Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine

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Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine
Court Custine Versailles.jpg
The General, affectionately known as "the Mustaches".
Born 4 February 1740 (1740-02-04)
Died 28 August 1793 (1793-08-29) (aged 53)
Allegiance  Kingdom of France
 French First Republic
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1756–1789; 1791–1793
Rank General
Battles/wars War of Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
American Revolutionary War
French Revolutionary Wars
Awards Order of Cincinnati
Name engraved on Third Column (north pillar), Arc de Triomph
Other work Estates-General, 1789; National Constituent Assembly, 1789–1790

Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine (4 February 1740 – 28 August 1793) was a French general. As a young officer in the Bourbon Royal army, he served in the Seven Years' War, and subsequently formed part of Rochambeau's Expédition Particulière (Special Expedition) supporting the American colonists against the British during the American Revolutionary War; upon its conclusion, he rejoined his unit in the Royal Army.

When the French Revolution began he was elected to the Estates-General and served in the subsequent National Constituent Assembly as a representative from Metz. He supported some of the August Decrees, but also supported, generally, royal prerogative and the rights of the French émigrès. At the dissolution of the Assembly in 1791, he rejoined the army as a lieutenant general and the following year replaced Nicolas Luckner as commander-in-chief of the Army of the Vosges. Following Dumoriez's apparent treason, the Committee of Public Safety investigated him, but a vigorous defense mounted by the Revolutionary lawyer Robespierre's resulted in his acquittal. However, when he failed to relieve besieged Condé the following year, he was recalled Paris and found guilty of treason by the Revolutionary Tribunal and guillotined.


Born in Metz, he was one of five sons of Philippe-Joseph, comte de Custine, and Anne-Marguerite Maguin, daughter of the comte d' Roussy. His father, the tenth count, died in 1759. His other titles included Signeur de Guermagne and de Sareck, and he was, after 1770, the lord of Niederville. He married Marie Gertrude de Caba de Caberque, daughter of Philippe, comte de Caba de Caberque.[1] His family traced its lineage to the early thirteenth century.[1]

Military service[edit]

Adam Philippe began his career at the age of eight, in 1748, at the end of the War of Austrian Succession in Germany under Marshal Saxe. In 1758, he was as a captain of dragoons. During the Seven Years' War, he learned to admire the modern military organization of Prussia,which influenced his military style later.[2] By the end of the War, he was maestre de camp (in 1763). The Duc de Choiseul created a regiment of dragoons for him, but he exchanged this for a regiment of infantry, which was heading for America.[3]

He served with distinction against the British[4] as a colonel in the expeditionary force of the comte de Rochambeau in the War of American Independence. His regiment, the Regiment de Saintonge (1,322 men and officers) embarked for the Thirteen Colonies in April 1780 from Brest. The regiment participated in the Virginia campaign of 1781 and received distinguished commendations for action at the Battle of Yorktown, at which Custine received a recognition of merit and brevet from the United States government.[5] Rouchambeau's reports praise his honesty, zeal, courage and talents.[3] Following the surrender of the British, his regiment wintered in Williamsburg, Virginia and departed for the Antilles in December 1782, with the rest of the expeditionary force. On his return to France, Custine was named maréchal de camp (brigadier general) and appointed governor of Toulon.[6] He also resumed responsibilities as the proprietor of the Regiment de Rouergue.[5]

Activities during the French Revolution[edit]

In 1789 he was elected to the Estates-General by the bailliage of Metz; upon his election, he resigned his military commission, judging that his responsibilities in the assembly required his full attention.[6] In July 1789, as the French Revolution gained momentum, he remained in the National Constituent Assembly. There, he supported the creation of a constitution espousing the principles of representative government and often voted with such liberal (constitutional) nobility as the Marquis de Lafayette. Although he supported also the abolition of some seigniorial rights, he strongly defended royal prerogative and the rights of the nobility who fled during the Great Fear, especially their rights of property. He offered limited support of the nineteen decrees that abolished game-laws, seigniorial courts, the purchase and sale of posts in the magistracy, of pecuniary immunities, favoritism in taxation, of surplice money, first-fruits, pluralities, and unmerited pensions.[7]

With the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly in October 1791, Custine was appointed lieutenant general to the Army of the Vosges, as the army of volunteers was known. Despite his strict discipline, he was popular with the soldiers, amongst whom he was known as "général moustache".[4] The following year he was appointed commander-in-chief of the army, replacing Nicolas Luckner; in the following campaign, he took Speyer, Worms, Mainz and Frankfurt in September and October 1792.[4]

His conduct at Mainz is indicative of his nature. The French troops began the encirclement and siege of the city on October 18. On that night, the vanguard of General Jean Nicolas Houchard reached Weisenau.

