Jean Victor Marie Moreau


Jean Victor Marie Moreau

Jean Victor Marie Moreau (February 14, 1763 – September 2, 1813) was a French general who helped Napoleon Bonaparte to power, but later became a rival and was banished to the United States.

Biography

Moreau was born at Morlaix in Brittany. His father was a successful lawyer, and instead of allowing him to enter the army, as he attempted to do, insisted on his studying law at the University of Rennes. Young Moreau showed no inclination for law, but reveled in the freedom of student life. Instead of taking his degree, he continued to live with the students as their hero and leader, and formed them into a sort of army, which he commanded as their provost. When 1789 came, he commanded the students in the daily affrays which took place at Rennes between the young noblesse and the populace. In 1791 Moreau was elected a lieutenant colonel of the volunteers of Ille-et-Vilaine. With them he served under Charles François Dumouriez, and in 1793 the good order of his battalion, and his own martial character and republican principles, secured his promotion as general of brigade. Lazare Carnot promoted Moreau to be general of division early in 1794, and gave him command of the right wing of the army under Charles Pichegru, in Flanders.

The Battle of Tourcoing (1794) established Moreau's military fame, and in 1795 he was given the command of the Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle, with which he crossed the Rhine and advanced into Germany. He was at first completely successful and won several victories and penetrated to the Isar, but at last had to retreat before the Archduke Charles of Austria. However, the skill he displayed in conducting his retreat—which was considered a model for such operations—greatly enhanced his own reputation, the more so as he managed to bring back with him more than 5000 prisoners.

In 1797, he again, after prolonged difficulties caused by want of funds and material, crossed the Rhine, but his operations were checked by the conclusion of the preliminaries of Peace of Leoben between Bonaparte and the Austrians. It was at this time he found out a traitorous correspondence between his old comrade and commander Charles Pichegru and the émigré Prince de Condé. He had already appeared as Pichegru's defender against imputations of disloyalty, and now he foolishly concealed his discovery, with the result that he has ever since been suspected of at least partial complicity. Too late to clear himself, he sent the correspondence to Paris and issued a proclamation to the army denouncing Pichegru as a traitor.

Moreau was dismissed, and only re-employed in 1799, when the absence of Bonaparte and the victorious advance of Aleksandr Suvorov made it necessary to have some tried and experienced general in Italy. He commanded the Army of Italy (France), with little success, for a short time before being appointed to the Army of the Rhine, and remained with Barthelemy Catherine Joubert, his successor in Italy, till the battle of Novi had been fought and lost. Joubert fell in the battle, and Moreau then conducted the retreat of the army to Genoa, where he handed over the command to Jean Étienne Championnet. When Bonaparte returned from Egypt, he found Moreau at Paris, greatly dissatisfied with the French Directory government both as a general and as a republican, and obtained his assistance in the "coup d'état" of 18 Brumaire, when Moreau commanded the force which confined two of the directors in the Luxembourg Palace.

In reward, Napoleon again gave him command of the Army of the Rhine, with which he forced back the Austrians from the Rhine to the Isar. On his return to Paris he married Mlle Hullot, a Creole woman and friend of Joséphine de Beauharnais, an ambitious woman who gained a complete ascendancy over him. After spending a few weeks with the army in Germany and winning the celebrated battle of Hohenlinden (December 3, 1800), he settled down to enjoy the fortune he had acquired during his campaigns. His wife collected around her all who were discontented with the aggrandisement of Napoleon. This "Club Moreau" annoyed Napoleon, and encouraged the Royalists, but Moreau, though not unwilling to become a military dictator to restore the republic, would be no party to an intrigue for the restoration of Louis XVIII. All this was well known to Napoleon, who seized the conspirators.

Moreau's condemnation was procured only by great pressure being brought to bear by Bonaparte on the judges; and after it was pronounced the First Consul treated him with a pretense of leniency, commuting a sentence of imprisonment to one of banishment. Moreau passed through Spain and embarked for America, where he lived in relative quiet and obscurity near Trenton for about ten years. At the outbreak of the War of 1812, he was briefly considered as commander of the American forces, but then news came of the destruction of the Grande Armée in Russia.

Moreau, probably at the instigation of his wife, returned to Europe and began to negotiate with an old friend from the circle of republican intriguers: the former Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, now King Charles XIV of Sweden. King Charles and Tsar Alexander I of Russia were now leading an army against Napoleon. Moreau, who wished to see Napoleon defeated and a republican government installed, gave advice to the Swedish and Russian leaders about how best to defeat France. Moreau was mortally wounded in the Battle of Dresden on August 27, 1813, while talking to the tsar; and died on September 2 in Louny. He was buried in the Catholic Church of St. Catherine in St. Petersburg. His wife received a pension from the tsar, and was given the rank of "maréchale" by Louis XVIII, but his countrymen spoke of his "defection" and compared him to Dumouriez and Pichegru.

Moreau's fame as a general stands very high, though he was far from possessing Napoleon's transcendent gifts. His combinations were skillful and elaborate, and he kept calm under pressure. Moreau was a sincere republican, though his own father was guillotined in the Reign of Terror. His final words, "Soyez tranquilles, messieurs; c'est mon sort," ("Be calm, gentlemen; this is my fate") suggest that he did not regret being removed from his equivocal position as a general in arms against his own country.

The town of Moreau, New York is named after him.

References


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