Friday, October 01, 2010

Roquemaurel and the Chasseurs de Montagne - Part 1

Jean Baptiste Marie Maurice de Roquemaurel St. Cernin was born August 27th 1771 at Chateau de la Tour in the village of St. Sernin, just north of Soueix.

His military career is difficult to summarize, his having been a Lieutenant in the Régiment d'Infanterie du Dauphiné, an officer in the army of Condé, and a second lieutenant in the 2e Hussars with Napoleon in Italy as well as having spells in the service of the English and Austrians all by the age of 32!

However it was on both sides of the Pyrenees where he was to leave his lasting impression, nicknamed "la terreur des espagnols" by the French and "hombre del Demonio" by the Spanish.

In 1803, his father, he was the only son in France, the rest being immigrants in Spain, forced him to resign from the army and return to Soueix, he married and had children, but felt restless being away from military operations and so resumed service in 1808 during the Spanish war. On the advice of Bellouguet, sub-prefect of Saint-Girons, he was appointed Capitaine-Commandant of the company of Hussars de la Garde d'Honneur à Cheval for the district of Saint-Girons.

The Chasseurs de Montagne were raised with the objective of patrolling the Spanish side of the Pyrenees to disperse bands of Catalan's who harassed Marshal Suchet's corps. From 1808 to 1812, Maurice de Roquemaurel served as Capitaine-Commandant, and his many accomplishments, his audacity, and resolution, earned him the nickname in Ariège "le brave Roquemaurel". The Prefect of Ariège in 1810 wrote: "He is endowed with great military skill and bravery that have been particularly noted by Count Suchet, commanding general of 3e Army Corps in Spain. The missions which he had led and his conduct earned him the Knight's Cross of the Légion d'Honneur".

Indeed, having quickly learned the tactics of guerrilla warfare, itself fast, mobile, persistent, the Spanish war would bring him lasting glory: he is involved in several actions including a dangerous night attack, where at two o'clock in the morning at the head of four companies of the Chasseurs de Montagne he leads a bayonet charge to open a passage through the Spanish lines, saving Colonel Lapeyrolerie troops who had found themselves surrounded in the l'Isavena valley, and earned him the admiration of Suchet.

But his finest achievement was the capture of Fort Venasque, the Spanish bastion of High Aragon : Suchet's staff estimated that 10,000 men were needed to carry the place however on November 21st, 1809 Roquemaurel with his troop of 300 'Ariégeois' Chasseurs de Montagne, crossed the Sagoun glacier during the night, and surprised the outposts, capturing the town and fort.

Suchet's memoirs record:
Captain Roquemaurel was sent there with the battalion of 64e and the Chasseurs d'Ariege, he forced the positions in the valley, entered the city, and summoned the fort, the garrison, intimidated by people, forced the Governor to open its doors. This advantage gave us a new communication route with France, and allowed us to disarm the valleys of Vénasque, Gistain and Bielsa, an ammunition dump in a nearby convent on the border of Catalogne was discovered and destroyed.

He went on to distinguish himself at the siege of Lleida, then in the conquest of the Val d’Aran, where he spent two years, constructing the fort of Sainte-Croix, and organizing the defenses to prevent the movement of the Catalan guerrillas and the incursions of the terrible Mina. His valour, and his exploits made him the terror of the Spanish border.

To be continued (1812 and the operations in the Ariège valley)

Le Colonel Maurice de Roquemaurel, défenseur de la vallée de l’Ariège contre les Espagnols en 1812 - P.Peyral
Grands notables du premier Empire - Louis Bergès et Michel Cours-Mach
Branche de Saint-Cernin, issue de la branche de Montégut

Related Post:
See The Chasseurs de Montagne bring honour to their name a Capitan scenario which covers the action at Venasque.

See History and Uniformology of the Chasseurs de Montagne

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