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Dumouriez Charles François (1739-1823): French Revolutionary Wars General.

Born Charles François Du Perier du Mourier on 26 January 1739 in Cambrai (Northern France), Dumouriez is of noble stock and of Provencal origin (Southeastern part of France). His father is a war commissary, and his six uncles all served in the Picardy regiment (top northern France). His mother dies when Dumouriez is only six years old and his older sister takes care of him until he is about ten years old. His father sends him to Louis Le Grand, one of the very best school in France. At 14, he is educated in English, Italian, Spanish, Greek, German, mathematics, history and politics. He announces that he would follow any career his father would choose for him, except the one of monk.

Throughout his life, he is an avid reader and devours books on varied subjects. He reads the great French, Latin and Greek authors. It is believed that the Provincial Letters from Pascal (XVIIth century French philosopher) saved his life by stopping a bullet. At 17, he enters the army at the outbreak of the Seven Year War and takes advantage to study battlefield tactics and diplomacy. By the end of the war, he has reached the rank of captain, has received over twenty wounds, and is decorated with the Cross of Saint Louis.

His family objecting to the marrying of his cousin, Dumouriez spends the next ten years as a military adventurer throughout Italy, Corsica, Flanders, Spain, Portugal and Poland. In 1767, the Duc de Choiseul, Foreign Minister of France, retains him to take part in the Corsican campaign as lieutenant-colonel to repress the resistance led by Paoli (leader of the Corsican struggle against Genoese and French rules). Impressed by the Corsican patriotism, Dumouriez feels that the Corsicans should have the right to choose their destiny.

In 1770, Choiseul entrusts him in a diplomatic mission in Poland. His assignment is to help rise enough patriotic sentiment in Poland so that the partition plan of the country, intended by Prussia and Russia, fails. In order to succeed, Dumouriez needs to incite Turkey against Russia as well as triggering a nationalistic revolt in Sweden so that the latter can avoid the same partition planned for Poland. Dumouriez manages to master many of the elements to realize his goal; however, in December 1770, his mission is aborted because of Choiseul’s fall. In 1772, thanks to the Marquis de Monteynard, Secretary of State for War, he obtains a staff position with the Lorraine regiment in the Northeast part of France. Unfortunately, in 1773, targeted because of his past closeness to Choiseul, he is jailed for six months; he is accused of using government funds for personal ends. After his release from jail, he marries his cousin, Mademoiselle de Broissy, whom he had courted years before. His marriage does not bring him much happiness. His wife is ill humored and is said to have fired over 100 servants in 15 years. In 1774, he is back in Paris called by Louis XVI’s new minister of war, the Count of Saint Germain, who gives him military appointments in Lille and Boulogne. In 1778, France opts to support the United States in its war of independence against England. Consequently, Dumouriez, for the next 11 years, is charged with the command of the port and garrison of Cherbourg in Normandy in front of the British coast.

In 1789, at the outbreak of the revolution, he is already a middle-aged man but feels that prospects will rise during the social and political turmoil and is waiting to seize his opportunity for fame and grandeur. In Paris, he joins the Jacobin club and also meets Gensonné (future Girondin leader), Lafayette and Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Comte de. In 1790, Lafayette chooses him to investigate the situation in Belgium, which recently gained its independence but might come under Austrian attack. Dumouriez produces excellent reports in which he advocates ways to help and strengthen Belgium military and independence but also underlines the dire state of the French revolutionary troops. In June 1791, he is therefore appointed in charge of the 12th division. Dumouriez wants to instill a new spirit in his troops. He no longer wants to command an army strictly and only through blind discipline, like the Prussians, but aims to impart in his men an intelligent sense of duty. Generals must foster within their troops a feeling of citizenship that later will contribute to the victories of the French revolutionary armies unexpected by European powers.

