Emmanuel, Marquis de Grouchy, 1766-1847

Marshal Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy (1766-1847) was a very able French cavalry commander, unfairly remembered for his failures at the battle of Waterloo. Before Waterloo he had an impressive career, and he became the last of Napoleon's marshals.

Grouchy was born into an aristocratic family, son of Francois-Jacques de Grouchy, seigneur de Vilette, Cordecourt and Sagny, but he was an early supporter of Revolutionary principles. He attended the Strasbourg Artillery School at the age of 13, but in 1784 transferred to the cavalry. His republican sympathies were well known before the Revolution, an awkward attitude for someone who became a lieutenant in the Royal Guard in 1786. He was close to being expelled from the army before the Revolution saved his military career.

In 1792 he was serving as a brigadier general of the cavalry in the Army of the Alps.

He helped suppress the Royalist uprisings in the Vendée and Brittany, but was then expelled from the Army after the Convention issued a decree excluding nobles from military service. Grouchy responded by enlisting as a private in the National Guard.

His military career revived after the fall of Robespierre and the end of the terror. He was appointed chief of staff of the Army of the West, and was heavily involved in the failed expedition to Ireland of 1796-1797.

In 1798 he moved to the Army of Italy. He was present at the battle of Alessandria (20 June 1799), a rare French victory during the campaign of 1799. He fought at the major French defeat at the Battle of Novi (15 August 1799), where he was wounded fourteen times and captured.

After his release he joined Moreau's army, and was present at the battle of Hohenlinden (3 December 1800), a key French victory over the Austrians that triggered the collapse of the Second Coalition. The battle began when the Austrians attacked Grouchy in the centre of the line. Towards the end of the battle he took part in the victorious French attack that broke the Austrian line.

As a dedicated Republican Grouchy wasn't a supporter of Napoleon's Coup of Brumaire, but this didn't stop him serving under Napoleon in all of his future campaigns.

During the War of the Fourth Coalition he took part in Murat's brilliant cavalry pursuit in the aftermath of the battles of Jena and Auerstädt (14 October 1806).

On 19 December his 2nd Dragoon Division captured Biezun, threatening to split the Prussian and Russian lines. The Prussians decided to counterattack in an attempt to retake the position, but were defeated by Grouchy and Bessières after they were broken by a French cavalry charge (battle of Biezun). He commanded on the right at the battle of Jonkovo (3 February 1807), an inconclusive clash. He performed well at Eylau (7-8 February 1807), once again commanding the cavalry, and once again suffering a wound. When the campaign resumed in the spring of 1807 he fought at Friedland (14 June 1807), taking part in the fight on the northern part of the battlefield that pinned down the Russian right wing. He played a major part in the cavalry pursuit after the battle, but this wasn't conducted with the normal vigour, and the absence of Murat was noted by many.

In 1808 he accompanied Murat to Spain, and served as governor of Madrid. It was his quick actions that suppressed the Spanish revolt on 2 May 1808.

He performed well again at Wagram (5-6 July 1809), and succeeded General Marmont as colonel general of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde Impériale.

During the War of the Fifth Coalition (or the Franco-Austrian War of 1809) he fought at Wagram (5-6 July 1809). He was then sent south to join Eugène de Beauharnais's army in Italy.  He commanded a cavalry force at the battle of the Piave (8 May 1809), a French victory that forced the Austrians to begin a retreat from Italy. By 29 May his advancing cavalry had reached Graz, forcing the Archduke John to retreat into Hungary, where he was defeated again by the French at Raab (14 June 1809). Grouchy played a major part in this victory, getting around the Austrian left flank and triggering the collapse of their line.

Between 1809 and 1811 Grouchy was on the semi-active list.

He commanded III Cavalry Corps during the invasion of Russia in 1812. This formed part of Eugène de Beauharnais's Army of Italy, part of Napoleon's main force, and included Saxon and Bavarian troops. At the start of July he was allocated to Davout's army, which was given the task of keeping Bagration pinned down and preventing him from joining up with Barclay de Tolly, giving Napoleon the chance to deal with Barclay de Tolly. He fought at the battle of Krasnyi (14 August 1812), a successful Russian rearguard action that resulted in the failure of Napoleon's Manoeuvre of Smolensk. At Borodino his corps began the battle on the French left, operating north of the Kalatsha River, then towards the end of the battle took part in the last major French attack, which came close to breaking the Russians. He was wounded in the chest by grapeshot, but recovered in time to command Napoleon's bodyguard during the retreat from Moscow.

His efforts in 1812 left him unable to fight during the campaign of 1813 

Battles of the French Campaign of 1814
Battles of the
French Campaign
of 1814

He fought at every major battle during the 1814 campaign in France, and was once again wounded on several occasions. He took part in a major cavalry battle during the defensive battle of La Rothière (1 February 1814), where Napoleon was able to hold off a larger army for much of the day before being forced to retreat after reinforcements arrived. He fought under Napoleon at the battle of Vauchamps (14 February 1814), a victory over Blücher that forced the Prussians to retreat east.

During the first Bourbon Restoration he lost all of his titles and honours, and unsurprisingly he sided with Napoleon after his return from exile in 1815. On 3 June 1815 he was made the twenty-sixth of Napoleon's Marshals of the Empire.

His first task was to crush a royalist uprising led by Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duc d'Angoulême (1778-1844) in southern France. This ended with an armistice on 8 April. Grouchy was then given command of the cavalry in the Army of the North, and thus played a key part in the Waterloo campaign.

Grouchy played a key part in that campaign. Napoleon's plan was to get between the Allied army of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussians of Field Marshal Blücher, force the two armies apart and defeat each in turn. The campaign began well, with victory over the Prussians at Ligny on 16 June, where Grouchy's cavalry fought on the French right.

Grouchy was then given 33,000 men and ordered to force the Prussians to continue to retreat north and east, away from Wellington, leaving Napoleon free to deal with Wellington. Grouchy didn't perform well in this independent command. Crucially he lost touch with the Prussians on 17 June, although this was partly because Napoleon didn't set him going until late in the morning. When he regained contact on 18 June he didn't realise that the Prussians were already moving west to join Wellington at Waterloo. Grouchy attacked the Prussians at Wavre, and won a minor victory over their rearguard, but he assumed that the rest of the Prussian army was retreating east, and so didn't make any effort to move troops west to help Napoleon. Grouchy's appointment to such a major post was typical of Napoleon's misjudgements during the Waterloo campaign - he had very little experience in command of infantry, or of independent command. His decision to obey his orders instead of marching to the sound of the guns was understandable, although also a mistake.

On 19-20 June Grouchy carried out a skilful retreat to Paris, where he handed command of his army over to Marshal Davout and then went into exile to America.

Grouchy was given an amnesty in 1821, and was restored to the rank of Marshal in 1831. However the last years of his life were marred by Napoleon's attempts to blame him for the defeat at Waterloo, part of a general campaign by the former Emperor to pass the blame for his defeats onto other people. As a result Grouchy was hated by Bonapartists, who blamed him for their defeat, and by Royalists who remembered his dedication to the Revolutionary cause.  

During his career he received a large number of awards, including the Grand Cross of the Order of Bavaria and the Grand Eagle of the Legion on Honour.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 February 2016), Emmanuel, Marquis de Grouchy, 1766-1847, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_grouchy.html

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