Pierre Cambronne

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Pierre Jacques Étienne Cambronne
Viscount Cambronne
Pierre Cambronne.jpg
Born 26 December 1770
Nantes, France
Died 29 January 1842(1842-01-29) (aged 71)
Nantes, France
Allegiance  France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1792–1823
Battles/wars French Revolutionary Wars
Napoleonic Wars
Awards Offizierskreuz.jpgOfficier of the Légion d'honneur

Pierre Jacques Étienne Cambronne, later Pierre, Viscount Cambronne (26 December 1770–29 January 1842), was a General of the French Empire. He fought during the wars of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Era. He was wounded at the Battle of Waterloo.

Military career[edit]

Cambronne was born in Nantes (Loire-Atlantique). He joined the Grenadiers as a volunteer in 1792, serving under Charles François Dumouriez in Belgium, in the Vendée, took part in the battle of Quiberon, then in the expedition to Ireland under Hoche in 1796. He then joined the Army of the Alps under André Masséna, where he was promoted to command of a grenadier company at the Battle of Zurich (1799).

In 1800, he commanded a company under Latour d'Auvergne, and later succeeded him as First Grenadier of France. He was made a Colonel at the Battle of Jena in 1806, given command of the 3rd Regiment of the Voltigeurs of the Guard in 1810, and was made a Baron the same year. (Voltigeur, a French word meaning vaulter or leaper, was a designation given to elite light infantry units in the French Army, who acted as advance units of the main column.)

Cambronne then fought in Spain, then joined La Grande Armée. In Russia he commanded the 3rd Regiment of Voltigeurs of the Guard, and took part in the battles of Bautzen, Dresden, and Leipzig, before being promoted to General.

The hundred days and Waterloo[edit]

Popular image of the 1820s illustrating the deeds of General Cambronne

He became major of the Imperial Guard in 1814, and accompanied Napoléon into exile to the island of Elba, where he was a military commander. He then returned with Napoléon to France on 1 March 1815 for the Hundred Days, capturing the fortress of Sisteron (5 March), and was made a Count by Napoléon when they arrived at Paris. Cambronne was seriously wounded at the Battle of Waterloo and was taken prisoner by the British.

The exact circumstances of his surrender to the British are disputed. At the battle's conclusion, Cambronne was commanding the last of the Old Guard when General Colville called on him to surrender. According to a journalist named Rougement, Cambronne replied: "La garde meurt et ne se rend pas !" ("The Guard dies and does not surrender!"). These words were often repeated and put on the base of a statue of Cambronne in Nantes after his death.[1] Other sources reported he replied with one word: "Merde!" ("Shit!", figuratively, "Go to hell")[1] This version of the reply became famous in its own right, becoming known as le mot de Cambronne ("the word of Cambronne") and repeated in Victor Hugo's account of Waterloo in his novel Les Misérables[2] and in Edmond Rostand's play L'Aiglon. The name Cambronne was later used as a polite euphemism ("What a load of old Cambronne!") and was sometimes even as a verb, "cambronniser".

Cambronne always denied both Rougement's account and the one-word response. A series of letters to The Times claimed that British Colonel Hugh Halkett, commanding the 3rd Hanoverian Brigade, captured Cambronne before he made any reply.[3]

The "The Guard dies ..." statement has also been ascribed to General Claude-Etienne Michel. A trial was held between the two families, leaving the attribution undecided.[citation needed]

Further career[edit]

Statue of Pierre Cambronne in Nantes

He was tried for treason in France, but well defended by the royalist Antoine Pierre Berryer, he was acquitted on 26 April 1816. He later married Mary Osburn, the Scottish nurse who had cared for him after Waterloo.

In 1820, Louis XVIII made him Commandant at Lille with the rank of brigadier, and made him a viscount. He retired to his birthplace in 1823, dying there in 1842. A statue of Cambronne was erected in Nantes in 1848, and a square in Paris, the Place Cambronne, also commemorates him.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Boller, Jr., Paul F.; George, John (1989). They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 11–2. ISBN 0-19-505541-1. 
  2. ^ Victor Brombert, "Les Misérables: Salvation from Below," in Harold Bloom, ed., Modern Critical Views: Victor Hugo (Chelsea House, 1988), 212-5
  3. ^ The Guard dies, it does not surrender. Cambronne surrenders, he does not die