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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Marshal Guillaume Dode de la Brunierie: the Vauban of Modern Times

By François Lo Presti


Maréchal Dode

Marshal Dode de La Brunerie

Painting exhibited in the property La Brunerie owned by the city of Voiron

Dode (Guillaume). Marshal of France. Born in Saint-Geoire-en-Valdaine (Isère) on 30 April 1775, died in Paris on 28 February 1851 (declared on 1st of March).

His name is written on the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile on the south face.

His father, Jean-René, was a notary (and son of a notary) and auditor of registry. His mother was Catherine Charbonnel. His uncle, Albin-François acquired a propriety, in 1784, in the north of Voiron (Isère) called La Brunerie. Guillaume spent a studious childhood, learning Latin by the time he was 9, and at 13 years he was in the Oratorien's lyceum in Grenoble. His presence in this lyceum gave him the opportunity to assist in the famous Tiles' Day (journée des tuiles) which occured on 7 June 1788. A man called Bernadotte was part of the garrison who received tiles on the head.

Apparently, it was the visit of an officer at this parent's home that gave him the ideas to make the army his career. He spent more and more time studying drawing and mathematics. Of course his interest in these courses led him more to the military than becoming a scientist.

The Army of the Rhine (1795-1797)

Soon after the ending of his studies in 1793, he left home for the army as a simple soldier with other young of his village of Saint-Geoire (now Saint-Geoire-en-Valdaine), part of the levy en masse of 1793. However, a letter from the War Office ordered him, on 11 March 1794, to the Military School of Engineers at Metz as a sous-lieutenant student. In this school, he made Joseph Rogniat's acquaintance, who also distinguished himself as a famous engineer during the Revolution and Napoleonic wars and was also famous by the controversy about the Napoleon's remarks about his ideas. Due to the numerous emigration and purges of noble officers, the Republican Army needed a high number of new engineers. So, Guillaume stay in the school was very short and he reported to the Army of Rhine on 12 December. He was assigned to the Division Gouvion-Saint-Cyr, which was fighting in the Palatinate trying to seize Mainz. On 21 March 1795, he was made lieutenant engineer, a rank he kept only a short time since he was promoted captain in second on 19 August, having his date of rank back dated to 19 July.

Dode was employed in the lanes of Landau in 1796, but eight days later he was sent to fortify Kaiserslautern and Zweibruck. He was detached from his unit on 10 June to join the staff in Strasbourg. Here, collaborating with the Chef de Brigade Bois-Gérard, he prepared the Rhine crossing at Kehl for the army of General Moreau. The young Captain Dode participed at the head of one of the three frontal attacks through Erlenrhin's islands. This crossing was performed efficiently in the night of 23 to 24 June 1796. He followed the advance of the Division Delmas until Stuttgart.

As the army needed several crossing poiints, at the end of July, Captain Dode went to Huningue to head the works made on this "tête de pont" built under Vauban. However, beginning in January 1797, the bridgehead was beseiged by the Austrians for 200 days. Under Chef de Bataillon of Engineers Poitevin, the young captain participed in its defence until the Austrians forced them to withdraw. He then worked on the restauration of the Kehl's bridge. He headed a false attack from the Vauban fort during the second crossing of the Rhine on 22 April 1797. However, in September of the same year, he left Strasbourg for Marseille and then for Toulon on the 25th. On 10 February 1798, he joined the staff under Marescot in what was then called the Army of England. It is interesting to note that his orders do not specify what his duties were. He boarded the 36 -gun (of 12 livres) frigate Alceste, on 19 May attached to the Division Reynier. This army of "England" sailed for the Orient.

