The Brave Campaigner Francois Lefebvre
Monument to Lefebvre on rue Rivoli, facade of the Louvre
In this article, we will continue the story about Napoleon's marshals who did not shine with purity of blood, whom fate gave a chance to rise to the top rungs of the hierarchy of the First French Empire. One of them was François Joseph Lefebvre, the miller's son, who also received the title of Duke of Danzig from Bonaparte.
The future duke was born on October 25, 1755 in the town of Rouffach in the territory historical the region of Alsace, over which the French and the Germans argued for many centuries.
Lefebvre's native language was German. In this respect, he is similar to Ney, a native of Lorraine, whose hometown is currently located in the Federal Republic of Germany (Saarland). Moreover, even at the end of his life, Lefebvre spoke German better than French.
The real surname of the hero of our article is Feber, however, the royal official changed it to the French style when preparing the documents.
At the eighteenth year of his life, the young man was left an orphan, having entered the care of an uncle, who was a Catholic priest. It is believed that it was this relative who taught him to read and write, believing that the pupil has a direct road to the theological seminary or to one of the monasteries. However, young Lefebvre was not at all going to bury himself alive outside the walls of some monastery. Moreover, before his eyes he had an example of an older brother who served in Strasbourg in one of the royal regiments.
In 1773, the young man went to Paris (they say that on foot), where he managed to enter a private in the Guards regiment, which, of course, was a success for him.
Lefebvre's family life
In 1783 (at the age of 28) Lefebvre got married. His chosen one, the seamstress Katrin Yubscher, as you probably guessed, could not boast of a noble origin and at the time of her marriage she was illiterate. Lefebvre taught it to read and write, and in two languages - German and French. He loved his wife and did not part with her, even becoming a duke and a marshal.
Even enemies said about Lefebvre that in the whole wide world he "loves only his wife, homeland and the emperor" (however, Lefebvre calmly betrayed the emperor in 1814, but not alone - with other marshals).
Catherine also loved her husband and said:
People who knew Katrin well remembered not only her common manners, but also her sober mind and sanity. For example, they tell about her reaction to the proposal to her husband to become a member of the Directory:
They must be crazy if they want to make a fool like you king! "
To the mocking questions of the arrogant aristocrats about her origin, she calmly replied:
And Napoleon once told the Duchess de Lusignan that he
Their family had 14 children (12 of them were boys), but almost all of them died in infancy. The only son who survived to adulthood - Marie Xavier Joseph, nicknamed "Coco" (chick), grew up headstrong, spoiled and capricious. The parents' hopes did not live up to.
He also became a military man, but in all units where he served, he had the worst reputation, and the commanders tried to get rid of him as quickly as possible - even at the cost of promotion.
He started out as a sub-lieutenant of the Consular Guard, then was transferred to the 8th Dragoon regiment, then - service in the headquarters of the Hanoverian army, the 9th hussar regiment, the regiment of horse rangers of the Imperial Guard, the headquarters of the Portuguese army, the headquarters of the III corps of Marshal Ney.
In addition, he served as aide-de-camp to generals Bessières and Soult (not yet marshals), and for some time was also his father's aide-de-camp. He quickly became a brigadier general, but did not enjoy authority with his superiors and subordinates. During the retreat of the Great Army from Moscow, Lefebvre's son was wounded and taken prisoner in Vilna, where he died of his wounds at the age of 28.
As a result, his niece, whom he treated like a daughter, became the heiress of the duke and the marshal.
Military service of François Lefebvre: from private to general
We left François Lefebvre as a private in the Royal Guards, headquartered in Paris.
He served well and met the revolution with the rank of prime-sergeant.
It is curious that Lefebvre received his first wound while protecting the officers of his regiment from an aggressive crowd that wanted to deal with them. For this, he even received a commemorative medal from the commander of the National Guard Lafayette and the City Hall of Paris.
