Military Review

Gouvion Saint-Cyr. Artist with a marshal's baton


Laurent de Gouvion-Saint-Cyr was a versatile gifted person: he painted well (and studied painting seriously), was a good draftsman, tried himself as an architect, and studied music. However, he was not popular in the army and among other associates of Napoleon. The reason for this was the unpleasant "coldness" and lack of communication of this marshal, thanks to which he acquired the not too flattering nicknames "Owl" and "Ice Man". The reason, perhaps, was the troubles in the family, which deformed the character of the future marshal: his mother left the family, leaving her young son, and the relationship with his father was also very difficult.

At the same time, in contrast to the same Davout, who was often rude to officers, but cared about the rank and file. Saint-Cyr was indifferent to any questions not related to the immediate preparation for battles. Marbeau writes: this marshal

"I wanted to be brought to the battlefield with regiments completely ready for battle, and that he did not have to deal with those matters, the purpose of which is to keep military units in good condition."

Modern researchers, recognizing the military talents of Saint-Cyr and considering him a good tactician, still do not call him a great commander, capable of winning military campaigns on his own. They note his composure on the battlefield, foresight, thoroughness in developing plans. Stendhal writes that Saint-Cyr “was one of the rare military leaders who could pore over studying documents". At the same time, they talk about the stubbornness and inflexibility of this marshal, who, faced with criticism, either continued to do what he considered necessary, or fell into apathy and was inactive, blaming anyone (even Napoleon) for his failures, but not himself.

Early life of Saint-Cyr

Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr was born on April 13, 1764 in Lorraine (city of Toul) in a fairly wealthy family of a hereditary tanner Jean-Baptiste Gouvion. From previous articles, you remember that almost all Napoleonic marshals entered military service voluntarily and often against the will of their parents. We see a completely different picture in the case of Saint-Cyr: his father assigned him to the Artillery School, but he did not want to become a military man and in Paris he became a student of the local artist Brenet. Not satisfied with his lessons, he left for Italy. When the young man returned to France, it turned out that the paintings of an unknown painter did not cause public interest, there was nothing to live on, and it was a shame to return home, and I didn’t really want to. And the future marshal got a job in one of the small and not very well-known theater companies, however, he played in it without much brilliance and success. All in all, in royal France, Saint-Cyr was a typical failure with no future or prospects. The opportunity to change his fate, like many others, was given by the Great French Revolution.

Gouvion Saint-Cyr in the Republican Army

In 1792, 28-year-old Saint-Cyr entered one of the volunteer battalions, where, thanks to his studies at the Artillery School, he was selected as a sergeant and then appointed captain.

Gouvion Saint-Cyr. Artist with a marshal's baton
Georges Rouget. Captain Gouvion Saint-Cyr, Captain of the 1st Jaeger Battalion, 1792

Since he was a good draftsman and was well versed in topography, he soon found himself at the headquarters of General Adam Philippe Custine. He was in good standing and his career advancement was rapid: in 1793 Saint-Cyr was promoted to major in the staff service, in 1794 - he became colonel of the topographic department of the army headquarters. It was then that he added to his surname the mother's surname (Saint-Cyr). He did this due to the fact that among his colleagues there were namesakes and confusion often occurred. In June 1794, Saint-Cyr received the rank of brigadier general, but after 6 days he was promoted to divisional. The application for a new title stated:

“His impeccable conduct and civic prowess are known to all comrades in arms. Talents, perseverance, enterprise, courage, success in the campaign were reaffirmed in all the positions that he held. "

In 1795, Saint-Cyr was assigned to the Army of the Rhine, where he served under the command of such brilliant generals as Gauche (traditionally considered Bonaparte's main rival), Jourdan (future marshal) and Moreau.

Jean-Victor Moreau, with whom Saint-Cyr did not get along too well, had a rather high opinion of this general. His phrase was known in the army:

"With Desay, battles are won, with Saint-Cyr they are not lost."

