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Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr

Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr

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Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr

This atmospheric night-time view shows Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr, working while his army sleeps around him.

Take from Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire, faisant suite à l'Histoire de la Révolution Française by Louis Adolphe Thiers

Who was Who in the Napoleonic Wars, Philip J Haythornthwaite Covers over one thousand of the most important political, military, civil and artistic figures of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period, from all of the combatant powers. A very useful reference book that shows just how widely this first 'Great War' spread its influence. Each biography is short, with three to a page, but this allows the author to fit in so many differing characters.

Gouvion-Saint-Cyr, Laurent, marquis de

Laurent Gouvion-Saint-Cyr, marquis de (lōräN´ märkē´ də gōōvyôN´-săN-sēr) , 1764�, marshal of France. He served in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and was made marshal following his victory at Polotsk (1812). After the Bourbon restoration he served twice (1815, 1817󈝿) as minister of war and was instrumental in passing a law to organize military recruitment by voluntary pledges and lottery and limit the arbitrariness of promotions. Because of these attempts to limit the influence of the émigré nobility in the officer corps, he was forced from office by the ultraroyalists. He wrote on the Napoleonic Wars and left personal memoirs.

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The French word Maréchal traces its origins back to the Carolingians, from the Ancient German word marascahl, a stable supervisor who took care of the king's horses. With the growing importance of the battle horse during the early Middle Age, the role came to acquire some prestige and began to be known as Marshal of France. Albéric Clément, who led King Philippe-Auguste's vanguard during the victory over the English at Bouvines in 1214, was the first recorded incumbent. At first, the role was granted to a single person, but three decades after Bouvines, Louis IX of France set sail for the 1248 Crusade with two Marshals. As early as the 15th century, the Marshals no longer cared for the King's horses and stables, and were simply military leaders, a role that they would retain through to modern times. Although the position remained highly prestigious, their number grew throughout the centuries, with Louis XIV naming as many as 51 Marshals during his 72-year reign. In the years leading to the French Revolution, there were constantly 15–16 Marshals, but a law of 4 March 1791 reduced their number to six and a decree of 21 February 1793 abolished the dignity altogether. [1]

Eleven years later, Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor of the French and wanted to institute a military elite for the new French Empire. Article 48 of Title of the 19 May 1804 sénatus-consulte set up the grand officers of the Empire, among which the highest-standing were the Marshals. [2] In the Imperial Court hierarchy, they came in the fifth rank, behind the Emperor and Empress, the Imperial family, the great dignitaries and the ministers. [3] They were entitled to a special etiquette: whenever the Emperor would write to them, he would call them Mon Cousin ("Cousin"), when a third party would write to them, they would be called Monsieur le Maréchal and when spoken to, they would be called Monseigneur ("My Liege"). They were greeted with 13 cannon shots when at their headquarters and 11 when away. They were also entitled to their own personal coat of arms. [4]

Although a purely civil dignity reserved to distinguished generals and not a military rank, a Marshal displayed four stars, while the top military rank of the time, the General of Division displayed three. Contrary to a well-established idea and to the representation on most paintings of the time, the Marshal's four stars were silvered, not gilded. A Marshal was required to wear a standard uniform, which was established through decree on 18 July 1804 and designed by painter Jean-Baptiste Isabey and designer Charles Percier. Nevertheless, the Marshals often chose to wear either variants of the official uniform or costumes of totally different design. The ultimate distinctive sign of a Marshal was his baton. It was cylindrical, 50 centimetres long and 4 centimetres and a half in diameter, made of wood and covered in dark blue velvet, decorated with golden eagles or honey bees, both Imperial symbols. [5]

The creation of the new civil dignity allowed Napoleon to strengthen his newly created regime by rewarding the most valuable of the generals who had served under his command during his campaigns in Italy and Egypt or soldiers who had held significant commands during the French Revolutionary Wars. Subsequently, other senior generals were promoted on six occasions, mainly following major battlefield victories. With hindsight, Napoleon's choices for the Marshalate were not always well inspired. [6]

First promotion (1804) Edit

The first promotion created eighteen new Marshals of the Empire and coincided with the proclamation of the First French Empire and was used as an opportunity for the new Emperor to strengthen the new regime. The list included 14 names of generals who had served in the armies of the Republic during the French Revolutionary Wars: seven of them were generals who had served directly under Napoleon during his campaigns in Italy and Egypt. Moreover, he was also careful to reward several general officers who had acquired considerable fame and political influence while commanding the armies of the Republic, as well as several highly-promising generals who had held significant divisional commands in the Army of the Rhine. The latter were well known for their largely Republican sentiments and had never served under Napoleon's command. By rewarding them for their military accomplishments, Napoleon sought to gain their loyalty and make sure that they would be supporters, rather than opponents of the new Imperial regime. [3] [6]

Overall, the first promotion included 14 names of generals. An initial list was drafted by State Secretary Henri Jacques Guillaume Clarke and later altered by the emperor. Napoleon added in his own handwriting Murat's name, which was conspicuously absent from Clarke's draft. This was possibly an omission, but there seems to be no evidence to that effect. The final list included the following names, in an order which to this day remains unclear:

    , an experienced soldier of the Ancien Régime, a part of the French Expeditionary Corps during the American Revolutionary War, who had become Napoleon's ‘indispensable’ chief of staff, creating a complex staff system mainly composed of three groups that proved highly effective [7] , who had married Napoleon's sister, Caroline, and subsequently made a name for himself under the command of his brother-in-law as a dashing cavalry commander. Later made King of Naples. , a competent if unexceptional soldier, who had been the commander-in-chief of the French army that defeated Spain and forced it out of the First Coalition , the hero of Fleurus, a staunch Republican, who had held significant commands and campaigned on the Rhine , a dogged and tenacious soldier, one of Napoleon's former senior divisional commanders from the First Italian Campaign and who subsequently acquired considerable reputation as an independent commander of armies , a skilled tactician, another of Napoleon's senior divisional commanders of the First Italian Campaign , served as Minister of War and ambassador to Austria under the Directory, he was one of Jourdan's divisional commanders in the Army of the Rhine and himself a Republican, who also fought with Napoleon in Italy as a divisional commander, and commander of the Army of the West during the Consulate , a fierce Republican, he had been friends with the journalist Jean-Paul Marat and risen to become an influential soldier and diplomat who was the hero of the Battle of Castricum. , an dependable commander and organizer, who had served under Jourdan and Jean Victor Marie Moreau and became Masséna's right-hand man during the 1799–1800 campaigns , a distinguished soldier who proved courageous in Italy and Egypt, rising to become a General of Division and commandant of the consular guard , a capable commander who served with great distinction during the War of the Second Coalition at Zurich and Hanover , an excellent cavalry officer who distinguished himself in the War of the First Coalition , perhaps Napoleon's finest general, a Republican and a commander in the consular guard and already had an impressive record, also serving in the Egyptian Expedition, although there were rumors that Davout had actually risen to the rank of Marshal because of the deaths of two of his patrons (General Desaix at Marengo, and Charles Leclerc died of yellow fever in Haiti) , a fine cavalry commander, and one of Napoleon's closest friends

Four additional names were mentioned on the list: these were former senior generals who had held commands of armies and had been elected senators of the Republic. Their status was honorary due to their age and they weren't set to be given field commands.

    , the oldest marshal chosen by Napoleon, supposedly honorary but in fact, Kellermann proved one of Napoleons most effective at handling reserve-class forces. , who continued to serve as field commander , who fought in the Pyrenees frontier against Spain, winning several key victories, but after becoming a marshal, never held active military command again , a close friend and supporter of Georges Danton, making him politically useful for Napoleon

Second promotion (1807) Edit

    , a skilled commander, who had served under Napoleon in the Siege of Toulon, in which he personally drove the British back into the sea, not to mention for his valor during the Italian Campaign. Made marshall for his performance at Battle of Friedland

Third promotion (1809) Edit

Three new marshals were created in the aftermath of the Battle of Wagram.

    , the only Marshal of the Empire to be promoted on a battlefield, and was Napoleon's choice for “France” , Napoleons choice for the “Army” , was the choice of “friendship,” probably to Napoleon

Fourth promotion (1811) Edit

    , one of the most prominent and successful marshals of the Napoleonic Wars and the only marshal to gain his baton in the Peninsular Wars after his Victory at Taragona. [8]

Fifth promotion (1812) Edit

    was made a Marshal after routing a Russian army at Polotsk, defending the French spearhead which was driving towards Moscow. This, in recognition, made him a marshal

Sixth promotion (1813) Edit

    was a firm supporter of Napoleon and participated in the Invasion of Russia. He was among the rearguard at the disastrous Battle of Leipzig and was drowned, having only served as Marshal of the Empire for three days. He was the first and only marshal of Napoleon that was of Polish-Lithuanian origin

Seventh promotion (1815) Edit

    was made a marshal at the latter stages of Napoleon's military career. A capable cavalry general throughout the Napoleonic wars, Grouchy was made marshal before the 100 days. He was widely blamed for not joining with Napoleon for the Battle of Waterloo, getting himself into unnecessary battles with Prussian field commander, Von Blücker.

Controversies Edit

Among the men who were offered the Marshalate, there was a mix of famous generals, who had commanded the armies of the Republic (Brune, Jourdan, Kellermann, Lefebvre, Masséna, Moncey), as well as more junior generals, whose command never exceeded division-sized forces (Mortier, Ney, Soult). It even included relatively obscure generals from Napoleon's Italian or Egyptian expeditions, who had recently secured their promotion to the top military rank of General of Division, but had never held significant commands (Bessières, Davout, Lannes). Unsurprisingly, this created a certain degree of discontentment among the more senior commanders. André Masséna was noted for his sardonic remark, "There's fourteen of us. ", which he muttered when his friends came to congratulate him for his nomination. Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont, then a young general, possibly bitter that he had not been nominated also observed that: "If Bessières is a Marshal, then anyone can be." Ironically, Marmont himself was made a Marshal of the Empire in 1809, though it was said he was awarded the distinction for his close friendship with Napoleon as opposed to any great generalship.

