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Pierre Dupont de L’Etang was a French general who fought in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He was an able subordinate and division commander, but his first truly independent command, in Spain in 1808, led to defeat at Baylen, and to disgrace and imprisonment. Dupont came to prominence early in the Revolutionary Wars. He was present at the crucial battle of Valmy of 1792, and took part in the campaign of 1793. There he helped to capture an Austrian force and was promoted to General of Brigade. In 1797 he was promoted again, this time to General of Division.
He came to the notice of Napoleon during the coup d’etat of Brumaire of 1799, while Dupont strongly supported. In 1800 he fought under Berthier at Marengo and played an important role in the French victory at Pozzolo. In 1805 he commanded a division under Marshal Ney during the Austrian campaign (winning a key battle at Albeck) and in 1807 he fought at the battle of Friedland.
Late in 1807 he was placed in command of the Second Corps of Observation of the Gironde, made up of 25,000 men, most of them recently levied conscripts. In November 1807 he led this corps across the Pyrenees into Spain. At first the French believed that they had won another easy victory. After the occupation of Madrid he was created Count Dupont De L’Etang as a reward for his role in the campaign.
In the spring of 1808 rebellion began to break out across Spain. Marshal Murat, based in Madrid, did not realise how serious the revolts were, and reported them to Napoleon as a series of unconnected riots. As a result Napoleon decided to send out a number of small flying columns from Madrid to quell the disorder. Dupont was given command of a column of 13,000 men and was sent south to deal with the revolt in Andalusia.
At first he was successful. On 7 June he defeated a force of Spanish volunteers at Alcolea, but his army then disgraced itself by sacking Cordova. This was one of a number of incidents that began to give the war in Spain its brutal nature. Dupont soon realised that the revolt in Andalusia was much more serious than Napoleon had believed. He was forced to retreat east from Cordova to protect his lines of communication back to Madrid, taking up a new position around Andujar. Reinforcements arrived from Madrid, bringing Dupont’s force up to 20,000 men, but he was soon facing 30,000 Spaniards under General Francisco de Castaños.
Although most of Dupont’s men were raw recruits, the Spanish army was no more experienced. Neither commander performed well around Andujar and Baylen. Castaños split his force into three columns in the belief that Dupont had less men than he really did, and that they were all at Andujar. This gave Dupont the chance to defeat the Spanish in detail, Napoleon’s favourite tactic, but Dupont missed his chances, repeatedly splitting his own army. Eventually, on 18 July, and almost entirely by chance the Spanish found themselves in possession of Baylen and between the two wings of Dupont’s army. Despite a series of desperate attacks on the Spanish lines on 19 July (battle of Baylen), Dupont was unable to reunite his army, and was eventually forced to surrender when the rest of the Spanish army began to attack his rearguard.
After the defeat at Baylen Dupont was disgraced. He was court-martialled, stripped of his titles and imprisoned. He was released in 1809 but rearrested in 1812 and subjected to a secret trial and was imprisoned again. At the restoration of Louis XVIII he was released, and entered Royal service. He was once against dispossessed during the Hundred Days, but returned to favour after the second restoration of Louis XVIII, serving in Louis’ Privy Council. After the wars he turned to writing, producing a book on military recruitment, books of letters from the Spanish and Austrian campaigns and was working on his autobiography at the time of his death. Dupont is a good example of the able subordinate who proved to be out of his depth when given an independent command.
|History of the Peninsular War vol.1: 1807-1809 - From the Treaty of Fontainebleau to the Battle of Corunna, Sir Charles Oman. The first volume of Oman's classic seven volume history of the Peninsular War, this is one of the classic works of military history and provides an invaluable detailed narrative of the fighting in Spain and Portugal. This first volume covers the initial French intervention, the start of the Spanish uprising, the early British involvement in Spain and Portugal and Napoleon's own brief visit to Spain.|
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