Colonel Marie-Louis-Hercule-Hubert Corbineau
Born: April 10, 1780
Place of Birth: Marchiennes, Nord, France
Died: April 5, 1823
Cause of Death: Wounds never fully healed
Place of Death: Châlons-en-Champagne, France
The youngest of three brothers who would rise to prominence in the military of the Revolution and Empire, Hercule Corbineau initially did not follow his brothers Constant and Juvénal in joining the army, instead volunteering for the navy in April of 1793. After a period of time at sea, he then joined the army and was later commissioned as a sous-lieutenant in the cavalry in September of 1796. The next year Corbineau took part in the failed expedition to Ireland and afterwards he served with the Army of Germany. In 1799 he served with the Army of Switzerland and then in 1800 he joined joined the 5th Chasseurs à Cheval and was promoted to lieutenant by General Moreau.
In 1803 the young Corbineau was promoted to capitaine and he then served in Hanover. As the campaign of 1805 got underway, he was employed in the staff of the Imperial Guard and served throughout that campaign. After the victory at Austerlitz, Corbineau was made a capitaine in the Chasseurs à Cheval of the Imperial Guard. In this position he took part in the campaign against Prussia in 1806, notably being wounded by seven saber blows to the right cheek and temple at the combat of Lopaczyn in December. Serving at the Battle of Eylau in February of 1807, Corbineau was wounded by grapeshot to the right thigh and his brother Constant was killed. A week later Hercule was promoted to chef d'escadrons. In 1808 he received another reward, being created an Officer of the Legion of Honor.
Continuing to serve with the Imperial Guard, in 1809 Corbineau participated in the Danube campaign. On June 13th both he and his good friend Daumesnil were promoted to major, each being in charge of half of the prestigious Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard. The next month at the Battle of Wagram , Corbineau was hit in the right knee by a ball, shattering it. At about the same time his good friend Daumesnil was also wounded in the leg.1 Both were taken to Doctor Larrey, who amputated the wounded leg from each of them.
Transported to the Esterhazy palace in Vienna to recover, both Corbineau and Daumesnil demanded to be placed in the same room to recover, fearing that if one of them would die the other would too. In the meantime Corbineau was created a Baron of the Empire. On August 15th, in honor of Napoleon's birthday, great celebrations were held and Corbineau and Daumesnil gave permission to their attendants to go partake in the festivities. Corbineau seemed quiet, but then Daumesnil heard what sounded like water dripping. Daumesnil called out to Corbineau, but got no response. At risk to himself due to his unhealed amputation, Daumesnil crawled out of his bed and over to Corbineau's. Finding Corbineau's wound bleeding badly, Daumesnil yelled for help but no one came. Despite the further risk to himself, Daumesnil crawled out of the room and through two more rooms, arriving at the staircase. As still no one answered his cries for help, Daumesnil began to use the bannister to lower himself down the stairs step by painful step. Finally reaching the bottom, he called out one more time, and then passed out from exhaustion. This last time he was heard, and upon realizing what had happened, doctors were summoned, and both men's lives were saved. When both regained consciousness, Daumesnil asked Corbineau, "Did you know, I've been to see the fireworks?"2
In honor of both Corbineau's and Daumesnil's service, Napoleon left them on the Chasseurs à Cheval roll, despite the fact that after their wounds received at Wagram, neither served with that unit again.3
Leaving the military due to his wound, in 1810 Corbineau went to the Emperor Napoleon and asked to be appointed to the tax collector's office of Rouen. Due to the nature of this position, it required a deposit which Corbineau was unable to afford. "Who is going to furnish the deposit?" Napoleon asked. "My leg, Sire," Corbineau replied. "And myself as well," Napoleon responded, laughing.4
Despite their amputations, both Corbineau and Daumesnil courted Rose de Kermarec de Traurot, the daughter of a lawyer. There was talk that they would duel over her, but Corbineau declared that "I can't duel with someone who saved my life at the peril of his own. She will have to choose between us." Rose chose Corbineau and they married in April of 1810.5
- Edward Ryan, Napoleon's Shield and Guardian: The Unconquerable General Daumesnil, (London: Greenhill Books, 2003), 199.
- Ibid., 222-224.
- Ibid., 228.
- Ibid., 229.
- Ibid., 229-230.
Updated November 2015
© Nathan D. Jensen