In March 1792, the new Girondin ministry (a party led by Brissot, Jacques Pierre, Roland, Gensonné, Vergniaud, Pierre,) selects Dumouriez as their foreign minister thanks to his previous political and diplomatic experiences in Corsica, Spain, Poland, Sweden and Belgium. For Dumouriez, French foreign relations must be based on the French Declaration of Rights; thus people must be free and governments should follow democratic ideals. The Girondins being in favor of the war with Austria, Dumouriez is severely criticized by the Montagnards (led by Robespierre, Maximilien François Marie Isidore de, Danton, Georges, Saint-Just, Louis-Antoine de) who stood firmly against the war. Dumouriez’s diplomacy keeps England neutral in the coming conflict but cannot impede the natural alliance between Prussia and Austria. Even though the first battles prove disastrous for France, Dumouriez reorganizes the troops and launches counterattacks that succeed in stopping the enemies’ march to Paris. On June 13, 1792 the king, Louis XVI, dismisses his Girondin ministry led by Roland, and Dumouriez is appointed minister of war. He remains only two days in office for two reasons, the first is that the king refuses to agree with the National Assembly and the second is that he comes under violent criticisms from Brissot, Jacques Pierre.

On August 10, he rejects Lafayette’s request to swear allegiance to the king and informs the National Assembly that his only allegiance is to the people. On August 16, he is named supreme commander of the Northern Army. Dumouriez’s first intention is to face the Austrians in Holland and let General Kellerman fight with the Duke of Brunswick’s Prussian army. However, Brunswick’s powerful, disciplined, and veteran troops are joined by Austrian and French Royalists. Brunswick intends to easily defeat the poorly trained French revolutionary men, march to Paris, crush the revolution, and restore the monarchy. He is leading about 84,000 men. Dumouriez, realizing the gravity of the situation, changes his plan and joins Kellerman’s army. The two French armies combined sums up to about 54,000 men. On 20 September 1792, the battle of Valmy is fought and what was supposed to be an easy victory for the Duke of Brunswick turns out into a shameful retreat. Valmy is considered a pivotal battle because it saved the revolution during this critical stage. Back in Paris, General Dumouriez is a national hero. On 6 November 1792, he obtains another great victory, crushing the Austrians at the Battle of Jemmapes (present day Belgium). In his Memoirs, Dumouriez commented that he truly believed that his military victories would usher in a period of peace. However, the situation in France is quickly deteriorating; the king is trialed and guillotined, and the Girondins are divided. Dumouriez finds himself at odds with the National Convention, which believes Belgium should be annexed to France. In a bid to respect Belgium’s desire for independence, the General opposes the National Convention.

In February 1793, Dumouriez, leading around 14,000 new recruits, marches on Holland. He first obtains minor victories and takes the cities of Bréda, Klundert, and Geertruidenberg; however, on 18 March 1793, he is defeated by the Austrians and Dutch at the battle of Neerwinden. No longer a victor, several leading members of the Convention find him insubordinate and dangerous, and suspect him to sympathize with the monarchists. Hebert, Jacques, leader of the Enragés, accuses him of conspiring with Danton to reestablish the monarchy. His harsh treatment of new recruits, having their head and eyebrows shaved upon acts of cowardice in battle, is strongly condemned. His loyalty to the revolution is in doubt and Convention deputies are sent to investigate his conduct. It is then suspected that at this point, Dumouriez enters in secret negotiations with the Austrians. In an audacious attempt, he marches his army to Paris with plans to overthrow the government and either put Louis XVII on the throne or take the power for himself. Unfortunately, not all his men support his coup and Dumouriez stalls on his way to Paris. In April, fearing arrest and imprisonment, Dumouriez along with the Duc de Chartres, one of his high-ranking officers and future French monarch from 1830 to 1848, defect to the Austrians. His betrayal has detrimental repercussions on his allies in the French government; the Girondins, Danton and even Philippe Egalité, the Duc de Chartres’s father, are all suspected of treason because of their link to a traitor. From then on, Dumouriez travels across Europe offering his expertise in different courts but with his reputation preceding him, he cannot find employment. In 1794, his Memoirs are being published. He also proposes to Napoleon his services but the French emperor ignores his request. In 1804, he settles in England where he advises the British against Napoleon. He spends much of his days writing reports on the political situation of Europe. He dies on 14 March 1823 in Turville Park, a small town close to London; a quaint little place in contrast to the tumultuous and intrepid life that thrust him in the limelight of the French revolution and Europe. Even though his name is inscribed on the Arc of Triumph in Paris for the glorious victories he brought his country, France has yet to bring his remains back home.

Further Reading:

Isabelle Henry, DUMOURIEZ: Général de la Révolution (1739-1823), 2002.

Guy Toubiana

The Citadel