General Jean-François Carteaux, 1751-1813

General Jean-François Carteaux (1751-1813) was a minor Revolutionary general best known for being Napoleon's commander at Toulon in 1793.

Carteaux served in the pre-Revolutionary French Army, joining the Dragoon Regiment of Thianges in 1759, but then left the service and became a painter. In the aftermath of the Revolution he rejoined the army and rose rapidly through the ranks. He suppressed some unrest in Marseilles, where he showed an unusual level of restraint for the period. He then became an aide to Lafayette in 1789. On 6 November 1789 he became a lieutenant in the 29th division of Gendarmerie and on 14 March 1793 he became Chief Adjutant General to the battalion.

In the summer of 1793 a revolt broke out in the south of France in response to the harsh Jacobin laws issued on 31 May and 2 June. Marseille and Avignon were soon in revolt, and the Député-en-Mission at Lyons reacted by appointing Colonel Carteaux to take command of 3,000 troops being concentrated at Valence. Napoleon offered his services to Carteaux and was accepted. The small Revolutionary army recaptured Avignon, and Marseilles fell to them on 25 August. It briefly looked as if the revolt was over, and Napoleon left the army to return to his post at Avignon, but two days later Toulon joined the revolt and invited the British and Spanish into the port.

Carteaux was ordered to recapture the port. He was given 12,000 men, promoted to général de division and in early September began an advance towards Toulon from the west. His artillery commander was injured during this fighting, and a few days later Napoleon was appointed as his chief of artillery. He quickly demonstrated a greater understanding of the military art than his commander. Even Carteaux's wife sided with Napoleon, telling her husband to 'Let the young man alone, he knows more about it than you do for he never asks your advice'. Napoleon's key advice was to capture a headland that would allow the French guns to fire into the harbour and thus force the British to withdraw their fleet. Carteaux didn’t perform well during the siege, but he did give Napoleon enough leeway to allow him to make his name, and eventually to force the British and Spanish to evacuate the city.

Just before the capture of Toulon, Carteaux was replaced by General Dugommier, and transferred to the Army of Italy, then to the Army of the Alps. He was disgraced and imprisoned but was almost immediately released, and was given command on the Normandy coast in 1795.  He was given a number of posts by Napoleon, serving as administrator of the lottery until 1805 and administrator of Piombino in 1803-5. He retired in 1810.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 February 2016), General Jean-François Carteaux, 1751-1813 ,

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