Pierre Belon Lapisse
|Pierre Belon Lapisse|
|Born||25 November 1762
|Died||30 July 1809 (aged 46)
Santa Olalla, Spain
|Years of service||1778-1809|
|Rank||General of Division|
|Battles/wars||American Revolutionary War
French Revolutionary Wars
Order of the Iron Crown
|Other work||Baron of the Empire|
Pierre Belon Lapisse, Baron de Sainte-Hélène (25 November 1762 – 30 July 1809) enlisted in the French Army during the reign of Louis XVI and fought in the American Revolutionary War. Appointed an officer at the start of the French Revolutionary Wars, he rose in rank to become a general officer by 1799. In 1805 and 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars, he led a brigade in the Grande Armée at Jena, Czarnowo, Golymin, and Eylau. The year 1807 found him commanding a division in the thick of the action at Friedland.
In 1808, Napoleon ennobled Lapisse and transferred him to Spain to fight in the Peninsular War. Lapisse led his division at Espinosa during the Peninsular War. Detailed to lead one of three columns that were invade Portugal, he was completely outmaneuvered. He surprised and defeated a British infantry division in the Casa de Salinas action, but was mortally wounded the following day during heavy fighting at Talavera. Lapisse is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe.
Born into the family of a tapestry weaver in Lyons in 1762.
Lapisse became a soldier in 1778. From 1780 to 1783, he fought against the British Army in America under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette. In 1784 he attained the rank of sergeant.
The Revolutionary Wars
In December 1789 after the French Revolution broke out, he became a lieutenant in a Corsican unit. He saw military service in Italy.
After distinguishing himself while fighting with Nicolas Soult (later Marshal) in the Stockach campaign, Lapisse was appointed General of Brigade on 19 October 1799. After this he served in Italy again.
The Napoleonic Wars
Lapisse commanded a brigade in Marshal Pierre Augereau's VII Corps during the Ulm Campaign in 1805. At the Battle of Jena on 14 October 1806, he led a brigade in Jacques Desjardin's 1st Division. The unit included four battalions of the 16th Light Infantry Regiment. He fought at the Battle of Golymin and was promoted to General of Division a few days later on 30 December 1806. In February 1807, he led his brigade at the Battle of Eylau where the VII Corps suffered very heavy losses. Ordered to attack the Russian left flank, Augereau's men soon disappeared into a blizzard. Losing their sense of direction, the formation instead attacked the enemy center, protected by a 70-gun battery. Crushed by artillery fire and ridden down by Russian cavalry the survivors fled. The shattered corps was later broken up and its units redistributed throughout the army. At the Battle of Friedland, Lapisse commanded the 2nd Division in Marshal Claude Perrin Victor's I Corps. The division included two battalions each of the 16th Light, 8th Line, 45th Line, and 54th Line Infantry Regiments.
The Peninsular War
The I Corps was soon called to Spain after the Battle of Bailen. Lapisse fought at the Battle of Espinosa on 10 and 11 November 1808. The division included the same regiments as at Friedland, only with three battalions each. On the first day, Joaquín Blake y Joyes's Spanish army held its ground, repelling Victor's attacks. After his previous unsuccessful attacks Blake's center and right, Victor decided to try assaulting the Spanish left flank on the second day. Lapisse's At this time King Joseph Bonaparte detached Lapisse's division from I Corps which was campaigning in Extremadura. Despite Victor's pleas to return his 2nd Division, the king obstinately refused. Instead, Napoleon planned on launching an invasion of Portugal from three directions, with Nicolas Soult and 20,000 men overunning the north, Lapisse with 9,000 troops division formed the French right flank. The drive broke the Spanish left and rolled up Blake's line, inflicting 3,000 casualties and capturing six guns. French losses were 1,100 killed and wounded.
advancing from the east, and Victor pushing in from the south. Robert Thomas Wilson's aggressive use of his 1,200 Portuguese regular troops completely fooled Lapisse, who became convinced that he was outnumbered and halted his advance. Baffled by Wilson's maneuvers, he was withdrawn and ordered to rejoin Victor. On 14 May 1809 Victor and Lapisse brushed aside Colonel Mayne's Portuguese regulars and militia at Alcántara in Extremadura. Lapisse's 2nd Division and a brigade of dragoons were engaged, a total of 9,500 soldiers and 12 guns. The heavily outnumbered Portuguese lost 250 men while French casualties were light. Lapisse's men sacked the town before rendezvousing with Victor at Mérida. Two days before, the British army of Arthur Wellesley's won a victory over Marshal Nicolas Soult's corps at the Second Battle of Porto and chased him out of Portugal. So ended the second unsuccessful French invasion of that nation.
Death At Talavera
On 27 July 1809, as Victor pursued Gregorio García de la Cuesta's Spanish army, Arthur Wellesley's British troops attempted to cover their retreat across the Alberche River. Having successfully overseen the withdrawal of the Spanish infantry, Alexander Randoll Mackenzie's British 3rd Division pulled back to the west bank. However, unseen by the British, Lapisse's troops had crossed at a ford farther north and massed in the woods. Without warning, Lapisse launched his infantry at the 2nd Battalion of the 87th Foot and 1st Battalion of the 88th Foot of Rufane Shaw Donkin's brigade. The two British battalions, together with the 2nd Battalion of the 31st Foot gave way in confusion. However, Wellesley quickly reached the scene and rallied the disordered 31st on the unbroken 1st Battalion of the 45th Foot of Mackenzie's brigade. Meanwhile, Donkin's troops sorted themselves out behind five companies of the 5th Battalion of the 60th Foot (Rifles). Mackenzie's division managed to fall back to the main line without further trouble, well-covered by the 14th Light Dragoons and the 1st Light Dragoons of the King's German Legion (KGL). However, the Casa de Salinas action cost the British 447 casualties, including 70 killed, 284 wounded, and 93 missing. The 87th alone lost 198 casualties. Lapisse's losses are unknown but probably light.
The following day at the Battle of Talavera, Lapisse's 12-battalion division consisted of the same organization as at Espinosa. Together with the divisions of Horace François Bastien, baron Sébastiani and Jean François Leval, Lapisse's troops advanced about 2:00 PM, covered by a heavy bombardment. Formed in battalion columns, the first line of battalions struck the 1st Guards Division. Riddled by a volley at 50 yards (46 m) range, the French broke and fled, pursued by the British and KGL infantry. After rallying on the second line battalions and their numerous artillery, the French counterattacked and overthrew their enemies. The Guards lost 600 men, one KGL brigade lost half its strength and Brigadier General Ernst Langwerth was killed. The divisions of Sébastiani and Lapisse advanced into contact with the British line, into which Wellesley threw his reserves. Soon a terrific firefight raged. After losing 1,700 men and inflicting about the same number, the French fell back, their attack defeated. Lapisse was fatally wounded during the attack and died at Santa Olalla two days later, the French army had lost one of their most experienced field officer together with several regimental officers. LAPISSE is engraved on Column 37 of the Arc de Triomphe.
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- Smith, p 327
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- Smith, p 326
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