With the Army of Egypt

Before landing Egypt, he participated in the seizure of Malta, landing in the island of Gozzo, on 10 June. He headed the attack against the Fort Chambray. After Malta seizure, the Army left for Egypt. The French fleet reached the Egyptian coast on 1 July and Guillaume landed near Alexandria, where he had to make several reconnaissances and thus demonstrating his courage. He headed the works done at Gizeh. He followed the Nile until Cairo where he was engaged in the works made in Old-Cairo. General Bonaparte inspected him on 24 July 1798. Under the direction of Crétin, on 25 November, he participated in the outworks of Alexandria. He had to wait the 19 September 1799 fbefopre being promoted to first captain. On 1 May 1800, as a reward of all his works, he was promoted to chef de bataillon. He was then attached to the Division Friant. On 21 March 1801, with this division, he fought against Anglo-Turks. The campaign in Egypt ended for him on 31 August, when Alexandria surrendered. Dode for France aboard the English vessel Union, on 3 November 1801 (although some sources state it was 3 October.) He arrived in Marseille on the 18th or 19th of the same month at the lazaret. He left one month later on 18 December 1801.

He visited his family from the end of December and stayed at home until 10 February 1802 when he was nominated as sub-director of the fortifications at Saint-Omer and then at Boulogne (11 July 1803). His role was to oversee the building of the forts at Heurt and Crèche. Additionally he was responsible for examining the coastal works made between Cape Gris-Nez and the mouth of the Canche in order to determine the real state of the fortifications on the Channel. On 1 January 1804 He was promoted sub-head of the engineering staff of the Army of Ocean Coast, under General Marescot at Boulogne. Here, he received the Legion d'Honneur on 15 June 1804 during the famous delivery made by the Emperor.

With the Grande Armée in Austria

By 1805, it was apparent that it was not the English Channel that the French would have to cross but the Rhine in direction of Austria. Dode joined the Grande Armée at Strasbourg on 28 August 1805 and the staff at Augsbourg. He was incorporated into the engineers staff of the Lannes' Army Corps. He commanded four companies of sappersat the crossing of the Inn at Mühldorf on 25 October and on 27 he crossed the river. He was then transferred to the staff of the 10th Corps. He was employed in Vienna in November. He was with Bertrand, Lannes and Murat when they hastened to capture the Danube bridges by surprise. Guillaume Dode played one of the principal roles in this action. As he was able to speak German (maybe he learned it during its campaigns of the Rhine), he was ordered to tell the sentinel that the peace had been ratified. Here is the narration written by Marbot:

"Murat and Lannes, to whom the Emperor ordered to try to seize the passage of the Danube, walked towards the bridges, placed the grenadiers of Oudinot behind thick plantings, then advanced, accompanied by only few officers speaking German. The enemy posts fired on them while pulling back. The two marshals shouted to the Austrians that there was an armistice, and, continuing walking, they crossed without any obstacles all the little bridges, and, arrived to the great one. They repeated their assertion to the commandant of Spitz, who did not dare to fire on the two marshals nearly alone, and affirming that the hostilities were suspended. However, before letting them cross, he wanted to take the orders himself to General Auersperg; he left the post station to a sergeant. Lannes and Murat persuaded him that, the treaty mention that the bridge would be givem up to them and he had to join the soldiers and officers on the left bank. The poor sergeant hesitated... They gently pushed him to the other side, following and speaking to him, and by a slow walk, they arrived to the extremity of the bridge."

This ruse allowed the French to seize the bridges. For the rest of the Austrian campaign, Dode was present at Hollabrunn (16 November), and the Emperor designated him himself to put in defence the place of Brunn and indicated to him to fortify Spielberg (the citadel, not the producer!!) on 23 November 1805. One league from this fortress was Austerlitz, but Dode stood in the fortress as a support for the Grande Armée. He was finally promoted to colonel on 26 December 1805 (he was only 30) and in the same time was made head of the engineers staff of the 5th Corps (Lefebvre) of the Grande Armée. Peace was made with Austria and French soldiers came back to Germany. Guillaume Dode was allowed to go back to his family.

With the Grande Armée in Prussia and Poland

However the time of wars was not ended and Prussia made the great error of believing she was stronger than she really was. Prussia decided to fight the French alone, without waiting for any ally. So Dode came back to the army and on 5 October 1806, he replace Kirgener at the head of Engineers of the 5th Corps of Marshal Lannes. With the corps he participated in the Prussian campaign and fought at Saalfeld. At Jena, the Emperor orderered him to build in the night some outworks for the protection of the troop. On 20 October, he was sent to restore a bridge over Elba and these 200 meters of bridge allowed the cavalry to cross on the 23d. These works contributed to the extraordinary pursuit by the cavalry against the Prussians. When the cavalry reached the Oder River, eight days later, Ccolonel Dode was in charge of verifying that the Oder could be crossed at different crossing points. The Prussians nearly captured Dode and his comrades, but they were hidden by Poles, who helped them escape by providing them with some civilian clothing. Afterwards, he fought at Pultusk on 26 December and at Ostrolenka on 16 February 1807.

