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Louis Charles Antoine Desaix de Veygoux

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Louis Charles Antoine Desaix de Veygoux

Louis Charles Antoine Desaix de Veygoux (1768 - June 14, 1800), was a French military leader.

Born to impoverished nobility, he received his military education at the school founded by Marshal d'Effiat, and entered the French royal army. During his first six years of service, he devoted himself to duty and to military studies. When the French Revolution broke out, he threw himself into the cause of liberty. Refusing to "emigrate", he joined the staff of the duc de Broglie. The disgrace of this general nearly cost Desaix his life, but he escaped the guillotine, and by his conspicuous services soon came into favour with the Republican government. Like many other members of the old ruling classes who had accepted the new order, the instinct of command, joined to native ability, brought Desaix career success. By 1794 he had attained the rank of general of division.

In the campaign of 1795 he commanded Jourdan's right wing, and in Moreau's invasion of Bavaria the following year he held an equally important command. In the retreat which ensued when the archduke Charles won the battles of Amberg and Würzburg Desaix commanded Moreau's rearguard, and later the fortress of Kehl, with the highest distinction, and his name became a household word, like those of Bonaparte, Jourdan, Hoche, Marceau and Kléber. Next year his initial successes were interrupted by the Preliminaries of Leoben, and he procured for himself a mission into Italy in order to meet General Bonaparte, who spared no pains to captivate the brilliant young general from the almost rival camps of Germany. Provisionally appointed commander of the "Army of England," Desaix was soon transferred by Bonaparte to the expeditionary force intended for Egypt. It was his division which bore the brunt of the Mameluke attack at the battle of the Pyramids, and he crowned his reputation by his victories over Murad Bey in Upper Egypt. Amongst the fellaheen he acquired the significant appellation of the "Just Sultan."

When command passed to Kléber, Desaix was one of the small party selected to accompany the future emperor. However, it was months before he could join the new Consul. The campaign of 1800 was close to its climax when Desaix at last arrived in Italy. He was immediately assigned to the command of a corps of two infantry divisions. Three days later (June 14), detached, with Boudet's division, at Rivalta, he heard the cannon of Marengo on his right. Taking the initiative he marched at once towards the sound, meeting Bonaparte's staff officer, who had come to recall him, half way on the route. He arrived with Boudet's division at the moment when the Austrians were victorious all along the line. Exclaiming, "There is yet time to win another battle!" he led his three regiments straight against the enemy's centre. At the moment of victory Desaix was killed by a musket ball. Napoleon paid tribute to him by erecting the monuments of Desaix on the Place Dauphine and the Place des Victoires in Paris. Moreover, his name is written on a face of the Arc de Triomphe, with other great military figures of the revolution.

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