General François Roch Ledru des EssartsBrilliant infantry commander who participated prominently in many military actions
Born: April 25, 1770
Place of Birth: Chantenay, Sarthe, France
Legion of Honor: Grand Cross
Died: April 23, 1844
Place of Death: Champrosay, France
Arc de Triomphe: LEDRU DES ESSDS on the south pillar
The son of a notary, François Roch Ledru des Essarts initially studied with the Oratorians of Mans until he volunteered to serve in the 2nd Battalion of Volunteers of Sarthe in July of 1792. He quickly became a lieutenant and then was named capitaine in the 2nd Battalion of Volunteers of the Reserve of Soissons. Serving in the Army of the North, Ledru took part in the defense of Lille and then in February of 1793 he served under General de Flers in Holland. There he defended Breda but he was eventually forced to surrender. Later in 1793 Ledru served at the French victories of the Battle of Hondschoote and the Battle of Wattignies. In June of 1794 he was named lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Battalion of Sarthe and sent to the Army of the Ardennes. With that army Ledru served before Charleroi and then at the Siege of Maestricht.
In 1796 Ledru served at the blockade of Mainz and then in 1797 he joined the Army of Italy as part of Bernadotte's division. Once in Italy, he served at the crossing of the Tagliamento and then action of Gradisca. In 1798 Ledru was employed in the Army of Rome under General Championnet and then he was assigned to the Army of Naples. He served in the Abruzzes, at the action of Modène, and then was wounded by a shot at the Trebbia where he was promoted to chef de brigade of the 55th of the Line on the battlefield. In 1800 Ledru served under Masséna and then under Suchet and he defended the bridge over the Var and took two battalions of Hungarians prisoner in this defense.
During the years of peace that followed, Ledru served at the camp of Bruges before being sent to the camp of Boulogne. In 1805 as the Grande Armée moved east to confront the Third Coalition, Ledru's regiment served as part of General Saint-Hilaire's division in IV Corps. During the campaign Ledru served at Donauwoerth, the action of Memmingen, Hollabrunn, and Wirschau. At the Battle of Austerlitz in December, Ledru and his men played a critical part in seizing the Pratzen plateau during the battle. In recognition of his contributions, on Christmas Eve of that year he was promoted to général de brigade. In 1806 Ledru took over General Merle's brigade in Legrand's division and he took part in the campaign against Prussia later that year. That October he served at and was wounded the Battle of Jena, and then in November he served at the action of Lubeck. In February of 1807 Ledru fought at Hoff and then the next day he seized the village of Eylau for the French. As the larger battle commenced the following day, Ledru was badly wounded during the fighting and initially left for dead. Nevertheless he was found and recovered well enough to go on to distinguish himself at Heilsberg in June and then at the action of Koenigsberg.
Ledru did not see action again until 1809. That February he was named Baron of Essarts and he remained with Legrand's division in Germany. As Austria launched its attack, Ledru's brigade became part of Marshal Masséna's IV Corps and Ledru went on to serve at Landshut, Eckmühl, and Ebersberg. That May he served at the Battle of Aspern-Essling and then at the end of June when the army crossed the Danube again Ledru was hit in the neck by a ball. Due to this wound, Ledru was replaced in his command and he missed the Battle of Wagram.
In 1810 Ledru rejoined Legrand's division at the camp of Saint-Omer and then in 1811 he was promoted to général de division. For the campaign against Russia of 1812, Ledru was given command of the 1st Division of Marshal Ney's III Corps. Ledru served throughout the Russian campaign, fighting at Krasnoe, Smolensk, Valutina, and Borodino. During the retreat that followed, he formed part of the rear guard once past Wiazma and he served at Krasnoe. Thought cut off from the Grande Armée, Ledru skillfully evaded Russian General Kutusov's forces and rejoined the army to then take part in the Battle of the Berezina. With the rebuilding of the army in 1813, Ledru took command of the 31st Infantry Division of Marshal Macdonald's XI Corps. Over the course of the campaign in Germany that year, he served at Bautzen, Wurschen, and Katzbach before fighting at the Battle of Leipzig where he was wounded. Despite his wound he served at the Battle of Hanau less than two weeks later.
For the defense of France of 1814, Ledru initially served under General Maison before being sent to command the 3rd Division of the Reserve organized at Paris. Ledru took command at Meaux and then fought before Paris. He fell back to Essonnes with Marshal Marmont's corps but then protested against Marmont's treacherous actions to surrender the corps to the Allies. General Souham took Marmont's side and was threatened by his own troops, but Ledru interposed himself to protect Souham. Meanwhile Ledru attempted to escape with what soldiers he could to Fontainebleau, but by this time the Allies had already surrounded his troops, making escape impossible.
After Napoleon's abdication and the Bourbon restoration, Ledru was named as Knight of Saint Louis and was retained with the royal army. Nevertheless he rallied to Napoleon when Napoleon resumed power in 1815 for the Hundred Days. Ledru was placed under Marshal Suchet in the Army of the Alps and was assigned to defend Lyon. After Napoleon's second abdication and the second restoration, Ledru was put on non-activity.
Updated November 2016
© Nathan D. Jensen