Charles Pichegru

Charles Pichegru
Pichegru was a distinguished French general of the Revolutionary Wars. He overran Belgium and Holland before fighting on the Rhine front. His subsequent involvement in a royalist conspiracy to remove Napoleon from power led to his arrest and death.

Jean-Charles Pichegru (16 February 1761 – 5 April 1804) was a French general and political figure of the French Revolution and Revolutionary Wars.


Early life and career

Born at Arbois (or, according to Charles Nodier, at Les Planches, near Lons-le-Saulnier), he was the son of a peasant. The friars of Arbois were entrusted with his education, and sent him to the military school of Brienne-le-Château. In 1783 he entered the 1st regiment of artillery, where he rapidly rose to the rank of Adjutant-Second Lieutenant, and briefly served in the American Revolutionary War.

When the Revolution erupted in 1789, he became leader of the Jacobin Club in Besançon, and, when a regiment of volunteers of the départment of the Gard marched through the city, he was elected Lieutenant Colonel.

Rhine front

The fine condition of his regiment was noticed in the French Revolutionary Army section of the Rhine, and his organizing ability got him appointed in the headquarters, and then promoted Général de brigade.

In 1793 Lazare Carnot and Louis de Saint-Just were sent to find roturier (non-aristocratic) generals who could prove successful (see: French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1793). Carnot discovered Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, and Saint-Just discovered Louis Lazare Hoche and Pichegru. In co-operation with Hoche and the army of the Moselle, Pichegru, as Général de division and in command of the army of the Rhine, had to reconquer Alsace and to reorganize the defeated troops of the French Republic. They succeeded, as Pichegru made use of the morale of his soldiers to win numerous skirmishes, and Hoche forced the lines at Haguenau and relieved Landau.

Northern front

In December 1793 Hoche was arrested, probably owing to his colleague's denounciations, and Pichegru became commander-in-chief of the army of the Rhine-and-Moselle, then he was summoned to succeed Jourdan in the army of the North in February 1794, subsequently fighting three major campaigns of one year (see: French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1794). The forces of the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Dutch Republic and Habsburg Austria held a strong position along the Sambre to the North Sea.

After attempting to break the Austrian centre, Pichegru suddenly turned their right, and defeated the Count of Clerfayt at Cassel, Menin and Courtrai, while his subordinate Joseph Souham, defeated Prince Josias of Coburg in the battle of Tourcoing in May 1794. After a lull, during which Pichegru feigned a siege of Ypres, he again attacked Clerfayt, and defeated him at Roeselare and Hooglede, while Jourdan, commanding the newly-named army of the Sambre-and-Meuse, withstood Austrian attacks in the battle of Fleurus (27 June 1794), which eventually led to Allied evacuation of the Low Countries.

Temperature during the winter campaign in The Netherlands 1794/1795

Pichegru began his second campaign by crossing the Meuse on 18 October, and, after taking Nijmegen, drove the Austrians beyond the Rhine. Then, instead of going into winter quarters, he prepared his army for a winter campaign. On 28 December he crossed the Meuse on the ice, and stormed the island of Bommel, then crossed the Waal, entered Utrecht on 19 January, and Amsterdam on 20 January, and soon occupied the whole of the Netherlands.

This major victory was marked by unique episodes, such as the capture of the Dutch fleet, which was frozen in Den Helder, by French hussars, and exceptional discipline of the French battalions in Amsterdam, who, although faced with the opportunity of plundering the richest city in Europe, showed self-restraint.

Thermidor and Directory

Although a former associate of Saint-Just, Pichegru offered his services to the Thermidorian Reaction, and, after having received the title of Sauveur de la Patrie ("Saviour of the Motherland") from the National Convention, subdued the sans-culottes of Paris, when they rose in insurrection against the Convention on 12 Germinal (1 April).

Pichegru then took command of the armies of the North, the Sambre-and-Meuse, and the Rhine, and, crossing the Rhine in force, took Mannheim in May 1795. Although he had become a hero of the Revolution, he allowed his colleague Jourdan to be defeated, betrayed all his plans to the enemy, and took part in organizing a conspiracy for the return and crowning of Louis XVIII as King of France. The plans were suspected, and, when he offered his resignation to the Directory in October 1795, it promptly accepted (much to his surprise). He retired in disgrace, but secured his election to the Council of Five Hundred in May 1797 as a leader of the Royalists.

Coup attempts and death

He planned a coup d'état known as the Coup of 18 Fructidor, but was arrested, and with fourteen others deported to Cayenne, French Guiana, in 1797. He and seven others escaped and fled to Paramaribo. The gouverneur De Friderici allowed them to get on board on a ship to the United States. Then he went to London, serving on General Aleksandr Rimsky-Korsakov's staff in the campaign of 1799.

He went to Paris in August 1803 with Georges Cadoudal to head a Royalist uprising against the First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte. Betrayed by a friend, he was arrested on 28 February 1804, and was later found strangled in prison, but it could also have been a suicide.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.  In turn, it cites as references:
    • Louis Fauche-Borel, Mémoires
    • J.M. Gassier, Vie du général Pichegru, Paris, 1815
    • Comte de Montgaillard, Mémoires concernant la trahison de Pichegru, 1804
    • G. Pierret, Pichegru, son prods et sa mon, 1826
    • Anne Jean Marie René Savary, Mémoires sur la mort de Pichegru, Paris, 1825

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