Adolphe Edouard Casimir Joseph Mortier, Duc de Treviso, 1769-1835

War of the Third Coalition
War of the Fourth Coalition
Spain
Russia, 1812
Germany 1813
France 1814
1815

Marshal Adolphe Edouard Casimir Joseph Mortier, duc de Treviso (1769-1835) was one of Napoleon's more reliable marshals, and fought at Ulm, Friedland, in Spain, Germany and France.

Mortier was born at Cateau-Cambrèsis in the north east of France in 1768. His father was a merchant and landowner and his mother Marie-Anne was English, and as a result he was the only one of Napoleon's marshals to speak and write English. He was educated at the English College at Douai.

Before the revolution Mortier worked for a merchant in Lille. After the events of 1789 the young Adolphe joined the National Guard, while his father became a member of the Estates-General. In September 1791 Mortier was elected captain of a unit of volunteers led by his uncle, and he served at most of the battles of 1792-94 on the eastern frontier of France, including Jemappes, Neerwinden, Hondschoote, Wattignies and Fleurus. During this period he gained a reputation as a solid combat leader, and became friends with Soult.

In June 1795 Mortier was promoted to colonel. He spent most of the next few years serving in the campaigns in Germany, and was promoted to general of brigade in 1798.

In 1799 Mortier commanded a division in Masséna's campaign in Switzerland, fighting at the second battle of Zurich (25-26 September 1799), where he led the main attack that forced the Russians to retreat into Zurich and then abandon the city. He then defeated a force under Rosenberg-Orsini in the Muotatal valley. Soon afterwards the Tsar ordered Suvorov to withdraw from Switzerland. In October 1799 he was promoted to general of brigade. He was also appointed as colonel-general of the Artillery and Seamen of the Consular Guard, and retained that post under the Empire.

In May 1803 general of division Mortier commanded an army of 38,000 men that seized the electorate of Hanover, then a possession of George III, after the end of the Peace of Amiens. In the following year Mortier was amongst the first batch of Napoleonic Marshals, one of the youngest of that first group.

War of the Third Coalition

During the War of the Third Coalition Mortier commanded VIII Corps, which was created after the capitulation of Ulm, and contained four infantry divisions. During the advance on Vienna after Ulm his corps was the only one on the north bank of the Danube, and was quite widely spread out. Napoleon wasn't expecting the Russians to pose any threat to this flank, but on 9 November General Kutuzov led his troops from the south to the north bank, abandoning Vienna.

This meant that Mortier's most isolated division, under General Gazan, was now exposed to attack by a much larger force. Mortier chose to stay with Gazan's 5,000-6,000 men instead of escaping to the south bank of the river. Kutuzov sent 35,000 men in five columns to attack Gazan, a decision that probably played a part in Mortier's victory at Durnstein. Mortier was attacked from several directions, but managed to hold his position all day, until Dupont's division arrived and raised the siege. Towards the end of the battle Mortier led a bayonet charge that helped his men fight their way out of the Russian circle. Although Mortier had survived the day, Gazan had lost around 60% of his division in the battle.

Soon after this Napoleon captured Vienna, and the Russians began to retreat from the Danube. Mortier's corps was sent to press them, forming the left flank of a French advance north from Vienna. He was then left at Vienna, and thus didn’t take part in the battle of Austerlitz. After the battle he was given command of Lannes's V Corps.

War of the Fourth Coalition

After the end of the War of the Third Coalition Mortier's VIII Corps was posted to western Germany, to post a threat to western Prussia if war broke out. After the outbreak of the War of the Fourth Coalition Mortier advanced east from his base at Frankfort, occupied Hesse-Cassel and Hanover (again), then moved north to capture Hamburg and invade Mecklenburg.

At the start of 1807 he was ordered to capture the Swedish enclave of Pomerania, on the south coast of the Baltic. In order to do this he had to besiege Stralsund (30 January-19 April 1807). Towards the end of the siege Mortier was ordered to move most of his troops to Kolberg, but he was forced to return to Stralsund after the defenders broke out and forced the French back. Mortier returned with reinforcements, defeated the Swedes and forced them back. He was then able to negotiate an armistice, freeing him to join the main campaign.

During the Russian phase of the war Mortier took part in the siege of Danzig (18 March-27 May 1807), arriving on 21 May 1807. On the following day General Kalkreuth, the commander in Danzig, began surrender talks, and the city changed hands within a week.

