Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey, Duc de Congeliano, 1754-1842

Marshal Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey, duc de Congeliano (1754-1842) was a Napoleonic marshal who took part in three separate wars against Spain, successfully in the first and last, but suffering a loss of reputation during the second. He was not one of the most able of the marshals, but he was notable for refusing to use the same level of ruthlessness as his colleagues, earning himself a good name in Spain.

Moncey was born in Palise in 1754, the son of a lawyer. He studied as a lawyer, but was clearly unhappy with his studies, and joined the army three times in this period without success (discharged once, bought out twice). He joined the Royal army for a fourth time, this time as a junior officer in 1779, but made little progress and was still only a captain in 1791.

During the War of the First Coalition he fought against Spain on the Pyrenees front. He became a general of brigade in February 1794. In July 1794 he took part in General Muller's offensive in the Western Pyrenees. He was sent to attack the centre of the Spanish line, while other attacks diverted their attention. He then marched his men 20 miles across the mountains in 32 hours, opening to road to San Marcial (First Battle of San Marcial, 1 August 1794). This fortress fell quickly, exposing Irun, San Sebastian and Tolosa to capture in late July-early August.

In September of the same year he was given command of the Army of the Western Pyrenees. He began an advance on 15 October which made some progress before bad weather stopped it. This allowed the Spanish to remain in possession of Pamplona over the winter of 1794-5. Moncey launched a new offensive in late June 1795 and was besieging Pamplona when the Treaty of Basle ended the fighting between France and Spain (22 July 1795).

His career then suffered because of his close connections to Lazare Carnot, who was accused of being a royalist in 1797. He also refused to serve in the Vendee, as he didn’t want to fight against fellow Frenchmen.

Moncey returned to favour after Napoleon seized power as First Consul. He was given command of a corps in the army that Napoleon led to victory at Marengo, leading it across the St. Gotthard Pass from Switzerland. This corps was made up of some of the worst troops from Moreau's army, and although it was meant to be over 20,000 strong only 11,000 men actually arrived. He met up with Napoleon at Milan on 2 June, several days after the city had fallen, and provided useful reinforcements. In August 1801 he retired from active service.

Between 1801 and 1807 he served as inspector general of the gendarmerie. In 1803 he helped uncover the details of one of the more serious plots against Napoleon, which later proved to have involved Generals Pichegru and Moreau. In 1804 he became one of the first batch of Napoleonic Marshals.

Spain

Moncey's second spell in Spain began in January 1808 when he was given command of a corps in the initial French invasion. The first French troops to enter Spain were Junot's First Corps of Observation of the Gironde, on their way to Portugal. Dupont was second, but at the same time Moncey's new command, the Corps of Observation of the Ocean, was taking shape, and on 8 January 1808 they entered Spain and began to spread out across Old Castile, Biscay and Navarre.

In the summer of 1808 Moncey left Madrid at the head of 9,000 men with orders to put down what the French believed was a minor revolt in Valencia. Instead he faced a major revolt supported by a Spanish army. The Spanish commander, the Conde de Cervellon, assumed that Moncey would use the longer but easier route into Valencia, but instead he chose to use a short mountain route.

Moncey defeated a small French force at the River Cabriels (21 June 1808). He then overwhelmed a smaller force at the Cabrillas Defile (24 June 1808), in a position that he later said would could have been defended against Napoleon and the entire Grand Army by 6,000 steady troops.

That was Moncey's last success in Valencia. His attack on the city of Valencia (26-28 June 1808) ended in failure, and he was forced to retreat after suffering around 1,000 casualties. This defeat actually came before the more famous French defeat at Baylen (19 July), but Moncey was able to withdraw his army safely after the Spanish tried to block the route he had used to enter Valencia, while Moncey used the longer route.

Second Siege of Saragossa
Saragossa during the Second Siege

Towards the end of the year the French were forced to retreat back to the Ebro. Napoleon planned a grand double envelopment of the Spanish, and wanted to make sure that they remained in place. As a result Moncey's 3rd Corps spent most of November inactive facing General Castaños's Army of the Centre. Just before the start of Napoleon's campaign this corps was placed under the overall command of Marshal Lannes, and it played a major part in the French victory at Tudela (23 November 1808).

In the aftermath of the battle Moncey's command of the corps was restored, and along with Ney he was given the task of besieging Saragossa. The two marshals then delayed for a month, before leaving Tudela on 28 November. They reached Saragossa on 30 November, but Ney was then called away, leaving Moncey's three divisions to attempt the siege. This further delayed the start of the siege, as Moncey waited for reinforcements under Mortier to arrive from Germany. When the siege did begin Moncey had limited success, and on 29 December he was recalled to Madrid, and replaced as command of 3 Corps by General Junot (Second siege of Saragossa, 20 December 1808-20 February 1809).

Later Career

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

After his failure in Spain, Moncey was given a series of second line commands. In March 1814 he had command of the Parisian National Guard, and took part in the short lived French defence of Paris, successfully holding the Clichy Gate.

In 1814 Moncey entered the service of Louis XVIII. He didn't support Napoleon during his return from exile in 1815, but then refused to preside over the trial of Marshal Ney, and was imprisoned for three months as a punishment. This was only a temporary fall from grace, and he returned to active service in 1816.

His third campaign in Spain came in 1823, when France intervened in a Spanish civil war. Moncey commanded IV Corps, which advanced into eastern Spain during the successful French intervention.

In 1840 he was governor of Les Invalides when Napoleon's body was returned to France. He died two years later and was buried alongside Napoleon.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 September 2016), Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey, Duc de Congeliano, 1754-1842 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_moncey.html

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