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Francois Kellermann, Marshal Of France
Francois Christopher Kellermann, who with a little army of raw recruits defeated the forces of united Europe at Valmy, and saved France from destruction, was born of a respectable family at Strasbourg, then part of France, on May 28, 1735. At the age of seventeen, he became a cadet in the regiment of Lowendalh; and passing through the grades of ensign and lieutenant in 1753 and 1756, became captain of dragoons, in which rank he served in the Seven Years' War until 1762, and was favorably mentioned in the reports of the battle of Bergen. A brilliant charge of cavalry, against a corps commanded by General Scheider, procured him, in the last year, the distinction of the cross of St. Louis, then an honor of the highest esteem. After the peace of 1763, he passed with the same rank into the legion of Conflans, and in 1765 and 1766 was charged by the king with the execution of some important commissions in Poland. In 1771, the increasing troubles in Poland furnished a pretext for the invasion of that country by the united troops of France and the Germanic confederation; and Kellermann was appointed to accompany the French commander-in-chief of the expedition, Baron de Viomenil; and in 1772, he was placed at the head of a native corps of cavalry which he had been concerned in organizing. His conduct in the retreat from the castle of Cracow, in 1772, elevated his character for dexterity and courage. In 1780, he became lieutenant-colonel of hussars; on January 1, 1784, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier, and in 1788, received the rank of major-general. In 1790, under the National Assembly, he was placed in command of both departments of Alsace, and so approved were his services in placing that frontier in a state of defence against the threatened invasion of combined Europe, that, in 1792, he received the cordon rouge of the order of St. Louis, and was appointed lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief of the forces assembled at Neukirch, and afterward, on August 28th, in the same year, of the army of the Moselle.
It was at this time that the formidable invasion under the Duke of Brunswick, consisting of 138,000 men, of whom 66,000 were under the King of Prussia in person, and 50,000 were Austrians under Prince Hohenlohe and Marshal Clairfait, marched to France, and menaced Dumouriez, who occupied the defiles of Varennes, with very inferior forces. Against this mighty invasion the French nation rose as one man. Recruits poured to the borderland singing the Marseillaise, their newly adopted national hymn. Rapidly reducing this motley force to order, Kellermann, with 22,000 men, marched from Metz, on September 4th, for Chalons with the utmost celerity, reached Bar before the Prussians, saved the magazines on the upper Saone and Marne, and put himself in a situation to communicate with Dumouriez. The latter general was attacked on September 16th, and immediately ordered Kellermann to take a designated position on his left, which was, accordingly, accomplished on the 19th. No sooner had Kellermann arrived here, than he perceived that the position was altogether defective. A pond on his right separated him from Dumouriez; the marshy river of the Auve, traversed by a single narrow bridge, cut off his retreat in the rear; and the heights of Valmy commanded his left. While he was shut up in this isolated position, the enemy might march upon the magazines at Dampierre and Voilmont, cut both the French armies off from Chalons, and then fall upon each of them in succession. Kellermann instantly resolved to rectify this error in the disposition of the troops; and by four o'clock on the following morning, his army was in motion by its rear upon Dampierre and Voilmont. But the Prussians, equally alive to the disadvantage in which Kellermann had been placed, were already in movement to attack him, and it became impracticable to pass the Auve. Leaving his advanced-guard and his reserve to check the Prussians on the plain, Kellermann drew off the rest of his army to the heights of Valmy, and placing a battery of eighteen pieces near the mill of Valmy, at seven in the morning was drawn up in a strong position to receive the attack of the enemy. The King of Prussia, who commanded in person, drew up his army in three columns on the heights of La Lune, and advancing in an oblique direction a vehement fire was kept up on both sides for two hours. About nine, a new battery on the enemy's right suddenly opened in the direction of the mill, near which Kellermann and his escort, with the reserve cuirassiers, were stationed, and produced the utmost confusion. Most of the escort were killed or wounded, and Kellermann had a horse shot under him, while about the same time the explosion of two caissons of ammunition near the mill added to the alarm. Kellermann, however, quickly disposed a battery so as to return the fire, and the battle was restored on that side. After some time, two of the Prussian columns, flanked by powerful cavalry, advanced in formidable array toward the mill, while the third remained in reserve. Kellermann drew up his men in column by battalions, and advancing his reserved artillery to the front of his position, waited the advance of the enemy, who approached in silence. When they were within range of a destructive fire, Kellermann, waving his hat upon the end of his sabre, shouted, "Vive la Nation!" to which the whole army responded with enthusiastic cries, and at the same moment, the artillery opened a tremendous fire. The Prussians halted; the heads of their columns melted away under the galling discharges; and they retreated, in good order, to their original position after sustaining a serious loss. The fire, however, continued on both sides with spirit; and about four o'clock in the afternoon the Prussians renewed their attack in column, but were again repulsed, even more decidedly, and by six in the evening were in full retreat. The victory was thus decided in favor of the French; but the safety of the magazines at Dampierre and Voilmont was still not secured.
