Monday, 22 February 2016

22 February: Claude Jacques Lecourbe (1759-1815)

General Lecourbe, as depicted in the 1792 Room.

Lecourbe (Count), lieutenant-general, Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honour, Knight of Saint Louis, was born in Lons-le-Saulnier (Jura) in 1760 [give or take one year, as seen above...]. His father, a former infantry officer, prepared him for a military career. Young Lecourbe enlisted, and after eight years of service in the Aquitaine regiment, he came back to live with his family, and was still with them by the time of the organisation of the National Guards. Chosen to command those of Lons-le-Saulnier, he was soon put at the head of the Jura battalion, which he took to the Army of the Rhine. His zeal, his intelligence and his courage soon drew his chiefs’ attention, and he constantly deserved their benevolence in the various armies of the Rhine, of the North and of Sambre-et-Meuse. He was a brigade general at Fleurus, where, with only three battalions, he sustained the fire of 18,000 Austrians for seven and a half hours. He displayed the same qualities within the army of Rhin-et-Moselle, in 1796, and contributed much to the success of the battles of Rastadt. Leading the right wing of the Army of Helvetia in 1799, he surprised his brothers-in-arms and the enemies themselves with his skilful manoeuvres. At Frunsteromender, he took 3,000 Austrian prisoners and routed the rest completely. He valiantly seconded Masséna against the Russians. First repelled by General Suvorov’s large forces, he did not lose heart, and he helped Masséna repel this general, inflicting heavy losses. Soon afterwards, he showed another kind of courage. The unpaid troops in Zurich mutinied; he marched into the dissenters’ crowd, ordered them to disband, and cut down two of the rebels who refused to obey. In 1800, General Moreau took him as one of his commanders. At the beginning of the campaign, Lecourbe took command of the right wing of the Army of the Rhine, and first crossed this river between Stein and Schaffouse. He crossed the Lech on 4 June and singled himself out at the battle of Hochstedt, which resulted in the fall of Feldkirch, Coire and the Grisons. He retired when peace was concluded. General Moreau’s trial took place during this time of inactivity. Bound to this general by gratitude and friendship, Lecourbe supported him in this instance, taking Mme Moreau to the audiences, intently watching the debates and sometimes expressing his discontent by making violent gestures in the courthouse. This conduct was generally looked down upon, leading to even more unwise measures from the authorities. Not only was General Lecourbe dismissed from the army, he was also exiled. Upon the First Restoration of 1814, the king restored his ranks, titles and honours, made him inspector-general of the infantry, knight of Saint-Louis, and gave him the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honour. During the Hundred Days, in 1815, heeding only the call of the homeland, and being more faithful to her than his friend had been on the previous year when he offered his advice to foreign armies, General Lecourbe took command of a small makeshift army in Belfort and defend the surroundings of this fortress with as much talent as boldness. He still occupied that command in October, when he died of urine retention. He was widely mourned.

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