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General of Brigade Jean-Dominique Bourgeat

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General of Brigade Jean-Dominique Bourgeat

Postby Senarmont198 » May 5th, 2017, 4:21 am

General of Brigade Bourgeat was a French artillery officer and at the Battle of Albuera on 16 May 1811 he was serving as the artillery chief of Girard's V Corps under Marshal Soult.

I had no idea about the outstanding artillery action fought by the French artillery officer at Albuera in 1811 and came across it while conducting some research in Nick Lipscombe's Wellington's Guns.

At the end of the action with the French infantry defeated and broken, Bourgeat employed the V Corps artillery with their backs to the Chicapierna stream because he could not withdraw his artillery and hope to survive intact because the running French infantry were blocking the ford and the allied troops were pursuing the defeated French infantry.

Bourgeat ordered h is chief of staff, Colonel Bouchu, to take command of the corps artillery reserve of twelve pieces and deployed them facing the allied pursuit. Bourgeat them formed the rest of the V Corps artillery, 17 guns, into a second battery alongside Bouchu's command.

The 1st Battalions of the 12th Legere were in hand and were in support of the artillery as was Latour-Maubourg's cavalry on the left flank.

As the French infantry headed to the stream to cross, Bourgeat opened fire as soon as his two batteries were unmasked. Firing canister, the French artillery stopped the allied pursuit. Bourgeat's ADC, Captain Jean-Etienne Pernet, present at the action, noted that 'Each time the enemy advanced in pursuit, we crushed them with our artillery fire.' Every officer and man understood the grave nature of the situation and stood to their guns and continued to pour canister into the allied ranks. One horse artilleryman, Lt Kernier of the 3d Horse Artillery, 'carrying a telescope and wearing a bearskin cap' was wounded twice but refused to be evacuated and stayed with his troops. He later died of the third wound incurred in the action.

This outstanding artillery action not only stopped the allied pursuit, but the example given by Bourgeat and his gunners slowed down the French infantry and allowed many to be rallied around their eagles. They continued to cross the stream and formed line of battle on the other side.

When the time came to withdraw, Bourgeat had his two large batteries withdraw, firing, by alternate bounds to the rear and not a gun nor a caisson was lost. Beresford remarked that the French artillery and cavalry saved their infantry.

This action is akin to Senarmont's action at Friedland in 1807, except that the quick-witted Bourgeat did it in the opposite direction while defeating the allied infantry.

It is much more important, as well as being larger and much more decisive, artillery-wise, than Norman Ramsay's more celebrated artillery exploit at Fuentes de Onoro the same year.

Sources for this are Wellington's Gunners by Nick Lipscombe, 189, and Albuera 1811 by Guy Dempsey, 195-197.
Primary sources for this action can be found in Le General Baron Bourgeat 1760-1827 d'apres sa Correspondence et des Documents inedits. Pernet's memoir is contained in this volume.

It can be found on Google Books:

https://books.google.com/books?id=z9oAA ... ts&f=false
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Re: General of Brigade Jean-Dominique Bourgeat

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 5th, 2017, 2:23 pm

The French artillery had some very fine practice at Albuera. Allied positions were not concealed with as much care as was usual and the final advance was a gunner's dream to shoot at. This indeed was a superb example of the power of artillery in the Napoleonic wars. To be honest though I'd never have put Ramsay's feat into this league, certainly not as one of ordinance but of dash and daring, more akin to an affair of cavalry, being as he had to take his guns and Retreat through the enemy rather than repelling superior forces with his firepower.

Very nice summation. The French field artillery in Spain aren't usually credited with much success.
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Re: General of Brigade Jean-Dominique Bourgeat

Postby Senarmont198 » May 5th, 2017, 5:00 pm

Senarmont's action at Ocana is worthy of mention, employing his artillery on the French right flank as an economy of force employment while the French massed on their left and virtually destroyed the defending Spanish.

Suchet's artillery commander was General Valee and along with Suchet's chief engineer, General Rogniat, had a string of successes in sieges that was unmatched during the period.

Pelet's memoir can also be used to find successes by French artillerymen with the Army of Portugal. General Eble, who later built the Berezina bridges, served with that army.