He was then ordered to rejoin the main army in order to take part in the decisive battle at Friedland (14 June 1807). He arrived in time to help manoeuvre the Russians out of their strong position at Heilsberg, on the day after a series of French attacks had been repulsed. In the first stage of the battle of Friedland Marshal Lannes's isolated corps had to resist a powerful Russian attack in order to give the rest of the French army time to arrive and trap the Russians against the River Alle. Mortier arrived in the early morning, just in time to help restore Lannes's left wing, which was under heavy pressure. This gave Napoleon time to bring up the rest of his army and win a major victory. During the main French attack on their right Mortier's role was to pin down the Russian right, and prevent it from retreating back towards the river bridge at Friedland, but not to advance himself, as this pressure might have triggered a retreat that would have allowed the Russians to escape from the trap. He had to resist a fierce Russian attack, but the French line held and Napoleon got his victory. The river Alle turned out to be more fordable than anyone had expected, so the Russians didn't suffer as heavily they might have done, but the defeat helped convince Tsar Alexander that it was time to end the war.

Mortier was awarded with an appointment as governor of Silesia. In 1808 he was made duc de Trévise in the new Imperial peerage.

Spain

Mortier spent the next few years campaigning in Spain, where he was one of the few Marshals not to see his reputation suffer. During his time in Spain he didn't suffer any major battlefield defeats, unlike most of his colleagues. Mortier's V Corps was part of the army that moved from Germany to Spain at the start of Napoleon's only campaign in Spain, triggered by the series of French defeats that forced them to retreat to the Elbe. His corps arrived in Spain just after the first stage of Napoleon's campaign, the defeat of the Spanish armies on the Elbe.

Mortier took part in the second siege of Saragossa (20 December 1808-20 February 1809). At the start of the siege Marshal Moncey was in command. Originally he had been working alongside Ney, but he was then ordered to move into New Castile. Moncey delayed the start of the siege until Mortier's first troops arrived from Germany in mid December 1808. Mortier's corps was posted to the west of the city, to attack the land walls (to the north, east and south the city was protected by water). The siege saw several changes in the French command. On 29 December Moncey was replaced by Junot, making Mortier the senior man on the spot.

On 2 January 1809 Mortier was ordered to take one division and protect the lines of communication back to Madrid. On 22 January Marshall Lannes was given command of the siege. The walls of Saragossa were about to fall, but Lannes knew that this would only lead to a period of street fighting, which would fix his troops in place and leave him vulnerable to a Spanish counterattack. Mortier was recalled and was posted south of Saragossa to guard against the Spanish insurgents in that area. Mortier then sent part of this division into the Lower Ebro, where it defeated a Spanish force at Alcaniz (26 January 1809). The French also captured a supply depot filled with food for the besieged defenders of Saragossa.

After the siege of Saragossa Mortier's 5th Corps was posted in Aragon, and began to pacify the area. However on 5 April Napoleon withdrew the corps, as part of a possible plan to move it to Austria. When the news reached him at Saragossa Mortier concentrated his corps and pulled out of Aragon, leaving only 15,000 French troops in the area. This plan was soon changed, and by the early summer of 1809 Mortier had moved west to Valladolid.

In the summer of 1809 Mortier took part in the Talavera campaign. After the Anglo-Spanish victory at Talavera (27-28 July 1809), French reinforcements forced the allies to retreat back to the Tagus River. Wellesley and Cuesta faced four French corps, and were in danger of being overwhelmed. On 3 August Wellesley's retreating troops were only 30 miles from Mortier's corps, and his orders for 4 August would probably have triggered a battle. Instead on the evening of 3 August Wellesley and Cuesta received a copy of captured Spanish orders. They both realised they were in danger of capture north of the Tagus, and on 5 August Wellesley's men crossed the Tagus at Arzobispo. Mortier missed a chance to cut off their retreat.

On 8 August Mortier got some of his men across the river (Combat of Arzobispo), but Ney failed to get across the river and Victor, who could have threatened the allied right flank, refused to advance to support Mortier. This allowed Wellesley and Cuesta to escape back towards Portugal and safety.

At the start of the Spanish Junta's autumn campaign of 1809 Mortier's corps was still based at Talavera, facing the Spanish Army of Estremadura. The Spanish hoped that this tiny army would distract the French, and prevent Soult and Mortier interfering in their over-ambitious plan to liberate Madrid. This part of the plan very quickly failed. King Joseph soon discovered that some Spanish troops were moving east from Estremadura, and in response he moved Soult to Talavera, and Mortier back to Toledo. His was thus in place to join with Marshal Victor to oppose General Areizaga's Army of La Mancha, which reached within thirty five miles of Madrid before its commander lost his nerve. After a series of cavalry clashes, the French won the main battle of the campaign, at Ocaña (19 November 1809), taking 14,000 prisoners. Mortier was wounded in the army during the battle.