One of our columns ... marched to within cannon shot of the town; the troops of Mainz, who lined the advanced works, fired and wounded few men. This operation complete, the howitzer batteries opened fire on the fort Hauptstein and the body of the place; but they were only field guns, and as the fortifications that surround the main forum for Mainz are very extensive, we quickly recognized the impossibility to wear down the city using six inch shells. The engineer commander Clémencey proposed to use red balls [incendiaries]; Custine but laughed and said he would have the city without resorting to fire.[8]

Custine had already been informed by the republican party among Mainz's inhabitants that the French had only to appear before the city to become its master. At the surrender of the garrison at Mainz, he recruited the Mainz commander, Rudolf Eickemeyer, to serve in the French army.[9]

During this campaign, he also acquired the services of a young officer, Laurent Gouvion, later known as Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr.[10] According to Antoine Marie Chamans, he acquired Saint Cyr's services in an unusual way, indicative of Custine's temperament and personality. In a break in action, Gouvion was sketchng the countryside, including the enemy positions near Eckheim, in the vicinity of Mainz, when Custine saw him from a distance. Not approving of his occupation, Custine galloped to him, snatched the paper from his hand, and angrily asked what he was doing. Upon noticing that Gouvion's drawing closely matched the positions, he assigned the young officer to his own staff.[11]

In the Rhineland, Custine continued the revolution by proclamation, and levied heavy taxes on the nobility and clergy. During the winter a Prussian army forced him to evacuate Frankfurt, re-cross the Rhine and fall back upon Landau. This occurred during Charles François Dumouriez's treasonous collaboration with the Austrians. After a major defeat in the Battle of Neerwinden in March 1793, Dumouriez made a desperate move to save himself from his radical enemies. He arrested the four deputy-commissioners of the National Convention who had been sent to inquire into his conduct as well as the Minister of War, Pierre Riel de Beurnonville, and he handed them over to the Austrians, and then attempted to persuade his troops to march on Paris and overthrow the revolutionary government. The attempt failed, and Dumouriez, along with the duc de Chartres (afterwards King Louis Philippe) and his younger brother, the duc de Montpensier, fled into the Austrian camp. This blow left the Girondists vulnerable due to their association with Dumouriez and, which, when discovered, brought the suspicious of the Paris regime on all the French generals, and particular those of aristocratic birth. Summoned to Paris to account for himself, Custine was accused of treason, but defended by Robespierre, the French revolutionary and lawyer, who declared him an honest man who gave his country good service ("J’estime sa franchise, ce général a bien servi la patrie."); with Robespierre's defense, he was cleared of all charges. Subsequently, he commanded the Army of the North.[6]

Reorganization of the army[edit]

In early 1793, France was in terrible crisis: French forces were pushed out of Belgium; also there was revolt in the Vendée over conscription; wide-spread resentment of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy; and the French king had just been executed. The armies of the French Republic were in a state of disruption; the problems became even more acute following the introduction of mass conscription, the levée en massee, which saturated an already distressed army with thousands of illiterate, untrained men.[12]

The French Convention reorganized the army on 24 April 1793. Believed to be tainted with royalists sentiments, the Armies of Belgium and Holland (Dumouriez's commands) were suppressed, and troops were consolidated into the new Army of the North. A new system of demi brigades placed experienced soldiers of the Ancien Régime side-by-side with raw volunteers recruited from levée en massee. Although this numerically expanded the army, it fundamentally undermined unit cohesion, at least temporarily. The old officer corps had been demolished: many of the officer class had emigrated, and the cavalry in particular suffered from their departure. Consequently, with this radical reorganization, what had seemed like easy victories over the First Coalition in 1792 when the old royal army had remained relatively intact, became far more difficult in 1793.[13] Auguste Marie Henri Picot de Dampierre held overall command and the subordinate Army of the Ardennes remained under François Joseph Drouot de Lamarche.[14]