And Marbeau, in his memoirs, calls Saint-Cyr "one of the best generals, more talented than most of those to whom Napoleon handed the marshal's baton"(In 1804). But let's not get ahead of ourselves and go back to 1796, when Saint-Cyr was in the Rhine-Moselle army of Jean-Victor Moreau. Despite the initial successes, after the defeat of the allied Sambro-Mass army of Jourdan, Moreau was forced to withdraw from the Danube to the Rhine. This retreat is traditionally rated very highly; researchers consider it one of the pinnacles of Moro's military leadership. And Saint-Cyr acted very effectively then.

In 1798 he was sent to Italy, where in March he replaced the carried away "collection of contributionsGeneral Massena as commander of the Roman army.

The following year, Saint-Cyr was again subordinate to Moreau, whose army in Italy opposed the Russian-Austrian troops of Suvorov. In the Battle of Novi, lost by the French, he showed himself well, commanding the rearguard, thanks to which Moreau was able to withdraw the remnants of his troops to Genoa. However, at the same time, ill-wishers accused Saint-Cyr of not coming to the aid of Vatren's division. They even assured that, watching her beating from the side, he declared with satisfaction:

"It would be nice to teach a few lessons to the generals of the Neapolitan army."

(Saint-Cyr, as you remember, was the representative of the northern armies of the French Republic).

Already on the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon said, recalling Saint-Cyr:

"He allowed his comrades to be smashed."

In 1800 Saint-Cyr commanded the III Corps of Moreau's Rhine Army. However, he often ignored the orders of the commander, preferring to act independently. As a result, during the battle of Meskirche, Saint-Cyr's corps approached too late, which allowed the Austrians to save their army from complete defeat. True, the next day the late Saint-Cyr corps defeated the Austrians at Biberach. However, not only Moreau, but also other generals and senior officers began to accuse Saint-Cyr of arrogance and even hint of betrayal. The offended "hero" in protest practically stopped interaction with the main army. Moreau in this case clearly lacked the determination of Bonaparte, who once, seeing Saint-Cyr's unwillingness to go to command the troops in Naples, told the obstinate general that if two hours later he was not seen on the road to Naples, he would be shot on the Field of Grenelle by noon ... That was the end of the discussion.

In 1801 Saint-Cyr replaced Lucien Bonaparte as Ambassador of the French Republic to Spain. Then he returned to Italy.

Jean Urbain Guerin. Portrait of Saint-Cyr, 1801

Imperial period of service of Saint-Cyr

In 1804, a member of the Tribunate, Jean François Curet, came up with a proposal to elect Napoleon as emperor:

"The age of Bonaparte is now in its fourth year, and the nation wants a leader as celebrated as its destiny."

This is how a pun appeared in Paris:

"The republic died, and Kure buried it."

For the first time, by the way, Berthier turned to Bonaparte with a similar proposal - back in 1801. This aroused the wrath of Napoleon, who even publicly beat his closest associate. Most historians regard this scene as a pre-staged performance designed to show the immutability of the Republican convictions of the First Consul. Others believe that the marshal was in a hurry: he guessed the direction of Bonaparte's thoughts, but voiced them too early.

Curé, to whom Napoleon would later give the title of count, probably also did not act spontaneously. Senators also got it right and, "for the glory and prosperity of the Republic", Proclaimed Bonaparte"Emperor of the French". They took into account that Napoleon does not want to be a king - the "heir" of the compromised Bourbons, but wants to become on a par with Augustus, Trajan and Charlemagne. True, not everyone understood at once how radically the situation in the country had changed. The fact is that revolutionary France was guided by republican Rome, where the imperium, as a symbol of the highest military and civil power, received consuls and praetors. And the "republican emperors" were not hereditary monarchs and received the "imperium" not by "God's grace", but on behalf of the Roman people, and not for life, but for a certain period of time. In addition, after a great victory, soldiers of one of the armies could proclaim their commanders as emperors. It was just an honorary title, and such "army" emperors did not have any additional rights and privileges.

The first emperor of the Roman Republic was Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Sulla and Pompey had the Imperium. And the last of these republican emperors was Gaius Julius Caesar. And the most slow-witted for a while tried to call Napoleon “Emperor of the French Republic».

