Born: 29 April 1762 France
Died: 23 November 1833 France
Rank: Marshal of France
Jourdan was born in Limoges, France into a surgeon’s family. He enlisted in the French royal army in 1778 as a private just before his sixteenth birthday.Assigned to the Regiment of Auxerrois, he took part in the ill-fated assault at the Siege of Savannah on 9th October 1779 during the American War of Independence.
In 1782 Jourdan sick with fever, returned home from the West Indes, where he was serving. Bouts of illness with malaria gave him great trouble for the rest of his life.
In 1784 he was discharged from the army and set up a shop in the haberdashery business in his home town of Limoges. In 1788 he married a dressmaker in which they had five daughters.When the National Assembly asked for volunteers, Jourdan was elected Chef de bataillon of the 2nd Haute-Vienne Battalion. He led his troops in the French victory at the Battle of Jemappes on 6th November 1792 and in defeat at the Battle of Neerwinden on the 18th March in the following year. Jourdan’s leadership skills were beginning to be noticed and it led to his promotion to general of brigade on 27th May 1973 and then to general of division two months later.
On 8th September at the Battle of Hondshoote, he led his division in which he was wounded in the chest. On 22nd September he was named to lead the Army of the North.His first assignment was to relieve General of Division Jacques Ferrand’s 20, 000 troops in the garrison of Maubeuge, which was besieged by an Austrian-Dutch army commanded by Prince Josias of Coburg. This Jourdan archived on 15-16th October at the Battle of Wattignies and broke the siege.
In May 1794, Jourdan lead the Army of the Moselle north. This force was combined with the Army of the Ardennes and the right wing of the Army of the North to form an army which did not officially become the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse until 29th June 1794. With 70,000 men of the new army, Jourdan laid siege to Charleroi on 12th June. The 41,000 Austrian-Dutch army under William V Prince of Orange, defeated the French at Lambusart on 16th June and drove them south of the Sambre River.Casualties numbered 3,000 for each army. Undeterred, Jourdan immediately marched on Namur to the east-northeast of Charleroi. Instead of attacking Namur, he suddenly swung west and appeared to the north of Charleroi. After a quick siege, the 3,000 Austrian garrison of Charleroi surrendered on 25th June. Too late to save Charleroi, Coburg’s 46,000 men attacked Jourdan’s 75,000 French the next day. The Battle of Fleurus proved to be a decisive French victory when Coburg called off his attacks and retreated
After Fleurus, the Allied position in the Austrian Netherlands collapsed. The Austrian army evacuated Belgium and the Dutch Republic was extinguished by the advancing French armies in 1795. On 7th June 1795, Jourdan’s army concluded the long but successful Siege of Luxembourg. Operations east of the Rhine were less successful that year, with the French capturing, then losing Mannheim.
In 1796 Jourdan’s Army of Sambre-et-Meuse formed the left wing of the advance into Bavaria. The whole of the French forces were ordered to advance on Vienna, Jourdan on the extreme left and MG Jean Moreau in the centre by the Danube valley, MG Napoleon Bonaparte on the right in Italy. The campaign began brilliantly, the Austrians under Archduke Charles being driven back by Moreau and Jourdan almost to the Austrian frontier. But the archduke, slipping away from Moreau, threw his whole weight on Jourdan, who was defeated at the Battle of Amberg in August.Jourdan failed to retrieve the situation at the Battle of Wurzburg and was forced over the Rhine after a severe rear-guard action, which cost the life of MG Francois Marceau. Moreau had to fall back in turn, and the operations of the year in Germany were a failure.
The chief cause of the defeat was the plan of campaign imposed upon the generals by their government. Jourdan was nevertheless made the scapegoat and was not employed for two years. In those years he became prominent as a politician and above all as the brains behind the famous conscription law of 1798, which came to be known as the Jourdan Law.
When the War of the Second Coalition broke out in 1799, Jourdan was at the head of the army on the Rhine, but again underwent defeat at the hands of the Archduke Charles at the battles of Ostrach and Stockach in late March of that year.
Disappointed and broken in health, he handed over the command to MG Andre Massena. Jourdan went back to his political duties, and was a prominent opponent of the coup d’etat of 18 Brumaire, after which he was expelled from Council of the Five Hundred. However, he became formally reconciled to the new regime and accepted from Napoleon fresh military and civil employment.
In 1800 he became inspector-general of cavalry and infantry and representative of French interests in the Cisalpine Republic.In 1804, Napoleon appointed Jourdan a marshal of France. He remained in the new kingdom of Italy until 1806, when Joseph Bonaparte, whom his brother Napoleon, made him king of Naples in that year, selected Jourdan as his military adviser.
In 1808, Jourdan followed Joseph into Spain, but Joseph’s throne had to be maintained by the French army, and throughout the Peninsular War the other marshals, who depended directly upon Napoleon, pain little attention either to Joseph or Jourdan.
Jourdan was blamed for the defeat at the Battle of Talavera in 1809 and was replaced by Marshal Soult. He was reinstated as Joseph’s chief of staff in September 1811, but was given few troops. After the disastrous French defeat at the Battle of Salamanca in July 1812, Joseph and Jourdan were forced to abandon Madrid and retreat to Valencia. Joined by Soult’s army, which evacuated Andalusia, the French were able to recapture Madrid during the Siege of Burgos campaign and push Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese army back to Portugal.
In 1813, Wellington advanced again with a large, well-organized army. Repeatedly outmanoeuvring the French, the Anglo-Allied army forced Joseph and Jourdan to fight at the Battle of Vitoria on 21st June.After the decisive French defeat, Jourdan held no important command up to the fall of the Empire. He adhered to the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, and though he re-joined Napoleon in the Hundred Days and commanded a minor army, he submitted to the Bourbons again after the Battle of Waterloo.
When Marshal Nay was sentenced to death, to give Jourdan credit, he refused to be a member of the court. He was made a count, a peer of France in 1819, and governor of Grenoble in 1816. In politics he was a prominent opponent of the royalist reactionaries and supported the revolution of 1830. After this event he was then to become governor of the Invalides, where his last years were spent. Jourdan died in Paris on 23rd November 1833 and was buried in Les Invalides.
Napoleon while in exile on Saint Helena he wrote,
I certainly used that man very ill, I have learned with pleasure that since my fall he invariably acted in the best manner. He has thus afforded an example of that praiseworthy elevation of mind which distinguished men one from another. Jourdan is a true patriot and that is the answer to many things that have been said of him.