Marshal Pierre-François-Charles Augereau, , 1757-1816

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Marshal Pierre-François-Charles Augereau (1757-1816) was a successful Revolutionary general and one of Napoleon's best generals in Italy in 1796 but his later military career was undistinguished, and his actions in 1814 and 1815 cost him his reputation and his titles.

Augereau was from a humble background. He was the son of a German mother and a Parisian (a grocer, stone mason or servant). Augereau joined the French army at a young age, but his first spell of service was quite short. In 1777 he quit the French army after being accused of killing a fellow officer. He then went on to serve in the Russian and Prussian armies, amongst others (when he returned to the French army after the revolution he was initially known as the Big Prussian).

After the Revolution Augereau re-joined the French army. His second spell in French service began with a spell in the Vendée, fighting against a major Royalist uprising. This wasn't a very promising campaign for an ambitious officer, lacking the major battles that could make a reputation. Augereau managed to get transferred to the Spanish front, where the French faced an invasion across the Pyrenees.

In May 1794 Augereau began to establish his reputation as a successful commander. He took part in the battle of Le Boulou (30 April-1 May 1794), a French victory that forced the invading Spanish to retreat back across the border. The French then went on to besiege Bellegarde. Augereau defeated a larger Spanish army at the battle of San Lorenzo (13 August 1794). The Spanish split their army into several columns, allowing Augereau to defeat them individually. Bellegarde held out for another month, but surrendered on 17 September. Augereau then played a major part in the French victory at Figueras (17-20 November 1794), commanding a column that carried out an eighteen hour march through the mountains to fall on the Spanish left. Augereau remained on the Spanish front until the Spanish government made peace with France later in 1795, taking part in the inconclusive fighting on the Fluvia in April-May).

In the same year Augereau was transferred to the French Army of Italy, then a somewhat neglected force facing the Austrians and Sardinians in a campaign that moved between the north-west of Italy and the south-east of France. He fought at Loano (23 November 1795), a minor French victory won against an Austro-Piedmontese army, and played a part in the survival of the French cause over the winter of 1795-96.

In the spring of 1796 the young Napoleon was given command of the Army of Italy. In a campaign of lightning movement that befuddled the slower moving Sardinians and Austrians Napoleon forced Sardinia out of the war, repeatedly defeated the Austrians, took Milan and then became involved in a prolonged siege of the main remaining Austrian fortress in the north of Italy, Mantua. During this campaign Augereau was an aggressive commander of a division (Napoleon's Campaign in Italy).

He took part the campaign that took Napoleon across the mountains into Italy, defeating a Piedmontese force at Millesimo (13-14 April 1796). His attacks on the Piedmontese at Ceva (16 April 1796) ended in failure but he took part in the battle of Mondovi (19-21 April 1796), a French victory that ended Piedmontese resistance.

Augereau then took part in Napoleon's invasion of Austrian Lombardy. He took part in the forced crossing of the Mincio (battle of Borghetto, 30 May 1796), which led to the occupation of Milan.

The Austrians made four attempts to lift the siege of Mantua. The peak of Augereau's military career came during the first of these relief efforts, at the battle of Castiglione. The Austrians had split their army into three columns, which soon merged into two - one under General Quosdanovich and one under General Würmser. This allowed Napoleon to attempt to defeat each column in turn, but by early August there was a real danger that the two Austrians columns would unite, creating an army that would outnumber the French. Augereau was sent east to block Würmser, and was able to prevent the Austrians from moving west (3 August, sometimes called the first battle of Castiglione). This gave Napoleon the time he needed to defeat the western Austrian column then move east to join Augereau and defeat Würmser (battle of Castiglione, 5 August 1796).

In September the Austrians made a second attempt to lift the siege. Once again Augereau played a part in the defeat of this expedition, defeating the rearguard of one Austrian column at Primolano (7 September 1796) then fighting at Bassano (8 September 1796), where the Austrians suffered a major defeat that ended the second relief effort.

In November Augereau and Masséna were defeated by an Austrian column under Alvinczy at Caldiero (12 November 1796). Both commanders then fought at the battle of Arcola (15-17 November 1796), where Napoleon defeated Alvinczy and ended another Austrian attempt to lift the siege of Mantua.