Saint-Cyr was one of the few who refused to sign the petition for Napoleon to accept the title of emperor. However, this “opposition” of his had no consequences. Saint-Cyr became colonel-general of the cuirassiers of the Imperial Guard, during the 1805 campaign he led one of the corps in Massena's army. Then he defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Castelfranco, taking about 5 thousand prisoners.

Then Saint-Cyr acted as the head of the deserted camp of Boulogne. According to contemporaries, he did not show much interest in business, relying on his deputies, and was mainly engaged in painting.

In 1807 he acquired the Reverso Castle. It was in it that he spent the last 10 years of his life. This castle still belongs to his family.

Chateau de Reverseaux

In 1808 Saint-Cyr was sent to Catalonia. Here on December 21, he won a victory at Molino del Rey, but this was his only success. Later, Saint-Cyr even accused Napoleon of having deliberately sent him to the Iberian War in order to discredit and damage his reputation - in retaliation for the fact that he was a representative of the Rhine army and for a long time served under the command of the disgraced General Moreau.

As a result, Napoleon ordered Saint-Cyr to transfer his corps to General Suchet, who just acted very effectively. This was discussed in the article "Perhaps, Suchet?".

1812 year

Saint-Cyr on an engraving from the collection "Napoleon I and His Time"

The rank of Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr received in 1812 during a campaign in Russia. At that time, he led the VI Corps of the Great Army, which was supposed to provide support to the troops of Marshal Oudinot sent to Polotsk. They were opposed by Wittgenstein's Russian army, which covered the road to St. Petersburg. The first military clashes here took place on August 16 - simultaneously with the Smolensk battle. Wittgenstein's troops pushed the French hard, and Saint-Cyr was in his repertoire, answering all Oudinot's questions with mocking bows and the words “Your Excellency Mr. Marshal!»

Marbeau explains:

"This was supposed to mean: since you were promoted to marshal, you should know more about everything than me, a simple general, so get out of the situation as best you can!"

Only after the injury of Oudinot, who was evacuated to Vilno, Saint-Cyr, taking command over himself, threw Wittgenstein back, for which he received the rank of marshal. After that Saint-Cyr, comfortably accommodated in one of the monasteries, was inactive until mid-October. Finally, Wittgenstein decided to attack Polotsk again. Saint-Cyr repulsed this attack (in one of the battles he was wounded), but upon learning that the Russian corps of General Steingel was moving along the left bank of the Dvina to Polotsk, he left the city and went to meet the new enemy. Having defeated Steingel, he moved his troops to join the main army. Napoleon sent Victor's IX corps to meet him. Saint-Cyr, having transferred command to General Legrand, under the pretext of the need for treatment, went to France.

1813 Campaign

Returning to service, Saint-Cyr was given command of the XIV Corps, with which he took part in the initially successful Saxon campaign. He was tasked with protecting Dresden, which served as the main base of the French army.

While Napoleon was trying to defeat Blucher, retreating in front of him, in a field battle, the Russian-Austrian army under the command of Schwarzenberg approached the city. Saint-Cyr managed to hold out until the approach of the main forces, and in a two-day battle, the coalition forces were again defeated. And here the character of Saint-Cyr again manifested itself: ill-wishers claimed that he deliberately pursued the retreating opponents too slowly and did not provide assistance to General Vandam. As a result, Vandam was defeated and captured at Kulm. This unexpected victory encouraged the Allies and prompted them to abandon new negotiations with Bonaparte.

During the grandiose three-day battle at Leipzig, Saint-Cyr was in Dresden. He was instructed to gather troops in the fortresses located on the Elbe and to withdraw them beyond the Rhine. However, after Napoleon's retreat to France, Dresden was besieged by the troops of General Klena. An attempt to break through to join the French troops in the Torgau fortress (77 km north-west of Dresden) was unsuccessful. On November 11, Saint-Cyr signed an agreement with Klena to leave Dresden in exchange for the possibility of free passage to France. However, the Allied High Command refused to abide by this treaty. With his soldiers lacking food and ammunition, Saint-Cyr, the only one of Napoleon's marshals, chose to surrender. He gave his sword to the little-known Russian general M.L. Bulatov.