On 14 may he was made officer of the Legion of Honour. On 9 December 1807, he received the decoration of Chevalier of the Order of Military Merit of Bavaria.

At the end of 1807, he was in the 5th Army Corps commanded by Mortier and stationed in Silesia. He received an annual donation of 4.000 francs from Westphalia on 17 March 1808. He was in Breslau when he learned that Napoleon made him, on 19 March by imperial decree, Baron of the Empire and confirmed by letters patent on 29 June. (The date of 4 August is given in some biographies.) As his uncle yielded him his property, Guillaume could attach the name of "de La Brunerie" to his name and title.

In The Army of Spain

On 18 November 1808 he was confirmed as commandant of engineers of the 5th Corps. The Grande Armée was confronted with the Spanish problem, and Marshal Mortier and his army corps moved towards the Pyrenees. Colonel Dode distinguished him but little did he know that15 years later, he would be back in Spain with another French army. The campaign began well for him, he replaced General of brigade Lacoste who had just died, at the siege of Saragossa on 2 February 1809. On 13 March 1809, he commanded the troops besieging Badajoz. This was a good opportunity for him since he he was promoted shortly after to the rank of general of brigade on 3 June when he was only 34 years old! The same day he was made head of the engineers staff of the Army of Spain. He served on the Tagus and in the Mancha. He participated in the battles of Almonacid and Ocana. According to the text of his order, on 14 October he was designated to go to Madrid, in order to trace the works for the construction of an entrenchment camp at Buen Retiro. But at the end of the same month (the 27)), he was called back to France by an order of Marshal Berthier.

He was first ordered to inspect several works in different cities (Ostende, Nieuport, Dunkerque, Calais, Boulogne, Montreuil, and Abbeville) and their adjacent batteries. He participated also in staff meetings with the Emperor.

The Russian Campaign

On 27 January 1812, he became the commandant of engineers in the 3rd Corps of Marshal Ney. On 12 February 1812, he married Agathe-Virginie Pérignon in Paris. But the married couple would not be together very long time since he had to move his position, joining the Grande Armée and being successively under Oudinot (2nd Corps) and Gouvion-Saint-Cyr. He fought at Polotsk where he had to order the burning of a part of the city in order to improve the retreat of the army. He fought also at Tschasnicki and Tchieria. In November 1812, he was in the Corps commanded by Victor and was present at Borissow and then at the Berezina where he commanded the crossing at Studianka. He was in charge of the re-establishment of the defence of Glogau and Custrin on 2 December 1812.

The 1813 Campaign

At the beginning of January 1813, he returned to France, but on 18 January 1813 he was named head commandant of the engineers (with the chef de bataillon Vanderwick of head of the staff) of the Observation Corps of the Elba commanded by Lauriston. He returned to the Elba and then towards Magdeburg. However he was replaced in this position before joining his corps. He was then named on 6 June, head commandant of engineers of the Observation Corps of Mainz under Marechal Augereau. On 3 September, he commanded the engineers at the 14th Corps commanded by Gouvion-Saint-Cyr, but again he could not join his corps, which was besieged in Dresden. Instead he followed the retreating army attached to the Great Head Quarter until Mainz. On 7 November, Dode was attached to the 2nd Corps commanded by the Marshall Victor

General Dode was placed inn charge of the inspection of the fortresses between Landau and the Switzerland border. It was not thought that the enemies could enter in France through Switzerland. From here, he was sent to command the engineers of the Army of Italy on 17 November. He participated in the operations of the army around Adige until the Prince Eugene, Viceroy of Italy, nammed him commissioner for establishing a convention. Guillaume Dode treat directly with the Austrian general Neipperg and the convention stipulated the evacuation of Italy by the French forces present under honorable conditions.