Marshal Titles Birth Death Promoted Battle Record Portrait Commands held
Pierre Augereau Duke of Castiglione October 21st, 1757 in Paris June 12th, 1816 in La Houssaye-en-Brie 1804 Battle of Loano, Battle of Castiglione, Battle of Arcole, Battle of Ulm, Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, Battle of Eylau, Siege of Girona, Battle of Leipzig Divisional Commander in the Pyrenees, Divisional Commander in the army of Italy, VII Corps (Grande Armée) (1803-1811), part of the Rearguard in the Russian campaign, IX Corps (Grande Armée) (1813-1814), Army of Lyon (1814)
Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte Prince of Pontecorvo later King of Sweden January 26th, 1763 in Pau March 8th, 1844 in Stockholm 1804 Siege of Culladore, Battle of Fleurus, Battle of Theiningen, Battle of Ulm, Battle of Austerlitz, Battle of Auerstedt, Battle of Wagram, Battle of Großbeeren, Battle of Dennewitz, Battle of Leipzig 71st Demi Brigade, Command of Division in the army of Sambre-et-Meuse, 4th Division in the Army of Italy, French Ambassador to Vienna, Minister of war (1798), Commander of the Army of the west, Governor of Louisiana (Never took the post as Louisiana was sold to the United States), Governor of Hanover (1804-1805), Army of Northern Germany (1805), I Corps (Grande Armée) (1805-1807), Governor of the Hanseatic Ports (1808), 9th Corps (Saxony) (1809), Walchren Defense Army (Late 1809), As King of Sweden: Army of the North in the War of the Sixth Coalition
Louis-Alexandre Berthier Prince of Wagram, Sovereign Prince of Neuchâtel November 20th, 1753 in Versailles June 1st, 1815 in Bamberg 1804 Battle of Rhode Island, Siege of Yorktown, Battle of Rivoli, Battle of Ulm, Battle of Austerlitz, Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, Battle of Eylau, Battle of Friedland, Battle of Coruna, Battle of Regensburg, Battle of Eckmühl, Battle of Aspern-Essling, Battle of Wagram, Battle of Znaim, Battle of Smolensk, Battle of Borodino, Battle of the Berezina, Battle of Lützen, Battle of Bautzen , Battle of Dresden, Battle of Leipzig, Battle of Hanau, Battle of Brienne, Battle of Champaubert, Battle of Montmirail, Battle of Château-Thierry, Battle of Vauchamps Temporary Command of the Army of Italy,(1797-1798) Napoleon's Chief of Staff (1792-1814), Temperary Command of the Army against Austria (1809)
Jean-Baptiste Bessières Duke of Istria August 6th, 1768 in Prayssac May 1st, 1813 near Lützen 1804 Battle of Boulou, Battle of Abukir, Battle of Marengo, Battle of Austerlitz , Battle of Eylau, Battle of Medina del Rioseco, Battle of Aspern-Essling, Battle of Wagram, Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, Battle of Lützen Imperial Guard (Napoleon I), Command of Cavalry in the Grande Armée during early 1813
Guillaume Brune Count of the Empire March 13th, 1763 in Brive-la-Gaillarde August 2nd, 1815 in Avignon 1804 Battle of Valmy, Battle of Hondschoote, Battle of Fleurus, Battle of Neerwinden, Federalist Revolt, 13 Vendémiaire,

(Bas-Rhin), Staff of the Army of Moselle, Adjutant General Brigade Chief, Active in the Army of the Rhine, Brigadier General, Deputy and Command of the Right wing in the Army of Italy, Defense of Genoa, Colonel General of Consular Guard, Governor General of Camp Boulogne, Corp in Austria, and Prussia,

II Corp in Spain, Chief of Forces in Spain, IV Corps (1813), Command of French Forces at the Pyrenees Frontier, Chief of Staff for the Waterloo Campaign

Last years [ edit | edit source ]

On the Bourbon Restoration he was created a Peer of France, and in July 1815 was appointed War Minister, but resigned his office in the following November. During this appointment he tried to assist long-time friend and fellow marshal Ney by providing him a jury of four other Napoleonic Marshals, but was disgraced when Marshal Moncey refused to even sit in it. In June 1817 he was appointed Marine Minister a pretext for him to resume the place of War Minister, which he did in September and continued to discharge till November 1819. During this time he initiated many reforms, particularly in respect of measures tending to make the army a national rather than a dynastic force. He made efforts to safeguard the rights of veteran soldiers of the Empire, organized the General Staff, and revised the code of military law and the pension regulations. He was made a marquess in 1817. Laurent de Gouvion-Saint-Cyr died on 17 March 1830 in Hyères, a town in the southeast of France. All in all, his blunt but correct suggestions, his dislike for grandeur, his incorruptibility, his uprighteousness attracted the dislike of many of his less scrupulous contemporaries, and was wronged.

Chateaubriand on Life in a Society Dissolving

François-René de Chateaubriand (1768–1848) was a French historian, diplomat, and writer. Long recognized as one of the first French Romantics, he was, in his lifetime, celebrated for his novellas. Today, however, he is best remembered for his posthumously published memoir, Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe, which will be republished by New York Review Books Classics as Memoirs from Beyond the Grave in February. In the selection below, Chateaubriand observes Parisian society dissolving and recomposing itself in the aftermath of the French Revolution.


When, before the Revolution, I read the history of public disturbances among the different nations, I could not conceive of how people had lived in such times. I was astonished that Montaigne could write so cheerfully in a castle that he could not so much as stroll around without running the risk of being abducted by bands of Leaguers or Protestants.

The Revolution made me understand how possible it is to live under such conditions. Moments of crisis redouble the life of man. In a society that is dissolving and recomposing itself, the struggle of two spirits, the clash of past and future, the intermingling of old ways and new, makes for a transitory concoction that leaves no time for boredom. Passions and characters set at liberty are displayed with an energy unimaginable in a well-regulated city. The breaches of the law, the freedom from duties, customs, and good manners, even the dangers intensify the appeal of this disorder. The human race on holiday strolls down the street, rid of its masters and restored for a moment to its natural state it feels no need of a civic bridle until it shoulders the yoke of the new tyrants, which license breeds.