Unfortunately, artillery during the period of any army is generally overlooked, and this is the period where artillery became an equal combat arm with the infantry and cavalry and contributed mightily as the wars progressed.
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Re: General of Brigade Jean-Dominique Bourgeat

Postby Andrew » May 6th, 2017, 5:54 am

This artillery action at the end of the battle of Albuera is well described by Jean-Baptiste d'Heralde in his Memoires d'un Chirurgien de la Grande Armee published by Editions Historiques Teissedre in 2002.

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Re: General of Brigade Jean-Dominique Bourgeat

Postby Senarmont198 » May 6th, 2017, 11:16 am

Thanks very much for the reference.
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Re: General of Brigade Jean-Dominique Bourgeat

Postby Andrew » May 6th, 2017, 9:21 pm

Here's what it says,

The genius or fate that had won us battles abandoned us at Albuera on the 16th May 1811. There, for the first time, I saw the greater part of the fine troops of 5th Corps, ‘show their ammunition boxes’ to the enemy. Nearly all our soldiers retired. We arrived all mixed up on our artillery which, seeing the pronounced retrograde movement, made a flank march to regain the ford through which it had come. Already a howitzer had tried to cross the stream there, but it tipped over and held up the column. “In battery! In battery!” shouted Colonel Bouchou [sic]. Fifteen guns were deployed into line. Where? In a depression where they could retire no further. The genius of war, we should say, rather than despair, put them there; but those who commanded them and the brave men who served them, wanted to sell themselves dearly to the enemy. Sell? It is the word! Never was a moment more moving. All the generals of the 5th Corps were dead, wounded or dismounted. Marshal Soult, mounted, came down from the ridge into our midst. He shouted to the soldiers who were retiring, “Where are you going? Turn-about, no one is pursuing you!”

He was mistaken, or wanted to deceive them. The officers shouted, “Halt!” Everyone repeated this word, but no one stopped. I should say that with the exception of the 28th leger firing on our left where we could still see our squadrons of dragoons and the 16th leger on the main road on the right, close to the town, everyone retired in the greatest disorder, not in flight, but all mixed together.

Our guns were soon unmasked by this retreat. They remained in line in front of the two streams, at the foot of the ridge, in perfect order, like on a firing range. Some of the infantry left them and crossed the streams.

At this moment, the English, in a mass of closed columns, descended the ridge at the pas de charge. Quickly, their heads of column were at the bottom and trampled under their feet our unfortunate wounded whose plaintive cries were lost in the gloomy sound of the English bugles calling the charge. Our blood had flowed and they followed our tracks like starving wolves. In a moment it would be theirs that flowed!

Our artillery opened fire. The sound of our guns electrified our soldiers. They all stopped, looking for their Eagles! The brave them who carried them had not crossed the streams; they had remained behind our guns which already hid them in a cloud of smoke. That of the 103rd Line, carried by a voltigeur of the 88th, was in the line with that of the 88th. The lieutenant of the 103rd who had carried it before had had his arm broken by a shell. Almost all our officers were seen around these Eagles, armed with muskets and awaiting the enemy with a menacing air, who arrived on them at the charge. Our fire, from fifteen guns, thinned the ranks of their closed columns, but did not slow their march. Those that the lightning spared arrived. Twice these proud islanders touched the bronze that vomited death. They fell under the fire of our gunners and despite their efforts and their audacity, they were not able to capture a single one of our guns. In less than ten minutes, 7,000 English were killed or wounded at the foot of this ridge that they had defended so brilliantly. Alas, our guns also killed some of our own wounded.

Finally, we heard these bugles, which after having sounded the charge, now sounded the rally; the English quickly climbed back up the ridge, no doubt in the fear of being charged by our dragoons who approached the fight.

At this moment, three thirty, the fire ceased and almost immediately the drummers of the 5th Corps beat the aux champs for Marshal Soult who rode up and down the line which had been established ahead of the two narrow streams…

I regret I do not know the name of the brave lieutenant of horse artillery, with his telescope and busby who, wounded by two shots, refused to let me treat him. He was everywhere, encouraging his comrades. A third shot killed him.

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Re: General of Brigade Jean-Dominique Bourgeat

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 7th, 2017, 5:12 pm

It is indeed another example of the power of well directed artillery, such as seen at Eylau etc. At this period even single batteries were becoming so effective that they could repulse enemy formations unaided. During the 1815 campaign you can see how brigade and regimental commanders would try to avoid long advances over open ground without sufficient friendly artillery support.

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