In January 1810 he took part in Marshal Soult's invasion of Andalusia. One of the Spanish responses was to send General Ballesteros on a raid into Andalusia. Mortier's cavalry brigade (Beauregard) suffered a defeat at Valverde (19 February 1810), and Gazan's infantry did little better at Ronquillo (25-26 March 1810). Mortier responded by moving his main body to intercept Ballesteros. He defeated the Spanish at Zalamea (15 April 1810), forcing them to retreat north into the Sierra de Aracena, where he won a second fight at Aracena (26 May 1810). Ballesteros was forced to retreat a little further, and his raid came to an end. He was sent to capture Badajoz, but his first siege ended in failure.

He returned to besiege Badajoz for a second time early in 1811, during Soult's invasion of Estremadura (January-March 1811). At the start of the invasion Mortier's corps formed part of Soult's main column, which advanced along the road from Seville to Merida. When this column reached Monasterio, the French discovered that General Ballesteros was only four miles to the west. Mortier was sent to deal with this potential threat. He defeated the Spanish at Calera, and they retreated twenty miles across the mountains. Mortier then rejoined the main army, but Gazan's division was detached to deal with Ballesteros.

The temporary loss of Gazan's division meant that Soult wasn't strong enough to besiege Badajoz. Instead he captured Olivenza, and only then began to besiege Badajoz (26 February -10 March 1811). Even then the lack of infantry meant that the blockade wasn't complete, and the Spanish were able to get reinforcements into the city.

During this siege Mortier and Soult won a major victory at the Gebora River, inflicting 5,000 casualties on a Spanish army of 12,400 while only suffering 400 losses himself. Badajoz surrendered in March 1811.

While Mortier was besieging Badajoz, Marshal Masséna was conducting his unsuccessful invasion of Portugal, which was defeated by the Lines of Torres Vedras. Masséna had been expecting Soult and Mortier to conduct a second invasion in the south, but their orders hadn't been realistic, and Soult had chosen to ignore them and carry out the Estremadura expedition instead.

Mortier was then left isolated when Soult withdrew to Seville to secure his control of Andalusia in the aftermath of the battle of Barrosa. Mortier was left in Extremadura with 11,000 men. He besieged Campo Mayor (14-21 March 1811), and then left a garrison of 2,400 men there with orders to dismantle the fortifications.

Mortier was left vulnerable when Wellington decided to send Marshal Beresford to besiege Badajoz. On 26 March Beresfort forced Mortier to abandon Campo Mayor and the second siege of Badajoz began on 5 May. By this point Mortier had gone, for on 26 March he was recalled to Paris, having been asked to be relieved of his command in Spain.

Russia, 1812

Mortier returned to France in the summer of 1811, and was given the task of raising and training the Young Guard. He commanded this force during the Russian campaign of 1812, crossing into Russia with 18,000 men. The Young Guard saw very little action on the advance into Russia, briefly being used to guard some artillery at Borodino.

After the occupation of Moscow on 14 September Mortier was appointed as governor of the city. On 19 October, when the main French army began the retreat from Moscow, Mortier and 8,000 men were ordered to remain in Moscow and carry out a series of demolitions on key buildings. Mortier reluctantly attempted to follow these orders, but the effort wasn’t terribly effective, in part due to heavy rain. One tower in the Kremlin was destroyed, another badly damaged, most of the windows were broken and other buildings damaged. 

During the retreat from Moscow Mortier's Young Guard formed part of the rear guard. It played a part in the battle of the Berezina, helping to secure the crucial French bridgehead on the western bank of the river. He was present at the meeting where Napoleon announced that he was leaving the army and returning to Paris.

Napoleon made poor use of the Guard during the Russian campaign. On the advance into Russia, where they could have helped win a significant victory, they weren't used. On the way out they suffered heavy casualties, without having the chance to achieve anything.

Germany 1813

In 1813 Mortier commanded the Young Guard at Lützen and Bautzen. He then expanded the Young Guard, which reached a maximum strength of 32,000 men in four divisions by the summer.

At the battle of Lützen (2 May 1813) he took part in the final French attack of the day. This promised to give Napoleon a great victory, but the French ran out of time in the evening and darkness ended the battle.

