General Jean-Pierre-François, comte Bonnet, 1768-1857

General Jean-Pierre-François, comte Bonnet or Bonet (1768-1857) was a French general who took command at the battle of Salamanca after Marmont was wounded, before being wounded himself an hour later.

Bonnet joined the French Army in 1786, three years before the outbreak of the French Revolution. He deserted the Royal army twice, but was more successful after the Revolution. He fought at the battle of Hondschoote in 1793 where he lost an eye and at the battle of Hohenlinden in 1800.  

From 1808 Bonnet served in Spain, accompanying Napoleon during his one direct intervention in the country in 1808. He commanded a division in Marshal Soult's 2nd Corps during this campaign. One of his tasks was to defend Santander and keep the road to Burgos open as Soult attempted to catch the shattered remnants of General Blake's army, defeated early in Napoleon's campaign.

He was still based at Santander in the spring of 1809, when he was ordered to support Ney's invasion of the Asturias. He was faced by 9,000 men under General Ballasteros, one of the more successful Spanish generals of the Peninsula War. Bonnet left Santander on 17 May 1809 at the head of 5,000 men. His plan was to advance along the coast road to Oviedo, defeating Ballasteros on the way, but the Spanish were summoned to help defend the city, and the two armies ended moving in parallel to each other. On 21 May Ballasteros discovered that Oviedo had fallen to the French, and so withdrew into the mountains. Bonnet passed by on the coast without having to fight. Most of the other Spanish armies in the Asturias had also avoided defeat, and so when the French were forced to return to their original bases they soon lost control of the area. Bonnet was forced to retreat by news that Ballasteros might be planning an attack on Santander. This was indeed his plan, and on 10 June Ballasteros's men captured Santander and with it Bonnet's stores and munitions as well as the equivalent of £10,000 in cash. By now Bonnet was closing in on Santander, and late on 11 June he sent his leading two battalions to try and retake the city. This attack failed, but on 12 June Bonnet attacked with his entire force and the Spanish suffered a heavy defeat. Ballasteros escaped by sea, but 3,000 of his men were captured and the rest of his army scattered. Although the attack on Santander had ended in disaster, it had forced Bonnet to evacuate the eastern Asturias, and the French troops in the western part were soon forced to retreat as well.

Bonnet was ordered to reoccupy the Asturias in the period before the battle of Salamanca, but rejoined Marmont's main army before the battle itself, and commanded the 8th Division. At the start of the battle Bonnet's division was posted around the Greater Arapil, and was a little isolated from the rest of the French army. Wellington briefly considered attack his isolated division at the start of the battle, but changed his mind. Later in the day Marmont decided to begin a move west, in the belief that Wellington was retreated. This opened up a gap in his lines, which allowed Wellington to launch a devastating attack. Marmont realised that he had made a mistake, and left his position on the Greater Arapil in order to try and restore the situation, but he was wounded on his way down the hill. Bonnet was the senior divisional commander, and so took command, but he was unable to restore the situation before he too was wounded. He was replaced by Clausel, who was able to take advantage of Bonnet's division's successful defence of the Greater Arapil to launch a counterattack that nearly turned the tide of battle. Despite this attack the battle ended with one of Wellington's most impressive victories, and a comparatively rare example of his going onto the offensive.

In 1813 Bonnet fought in the German campaign. He fought at Lützen (where his 21st Division was part of Marmont's corps and took part in the decisive French attack in the centre), Bautzen and Dresden, but he was captured and didn't command his division at Leipzig.

He returned to Napoleon's side during the Hundred Days of 1815, and was used to command part of the Paris garrison.

Bonnet remained in the army after the second Bourbon restoration. He retired in 1848 (when aged 80!) and became a senator in 1852.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 February 2016), General Jean-Pierre-François, comte Bonnet, 1768-1857 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_bonnet.html

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