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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Research Subjects: Biographies

Etienne-Jacques-Joseph-Alexandre MacDonald, Duc de Tarente, Marshal (1809)

(Born Sedan, 1765 - Died Courcelles-le-Roi, 1840)


In 1809, the charge of the "MacDonald column" resulted in the victory at Wagram. MacDonald was the only marshal who received his baton and titles on the battlefield.

This descendant of a 17th century exiled Scottish family enlisted in the Dillon Irish infantry regiment in 1784. He was still in the army when the Revolution broke out. His conduct at Jemmapes (November 6, 1792) earned him the rank of colonel. He was named provisional brigadier general on August 26, 1793 and replaced Souham at the command of the 1st division of the Army of the North.

MacDonald was sent to the Netherlands under the orders of Pichegru (1795). His conduct led to his appointment as major general. Sent to Italy in April 1798, under Berthier, he took part in the invasion of Rome, where he became governor. He had to face up to numerous uprisings and an attack from the king of Naples. He marched against the rebels and led the repression at Frossinone. He had to evacuate Rome under the threat of general Mack, but managed to turn the tide and re-occupy the city. In disagreement with general Championnet, MacDonald decided to resign on January 11, 1799. He was then sent to the Army of Naples, but was defeated at Trebbia on June 19, 1799 and had to evacuate Italy.

On his return to France, he supported Bonaparte during the coup d'état of 18-Brumaire and commanded the companies present at Versailles. He was then named inspector general of the infantry (January 21, 1800).

The First Consul entrusted him and an army reserve corps with a diversionary mission in the Tyrol. He crossed the Alps in the winter of 1800-1801. In 1801, he was given the ambassadorship to Denmark. On his return, he was kept away from major posts for having supported Moreau, under whom he had served, in 1804. In 1807, he was asked to return to the Army of Naples.

In 1809, the Emperor recalled him and integrated him into the army of Prince Eugene during the Austrian campaign. MacDonald contributed to the surrender of Laybach and took an active part in the victory at Raab (June 14, 1809). He joined the Grande Armée outside Vienna for the remainder of the campaign. At Wagram on July 6, he headed a reserve corps which executed a decisive charge. On the evening of the battle, Napoleon hugged him and exclaimed, "General MacDonald! Let us forget the past and be friends! I name you marshal and duke; you have deserved it."

MacDonald, then appointed governor of Gratz, undertook his mission so honorably that the city wanted to pay him 200,000 francs when he left. He refused the gift. In 1810, he replaced Augereau at the head of the 7th corps in Spain. At Manresa, he burned down the city after being received with musket fire.

The following year, he rejoined the Grande Armée, on the way to Russia. At the head of the 10th corps, he defended Riga. He asked the Prussian corps accompanying him to follow him as he retreated, but the Prussian general defected and signed the Treaty of Tauroggen.

During the German campaign, MacDonald was given the command of the 11th corps. He defeated general Yorck on April 29, 1813 at Merseburg, and was present at Lützen (May 2) and Bautzen (May 20-21). He was beaten on August 26, 1813 at Katzbach. During the Battle of Leipzig (October 16-19, 1813), he commanded the rear guard with marshal Poniatowski. He barely escaped with his life by swimming across the Elster. He fought at Hanau on October 30, 1813, as the French armies withdrew to France. He was sent to Cologne to rebuild an army corps.

MacDonald took part in the French campaign in 1814. He fought general Blücher and distinguished himself at Nangis on February 27, 1814. He approved of Napoleon's abdication. During the first Restoration, he brought Napoleon's first abdication to Tsar Alexander I, pleading the Emperor's cause. Napoleon offered him his Egyptian saber in thanks.

The marshal then rallied to Louis XVIII. Made Peer of France on January 4, 1815, he was named by Louis XVIII to head the troops to defend Paris against Napoleon. When the king finally decided to leave the capital, MacDonald accompanied him to Menin, and then returned to France. He accepted no post during the Hundred Days. Under the second Restoration, he was named grand-chancelier de la Légion d'Honneur. He died in 1840 in his Beaulieu château.

By Artea


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