Jean Nicolas Houchard

Last updated

Jean Nicolas Houchard
Jean Nicolas Houchard.png
General Houchard
Born24 January 1739 (1739-01-24)
Forbach, France
Died17 November 1793 (1793-11-18) (aged 54)
Paris, France
AllegianceRoyal Standard of the King of France.svg  Kingdom of France
Flag of France (1790-1794).svg  Kingdom of the French
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  French First Republic
Years of service1755–1793
Rank General-in-Chief
Commands held Army of the Rhine
Battles/wars French conquest of Corsica
French Revolutionary Wars
Awards Name inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe

Jean Nicolas Houchard (24 January 1739, Forbach, Moselle – 17 November 1793) was a French General of the French Revolution and the French Revolutionary Wars.



Born at Forbach in Lorraine, Houchard began his military career at the age of sixteen in the Régiment de Royal-Allemand cavalerie. He became a captain in the Bourbon-Dragons regiment in Corsica and took part in the Battle of Ponte Novu against rioters led by Pasquale Paoli, receiving a deep sabre cut across his cheek and a gunshot wound to his mouth which left him disfigured.

Houchard was a fervent patriot (supporter of the French Revolution). Phipps describes Houchard as "Brave & stupid... Tall, brave, a proved 'patriot'". [1] In 1792, he was colonel of a regiment of Chasseurs-à-cheval in the army of General Custine. On 11 April 1793 Houchard was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Moselle and when Custine was guillotined, Houchard replaced him in August as Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the North.


Custine prophesied that the command of an army would be "an evil present" to him. Houchard himself was fully aware that it could be a fatal command, and his confidence was thus shaken "is there any more cruel position than this?” he wrote [2] At the head of the army he became dejected, and let the Representatives have a free hand, [3] over-riding his bold plan. [4] At Hondschoote he failed to exert control over any except Jourdan's column, and spread his forces twice when concentration on Walmoden's left would have given decisive victory. [5] He was "In his element" leading the charge of a cavalry regiment. [6] After Hondschoote he failed to organise an effective pursuit, "cowed" by the minor check at Rexpoede. [7] Then he was denounced as incapable, not without reason. [8] "The army, which knew his faults, knew also his gallantry and his patriotism...”. [9] In December 1792 Custine "had not enough knowledge of war and he owed much to the advice of his lieutenant, Houchard, who was a bold and capable head of an advanced guard". [10] His appointment to command the 'Moselle' was "probably done to please Custine; he, however, considered it was a harmful present to Houchard, who, he feared, would fail in the command on an army. Custine certainly could judge men, and he was right in this case, for all who knew the worthy old Houchard considered him as lost when given a charge so much beyond his powers". [11]

Custine stated – “'The conduct of two armies is beyond Houchard’s power, and the conduct of one army would be above his power if he were not guided'. Unfortunately this was published, and Houchard, whilst not asking to be given any command beyond that of the 'Moselle', felt the slur the more that undoubtably his advice had been of use to the General that now denied his fitness to command at all". [12] "The conviction that 'the soldier is good' permeated so much of the discussion of victory and defeat that it rose to the level of dogma… 'I say to you with the truthfulness of a true republican,… the soldiers are good, but the cowardice and crass ignorance of the officer has taught them cowardice.' This characteristic criticism came from the pen of General Houchard, soon to suffer death for his own failures". [13] "There was nothing aristocratic about Houchard. He rose from the ranks as an officer of fortune, reaching the rank of captain in 1779, after twenty-four years of service. When war broke out in 1792, Captain Houchard climbed the ladder of promotion rapidly and followed Custine as chief of the Nord on 1 August. Unfortunately, Houchard soon revealed himself to be a man of limited capacity… Houchard paid for failure with his life… he went to the scaffold in November not for treachery but for incompetence. By his arrest and execution the Convention made it clear that it demanded ability as well as loyalty from its officers". [14]

Trial and execution

He was the main protagonist of the French victories at the battle of Hondschoote against British forces under the Duke of York and at the battle of Menin against Dutch forces under the Prince of Orange. Despite the French victories, Houchard was censured for failing to pursue the enemy and he was arrested at Lille on 24 September 1793. When accused of cowardice by the Revolutionary Tribunal, Houchard replied "Read my answer!", while tearing his shirt off and showing his many battle wounds. Houchard returned to his seat and kept repeating to himself: "The bastard! He called me coward... he called me coward!". However, the tribunal found him guilty, and Houchard was guillotined in Paris on 17 November 1793 (26 Brumaire, Year II). [15]

Related Research Articles

Battle of Hondschoote battle

The Battle of Hondschoote took place during the Flanders Campaign of the Campaign of 1793 in the French Revolutionary Wars. It was fought during operations surrounding the Siege of Dunkirk between 6 and 8 September 1793 at Hondschoote, Nord, France, and resulted in a French victory under General Jean Nicolas Houchard and General Jean-Baptiste Jourdan against the command of Marshal Freytag, part of the Anglo-Hanoverian corps of the Duke of York.

