Pierre François Charles Augereau, Duc de Castiglione, Marshal (1804)
(Born Paris, 1757 - Died La Houssaye, 1816)
"His stature, his manners, his speech, gave the impression he was a bully; and that, he proved he was far from being, once he was covered in honors and riches, which, incidentally, he appropriated from any source and by any means." This is how the prisoner of Saint Helena judges the marshal who crushed the Royalist uprising of 18-Fructidor, disapproved of the project of 18-Brumaire, risked his life on the Emperor's battlefields and denounced Napoleon as a tyrant in 1814.
At the age of 17, Augereau, of very modest origins, enlists in the Prussian, then in the Neapolitan armies. He settles in Naples as a fencing master. At the time of the Revolution, he comes back to France. Though he starts out as a private in the National Guard, five years later he is major general in the Army of Italy.
In April 1796, he takes the castle of Ceva, his first military feat under general Bonaparte's command. He proves his bravery at Lodi, on May 10, 1796, when he charges through the Austrian hail of bullets. On August 3, 1796, his intervention at Castiglione reverses the outcome of the battle. At Arcola, on November 15, he rushes over the bridge at the head of his troops. Bonaparte respects and trusts him, despite the rumors about his greed. In September, he sends him to Paris to crush the Royalist uprising, the 18-Fructidor coup d'état. Augereau proves extremely efficient, carrying out all the Directory's orders to the letter; he is then named commander of a corps of the Army of the Rhine.
Augereau, deputy of Haute-Garonne at the Council of the Five Hundred, is at first opposed to the 18-Brumaire coup d'état. He is friendly with the Jacobins and refuses the invitation to the banquet given in honor of Bonaparte. However, he rallies to the Consulate on the morning of 18-Brumaire, kissing Napoleon and exclaiming: "What! You had plans for the homeland and you didn't call Augereau!"
Although he criticizes the Concordat, he nevertheless remains on the list of the 1804 marshals and he attends the Emperor's coronation. From September 1805 to February 1807, he is in command of the 7th corps of the Grande Armée. At the battle of Jena, on October 14, 1806, he defeats the Saxons and crushes Rüchel's corps, which had come to the Prussian army's aid.
At Eylau (February 8, 1807), he is ill, and demands to be tied to his horse at the beginning of the battle. As he is about to attack the Russian center, his corps gets lost in a snowstorm. The French soldiers are decimated by the enemy cannons. Wounded in the arm, Augereau goes back to France. On March 19, 1808, he receives the title of Duc de Castiglione.
He then serves in Spain. His first victories at the head of the Army of Catalonia are soon followed by defeats. The Emperor sends Augereau home, but recalls him for the 1812 Russian campaign and puts him in command of a reserve corps. The marshal is there during the French defeat of Leipzig, on October 16-19, 1813. His fierce defense puts him back in Napoleon's good graces.
In 1814, the Emperor puts him in command of the army corps posted in Lyon. Augereau, whose orders are to cut off the Army of Bohemia's lines of communication, comes to an agreement and refuses the battle. He is now a celebrity. On April 16, 1814, he sends out a proclamation instructing his soldiers to wear the Bourbon's white cockade and denouncing Napoleon as a tyrant. The Emperor crosses his name off the list of marshals during the Hundred Days, and calls him a "traitor to France" when Augereau comes to offer his services.
Once back on the throne, Louis XVIII also excludes him. Augereau retires to his country estate, where he dies of a lung illness, without leaving any children.
In Saint Helena, Napoleon will say of him: "He was incapable of behaving; he had no education, a narrow mind, few manners; but he maintained order and discipline amongst his soldiers, who loved him. He knew how to divide his columns, set up his reserves; he fought boldly; but it all never lasted longer than the day: victorious or defeated, he was most often discouraged in the evening, which was due either to his disposition or to his lack of calculation and penetration."