Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont, Duc de Raguse, 1774-1852

Marshal Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont, duc de Raguse (1774-1852) was an early friend of Napoleon who later became infamous for betraying him in 1814.

Marmont was the son of the seigneur of Sainte-Colombe, a knight of the Order of Saint-Louis and a member of the French nobility. Marmont attempted to join the Royal Artillery, but was unable to get one of the limited number of places in that elite corps and instead became a sous-lieutenant in the Chartres Regular Army garrison.

Marmont's uncle had attended the same military school at Brienne as Napoleon, and recommended that Marmont should gain his support.

In March 1792 Marmont finally got a place at the Chalons Artillery School. He then became a lieutenant in Napoleon's old unit, the La Fère Artillery Regiment. He served in the Army of the Moselle, then was promoted to captain in the Army of the Alps and the Army of the Pyrenees.

He came to Napoleon's attention at Toulon in 14-18 December 1793, and became one of his two personal aides. The two men became close friends, and Marmont was said to have treated Napoleon like an older brother.

In 1794 and 1795 Marmont served in the Army of Italy.

In March 1795 he was posted to the Vendée, the scene of persistent Royalist resistance to the Revolution.

In February 1796 Marmont became Napoleon's first aide-de-camp, and accompanied him as he took command of the Army of Italy in late March. Marmont led a cavalry charge and captured a cannon at Lodi, and his use of artillery helped win the battle of Castiglione (5 August 1796), where he was given command of a 12 gun battery. He was then sent back to Paris with the colours captured at Rovereto, Bassano, Saint-George, Primolano and Cismone, and was promoted to colonel as a reward. At Arcola (15-17 November 1796) he rescued Napoleon after his horse had been forced into a swamp near the bridge while leading an unsuccessful attack on the famous bridge at Arcole.

Marmont accompanied Napoleon to Egypt in 1798-1799. On the way he was one of the first to land on Malta, where he captured the flag of the Knights of Malta. He was promoted to general of brigade for this deed. In Egypt he cut the Mamluke line of retreat at the Battle of the Pyramids (21 July 1798), reaching the Nile upstream of the fortified village of Embabeh, increasing the significance of the French victory. He became Governor of Alexandria, and was a capable administrator, although was unfairly blamed for the French defeat at Aboukir (14 July 1799), when a Turkish army aided by Sir Sydney Smith captured the French fort at the western tip of the bay. Marmont had to send the news to Napoleon at Cairo. This led to Napoleon's last victory in Egypt, the first battle of Aboukir (25 July 1799). When Napoleon left Egypt, Marmont was one of the few to leave Egypt with him.

War of the Second Coalition

In November 1799 Napoleon seized power. His first military priority was to regain control of northern Italy, lost to the Russians and Austrians earlier in the year. Marmont was given command of the artillery in the army that Napoleon led across the Alps into Italy. Most of these guns were held up during the passage of the Alps, but Marmont was able to gather a new battery once in Italy. He played a part in the narrow victory at Marengo, bringing together a large artillery battery at Desaix's suggestion and using it to break up part of the Austrian attack. He was then given the task of negotiating the Treaty of Campo Formio. In September 1800 he was promoted to general of division.

In 1802 Marmont was appointed Inspector-General of Artillery, and standardized the French artillery on the An XIII system.

In 1804 Marmont was disappointed not to be amongst the first batch of Napoleonic marshals, but he was still given command of a corps in the Grande Armée in 1805 (the only non-marshal to hold that post).

War of the Third Coalition

His corps played a minor part in the capitulation of Ulm. His corps was on the left flank of the force that crossed to the south bank of the Danube, and wasn't involved in the key battles on the north bank (although did have the longest distance to march, on the outside of the great circling movement). Marmont's corps was chosen to form part of the reserve during the final stages of the manoeuvre, so remained close to Napoleon's HQ on the south bank.

During the advance down the Danube towards Vienna Marmont was posted at Leoben, to cut the road between Vienna and Austrian's Italian armies. His corps spent the Austerlitz campaign guarding the Alps to prevent any Austrian troops intervening from the south.  

Illyria

In 1806 he was appointed as governor of Illyria, made up of Albania and Dalmatia on the coast of the Adriatic. He held this post for three years from July 1806, and thus missed the main campaigns of the War of the Fourth Coalition.

