May 10 – French or American?

May 7, 2015

Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, Count de Rochambeau

Marshal, born at Vendôme, France, 1 July, 1725; died at Thoré, 10 May, 1807.

Marshal of France Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, pictured with the medal from the Society of the Cincinnati.

Marshal of France Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, pictured with the medal from the Society of the Cincinnati.

At the age of sixteen he entered the army and in 1745 became an aid to Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans, subsequently commanding a regiment. He served with distinction in several important battles, notably those of Minorca, Crevelt, and Minden, and was wounded at the battle of Lafeldt. When the French monarch resolved to despatch a military force to aid the American colonies in the Revolutionary War, Rochambeau was created a lieutenant-general and placed in command of a body of troops which numbered some 6000 men. It was the smallness of this force that made Rochambeau at first averse to taking part in the American War, but his sympathy with the colonial cause compelled him eventually to accept the command, and he arrived at Newport, Rhode Island July, 1780, and joined the American army under Washington, on the Hudson a few miles above the city of New York. Rochambeau performed the double duties of a diplomat and general in an alien army with rare distinction amidst somewhat trying circumstances, not the least of which being a somewhat unaccountable coolness between Washington and himself, which, fortunately, was of but passing import (see the correspondence and diary of Count Axel Fersen).

Painting of the Siege of Yorktown (1781) by by Auguste Couder. Marshal Rochambeau and George Washington giving their last orders before the battle.

Painting of the Siege of Yorktown (1781) by by Auguste Couder. Marshal Rochambeau and George Washington giving their last orders before the battle.

After the first meeting with the American general he marched with his force to the Virginia peninsula and rendered heroic assistance at Yorktown in the capture of the English forces under Lord Cornwallis, which concluded the hostilities. When Cornwallis surrendered, 19 Oct., 1781, Rochambeau was presented with one of the captured cannon. After the surrender he embarked for France amid ardent protestations of gratitude and admiration from the officers and men of the American army. In 1783 he received the decoration of Saint-Esprit and obtained the baton of a marshal of France in 1791. Early in 1792 he was placed in command of the army of the North, and conducted a force against the Austrians, but resigned the same year and narrowly escaped the guillotine when the Jacobin revolutionary power had obtained supreme control in Paris.

Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, painted by Charles-Philippe Larivière

Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, painted by Charles-Philippe Larivière

When the fury of the revolution had spent itself, Rochambeau was reinstated in the regard of his countrymen. He was granted a pension by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804, and was decorated with the Cross of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour. The last years of the distinguished military leader’s life were passed in the dictation of his memoirs, which appeared in two volumes in Paris in 1809, and which throw many personal and brilliant sidelights on the events of two of the most historically impressive revolutions, and the exceptional men therein concerned.

WRIGHT, Memoirs of Marshal Count de Rochambeau Relative to the War or Independence (1838); SOULÉ, Histoire des troubles de l’Amerique anglaise(Paris, 1787); standard histories of the United States may also be consulted.

Jarvis Keiley (Catholic Encyclopedia)

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