Jean-Baptiste Eble

French General

Jean-Baptiste EbleJean-Baptiste Eble inherited a rag-tag collection of boatmen and formed an invaluable force of pontoon-bridge makers for Napoleon Bonaparte.

Eble is regarded as the man who saved the French Grande Armee that attacked Russia in 1812 when he and his men braved ferociously cold water to open a way across the Beresina River.

If he or his men had failed, then the pursuing Russians would have annihilated the already vanquished-by-winter French.

His early career was in the artillery - his father was also an artilleryman - and within two years of joining in 1793 he was commissioned as an officer.

Serving on the German and northern frontiers, Eble became governor of Magdeburg in 1806 and kept that position until he became Westphalia's Minister of War in 1808.

Assigned to Marshal Massena's army he commanded the French artillery at Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida.

Eble was given the pontonniers for the Russian Campaign in 1812 and during the frightful retreat from Moscow argued with Bonaparte over whether his mobile forges should be destroyed or retained.

Going against the emperor's orders, Eble kept the vital equipment and, when the army found itself trapped at the Beresina, was able to build escape routes.

The Russian campaign took a heavy toll on his health, however, and soon after reaching Prussia he died in Konigsberg.

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