Jean Lannes D, Duc de Montebello, Marshal (1804)
(Born Lectoure, Gers, 1769 - Died Vienna, 1809)
Lannes, whose bravery is legendary, may well be Napoleon's best friend. The latter forgives him his frank, sometimes brutal manners, his lack of education. Of him, he will say: "Lannes' bravery was greater than his intellect; but his intellect improved every day, endeavoring to reach a balance; I met him a pygmy, I lost him a giant."
Son of a stable boy, he leaves his work as a dry-cleaner's apprentice to enlist in a battalion of volunteers in 1792. His bravery soon makes him famous. Dismissed for political reasons in 1795, when he is already lance-sergeant, he re-enlists the following year as a private, for the Italian campaign. He is under general Bonaparte's command, and the latter soon reinstates him in his former rank.
Lannes is one of those who rush over the bridge of Lodi (May 10, 1796) to encourage the soldiers to defy the enemy artillery. On November 14, he is wounded by two bullets at the battle of Arcola. The following day, hearing that the struggle is still going on, he saddles his horse and hurries to the battlefield, but soon faints after receiving a blow on the head. Barely recovered, he takes part in the battle of Rivoli (January 14, 1797) two months later. Bonaparte, who has noticed his feats, speaks of him very highly in his report and promotes him to brigadier general. The two men become friends. Lannes will still remain on familiar terms with the Emperor after his coronation.
After Rivoli, Lannes takes the city of Imola. The Pope brings himself to sign a treaty. Bonaparte sends him Lannes. The latter, while dealing pleasantly with the Supreme Pontiff, restores order in the Papal States, namely by arresting and executing a few leaders.
Then comes the Egyptian campaign, in 1798. Lannes particularly distinguishes himself during the Acre siege (March 19 to May 20), where he is severely wounded. At Aboukir, on July 25, 1799, at the head of two battalions, he takes the Turkish redoubt. Promoted to major general, he returns to France with Bonaparte to take part in the 18-Brumaire coup d'état. The First Consul puts him in command of the Consular Guard. During the second Italian campaign, leading the vanguard, he fights at Montebello (June 9, 1800) and at Marengo (June 14, 1800). In the course of this last battle, he contains the Austrian attack for seven hours.
He is promoted to marshal on May 19, 1804. He is in command of the 5th corps during the 1805 Austrian campaign, and of the left wing at Austerlitz, on December 2nd. He takes part in the 1806 Prussian campaign and defeats Prince Ludwig of Prussia at Saalfeld. He is also at Jena (October 14, 1806), in command of the center of the Grande Armée. He is wounded at Pultusk (December 26, 1806), then commands an army corps. He is in command of the Grande Armée's vanguard at Friedland, and resists the assaults of Benningsen's Russian army for four hours.
In 1808, he is in Spain, where he wins the battle of Tulda and organizes the siege of Saragossa. He receives the title of Duc de Montebello. He remains in Spain until 1809.
Napoleon recalls back for the Austrian campaign. He takes part in the Landshut maneuver and the battle of Eckmühl (April 22, 1809). His corps takes part in the siege of Rastibon and he personally seizes a ladder to climb up the wall. One of his aide-de-camps manages to dissuade him.
At Aspern, Lannes rushes toward Archduke Charles' troops to cut them in two. The maneuver is a success but the bridges joining the two parts of the French army collapse. Lannes' men find themselves isolated under the Austrian fire. Their commander is at the front when he is hit by a cannonball. Carried on guns to the island of Lobau, he has both his legs amputated. It will take him six agonizing days to die. The Emperor is there to listen to his last words. On May 31, 1809, he dies in Vienna, where he has been transported. His body rests at the Panthéon. Lannes is the first marshal of the Empire to be killed in action.