after attending the Paris military academy, is in 1788 a second
lieutenant, serious with a keen interest in. This son of a ruined
family of ancient aristocracy adopts the revolutionary ideas.
In 1792, He commands a battalion of the volunteers of Yonne in
the army of Belgium. He takes part in the battle of Neerwinden,
March 18, 1793.
When Dumouriez abandons the French Army, Davout goes to his
headquarters to arrest him. Dumouriez manages to escape. Davout
is sent to the Army of the West and is named brigadier general
(June 1793). He refuses his nomination as major general, considering
that he lacks the experience for such a function. Prisoner of
the enemy, in inactivity or service, Davout remains constant
in its objectives of career, to the point to study military treaties.
He follows an exemplary career progression in various army corps,
binding friendship with Desaix. Who introduces him to Bonaparte
in 1798. Davout is part of the Egyptian expedition , commanding
a brigade of cavalry of the Desaix division. In 1800, the only
General to have refused to sign the capitulation after the departure
of Bonaparte, he returns to France in May 1800. He is promoted
major general on July 3, 1800. He then takes the command of
the cavalry of the Army of Italy, under the direction of the
General Brune. In 1801, his marriage with the Aimee Leclerc
made him a brother-in-law of Pauline, sister of the Emperor.
With the creation of the first Empire, in 1804, he is named
to Boulogne, he forms the III corps, the future left wing of
the Grande Armée. During the 1805 Austrian campaign,
he follows with precision the orders of the Emperor and makes
his troops march 144 kilometers in 36 hours to take part to
the battle of Austerlitz, December 2, 1805. Rewards follow: general
colonel of the imperial Guard, Grand-officer, Grand-eagle of
the Legion of Honor...
at the head of the III corps, he beats the Prussian army of
Brunswick at Auerstadt, October 14, 1806, despite numerical
inferiority of one three while Napoleon is fighting in Iéna.
This decisive stunning victory, initially underestimated by
the Emperor, won him the honor to first enter Berlin on October
27, 1806 and the title of duke of Auerstadt in 1808.
Eylau, with his its 14.000 men, he forces the Russian armies
to retreat on the right flank . At that time governor of the
duchy of Warsaw, he took-back his service of soldier, perhaps
irritated by the suspicions of the Emperor about his aspirations
to the Poland crown.
In Eckmühl in April 1809, the Davout's III corps faces
alone the main Austrian army. He takes the initiative of attacking
and manages to make it retreat. In Wagram on July 6, he leads
a decisive attack. On January 1, 1810, he is a head of the
army of Germany, functions which leads him to denounce the fraudulent
activities of Bourrienne posted in Hamburg.
is then appointed governor of the Hanseatic cities ensuring the
good application of the continental system in north Europe.
Above all he has to reorganize the Grande Armée (600
000 men!) before the Russian campaign. Davout is persuaded of
the madness of this enterprise but, for this soldier, an order
is an order. At the beginning of the year 1812, he leaves Hamburg
at the head of the Grande Armée I corps. Throughout the
campaign of Russia, his I corps is characterized by its behaviour
and discipline. In the first weeks of the campaign, he is sent
to the south to encircle the Russian army of Bagration. Despite
his manuvers, the plan fails because of the slowness of
Jerome Bonaparte, in charge of the right wing of the Grande Armée.
Borodino, his horse is killed under him. He briefly loses consciousness,
but quickly takes back his command. Regarded as an iron man,
he cries the death of the faithful major general, Gudin, killed
in front of Smolensk. During the retirement retreat, Davout
I Corps placed in rear-guard manages to contain the enemy attacks.
After this campaign, Davout is sent in Germany, to subdue the
up risings of the population. He does not apply the orders
at letter, being satisfied to requisition the money and the labour
necessary to the defense of the fortified towns. In May 1813,
he occupies Hamburg. During one year, it defends the besieged
city, which he returns only on express command of Louis XVIII.
He sends to the new King a letter to explain his behaviour, without
receiving answer. When Napoleon returns from the island of Elba,
Davout is the only marshal who did not give oath to the King.
He is also one of rare to have not been defeated. He is finally
convinced to accept the ministry of War. In a few months, he
succeeds to recreate an army. When he learns the Waterloo disaster,
Davout understands that all is lost. The government delegates
him to ask the Emperor to leave the capital.
On July 3, 1815, he signs the armistice with the Allies and leaves
Paris while making evacuating all the valuable items of the
artillery museum. He returns however to defend Ney, put in trial.
Deprived of his revenues, he knows a difficult period before
finally recovering his titles in 1817 and being admitted to
the Chamber of Peers in 1819. He dies four years later.
by: F. Burnouf