General Jean-Nicolas Houchard
Born: January 24, 1738
Place of Birth: Forbach, Moselle, France
Died: November 15, 1793
Cause of Death: Executed
Place of Death: Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe: HOUCHARD on the north pillar
A career soldier, Jean-Nicolas Houchard first enlisted in 1755 in a cavalry regiment. He served during the Seven Years War and was later rewarded as a Knight of Saint Louis. By the time of the Revolution, Houchard had only risen to the rank of capitaine, but he was perfectly happy with that.1 In October of 1791 he became General Custine's aide-de-camp and soon he would unable to refuse the commands assigned to him. Serving with the Army of the Rhine, Houchard was promoted to colonel in August of 1792 and given command of the 2nd Chasseurs à Cheval. Fighting that year, he commanded the advance guard at Spire and Frankfurt, seized the redoubts of Nauheim, and defeated the Prussians at Limburg. A promotion to maréchal de camp followed in December of 1792.
Now a general, in 1793 Houchard tried to defend Hochheim and served in the rear guard at the combat of Ober-Florsheim. That March he was promoted to général de division and then a month later Custine named him commander of the Army of the Moselle. In May Houchard was also given command of the Army of the Rhine, and then in August he was named commander of the Army of the North when Custine was recalled to Paris to eventually meet the guillotine. On the very first day he took command of the Army of the North, Houchard learned that a representative of the people had arrested his entire staff and sent all the headquarters records to Paris.2
Leading the Army of the North, he defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Hondschoote but was uneasy about a vigorous pursuit. After a small check, he decided to retreat and before long this retreat degenerated into a rout. Houchard was immediately relieved of command and arrested, then transported to Paris and imprisoned at l'Abbaye. He was taken before a Revolutionary tribunal and condemned to die, and he was executed by guillotine on November 15th, 1793.
- John R. Elting, Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée, (USA: Da Capo Press, 1997), 37.
- Ibid., 37.
- Six, Georges. Dictionnaire Biographique des Généraux & Amiraux Français de la Révolution et de l'Empire (1792-1814). 2 vols. Paris: Gaston Saffroy, 2003.
Updated February 2015
© Nathan D. Jensen