Marmont was a successful governor in Illyria, founding schools and building hundreds of miles of roads. He allowed Croatian and Slovene to be used in his schools and attempted to resist the imposition of French taxes and conscription, although without success.

He also had to fight off a combined Russian, Austrian and Montenegrin attack on Ragusa (now Dubrovnik). In September 1806 Marmont defeated the combined attack, and when Napoleon created the Imperial peerage, Marmont was made duc de Raguse.

War of the Fifth Coalition

In 1809 the Austrians declared war on Napoleon (War of the Fifth Coalition). Marmont campaigned in Croatia, where he commanded the 10,500-strong Army of Dalmatia. The fighting began with an Austrian attack, but Marmont went onto the offensive in May. Marmont forced the Austrians out of Mt. Kita (16 May), Gracac (17 May) and Gospic (21-22 May), a series of hard fought encounters in which the Austrians fought well, but repeatedly had to retreat. Marmont then inflicted a minor defeat on the Austrians at Zutalovka (25 May 1809), which him allowed to move west to the coast. He was at Zengg on 26 May and Fiume on 28 May, but an attempt to take Graz was defeated on 26 June.

Napoleon quickly captured Vienna, but his first attempt to cross the Danube was defeated at Aspern-Essling. In the aftermath of this defeat Marmont was ordered to bring his army from Illyria to Vienna (along with the larger Army of Italy under Prince Eugune). His troops fought on the second day of the Battle of Wagram, where they supported Marshal Macdonald's attack in the centre of the French line.

After Wagram Marmont's relatively fresh corps was committed to the pursuit, and on 8 July he was sent up the road to Brünn. On 9 July some of his troops found the retreating Austrians (combat of Laa). He held up the Austrians at Taya on 10 July, contributing to the final French victory of the campaign (battle of Znaim, 10-11 July 1809). Marmont's troops were in some difficulty on the first day of the battle, but held on, allowing Napoleon and Masséna to arrive to win the battle on the second day. On 12 July an armistice came into effect, and Marmont was finally promoted to marshal. He was the youngest of Napoleon's marshals, but still believed that his promotion had been delayed for too long. Napoleon is said to have told him that the promotion was due to affection and not entirely due to his talent. At about the same time he was replaced as colonel general of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Guarde Impérial by Grouchy.

Marmont returned to Illyria, where he ruled until 1811. Late in his time in charge he had to put down a Croatian rebellion, but his time there was generally seen as a success (even by the Austrian Emperor Francis I).

Spain

Marmont went to Spain to take command of VI Corps in Masséna's Army of Portugal. This corps had been commanded by Marshal Ney for several years, and had taken part in Masséna's failed invasion of Portugal. Towards the end of that campaign Ney had refused to obey Masséna's orders for a renewed invasion, and had been removed from command. Marmont joined his corps on 9 April 1811, and within a few days had replaced Masséna as commander of the Army of Portugal. Marmont took over on 12 May, ending Masséna's military career.

Marmont had orders to defend Ciudad Rodrigo, to prevent Wellington from invading Spain. He made Salamanca his main base, and had some early success. He combined with Marshal Soult to force Wellington to abandon his second siege of Badajoz (5 May-19 June 1811), but Soult refused to consider an attack on Wellington's army at this point.

In the autumn of 1811 he attempted to get reinforcements into Ciudad Rodrigo, which was then under a loose siege. During this expedition his cavalry, under Montbrun, got into a gap between the elements of Picton's division. Montbrun realised that he had a chance to defeat part of Wellesley's army, but Marmont refused to commit his infantry to the battle, unwilling to risk being caught out by Wellesley's main force. As a result Picton was able to fight off the French attack, before withdrawing to a less vulnerable location (Combat of Carpio, 25 September 1811 and Action of El Bodón, 25 September 1811).

Marmont followed Wellington for a short distance, but missed a chance to attack him at Fuento Guinaldo on 26 September after overestimating how many troops he was facing. The French had the better of a rearguard action at Aldea de Ponte (27 September 1811), but this did allow Wellesley to reach a strong defensive position. Marmont examined this position on 28 September, but decided not to attack and instead withdrew to Ciudad Rodrigo, before on 1 October sending his army into its winter cantonments.

Late in 1811 Marmont was ordered to send 12,000 troops to support an attack on Valencia. This left Ciudad Rodrigo exposed to attack, and in January 1811 it fell to Wellington after a short siege (notable for the brutal sack that followed). Marmont didn’t learn about the siege in time to effectively oppose Wellington, and after the town had fallen decided not to try and recapture it. Instead he wanted to move south to protect Badajoz, but at the wrong moment orders arrived from Napoleon, and Marmont was forced to wait in the north while Badajoz fell. 