The First Restoration and the Hundred Days

General Dode received an order, dated 19 April 1814, to go to Paris and he left Mantua on 12 May. On 27 June, he was made a Chevalier of Saint-Louis and on 29 July Commander of the Legion of Honor. On 4 August, he became a member of the commission responsible for making decisions on request concerning the service records of emigrates. On this commission was Marshal Pérignon. On 20 August 1814, he was promoted to lieutenant general.

When Bonaparte "few" towards Paris, he was named commandant of engineers under the Duke of Bourbon in La Rochelle on 17 March for the 12th, 13th, 20th, 21st and 22nd Military Divisions. The Emperor confirmed him in his new rank on 28 April 1815 . However, Lieutenant General Dode refused to be employed because he felt bound by his oath of fidelity to Louis XVIII. He explained it with these words : " Napoléon had abdicated, and Louis XVIII, conversely was gone out of France without doing it." This fidelity explained the fact that on 1 July he was maintained in activity (however without being employed).

The Second Restoration

Four general inspectors of engineers were created by the ordinances of the 6 March and 22 September 1815 and Guillaume Dode was among them on 1March 1816. Hereafter, an intense career of commissions began. He was a member of the Technic Committee of Engineering, which presided over the commission of the building of the Hôtel Rroyal des Invalides (20 September 1816) and a member of the Coint Commission of Public Works (27 September). Again general inspector général of engineers in October 1819 and then member of the Special and Technical Committee of Engineering on 22 April 1820.

The Spanish Campaign of 1823

Dode was created viscount on 15 February 1823, about the time events in Spain were unravelling. Three days later, he was ordered to take the position of head commandant of engineers of the Army of the Pyrénées and then of the Army of Spain, commanded by the Duke of Angoulême. During the operations against Cadiz, he directed the engineers and above all during the attack of the Trocadero whose name is now famous. (Few Parisians probably know that their Place du Trocadero was named after this siege.) The fort was captured on 31 August owing to the system established by Dode. The plan he made resulted in the seizure of Cadiz and in the subsequent fall of Pamplona and San-Sebastian. The Duke of Angoulême was really satisfied with his men:

S. A. R. The Duke of Angoulême to M. de Chateaubriand.

Mançanarès, this 25 October 1823.

I received, mister, your letter from the 16; according to the authorization that the king charged you to give me, I will accept the orders from Portugal when they are sent to me.

As for the concerns of the Embassy of Constantinople for one of the general officers of my army, I will not venture to designate particularly one, but I will quote the Lieutenant Generals Count Guilleminot, Count Bordesoulle and Viscount Dode, as having perfectly seconded me. I will be happy if my uncle condescended his choice on one of the three.

I renew to you, mister, the assurance of all my regard and my attachment,


Coat of Arms

Marshal Dode's Coat of Arms

Dode returned to France in October after drawing up a plan of retreat for the army by occupying a variety of places. This campaign yielded him several awards : on 3 September 1823 he was made Commandeur of Saint-Louis; on 21 November he was decorated by the Spanish amd received the Great Cross of the Order of Charles III; and on 23 December, he was created Peer of France. On 8 March 1824 he was made Chevalier of the Russian order Saint-Alexandre Nevsky and on 25 Augustt 1825, he was confirmed viscount by letters patent (Viscount of Martignac).

