General Barthelémy Loius Joseph Scherer (1747-1804)

General Barthelémy Loius Joseph Scherer (1747-1804) was a French general best known for commanding the French army in Italy for three separate spells.

Scherer's early career saw him serve in several different armies. He was borne in Alsace, but began his military career in the Austrian Army, fighting for them during the Seven Years War. This was followed by a spell in the French Artillery, before he entered the Dutch service from 1785-90, where he ended up as a lieutenant colonel.

In 1792 he returned to the French Army, where he spent the rest of his career. He was promoted to général de brigade in September 1793 and général de division in January 1794. He was given command of a division in the Army of the Sambre-et-Meuse.

In July 1794 he captured the fortresses of Quesnoy, Landrecy, Valenciennes and Condé (all taken by the allies in 1793-4). He then commanded the right wing of General Jourdan's army, crossing the Ourthe in mid-September and pushing back the allied forces. He commanded the right wing in the French victory at the battle of Spiremont or the Ourthe (18 September 1794) and again at the Roer (2 October 1794).

This was followed by his first spell in command of the Army of Italy, a short lived appointment that ended in the spring of 1795 when he was appointed to command the Army of the Pyrenees. His orders were to only go onto the offensive if he was sure of victory, but on 25 April he went onto the offensive (Battles of the Fluvia, April-May 1795). This resulted in heavy fighting, but no positive results for either side, and the battle eventually faded away as peace negotiations got under way.

After the end of the war against Spain, Scherer was reappointed as commander of the Army of Italy (October 1795). He was victorious at Loano (25 November 1795), but he was undermined by a flow of unrealistic orders from Paris (as well as persistent interference by the rapidly rising Napoleon) and a lack of resources. He offered his resignation on several occasions, and this was accepted in March 1796. He was replaced by Napoleon, whose first campaign in Italy ended in triumph.

Between 1797 and 1797 Scherer served as Minister of War, but his attempts to increase discipline were unpopular.

At the start of 1799 he was appointed commander of the Army in Italy for a third time, despite arguing that he was too old, ill and unpopular for the post.

This third spell in command in Italy ended in failure. He was attacked by the Austrians and the Russians, and an attempt to prevent them from joining up by attacking the Austrians near Verona ended in failure at Magnano (5 April 1799). Scherer then pulled his army back behind the Adda, in an attempt to protect Milan while waiting for reinforcements.

Scherer's movements after the battle left his army exposed to a further defeat, this time at the hands of the combined Austrians under Kray and Russians under Suvorov, at Cassano (27 April). By the time this battle was fought Scherer had resigned for a second time, and his replacement, General Moreau, took over on the day of the battle. These defeats helped justify Napoleon's military coup of 19 November 1799, although by the time Napoleon seized power the worst of the crisis was actually over.

This ended Scherer's military career. He died five years later, in 1804.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 December 2015), General Barthelémy Loius Joseph Scherer (1747-1804), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_scherer.html

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