In the summer of 1812 Marmont commanded the Army of Portugal. He was outnumbered by Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese army, but could call on reinforcements that would give him the advantage. In early June Wellington began to advance into Spain from Ciudad Rodrigo to force a battle, taking advantage of the absence of most of the French army in Russia. He captured Salamanca on 13 June, although three isolated French garrisons held out until 26 June.

In July 1812 the two armies found themselves in close proximity. Marmont wanted to cut Wellington's lines of communication with Portugal, while Wellington wanted a battle. The two armies spent some time marching in parallel, before on 22 July 1812 Marmont finally made a mistake, allowing Wellington to strike (battle of Salamanca). Marmont's key mistake was to assume that the day would just see a repeat of the parallel marching of earlier days. He thus allowed a gap to develop in his line. Wellington took advantage of this gap and broke into the French line, before defeating Marmont's leading divisions. Marmont himself took little part in the battle - he was knocked out by shell fragments at the start of the fighting, and didn’t recover until the following day. Eventually these wounds forced the amputation of his right arm. The French defeat at Salamanca forced them to evacuate Andalusia. Although Wellington was later forced to retreat once again, the French never regained control of large parts of Spain. News of this defeat reached Napoleon in Russia on 6 September, the day before the battle of Borodino.

Wellington described Marmont as 'a great tactician. Very clever in handling his troops; but he was too theatrical'.

Germany, 1813

After his recovery Marmont was given a command in the campaign in Germany in 1813. His VI Corps started the campaign with 25,000 men, and formed part of the new army that Napoleon led into Germany when he took over control from Price Eugene.

He fought at Lützen, Bautzen and Leipzig, although he wasn't impressed with Napoleon's plans at Leipzig, or with his overall plan for the German campaign, fearing that Napoleon might win a battle at one place, but discover that his subordinates had lost two elsewhere on the extended front.

At Lützen (2 May 1813) his was one of the first corps to provide help to Ney's isolated corps, taking up a position on Ney's right, and helping to win enough time for the rest of the French to arrive and win a victory. Napoleon played a direct role in this, exposing himself to more danger on that battlefield than on any other in Marmont's opinion.

At Bautzen (20-21 May 1813) Marmont's corps was with Napoleon's main army for the entire battle. On the first day he and Macdonald attacked Bautzen, and helped pin the allies in place. This exposed them to Ney's flank attack on the following day, although Ney's advance to the battle was too slow to allow Napoleon to win the major victory he required.

At Dresden (26-27 August 1813) he was placed in the French centre, facing south, and fought on the second day of the battle. His attack against the Allied centre didn't make much progress, but the battle was won on the French flanks. In the aftermath of this French victory, Marmont's fears about the campaign came true, with isolated parts of the French army suffering defeats at Kulm and the Katzbach.

He fought at Möckern (16 October 1813), north of Leipzig, where he was defeated by Blücher, thus allowing the Prussians to join the battle of Leipzig before Napoleon had expected them. Marmont's position had been weakened by an order from Napoleon to move to the southern front, which meant he had to leave his prepared positions, before turning back to face Blücher's advance. On the second day of the battle of Leipzig (17 October) there wasn't much fighting, but there was some skirmishing between Marmont and Blücher.

Marmont then took part in the desperate fighting around the city itself. By the end of the battle his corps had been almost totally destroyed. During the retreat the Allies made one series attempt to stop the French, at Hanau (30-31 October 1813). After the defeat of this attack the main army continued on towards Frankfurt, while Marmont was given the remnants of III, IV and VI Corps to prevent any pursuit. In the aftermath of this campaign Napoleon left the army to raise a fresh force in France, leaving Marmont to try and rescue what he could in Germany. Before Napoleon left Marmont made it clear that he was no longer happy with the waste of life.