He commanded the Young Guard at Dresden (26-27 August 1813), where it defeated the Austro-Russian right wing under Wittgenstein. On the first day of the battle he had command of the French left, and had a generally successful day. On the second day his attack helped break the Allied right wing, eventually convincing them to retreat despite some successes in the centre.

He led two divisions of the Guard at Leipzig (16-19 October 1813). On the first day of the battle he was posted on the French left, facing south towards Schwarzenberg's Army of Bohemia. He took part in the inconclusive French attack on that day. On the third day of the battle he was given the key task of guarding the French escape route west from Leipzig.

After the battle he led the survivors of the Guard in the retreat to the Rhine.

France 1814

At the start of the 1814 campaign Mortier commanded the Old Guard. This formed part of Napoleon's very limited reserves, but it had to be committed at the start of January to help bolster Victor's troops on the southern flank of the main campaign area. Mortier suffered a narrow defeat at Bar-sur-Aube on 24 January and had to retreat towards Troyes. He was then ordered to advance towards Arcis-sur-Aube as part of a plan to trap Blücher, but his orders fell into Allied hands, and Blücher escaped from the trap. 

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

On 6 February Mortier was ordered to advance east from Troyes, this time to distract Schwarzenberg while Napoleon concentrated against Blücher.

On 11 February Mortier's troops took part in the battle of Montmirail. He then took part in the pursuit of the retreating Allies, and the battle of Château-Thierry (12 February 1814), a costly French victory that could have been significant if other French troops had managed to reach Château-Thierry before the retreating allies. Instead Yorck and Osten-Sacken were able to retreat, and Napoleon had to turn to face Schwarzenberg. Mortier was left to pursue Yorck and Osten-Sacken.

On 7 March Mortier made effective use of a battery of seventy guns during Napoleon's victory over Blücher at Craonne. He fought at the battle of Laon (8-9 March 1814), but his promising attack had to be cancelled when news arrived of a French defeat at the eastern end of the field, where Marmont was caught napping.

In late March Napoleon turned to attack the Austrian General Schwarzenberg, leaving only Marmont and Mortier to block Blücher's Prussians. Napoleon had misread the situation, and suffered a setback at Arcis-sur-Aube (20-21 March 1814). In the aftermath of this battle he decided to try and threaten Schwarzenberg's rear areas, in the hope that the Austrians would retreat. Instead they decided to ignore Napoleon and advanced on Paris.

Schwarzenberg defeated Mortier and Marmont at Le-Fère-Champenoise (25 March 1814), then joined up with Blücher at Meaux.

Mortier took part in the defence of Paris, and briefly achieved success at Montmartre, where he once again commanded the Young Guard, but the city was then abandoned to the Allies. After the loss of the city a group of the marshals, in particular Ney and Macdonald, convinced Napoleon to abdicate. Mortier wasn't part of this effort, and was willing to fight on.

Mortier was taken into the service of Louis XVIII, was made a peer of France and given command of a division based at Lille.

1815

When Napoleon returned from exile in 1815 Mortier decided to return to his side, but only after he had escorted Louis XVIII to the Belgian border. He also allowed his staff to choose their own side, and probably as a result was only out of favour for a brief period. Both sides judged his performance to have been beyond reproach.

Just before the start of the Waterloo campaign Mortier was given command of the Imperial Guard cavalry, and it is possible that he would have been given command of the Young Guard as well, but a few days before the battle of Waterloo he suffered from a serious attack of sciatica and had to step down from command.

After Napoleon's second abdication Mortier lost his title and his military command, but only for a very short period. He was appointed commander of the Rouen Military District in January 1816. In 1816 he was elected as a member of the Chamber of Deputies and in 1825 he took part in the coronation of Charles X. He served King Louis-Philippe as ambassador to Russia at the start of the 1830s and was president of the council and minister of war in 1834-35. On 28 July 1835 he was present at a military review when an attempt was made to assassinate Louis-Philippe using a combined bomb and musket battery. Although the king survived, Mortier was killed in the attack.

Mortier was a reliable subordinate, and able to keep calm in emergencies. Some believed that he was less intelligence than the other marshals, and he was described as a 'big mortar with a short range' (mortier being the French for mortar). His abilities were recognised by Napoleon, who made him colonel general of the artillery and sailors of the Imperial Guard.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 August 2016), Adolphe Edouard Casimir Joseph Mortier, Duc de Treviso, 1769-1835, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_mortier.html

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