Wednesday, 29 April 2015

29 April: Jean-Baptiste Jourdan (1762-1833)

Jourdan as a lieutenant-colonel of the 2nd battalion of Haute-Vienne, portrait by Horace Vernet, now hanging in the 1792 room of the Château de Versailles
Jourdan (Jean-Baptiste), Marshal of France, born in Limoges on 29 Avril 1762, enlisted in the Auxerrois regiment in 1778 and fought in the American war. After the peace treaty, he came back to France. In 1790, he was the captain of the chasseurs of the Limoges National Guard; in 1791, he was appointed as commander of the 2nd battalion of the volunteers of the Haute-Vienne, which he led to the Army of the North; he fought in Belgium under Dumouriez and distinguished himself in many occasions, especially around Namur, during the army’s retreat. On 27 May 1793, he was made a brigade general, and on 30 July of the same year, he became a divisional general. He led the battle corps at Honschoote and was wounded as he stormed the enemy positions at the head of his troops. Two days earlier, he had taken Hout-Kerke, Herzeele, Bambeke and Rexproede. On 26 September, he took over command of the army from Houchard. On 17 October, he won the battle of Wattignies, a fierce 48-hour fight, and forced Prince Coburg to lift the blockade of Maubeuge. The Committee of Public Safety then summoned Jourdan to Paris in order to confer with him about future operations. The Committee was inebriated with its successes and wanted to take the offensive. Jourdan retorted that the army was made up of fresh levies, most of whom had neither weapons nor uniforms, and that is was better to spend the winter in defensive positions, so as to be able to attack in Spring. His plans were adopted; however, his resistance was not forgotten, and as soon as the troops were ready to march, Pichegru came to replace him. The Committee of Public Safety had even issued a decree ordering General Jourdan’s destitution and arrest; but Representatives of the People sent to the army took his defence, and Barère suggested that the Committee merely send him into retirement. However, he was soon re-employed, and he obtained command of the Army of the Moselle. He opened the 1794 campaign with the battle of Arlon, where 16,000 Austrians were completely defeate. He then received orders to cross the Ardennes and to reunite with the right wing of the Army of the North in Charleroi, along with 40,000 men; he carried out this move successfully. The troops placed under Jourdan’s orders were henceforth known as the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse. This army crossed the Sambre, was victorious in Fleurus on 8 Messidor (26 June), at Ourthe and Aiwaille on 18 September, and on the Roër on 2 October. It defeated the enemy in a multitude of fights, reconquered Landrecies, Lequesnoy, Valenciennes and Condé, took Charleroi, Namur, Juliers and Maästricht and planted its flats along the Rhine, from Cleves to Coblenz. Thus, in a single campaign France conquered the plentiful land around the Rhine, which it retained for twenty years and lost only after the disasters of 1814. In 1795, Jourdan took possession of the fortress of Luxemburg, which surrendered to him. In September, he forced his way across the Rhine, through a corps of 20,000 Austrians, and captured Dusseldorf. Clairfayt’s army, gathering on the Lahn, did not dare take the chance of a battle, and withdrew beyond the Mein. Jourdan chased it and took position between Mayence and Hochst, which was crossed by the neutrality line agreed upon with Prussia. Pichegru, who had crossed the Rhine in Manheim, and who should have advanced with the main body of his army, as the government ordered, to cut Clairfayt’s retreat and join the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse, merely sent 10,000 men to Heidelberg; they were completely defeated a few days later. Secure in the immobility of Pichegru, who was in contact with the émigrés, Clairfayt pulled reinforcements from the Austrian army of the Upper Rhine, crossed the neutrality line above Frankfurt, and manoeuvred to trap the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse between the Lahn, the Mein and the Rhine. Such are the causes of General Jourdan’s retreat. The government wrote to him on that subject: “Yes, General, we are pleased to give you the justice you deserve; we approve the retreat you ordered, and we are convinced that it was indispensable. We praised you when you led the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse to victory; we congratulate you on having saved it from almost certain doom.” Soon afterwards, General Clairfayt broke through the lines of Mayence, and Jourdan marched to save the Army of Rhin-et-Moselle. After a short but brilliant campaign in Hundsruck, he agreed on an armistice, and the war only resumed on the next spring, by which point he crossed the Rhine again, forced General Wartensleben to retreat, took Frankfurt and Wurtzburg, and reached the outskirts of Ratisbon. But after an attack by Archduke Charles, who was backing off before Moreau and came to save Wartensleben with 40,000 men, he had to withdraw on the Rhine. In 1818, Jourdan published a book titled: Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la campagne de 1796, in which he demonstrates that his retreat was caused by the government’s misdirection of the two armies, and by Moreau’s decision to go for an easy victory on the Lech instead of chasing Archduke Charles. Having resigned from his command, Jourdan was appointed to the Council of the Five Hundred in March 1797 by the department of Haute-Vienne. He was elected president on 23 September and secretary on 21 January 1798. On 24 September of this year, he was re-elected to the presidency and resigned on 14 October, announcing that the Directory destined him to a military command. During his legislative term, he often took part in discussions, wrote various reports, proposed and obtained the vote of the law on conscription. The Directory—which had turned the whole of Europe against it with its exaggerated pretensions in Rastadt and its Italian and Swiss endeavours—not only neglected to levy armies capable of weathering the storm, it also engaged hostilities before all its offensive means were gathered on the points it wanted to attack; so that the Army of the Danube, led by General Jourdan, only numbered 38,000 men when it crossed the Rhine on the 1st of March 1799 and entered Swabia. Jourdan soon found himself facing Archduke Charles, who had more than 65,000 men under his orders. The hostilities began on 20 March; on the next day, three French divisions sustained a stubborn fight in Ostrach, only