Jean, Comte de Rapp, 1772-1821

General Jean, comte Rapp (1771-1821) was one of Napoleon's aides and was famous for being wounded repeatedly during a successful military career.

Rapp was born in Colmar in Alsace on 27 April 1771, the son of a devout Lutheran. Rapp's father had hoped that he would become a Protestant minister, but instead he joined the cavalry of the French Army in 1788.

In 1793 he suffered some of his earliest wounds, a sabre wound and a bullet wound.

In 1794 Rapp was promoted to lieutenant in the 10th Chasseurs à Cheval. He fought at Ligenfeld (28 May 1795) where he suffered several sabre cuts.

He soon attracted the attention of General Desaix, and served as one of his aides. He was wounded at Kehl in 1797, and was then promoted to captain. He took part in Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, where he fought in  most battles. He was wounded yet again, at Samahoud (22 January 1799), this time in the left shoulder. He was promoted to Colonel and helped negotiate the terms that led to the French evacuation.

Rapp and Desaix returned to France in May 1800 and were sent to join Napoleon's army in Italy. Desaix arrived just in time to save Napoleon from defeat at Marengo (14 June 1800), but he was mortally wounded and died in Rapp's arms.

After Desaix's death Rapp was taken onto Napoleon's staff, but he continued to get closely involved in combat. Over the next few years he served as an intelligence officer, a diplomat and helped organise a squadron of Mamelukes who served in the Imperial Guard.

In 1801 an attempt was made to assassinate Napoleon by exploding an 'infernal machine' as his convoy went past. Rapp was in one of the vehicles in the convoy.

Rapp was promoted to General of Brigade in 1803. He became a friend of Josephine, and nearly married one of her nieces, before in 1805 marrying Rosalie Vanlerberghe, the daughter of an arms manufacturer. This marriage lasted until 1811 when it ended in divorce. During the marriage Rapp had an affair with Julie Boettcher, and had two children with her.

At Austerlitz he led a charge of the Mamelukes and other elements of the Guard Cavalry in a counterattack against the Russian Imperial Cavalry. After the charge he returned to Napoleon to report his victory with a head wound and a broken sabre, a scene later immortalised in paint by Gérard. Napoleon replied that he had seen the fighting himself.

Rapp served during the War of the Fourth Coalition. He helped command a charge at the battle of Schleiz (9 October 1806), which forced the Prussians to retreat towards Jena.

During the Jena campaign Rapp suffered his ninth wound. At this time Napoleon is said to have commented on Rapp's tendency to get wounded, and Rapp to have responded that it was 'no wonder as they were always fighting'.

Rapp took part in the winter campaign against Russian in 1806-7. He fought at the battle of Golymin (26 December 1806). He was sent to try and block the Russian line of retreat with a force of dragoons, but after initial success his cavalry ran into a force of infantry posted in a swamp and was unable to make any progress. Rapp suffered another wound and was forced to retreat back to the French infantry, marking the end of the battle.

From 1807 Rapp served as Governor of Danzig, where he helped raise a force of Polish light cavalry for the Imperial Guard. He returned to the Army for the Franco-Austrian War of 1809.

At the battle of Aspern-Essling he was involved in the most serious crisis of the battle, when the Austrians captured Essling village at about the same time as the French bridge over the Danube was broken. General Mouton was ordered to retake Essling, but his attack failed. This left Napoleon with only two battalions of Guard Fusiliers as his reserve, and he ordered Rapp to use these troops to cover Mouton. Rapp chose to disobey this order and instead carried out a counterattack that triggered an Austrian retreat. The French retook Essling, and were able to hold their ground until the bridge was repaired and they could retreat intact. Rapp was commended by Napoleon for his well judged disobedience.

Three days before the battle of Wagram Rapp was injured when a carriage overturned, breaking three ribs and dislocated his shoulder. He thus missed the battle.

In 1809 Rapp also helped stop a young German called Staps from assassinating Napoleon.

Between the 1809 and 1812 campaigns Rapp fell out of favour. First he showed some sympathy with Josephine during her divorce (and faked an illness in order to miss the marriage between Napoleon and Marie Louise), and then he refused to implement trade restrictions at Danzig.

Rapp returned to the army during the invasion of Russia in 1812, joining the army at Smolensk. At the battle of Borodino he replaced the wounded General Compans as commander of the 5th Division of I Corps. While in command of the division Rapp was wounded four times - three minor grazes and one hip wound, which Rapp believed to be his 22nd wound. After his fourth wound he had to hand command over to General Dessaix, commander of the 4th Division of I Corps.

Rapp took part in the retreat from Moscow. On one occasion Napoleon was nearly captured by Cossacks, and Rapp's horse was killed in the fighting. At the second battle of Krasnyi (15-18 November 1812) he was briefly selected to command the charge of the Young and Middle Guard on 17 November, but that task was then give to General Roguet of the Middle Guard. He also fought at the Battle of Berezina, the last major battle of the 1812 campaign.

In 1813 he returned to Danzig once again, and defended the city through a year-long siege (January-November 1813). After he was finally forced to surrender he was held prisoner at Kiev until Napoleon's first abdication.

When Napoleon returned from exile in 1815 Rapp returned to his side. He commanded the 30,000 strong Army of the Upper Rhine, and managed to win a victory at La Suffel on 28 June 1815. He was managed to successfully defend Strasbourg to the end of the war, despite being faced by 200,000 Allied troops.

After Napoleon's second abdication Rapp entered the service of the Bourbons, and was made a member of the House of Peers. He married again and had two children with his new wife before dying of cancer on 8 November 1821.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 June 2016), Jean, Comte de Rapp, 1772-1821 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_rapp.html

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