August 09, 2016

Some French generals mentioned in Doyle's Brigadier Gerard stories

André Masséna, 1st Duc de Rivoli, 1st Prince d'Essling (Wikipedia)

Massena was a thin, sour little fellow, and after his hunting accident he had only one eye, but when it looked out from under his cocked hat there was not much upon a field of battle which escaped it. He could stand in front of a battalion, and with a single sweep tell you if a buckle or a gaiter button were out of place. Neither the officers nor the men were very fond of him, for he was, as you know, a miser, and soldiers love that their leaders should be free-handed. At the same time, when it came to work they had a very high respect for him, and they would rather fight under him than under anyone except the Emperor himself, and Lannes [see below], when he was alive.  - Gerard

  • Napoleon said:  "The greatest name of my military Empire."
  • Nickname:  l'Enfant chéri de la Victoire ("the Dear Child of Victory")
  • Where he came from:  Many of Napoleon's generals were trained at the finest French and European military academies, but Masséna was among those who achieved greatness without benefit of formal education...  At the age of thirteen, Masséna became a cabin boy aboard a merchant ship; while aboard he sailed in the Mediterranean Sea and on two extended voyages to French Guiana. In 1775, after four years at sea, he returned to Nice and enlisted in the French Army as a private in the Royal Italian regiment. By the time he left in 1789, he had risen to the rank of warrant officer, the top rank achievable by non-noblemen. 
  • That time when:  He fell from his horse at Wagram, injuring his foot, and commanded instead from a phaeton carriage:

"Tell them to shoot more that way."

  • Fun fact:  Maseena, New York and Maseena, Iowa are named after him.
  • Died:  Died in Paris in 1817, natural causes.

Jean Lannes, 1st Duc de Montebello, 1st Prince de Siewierz (Wikipedia)

  • Napoleon said:  "I found him a pygmy and left him a giant."
  • Where he came from:  He had little education, but his great strength and proficiency in all manly sports caused him in 1792 to be elected sergeant-major of the battalion of volunteers of Gers, which he had joined on the breaking out of war between Spain and the French republic. He served through the campaigns in the Pyrenees in 1793 and 1794, and rose by distinguished conduct to the rank of chef de brigade. However, in 1795, on the reform of the army introduced by the Thermidorians, he was dismissed from his rank...  He re-enlisted as a simple volunteer in the French Armée d'Italie, and in its campaign of 1796, he again fought his way up to high rank, being eventually made a general of brigade by orders of Bonaparte. 
  • That time when:  Outnumbered and outgunned, he held off the Austrians at Marengo - "Lannes, at the head of his four demi-brigades, was two hours in retiring three quarters of a league.  When the enemy approached and became too pressing, he halted and charged with the bayonet."
  • No really:  Aide - "Sir, the enemy is becoming too pressing."  Lannes - "BAYONETS!"
  • Representative victory:  His victory over the Prussians at Saalfeld is still studied  at the French Staff College.
  • Died:  1809 at Aspern-Essling, Bonaparte's first military defeat in over a decade, after which the Emperor wrote to Mme. Lannes:  The Marshal died this morning of wounds received on the field of honour.  My sorrow is as deep as yours.  I lose the most distinguished general in my armies, my comrade in arms during sixteen years, he whom I considered my best friend.

Jean-de-Dieu Soult, 1st Duke of Dalmatia  (Wikipedia)   

If Soult were here with thirty thousand men— but he will not come.  - Gerard

  • Napoleon said:  "Just because you have all been beaten by Wellington, you think he's a good general."
  • Nickname: "King Nicolas" for his intrigues in Portugal
  • Where he came from:  Well-educated, Soult originally intended to become a lawyer, but his father's death when he was still a boy made it necessary for him to seek employment, and in 1785 he enlisted as a private in the French infantry.
  • That time when:  He brilliantly evaded Wellington's pursuing army in the Peninsular campaign.  Twenty years later, at Queen Victoria's coronation, Wellington grabbed his arm and said:  "I have you at last."
  • Died:  At his castle in 1834, natural causes.

Jean Rapp  (Wikipedia)   

  • Nickname:  "Piece of Fine Lace" on account of his many wounds (final count:  22).
  • Where he came from:  Rapp was born the son of the janitor of the town-hall of Colmar. He began theological studies to become a clergyman, but with his build and heated character, he was better suited to the military, which he joined in March 1788. From the rank of a regular of the chasseurs de Cévennes, he worked his way up the ranks through his courage and character to the rank of a division general and adjutant of Napoleon Bonaparte. 
  • That time when:  He captured Prince Repnin-Volkonsky at Austerliz and presented him to Napoleon (now THIS is a painting)
  • Died:  In Baden in 1821, natural causes.


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