Jean Rapp

French General
1771 -1821

Jean RappDaring and courageous, Jean Rapp managed to survive two dozen wounds in his legendary career as one of the best of Napoleon Bonaparte's generals.

A cavalryman from 1788, Rapp became Louis Desaix's aide in 1794, fighting with the general in Egypt and at Marengo.

His next appointment was as an aide to Bonaparte himself and despite the fact he was a staff officer, liked nothing more than to get into the thick of the fighting.

At Austerlitz, Rapp led the Guard Cavalry in a counterattack that crushed the Russian Imperial Guard at a crucial stage in the battle.

At Aspern-Essling, Rapp disobeyed orders that would have had him defensively covering the withdrawal of a French unit. The general went on the attack, secured the position and stabilised the French position. Instead of being reprimanded, Rapp was praised by Bonaparte.

The good relations he had with the emperor became badly strained over Bonaparte's divorce from Josephine, who Rapp felt was badly treated, and over trade restrictions he avoided enforcing while Governor of Danzig.

He returned to the army for the 1812 invasion of Russia, fought as a divisional commander at Borodino - earning another four battle wounds.

Badly frostbitten during the horrendous retreat from Moscow, Rapp survived and returned to hold Danzig against enemy attacks. Despite being badly outnumbered by the Russian forces and with disease breaking out in the city, Rapp held out for more than a year.

He described the hand-to-hand struggle as "slaughter" and praised his men for fighting gallantly against terrible odds.

When Danzig finally fell, Rapp was imprisoned in Kiev until after peace was concluded in 1814.

Bonaparte's return saw Rapp's loyalty to France and to his former emperor sorely tested.

In a furious face-to-face meeting the general told Bonaparte he would have ordered his soldiers to shoot at him if he had been sent to intercept his march from exile on Paris.

The conversation ended with an emotional emperor holding the general and giving him command of the Guard.

With the approach of the Allied armies in 1815, Rapp was sent to protect France's eastern borders from some 60,000 enemy troops.

Ten days after Waterloo, he met the Allies near Strasbourg with fewer than 20,000 men and defeated them at La Suffel. It was France's last victory of the Napoleonic Wars.

Rapp went on to become a Peer of France. He died of cancer in 1821.


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