France 1814

Marmont was given a command in the French campaign of 1814. At the start of 1814 his corps was posted on the French border, but he was almost trapped by Blücher at Kaiserlautern and by 13 January had retreated to Metz. By 17 January he was on the Meuse

Battles of the French Campaign of 1814
Battles of the
French Campaign
of 1814

He fought at La Rothière (1 February 1814), fighting around the village of La Giberie after arriving while the battle was in progress. He was able to defeat an attack by Wrede's Bavarians, and ended up forming the left side of a 'U' shaped French line. Although Napoleon was able to hold on for the day, that night he retreated north to avoid a major defeat. Marmont defeated a larger Bavarian force at Troyes on 2 February, while covering that retreat. On 5 February he was ordered to defend Nogent, which Napoleon believed was Blücher's target. Napoleon would turn south and deal with the Austrians. Later on the same day he realised that the Prussians were heading straight for Paris, and had to shift his efforts north. There was then a pause while Napoleon attempted to discover Blücher's exact location, but on 9 February Marmont reported that a large part of his force was at Montmirail, east of Champaubert.

On 10 February 1814 his and Ney's corps defeated an isolated Russian division at Champaubert (10 February 1814), the start of Napoleon's 'Six Day Campaign'. After victory at Montmirail (11 February), Napoleon attacked the entrenched Prussians at Château-Thierry (12 February 1814). Marmont's corps formed the reserve during this attack, and was then given the task of continuing the pursuit of Yorck and Osten-Sacken. Finally Marmont held up the Prussians at the start of the battle of Vauchamps (14 February 1814), allowing Napoleon to come up and win the battle. On 24 February he found himself the target of Blücher's main army around Sézanne, and withdrew to a new position north of the town, keen to avoid a battle when outnumbered by nine to one. Over the next few days Marmont evaded a series of Prussian attempts to catch him around Meaux, while Napoleon prepared for an attack on Blücher's rear. On 1 March Blucher discovered that Napoleon was close, and crossed to the north bank of the Marne. Napoleon was stuck on the south bank, lacking a bridging train.

Napoleon then moved north to try and catch Blücher. This triggered battles at Craonne and Laon. The French were just about victorious at Craonne, and pushed on towards Laon. Marmont's force of 9,000 men approached the battle from the east, while Napoleon attacked from the west. Marmont's corps was badly defeated while he was resting in a chateau to the rear of his army at the end of the first day of the battle (9-10 March 1814). Blücher attacked, and Marmont lost 3,200 men and 37 of his 45 guns. Napoleon blamed Marmont for the failure of his own attempt to force Blücher to fight the main French army. Despite this failure he still took Marmont's corps with him when he recaptured Rheims (13 March 1814), and Marmont's troops played a significant part in this victory.

Napoleon gave Marmont and Mortier command of the forces he left to face Blücher when he turned to try and defeat the Austrians at Arcis-sur-Aube (20-21 March 1814). Although the Austrians were defeated at Arcis, they ignored Napoleon's attempt to advance into their rear areas, and instead concentrated on Paris. Marmont and Mortier were defeated by Schwarzenberg's Austrians at La-Fère-Champenoise (25 March 1814), allowing the Austrians to join up with the Prussians at Meaux and march on Paris.

In late March Marmont and Mortier took part in the desperate defence of Paris (battle of Montmartre). Marmont fought at the front, and a musket ball struck his hat. King Joseph, who had been left in command in Paris, then ignored his brother's instructions, and ordered Marmont to open peace talks with Tsar Alexander I. Joseph had been left orders to evacuate Paris if the Allies got too close, but not to enter into negotiations. Marmont entered into negotiations. As a result, early on 31 March the remaining French troops marched out to Fontainebleau, while the Allies marched in. 

After the French retreated from Paris, Marmont moved to Essonnes, where he discussed new plans of attack with Napoleon. However he also came under pressure from Talleyrand, and through him Tsar Alexander, and at the start of April he switched sides, leading his troops over to the Allied side. This helped convince Napoleon that the time had come to abdicate. For some time Marmont's title was the basis of an alternative verb, reguser, to betray. He wasn't forgiven in France, although Wellington was more understanding, commenting that everyone was beginning to negotiate at that time, and Marmont was just the first to move.

Unsurprisingly Marmont was seen as a traitor for his actions. He didn't return to Napoleon's side in 1815, and retained his Marshal's title under Louis XVIII and Charles X. He was forced into exile with the last Bourbons in 1830, and ended up living in exile in Austria. At one point he was the tutor to Napoleon's son, then the Duke of Reichstadt. He died in Venice on 3 March 1852, the last of Napoleon's marshals (Soult having died in 1851).

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 July 2016), Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont, Duc de Raguse, 1774-1852 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_marmont.html

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