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Charles Pichegru

Charles Pichegru (February 16, 1761 - April 15, 1804), French general, was born at Arbois, or, according to Charles Nodier, at Les Planches, near Lons-le-Saulnier.

His father was a labourer, but the friars of Arbois gave the boy a good education, and one of his masters, the Père Partault, took him to the military school of Brienne. In 1783 he entered the first regiment of artillery, where he rapidly rose to the rank of adjutant-sublieutenant. When the Revolution began he became leader of the Jacobin party in Besançon, and when a regiment of volunteers of the department of the Gard marched through the city he was elected lieutenant-colonel. The fine condition of his regiment was soon remarked in the army of the Rhine, and his organizing ability was made use of by an. appointment on the staff, and finally by his promotion to the rank of general of brigade.

In 1793 Carnot and Saint Just were sent to find roturier generals who could be successful; Carnot discovered Jourdan, and Saint Just discovered Hoche and Pichegru. In co-operation with Hoche and the army of the Moselle, Pichegru, now general of division and in command of the army of the Rhine, had to reconquer Alsace and to reorganize the disheartened troops of the republic. They succeeded; Pichegru made use of the élan of his soldiers to win innumerable small engagements and with Hoche forced the lines of Haguenau and relieved Landau. in December 1793 Hoche was arrested, it is said owing in part to his colleague's machinations, and Pichegru became commander-in-chief of the army of the Rhine-and Moselle, whence he was summoned to succeed Jourdan in the army of the North in February 1794.

It was now that he fought his three great campaigns of one year. The English and Austrians held a strong position along the Sambre to the sea. After vainly attempting to break the Austrian centre, Pichegru suddenly turned their left, and defeated Clerfayt at Cassel, Menin and Courtrai, while Moreau, his second in command, defeated Coburg at Tourcoing in May 1794; then after a pause, during which Pichegru feigned to besiege Ypres, he again dashed at Clerfayt and defeated him at Rousselaer and Hooglede, while Jourdan came up with the new army of the Sambre-and-Meuse, and utterly routed the Austrians at Fleurus June 27 1794. Pichegru began his second campaign by crossing the Meuse on October 18, and after taking Nijmwegen drove the Austrians beyond the Rhine. Then, instead of going into winter-quarters, he prepared his army for a winter campaign. On December 28 he crossed the Meuse on the ice, and stormed the island of Bommel, then crossed the Waal in the same manner, and, driving the English before him, entered Utrecht on January 19, and Amsterdam on January 20, and soon occupied the whole of Holland.

This grand feat of arms was marked by many points of interest, such as the capture of the Dutch ships, which were frozen in the Helder, by the French hussars, and the splendid discipline of the ragged battalions in Amsterdam, who, with the richest city of the continent to sack, yet behaved with a self-restraint which few revolutionary and Napoleonic armies attained. The former friend of Saint Just now offered his services to the Thermidorians, and after receiving from the Convention the title of Sauveur de la Patrie, subdued the sans-culottes of Paris, when they rose in insurrection against the Convention on 12 Germinal (April 1).

Pichegru then took command of the armies of the North, the Sambre-and-Meuse, and the Rhine, and crossing the Rhine in force took Mannheim in May 1795. When his fame was at its height he allowed his colleague Jourdan to be beaten, betrayed all his plans to the enemy, and took part in organizing a conspiracy for the return of Louis XVIII, in which he was to play, for his own aggrandizement, the part that Monk played from higher motives in the English revolution. His intrigues were suspected, and when he offered his resignation to the Directory in October 1795 it was to his surprise promptly accepted. He retired in disgrace, but hoped to serve the royalist cause by securing his election to the Council of Five Hundred in May 1797.

He was there the royalist leader, and planned a coup d'état, but on the 18th Fructidor he was arrested, and with fourteen others deported to Cayenne in 1797. Escaping, he reached London in 1798, and served on General Korsakov's staff in the campaign of 1799. He went to Paris in August 1803 with Georges Cadoudal to head a royalist rising against Napoleon; but, betrayed by a friend, he was arrested on February 28 1804, and on April 15 was found strangled in prison. It has often been asserted that he was murdered by the orders of Napoleon, but there is no foundation for the story.

Pichegru's campaigns of 1794 are marked by traits of an audacious genius which would not have disgraced Napoleon. his tremendous physical strength, the personal ascendancy he gained by this and by his powers of command made him a peculiarly formidable opponent, and thus enabled him to maintain a discipline which guaranteed the punctual execution of his orders. He had also, strangely enough, the power of captivating honest men like Moreau. He flattered in turn Saint Just and the Terrorists, the Thermidorians and the Directors, and played always for his own hand--a strange egoist who rose to fame as the leader of an idealist and sentimental crusade.

There is no really good life of Pichegru; perhaps the best is JM Gassier's Vie du général Pichegru (Paris, 1815). For his treason, trial and death, consult Montgaillard's Mémoires concernant Ia trahison de Pichegru (1804); Fauche-Borel's Mémoires; Savary, Mémoires sur la mort de Pichegru (Paris, 1825); and G Pierret, Pichegru, son prods et sa mon (1826).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.