General Charles Marie Robert d'Escorches de Sainte-Croix
Born: November 20, 1782
Place of Birth: Versailles, Yvelines, France
Died: October 11, 1810
Cause of Death: Killed in action
Place of Death: Villafranca, Portugal
Born into a noble family, Chares Marie Robert Escorches de Sainte-Croix first served in Talleyrand's cabinet in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His first military service came in the campaign in Italy of 1805 when he served as a volunteer on Marshal Masséna's staff. At the same time, in September of 1805 Napoleon formed a new regiment of foreign troops to be commanded by sons of good families who showed promise to be up and coming officers. Impressed with Sainte-Croix's work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in December Napoleon made Sainte-Croix a chef de bataillon of the new regiment of La Tour d'Auvergne, named in honor of the First Grenadier of France.1 A scandal was soon discovered that the colonel of the regiment and one of the other battalion commanders, Sicaud de Mariole, who was related to the Tascher family and a distant cousin of Empress Josephine, were giving out commissions in the regiment in exchange for bribes.2 Sicaud de Mariole tried to pass blame onto Sainte-Croix who in response challenged him to a duel for impinging his honor. A formal duel ensued with Sainte-Croix killing Sicaud de Mariole with a pistol shot. However, when Sicaud de Mariole fell he hit his head and later his friends, who had not witnessed the duel, saw the head wound and accused Sainte-Croix of finishing off and murdering his opponent while he lay on the ground.3 Sainte-Croix was arrested and thrown in prison, though while in prison he was appointed a major of the regiment. Napoleon ordered an investigation by Fouché and the investigation exonerated Sainte-Croix and he rejoined his regiment.
The regiment was sent to Italy to serve in the Army of Naples and Sainte-Croix served on the campaign there in 1806. In February of 1807 he was named an aide-de-camp to Marshal Masséna and he joined the Grande Armée in Poland and then in 1808 he returned to serve with the regiment in Naples. In the spring of 1809 Sainte-Croix was named the premier aide-de-camp of Masséna and he served on the Danube campaign against the Fifth Coalition. That April he served at Landshut and then on May 1st he successfully captured an enemy flag in the fighting near Neumarkt. For this feat he was promoted to colonel a few days later. Later that month, as Masséna's premier aide-de-camp, Sainte-Croix was the first officer to cross the Danube to the isle of Lobau and the first to cross to the left bank of the Danube. After the Battle of Aspern-Essling he was recognized as an Officer of the Legion of Honor and a Knight of the Military Order of Baden. Over the following weeks Napoleon began to rely on Sainte-Croix as Masséna was injured and unable to accompany the emperor on tours of the fortifications and Masséna's chief of staff General Beker was unable to answer all of the emperor's questions.4 Napoleon told a Russian envoy, "I have never since I have been in command of armies met a more capable officer, nor one who understood my thought quicker and executed it better. He reminds me of Marshal Lannes and General Desaix, and if he is not struck down by a thunderbolt France and Europe will be astonished at the distance which I shall take him."5 When the time came for the army to cross the Danube again, Sainte-Croix was again the first officer to cross and he led the troops in seizing the village of Enzersdorf. He went on to serve at the Battle of Wagram where he was wounded and then he served at Znaim. Before the end of the month Sainte-Croix received a promotion to général de brigade and in August he was named a Count of the Empire.
In December of 1809, Sainte-Croix was given command of a brigade of dragoons in Caulaincourt's division which would serve as part of Junot's VIII Corps in 1810. In July of 1810 he served at the combat of Gallegos. That September, after the French army was repulsed at the Battle of Bussaco , Sainte-Croix discovered a route that enabled Masséna to outflank the British-Portuguese position. Sainte-Croix guided the advance guard on Coimbra on October 1st but then on October 11th the French army discovered the Lines of Torres Vedras. Sainte-Croix was reconnoitering the defenses when a cannonball fired by the enemy ricocheted and cut him in half.
- John R. Elting, Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée, (USA: Da Capo Press, 1997), 358.
- Guy C. Dempsey, Napoleon's Mercenaries: Foreign Units in the French Army under the Consulate and Empire, 1799 to 1814, (Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2016), 231.
- Marcellis de Marbot, The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot, trans. A. Butler, (London: Longmans, Green, 1893), 363.
- Ibid., 364.
- Ibid., 365.
- Elting, John R. Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée. USA: Da Capo Press, 1997.
- Marbot, Marcellis de. The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot. Trans. A. Butler. London: Longmans, Green, 1893.
- Six, Georges. Dictionnaire Biographique des Généraux & Amiraux Français de la Révolution et de l'Empire (1792-1814). 2 vols. Paris: Gaston Saffroy, 2003.
Updated April 2023
© Nathan D. Jensen