On August 31, 1789, Lefebvre's regiment was disbanded, and he, like most of his rank-and-file colleagues, joined the National Guard. There were not enough officers, since many nobles refused to serve the republic. Therefore, Prime Sergeant Lefebvre became a lieutenant here. And in this position, he was again wounded - in the Bellevue castle, where he defended the now elderly relatives of Louis XVI from the crowd. It happened in February 1791.
Not a very typical start to the careers of a Republican general and an Imperial marshal, is it?
It is curious that Lieutenant Lefebvre was then assisted by Lieutenant Colonel Berthier, who almost died in the ensuing scuffle. They say that it was Lefebvre who saved the life of the future chief of staff of Napoleon.
In 1792, Lefebvre again restrains the crowd trying to plunder the building of the State Treasury.
Finally, it is Lefebvre who is tasked with delivering the royal family detained in Varenne to Paris. And again he had to drive the crowds away from the carriage with the unlucky fugitives.
As a result, although he had not yet sniffed real gunpowder, by 1792 he rose to the rank of colonel. And only then did he first go to the front, taking part in the hostilities on the Rhine.
Portrait of Lefebvre, Austrian National Library
Here on December 2, 1793, he received the rank of brigadier general.
Quite late for those times: Lefebvre was already 38 years old. Bonaparte, we recall, became a general at the age of 24.
Finally, on January 10, 1794, Lefebvre received the rank of divisional general.
General François Lefebvre
The first time Lefebvre attracted close attention at the Battle of Fleurus (June 26, 1794, the war of the First Coalition).
Here he very successfully led one of the divisions, first repelling three attacks, and then breaking through the enemy's defenses. The French army was then led by General Jourdan, who used a balloon to observe the battle. In his army, in addition to Lefebvre, another future marshal, Soult, fought. And also Jean-Baptiste Kleber, who in 1799 led the Eastern army of Bonaparte after the Corsican on the frigate "Muiron" left Egypt.
The battle at Fleurus could have ended differently if it had not been for the surrender literally on the day of this battle of the city of Charleroi, to whose aid Friedrich of Coburg, who commanded the Austrians, went. Upon learning that the city was already occupied by the French, he preferred to withdraw his army in an organized manner. Either way, the retreat of the Austrians to Brussels allowed the French to declare themselves victors. The news of this victory aroused great enthusiasm in France and in Paris.
The next big battle, in which Lefebvre took part, took place on June 4, 1796 at Altenkirchen. Here, two French divisions (which included three future marshals - Lefebvre, Soult and Ney) under the general command of Kleber attacked and defeated part of the Austrian army of the Duke of Württemberg. Lefebvre acted in the center.
Monument to General Kleber, Strasbourg
Lefebvre's subordinates then captured about three thousand prisoners, 12 cannons and 4 banners.
Then there were battles at Friedberg (where Lefebvre fought under the command of General Moreau) and Sulzbach (Lefebvre commanded the left wing of Jourdan's army, Ney led the vanguard).
In 1797, Lefebvre's division ended up in the Sambre-Meuse army, commanded by General Gauche. On April 18, in the battle of Neuwied, Lefebvre's soldiers captured 7 banners. But then, as you probably remember from the article dedicated to this marshal, she was not lucky: pursuing the Austrians, he, at the head of 500 hussars, stumbled upon the reserve units of the Austrians of 6 thousand people and was held captive for some time.
In 1798, the talented General Gauche died unexpectedly, whom (the only one) Napoleon Bonaparte agreed to recognize as his equal.
Upon learning of his death, he said:
General Louis-Lazare Gauche, monument in Montreuil (Montreuil, suburb of Versailles)
After the death of Gauche, Lefebvre unexpectedly found himself at the post of commander of the Sambre-Meuse army.
But next year we see him again under the command of Joubert - now in the Danube army. Here, in the First Battle of Stockach, the French were defeated and were forced to retreat beyond the Rhine (General Moreau would take revenge in the Second Battle of Stockach - in a year). Lefebvre was seriously wounded in this battle and was sent to Paris for treatment.
