Research Subjects: Biographies

The Top Twenty French Cavalry Commanders:
#14 General Jean-Pierre-Joseph Bruyere

By Terry J. Senior


General Jean-Pierre-Joseph Bruyere

General Jean-Pierre-Joseph Bruyere

General Jean-Pierre-Joseph Bruyere was the very epitome of a high ranking French cavalry officer -- superbly attired in a brilliant, colourful uniform with sparkling and highly decorative accoutrements and always riding a magnificent horse. He was full of confidence, self-assured in his movements and actions, he evoked authority, bravery and ´┐Żlan -- all one would expect of a highly successful and respected commander.

The general was born of a middle class family in the small fortress town of Sommieres, in the Departement of Gard. His father, Jean-Justin was a Chirurgien-major, as was also his grandfather; while his mother Marguerite Niel was the daughter of an advocat. There were two other children in the family, both girls, Francoise and Therese-Francoise-Philippine.

Jean-Pierre enlisted as a Chasseur in the 15e Demi-Brigade d'Infanterie Legere in February 1794. He made excellent progress over the next few years and served with great soldiers like Joubert, and Desaix before both met untimely deaths on the battlefields of Novi and Marengo respectively. Another very influential figure in the rise of Bruyere was Napoleon's Chef de Etat Major for many years, le Marechal Louis-Alexandre Berthier to whom, on three occasions Bruyere was appointed ADC. In fact, in 1810 he married Josephine-Therese-Virginie the 16 year old second daughter of Berthier's brother Louis-Cesar-Gabriel.

Bruyere's career continued in an upward trend and he served under, and became a great friend of General Antoine-Charles-Louis LaSalle who although being his commander, was also his junior in age by some three years. They shared a number of similarities. Both were of medium height although LaSalle was the shorter of the two. They were equally flamboyant in their dress, both had masses of dark wavy hair, both enjoyed riotous living in the early years and both were extremely brave to the point of recklessness. Had the two lived, they would have become related by marriage as LaSalle married the divorced wife of Berthier's other brother, General Victor-Leopold Berthier.

Bruyere was present at Klagenfurt, Novi, Cremona, Marengo, Jena, Eylau, Braunsberg, Aspern-Essling, Wagram, Schongraben, Ostrovno, Smolensk, Valutina Gora, Borodino, Mojaisk, Voronovo, Vinkovo, Bautzen and Wurschen. At the latter two, he commanded a division of Cavalerie Legere in the 1er Corps de Cavalerie de la Grande Armee under General Marie-Victor-Nicolas de Fay LaTour Maubourg. At Reichenbach on 22 May 1813 having just executed a charge, Bruyere was struck by a cannon ball fired from an enemy artillery position located on his right flank. The shot carried away his right leg, passed through the stomach of his horse and shattered his left knee on exit. An escorting Chasseur officer was also killed by the same ball. Bruyere was taken to Goerlitz near Dresden where he died on 15 June 1813.

Bruyere and Josephine-Therese had two children, a girl, Jeromia-Catherine born in 1811, and then a son Jean-Pierre-Joseph-Alexandre born on 28 October 1813, a few months after his father's death.

In 1830, 17 years after his death, Virginie, by which name Bruyere's wife was best known, married a second time, she was by now 36. Her new husband was an English gentleman ten years her junior, named William Thomas the 3rd Baron Graves. That liaison lasted only two years as Virginie herself died during an outbreak of cholera at Boulogne in 1832.

Bruyere was an outstanding commander although it seems, not universally liked. General Auguste Ameil for one, said that "He was an officer of mediocre ability and had little concern for the men under his command". So far, no other critics of him have been found. Certainly the praise given to Bruyere by others was widespread and he appears to have enjoyed the trust and respect of his men. No doubt there were those who were envious of his close ties with the Berthier family and churlishly suggest that it was this to which he owed the success of his entire career. His record however speaks for itself.

He was highly decorated being Baron de l'Empire, Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Couronne de Fer, Grand Croix de l'Ordre de Hesse-Darmstadt, and Commandant de la Legion d'Honneur.

A portrait of him exists in le Musee l'Emperi in Provence.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2002


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