Friday, November 15, 2019

So, Who Was That Guy?

He was French Général de Division
César-Charles-Etienne, Comte Gudin De La Sablonnière
(1768-1812)

(Source)
You may (or may not) have seen a fairly recent article in the news, real news that is, about the remains of a French general being found under a dance floor in Russia. You can read some of the details here and/or here. (I often get my news from The Telegraph and sometimes from Fox News, seldom anywhere else, but I digress...)

So in these modern times we often think of a general as some guy (or gal, after all this is the 21st Century) well behind the lines directing operations from afar. Sure, generals do come under fire and get killed or injured (Major General Harold Greene of the U.S. Army springs immediately to mind), but that is relatively rare in modern times.

That wasn't the case in Napoleonic times (and most wars prior to the 20th Century) when generals led their troops from the front. Even staff officers got shot at and quite frequently hit. While the commanders were maneuvering their units, the staff was coordinating all that, on horseback and certainly in range of enemy cannon, sometimes within musket range as well.

General Gudin was no stranger to battle, he had joined the French Army before the Revolution in 1782. (He had also been a classmate of the future Emperor at Brienne.) He was known as a hard worker and also cared for the lives of his troops. He fought in most of the major campaigns in the Napoleonic Wars, except for Spain.

Always near the front of his troops he had been wounded in action twice before receiving the wounds that killed him near Smolensk: wounded at the Battle of Auerstädt on 14 October 1806 and then again at the Battle of Wagram three years later on 6 July 1809, where he was hit four times!

General Gudin didn't have to suffer the retreat from Moscow in 1812, he was hit by cannon shot on the pursuit after Napoléon's defeat of the Russians at Smolensk during the Battle of Valutino. The shot which hit him severed one leg and crushed the calf of the other. He wasn't killed outright, he lingered three days before the gangrene which had set in finally killed him

A tough soldier in a tough time, one of the Emperor's favorite generals.

Of course, the French want to repatriate his remains and give him a proper burial in France. A well-deserved honor for a man whose name is carved on the Arc de Triomphe. A fine way to honor the memory of a very brave man.

(Source)
Général de Division Gudin, moments before being wounded.
(On the right with sword held high.)

(Source)
Napoleon's hopes of trapping General Barclay's army were dashed when he discovered that the Russian force awaiting the French was a rearguard under General Tutchkov. Barclay's main force of three infantry and one cavalry corps was strung out near Smolensk, trying to get away from the French after the Battle of Smolensk. They then turned around to fight the French on the Stragan river.

After a heavy bombardment, Ney launched an assault against the Russians, crossing the Stragan but failing to capture the crest. Murat's cavalry attacks were bogged down in marshy ground and accomplished nothing. General Junot's force was close to the battlefield and was urged to attack the Russians by Murat. Junot did not engage, and the opportunity for a decisive victory passed.

A few hours later, Ney launched the last French attack. General Gudin led the assault and was hit by a cannonball, which removed one leg. He died three days later from infection. The French managed to capture the crest after hard fighting. By that point the majority of Barclay's army had escaped and was heading towards Lubino. (Source)



Other Sources:

30 comments:

  1. Leading from the front? What kind of blasphemy is that? Every one knows generals lead from the rear, and the furher to the rear the better.

    Rest in Peace, Warrior!

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  2. Perhaps it's time for a few of the denizens of that five-sided puzzle palace in DC to lead from the front again, ya.......I realize that a general commanding a squad is overkill BUT...... Boy, tough guy to survive four wounds given the medical care of the time.

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    1. Yeah, multiple wounds, and he lived, amazing. Well, except for the last one...

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  3. On the right side of the painting, and near the tip of the saber scabbard, is that the incoming cannonball?

    On the subject of leading from the front, every ship's crewmember from the captain on down faces the same risk.

    Good post, thank you.

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    1. Pretty sure that's the one, if you look at where it's coming in and the general's remains, took the left leg off at the knee and smashed to the calf of the right. A nasty wound.

      In the Navy, it's a shared risk innit? (Same with aircraft crews.)

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    2. Well, except for the crew sleeping along the waterline while the captain is safely sleeping 5-6 decks above, as recent USN activity shows.

      But, yeah, for the most part, naval commanders share a lot or equal risks as their crew, especially in subs.

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  4. He should return to the sacred ground of France. He has done his duty.

    I watched a documentary on Borodino last night. It reported that 50 French generals became casualties. Wikipedia lists three French generals of division being KIA, and seven brigadier generals losing their lives there. Who knows what the Russians lost from their officer corps, but it was likely comparable. Add in the 75,000 or so total casualties and it makes Antietam look positively quaint by comparison.

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    1. Borodino was a bloodbath from private to general, everybody shared the risk.

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  5. Wonder where the fellow himself would prefer to lie? I can see how a person with his history and accomplishments might prefer a dance hall venue and nearness to some of his men as opposed to a return to a now-foreign country. We're I Russian in possession of the remains, I might say "Vous pouvez payer un milliard d'euros pour l'emmener, mon ami."

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    1. And I forgot to add, great post and thanks for giving me something to ponder on the mind's back burner as I attempt to remove a stuck oil filter from the Bobcat.

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    2. Shaun the 1st - That's a pretty good question.

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    3. Shaun the 2nd - Hope the weather's not too harsh for unsticking that filter. Nothing like cold weather to enhance that task.

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    4. Pretty sure by now he just wants to be left alone. But getting back to France wouldn't be bad, if there's a France to come back to (considering what's been happening for the last few years...)

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    5. Yes, I wonder where France is right now.

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    6. France? Hell... I wonder where we are.

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    7. Juvat - Too true, and it's sad as Hell.

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    8. Beans - Makes me crazy it does.

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  6. Smart generals lead infantry attacks on foot rather than sitting astride a flashy horse.

    During the Indian Wars in the West, following the War of Northern Aggression, General Crook wore a civilian suit with a sun helmet and rode a mule. I'm sure that there's a lot of experience behind that move. The mule could keep going long after horses were blown, and the suit, far less flashy than military blue and brass, made him far less of a target. The sun helmet gave him a cooler experience than a wool kepi.

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    1. But in the days of mouth commands only, being on a flashy horse swinging a sword and wearing shiny armor and such means your troops could see you. It's one thing in an open battle type like in the American West, where it was basically skirmishes, to not stand out because you're only commanding a handful of troops, but in a big battle situation, being able to see the commander and being able to see over your horde of men was a thing.

      The introduction of rifled weapons en masse doomed the shiny guy on a white horse thing. So instead, leaders had to start walking in front of their troops...

      It's interesting to watch command style change and adapt as the weapons and tactics change.

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    2. Often it changes the hard way.

      "Non, non Monsieur le Général Joffre, you cannot just charge into machine gun fire!"

      "Attendez, hold my wine..."

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    3. One wonders if he'd read about Gustavus Adolphus. (Short version: don't be the only person on a white horse, wearing white over your armor, and lead from the front.)

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  7. Very interesting dude.

    Interesting that they're now digging up all these old guys. First Richard III from a parking lot, now this dude.

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    1. I just had a thought, if he'd been killed during the retreat, odds are pretty good he wouldn't have been buried by himself. The Russians, no doubt, would have tumbled him into a mass grave with his slaughtered men. No doubt he, much like Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of the 54th Massachusetts, would have considered that an honor.

      I would.

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    2. It's hard to bury your own troops during a retreat. Much easier for the non-retreaters to do the burying. Which means, for the most part, mass graves after corpse being stripped.

      Unless dead retreating dude really really impressed non-retreating dudes by his acts of bravery. Which happens, sometimes.

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    3. Yup, happens from time to time.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)