Commenting on the fall of Dresden, Bonaparte wrote:

“The surrender of Saint-Cyr in Dresden is a schoolchild's mistake, it is in many ways similar to the surrender of Mack at Ulm. In the place of Saint-Cyr, Rapp, Carnot and Davout would show how to defend fortresses. "

And further:

“My fault is that I used Saint-Cyr; he did not go into the fire, allowed his comrades to fight alone, and could help Vandam. He was loved by those who served under him because he rarely fought and prepared for peace. "

In the service of the Bourbons

Before Napoleon's abdication, Gouvion Saint-Cyr lived comfortably in the resort of Carlsbad, then he swore allegiance to the Bourbons, having received the title of peerage from Louis XVIII and the post of commander of the troops in Orleans.

After Napoleon's return, Saint-Cyr refused to join the emperor, but did not want to go to Vendée to lead a new royalist revolt there. After the return of Louis, the marshal was appointed minister of war and initiated reforms that are highly appreciated by experts.

In 1817 Saint-Cyr received the title of Marquis. Until the end, however, the Bourbons still did not trust him, and therefore in 1819 he was dismissed. Quietly and unnoticed, the marshal lived in his castle for almost 11 years, wrote his memoirs and was engaged in agriculture. Here he died in March 1830. The cause of his death was a stroke. Buried Saint-Cyr was at the Père Lachaise cemetery.

Tomb of Marshal Saint-Cyr at the Père Lachaise cemetery. Postcard from the collection "Le Pere Lachaise historique" de Fernand Fleury

Now look at the portrait of Saint-Cyr by O. Vernet:

Sounds like it, doesn't it?

The eulogy at his grave was delivered by Marshal Mortier, who will outlive him for 5 years, and in July 1835 will die as a result of a terrorist attack.
31 comment

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  1. Catfish
    Catfish 11 January 2022 18: 24
    Well, now the marshals have returned, otherwise I have already missed it. smile
  2. VLR
    11 January 2022 18: 58
    By the way, in Italy in 1799 he painted caricatured portraits of Suvorov. However, unfortunately I could not find them.
    1. Catfish
      Catfish 11 January 2022 19: 17
      Good evening, Valery! hi

      I also searched and did not find anything, there are some absolutely go from skie caricatures that I don't even want to post here.
      1. Pane Kohanku
        Pane Kohanku 12 January 2022 12: 38
        I also searched and did not find anything, there are some absolutely go from skie caricatures that I don't even want to post here.

        Uncle Kostya, hello! I have not seen about Suvorov, but found about my favorite character - about Pavel.

        Engraving by James Gillray after drawing by an unknown artist, 1799.
        In general, an unknown "liberal" who lived in St. Petersburg painted Paul in 1799 as "the big global fender of French freedom", and ferried it to England, where Mr. Gillray re-engraved it in the same year under the title "Noble Ally."
        Exhibited at the State Historical Museum.
        1. Catfish
          Catfish 12 January 2022 12: 49
          Hi, Nikolay! hi

          So Pavel's physimordia was such that she herself asked for a caricature. What to do, what we were born with, we live with that. wink
        2. VLR
          12 January 2022 19: 13
          And here, in an English cartoon of 1799, Suvorov leads the French directors (including Barras and Sieyes) to Petersburg:

          "Do you recognize" Alexander Vasilyevich? smile
          1. Pane Kohanku
            Pane Kohanku 12 January 2022 20: 43
            "Do you recognize" Alexander Vasilyevich?

