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Louis Davout

Marshal Louis DavoutFrench Marshal
Prince of Eckmuhl
Duke of Auerstadt
1770-1823

A superb commander, Louis Davout's military and administrative skills matched Napoleon Bonaparte's.

Despite his aristocratic origins, the young Davout eagerly supported the French revolution and was the officer who ordered his men to fire upon the defecting General Dumouriez.

A general of brigade at 23, Davout spent his early years stationed near the German states and took part in the actions at Mannheim, Kehl and Haslach. He was captured, but exchanged, a move that the Prussians would later rue.

A colleague of Louis Desaix, Davout became known to Bonaparte and joined the expedition to Egypt.

He fought at the Pyramids, Aboukir and upon while returning to France following the abortive campaign was again captured - this time by the Royal Navy - but was repatriated after a month.

Promoted to general of division, Davout took charge of the cavalry arm of the Army of Italy.

The youngest of the soldiers promoted to the Marshalate in 1804, Davout took over III Corps and through discipline and training turned it into the finest force in the French army.

At Austerlitz, he was the anvil upon which Bonaparte pulverised the Russians and Austrians, but it was in 1806 at Auerstadt that he showed his true brilliance.

His single corps of around 26,000 battled the main Prussian army of at least 50,000 men to a standstill and then on to sweep them from the field in one of the greatest military displays in history.

Unfortunately for Davout, his triumph took place on the same day as Bonaparte's victory at Jena (against a smaller Prussian force) and so the result was played down.

He commanded well at Eylau and took part in the battles of Eckmuhl, Ratisbon, and Wagram.

During the Russian campaign of 1812 Davout was his usual brilliant self, beating General Bagration at Mohilev and taking part at Smolensk.

A keen tactician he angered Bonaparte by continually pushing for a flanking attack against the heavily entrenched Russians at Borodino and the enormous cost of the emperor failing to heed his advice proved him right.

Davout was again ignored when suggesting a different route of retreat for what turned out to be the disastrous withdrawal from Moscow and, if heeded, his advice of moving through better foraging countryside may have saved much of the French army.

He fought at Maloyaroslavets and then took command of the rearguard and had further clashes with the Russians at Kolotskoi and Viasma.

Always mindful of the welfare of his elite force of men and never popular with many of his fellow marshals, Davout's rearguard strategy was undermined by them and soon branded as being too slow by Bonaparte.

He was replaced by Ney and then was blamed for that marshal's force being cut off.

Given the task of holding Hamburg against the advancing allies, Davout put up a model defence and held out for more than a year. He only relinquished command of the city in 1814 when ordered to by the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII.

Upon Bonaparte's return he became Minister of War but was left behind in Paris, presumably to guard against treachery, when the French army began the 100 Days' Campaign.

If Bonaparte had Davout with him then the results at Quatre Bras and Waterloo could have been very different.

For such a brilliant military man, Davout was very near-sighted. He was harsh, difficult to get on with and had no patience with those who tried to take easy ways out.

He got on with few of fellow marshals but, in typical fashion, was more interested with defeating France's enemies than pandering to courtiers and politicians.

 

 
 
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