Research Subjects: Biographies


The Top Twenty French Cavalry Commanders:
#16 General Louis Lepic

By Terry J. Senior

 

General Lepic

General Louis Lepic

General Louis Lepic was very much a gentleman and honourable soldier. He came from a very large family from Montpellier in the south of France. His mother Marguerite Fages had a total of twenty-two pregnancies of which only thirteen survived. Like Delzon's mother, she must have been in one long state of pregnancy for over twenty years, but I must say that during these times multiple pregnancies were not uncommon. Bertrand's wife Fanny was another lady who had in excess of twenty pregnancies. The future general's father was Joseph Lepic and came from a bourgeois, middle-class background although his occupation is unknown. Louis, born on 20 September 1765, was the ninth and the eldest. Only one brother, Joachim-Hippolyte, born in 1768, followed him into the army.

He originally enlisted on 17 May 1781 in the Regiment de Lescure Dragons which later became the Chasseurs des Trois Eveches and then in January 1791 the 2e Chasseurs-a-Cheval. By October 1792 he was a Lieutenant Colonel and then joined the 21e Chasseurs-a-Cheval as Chef d'Escadron.

He served against the Vendeens and was with General-de-Brigade Jean-Pierre Travot when the outlaw leader Francois-Athanase Charette de la Contrie was captured on 23 March 1796, during which Lepic was to suffer his first wound in combat. In actual fact, in other sources, the capture of Charette is credited to Capitaine Jean-Marie Verges although it is agreed that Travot was present.

From mid-1796 until 1801 Lepic and his regiment served with l'Armee d'Italie. At Pastrengo on 26 March 1799, the very promising officer suffered seven sabre wounds to his head, one to his shoulder, and took a bullet wound to his arm. In recognition of his exploits that day, the then commander of l'Armee d'Italie, 51 year old, General Barthelemy-Louis-Joseph Scherer named Lepic Chef-de-Brigade, a promotion the all powerful Directory ratified on the 23rd of the following month.

He was present at Marengo as colonel of the 21e Chasseurs-a-Cheval but took little part in the events of the day. Much of the next four years were spent in various garrison towns, mainly in Italy.

Appointed Colonel-major de la Grenadiers-a-Cheval de la Garde on 21 March 1805, he succeeded Colonel Antoine Oulie who joined the Gendarmerie.

Having served in Austria, Prussia and Poland he was wounded twice by bayonet wounds to the knee at Eylau on 7 February 1807 where the regiment lost four officers killed and 14, (if you include Lepic) wounded. In Volume II of his Memoirs, page 73, Baron Meneval describes how Lepic's grenadiers forming part of a force of 24 squadrons together with d'Hautpoul's cuirassiers charged into the Russian squares, broke the centre, wheeled, and charged a second time reaching the enemy's third line which they annihilated. This was the charge in which d'Hautpoul was mortally wounded.

Lepic, a popular, but stern commander was also known to suffer very badly from arthritis, particularly to his knees, and this worried him greatly. He had to struggle to keep up with his advancing regiment and Larrey was known to attend him every morning. He would apply poultices of camphor and other agents available in those times, in an attempt to alleviate the pain and suffering being experienced by the stubborn commander. The wounds he suffered at Eylau certainly did nothing to help him.

Less than a week after Eylau, Lepic was promoted to General-de-Brigade, which was accompanied by a financial gift of 30,000 francs.

During 1808, he commanded the detachments sent to Spain, where the regiment saw little action; but during the insurrection of Madrid on the 2 May, Chirurgien M. Gauthier was among the wounded.

Lepic married the young and very charming Josephine-Felicite Geoffroy on 19 April 1809 and on 3 May, was made Baron de l'Empire. However, he must have left his new bride quite quickly as he was soon en route for Aspern. Lepic and his wife had a total of seven children, of which two died in infancy. The others, all boys were Louis-Joseph-Napoleon (1810), Antoine-Joseph-Hippolyte (1811), Charles-Felix-Auguste (1812), Claude-Edouard (1814), and Joseph-Alexandre (1817). The last two boys died at the ages of 19 years and 6 years respectively, while Louis-Joseph (the second Comte Lepic), and Charles-Felix went into the military and became Generaux-de-Brigade. The remaining son, Antoine-Joseph-Hippolyte also joined the army and was a capitaine when he was killed in Algeria in 1840, aged 29.