On top of this, the problems created by Dumouriez's treason escalated. For the revolutionaries in Paris, military failures were not a result of poor planning, grandiose war aims, mediocre training, and non-existing provisioning; they were the fault of traitorous generals. Consequently, the regime in Paris sent representatives on mission to insure the cooperation, especially of all officers or men of aristocratic birth. These representatives held absolute power and all personnel — enlisted men, officers, generals — were urged to accomplish impossible feats with revolutionary fervor, but a minimum of ammunition, provisions, weapons, and military accoutrements. Failure was, in the eyes of the Paris regime, a result of misconduct based in a general's lack of will and his undoubted conspiracy with the enemy. Any accusation of misconduct could result in death. Consequently, French commanders walked a fine line between the security of the frontier and clamor for victories which would protect the regime in Paris on the one hand, and the desperate condition of the army on the other. Furthermore, they themselves were constantly under suspicion from the representatives of the new regime, who were present in their camps, looking over their shoulders, and second-guessing every move.[13] In this Reign of Terror, the price of failure or disloyalty was the guillotine. Such a fate was also the price of prudence and common sense.[15]

Problem at Condé[edit]

These problems came to a head at the fortress at Condé, an old town on the confluence of the Scheldt and Haine rivers, which was a significant strategic prize. In 1659, the Spanish had converted the town into a fortress. They built a new bastioned trace around the town, outside the old wall which was kept as an inner line. Originally, the new defenses were constructed of earth, but in 1666, the bastions on the west side were revetted with stone. On the south side, a new horn work protected the old town castle. In case of attack, the defenders could easily flood the ditch with water from the rivers. Fortifications expert Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban improved the defenses on the east side, adding two demi-bastions and a full bastion. He also constructed sluice gates so that the garrison could control the depth of the water in the ditches and flood areas on the east side. Outside the fortress, Vauban built five square redoubts to keep an attacker away from the main defenses. It was an impressive fortress, one that would be difficult to take.[16]

The French garrison was commanded by Maréchal de Camp (General of Brigade) Jean Nestor de Chancel with 4,300 defending French soldiers. On 8 April 1793, a 6,000-strong Coalition division led by Duke Ferdinand Frederick Augustus of Württemberg invested Condé-sur-l'Escaut. The Austrian portion of Württemberg's force included one battalion each of the Infantry Regiments d'Alton Nr. 15 and Joseph Colloredo Nr. 57, two composite battalions drawn from Infantry Regiments de Ligne Nr. 30, Württemberg Nr. 38, Murray Nr. 55 and Vierset Nr. 58, four companies of Tyrolean Sharpshooters and two squadrons of Kavanagh Cuirassier Regiment Nr. 12. The French Royalist contingent was made up of two squadrons each of the Berczeny Hussar, Saxe Hussar and Royal Allemand Cavalry Regiments.[17]

General Custine, 1793 engraving

Dampierre, who had the unenviable task of replacing Dumouriez, knew that his troops needed rest after the disasters at Neerwinden, and Pellenberg, but the representatives on mission — political, not military, men — demanded action. Dampierre's army reoccupied Famars near Valenciennes on 15 April. Two weeks later on 1 May, the French attacked the Coalition army under Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in an attempt to relieve Condé, which had already been invested on 8 April by approximately 6000 Austrian and Émigrè troops.[17]

In this attempt, the depredations of the Revolution on the army were strongly felt: the infantry fought stoutly, but the cavalry fell short in its charge and the assault failed. On 8 May, at the Battle of Raismes, Dampierre attacked again and his left wing made some progress, but was halted by a brigade of British Guards. Although intense fire stopped the British counter-attack, the French relief attempt failed again.[18] The French suffered 1,500 casualties out of 30,000 involved in the action while the Coalition lost about 600 killed and wounded.[19] Dampierre was carried from the field with part of his thigh shot away; he died the next day. Despite this heroic effort, Georges Couthon denounced him as a traitor to the revolution before National Convention. Had Dampierre survived, he would probably have been sent to the guillotine, since he, as a general, was already under suspicion. On 10 May the Coalition forces recaptured all the ground that they lost on the 8th and the French army retired to their camp at Famars.[18]

While this occurred, Custine dared not take the offensive vis a vis Condé: he too had the feared representatives on mission present among his troops. Custine had no patience for such men; and he reacted angrily to suggestions that lacked any military knowledge or foundation.[20] He had been attacked by such men before, and had barely escaped from condemnation in the previous fall. If he moved to relieve the besieged garrison at Condé, he would leave other territories unprotected.[21]

