Louis Nicolas Davout, Duc de Auerstadt, Prince of Eckmühl, Marshal (1804)
(Born Annoux, Yonne, 1770 - Died Paris, 1823)
The victor of Auerstadt, nicknamed by his men "the Iron Marshal"...
Davout completes his studies at the Paris Military School and graduates as a reliable second lieutenant, who loves reading. Son of an old noble but penniless family, he sides with the Revolutionaries. In 1792, he is in command of a battalion of volunteers of the Yonne in the Army of Belgium. He takes part in the battle of Neerwinden on March 18, 1793.
When Dumouriez deserts the French army, Davout goes to his headquarters to arrest him. Dumouriez manages to escape. Davout is sent to the Army of the West and promoted to brigadier general (June 1793). He refuses his promotion to major general, believing he lacks experience for such a position. Whether a prisoner of the enemy, inactive or in service, Davout maintains his career goals, going as far as studying military treaties. He is regularly promoted in various army corps, and befriends Desaix.
The latter introduces him to Bonaparte in 1798. Davout takes part in the Egyptian expedition, at the head of a cavalry brigade of the Desaix division. In 1800, he is the only general who refuses to sign the capitulation after Bonaparte's departure, and he returns to France in May 1800. He is promoted major general on July 3, 1800. He then takes command of the cavalry of the Army of Italy, headed by General Brune. In 1801, by marrying Leclerc's sister, he becomes the brother-in-law of the Emperor's sister, Pauline. At the proclamation of the Empire, in 1804, he is promoted to marshal.
Sent to Boulogne, he sets up the 3rd corps, which will become the Grande Armée's left wing. During the 1805 Austrian campaign, he follows the Emperor's instructions precisely and has his troops cover 144 kilometers in 36 hours to take part in the battle of Austerlitz on December 2, 1805. The rewards follow shortly: colonel general of the Imperial Guard, grand officier, grand aigle de la Légion d'Honneur...
Still in command of the 3rd Corps, he defeats Brunswick's Prussian army in Auerstadt on October 14, 1806, although the enemy outnumbers them three to one, while Napoleon fights at Jena. This decisive victory, at first underestimated by the Emperor, owes him the honor of entering Berlin first on October 27, 1806, and the title of Duc de Auerstadt in 1808.
At Eylau, with his 14,000 men, he forces the Russian armies to retreat on the right flank. After being Governor of the Duchy of Warsaw, he resumes his service in the army, perhaps maybe annoyed by the fact that the Emperor suspects him of wanting the Polish crown.
At Eckmühl, in April 1809, Davout's corps finds itself facing the main Austrian forces alone. He takes the initiative of the attack and succeeds in making the enemy fall back. At Wagram, on July 6, he leads a decisive attack. On January 1, 1810, he is commander-in-chief of the Army of Germany, a position which leads him to denounce Bourienne's fraudulent activities in Hamburg.
Davout is then named Governor of the Hanseatic cities, and as such, is in charge of ensuring the Continental System in Northern Europe. Above all, he must reorganize the Grande Armée (600,000 men!) before the Russian campaign. Davout is convinced this venture is folly, but as a soldier, he believes an order is an order. In early 1812, he leaves Hamburg, at the head of the Grande Armée's 1st Corps. During the entire Russian campaign, his corps can be singled out for its good conduct and discipline. During the first weeks of the campaign, he is sent south to surround Bagration's Russian army. Despite his maneuvers, the scheme fails, because Jerome Bonaparte moves too slowly with the Grande Armée's right wing.
At Borodino, Davout's horse is killed under him. He faints for a short time, but quickly resumes his command. Although he is considered a very strong man, he weeps over the death of his faithful major general Gudin, killed outside Smolensk. During the retreat, his corps, at the rear guard, succeeds in repelling the enemy assaults.
After this campaign, Davout is sent to Germany, to crush the uprisings. He does not apply the orders to the letter, but merely requisitions the money and labor necessary to defend the strongholds. In May 1813, he occupies Hamburg. For one year, he defends the besieged city, which he only gives back upon Louis XVIII's express order. He sends the new King a letter explaining his conduct, but does not get an answer.
Thus, when Napoleon comes back from Elba, Davout is the only marshal not to have sided with the King. He is one of the few who never encountered defeat on the battlefield. He had rather reluctantly accepted to be Minister of War. It only took him a few months to succeed in setting up a new army. When he learns of the Waterloo disaster, Davout understands that everything is lost. The government delegates him to ask the Emperor to leave the capital.
On July 3, 1815, he signs the armistice with the Allies and leaves Paris, but not before having all the valuables removed from the artillery museum. However, he comes back to defend Ney, when the latter is indicted.
Deprived of his salary, his experiences difficult times before finally recovering his titles in 1817, and being admitted to the House of Peers in 1819. He dies four years later.