General Jean-Baptiste-Juvénal CorbineauCavalry general and aide-de-camp to Napoleon who discovered the ford across the Berezina
Born: August 1, 1776
Place of Birth: Marchiennes, Nord, France
Died: December 17, 1848
Place of Death: Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe: CORBINEAU on the west pillar
The middle brother of three brothers who rose to prominence as army officers, Jean-Baptiste-Juvénal Corbineau first joined the army as a sous-lieutenant in the 18th regiment of cavalry in October of 1792. Serving with the Army of the North, in 1793 he joined he joined the 5th Hussars, received a promotion to lieutenant, and was wounded by a shot to the right shoulder. In 1794 Corbineau was serving near Cambrai where he was wounded by a shot to the right shoulder and taken prisoner. By early 1795 he was released and back with the French army to take part in the fighting at Bentheim where he distinguished himself. Over the next years Corbineau served in a variety of French armies, including the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, the Army of the Danube, and the Army of Switzerland.
In 1800 Corbineau joined the Army of the Rhine and he was wounded that April by a shot to the thigh at Saint-Blaise. That December he fought at Lautreck. The next year he was promoted to lieutenant in the 5th Chasseurs à Cheval and served under his brother Constant Corbineau. Over the next few years Juvénal Corbineau served in garrison at Mainz and Coblentz and he received a promotion to capitaine. In 1803 he was sent to the Army of Hanover and where he was promoted to chef d'escadrons in 1804. Corbineau missed out on the major battles of 1805, but in 1806 he was appointed a major in the 10th Hussars. In early 1807 Corbineau was promoted to colonel of the 20th Dragoons in General Klein's division but his brother Constant was killed a month later at the Battle of Eylau while serving as an aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Corbineau continued to command dragoons throughout 1807.
In 1808 Colonel Corbineau was made a Baron of the Empire and then sent to Spain in the 1st Division of Dragoons. That September he joined Milhaud's 3rd Division of Dragoons in IV Corps and he served at the Battle of Ocaña . When Colonel Vial died from his wounds there, Corbineau then took command of the 2nd Brigade. While Corbineau served in Spain in 1809, his younger brother Hercule Corbineau served in Germany and Austria and was badly wounded at the Battle of Wagram . In 1810 Juvénal Corbineau fought at Alcala del Réal and then became Governor of Granada.
In 1811 Corbineau received a promotion to général de brigade and he was sent to Germany. Once there he took command of 6th Brigade of Light Cavalry in what was to become Marshal Oudinot's II Corps. Taking part in the Russian campaign of 1812, he fought at both the first Battle of Polotsk and the second Battle of Polotsk . During the retreat, he was instrumental in helping to save the army by finding a ford across the Berezina River. While Corbineau's brigade was part of Oudinot's II Corps, the Bavarian general Wrede borrowed his unit for his own VI Corps. Initially following Wrede's orders and joining VI Corps, Corbineau grew annoyed and demanded the paperwork proving he was supposed to be with VI Corps and not II Corps. When Wrede failed to produce any such paperwork, Corbineau set off leading his brigade in the general direction of II Corps, hoping to reunite with Oudinot. Luckily, part of his brigade contained the 8th Chevau-Légers-Lanciers, which was a Polish unit. These soldiers were able to communicate with the local townspeople, and from them Corbineau learned both that the Russians were blocking his path back to Oudinot and that there was a ford over the Berezina River that the French had not known about. Investigating the ford, he found that it was indeed passable, and skirting the Russians as he crossed the countryside, he reunited with II Corps and informed Marshal Oudinot of his discovery. With this piece of intelligence and the loss of the bridge held by General Dombrowski at Borisov, Napoleon decided to have the army cross at this ford, enabling the army to cross the river at a location that did not have the Russian army lying in wait.1
In January of 1813, Napoleon named General Corbineau as one of his aides-de-camp. Serving in the campaigns of Germany that year, in May Corbineau was promoted to général de division and he left his position as Napoleon's aide to take command of the 1st Light Cavalry Division in Latour-Maubourg's I Cavalry Corps. That August he was commanding the cavalry of Vandamme's I Corps at the Battle Kulm, and when the battle began to fall apart for the French he charged the enemy and cut a path through them, enabling some of I Corps to escape. Unfortunately, during the battle he was wounded by a shot to the head.
In early 1814 Corbineau resumed his duties as aide-de-camp to Napoleon for the defense of France. In the aftermath and confusion of the darkness at the Battle of Brienne, a group of Cossacks attacked the Emperor Napoleon and his entourage. Corbineau was there and rushed to his defense, fighting off the Cossacks alongside the other headquarters staff. That March Corbineau took command of Reims, where he led a gallant defense of the city. As it became clear that the city would fall and their retreat was cut off, Corbineau and some of his men changed into civilian clothes and hid within the city. That evening Napoleon arrived with reinforcements and during the night drove the Russians out of the city. Anxious to know the fate of his general and aide, Napoleon asked what had become of Corbineau, only to discover that one of the many men in the darkness in civilian clothing around him was Corbineau.2
In recognition of his service, Corbineau was made a Count of the Empire by Napoleon. At the Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube, he was wounded in the head again, this time by the blast of a shell. After Napoleon's abdication in April, Corbineau was one of the many officers put on non-activity by the Bourbons.
With Napoleon's return to power in 1815 for the Hundred Days, Corbineau rallied to him and once again took up the duties of an aide-de-camp to the Emperor. In April he went to Lyon to organize the National Guard, and then in June he joined the Army of the North. After the Battle of Waterloo, he took up a command helping to defend Paris before he was again put on non-activity by the returning Bourbons.
After the July Revolution of 1830 brought Louis-Philippe to power, Corbineau returned to the military. Ten years later in August of 1840 he arrested Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the future Napoleon III, at Boulogne.
- David G. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1966), 835.
- Louis Constant Wairy, Memoirs of Constant: First Valet de Chambre of the Emperor, On the Private Life of Napoleon, His Family, and His Court, trans. Elizabeth G. Martin, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895), IV:251-252.
- Chandler, David G. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1979.
- Haythornthwaite, Philip J. Who Was Who in the Napoleonic Wars. London: Arms & Armour, 1998.
- Six, Georges. Dictionnaire Biographique des Généraux & Amiraux Français de la Révolution et de l'Empire (1792-1814). 2 vols. Paris: Gaston Saffroy, 2003.
Updated March 2016
© Nathan D. Jensen