The son of a baker, he trained as an artilleryman and took part in the battles of the French Revolution where he rose through the ranks. Later he had an illustrious career in the many battles of the Empire, notably, Wagram, Moscow, Lützen, Hanau and Waterloo. He became a major-general in 1805 and aide-de-camp to Napoleon in 1813. Napoleon called him le Sage de la Grande Armée (the sage of the Grand Army). He was with Napoleon during his exile to the island of Elba, and during his brief comeback known as the hundred days.