Ernst Gideon Freiherr von Laudon (or Loudon) (February 2, 1717 - July 14, 1790), Austrian field marshal, was born at Tootzen in Livonia.
His family, of Scottish origin, had been settled in that country since before 1400. His father was a lieutenant-colonel, retired on a meagre pension from the Swedish service, and the boy was sent in 1732 into the Russian army as a cadet. He took part in Field Marshal Mannich's siege of Gdańsk in 1734, in the march of a Russian corps to the Rhine in 1735 and in the Turkish war 1738-1739.
Dissatisfied with his prospects he resigned in 1741 and sought military employment elsewhere. He applied first to Frederick the Great, who declined his services. At Vienna he had better fortune, being made a captain in Trenck's free corps. He took part in its forays and' marches, though not in its atrocities, until wounded and taken prisoner in Alsace. He was shortly released by the advance of the main Austrian army.
His next active service, still under Trenck, was in the Silesian mountains in 1745, in which campaign he greatly distinguished himself as a leader of light troops. He was present also at Soor . He retired shortly afterwards, owing to his distaste for the lawless habits of his comrades in the irregulars, and after long waiting in poverty for a regular commission he was at last made a captain in one of the frontier regiments, spending the next ten years in half-military, half-administrative work in the Carlstadt district. At Bunich, where he was stationed, he built a church and planted an oak forest now called by his name. He had reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel when the outbreak of the Seven Years' War called him again into the field. From this point began his fame as a soldier. Soon promoted colonel, he distinguished himself repeatedly and was in 1757 made a General-feldwacht-meister (major-general of cavalry) and a knight of the newly founded order of Maria Theresa.
In the campaign of 1758 came his first opportunity for fighting an action as a commander-in-chief, and he used it so well that Frederick the Great was obliged to give up the siege of Olomouc and retire into Bohemia (action of Darmstadt, June 30). He was rewarded with the grade of lieutenant-field-marshal and having again shown himself an active and daring commander in the campaign of Hochkirch, he was created a Freiherr ‘in the Austrian nobility by Maria Theresa and in the peerage of the Holy Roman Empire by her husband the emperor Francis. Maria Theresa gave him, further, the grand cross of the order she had founded and an estate near Kutná Hora in Bohemia.
He was placed in command of the Austrian contingent sent to join the Russians on the Oder. At Kunersdorf he turned defeat into a brilliant victory, and was promoted Feldzeugmeister and made commander-in-chief in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. In 1760 he destroyed a whole corps of Frederick's army under Fouqué at Landshut and stormed the important fortress of Glatz. In 1760 he sustained a reverse at Frederick's hands in the battle of Liegnitz (August 15, 1760), which action led to bitter controversy with Daun and Lacy, the commanders of the main army, who, Laudon claimed, had left his corps unsupported. In 1761 he operated, as usual, in Silesia, but he found his Russian allies as timid as they bad been after Kunersdorf, and all attempts against Frederick's entrenched camp of Bunzelwitz failed. He brilliantly seized his one fleeting opportunity, however, and stormed Schweidnitz on the night of September 30/October 1, 1761. His tireless activity continued to the end of the war, in conspicuous contrast with the temporizing strategy of Daun and Lacy. The student of the later campaigns of the Seven Years' War will probably admit that there was need of more aggressiveness than Daun displayed, and of more caution than suited Laudon's genius. But neither recognized this, and the last three years of the war are marked by an ever-increasing friction between the "Fabius" and the "Marcellus," as they were called, of the Austrian army.
After the peace, therefore, when Daun became the virtual commander-in-chief of the army, Laudon fell into the background. Offers were made, by Frederick the Great amongst others, to induce Laudon to transfer his services elsewhere. Laudon did not entertain these proposals, although negotiations went on for some years, and on Lacy succeeding Daun as president of the council of war Laudon was made inspector-general of infantry. Dissensions, however, continued between Laudon and Lacy, and on the accession of Joseph II, who was intimate with his rival, Laudon retired to his estate near Kutná Hora.
Maria Theresa and Kaunitz caused him, however, to be made commander-in-chief in Bohemia and Moravia in 1769. This post he held for three years, and at the end of this time, contemplating retirement from the service, he settled again on his estate. Maria Theresa once more persuaded him to remain in the army, and, as his estate had diminished in value owing to agrarian troubles in Bohemia, she repurchased it from him (1776) On generous terms. Laudon then settled at Hadersdorf near Vienna, and shortly afterwards was made a field-marshal. Of this Carlyle (Frederick the Great) records that when Frederick the Great met Laudon in 1776 he deliberately addressed him in the emperor's presence as "Herr Feldmarschall." But the hint was not taken until February 1778.
In 1778 came the War of the Bavarian Succession. Joseph and Lacy were now reconciled to Laudon and Laudon and Lacy commanded the two armies in the field. On this occasion, however, Laudon seems to have in a measure fallen below his reputation, while Lacy, who was opposed to Frederick's own army, earned new laurels. For two years after this Laudon lived quietly at Hadersdorf, and then the reverses of other generals in the Turkish War called him for the last time into the field. Though old and broken in health, he was commander-in-chief in fact as well as in name, and he won a last brilliant success by capturing Belgrade in three weeks, 1789. He died within the year, at Neu-Titschein in Moravia, still on duty. His last appointment was that of commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Austria, which had been created for him by the new emperor Leopold. Laudon was buried in the grounds of Hadersdorf. Eight years before his death the emperor Joseph had caused a marble bust of this great soldier to be placed in the chamber of the council of war.
His son Johann Ludwig Alexius, Freiherr von Laudon (1762-1822) fought in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with credit, and rose to the rank of lieutenant-field-marshal.
See memoir by von Arneth in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, s.v. "Laudon," and life by GB Malleson.