François Christophe de Kellermann, Duke of Valmy, 1735-1820

Marshal François Christophe de Kellermann, duke of Valmy (1735-1820) was an experienced commander who helped save the young French Revolution from its foreign enemies at the battle of Valmy.

Kellermann came from a Saxon family that had moved to Alsace. He was born on 28 May 1735 in Strasbourg, at the time a Free City of the Holy Roman Empire. He joined the Lowendahl Regiment in 1752, a German regiment within the French army.

At the start of the Seven Years War (1756-1763) he served as a lieutenant in the Alsation Volunteers. He then moved to the cavalry, before in 1763 joining the Conflans Legion, a force that combined cavalry, infantry and artillery in a single unit.

Kellermann married in 1769. In 1770 his son François Etienne Kellermann was born. The younger Kellermann went on to be a very distinguished cavalry general during the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1776 the elder Kellermann was given command of a cavalry squadron. In 1779 he was promoted to major and in 1780 to lieutenant colonel. In 1784 he was promoted to general and given command of a brigade.

In 1792 the French Revolution faced a coalition of European powers. Kellermann was placed in command of the Division of the Saar, where his earlier experience with inexperienced volunteers came in useful. One of his innovations was to combine two new volunteer battalions and one regular battalion in the same unit, making his demi-brigades much more useful than before. This was later applied across the entire army.

War of the First Coalition - Rhine Front 1792
War of the First Coalition -
Rhine Front 1792

In August a Prussian army, led by Charles, Duke of Brunswick, invaded France. Kellermann was summoned to join General Dumouriez's Army of the North, and was present at the battle of Valmy (20 September 1792). This began with a Prussian artillery bombardment that blew up several French ammunition wagons. Kellermann managed to steady his startled troops, and realising that the battle would not be as easy as he had hoped Brunswick decided to retreat. This brief battle saved the Revolution from its external enemies.

Kellermann remained with the army for several more years. He ended his career as an administrator.

In 1793 he commanded on the Italian front, where he defeated a larger Piedmontese army at Argentines (September 1793) and St. Maurice (October 1793), expelling the Piedmontese from Savoy.  At the same time he was forced to engage in a siege of Lyons (August-October 1793), where a counter-revolutionary force had taken command of the city. Kellermann didn't press the siege with any great energy, and before it ended he was replaced by General François Amédée Doppet. He came under suspicion as an aristocrat, was arrested and spent thirteen months in prison.

He was restored to command in 1795, and made overall commander of the Army of the Alps and the Army of Italy. During this period Berthier served as his chief of staff. Kellermann's army was forced to retreat by an Austrian attack, and in September 1795 he was replaced as commander of the Army of Italy by General Schérer. Schérer's victory at Loano (November 1795) ended the Austrian advance, but he was soon replaced by Napoleon, who went on to establish his reputation during his first Italian campaign. In May 1796 the Directory briefly decided to split Napoleon's command in Italy, given Kellermann the task of attacking the Papal States while Napoleon operated in the Po Valley. Napoleon defeated this plan by threatening to resign, and Kellermann remained on the Alps. He remained in command of the Army of the Alps until it was disbanded in 1797. He remained in use in administrative and reserve commands as late as 1814.

In 1804 he was amongst the first batch of Napoleonic Marshals, although he was being rewarded for his exploits of 1792 and not any more recent activity. He was created Duke of Valmy in 1808, and survived until 1820. He kept his titles after the Bourbon restoration, was made a peer of France, and helped reorganise the French army after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 December 2015), François Christophe de Kellermann, Duke of Valmy, 1735-1820 ,

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