Barthélemy Catherine Joubert, 1769-1799

Barthélemy Catherine Joubert (1769-1799) was one of the most successful French generals during the Wars of the French Revolution, and a good example of someone who rose more rapidly through the ranks than would have been possible before the revolution.

Joubert was born in 1769, the son of a lawyer. He first attempted to join the army in 1784, but his father retrieved him, and he spent the next few years studying law. In 1789 he was at the University of Dijon, where after the revolution he became a sergeant in the National Guard. He volunteered for the army in 1791, and in the early period of the War of the First Coalition served on the lower Rhine.

In 1793-94 Joubert served with the Army of Italy for the first time. This period ended when he was captured by the Austrians, but he was soon released on parole. On his return to France he was appointed adjutant general, and then posted to General François Kellermann's army, once again fighting on the Italian front. In 1795 he was promoted to brigadier general, and took part in the battle of Loano (23-25 November 1795), which saw the French capture the Italian Riviera.

When Napoleon arrived to take command of the Army of Italy in 1796 Joubert was the commander of a brigade in Augereau's division. In that role he took part in Napoleon's early victory at Montenotte, then was wounded during the battle of Millesimo while leading an attack on the castle at Cosseria. He recovered in time to command his brigade at Ceva (16 April), where he was sent too far to the north, and withdrew after his right wing was threatened. His brigade also took part in the defeat of the Pietmontese army at Mondovi.

Napoleon then turned east to deal with Beaulieu's Austrian army. Joubert's brigade took part in the battle of Lodi (as part of Masséna's division). He then took part in a series of battles against forces attempting to lift the French siege of Mantua, including Castiglione (5 August 1796) and Arcola (15-17 November 1796).

In December 1796 Joubert was promoted to général de division, and given his first major independent commands. Early in 1797 he was posted at Rivoli, where on 14 January he held his ground for long enough for Napoleon to arrive and win the battle. Two days later, at La Corona (16 January 1797) Joubert captured the Austrian commander, General Alvinzi. Two days later Mantua surrendered.

Napoleon then turned his attention to an invasion of Austria. Joubert was given the task of guarding against any Austrian attack from the Tyrol, and then joined Napoleon across the Alps, where with Vienna directly threatened the Austrians sued for peace.

This effectively ended the War of the First Coalition. In 1797 Joubert was appointed to command the Franco-Dutch Army of Batavia (in the occupied Netherlands). In 1798 he was commander of the Army of Italy and Rome, but soon returned to France after a dispute with the authorities in Rome.

In 1799 the War of the Second Coalition broke out, and large Austrian and Russian armies won a series of victories over the French armies in Italy. In August 1799 Joubert was appointed commander of the Army of Italy, replacing General Moreau. On 13 August Joubert won a victory over the Austrians at Acqui, but on the next day he came up against an unexpectedly large Austrian and Russian army at Novi. On the next day, at the start of the battle of Novi (15 August 1799), Joubert was shot and instantly killed. Moreau replaced him, but was unable to prevent a major French defeat.

If Joubert had lived history may have been very different.  At the time of his death Emmanuel Sieyès was already plotting to overthrow the Directory, and was considering Joubert as his military strong man. Instead he chose Napoleon.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 January 2009), Barthélemy Catherine Joubert, 1769-1799 ,

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