Battle of Wattignies battle

The Battle of Wattignies saw a Republican French army commanded by Jean-Baptiste Jourdan attack a Coalition army directed by Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. After two days of combat Jourdan's troops compelled the Habsburg covering force led by François Sébastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt to withdraw. The War of the First Coalition victory allowed the French to raise the Siege of Maubeuge. At a time when failed generals were often executed or imprisoned, Jourdan had to endure interference from Lazare Carnot from the Committee of Public Safety. The village, renamed Wattignies-la-Victoire in honor of the important success, is located 9 kilometres (6 mi) southeast of Maubeuge.

Jean-Baptiste Jourdan Marshal of France

Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, 1st Comte Jourdan, enlisted as a private in the French royal army and rose to command armies during the French Revolutionary Wars. Emperor Napoleon I of France named him a Marshal of France in 1804 and he also fought in the Napoleonic Wars. After 1815, he became reconciled to the Bourbon Restoration. He was one of the most successful commanders of the French Revolutionary Army.

Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine French general

Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine was a French general. As a young officer in the Bourbon Royal army, he served in the Seven Years' War. In the American Revolutionary War he joined Rochambeau's Expédition Particulière supporting the American colonists. Following the successful Virginia campaign and the Battle of Yorktown, he returned to France and rejoined his unit in the Royal Army.

Army of the North (France)

The Army of the North or Armée du Nord is a name given to several historical units of the French Army. The first was one of the French Revolutionary Armies that fought with distinction against the First Coalition from 1792 to 1795. Others existed during the Peninsular War, the Hundred Days and the Franco-Prussian War.

The Battle of Kaiserslautern saw a Coalition army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel oppose a Republican French army led by Lazare Hoche. Three days of conflict resulted in a victory by the Prussians and their Electoral Saxon allies as they turned back repeated French attacks. The War of the First Coalition combat was fought near the city of Kaiserslautern in the modern-day state of Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, which is located about 60 kilometres (37 mi) west of Mannheim.

Army of the Rhine (1791–1795)

The Army of the Rhine was formed in December 1791, for the purpose of bringing the French Revolution to the German states along the Rhine River. During its first year in action (1792), under command of Adam Philippe Custine, the Army of the Rhine participated in several victories, including Mainz, Frankfurt and Speyer. Subsequently, the army underwent several reorganizations and merged with the Army of the Moselle to form the Army of the Rhine and Moselle on 20 April 1795.

Flanders campaign Campaign in War of the First Coalition

The Flanders Campaign was conducted from 6 November 1792 to 7 June 1795 during the first years of the French Revolutionary Wars. A Coalition of states representing the Ancien Régime in Western Europe – Austria, Prussia, Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, Hanover and Hesse-Kassel – mobilised military forces along all the French frontiers, with the intention to invade Revolutionary France and end the French First Republic. The radicalised French revolutionaries, who broke the Catholic Church's power (1790), abolished the monarchy (1792) and even executed the deposed king Louis XVI of France (1793), vied to spread the Revolution beyond France's borders, by violent means if necessary.

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.

Army of the Ardennes

The Army of the Ardennes was a French Revolutionary Army formed on the first of October 1792 by splitting off the right wing of the Army of the North, commanded from July to August that year by La Fayette. From July to September 1792 General Dumouriez also misused the name Army of the Ardennes for the right wing of what was left of the Army of the North after the split, encamped at Sedan and the name of Army of the North for the left flank of the army.

Battle of Menin (1793) Military history

The Battle of Wervik, or of Wervik and Menin was fought on 12 and 13 September 1793 between 30,000 men of the French Army of the North commanded by Jean Nicolas Houchard, and 13,000 Coalition troops: the veldleger of the Dutch States Army, commanded by the William, Hereditary Prince of Orange and his brother Prince Frederick of Orange-Nassau, and a few squadrons of Austrian cavalry under Pál Kray, seconded by Johann Peter Beaulieu. The great superiority in numbers being on the French side the battle ended in a victory for France, with the Dutch army suffering heavy losses. Among the casualties was Prince Frederick, who was wounded in the shoulder at Wervik, an injury from which he never fully recovered. The combat occurred during the Flanders Campaign of the War of the First Coalition. Menen is a city in Belgium located on the French border about 100 kilometres (62 mi) west of Brussels.

