General François-Séverin Marceau-DesgraviersThe Boy General who participated in the storming of the Bastille and was mortally wounded at Altenkirchen
Born: March 1, 1769
Place of Birth: Chartres, Eure-et-Loir, France
Died: September 21, 1796
Cause of Death: Mortally wounded
Place of Death: Altenkirchen, Germany
Arc de Triomphe: MARCEAU on the north pillar
Called the "boy general" by some, François-Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers was the son of a prosecutor and a talented commander of the Revolution. His military career began when he enlisted in the infantry regiment of Angoulême in 1785. After taking part in the storming of the Bastille in 1789, on the same day he joined the National Guard of Paris, and within a few months he had risen to become captain of the National Guard of Chartres.
In 1791, Marceau became captain of the 2nd Company of the 1st Battalion of Volunteers of Eure-et-Loir. The next year he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and served at the Siege of Verdun. He also requested to become a lieutenant of light cuirassiers of the German Legion, which was granted. Throughout 1793 he served in the Vendée, and after the German Legion was disbanded he became a captain in the 19th Chasseurs à Cheval. After fighting at Luçon that August, he received a promotion to général de brigade on the 16th of October, becoming a general at the young age of 24. The next day he put this promotion to good use, contributing to the victory of Cholet. Less than a month later he received a promotion to général de division, and the week after that he fought at Antrain. At the end of November, General Marceau was named interim commander-in-chief of the Army of the West. Fulfilling this command, he was victorious at Mans and Savenay, but then on Christmas Day he obtained a leave and abandoned his command due to ill health.
By now Marceau-Desgraviers had gained quite a reputation for himself. In addition to his obvious talents, he was known for continuing to wear a green hussar's uniform that he had designed himself, and always wearing a miniature portrait of his fiancée around his neck.1 After recuperating at Rennes and later Paris, Marceau returned to active duty and took command of a division in the Army of the Ardennes under Charbonnier in May of 1794. At the Battle of Fleurus , he commanded the extreme right but was routed. After Fleurus, Marceau was transferred to the Army of the Sambre and Meuse and took command of the 9th division under Schérer. With this division he fought at Ourthe in September and seized Coblentz in October.
In April of 1795, General Marceau took part in the blockade of Mainz under Michaud. The latter half of 1795 was a busy year, as he and his men besieged Ehrenbreistein, supported the fighting at Neuwied, seized the gorges of Stromberg, and then were victorious at Soultzbach. On the last day of the year, Marceau signed an armistice with the Austrian General Kray that lasted until May of 1796. During the campaign of 1796, he commanded the three divisions that made up the left wing of the army and he seized the fort at Koenigstein. As the army was forced to fall back, Marceau covered the retreat, fighting at Limburg and Freylingen. Stopping the enemy at Altenkirchen, he led valiantly until being struck in the left side by a carbine round, shot by a chasseur from the Tyrol.
Unable to move their mortally wounded general, the French left him to the Austrians at Alternkirchen. The Archduke Charles found him and had his own surgeons attempt to save Marceau-Desgraviers life, but unfortunately they were not successful. Upon his death, the Austrians returned his body to the French, and at his funeral, as the French artillery fired in a salute to his memory, the Austrian artillery could be heard in the distance also firing in a salute.
Marceau-Desgraviers was a good friend of General Kléber, and on the anniversary of his death his body was cremated and his ashes were placed in a marble box inside a pyramid that had been designed by Kléber. Years later his ashes were moved to the Pantheon.
Updated June 2016
© Nathan D. Jensen