Jean-Baptiste Drouet, comte d’Erlon

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Jean-Baptiste Drouet, comte d’Erlon (July 29, 1765 – January 25, 1844) was a marshal of France and a soldier in Napoleon’s Army. D’Erlon notably commanded the I Corps of the Armée du Nord at the battle of Waterloo.

D’Erlon was born in Reims, and in 1792 served as a corporal in the pre-revolutionary army, being elected to captain the following year. In 1794 he returned to Reims to marry Marie-Anne Rousseau the daughter of Nicolas Rousseau a banker, who he has got to know through Marie-Jeanne (Rousseau) the wife of his brother Jean-François Drouet. While in Reims on the morning of his wedding, he was informed of his appointment as aide-de-camp to General Francois Lefebvre. On Christmas Day 1794, his first child, a son who was christened Nicolas Adolphe was born. In 1796 his wife had their second child, a daughter: Marie-Anne Louise.

In 1799 he was promoted to brigadier general, and fought under André Masséna in Switzerland. The same year he distinguished himself at the Second Battle of Zurich. In 1800 he moved his family to Paris where his third child Aimé Napoleon François was born. He continued his service in many battles of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, including Hohenlinden in 1800 (in which he was wounded), the Hanover region (earning him promotion to Major General in 1803), Austerlitz in 1805 (his first battle as Division commander) and one in which his division played a pivotal role, and Jena in 1806.

In 1807, as chief of staff for Lefebvre at the siege of the Polish city of Danzig (Gdańsk), he negotiated the terms of surrender. The same year he was wounded in the foot at Friedland.

Following the conclusion of the 1809 Danubian campaign, D’Erlon was sent as Chief of Staff to Marshal Lefebvre. Lefebvre was in command of the VII (Bavarian) Corps in action in the Tyrol against the pro-Austrian insurgency led by the innkeeper Andreas Hofer. After the failure of the allied second offensive to retake the Tyrol, Lefebvre was relieved of his command by Napoleon because of his poor performance and terrible relationship with the Bavarians. D’Erlon was given command, and in by the end of November he had pacified the region, and in the process formed a strong bond with his Bavarian subordinates.

Later in the year he was given the command of the IX Corps of Spain, after which he defeated the British General Hill at the Battle of Extremadura. The following years brought him successes in Portugal, and in the Peninsular War.

After Napoleon abdicated in 1814 d’Erlon transferred his allegiance to the House of Bourbon along with the rest of the army. The next year he accepted the command of the 16th Military Division under Napoleon from Marshal Davout.

During the Waterloo Campaign d’Erlon commanded the French I Corps. On June 16, 1815, due to conflicting orders his Corps spent the day on the Nivelles-Namur road marching and counter marching between the battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny without engaging in either battle. If the I Corps had engaged in either battle the outcome of the campaign might have been different. Two days later at the Battle of Waterloo it was his Corps in Column formation which attacked the Allied centre near La Haye Sainte at 13:30 and was stopped by Picton’s Peninsular War veterans, and then attacked in the flanks by the British heavy cavalry. After the surrender of Napoleon, d’Erlon entered exile in Munich.

In 1825 he was granted amnesty by Charles X. In 1828 his wife Marie-Anne died. In the July Revolution in 1830 he supported the Juilletistes was given the Great Order of the Legion of honor by Louis-Philippe on November 19, 1831 and in 1832 was given the command of the 12th Division in Nantes. Later in the year his division suppressed a Vendean revolt and arrested the Duchess of Berry.

In 1834 d’Erlon was named governor-general of Algeria, although after the defeat of the French army under General Camille Alphonse Trezel on the banks of the Macta in 1835, D’Erlon was recalled to France and replaced.

From 1837 he resumed his command of the 12th Division in Nantes a position he held until 1843 when he moved to Paris to retire and was granted the title marshal of France on April 9, 1843. He died in the January of the following year.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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