            Valery, it looks like pasta in Italy had a strong effect on him! good He got fat, gained in height, and also let go of his mustache ... fellow drinks
            Interestingly, Prussia already had this emblem - a skull with bones, like the subsequent Prussian hussars?
  3. vladcub
    vladcub 11 January 2022 20: 38
    When I read: "Govion" I wanted to say: I have not heard of such a thing. And the surname Saint Cyr is familiar.
    Valery, is the Saint Cyr military school related to him or not?
    1. VLR
      11 January 2022 21: 11
      No, this is not from the surname, but from the geographical name. This military school was founded by Napoleon in Fontainebleau either in 1802 or in 1803. And in 1808 (according to other sources - in 1806) she was transferred to a village called Saint-Cyr, and to the building of a boarding house for noble maidens. An interesting coincidence with the name of the hero of the article. By the way, since 1945 she has been in Brittany, in the town of Ger - on the outskirts of the Broceliande Forest (where the fairies about whom I wrote smile)
      1. vladcub
        vladcub 12 January 2022 08: 25
        Fig knows him, perhaps the mother's surname is associated with that village? Hotz to "tie" the marshal to the school
        1. VLR
          12 January 2022 09: 12
          Unlikely. Wrong family. And it is unlikely that Napoleon would have wanted to somehow associate the military school he was creating with the name of one of his generals (Saint-Cyr at that time was not even a marshal - one of many).
          1. vladcub
            vladcub 12 January 2022 21: 04
            "one of the many" is the whole point: he wouldn't bind.
            Bonopart knew how to "manage his" stallions.
  4. vladcub
    vladcub 11 January 2022 20: 46
    Comrades, I look at all these marshals. They are all different, but they have one thing in common: in the republican army there was a catastrophic shortage of officers and a private could immediately be made an officer, and there he, for the most part, won the attention of Napoleon for his courage.
    1. VLR
      11 January 2022 21: 21
      It was like that with us too: Marshal Budyonny was a former Tsarist non-commissioned officer. Chapaev is a sergeant major. Marshal Malinovsky is the commander of the machine-gun crew. Frunze - generally had nothing to do with the army. Tukhachevsky, Dybenko, etc.
      1. vladcub
        vladcub 12 January 2022 07: 16
        Valery, Tukhachevsky graduated from the cadet school, so he was to Chapaev, Budyonny, it seems, he was a sergeant-major - higher, not even. Dybenko simple sailor
        From harm: Chapaev or Tukhachevsky Napoleon only saw in pictures
        1. VLR
          12 January 2022 10: 09
          So there were also Napoleonic marshals with specialized military education. Including Saint-Cyr. But they were not generals or senior officers in the royal army, and they did not even hope to reach special heights under the old regime. Except, perhaps, Berthier, who can be compared with the Soviet Marshal Shaposhnikov.
          1. vladcub
            vladcub 12 January 2022 20: 57
            Generally speaking, the "social elevators" also worked for RI. For example, Denikin came from serfs. There was General Popka, began service in 14 as a private and rose to the rank of general, but they did not make it to the marshal, "the marshals have their own children" (c)
            Remember the "bearded" joke: "You will be an officer"?
            But seriously: 2/3 of the marshals with their personal courage drew Napoleon's attention.
            Bonoparte himself was probably brave and valued brave officers.
  5. depressant
    depressant 11 January 2022 21: 18
    Only now it has come to light that this is Valery's article - I apologize very much! I thought it would be in the second half of the week. Tomorrow I'll study additional materials and unsubscribe.
    In the meantime, I begin to read.
    In any case, the Author - love )))
  6. CHEREDA73
    CHEREDA73 11 January 2022 23: 55
    Thank you, Valery! Very interesting! Glad to continue the marshal cycle.
    In the Battle of Novi, lost by the French, he showed himself well, commanding the rearguard, thanks to which Moreau was able to withdraw the remnants of his troops to Genoa.

    accents should be placed differently.
    Suvorov was not given the order of Gofkrigsrat to break the remnants of Moro's defeated army. It was not possible to allocate enough troops to pursue the enemy, and then completely stop. What Suvorov reported to Pavel in the report.
    So, the French were just lucky and they had to thank the Austrians for that.
    1. Pane Kohanku
      Pane Kohanku 12 January 2022 10: 48
      What Suvorov reported to Pavel in the report.

