Jean-Baptiste Bessières

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Jean-Baptiste Bessières
Jean-Baptiste Bessieres.jpg
Born(1768-08-06)6 August 1768
Prayssac, France
Died1 May 1813(1813-05-01) (aged 44)
Weißenfels, Saxony-Anhalt
Allegiance Flag of France.svg First French Empire 1804-1813
Flag of France.svg French First Republic 1792-1804
Flag of France 1790-1794.PNG Kingdom of France 1791-1792
Service/branch Grande Armée
Army of the Pyrenees
Army of the Moselle
Years of service1791–1813
Rank General of Division
Battles/wars French Revolutionary Wars,
Napoleonic Wars
Awards Marshal of France,
Légion d'honneur (Grand Eagle),
Order of the Iron Crown (Commander),
Name inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe,
Order of the Crown (Württemberg) (Knight),
Duke of Istria,
Military Order of St. Henry (Grand Cross),
Order of Christ (Portugal) (Knight)
Relations Bertrand Bessières (brother),
Julien Bessières (cousin)

Jean-Baptiste Bessières, 1st Duc d' Istria (6 August 1768 1 May 1813) was a Marshal of the Empire of the Napoleonic Era. His younger brother, Bertrand, followed in his footsteps and eventually became a divisional general. Their cousin, Géraud-Pierre-Henri-Julien, also served Napoleon I as a diplomat and Imperial official.

Istria Peninsula on the Adriatic Sea

Istria, formerly Histria (Latin), Ίστρια, is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. The peninsula is located at the head of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Kvarner Gulf. It is shared by three countries: Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. Croatia encapsulates most of the Istrian peninsula with its Istria County.

Marshal of the Empire military rank

Marshal of the Empire was a civil dignity during the First French Empire. It was created by Sénatus-consulte on 18 May 1804 and to a large extent resurrected the formerly abolished title of Marshal of France. According to the Sénatus-consulte, a Marshal was a grand officer of the Empire, entitled to a high-standing position at the Court and to the presidency of an electoral college.

Bertrand Bessières French general

Bertrand Bessières, 1st Baron Bessières, was a French general of the Napoleonic Wars. He was the younger brother of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières.

Contents

Biography

Bessières was born in Prayssac near Cahors in southern France. He served for a short time in the Constitutional Guard of Louis XVI and as a non-commissioned officer took part in the war against Spain. [1]

Prayssac Commune in Occitanie, France

Prayssac is a commune in the Lot department in south-western France.

Cahors Prefecture and commune in Occitanie, France

Cahors is the capital of the Lot department in south-western France.

When the National Constituent Assembly dissolved itself on 3 September 1791, it decreed as a final measure that King Louis XVI should have a Constitutional Guard, also known as the garde Brissac after its commander Louis Hercule Timolon de Cossé, duc de Brissac. This guard's formation was the only court reform to be put into effect, but it only lasted a few months, being superseded by the National Guard.

In the Army of the Eastern Pyrenees and in the Army of the Moselle he repeatedly distinguished himself for valour, and in 1796, as captain, he served in Napoleon Bonaparte's Italian campaign. At Rovereto his conduct brought him to his chief's notice, and after the Battle of Rivoli he was sent to France to deliver the captured colours to the Directory. Hastening back to the front, he accompanied Napoleon in the invasion of Styria in command of the Guides, who formed the nucleus of the later Consular and Imperial Guards. [1]

Army of the Eastern Pyrenees

The Army of the Eastern Pyrenees was one of the French Revolutionary armies. It fought against the Kingdom of Spain in Rousillon, the Cerdanya and Catalonia during the War of the Pyrenees. This army and the Army of the Western Pyrenees were formed by splitting the original Army of the Pyrenees at the end of April 1793 soon after the war started. Shortly after the Peace of Basel on 22 July 1795, the fighting ended and the army was dissolved on 12 October that same year. Many of its units and generals were transferred to join the Army of Italy and fought under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796.

The Army of the Moselle was a French Revolutionary Army from 1791 through 1795. It was first known as the Army of the Centre and it fought at Valmy. In October 1792 it was renamed and subsequently fought at Trier, First Arlon, Biesingen, Kaiserslautern, Froeschwiller and Second Wissembourg. In the spring of 1794 the left wing was detached and fought at Second Arlon, Lambusart and Fleurus before being absorbed by the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse. In late 1794, the army captured Trier and initiated the Siege of Luxembourg. During the siege, the army was discontinued and its divisions were assigned to other armies.

Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars Napoleonic conflict

The Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802) were a series of conflicts fought principally in Northern Italy between the French Revolutionary Army and a Coalition of Austria, Russia, Piedmont-Sardinia, and a number of other Italian states.

As a chef de brigade he next served in the Egyptian expedition, and won further distinction at Acre and Aboukir. [1]

Chef de brigade was a military rank, equivalent to colonel, in the French Revolutionary army, in command of a demi-brigade. Both that unit and that rank were created at the same time, in 1793. The two designations disappeared just before the institution of the French Empire, in 1803, with the old designations restored.

Siege of Acre (1799) unsuccessful French siege of the Ottoman-defended, walled city of Acre (1799)

The Siege of Acre of 1799 was an unsuccessful French siege of the Ottoman-defended, walled city of Acre and was the turning point of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and Syria. It was Napoleon`s first strategic defeat as three years previously he had been tactically defeated at the Second Battle of Bassano.

Battle of the Nile Naval battle between Britain and France

The Battle of the Nile was a major naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the Navy of the French Republic at Aboukir Bay on the Mediterranean coast off the Nile Delta of Egypt from the 1st to the 3rd of August 1798. The battle was the climax of a naval campaign that had raged across the Mediterranean during the previous three months, as a large French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria carrying an expeditionary force under General Napoleon Bonaparte. The British fleet was led in the battle by Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson; they decisively defeated the French under Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers.

