The Top Twenty French Cavalry Commanders:
General Jean-Louis-Brigitte d'Espagne was another of those officers who had enjoyed an outstanding career and was already well established as a leading commander of heavy cavalry before Napoleon arrived on the scene..
He was, like Lannes, Murat and Bessieres, a Gascon, born in the town of Auch, (Gers) on 16 February 1769. He was a big man, something over 6 feet tall and came from a good family, which was headed by his father Bertrand d'Espagne who ensured that his son received a good education.
He originally enlisted when he was just 14 years of age in the Infanterie Regiment du Roi much to the dismay of his parents who were totally unaware of his actions. His mother however, persuaded him to resign and he returned home.
It was around this time that his father lost his job, and the family fell on very hard times, so he enlisted again on 6 July 1787 in the Regiment des Dragons de la Reine, which later became the 6e Regiment des Dragons. Much of the time with this regiment was spent at Laon until in 1789 he was sent on a recruitment drive to Reims where he met Marie-Sophie Paroissien. She was very pretty and the daughter of a very wealthy carpenter. There was an instant attraction between the two.
He served at Ypres, Menin, and Courtrai in l'Armee du Nord under the veteran 70 year old and unfortunate General Nicolas Luckner. The regimental colonel was Francois-Raymond Duval who appointed Espagne as his ADC and promoted him to Sous Lieutenant in which capacity he served at Valmy on 20 September 1792
In November 1792, Espagne was invited to, and attended the wedding of General Thomas Alexandre-Davy de la Pailleterie (often referred to simply as Alexandre) Dumas at Villers-Cotterets, where he learned that as a reward for his conduct during the Dumouriez affair, he was to be posted as Chef d'Escadron to the 5e Regiment des Hussards who were to be brigaded with the 2e Hussards (formerly the Chamborant Hussards).
Espagne was at Neerwinden on 18 March 1793 with his brigade, which performed brilliantly. He also had put in an excellent performance. He was made adjutant general, Chef-de-Brigade and in September of that year he married Marie-Sophie at Reims when General Dumas was among the guests. He also learned that Marie-Sophie's brother had enlisted as a Volontaire in the 1er Bataillon de la Marne.
Espagne was present at the capture of Mont Cenis in May 1794. Sometime later that year, the brilliant young General Lazare Hoche succeeded Dumas as General en Chef and ordered the army to be drawn up in revue order. The cavalry consisted of the Hussards under Ney, the Chasseurs under Richepance, the Dragons under Klein and the Grosse Cavalerie under d'Hautpoul. Having almost completed his inspection, Hoche, stopped and spoke to Espagne and complemented him on the turnout of his men.
The next event of any significance in Espagne's life came on 19 February 1795 when Marie-Sophie gave birth to their first child, a son, Jean-Baptiste-Paul-Emile.
Espagne was made General-de-Brigade on the 10th July 1799. He was then present at Moesskirch, Hochstaedt, Neubourg, Hohenlinden and Erding during 1800. He suffered a wound to his arm at Neubourg and spent some time in hospital. Also during August of that year, his second child, another boy, Jean-Brigitte-Camille was born. He ended the year by being given command of a brigade in the division of General Joseph-Helie-Desire-Perruquet de Montrichard.
On 2 January 1804, Espagne was made Commandant de la Grand Croix de la Legion d'Honneur and on 1 February the following year he was promoted to General-de-Division.
He began a period of service in 1er Corps de l'Armee de Naples still under Massena in February 1806 and was soon engaged in the pursuit of the brigand Fra Diavolo who was intent on restoring Naples to the Bourbons. He was eventually caught, found guilty at a trial, and executed in late 1806. He was a barbaric man who shocked even his own followers with his cruelty.
Espagne immediately returned to the Grande Armee at the end of November 1806 where he was given the 3e Division des Cuirassiers. He was present at the siege of Danzig with le Marechal Lefebvre in March of 1807 and then at Heilsberg on 10 June where Murat had 91 squadrons, 13,000 sabres at his disposal. Espagne's division was in the first line. The 1st Brigade comprised the 4e and 6e Cuirassiers with their commander General Nicolas Reynaud. General Albert-Louis-Emmanuel Fouler commanded the 2nd Brigade with the 7e and 8e Cuirassiers. Both Espagne and Fouler suffered wounds during this battle. Colonel Herbault Baron Fulgent of the 4e Cuirassiers took a very serious head wound from a sabre from which he eventually died. Also wounded were Colonels Archange-Louis Rioult Davenay and Francois-Joseph Offenstein of the 6e and 7e Cuirassiers respectively. The only regimental commander to escape unscathed that day was Jean-Baptiste-Gabriel Merlin of the 8e.
The big Gascon General was decorated as Grand Officier de la Legion d'Honneur the following month and made Comte de l'Empire in April 1808.
In March of 1809 Espagne commanded the 3e Division of Cuirassiers of Lannes 2e Corps in Germany. During the battle of Aspern-Essling on the 21st and 22nd May 1809 Espagne retained the same command with the same brigade chiefs. Of the colonels, Francois Borghese Prince Aldobrandini had taken over the 4e succeeding the late Colonel Fulgent, while Colonel Francois-Charles d'Avranges Haugeranville took over the 6e Cuirassiers.
Leading his squadrons in action on the 21st Espagne was hit by grapeshot in the lower abdomen and fell from his horse. He regained his feet and two officers, Chenzeville and Kauffer supported him but blood spurted from his wounds and he collapsed again. Within seconds the great soldier was dead. The officers wrapped him in his white cuirassiers cloak and men of the 6e Cuirassiers carried his body across to the Isle of Lobau and buried him a short distance away. Two large stones taken from the river Danube marked the spot.
He was one of the finest of heavy cavalry commanders and his loss in May of 1809 was yet another blow to the Emperor. However, things were to get very much worse the following day when perhaps the greatest soldier of Napoleonic times, the brilliant Marechal Jean Lannes, duc de Montebello had both his legs smashed by a ricocheting cannonball at Essling. The great Lannes, favourite and one of Napoleon's very few true friends, died from his wounds on the 31st.
There is reason to believe that Espagne and Sophie-Marie had four children and research continues on this aspect. He also had at least two sisters, one of whom died very young. Attempts to establish the names of all of his siblings are also proceeding.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2002
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