Meanwhile, the general's younger brother Joachim-Felix, was also enjoying a successful career. He was a capitaine in the 15e Chasseurs-a-Cheval when they were under the command of his brother and then joined l'Armee d'Italie and fought at Caldiero were he was wounded by a shell which exploded damaging his leg. Having served in Prussia, Poland, Austria, and a period in Spain he was made colonel of the 17e Regiment des Dragons. He suffered further wounds at Leipzig and Arcis sur Aube. Employed at a cavalry depot at Troyes during the 100 days he served the Bourbons after Waterloo. He was appointed honourable Marechal de Camp in October 1827. He died in Paris in March 1835. He was married in November 1818 to Anne-Marguerite-Caroline-Eustasie Pasquier and the couple had four children. Joachim-Felix was also decorated as Officier de la Legion d'Honneur, Chevalier de Saint Louis, Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Couronne de Fer and Chevalier de l'Empire. He was also created Baron de l'Empire on 2 April 1814, immediately prior to the Emperor's first abdication.

Returning to Lepic's own career, he was not present at Aspern-Essling as his Grenadiers-a-Cheval were still on the march. On 26 June, he was further decorated as Commandant de la Legion d'Honneur.

At Wagram his four squadrons formed part of the Cavalerie de la Garde Imperiale under General-de-Division Frederic-Henri Walther. The remaining regiments making up the division were the Chasseurs-a-Cheval under General-de-Brigade Claude-Etienne Guyot, the Chevaux Legers Polonais commanded by General Vincent Corvin Krasinski, the Dragons de l'Imperatrice with General Louis-Michel Letort as their commander, and two squadrons of the Gendarmerie d'Elite with General Anne-Jean-Marie-Rene Savary.

Lepic then went to the Peninsular for a second tour of duty -- first in Spain in 1810 before joining l'Armee de Portugal in April 1811. He saw little action before being recalled to France later that same year in preparation for the infamous Campaign of 1812 in Russia.

Although many units suffered terribly high casualties during this unfortunate campaign, the officers of the Grenadiers-a-Cheval fared well by comparison.. Walther had been replaced as divisional commander by General Raymond-Gaspard de Bonardi comte de Saint Sulpice who had Letort's Dragons l'Imperatrice to complete his Division. They were not committed but instead held in reserve at Borodino, a fact for which Napoleon received much criticism. Had they been unleashed at the appropriate time the Russians would have fared very badly

On 7 November, they clashed with a band of marauding Cossacks commanded by Platov himself but escaped with little damage to their ranks.

It was not until they reached the crossing of the Berezina during the retreat on 28 November 1812, that they received their first officer casualty. There Lieutenant Legrand was gravely wounded and died on 13 December. Lieutenant Audeval was the next when he was killed before Vilnius on 10 December. Then finally, on 13 December before Kovno, Lieutenants Bergeret and Coffinal both received mortal wounds.

Lepic, having survived the rigours of the retreat and considering his medical condition before he even started, it was some feat of endurance and speaks volumes for his strength of character. He was duly rewarded on 9 February 1813 with promotion to General-de-Division and in April, became Colonel du 2e Regiment de Gardes d'Honneur.

It was at this time that he was joined in the regiment by Colonel-Major Alexandre-Charles-Louis de Valon du Boucheron Comte d'Ambrugeac. This officer was the eldest of two Parisien born soldiers, the other brother, Louis-Alexandre-Marie became colonel of the 100e Regiment de Ligne at about the same time. There is evidence that Valon du Boucheron and Lepic did not get on and the friction between them was considerable, though the source or reason for this attitude is not confirmed. It is possible that it all stemmed from Lepic's poor state of health and Valon du Boucheron believed that the regiment was at risk with a medically unfit commander at its head.

The regiment saw service in Saxony in 1813 and at Leipzig on 18 October. Lieutenant Ureede was among those killed.

The first abdication of Napoleon ended Lepic's career as a fighting soldier. Louis XVIII decorated him as Chevalier de Saint Louis on the 29 July 1814. He was made Commandant of the 21e Division Militaire at Bourges on the 29 November 1814. Four weeks later was placed on the non-active list. In January 1815, he was restored as Commandant of the 1er Sub-Division de la 21e Division Militaire and made Comte the very next day.

On the return of Napoleon he was given a place on the headquarters staff of l'Armee du Nord on the eve of the battle of Waterloo but whether he was actually on the field is uncertain.

After the Emperors defeat he was placed on the retirement list on 9 September 1815 and went to live out the rest of his life at his home at Andresy (Yvelines) together with his wife. He died on 7 January 1827 at the age of 61 and his body was interred in the family vault at Andresy, as were those of his wife and his five sons, as well as that of his mother-in-law.

He was an intelligent, brave and extremely capable commander who was said by some to err at times on the side of caution. He was clearly affected by his severe arthritis. Confirmation as to whether his relatively poor health was the source of the friction between himself and Valon du Boucheron has not been established.

The Generals name appears with those of many of his contemporaries on the east face of l'Arc de Triomphe l'Etoile, in Paris.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2002

 

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