Colonel Nicolas Joseph Beaurepaire
Born: January 7, 1740
Place of Birth: Coulommiers, Seine-et-Marne, France
Died: September 2, 1792
Place of Death: Verdun, France
Arc de Triomphe: BEAUREPAIRE on the north pillar
The son of a grocer, Nicolas Joseph Beaurepaire enlisted in the army in 1757. Thirty one years later in 1786 he finally achieved the rank of capitaine. After the start of the French Revolution, in September of 1792 Beaurepaire joined the 1st Battalion of Volunteers of Mayenne-et-Loire and he was elected lieutenant colonel of the battalion. In 1792 he was ordered to Verdun and he arrived there on June 2nd, having lost a quarter of his men to desertion. Beaurepaire took command of Verdun and organized the defense. On August 21st, the Prussians and Austrians surrounded Verdun and called on Beaurepaire to surrender. He refused to surrender and then in the early morning of September 2nd he was found shot through the head with two pistols nearby. Word spread that Beaurepaire had committed suicide and the revolutionaries in Paris proclaimed Beaurepaire a hero for choosing death over the dishonor of surrender.
However, the death by suicide was not conclusive. In 1836 King Louis Philippe was concerned that someone who committed suicide would be a bad example of heroism on the Arc de Triomphe. The king asked General Lemoine, who was Beaurepaire's second in command at Verdun, for his version of the events. Lemoine answered categorically in a detailed note that Beaurepaire was assassinated by someone from Verdun who wanted the city to surrender. He gave two reasons, that there was an open rear door to the room when Beaurepaire was found, and that Beaurepaire left no suicide note.
Updated September 2021
© Nathan D. Jensen