1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Desaix de Veygoux, Louis Charles Antoine

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7915951911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8 — Desaix de Veygoux, Louis Charles Antoine

DESAIX DE VEYGOUX, LOUIS CHARLES ANTOINE (1768–1800), French general, was born of a noble though impoverished family. He received a military education at the school founded by Marshal d’Effiat, and entered the French royal army. During the first six years of his service the young officer devoted himself assiduously to duty and the study of his profession, and at the outbreak of the Revolution threw himself whole-heartedly into the cause of liberty. In spite of the pressure put upon him by his relatives, he refused to “emigrate,” and in 1792 is found serving on Broglie’s staff. The disgrace of this general nearly cost young Desaix his life, but he escaped the guillotine, and by his conspicuous services soon drew upon himself the favour of the Republican government. Like many other members of the old ruling classes who had accepted the new order of things, the instinct of command, joined to native ability, brought Desaix rapidly to high posts. By 1794 he had attained the rank of general of division. In the campaign of 1795 he commanded Jourdan’s right wing, and in Moreau’s invasion of Bavaria in the following year he held an equally important command. In the retreat which ensued when the archduke Charles won the battles of Amberg and Würzburg (see French Revolutionary Wars) Desaix commanded Moreau’s rearguard, and later the fortress of Kehl, with the highest distinction, and his name became a household word, like those of Bonaparte, Jourdan, Hoche, Marceau and Kléber. Next year his initial successes were interrupted by the Preliminaries of Leoben, and he procured for himself a mission into Italy in order to meet General Bonaparte, who spared no pains to captivate the brilliant young general from the almost rival camps of Germany. Provisionally appointed commander of the “Army of England,” Desaix was soon transferred by Bonaparte to the expeditionary force intended for Egypt. It was his division which bore the brunt of the Mameluke attack at the battle of the Pyramids, and he crowned his reputation by his victories over Murad Bey in Upper Egypt. Amongst the fellaheen he acquired the significant appellation of the “Just Sultan.” When his chief handed over the command to Kléber and prepared to return to France, Desaix was one of the small party selected to accompany the future emperor. But, from various causes, it was many months before he could join the new Consul. The campaign of 1800 was well on its way to the climax when Desaix at last reported himself for duty in Italy. He was immediately assigned to the command of a corps of two infantry divisions. Three days later (June 14), detached, with Boudet’s division, at Rivalta, he heard the cannon of Marengo on his right. Taking the initiative he marched at once towards the sound, meeting Bonaparte’s staff officer, who had come to recall him, half way on the route. He arrived with Boudet’s division at the moment when the Austrians were victorious all along the line. Exclaiming, “There is yet time to win another battle!” he led his three regiments straight against the enemy’s centre. At the moment of victory Desaix was killed by a musket ball. Napoleon paid a just tribute to the memory of one of the most brilliant soldiers of that brilliant time by erecting the monuments of Desaix on the Place Dauphinè and the Place des Victoires in Paris.

See F. Martha-Beker, Comte de Mons, Le Général L. C. A. Desaix (Paris, 1852).