On 17 February 1828, he became a member of the Superior War Council. Two years later, on 30 June 1830, he was general inspector of engineers of the direction of La Rochelle, Bayonne and Perpignan. He was in this position when the Revolution of 1830. His position was function confirmed on 13 August. Under King Louis-Philippe, he served in the Chamber of the Pairs on the Commission of Military Laws. On 23 August 1837, he was inspector of the Ecole Polytechnique. The death of Rogniat allowed him to become president of the Committee of Fortifications on 25 May 1840. Between June and July 1841, Marshal Soult, Minister of War, displeased by the slow progress on the fortifications around Paris ordered Dode de la Brunerie to take over their construction and on 1st September,Lieutnant General Guillaume Dode became DirectorSuperior of the fortifications of Paris, which will be very useful in 1870. The Dauphinian had to check the works, to make it possible to certify that the contracts made with the contractors were followed although if he had to pay the workers or to cancel the contracts. On 19 June 1842, the king Louis-Philippe decided to visit of the fortifications on the next tuesday and asked Soult to organise with the general Dode the journey with a visit to the forts of Ivry and Charenton, the crossing of the Marne at Créteil, the forts of Saint-Maur, Nogent, Rosny, Noisy, Romainville and Belleville. It was Guillaume Dode who decided that the south of Paris would also be fortified. All these outworks of fortifications accounted him the nickname of "Vauban of Modern Times". These constructions took seven years to complete and cost approximately 140 million francs. On 28 April 1843, Dode received the Great Cross of the Legion of Honour.

There were some controversies in the ministerial rooms. King Louis-Philippe, agreed with Guizot, Minister of the Foreign Office, and Duchâtel, Minister of the Interior that they needed to consider the accession to Marechalate of a lieuteant-general and they were about to decide that Guillaume Dode would be the next marechal. This cause some trouble as marechal Soult and the Duke of Nemours prefered General Reille, who asked that he receive this honor himself for a long time. The Duke of Nemours declared that the promotion of Guillaume Dode de La Brunerie to the Marechalate would remove all the importance and valour from this honor. On 17 September 1847 both Reille and Dode were made Marshals of France. Dode was at his home "la Brunerie" in Voiron when he learned of his promotion. He was the first general officer of engineers to receive this honor, since the marechal Vauban.

Marshal Dode asked the Minister permission to finish his work. Soon came the events of February 1848, resulting in the abdication of Louis-Philippe, and Marshal Guillaume Dode de La Brunerie decided to retired. He spent his time in the countryside between Montmorency and its domain of La Brunerie in Voiron, occupying his life with charitable societies. At the end of December 1850, he came back to Paris. He was visiting an exhibition on 18 February 1851 when he felt ill. On 19 February, he staid in bed but his condition worsen. On 27, realising he was about to die, he ask his wife for a priest. He died 28 February 1851 at midnight. He was buried in the cimetery of Père Lachaise in Paris. His wife, Agathe-Virginie died at Eaubonne on 30 September 1857.

He had transmitted, before his death, his title to his nephew (in 1847), Lucien Guzman-Dode, State counselor, who had previously been sub-prefect of the subdivision of Vienne (Isère).

His domain de La Brunerie is now the office of the Regional Center of Sport and Physical Education (CREPS). In the city of Voiron there is a street named Dode.


Communal Archives of Voiron.

Biron, Roger. "Dode de La Brunerie Figure dauphinoise" Autrefois 21, 1er semestre 1991.

Bret, François. "Dode de La Brunerie" Autrefois 31, 2ème semestre 1996.

de Chateaubriand, François-René . "Congrès de Vérone ; Guerre d'Espagne de 1823 ; Colonies espagnoles". Ed. Academia, Paris 1997 (Reprod. de l'éd. de Paris : Garnier, 1861) (via http:/

Gotteri, Nicole. Soult, Maréchal d'Empire et homme d'Etat Besançon : Ed. La Manufacture; 1991.

Koch, Captain. Journal des opérations du IIIe Corps en 1813 Ed. F. Teissedre; published by Lt G. Fabbry. Reed;1999.

Marbot, Général baron de. Mémoires 3 vol., Paris; 1891.

Réverend, Vicomte Albert. Armorial du Premier Empire. Titres, majorats et armoiries concédés par Napoléon Ier 4 vol. Paris: Bureau de l'Annuaire de la Noblesse et Alphonse Picard;1894-1897.

Rochas, Adolphe. Biographie du Dauphiné (tome I) Paris : Chavaray; 1856.

Georges Six. Dictionnaire biographique des généraux et amiraux Fraçais de la Révolution et de l'Empire (1792-1814). Paris : Ed. Georges Saffroy;1934.


I would like to thank Dominique Mochet from the Archives Municipal de Voiron and the Town Hall of Voiron.