This is not to say Custine remained inactive. In early May, Custine designed a plan to cut off a body of the Coalition force that had ventured too far from the main force. However, since he was about to take command of the Army of the North, he delegated some of the responsibility for this plan to Houchard, instructing him to attack Limberg and Carlsberg with the Army of the Moselle. The garrison at Landau was to make several feints and actions to distract the Prussian troops. Custine also created a false report that the cavalry of the army of Moselle had arrived, as well as part of the artillery of Strasbourg. General Ferier, who commanded an 40 battalions, was to throw himself on the Prussians until he heard that the principal engagement at Rheinzadern had begun. Custine left with his troops in the evening; several delays prevented him from arriving until five in the morning, but Landremont engaged the Austrian army in the meanwhile and prevented them from advancing until Custine arrived and charged the Austrian post with two divisions of dragoons. Unfortunately, a battalion of French mistook the Custine's dragoons for the enemy, and fired upon them with great accuracy. Any attempt to rally the battalion met with additional discharges. The commander, who apparently had little control over his troop, was denounced by the representatives and his troops, and arrested, but shot himself. Custine was disgusted with the affair: "This day, which ought to have so memorable, terminated by the taking of one piece of cannon and a very great number of prisoners." [21]

Ultimately, Dampierre's failure to relieve the garrison at Condé and Custine's seeming inaction spelled Custine's end. Jacques-René Hébert denounced him to the Convention, reporting that he sought to have his troops destroyed by the Emigrè army, an accusation Chamans called "an absurd calumny."[20] In fact, before leaving the Army of the Rhine, Custine had attempted to solidify the French position on the river before taking over Dampiere's old command on the Dutch border. None of this seemed to matter. Custine was recalled to Paris and arrested on 22 July. During his trial, Hébert continued to spew vitriol and this time Robespierre did not defend him. The Revolutionary Tribunal convicted him of treason and he was executed by guillotine on 28 August 1793.[22]


Custine's leadership and character, although impugned by the Tribunal, proved fundamentally sound in the field. Although an admirer of the Prussian style of drill and discipline, his soldiers actually liked him, and felt inspired by him. Custine liked to make speeches and reportedly knew the names of his soldiers. He visited men in the hospital, demonstrated blunt good humor, and was the master of repartee. His ready wit was quoted throughout his command.[23] He did not tolerate disorder or insubordination however; when encountering a troop of volunteers in 1792, who bragged to say they were going to teach the army the right step (make it Republican), he ordered his cavalry to surround and disarm them.[24]


Custine's son, Renaud-Louis-Philippe-Francois, (b. in Paris in 1768), was a captain in one of the regiment's under command of the similarly ill-fated Nicolas Luckner, in the Army of the Rhine. By 1792, he was Luckner's aide-de-camp. At the age of 25, he was guillotined for attempting to defend his father.[25] Custine's daughter-in-law, who had been living in Normandy, arrived in Paris to see her husband and father-in-law; after her husband's death, she prepared to go to Berlin, to join her brother and his wife, but was arrested and imprisoned in the Carmelite abbey, by then in use as a prison. She was released with Josephine Beauharnais, Madame d'Aiguillon, and Madame de Lameth. She eventually recovered a portion of her property, assisted by Joseph Fouché, who was by then minister of police. A short time later she emigrated to Berlin, where she remained with her son Astolphe-Louis-Léonor, Marquis de Custine. She and her infant grandson died in 1824.[26]

Faience investment[edit]

In 1770, Custine acquired property in the Niderviller region, which included a faience factory. The manufactory had been founded in 1735, but had enjoyed limited profitability. Various difficulties, including a fire that gutted the production building and a limitation on the manufacture of soft-paste porcelain, discouraged the original investors. When Custine purchased the property in 1770, it was struggling investment. He encountered significant financial problems over the next eight years, and considered bankruptcy in 1778. He subsequently entered into business with François-Henri Lenfrey . Lenfrey revamped the production process, producing cailloutage, which combined faience production techniques with a newly-created process that mixed crushed limestone with the clay.[27] Custine's execution, and the continued war with the Coalition reduced the number of employees to 15; the factory survived, however, and enjoyed a renaissance in the mid-nineteenth century.[28] Custine presented George Washington with a set of this tableware service in 1782.[29]


