Nicolas Ernault des Bruslys

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Nicolas Ernault des Bruslys
Born August 7, 1757
Died September 25, 1809(1809-09-25) (aged 52)
Saint-Denis, Réunion
Allegiance France France
Service/branch France French Army
Years of service 1780 – 1809
Rank French Army Général de Brigade

siege of Namur
Siege of Maastricht

Raid on Saint Paul
Awards Legion of Honour

Nicolas Jean Ernault de Rignac des Bruslys (7 August 1757, Brive-la-Gaillarde – 25 September 1809, Saint-Denis, Réunion[1]) was a French general, later governor of Île Bonaparte (now Réunion).


Early career[edit]

Des Bruslys joined the École des Mineurs in Verdun on 28 September 1774. The school was closed the next year, and he joined the elite gardes du corps du roi, in the Noailles company. He received a commission of second lieutenant at the 3rd Artillery regiment on 4 July 1780.

In 1781, des Bruslys took part in an attempt at invading India. He was promoted to first lieutenant on 1 September 1783, and to captain of the Colonial troops on 7 Mai 1786. He took part in a diplomatic mission to Persia before returning to France in 1787.

From 27 January 1788, he served as aid to the inspector of the artillery. In September, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. On 14 September, he distinguished himself at Croix-aux-Bois, reforming disbanded battalions and disengaging four battalions which were threatened to be surrounded. On the next day, he saved the supplies of his army which were being attacked by three squadrons.

On 8 October 1789, he was promoted to Adjudant-général-colonel, and took part in the siege of Namur, personally leading the capture of the fort of Vilatte. On 26 November, he was wounded by a shrapnel at the right arm.

Revolutionary wars[edit]

From 26 January 1793, he directed siege works at Maastricht, where he was wounded by a cannonball at the right leg on 27 February 1794.

On 7 August 1794, des Bruslys was promoted to acting Général de brigade, and served as de facto chief of staff of the armies of the North, of Belgium and of Ardennes. His rank was confirmed on 13 May, but revoked on 10 August, and arrested shortly thereafter on suspicion raised by the defection of this brothers, in 1791. He was released at the Thermidorian Reaction, on 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794). On 22 Thermidor (9 August), he was again arrested as former head of staff of Custine. He was freed on 19 Frimaire an III (9 December 1794) and affected to the West Army.

Des Bruslys was soon called back to Paris, and defended the Convention nationale during the Prairial uprising.

On 26 Germinal (15 April 1795), he was sent to the Army of the North. From 25 pluviôse an V (13 February 1797), he was in charge of defending the coast.

On 28 Messidor an VI (16 July 1798), he was sent to the Army of England, which he quit to take back his previous position on 21 nivôse an VII (10 January 1799). He was affected to the Army of the Rhine on 26 frimaire an VIII (17 December 1799), where he distinguished himself at Fribourg and Biberach an der Riß. He served under Jean Victor Marie Moreau at Ulm, and defended St. Gotthard Pass.

In Vendémiaire an X (October 1801), he took command of the Souham division, before being put at the disposal of the Ministry of the Navy. On 25 Nivôse (15 January 1802), he was sent to Rochefort, embarked aboard the frigate Thêmis, and sailed to Île de France (now Mauritius), under François-Louis Magallon. He married there.

When Magallon was sent back to France, Decaen made his governor of Réunion. On 4 germinal an XII (25 March 1804), he received the Legion of Honour, and on 13 juillet 1808, he was promoted to Général de division.

Raid on Saint Paul and suicide[edit]

Decaen had thought that the British would attempt a raid at Saint Paul. Des Brulys both did not share the conviction, and was reluctant to weaken the defences of Saint-Denis, thinking that his forces did not allow him to effectively defend the entire coastline.[2]

The British did attack at Saint Paul, on 21 September 1809. Unable to hold their position, the French retreated near the gunpowder store. Corbett himself showed up with an ultimatum threatening to set the entire city on fire, should the French attack.[3][4]

On the next day, Des Bruslys led his force of 50 soldiers and 800 militiamen of the National Guard to counter the British, and found himself facing a 900-man strong expeditionary force already settled in Saint Paul. Des Bruslys hesitated between a direct assault and a defence line to contain the British. In the evening, he retreated to Saint-Denis in order to organise its defence against a potential invasion, leaving captain Saint-Michel to negotiate with the British.

On 23, a capitulation act was written at Saint Paul, which des Bruslys refused to sign. At the same time, General Soleille threatened him with the decree of 14 pluviôse An II, which made "cowardice on the battlefield" punishable by the death penalty, should he not order an assault. Wanting neither to surrender, nor to order an assault which he deemed would end in a needless bloodbath, he redacted a note stating:

Des Bruslys then attempted to kill himself with his sabre, but failed. He then tried to blow his head off by detonating two sacks of gunpowder tied to his neck, but the powder failed to explode properly, which left him severely burned. He eventually took his life by slitting his carotid with his razor.

His widow obtained a 1000-franc pension in 1811.

Sources and references[edit]

  1. ^ Generals Who Served in the French Army during the Period 1789 - 1814: De Das de L'Aulne to De Winter
  2. ^ Les gouverneurs de l'ile de la Réunion
  3. ^ Septembre 1809 : Le suicide du gouverneur Des Bruslys
  4. ^ L’ île Bonaparte tombe aux mains des Anglais
  5. ^ Je ne veux pas être traître à mon pays; je ne veux pas sacrifier des habitants à la défense inutile de cette île ouverte. D'après les effets que j'entrevois de la haine ou de l'ambition de quelques individus tenant à une secte révolutionnaire, la mort m'attend sur l'échafaud... Je préfère me la donner. Je recommande à la Providence et aux âmes sensibles ma femme et mes enfants.