Returning to Europe with Napoleon, he was present at Marengo (1800) as second-in-command of the Consular Guard. General Jean Lannes, commanding a corps at Marengo, felt he didn't support his faltering troops sufficiently and a long running feud arose between them. At the close of the battle, Bessières led a successful cavalry charge with the Guard Cavalry though its effect on the battle was not as decisive as Napoleon pretended. [1] It was General François Étienne de Kellermann´s cavalry charge that won the battle for Marengo but Napoleon gave the credit largely to his own Guard Cavalry.

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Asia to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

Battle of Marengo 1800 battle between French and Austrian forces

The Battle of Marengo was fought on 14 June 1800 between French forces under Napoleon Bonaparte and Austrian forces near the city of Alessandria, in Piedmont, Italy. Near the end of the day, the French overcame Gen. Michael von Melas's surprise attack, driving the Austrians out of Italy and consolidating Napoleon's political position in Paris as First Consul of France in the wake of his coup d’état the previous November.

Jean Lannes Marshall Of France

Jean Lannes, 1st Duc de Montebello, Prince de Siewierz, was a Marshal of the Empire. He was one of Napoleon's most daring and talented generals. Napoleon once commented on Lannes: "I found him a pygmy and left him a giant". A personal friend of the emperor, he was allowed to address him with the familiar "tu", as opposed to the formal "vous".

Promoted to general of division in 1802, he was subsequently promoted to Marshal of France in 1804, a wholly undeserved distinction based on his loyalty and friendship with Napoleon. [1] Auguste de Marmont, a future Marshal, said that if Bessières can be made a Marshal, then everyone can be one. He was also made colonel-general of the Guard Cavalry and would command them in all future campaigns where he proved a very able cavalry commander.

Auguste de Marmont French General, nobleman and Marshal of France

Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont was a French general and nobleman who rose to the rank of Marshal of France and was awarded the title Duke of Ragusa.

In 1805 he received the Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honour, and in 1809 was entitled Duke of Istria, or duc d'Istrie. It was a duché grand-fief, a rare, nominal, but hereditary honor (extinguished in 1856) in Napoleon's own Kingdom of Italy. [1]

With the outbreak of the Peninsular War, Marshal Bessières had his first opportunity of an independent command. He did well against the Spaniards, scoring a crushing victory in the Battle of Medina del Rio Seco (1808), [1] but proved slow and hesitant in command of a large all-arms force. Bessières was thus soon recalled to lead the Guard Cavalry during Napoleon´s invasion of Spain, a task more befitting his talents.

As war erupted in 1809 against Austria, he was again with the Grande Armée in the Danube valley as a cavalry leader, a position in which he excelled. At Essling, he led the cavalry in the centre and did a fine job holding it against superior numbers, [1] but once again fell foul of Marshal Lannes. Lannes again felt that Bessières was not providing sufficient support to his faltering troops and ordered him to charge home instead of malingering. Bessières then challenged Lannes to a duel. Marshal André Massena intervened and prevented the duel between two marshals in front of their troops.

At the subsequent Battle of Wagram, Bessières once again led the cavalry reserve and had a horse killed under him which caused consternation amongst the Guard. [1] Napoleon congratulated him on making his Guard cry but also chided him for not netting more prisoners because he lost his horse.

Replacing Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte in the command of the Army of the North a little later in the same year, the newly created Duke of Istria successfully opposed the British Walcheren expedition. In 1811, he was sent back to Spain again to lead the Army of the North. [1] He mostly fought counter-insurgency operations and proved a difficult and touchy colleague to his fellow army commanders, especially Marshal Masséna who was in dire need of support after his failed invasion of Portugal in 1810-1811. He was recalled in some disgrace and once again reverted to his habitual Guard Cavalry post.

For the Russian campaign in 1812, he commanded the enlarged Guard Cavalry. Hardly engaged at the Battle of Borodino, he destroyed his reputation with the rest of the army when he advised Napoleon not to use his Guard for a decisive breakthrough. Although this left the Imperial Guard intact for future battles, it prevented a decisive victory which might have successfully ended the Russian campaign.

With Joachim Murat back in Naples at the beginning of the 1813 campaign, Bessières was appointed to the command of the whole of Napoleon's cavalry.

Death

Three days after the opening of the campaign, while reconnoitering the defile of Poserna-Rippach, Bessières was killed by a cannonball which ricocheted off a wall and hit him in the chest. [1] He died instantly. Napoleon deeply felt the loss of one of his truest friends while the remaining Marshals considered it a good death for a soldier.

After his death, Bessières was found to be heavily in debt after spending his fortune on his mistress. Napoleon oversaw his inheritance, settled most of his debts, and looked out for the future of his children. His eldest son Napoléon Bessières was made a member of the Chamber of Peers by Louis XVIII. [1]

Legacy

As a commander, Bessières proved out of his depth when leading armies. His background as the commander of Napoleon's headquarters Guard, the Guides of the Army of Italy, deprived him of the wide experience more deserving Marshals had earned before assuming high command. Like Murat, he was however an excellent cavalry commander and he also proved an able administrator of the Guard. His few attempts at independent command were not a success however and Napoleon thereafter preferred using Bessières as a leader of cavalry.

Bessières was not of high birth but he adopted the manners and looks of a gentleman as befitting Napoleon's closest Guard commander. He typically wore the uniform of Napoleon´s old Guides of the Army of Italy with Marshal´s distinctions and wore his hair long with white powder in Ancien Régime style, even when the latter went out of fashion. He was known to be well mannered and kind and generous to subordinates but very touchy about his privileges and position.

Notes

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References