Kellermann allowed his army about two hours' repose, and then, leaving large fires lighted along his whole line, and some regiments of light cavalry to defend the position, if the enemy should attempt an attack, he quietly drew off about nine o'clock at night, and reached Dampierre without the enemy being aware of his movement. About six o'clock the next morning, the Prussians marched for the same point, and were not a little astonished to find Kellermann's army drawn up in line of battle on the heights of Dampierre, in a position which rendered it impracticable to attack. They immediately retreated, and their retiring columns suffered severely from a fire opened by the French artillery. This operation raised the reputation of Kellermann to an exalted height. The allies soon afterward retreated from France, and Kellermann desired to attack their rear; but Dumouriez would not allow the movement to be made.
In recompense of these services Kellermann was made commander-in-chief of the army of the Alps; but incurring the jealousy of the ruling faction, he was thrown into prison in June, 1793, and lingered there for thirteen months, until the 9th Thermidor (July 27, 1794) restored him to liberty. In 1795 the army of Italy was reincorporated with the army of the Alps, from which it had been separated in the beginning of 1793; and the command of the united force was given to Kellermann at the close of that month. On his way to Nice to take the command, he met Napoleon at Marseilles, who, having been displaced by the reconstruction of the army, was now visiting his mother at that place on his way to Paris. Napoleon gave much valuable information respecting the seat of war; and Kellermann, continuing his journey, reached head-quarters at Nice on May 9, 1795. His operations during the campaign that followed diminished the reputation which he had previously acquired. "Throughout the conduct of this war," says Napoleon, "he was constantly committing errors." On June 23d General Devins, at the head of the Austrian and Piedmontese armies, advanced against his positions; and after a series of engagements on the 25th, 26th, and 27th, Kellermann was driven out of all the posts in which Napoleon's arrangements had placed him in the preceding October, and falling back to the line of the Borghetto, wrote to the Directory that, unless he was speedily reinforced, he would be obliged even to quit Nice. The government were now satisfied that the command of the army of Italy was beyond Kellermann's abilities; and again separating the army of the Alps from it, they placed Kellermann at the head of the latter as a reserve, and intrusted the army of Italy to General Scherer, and sometime afterward to Napoleon.
After the conquest of Milan, the Directory, either jealous of Napoleon or elated by success, decided to divide his army, and to place 20,000 men under Kellermann to cover the siege of Mantua, and to direct the rest under Napoleon upon Rome. Napoleon immediately resigned his command, and wrote to the Directory: "I will not serve with a man who considers himself the best general in Europe; it is better to have one bad general than two good ones." The Directory, in alarm, abandoned their design; Kellermann was left at Chambery, and Napoleon was allowed to follow his own plans.
In 1797, Kellermann was made inspector-general of the cavalry of the army of England and of that of Holland; and in 1799, he took his place in the Senate, and was elected president on August 1, 1801. In 1804, he was created a Marshal of the Empire, and in the following year, received the grand eagle of the Legion of Honor. In 1803, he commanded the third corps of the army of reserve on the Rhine; and, in 1806, was placed at the head of the whole of that army; to which authority the command of the army of reserve in Spain was added in 1808; and in the same year, in honor of the great victory of his more vigorous days, he was created Duke of Valmy.
In 1809, he commanded the army of reserve on the Rhine, the army of observation of the Elbe, the fifth, twenty-fifth, and twenty-sixth military divisions, and the army of reserve of the North. In 1812, he was charged with the duty of organizing the cohorts of the national guard in the first military division; he afterward commanded the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth divisions. In 1813, he was at first provisional commander of the corps of observation on the Rhine, and then received the command of the second, third, and fourth military divisions. After the battle of Leipsic, he performed a valuable service in reconducting to France a body of about six thousand soldiers, who had been wounded in the affairs about Dresden.
Upon the restoration of Louis XVIII., Marshal Kellermann received the command of the third and fourth divisions, and took no part in the events of the "hundred days." Upon the second restoration, he was placed at the head of the fifth division, received the grand cross of the order of St. Louis, and was made a peer of France.
He died at Paris, on September 13, 1820, aged eighty-five years. He left a son, the celebrated general who made the decisive charge at Marengo, and distinguished himself in Spain and at Waterloo, and who died on June 2, 1835; and a daughter, married to General de Lery.