By 1797 Augereau was clearly one of Napoleon's more trusted subordinates, for in that year he was sent back to Paris on a key political mission. Elections to the representative assemblies had not provided the results that the ruling five-man Directory had wanted. Far too many conservatives and even royalists had been elected. Instead of accepting the results of these elections the Directory decided to expel the 'unsuitable' representatives from the Council of Five Hundred. This took place in September 1797, and Augereau was given command of the 17th Division, the military garrison of Paris, with orders to make sure that no popular uprising took place.  After this coup Augureau had a brief political career, gaining entry to the Council of Five Hundred, but two attempts to become a member of the Directory failed.

In the next few years Augereau served in western Germany and on the Spanish border. He didn't take part in Napoleon's coup in 1799, probably because he didn't decide which side to support until the coup was already over.

In 1802-1803 Augereau was implicated in a Royalist plot to overthrow Napoleon. He had been chosen by the plotters to command the French garrison of Paris (alongside Masséna). Augereau wasn't involved in the plot himself and his career clearly didn't suffer after it was discovered.

Despite not having served with Napoleon for some years, in May 1804 Augereau was amongst the first batch of Napoleon's Marshals. In the same year he was appointed to command VII Corps in the army that was being formed for the invasion of Britain.

In 1805 Marshal Augereau took part in the campaign against Austria. His corps defeated an Austrian division at Kempten on the Iller in the campaign that led up to the surrender of Mack's army at Ulm.

At the start of the War of the Fourth Coalition in 1806 Augereau's corps was placed in the left-hand column of the three that formed Napoleon's battalion cerré. Augereau fought at the battle of Jena (14 October 1806), where his corps was posted to the French left and played a part in forcing the Prussians to retreat from their initial positions.

After taking part in the capture of Berlin Augereau's corps fought in Poland in 1806-7. He took part in the inconclusive battle of Golymin (26 December 1806), where the French were unable to prevent the Russian rearguard from escaping largely intact. He also fought at Jonkowo (3 February 1807), where once again the French were unable to inflict a major defeat on the Russians.

His reputation suffered a blow at the battle of Eylau, where instead of attacking the Russian left flank he advanced towards their artillery (disoriented by a heavy snow storm). His corps suffered very heavy losses from both Prussian and French guns (5,000 killed and wounded in under an hour) and had to be disbanded. Despite this failure, in 1808 Augereau was made duc de Castiglione.

Augereau himself went onto sick leave, something that he had first requested before the battle. He returned to active service in June 1809 when he was appointed to command the Army of Catalonia. This was a short-lived and not very successful command, ending in April 1810.

In 1812 Augereau held a minor post in Germany during the invasion of Russia, thus avoiding that disaster. His corps did suffer during this campaign, losing an entire brigade at Lyakhov (captured by Russian forces acting against the French rear areas).

In 1813 Augereau played a major part in the battle of Leipzig (October 1813), managing to keep the French right flank intact and retreating with most of his corps after the battle.

After this impressive performance Augereau was given an important role in the defence of France in 1814. He was ordered to create a new army at Lyons, and use it to attack the left (southern) flank of the Austro-Prussian army that was advancing towards Paris. Before Leipzig Augereau had appeared to be tired and ill, and his performance in 1814 probably reflected this. He did push the Austrians out of Savoy in February 1814, but this was a short-lived success as they returned in the following month. During the main Allied campaign in France his army remained at Lyons and made no effort to help Napoleon's desperate attempts to defend Paris. Augereau then retreated south towards Valence.

Augereau's behaviour during 1814 led to accusations that he had deliberately failed to act in an attempt to make sure that Napoleon failed. His behaviour later in the year certainly supports this theory - he condemned his former commander and publicly supported the return of Louis XVIII. In return Augereau was allowed to keep his title of Marshal and became a member of the Chamber of Peers, the upper house of Louis's new legislature.

Augereau's actions in 1815 meant that he soon lost these titles. When Napoleon returned from exile Augereau offered him his services. Napoleon clearly believed that Augereau had betrayed him in 1814, for in 1815 he turned down his offer to serve and removed him from the list of marshals. After Napoleon's second abdication Louis also turned against Augereau, who lost all of his titles. He retired to his country estate in Normandy, where he died in 1816.

Early in his Revolutionary career Augereau proved to be an expert trainer of men, using the skills he gained while serving in Prussia. In these early campaigns he was also a successful commander, winning victories over the Spanish and performing well during Napoleon's Italian campaign of 1796-1797. During this campaign he also gained a reputation as a particularly enthusiastic looter. The rest of his military career was undistinguished, at least until his performance at Leipzig in 1813, but his failures in France in 1814 left a stain on his reputation.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 September 2012), Marshal Pierre-François-Charles Augereau, , 1757-1816 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_augereau.html

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