I can think of no better way to describe the society of 1789 and 1790 than to compare it to architecture from the days of Louis XII and François I, when the Greek orders began to be combined with the Gothic style, or, rather, by likening it to the collection of ruins and tombs of all the centuries, piled up pell-mell after the Terror in the cloisters of the Petits-Augustins—except the ruins of which I speak were alive and constantly changing. In every corner of Paris, there were literary gatherings, political meetings, and theater shows future celebrities wandered in the crowd unknown, like souls on the banks of the Lethe before they bask in the light. I saw Marshal Gouvion-Saint-Cyr play a part in Beaumarchais’s La Mère coupable at the Théâtre du Marais. People went from the Club des Feuillants to the Club des Jacobins, from balls and gambling houses to the crowds at the Palais-Royal, from the gallery of the National Assembly to the gallery of the open air. Popular delegations, cavalry pickets, and infantry patrols marched every which way in the streets. Beside a man in French dress, with powdered hair, a sword at his side, a hat under his arm, leather shoes, and silk stockings, walked a man with unpowdered hair cropped close to his skull, dressed in an English frock coat and an American cravat. In the theaters, actors announced the latest news, and the pit burst into patriotic song. Topical plays drew the crowds: a priest would appear on stage, and the people would shout, Calotin! Calotin! and the priest would reply, Messieurs, Vive la Nation! Everybody hastened to hear Mandini and his wife, Viganoni, sing with Rovedino at the Opéra-Buffa, only minutes after hearing “Ça ira” howled in the street they went to admire Madame Dugazon, Madame Saint-Aubin, Carline, little Olivier, Mademoiselle Contat, Molé, Fleury, and the young sensation Talma, fresh from seeing Favras hanged.

The promenades on the boulevard du Temple and the boulevard des Italiens—nicknamed “the Coblentz”—and all the paths in the Tuileries Garden were inundated with fashionable women. Grétry’s three young daughters shone there, as white and pink as their dresses. All three of them would soon be dead. “She fell asleep forever,” Grétry said of the eldest, “sitting on my lap, as beautiful as she was in life.” A multitude of carriages plowed the muddy crossroads where the sansculottes splashed, and the beautiful Madame de Buffon could be seen sitting alone in a phaeton belonging to the Duc d’Orléans, parked outside the door of some club.

Everything elegant and tasteful in aristocratic society gathered at the Hôtel de La Rochefoucauld, at the soirees of Mesdames de Poix, d’Hénin, de Simiane, and de Vaudreuil, or in those few salons of the high magistracy that still remained open. In the houses of M. Necker, M. le Comte de Montmorin, and the various other ministers gathered (together with Madame de Staël, the Duchesse d’Aiguillon, Mesdames de Beaumont and de Sérilly) all the icons of the new France and all the liberties of the new manners. A cobbler in the garb of the National Guard knelt down to measure your foot a monk, who dragged a black or white robe along the ground on Friday, on Sunday wore a round hat and a layman’s coat a clean-shaven Capuchin read the newspaper in a tavern and in a circle of frivolous women sat a grave-looking nun, an aunt or sister turned out of her convent. Crowds now visited these monasteries open to the world as travelers in Granada walk through the abandoned halls of the Alhambra, or as they linger, in Tivoli, beneath the columns of the Temple of the Sybil.

For the rest, there were many duels and love affairs, prison liaisons and mysterious trysts among the ruins, under a tranquil sky, in the peace and the poetry of nature many far-flung, silent, solitary walks punctuated by undying oaths and unutterable affections, to the dull tumult of a fleeing world, to the distant noise of a crumbling society, which threatened to fall and crush every chance for happiness placed at the foot of events. When a person was lost from sight for twenty-four hours, no one was sure of seeing him again. Some went the Revolutionary route others contemplated civil war others left for Ohio, sending ahead plans for châteaux to be built among the savages others went to join the princes: all of them blithely, often without a sou in their pockets, the Royalists alleging that one of these mornings an act of parliament would bring everything to an end, and the patriots, just as heedless in their hopes, declaring a reign of peace, happiness, and liberty. They sang:

La sainte chandelle d’Arras,
Le flambeau de la Provence,
S’ ils ne nous éclairent pas,
Mettent le feu dans la France
On ne peut pas les toucher,
Mais on espère les moucher.

And this was how they thought of Robespierre and Mirabeau! “It is as little within the power of any earthly faculty to keep the French from talking,” says L’Estoile, “as it is to bury the sun in the earth or drown it in a well.”

The Tuileries Palace, transformed into a great jailhouse filled with prisoners, towered over these festivals of destruction. Even the condemned enjoyed themselves while awaiting the cart, the shears, and the red shirt that had been hung up to dry. From the windows they could gaze out at the dazzling illuminations of the queen’s circle.

Pamphlets and newspapers proliferated by the thousands. Satires, poems, and songs from the Actes des Apôtres responded to the Ami du peuple or the Modérateur, put out by the Royalist club and edited by Fontanes. In the political section of the Mercure de France, Mallet-Dupan wrote in opposition to La Harpe and Chamfort, who contributed to the literary section of that same paper. Champcenetz, the Marquis de Bonnay, Rivarol, Boniface Mirabeau the Younger (a Holbein of the sword who, in the Rhineland, raised a legion called the Hussars of Death), and Honoré Mirabeau the Elder—all these men amused themselves drawing caricatures over dinner and composing a Little Almanack of Great Men. After dinner, Honoré would go and declare martial law or seize the clergy’s property. He would spend the night with Madame le Jay after having announced that he would not leave the National Assembly except under the prodding of bayonets. Equality conferred with the devil in the Montrouge quarries and then went back to the Jardin de Monceau to preside over orgies organized by Laclos. The future regicide had not at all degenerated from his forefathers: twice prostituted, debauchery drained and delivered him into the hands of ambition. Lauzun, already wrinkled and withered, dined in his little house at the Barrière du Maine with dancers from the opera, who sat carelessly intertwined with Messrs. de Noailles, de Dillon, de Choiseul, de Narbonne, de Talleyrand, and some other elegant men of the day, of whom two or three mummies still remain.