After recovering, he became the commander of the troops of the capital garrison. And therefore Lefebvre was very dangerous for Napoleon and Sieyes, who were preparing a coup d'etat. Moreover, this general was a man from a different army, competing with the Italian army, in which he made a name for himself Bonaparte.
However, Napoleon then found an approach to the harsh Alsatian, who allegedly even promised him support, stating that he was ready to drown in the Seine "lawyers who cling to power."
- wrote later Lefebvre Mortier.
Bonaparte praised Lefebvre's loyalty. General was promoted to
Commander of the 17th Military District, became first a senator and then president of the Senate.
At his coronation on May 18, 1804, he was instructed to hold the state sword. And the very next day, Napoleon included him among his first marshals. Although, according to the general opinion, Lefebvre did not have the talents of a commander and was just an executive and courageous campaigner. But, apparently, Napoleon also needed such marshals.
Lefebvre treated his high position without the pathos of the same Murat, but at the same time considered him well deserved. So, to one of the guests who drew attention to the luxury of the furnishings of his house, he said:
In the future, Lefebvre, among other positions, will be appointed commander of the infantry of the imperial guard.
During the war of the Fourth Coalition, Lefebvre took part in the battle of Jena.
Then the X Corps under his command (which, in addition to the French, included Dombrowski's Poles, Italians, Saxons and Badenians) was sent to besiege the strategically important Prussian city of Danzig. Arriving at him, Lefebvre told the military engineers:
It was not possible to punch a hole, and the siege, which lasted from March 19 to May 24, 1807, ended with the honorable surrender of Danzig: the troops of the Prussian garrison left the city in full formation - to the drumbeat and with banners unfurled.
On May 28, 1807, the emperor issued a decree granting Lefebvre the title of Duke of Danzig. In addition, he presented him three hundred thousand francs in a Danzig chocolate box. This case became known among the troops, and since then, in the French army, unexpected gifts began to be called "Danzig chocolate".
This was followed by an appointment to Spain, where Lefebvre's IV corps fought successfully in the battles of Duranto, Balmaceda and Espinoza.
In 1809, during the war with Austria, Lefebvre took part in the Battle of Eckmühl, and then commanded the Tyrolean army.
In the war of 1812, Lefebvre entered the rank of commander of the Old Guard, which remained in reserve all the time, and therefore did not take part in hostilities.
He did not participate in the 1813 campaign either.
He ended up in the army again in 1814. The Marshal was almost 60 years old, but this did not prevent him from personally leading the attack of two guards battalions on the village of Marchais in the battle of Montmirail (February 11), and then leading his soldiers to the bridge in the battle of Montero (February 18). There were also battles at Arsi-sur-Aube (the last in 1814, where Napoleon personally commanded the troops) and Champobert (here Russian generals Olsufiev and Poltoratsky were captured by the French, and a horse was killed at Lefebvre).
But in April 1814 Lefebvre became one of the participants in the "rebellion of the marshals" in Fontainebleau. Then the old comrades-in-arms refused to obey the emperor, demanding that he abdicate the throne.
Moreover, it was Lefebvre who suggested that the Senate expel both Napoleon and his relatives from the country. Subsequently, Lefebvre calmly swore allegiance to Louis XVIII and received from him the title of peerage of France, retaining all the awards and titles given to him by Napoleon.
During the "100 days" Lefebvre personally congratulated Napoleon on his arrival in Paris - but no more. Nevertheless, the Bourbons who returned in the train of the allied armies deprived him of the titles of Marshal, Peerage of France and the title of Duke. However, not for long: they returned everything back in 1819.
Lefebvre already had a premonition of his death and several times went to the Père-Lachaise cemetery to choose a place for his grave. He found it next to Massena's grave and not far from the graves of two other marshals, Perignon and Serurier.
François Lefebvre died on September 14, 1820.
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