Sunday, July 04, 2010

Général Louis-Etienne Dulong de Rosnay

Louis-Etienne Dulong de Rosnay was born on 12 December 1780, the son of a country doctor in the village of Rosnay in the region of Champagne, in the east of France. He was of a slightly younger generation than Napoléon and most of the other marechaux d'empire who, by the time Dulong could establish himself on the battlefield, had already claimed the highest ranks in the state. Yet, to any ambitious young man, the army still remained the best way to secure a brilliant career. After being attached to the foreign office for a year in 1798, the time when he met the members of the Stamaty family, which Ingres drew in 1818, Dulong enrolled in the army in 1799 and became lieutenant and captain within a year. He was promoted to the rank of major in 1807 and colonel two years later. In 1813 he received the title of baron d'Empire. Such a brillant promotion was, however, not obtained without cost. The General lost the use of his arm during the battle of Austerlitz and wore a sling for the rest of his life. A medical report in 1810 lists thirteen wounds, all the source of permanent pain.

Two acts of particular bravery are associated with Dulong's name:
On 14 October 1800, the young Captain was left in command of the city of Pesaro in Italy with only eleven French soldiers and a few local patriots. For nearly two months he fought against the Austrian army which besieged the city. He surrendered on December 1800 with a total contingent of forteen men.

In 1808 Major Dulong was in Portugal with Maréchal Soult when he was asked to secure a bridge which was vital to the retreat of the army. In the worst of weather conditions, in the middle of the night, Dulong succeeded in storming the bridge of Ponte Nova which the Portugese had already partially demolished. Dulong led the attack himself, killing the guards and then crossing the bridge with 12 chosen men, surprising the enemy and taking control of the bridge. The following day he led yet another assault to secure the retreat of the army, this time on the Ponte Miserela. Although he succeeded he fell wounded by a musket shot to the head.

A wonderful little anecdote that shows the strength of feeling he inspired in the men around him, when he fell wounded at Miserala, Heudelet, his divisional commander, ordered that he be placed on a stretcher to be carried in turn by the grenadiers of the various regiments of the division, however the men of his own 15e refused to accept this arrangement, proudly declaring they would never give up this brave officer, who had so often led them to victory.

In 1813 Général Dulong was asked to serve in the personal guard of the Emperor. Napoléon disliked being surrounded by wounded soldiers, and it must have been a great mark of esteem bestowed upon the veteran to make such an exception for him. General Dulong did not, however, come back to the Emperor during the Cent jours.

According to his current heirs Dulong fought with Marmont at the action of February 2nd at Rosnay his home town. I have not been able to find any direct evidence to support this, however it may be true, as he was present at Brienne and had been in action at the head of 1800 Guard Infantry and 150 Guard Dragoons. It is not entirely inconceivable he led the Young Guard in action at Rosnay that day.

The restored Bourbon monarchy was keen on securing the support of the army and Général Dulong was created a count, a Grand Officier de la Légion d'Honneur and a lieutenant-commandant of the body guard of King Louis XVIII. He took part in the coronation of King Charles X and received the order of Saint Louis. At the end of his career he was made a gentilhomme de la Chambre du Roi.

The later part of his life was, however, far less glorious and a physical ordeal. The pains he suffered from his wounds were such that the General finally committed suicide on 20 May 1828.

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