Laurent, Marquis De Gouvion Saint-Cyr - Encyclopedia

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LAURENT GOUVION SAINT-CYR, MARQUIS DE (1764-1830), French marshal, was born at Toul on the 13th of April 1764. At the age of eighteen he went to Rome with the view of prosecuting the study of painting, but although he continued his artistic studies after his return to Paris in 1784 he never definitely adopted the profession of a painter. In 1792 he was chosen a captain in a volunteer battalion, and served on the staff of General Custine. Promotion rapidly followed, and in the course of two years he had become a general of division. In 1796 he commanded the centre division of Moreau's army in the campaign of the Rhine, and by coolness and sagacity greatly aided him in the celebrated retreat from Bavaria to the Rhine. In 1798 he succeeded Massena in the command of the army of Italy. In the following year he commanded the left wing of Jourdan's army in Germany; but when Jourdan was succeeded by Massena, he joined the army of Moreau in Italy, where he distinguished himself in face of the great difficulties that followed the defeat of Novi. When Moreau, in 1800, was appointed to the command of the army of the Rhine, Gouvion St-Cyr was named his principal lieutenant, and on the 9th of May gained a victory over General Kray at Biberach. He was not, however, on good terms with his commander and retired to France after the first operations of the campaign. In 1801 he was sent to Spain to command the army intended for the invasion of Portugal, and was named grand officer of the Legion of Honour. When a treaty of peace was shortly afterwards concluded with Portugal, he succeeded Lucien Bonaparte as ambassador at Madrid. In 1803 he was appointed to the command of an army corps in Italy, in 1805 he served with distinction under Massena, and in 1806 was engaged in the campaign in southern Italy. He took part in the Prussian and Polish campaigns of 1807, and in 1808, in which year he was made a count, he commanded an army corps in Catalonia; but, not wishing to comply with certain orders he received from Paris (for which see Oman, Peninsular War, vol. iii.), he resigned his command and remained in disgrace till 1811. He was still a general of division, having been excluded from the first list of marshals owing to his action in refusing to influence the troops in favour of the establishment of the Empire. On the opening of the Russian campaign he received command of an army corps, and on the 18th of August 1812 obtained a victory over the Russians at Polotsk, in recognition of which he was created a marshal of France. He received a severe wound in one of the actions during the general retreat. St-Cyr distinguished himself at the battle of Dresden (August 26-27, 1813), and in the defence of that place against the Allies after the battle of Leipzig, capitulating only on the 11th of November, when Napoleon had retreated to the Rhine. On the restoration of the Bourbons he was created a peer of France, and in July 1815 was appointed war minister, but resigned his office in the November following. In June 1817 he was appointed minister of marine, and in September following again resumed the duties of war minister, which he continued to discharge till November 1819. During this time he effected many reforms, particularly in respect of measures tending to make the army a national rather than a dynastic force. He exerted himself also to safeguard the rights of the old soldiers of the Empire, organized the general staff and revised the code of military law and the pension regulations. He was made a marquess in 1817. He died at Hyeres (Var) on the 17th of March 1830. Gouvion St-Cyr would doubtless have obtained better opportunities of acquiring distinction had he shown himself more blindly devoted to the interests of Napoleon, but Napoleon paid him the high compliment of referring to his "military genius," and entrusted him with independent commands in secondary theatres of war. It is doubtful, however, if he possessed energy commensurate with his skill, and in Napoleon's modern conception of war, as three parts moral to one technical, there was more need for the services of a bold leader of troops whose "doctrine" - to use the modern phrase - predisposed him to self-sacrificing and vigorous action, than for a savant in the art of war of the type of St-Cyr. Contemporary opinion, as reflected by Marbot, did justice to his "commanding talents," but remarked the indolence which was the outward sign of the vague complexity of a mind that had passed beyond the simplicity of mediocrity without attaining the simplicity of genius.

He was the author of the following works, all of the highest value: Journal des operations de l'armee de Catalogne en 1808 et 1809 (Paris, 1821); Memoires sur les campagnes des armees de Rhin et de Rhin-et-Moselle de 1794 d 1797 (Paris, 1829); and Memoires pour servir a l'histoire militaire sous le Directoire, le Consulat, et l'Empire (1831).

See Gay de Vernon's Vie de Gouvion Saint-Cyr (1857).

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