  1. ^ a b (French) Louis Moreri, Desaint det Sailant. Noveau supplement au grand dicitonaire historique genealogigue... Paris, Jean-Thomas Herissant, 1749 — 59, pp.333, 420–421.
  2. ^ Émile Auguste Nicolas Jules Bégin Biographie de la Moselle, Verronais, 1829, vol. 1, pp. 320–370.
  3. ^ a b Thomas Balch, The French in America during the War of Independence. nl, Porter and Coates, 1895, pp. 90–91.
  4. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911, p. 668.
  5. ^ a b Appleton Prentiss Clark Griffin and United States Congress, Joint committee on the Library. Rochambeau: A commemoration by the Congress of the United States of America of the Services of the French Auxiliary Forces in the War of Independence. Washington, DC, S. Government Printing Office, 1907. pp. 570–572.
  6. ^ a b c Bégin, p. 321.
  7. ^ James Matthew Thompson, The French Revolution nl, Sutton, 2001 [1943], pp. 90–111.
  8. ^ Jean Louis Camille Gay de Vernon, Baron Gay de Vernon: Mémoire sur les opérations militaires des généraux en chef Custine et Houchard, pendant les années 1792 et 1793; Firmin-Didot frères, 1844, p. 63
  9. ^ Charles Alan Fyffe, A History of Modern Europe 1792–1878, nl, H. Holt, 1896, p. 35.
  10. ^ Léonard Honoré Gay de Vernon. Vie de Gouvion Saint-Cyr (1857)
  11. ^ Antoine-Marie Chamans, The memoirs of Count Lavallette, Philadelphia, T.T. Ash, 1832, p. 84.
  12. ^ (French) R. Dupuy, Nouvelle histoire de la France contemporaine. La République jacobine, 2005, p.156
  13. ^ a b William Doyle, Aristocracy and its Enemies in the Age of Revolution, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 287.
  14. ^ Phipps (2010), p. 172
  15. ^ Jean Paul Bertaud, R.R. Palmer (trans). The Army of the French Revolution: From Citizen-Soldiers to Instrument of Power, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  16. ^ Goode, Dominic (2008). "Condé-sur-l'Escaut". 
  17. ^ a b Smith, Digby (1998). The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill. pp. 48–49. ISBN 1-85367-276-9. 
  18. ^ a b Phipps (2010), pp. 178–180
  19. ^ Smith (1998), pp. 45–46
  20. ^ a b Chamans, p. 70.
  21. ^ a b Jean-Paul Rabaut, An Impartial History of the Late Revolution in France: From Its Commencement, to the Death of the Queen, and the Execution of the Deputies of the Gironde Party. nl, Rabaut, 1794, pp. 462–464.
  22. ^ Phipps (2010), p. 189
  23. ^ Chamans, p. 71.
  24. ^ Chamans, p. 84.
  25. ^ Begin, p. 372.
  26. ^ The Nation, Mdme Custine, nl, Nation Company, 1894, Volumes 58–59, p. 135.
  27. ^ Joseph Marryat, A History of Pottery and Porcelain... nl, J. Murray, 1868, pp. 438–439.
  28. ^ Faience History of Niderviller factory. Infofaience, 2012–2014. Accessed 8 December 2014.
  29. ^ Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union. Annual Report – The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1977.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Custine, Adam Philippe". Encyclopædia Britannica 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 668. 
  • Appleton Prentiss Clark Griffin and United States Congress, Joint committee on the Library. Rochambeau: A commemoration by the Congress of the United States of America of the Services of the French Auxiliary Forces in the War of Independence. Washington, DC., Government Printing Office, 1907.
  • Begin, Émile Auguste Nicolas Jules. Biographie de la Moselle, Verronais, 1829, vol. 1 .
  • Bertaud, Jean Paul, R.R. Palmer (trans). The Army of the French Revolution: From Citizen-Soldiers to Instrument of Power, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  • Chuquet, Arthur, Les Guerres de la Révolution (1886–1895; vol. vi, "L'Expédition de Custine").
  • Doyle, William. Aristocracy and its Enemies in the Age of Revolution, Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Dupuy, R, Nouvelle histoire de la France contemporaine. La République jacobine, 2005 (reprint)
  • Faience, History of Niderville factory. Infofaience, 2012–2014. Accessed 8 December 2014.
  • Fyffe, Charles Alan, A History of Modern Europe 1792–1878, nl, H. Holt, 1896.
  • Gay de Vernon, Jean Louis Camille. Mémoire sur les opérations militaires des généraux en chef Custine et Houchard, pendant les années 1792 et 1793 Firmin-Didot frères, 1844.
  • Marryat, Joseph. A History of Pottery and Porcelain... nl, J. Murray, 1868.
  • Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union. Annual Report – The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1977.
  • Rabaut, Jean-Paul. An Impartial History of the Late Revolution in France: From Its Commencement, to the Death of the Queen, and the Execution of the Deputies of the Gironde Party. nl, Rabaut, 1794.
  • Rambaud, Alfred Nicolas, Les Français sur le Rhin (Paris, 1880).
  • Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9.
  • Thompson, J.M. The French Revolution nl, Sutton, 2001 [1943]. ISBN 9780750927581
  • The Nation, Mdme Custine, nl, Nation Company, 1894, Volumes 58–59.