Research Subjects: Biographies

The Top Twenty French Cavalry Commanders:
#19 General Louis-Michel Letort

By Terry J. Senior


General  Letort

General Louis-Michel Letort

General Louis-Michel Letort was another of those fine commanders destined to lose his life at the very pinnacle of his career. Louis-Michel Letort de Lorville, to give him his full name, was born on 28 August 1773 at Saint Germain-en-Laye. He was the son of Louis Landry Letort de Lorville and his wife Henriette Audry.

He enlisted at 18 in le Bataillon d'Eure et Loire and made rapid progress. He was present at Jemappes, Neerwinden, Kaiserslautern, Landau, and Bitche -- all this as an Infanterie soldier, when at heart he wanted to be a cavalryman. He applied for a transfer to a cavalry regiment, and his application had the full support of both Generals Huet and the brilliant Hoche.

He joined the 9e Regiment des Dragons as a Sous Lieutenant having had to surrender his infantry rank of capitaine as a result of his transfer.

He was present at the 18 Brumaire, which did his career no harm at all. Then it was back to Italy serving at Monzembano and then Montebello after which, and with the support of Davout he was made Chef d'Escadron

When the Legion d'Honneur was first created by Napoleon in 1804, Letort was among the first to be honoured.

Although his regiment had been heavily engaged at Wertingen on the 8 October they saw no action at Austerlitz although they were present on the field.

Letort, meanwhile, made representations to the Ministrie de Guerre for command of the 14e Regiment des Dragons, and was appointed on 8 April 1806.He served at Jena in October, when his regiment was brigaded with the 4e Dragons commanded by the Parisien born Colonel Auguste-Etienne-Marie Gourlez Lamotte. Having broken a Prussian square in pursuit of the fleeing enemy, the 14e captured over 200 wagons.

By Imperial Decree dated 15 April 1806, les Dragons de la Garde were formed. There were five squadrons each of 248 sabres and divided into two regiments. The commanders who were both Corsican officers were the 28 years old Colonel Jean-Toussaint Arrighi di Cassanova and 22 year old Philippe-Antoine d'Ornano both of whom were related to the Emperor. Letort was appointed to this elite force by Napoleon himself.

His command was present at both Eylau and Friedland in a minor role in 1807.

After Wagram during a period of relative quiet at Schoenbrunn Palace, Napoleon introduced a new Imperial award, l'Ordre Trois Toisons d'Or and among the first recipients were once again Letort, with Vincent Corvin Krasinski, and 43 year old, Baron Albert-Francois Deriot, Colonel of the 43e Regiment de Ligne.

The regiment returned to Paris and on the 23rd December 1809 in le Mairie of the 3e Arrondissement, the tall, handsome dragoon commander married Miss Sarah Newton. She was the 20 year old daughter of the late William Newton and his wife Elizabeth Milne. Sarah had been born in Stockport, Cheshire in 1788. She was a very pretty girl, witty, charming and vivacious.

Shortly after the marriage of the Emperor to the Princess Marie-Louise, Letort's regiment, le Dragons de la Garde Imperiale, became known as Dragons de l'Imperatrice and formed her official escort. On 9 September 1810, Letort was made Baron de l'Empire.

The regiment saw action at Malayaroslavets on 25 October, the battle in which the brilliant General Alexis-Joseph Delzons was killed while leading his regiments in their attempts to regain possession of the town. Of Letorts regiment, Lieutenants Leblanc, Gandolph, and le Paumier were all wounded.

Letort successfully survived the rigours of the Russian retreat and was present at Lutzen on 2nd May 1813, where he commanded a brigade consisting of his Dragons de l'Imperatrice plus a regiment each of Lanciers and Grenadiers-a-Cheval totalling 1,700 sabres.

He fought in Saxony at Toeplitz on 17th September 1813 when Chef d;Escadron Raquet was killed and Colonel-Major Pinteville was again wounded. Letort then suffered a serious head wound at Wachau on 16th October. At Hanau on 30th October the regiment sustained several casualties Lieutenant Merelle being killed and nine other officers wounded.

In the battle for France, Letort's Dragons saw action at Bar-sur-Aube, Montmirail, Chateau Thierry, Champaubert, Reims, Craonne, Laon, and Arcis sur Aube. It was at Craonne that General Louis-Marie Levesque Comte de Laferriere had his right leg amputated and Letort succeeded him to command.

Following Napoleon's abdication and exile to Elba, the Bourbons decorated Letort as Chevalier de Saint Louis and then Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur. Further evidence of the Kings high esteem for Letort came when he appointed him Major des Dragons Royaux de France.

Following General d'Ornano's serious duelling wound, which kept both him and his opponent, General Bonet, from the Waterloo battlefield, Letort was given command of the Dragons de la Garde Imperiale.

As l'Armee du Nord crossed into Belgium on 15 June, Letort, whose Dragons were on duty as Imperial Escort, word was received at around 5 o'clock that the French were being held up by the Prussians at Fleurus just to the north of Charleroi. Having been given the order by the Emperor himself, Letort led his squadrons and broke two squares of the Prussian I Corps of Lieutenant-General Hans Ernst Karl Graf von Zeithen. During the attack on a third square Letort took a musket ball in the lower abdomen. He was taken to the house of a M. Delbruyere at Charleroi where he was tended by one of the Chirurgiens de la Garde, and lingered in great pain before dying on the night of the 17/18/ June.

Napoleon was genuinely distressed at Letorts death, for he was a fine general with high principles. He was slim, close to six feet tall, handsome and with a mass of dark wavy hair. He was a good, highly talented and brave commander with a tactical awareness and a keen sense of duty.

Intelligent and compassionate by nature, he enjoyed the affection and complete trust of all who served under him. He was totally honest and no hint of scandal, financial or otherwise, ever tainted his career.

The Emperor granted Letort's widow a pension and left the sum of 100,000 francs to his children in his Will. As far as is ascertained Letort had just one child, a girl called Fanny-Rosalba-Sarah who in December 1822 married General Eugene-Georges-Jacques Beuret, the son of another Napoleonic commander General Georges Beuret (1772-1828).

Letort's widow Sarah-Elisabeth later contracted a second marriage to Vicomte Victor Destutt de Tracy who, under the Second Empire became a Minister for War. He was also a close friend of the writer Stendhal.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2002


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