giving ground after causing considerable losses for the enemy. Jourdan, being convinced that he would compromise his army if he persisted in fighting against such superior forces, decided to march closer to the Rhine, hoping to receive the relief he needed in order to resume the attack. He retreated in good order and the Archduke pursued him without energy. On the 24th, seeing that the prince had badly disposed his troops around Stockach, he hoped that this situation would compensate for the gap in numbers between his adversary and him, and he decided to try his fate once again. Thus he attacked the Archduke on the next day, at Liebtingen, took 4,000 prisoners and two cannons, slept on the battlefield and spent the next day there. However, the advantage gained was not as great as Jourdan had hoped, and he kept retreating towards the Black Forest. on 10 April, he was replaced with Masséna. He was re-elected to the Council of the Five Hundred in May 1799. The government’s incompetence being the cause of the armies’ setbacks, Jourdan offered to proclaim a state of emergency, hoping to put through appropriate measures for pulling France out of her deplorable situation. But he failed. On 18 Brumaire, he did not rally to General Bonaparte’s banner, fearing that protecting the nation from anarchy would mean taking its liberty away. He was excluded from the Corps Législatif and temporarily condemned to detention in the department of Charente-Inférieure. On 24 July 1800, he was appointed minister extraordinary, then administrator of Piedmont. He eradicated brigands, restored financial order and enforced the rule of law in this country. In 1802, he was called on to sit at the Council of State. In January 1803, he was chosen as a candidate for the Senate by the electoral college of Haute-Vienne, then he was called upon to command the Army of Italy. On 19 May 1804, he was made a Marshal of the Empire and grand-cordon of the Legion of Honour. In June 1805, he received the cross of Saint-Hubert of Bavaria and led manoeuvres of the Castiglione camp during Napoleon’s crowning as King of Italy. Following his replacement by Masséna just as the war broke out, he complained bitterly to the Emperor, who replied the following: “My cousin, I received your letter of 5 Vendémiaire; my pain equals yours. It is impossible to be more satisfied than I was of your conduct, and to have a better opinion than mine on your talents. If I sent Masséna to Italy, it was due to my inner conviction that in such a hazardous war, so far removed from governmental relief, I needed a man with a more robust health than yours, and with thorough knowledge of the area. Things are moving so quickly around us that it took these exceptional circumstances to silence all personal considerations. The man I sent in Italy had to be the man who knows it best. From Genoa to the Adige, there is no position that Masséna does not know. If a move forwards is required, he is further advantaged, for he has equally thorough knowledge of these rustic lands of which even Vienna has no maps. My dear Marshal, I can imagine that you must be hurt; I know that I truly wrong you, but you must remain persuaded that it was against my will. In less urgent circumstances, you would have had the winter to familiarise yourself with the area, and my trust in your talents and experience would have reassured me. But you know the Rhine; it was there that you won your battles. The campaign has started today; but within 15 or 20 days, events will require new formations, and I will have an opportunity to send you to this theatre which you know best, where you will be able to use your competences to the fullest. I want your answer to tell me that you are satisfied with this explanation, and that you do not doubt my good feelings for you.” In 1806, Jourdan was sent to Naples as the governor of this town; and in 1808, he went over to Spain as major-general under King Joseph, whom he followed constantly as an advisor. As his vexations and disgust grew, he requested his recall, which he obtained late in 1809. On that subject, General Clarke, the Minister of War, wrote to him: “I presented the Emperor with your request to go back to France; if he grants it, I will keenly miss the frankness, exactitude and skill of your correspondence. I fear that in our dire circumstances, there is no one who can replace Your Excellency.” Jourdan was living with his family when the Emperor, readying himself to wage war on Russia, ordered him to go back to Spain and return to his previous position. The retreat from Madrid and the battle of Vittoria (21 June 1813) took place during this second period. Marshal Jourdan was often blamed for the defeat on that day; but he was not in command on that day, and his advice was often contradicted. Moreover, we know that in his frequent reports to the government, he had predicted the setbacks it was not in his power to prevent, and he had circumscribed their causes. After the battle of Vittoria, he came back to France and remained idle until the next year, where he was appointed governor of the 15th military division. On 3 April 1814, from Rouen, he sent his adhesion to the provisional government. On 2 June, he was made a knight of St Louis. After the 20th of March 1815, he retired to his country house. Napoleon summoned him to the Chamber of Peers and sent him to Besançon, as the governor of this fortress and the corresponding military division. He presided the court martial that was to try Marshal Ney and declared itself incompetent. In 1816, the King of Sardinia gave him his portrait, lined with diamonds, as a reminder of his administration of Piedmont in 1800. He was made the governor of the 7th military division in 1817, and on the next year, the King summoned him to the Chamber of Peers.
[Jourdan was very briefly involved in the first government of the July Monarchy. I’ll let Benoît Yvert’s Dictionnaire des Ministres speak for me next: “One of the most illustrious swords that Louis-Philippe used from time to time to enhance the prestige of his newborn monarchy. Unfortunately, the victor of Fleurus had lost the sacred fire of his youth. Being ignorant of the habits and customs of the diplomatic corps, in poor health and legendarily ugly, he was hardly the right man for Louis-Philippe’s Foreign Ministry on the morrow of the revolution of 1830. On his request, Louis-Philippe made him the governor of the Invalides on 11 August 1830, and he held this position until his death.” He fell victim to the second cholera pandemic that also claimed Casimir Perier, Charles X and Gneisenau, among others.]

No comments:

Post a Comment