Most of the courtiers famous for their immorality at the end of Louis XV’s reign and during the reign of Louis XVI had enrolled under the tricolor flag: almost all of them had fought in the American war and bedaubed their ribbons with Republican colors. The Revolution made use of them so long as it was only of middling stature, and they even became the first generals of its armies. The Duc de Lauzun—the romantic lover of Princess Czartoryska, a woman chaser of the high roads, a Lovelace who had had this one and had that one, according to the chaste and noble jargon of the court—this Duc de Lauzun became the Duc de Biron, who commanded the forces of the convention in the Vendée Wars. What a pity! The Baron de Besenval, the mendacious and cynical revelator of corruption in high society, a fly buzzing around the puerilities of the old dying monarchy, this tedious baron, compromised by the business of the Bastille, was saved by M. Necker and Mirabeau only because he was Swiss. What miserable stuff! Why had such men become involved in such events? As the Revolution grew, it disdainfully abandoned these frivolous apostates of the throne. It had needed their vices and now it needed their heads. No blood was above contempt, not even the blood of Madame du Barry.

From Memoirs from Beyond the Grave: 1768–1800, by François-René de Chateaubriand , translated by Alex Andriesse. Published with permission of NYRB Classics.

François-René de Chateaubriand (1768–1848) was a writer, historian, and diplomat, and is considered one of France’s first Romantic authors.

Alex Andriesse is a writer and translator. He lives in the Netherlands.

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gouvion Saint-Cyr, Laurent, Marquis de

GOUVION SAINT-CYR, LAURENT, Marquis de (1764-1830), French marshal, was born at Toul on the 13th of April 1764. At the age of eighteen he went to Rome with the view of prosecuting the study of painting, but although he continued his artistic studies after his return to Paris in 1784 he never definitely adopted the profession of a painter. In 1792 he was chosen a captain in a volunteer battalion, and served on the staff of General Custine. Promotion rapidly followed, and in the course of two years he had become a general of division. In 1796 he commanded the centre division of Moreau's army in the campaign of the Rhine, and by coolness and sagacity greatly aided him in the celebrated retreat from Bavaria to the Rhine. In 1798 he succeeded Masséna in the command of the' army of Italy. In the following year he commanded the left wing of Jourdan's army in Germany but when Jourdan was succeeded by Masséna, he joined the army of Moreau in Italy, where he distinguished himself in face of the great difficulties that followed the defeat of Novi. When Moreau, in 1800, was appointed to the command of the army of the Rhine, Gouvion St-Cyr was named his principal lieutenant, and on the 9th of May gained a victory over General Kray at Biberach. He was not, however, on good terms with his commander and retired to France after the first operations of the campaign. In 1801 he was sent to Spain to command the army intended for the invasion of Portugal, and was named grand officer of the Legion of Honour. When a treaty of peace was shortly afterwards concluded with Portugal, he succeeded Lucien Bonaparte as ambassador at Madrid. In 1803 he was appointed to the command of an army corps in Italy, in 1805 he served with distinction under Masséna, and in 1806 was engaged in the campaign in .southern Italy. He took part in the Prussian and Polish campaigns of 1807, and in 1808, in which year he was made a count, he commanded an army corps in Catalonia but, not wishing to comply with certain orders he received from Paris (for which see Oman, Peninsular War, vol. iii.), he resigned his command and remained in disgrace till 1811. He was still a general of division, having been excluded from the first list of marshals owing to his action in refusing to influence the troops in favour of the establishment of the Empire. On the opening of the Russian campaign he received command of an army corps, and on the 18th of August 1812 obtained a victory over the Russians at Polotsk, in recognition of which he was created a marshal of France. He received a severe wound in one of the actions during the general retreat. St-Cyr distinguished himself at the battle of Dresden (August 26-27, 1813), and in the defence of that place against the Allies after the battle of Leipzig, capitulating only on the 11th of November, when Napoleon had retreated to the Rhine. On the restoration of the Bourbons he was created a peer of France, and in July 1815 was appointed war minister, but resigned his office in the November following. In June 1817 he was appointed minister of marine, and in September following again resumed the duties of war minister, which he continued to discharge till November 1819. During this time he effected many reforms, particularly in respect of measures tending to make the army a national rather than a dynastic force. He exerted himself also to safeguard the rights of the old soldiers of the Empire, organized the general staff and revised the code of military law and the pension regulations. He was made a marquess in 1817. He died at Hyéres (Var) on the 17th of March 1830: Gouvion St-Cyr would doubtless have obtained better opportunities of acquiring distinction had he shown himself more blindly devoted to the interests of Napoleon, but, Napoleon paid him the high compliment of referring to his "military genius," and entrusted him with independent commands in secondary theatres of war. It is doubtful, however, if he possessed energy commensurate with his skill, and in Napoleon's modern conception of war, as three parts moral to one technical, there was more need for the services of a bold leader of troops whose “doctrine”-to use the modern phrase-predisposed him to self-sacrificing and vigorous action, than for a savanl in the art of war of the type of St-Cyr. Contemporary opinion, as reflected by Marbot, did justice to his "commanding talents," but remarked the indolence which was the outward sign of the vague complexity of a mind that had passed beyond the simplicity of mediocrity without attaining the simplicity of genius.

He was the author of the following works, all of the highest value: Journal des operations de l'armée de Catalogne en 1808 et 1809 (Paris, 1821) Mémoires sur les champagnes des armées de Rhin et de Rhin-et-Moselle de 1794 à 1797 (Paris, 1829) and Mémoires pour servir d l'histoire militaire sous le Directoire, le Consulat, et l'Empire (1831).

