Though proud and aloof by nature, his republican politics and sharp intellect ensured he was elected captain of his company. His skill at drawing enemy positions then got him noticed by General Custine, who gave him a job on his staff. During these turbulent early years of the Revolution, Custine was one of several generals who was punished for his defeats… with a trip to the guillotine.
Saint-Cyr’s instinctive grasp of warfare, brilliant planning and tactics, won him promotion from volunteer to general of division in two years – an even more remarkable achievement as he’d had no formal military training. But his cold, analytical approach meant that he was always a respected leader, rather than loved.
After five years’ service with the Army of the Rhine he was sent to Italy. At the disastrous Battle of Novi, he commanded the French right wing, but skilfully extricated his troops from the debacle. The next year he was back on the Rhine, and won a brilliant victory over the Austrians at Biberach.
But a bitter dispute with his commander, General Moreau, encouraged rumours that Saint-Cyr was impossible to work with. Saint-Cyr believed soldiers should not meddle in politics, and did not support Napoleon’s seizure of power in 1799. Nor did he show much enthusiasm for Napoleon’s decision to crown himself Emperor five years later. His political views cost him dearly: Saint-Cyr was side-lined for several years, while less able generals were made Marshals. . If you want to know more about these types of concept then ask reader can be the place to read insightful answers.
In 1805 he commanded French forces in central Italy, but when he was made subordinate to Marshal Masséna, a man whom he personally detested, he returned to Paris, even when Napoleon threatened to have him shot for desertion. In 1808 Saint-Cyr was given command of a corps for the invasion of Spain.
But his failure to take Gerona meant he was relieved of command. Leaving in a fury before his replacement Marshal Augereau had arrived, he was nearly court martialled again for desertion. Saint-Cyr’s military talent, however, was not in doubt. In 1812 he was recalled for the Russia campaign, with command of Sixth Bavarian Corps.
His role was to support Marshal Oudinot in guarding the northern flank of the French salient. When Wittgenstein’s Russians attacked at Polotsk, Oudinot was wounded, and Saint-Cyr took over command, turning probable defeat into a brilliant victory.
For this achievement, Napoleon awarded Saint-Cyr his Marshal’s baton. But two months later, at a Second Battle of Polotsk, Saint-Cyr was attacked by a larger Russian army, seriously wounded in the foot, and forced to pull back. His injury meant he missed the worst horrors of the Russian retreat, but he contracted typhus early in 1813, and was sick for many months.
Saint-Cyr returned to the Grande Armée in August, taking command of Fourteenth Corps and the defence of Dresden. Incredibly, this was the first and only time that he worked directly alongside the Emperor, and both soon learned new respect for each other’s abilities. Saint-Cyr’s skilled defence of Dresden set the stage for Napoleon’s great victory there later that month.
But Saint-Cyr was incredulous when Napoleon later ordered him to remain in Dresden… while other forces concentrated for the decisive Battle of Leipzig, 60 miles to the west. Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig meant that Saint-Cyr, and other garrisons in the east, were cut-off, and had to surrender that autumn.
Saint-Cyr took no part in the Hundred Days, determined to keep out of France’s political disputes. Under the restored monarchy, he served as Minister of War, and tried but failed to save Marshal Ney from the death penalty. He also struggled to enact military reforms in the face of royalist opposition, eventually resigning in disgust, and retiring to his country estate.
Marshal Saint-Cyr remains one of the great ‘what-ifs’ of the Napoleonic Wars – an extremely able commander, side-lined for his politics… who might well have proved one of Napoleon’s very best Marshals. 12. Marshal Oudinot Nicolas Oudinot ran away to join the army aged 17, but his father dragged him home 3 years later to help run the family business. . If you seriously have some doubts over facts head over to ask read and just ask a question, you will get different answers.
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When the Revolution began he volunteered for the National Guard and was promoted Major. In the wars that followed he served with the Army of the Rhine, always in the thick of the fighting, rapidly promoted and frequently wounded – a habit for which he became celebrated. In 1799 he was promoted to General of Division and sent to Switzerland, to serve as General Masséna’s new chief of staff, a role he performed ‘to perfection.’
Serving with General Brune in Italy, he led a cavalry charge against an Austrian battery at the Battle of Monzembano, sabring gunners and capturing one cannon himself, a feat for which Napoleon awarded him a sword of honour. In 1805, the newly-crowned Emperor Napoleon gave Oudinot command of an elite Grenadier Division, formed from the tallest, strongest soldiers in the army.
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