Pavel Chichagov was the son of a prominent Russian admiral. He studied in the Navy Corps, before serving in the Life Guard Preobrazhensk Regiment as a sergeant in 1779. He participated in the campaign in the Mediterranean from 1782 – 1784 before becoming a naval lieutenant on 17 September 1783 and captain lieutenant on 25 April 1787. He took part in the Russian-Swedish War from 1789 – 1790, distinguishing himself, and gaining promotion to captain 2nd class. Chichagov became captain brigadier on 24 November 1796, and, from 1797-1799, fell out with Tsar Paul I, mainly on account of his desire to marry an Englishwoman, Elizabeth Proby. Yet he was restored to his rank of rear-admiral on 13 July 1799. He was then decorated with the Order of St. Anna (1st class) and given a golden sword with diamonds following the expedition to Holland in which he took part.
On 24 May 1801, Chichagov was appointed adjutant general to Alexander, before being rapidly promoted over the next year and a half to become Deputy Minister of Navy on 12 December 1802. He set about introducing naval reforms, before becoming Minister of Navy with the rank of Admiral on 1 August 1807. He was appointed to the State Council on 25 November, but fifteen days later he was forced to resign due to poor health.
Chichagov was one of the leading proponents of the Russo-French alliance during the build up to the Campaign of 1812. He regarded Britain and her near monopoly over international commerce as a much more serious threat than Napoleon. Nevertheless he faithfully took an active part in the 1812 campaign, despite his plan to march south and take Constantinople. In 1812, the Treaty of Bucharest was signed before he had a chance to join in with the military operations against the Turks. Yet, as Commander-in-Chief, Chichagov merged his Army of the Danube with the 3rd Reserve Army of Observation on 30 September 1812. He commanded the newly formed 3rd Western Army, taking on the Austrian troops in the Autumn Campaign. He then strove to block Napoleon's retreat from Russia at Berezina on 25 – 26 November 1812, but was defeated by the French Army. Chichagov was much criticised for his poor execution at Berezina, yet it was always going to be a difficult battle against Napoleon himself, and equipped with fewer soldiers than he had expected. Although the fiasco was certainly his fault, some of the blame should be more fairly distributed on Kutuzov and Wittgenstein. Yet Chichagov still pursued the French into Poland in January 1813, before being relieved of command for the suspect reason of “poor health”.
In 1814, Chichagov decamped to France, undoubtedly a consequence of his bad reception in Russian society for his mishandling of Berezina. He ignored a decree issued in 1834 by Emperor Nicholas limiting staying abroad to 5 years, and so was discharged from the Russian service later that year, before being dismissed from the State Council as well. He died in Paris on 1 September 1849.
Alexander Mikaberidze, The Russian Officer Corps in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815, New York: Savas Beatie, 2005, pp. 59-60
Dominic Lieven, Russia against Napoleon, London: Penguin Books, 2009
Ed. AM PH