Siege of Condé (1793)

The Siege of Condé saw a force made up of Habsburg Austrians and French Royalists commanded by Duke Ferdinand Frederick Augustus of Württemberg lay siege to a Republican French garrison led by Jean Nestor de Chancel. After a blockade lasting about three months the French surrendered the fortress. The operation took place during the War of the First Coalition, part of a larger conflict known as the French Revolutionary Wars. Condé-sur-l'Escaut, France is located near the Belgium border about 14 kilometres (9 mi) northeast of Valenciennes.

Siege of Mainz (1792) short episode at the beginning of the First Coalition, for the victorious French army of Custine

The siege of Mainz was a short engagement at the beginning of the War of the First Coalition. The victorious French army of Custine seized the town on October 21 1792,after three days of siege. The French occupied Mainz, and tried to install the Republic of Mainz there.

Louis Dominique Munnier French general

Louis Dominique Munnier or Meunier, born 17 December 1734 in Phalsbourg, died in 1800 in Nancy, (Meurthe-et-Moselle), was a general of the French Revolutionary Wars. He joined the military in 1748 as an ensign, and progressed through the ranks. Embracing the French Revolution's principles, he became a colonel in the 62nd Infantry Regiment, serving at Valmy, Hondschoote, and Mainz.

Paul-Alexis Dubois commanded French divisions during the War of the First Coalition and was killed in action fighting against Habsburg Austria. He enlisted in a French infantry regiment in 1770 and transferred into the cavalry in 1776. Thereafter he served in several different cavalry and infantry regiments. From sous-lieutenant in 1791, he served in the Army of the Moselle and was rapidly promoted to general of brigade by August 1793. After briefly commanding an infantry division in the Army of the Rhine at Wissembourg he switched back to the Army of the Moselle to fight at Kaiserslautern before being wounded at Froeschwiller in December 1793.

Charles Grangier de la Ferrière was a French general of the War of the First Coalition.

Pierre Raphaël Paillot de Beauregard led a French division at the Battle of Wattignies. A nobleman, he joined the French Royal Army as a cadet in 1755 and fought in the Seven Years' War. He became a lieutenant colonel in 1779, but two years later got into a dispute with a superior officer and was placed on inactive service. The French Revolution and the War of the First Coalition saved his career; he was promoted general of brigade in 1792. He led a 2,000-man column at Arlon in 1793 but irritated his army commander. After his 5,800-strong division performed poorly at Wattignies he was put in prison for 10 months. He was briefly employed again during the War in the Vendée in 1795 before retiring from military service in 1796.

Georg Wilhelm Baron von dem Bussche-Haddenhausen was a general officer of Hanoverian soldiers during the War of the First Coalition who famously led one of the Coalition columns at the Battle of Tourcoing. In 1743 he joined the Hanoverian military service and fought in the War of the Austrian Succession and Seven Years' War, fighting at Minden and Lutterberg. He led a battalion at Gibraltar in the American Revolutionary War. In the War of the First Coalition he led his soldiers at Valenciennes, Hondschoote, Mouscron, Tourcoing and Tournai. On 11 December 1794 while defending the Bommelerwaard in the Dutch Republic, his hand was taken off by a cannonball and he died shortly afterward.

The 1st Battle of Courtrai took place on 15 September 1793, near Courtrai, now known as Kortrijk, Belgium. the battle occurred two days after the Battle of Menin during the Flanders Campaign of the Wars of the French Revolution, fought between a Division of the Nicolas Houchard's French Republican Army of the North under Joseph de Hédouville, and an Austrian force under Johann Beaulieu, supported by a British detachment from the forces of the Duke of York. It resulted in an Allied victory that brought an end to Houchard's campaign, and led directly to his dismissal and subsequent execution.

The Battle of Friedberg, also called the Battle of Limburg, took place on 10 November 1793 between the French and the Prussian troops, during the French Revolutionary Wars.


  1. Phipps I, pp. 209–210
  2. p. 211
  3. pp. 224–5
  4. p. 226
  5. Phipps I, pp. 232–233
  6. p. 235
  7. pp. 236 & 239
  8. p. 244
  9. p. 245
  10. Phipps II, p. 39
  11. p. 47
  12. p.48-49
  13. Lynn p.77
  14. Lynn p.81
  15. G. Lenotre, Les grands jours du Tribunal révolutionnaire