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There are 1,000 military records available for the last name Gouvion Saint Cyr. For the veterans among your Gouvion Saint Cyr ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

The northern flank, Polotzk &mdash the finale

Since the first battle at Polotzk on 18 August, action had been limited to patrolling and skirmishing. The town itself was mainly constructed of wood, which was used to build huts, feed the fires and to build defence works to the north of the town. By October, much of the place had simply disappeared. Abraham Rosselet, 1 recorded that:

General Prince Ludwig Adolph Peter von Wittgenstein, commander of the 1st Russian Independent Corps, which operated against the II and VI Corps of the Grande Armée around Polotzk. He was from a Westphalian family. In 1813 he commanded the allies at the battle of Bautzen on 20&mdash21 May, where he was defeated he then resigned and reverted to commanding a corps. At his throat is the Austrian Order of Maria Theresia. Author&rsquos collection.

Le camp était assis dans la plaine en avant de cette place. Le camp était plutot un village on s&lsquoy était établi dans de fortes et bonnes baraques, construi de manière a se garantir du froid, car on comptait y passer l&rsquohiver.[The camp was on the plain in front of the place. The camp was a real town, made up of fine, strong huts, constructed as to be warm because we expected to overwinter there.]

The deadly fever and typhus continued to rage. In the four &lsquohospitals&rsquo, 2 which the allies had built on the banks of the Dwina, there died about 100-150 men each day. As there were not enough men to bury the corpses, they were just thrown out of the windows into the river. As the river provided the drinking, cooking and washing water, the high mortality rate is scarcely to be wondered at.

Due to the absence of regular food supplies, the men were reduced to eating anything that they could find. Cowskins were cut into narrow strips and boiled, toads and frogs were fried, old fish, cats and dogs, herbs and mushrooms, animal entrails, offal and blood - it all went into the pot. Each corps was allocated an area from which to obtain its rations and fodder that of the VI Corps lay between Uschatz and the village of Plissa. By this means, regular supplies of bread - even if only at half-ration level &mdash were enjoyed for the next two months. By early September there was no more grain or bread to be found. The total absence of cavalry much reduced the effectiveness of these operations.

On 3 September a courier arrived from Imperial headquarters bearing promotion for Gouvion Saint-Cyr to marshal. General von Deroy was created a count of the Empire, and eighty crosses of the Legion of Honour were distributed to officers and forty to NCOs and men.

The musicians of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Swiss Regiments all fell ill and were sent back to the &lsquohospitals&rsquo in Kowno. As it was impossible to give them any money for this journey, few reached Kowno, and those who did, died there.

The VI Corps melted rapidly away. On 15 June 1812 it had 25,105 men by 15 September this had shrunk to 7,814 and by 15 October it was down to 2,607. Indeed, Saint-Cyr gives the figure of 1,823 Bavarians present and fit for duty at the start of the second battle of Polotzk. The four Swiss regiments fared little better in mid-September, the 1st Regiment had 864 men, the 2nd 983, the 3rd 314 and the 4th 664 a total of 3,025. These figures are without the foraging detachments.

There is a major question to be asked about Napoleon&rsquos management of his assets here. We are told repeatedly that he was able to reel off the parade states of his corps at will, with no reference to any documents. He knew how many men were available, where and when. If the men at Polotzk were dying at the steady rate of 100 each day, any fool could calculate that the 22,000 men of the II Corps and the 20,000 of the VI Corps, left after the first battle of Polotzk, would dwindle away to nothing within a finite time. So what went wrong in the fabled French high command? Was Saint-Cyr not rendering true parade states to the Emperor? Was Berthier falsifying the figures? If so, why? Why did Napoleon let two corps just sit in a poisonous trap and waste away? Why did Saint-Cyr just sit there and watch his command vanish? Why did he not pull back some miles and leave the miasma to the Russians?

Karl Philipp Wrede, Commander, 20th Division, then of the VI (Bavarian) Corps

Born on 29 April 1767 in Heidelberg, son of the Regierungsrat of Heidelberg, Ferdinand Joseph Reichsfreiherr von Wrede and his wife Katharina, Wrede studied law and in 1792 became the Commissar of the Palatinate with the Austrian Corps of FZM Fuerst Hohenlohe at Schwetzingen. In 1793 he was Oberlandeskommissar (Senior Commissar) with the Austrian army under Wurmser on the Upper Rhine.

On 18 June 1794 he was appointed titular colonel in the Bavarian General Staff in this capacity he took part in all campaigns on the Rhine and was sent on special mission to the Duke of Brunswick with the Prussian army. He was then appointed Senior War Commissar in Rheinland Palatinate, before becoming colonel in the general staff with seniority from June 1794. He commanded a battalion in the campaign against France and was distinguished on several occasions. In December 1799 he was awarded the Military Medal.

Between 1800 and 1806 Wrede was involved in numerous actions, and he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Maximilian Joseph for his services, along with the Grand Cross of the Legion d&rsquoHonneur. In 1809, after further distinguished military efforts, Napoleon created Wrede a count.

As General der Kavallerie, Wrede commanded the 2nd Bavarian Division in the VI (Bavarian) Corps in Russia in 1812. They fought at Polotzk after Deroy&rsquos death, Wrede took command of his division as well. On 25 June 1813 Wrede was awarded the Grand Cross of the Military Medal. In July 1813 he commanded a 20,000 strong corps after the signature of the Treaty of Ried Bavaria joined the allies against Napoleon. He fought Napoleon at Hanau and was wounded on the second day. He was defeated in this battle, largely due to the fact that his dispositions were tactically stupid and he had &lsquoforgotten&rsquo his artillery park. Despite this, on 9 November he was showered with further honours.

In 1817, after further commands in the army, and following the fall of Graf Monteglas from the Bavarian government, Wrede took his place and did much work on the constitution of 1818. At the opening of the Chamber in that year, he was appointed to be its President. On 26 September 1822 he was appointed Minister for the Army. In 1826, while in St Petersburg on a diplomatic mission, he was presented with the Order of St Andrew in diamonds. On 29 April 1831 he was appointed colonel-in-chief of the 9th Line Infantry Regiment. He died on 12 December 1838 in Ellingen.