      As a result, Pavel (already after Zurich) suddenly disliked the Austrians. An honest romantic, he took it as a betrayal.
      Alexander Vasilyevich, however, did not stop blissing himself after that, and stood up for the continuation of the war. hi
      EMNIP, Valery two years ago had an article about Archduke Charles as a commander.
      1. CHEREDA73
        CHEREDA73 12 January 2022 11: 31
        Yes, Alexander Vasilyevich, even after the Swiss campaign, had thoughts of continuing the war, and he also simply "dreamed" of a confrontation with Bonaparte. Did not work out...
        Ah, Pavel, yes, an "honest romantic", but in politics people of this kind are harmful
        1. Pane Kohanku
          Pane Kohanku 12 January 2022 12: 48
          Ah, Pavel, yes, an "honest romantic", but in politics people of this kind are harmful

          Interesting print. Paul the First points to the center of Italy, under which the signature is 1799.

          Anton and I saw the original picture (in color, and slightly modified) at an exhibition in 2020 in Gatchina. I think it really was the original. Unfortunately, I cannot find it on the internet.
          1. CHEREDA73
            CHEREDA73 12 January 2022 13: 16
            In general, the vision of the 1799 campaign was very different among us and among the Austrians, in particular.
            According to the "Russian view" it was necessary to clear Italy of the French and without wasting time, through the Genoa Riviera to transfer the hostilities to France, to strike at Lyon and, further, to Paris. It should have been like "1813-14".
            The Austrians are a completely different matter, they thought more in their favor and how to round up their possessions in Italy. No wonder they abruptly grabbed Suvorov by the uniform when Moreau rolled back to Genoa. They achieved their goal. And if the Russians want to "continue the banquet" so much, then please go to Switzerland and act aggressively against the French from there ... And we know what happened there (nothing good). Thanks to Gofkriegsrat for the "wise" orders.
 16 January 2022 19: 07
          Paul was a MAN. For which he was killed by scoundrels and traitors from among those who "little by little" or very aggressively licked ... er ... the back of the "old woman of England", loved "hugs" with evil, had no idea about ORDER, MEANING, LOYALTY. Just in politics, PEOPLE are needed ... very much. There were enough "clowns" then and now. Here they are, "clowns" - harmful. It is about such figures that they say: "Neither to God - a candle, nor to hell - a poker." It was the "dummy opportunists" from among the cunning French "nobility" that did not help their Emperor in a quality manner for the known 100 days. That in the XNUMXth century, that in the XNUMXst, that Russia, that France suffered and are suffering from "dishonest pragmatists" and "traders"
      2. CHEREDA73
        CHEREDA73 12 January 2022 11: 33
        Glad to hear from you again, Nikolai!
        1. Pane Kohanku
          Pane Kohanku 12 January 2022 12: 52
          Glad to hear from you again, Nikolai!

          Mutually glad, Eugene! drinks
  7. know
    know 12 January 2022 08: 10
    My father sent him to a military school, he himself wanted to be an artist, but became a marshal. That's really, truly:
    Ducunt Volentem Fata, Nolentem Trahunt
    1. VLR
      12 January 2022 10: 48
      And in Russia they said: "Fate will find it behind the stove."
  8. sivuch
    sivuch 12 January 2022 09: 47
    He was the best violinist among all Napoleon's marshals and generals. According to Marbeau's testimony, he also noted the marshal's baton with a long violin concert without an audience.
  9. depressant
    depressant 12 January 2022 09: 51
    Dear Valery, I go to the history section solely for my own utilitarian reasons. Personally, I am extremely interested in the issues of state governance. Here the people rushed - "Freedom, equality, brotherhood!" What did ordinary citizens gain as a result of the French Revolution, or at least what they hoped for? For what other people's rights did they fight, believing that for their own? How has attitudes towards personal and private property changed? How was administration administered locally and at higher levels? Who could become an official, and who under no circumstances? The press - to whom did it belong, to whom did it report? Who were the publishers?
    Banks ... The relationship of banks with the state and citizens - what has changed or remained the same ...
    I have an idea why Curet nominated Napoleon to the emperor. Who was Curé, whose interests he expressed?
    After all, history is a fierce struggle of interests, their victories and defeats.
  10. Cure72
    Cure72 12 January 2022 10: 40
    Finally, I waited for the continuation. Valery, thank you very much!