for bad conduct. The Duke of York and the English king himself came forward to defend Herman in front of Paul. The duke explained the failure of the Russians as due to an excess outburst of zeal and military ardor. The chief misfortune for us, he wrote, consisted in the loss of the brave Herman, who enjoyed the respect and confidence of the troops. If he had not been taken, he would have put another turn to the battle. The French also exonerated Herman, ascribing his defeat only to the fact that the English did not support him in time.
As a prisoner, Herman was sent to the fortress of Lille. The French were ready to exchange him for all the French generals taken prisoner in Italy, but Paul did not agree to this, and Herman remained a prisoner until the conclusion of peace. Upon his return from captivity, Herman presented an explanation for his actions and on 6 November 1800 was again taken into service, but this time not receiving any assignment. The unhappy events affected his health, and on 9 June 1801 he died in St. Petersburg, being over 60 years old. Herman was married to Charlotte Ivanovna Gerard, daughter of the well-known hydraulics expert, and left four children.
Herman was distinguished by his honor, zeal, bravery, intelligence, and goodness, but was quick-tempered and too self-reliant. After landing in Holland and setting off on the march, his younger generals asked him where they were to halt, and had he answered: On the shoulders of the French.
Hermans Zhurnal kampanii na Kavkazskoi linii 1790 was published in Otechestvennyya Zapiski of 1825.
Sources: Slovar Kazadaeva (manuscript); Bantysh-Kamenskii, Slovar dostopamyatnykh lyudei zemli russkoi, Vol. I; Slovar Brokgauzen-Yefron, XV; Bolshaya Entsiklopediya, VI; Milyutin, Istoriya voiny 1799, Vols. I and II; Khronologicheskaya ukazatelvoennykh deistvii russkoi armii i flota, Vol. I; N. P. Glinoetskii, Istoriya generalnago shtaba, I, 148-150; Russkaya Starina, 1884 Vol. XLIV, 629, 1889 Vol. LXIII, 219; Voennaya Entsiklopediya, Sytin, Vol. VII; material in the Moscow Section of the Special Archive of the Main Staff: 1) book of personal service records of general officers 1773-1784; 2) service record of General-of-Infantry Herman, 1800; 3) book of directives and journals of the Military College, 1801, No. 1384, sheets 419, 420. N. K. Aleksandrovich.
(From Russkii Biograficheskii Slovar. Translated 2001.)