The final scene (without the enemy doing anything to hasten things along) would see Saint-Cyr and his ADCs, well provided with food and drink, sitting alone on the banks of the Dwina, surrounded by the 50,000 corpses that had once been their army.

But the enemy were not content to let nature take its course.

French communications from Moscow to Polotzk had broken down due to partisan activity Saint-Cyr received his news from Maret in Wilna. The Russian General Count F.F. Steinheil now advanced south from Riga with his Finland Corps of 12,000 infantry, 1,250 cavalry and fifty-two guns to reinforce Wittgenstein. Together with local militia formations and this new corps, the latter could concentrate some 40,000 men. To oppose them, Saint-Cyr had only just over 20,000 weak, sickly, starving and demoralised men.

The stage was set for a showdown. Preliminary action opened on 14 October, when Wittgenstein attacked the II Corps right wing at Sirotino.

The 2nd Battle of Polotzk, 18&mdash20 October. A drawn battle between Oudinot and Gouvion Saint-Cyr (II and VI Corps), and Wittgenstein&rsquos I Corps and Steinhiel&rsquos Finland Corps. The Franco-Bavarians could bring 23,000 men and 140 guns into line for this battle Wittgenstein had 31,000 regulars, 9,000 militia and 136 guns.

This action coincided with the Russian surprise attack on Murat at Tarutino and was obviously well coordinated. Since the first battle in August, the wooden buildings in the town had been dismantled to provide materials for the bivouac huts of the troops and the various fortifications on the periphery of Polotzk.

There had been little action by either side in the intervening weeks. But now General Steinheil&rsquos Corps of Finland (6th, 21st and 25th Divisions and the 27th Cavalry Brigade) had come south to reinforce Wittgenstein and the combined force mounted an assault on the right wing of II Corps at Sirotino on 14 October. The advanced French and Bavarians withdrew on Polotzk with only slight loss.

Some of the VI Corps had been detached to occupy a bridgehead at Strunja, two hours march upstream from the town. On 18 October the assault began all along the line the 2nd Swiss Regiment particularly distinguished themselves this day, losing their commander and twenty-three other officers in combat. General von Wrede, commanding in Redoubt Nr 2, had the guns moved out into the open ground so that they could rake an advancing Russian column with canister the attack was beaten off. The combat was broken off at six o&rsquoclock that evening.

Next day, the Russians commenced a great bombardment of the defences of the town and also attacked the Strunja bridgehead. Outflanking moves began to wrap around Polotzk. That night, Marshal St-Cyr evacuated that part of the town on the right bank of the river, broke the bridges and began his withdrawal to the south west to Arekowka.

Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr, Commander, VI Corps

Born in 1764 as the son of a butcher in Toul, Saint-Cyr adopted the surname Gouvion after his mother deserted her family while he was a baby. He studied art and tried to become an actor before entering French military service in 1792. He was defeated in the clash at La Grisuelle near Maubourg that year, but within two years he had risen to the rank of General de Division. In the 1796 campaign, he was initially commander of the two divisions of the left wing of Moreau&rsquos Armée de Rhin et Moselle. Later, he commanded the centre. Due to his cold, introverted, unsociable manner, he was quickly dubbed &lsquole hibou&rsquo &mdash the owl. He was an honest, principled man who despised his looting comrades, particularly the rapacious Massena, whom he had succeeded in 1798 as commander of the Armée de Naples. In 1799 he served initially in Italy in Joubert&rsquos army, which was defeated by the Austro-Russians at Novi on 15 August. He was then transferred to Holland, where he commanded the 1st Division of the French corps fighting the Anglo-Russian invasion. He then moved to southern Germany to serve under Moreau again in the Armée du Danube.

Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr, commander of the VI (Bavarian) Corps in 1812. He was to receive his marshal&rsquos baton for the first battle of Polotzk. He was wounded in the second battle there on 18 October. In 1813 he commanded the XIV Corps and capitulated in Dresden.

He then fell out with Moreau and was relieved of his command. From 1801-1803 Gouvion Saint-Cyr was ambassador to Madrid, and then to the court at Naples until 1805. He was apolitical and thus mistrusted by Napoleon, particularly as he refused to sign the proclamation supporting the latter&rsquos elevation to emperor. Not surprisingly, he was excluded from the first marshalate. In August 1808 he was appointed commander of the French troops in Catalonia. He was recalled for failing to capture Girona in August of that year. In 1812 he was given command of the VI (Bavarian) Corps in the invasion of Russia and rendered excellent service on Napoleon&rsquos northern flank.

Gouvion Saint-Cyr was wounded on 18 August in the 1st battle of Polotzk. For this, he at last received his marshal&rsquos baton, nine days later. He was badly wounded in the foot at the second battle of Polotzk on 18 October and had to give up command of his corps.

In 1813 he was appointed commander of XIV Corps, fought at Dresden on 26 and 27 August, and was commander in that city during the siege. He was captured when Dresden fell on 11 November 1813. After the Bourbon restoration, he continued to serve and refused to support Napoleon during the Hundred Days. In July 1815 he was appointed Minister for War, but was forced out of office by ultra-royalist intrigues the following September. His attempts to gain clemency for Ney were unsuccessful.

In June 1817 he was appointed Minister for the Marine, and two months later he was reinstated as Minister for War. By this point, he had been ennobled as a marquis. His reforms were very beneficial for the French army, but he resigned in 1819 to devote his time to his family, agriculture and writing. His military talents were recognised, even by his enemies, and his control of troops on the battlefield was thought to be exceptional.

