He was born at Paris. He entered the army in 1817, and after ten years of garrison service, he still held only the lowest commissioned grade. He then resigned, led a life of adventure in several lands and returned to the army at thirty as a sub-lieutenant. He took part in the suppression of the Vendée émeute, and was for a time on the staff of General (Marshal) Bugeaud. However, his debts and the scandals of his private life compelled him to go to Algeria as a captain in the French Foreign Legion. There he distinguished himself on numerous occasions, and after twelve years had risen to the rank of maréchal de camp.
In 1848 he was placed at the head of a brigade during the revolution in Paris. On his return to Africa, possibly because Louis Napoleon considered him suitable to be the military head of a coup d'état, an expedition was made into Little Kabylia, in which St. Arnaud showed his prowess as a commander-in-chief and provided his superiors with the pretext for bringing him home as a general of division (July 1851).
He succeeded Marshal Magnan as minister of war and superintended the military operations of the coup d'état of December 2, 1851, which placed Napoleon III on the throne. A year later he was made marshal of France and a senator, remaining at the head of the war office till 1854, when he set out to command the French in the Crimean War, his British colleague being Lord Raglan. He died on board ship, shortly after commanding at the Battle of the Alma. His body was taken back to France and buried in Les Invalides.
See Lettres du Maréchal de Saint Arnaud (Paris, 1855; 2nd edition with memoir by Sainte-Beuve, 1858).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.