The last allied troops to leave Polotzk were Swiss, and they had to cross the river in barges. The wounded and sick in the Jesuit Monastery were abandoned to the Russians. Losses in the three day battle were 9,000 for the allies (including 2,000 captured) and 12,000 for the Russians, whose infantry had suffered terribly from close range artillery as they repeatedly assaulted the town.

But while Russian losses could be replaced with increasing ease, the allies just dwindled away. On 23 October, Saint-Cyr (who had been wounded in the foot on 18 October) felt himself &lsquono longer able to exercise command of the army&rsquo and handed over to General Count Claude-Juste-Alexandre Legrand, previously commander of the 6th Division. His chief of staff, Colonel Laurencez, sent a message to inform General von Wrede:

As Marshal Saint-Cyr can no longer exercise active command, he has delegated this to General Legrand. I already had the honour to inform Your Excellency of this, but it seems that the despatch did not arrive. The marshal requests you to consider yourself as reporting to General Legrand in all service respects, and to send the 7e Cuirassier-Regiment back to him tomorrow.

This must have been the last straw for Wrede. To be asked to place himself (and what little remained of the once-proud Bavarian army) under the command of a junior general was a calculated insult. He ignored the letter and took his own route out of Russia.

The subsequent retreat of VI Corps went through Kublitschi to Puichna, then westwards to Dogschitzi, which was reached on 27 October. Wittgenstein now abandoned the chase of the Bavarians to follow the remnants of Legrand&rsquos II Corps south east through Lepel and Tscheria, towards the Beresina.

There was to be one more misfortune to befall the hapless Bavarians. As the battalions were now so weak, all twenty-two regimental colours were packed into a treasury wagon and sent back to Uschatz with the artillery convoy. Unhappily, this convoy fell into Russian hands on 25 October.

So the conflicts on the northern flank ended.

Wrede led the VI Corps to join up with Marshal Ney on the River Niemen in mid-December.

Swiss Lieutenant-Colonel in 9th Division, II Corps.

There were no medical staff, no medicines, no bandages.

Malojaroslawetz, 24 October. Eugen&rsquos IV Corps spearheaded Napoleon&rsquos attempt to break through to the unspoiled country of the Ukraine in which to retreat to the west. His opponent was Dochtorov&rsquos VI Corps. French losses were 6,000 the Russians lost 8,000, but Napoleon gave up his thrust to the south and turned back onto his ruined advance route through Smolensk. This is a Blackwood map.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Laurent, Marquis de Gouvion Saint Cyr

​ GOUVION SAINT CYR, Laurent, Marquis de (1764- 1830), a French marshal, was born at Toul, 13th April 1764. At the age of eighteen he went to Rome with the view of prosecuting the study of painting, but, although he continued his artistic studies after his return to Paris in 1784, he never definitely adopted the profession of a painter. In 1792 he was chosen a captain in the chasseurs repiilli- cains, and served on the staff of General Custine. His pro motion rapidly followed, and in the course of two years he had become a general of division. In 1796 he commanded the centre division of Moreau s army in the campaign of the Rhine, and by coolness and sagacity greatly aided him in his brilliant defence against superior numbers, and in his subsequent celebrated retreat. In 1798 he was appointed to the command of the army of Italy, the officers of which had revolted against their general Massena, and he was speedily successful in obtaining the complete re- establishment of discipline. In the following year he com manded the left wing of Jourdan s army in Germany but when Jourdan was succeeded by Massena, he joined the army of Moreau in Italy, where, in face of great difficulties, he was not only completely successful in his defensive tactics, but gained, on the 13th December, an important victory at Albano. When Moreau, in 1800, was appointed to the command of the army of the Rhine, Gouvion St Cyr was named his first lieutenant, and on the 9th May gained a victory over General Krayat Biberach. In 1801 he was sent to Spain to command the army intended for the inva sion of Portugal, and was named grand officer of the legion of honour. When a treaty of peace was shortly afterwards concluded with Portugal, he succeeded Lucien Bonaparte as ambassador at Madrid. In 1803 he was appointed to the command of an army corps in Italy, and he gained in 1805 a victory over the Austrians at Castel Franco. He took | part in the Prussian and Polish campaigns of 1807, and in 1808 he commanded an army corps with some success in Catalonia but, not wishing to comply with certain orders he received from Paris, he resigned his command, and remained in disgrace till 1811. On the opening of the Russian campaign he received command of the 6th army corps, and on the 7th August 1812 obtained a victory over the Russians at Polosk, in recognition of which he was created a marshal of France. He distinguished himself at the battle of Dresden, 26th and 27th August 1813, but, after a stubborn resistance, capitulated there to the allies on the llth November following, and remained for some time a prisoner in Hungary. On the restoration of the Bourbons he was created a peer of France, and in July 1815 was appointed war minister, but resigned his office in the November following. In June 1817 he was appointed minister of marine, and in September following again re ​ sumed the duties of war minister, which he continued to discharge till November 1819. He died 17th March 1830. Gouviou St Cyr was a prudent and cautious rather than a brilliant general, but he would doubtless have obtained better opportunities of acquiring distinction had he shown himself more blindly devoted to the interests of Napoleon.

He is the author of the following works : Journal dcs operations de I armee do Catalogue en 1808 e^ 1809, Paris, 1821 Memoircs stir les Campagnes dcs annees de lihin et de JKhin-et-Mosclle de 1794 a 1797, Paris, 1829 and Memoircs pour servir a I histoiie militaire sous le Dircdoire, le Consnlat, et V Empire, 1831. See Gay de Vernon s Vic de Gotivion Saint-Cyr, 1857.



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