Wednesday, April 13, 2011

General Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau

Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau was one of the famous Belgian figures of the Revolutionary period and Napoleonic period. He was born in Brussels on 7 November 1760 and became a well respected architect. Even after making a career in the army he continued to design great buildings. He was also ideologically aligned with the patriotic crowd and was one of the minor leaders in the Brabant Revolution (United States of Belgium) and he served in that first effort for independence as captain of the famous “Canaries” from Namur. That name was given to these volunteer soldiers because of their bright yellow uniforms. The volunteers were men who had been determined “unsuited for the hardships of military life” because they were too short or some other minor reason and yet Dumonceau turned them into one of the best military units of United Belgian States. He became one of the most famous patriots because of his work with the “Canaries” and his courage and dare-devil attitude. But when the Austrians succeeded in suppressing the United States of Belgium, Dumonceau had to flee to France.

In France he continued his military passion for the liberal policies of the emerging revolution. He commanded a battalion of volunteers from his country, a ‘Legion of the Belgians’ and became a famous face in the revolutionary forces. In 1793 he was promoted to general of brigade and military commander of Den Haag. He was instrumental in the capture of Netherland with his military planning. In 1795 he was promoted to lieutenant general of the Batavian Republic (revolutionary Netherland) and fought against the Anglo-Russian invasion of the country. He was wounded at Bergen and commanded the Dutch forces at the siege of Wurzburg. In 1805 he commanded the Batavian Corps of the French Napoleonic Army in the Austerlitz campaign and he distinguished himself in many, many battles of that campaign. Afterwards he was made a councilor of state to King Louis of Holland (brother of Napoleon) and was briefly ambassador for King Louis in Paris. When the British invaded Walcheren he led the French defenses until he was replaced by Marshal Bernadotte (future King of Sweden). With the support of Napoleon, King Louis made Dumonceau Count of Bergendael and the King made him a Marshal of the Kingdom of Holland. Since Napoleon did not recognize this, when Holland was absorbed by the French Empire he was reduced to general of division.

The famous "Canaries"
In the Saxon campaign of 1813 General Dumonceau was an active participant and he saved the French army from total destruction at the battle of Kulm where he was also again wounded. Finally, his good fortune epxended, he was captured by the Allied forces at Dresden. He was finally released back to France and although involved was not a major participant in the campaign of Waterloo. His son, however, was possibly the one who warned Marshal Grouchy about the Prussians at Wavre. General Dumonceau was widely respected by all sides and was known as the “unblemished general”. After the war when Belgium was united with Holland as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands General Dumonceau was a military advisor to King Willem I. His name appears on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and his son Francois was captain of the Red Lancers in the Dutch army. One of the most famous and respected Belgians in the world of his time he died on 29 December 1821 before seeing the final independence of his country.


  1. I know some tough decisions had to be made in the Napoleonic era but I just have a hard time with those (Belgians or otherwise) who shouted for independence but then supported the French in taking over their country. It makes their patriotism in the era of the United Belgian States seem rather suspect to me.

  2. Some fought for freedom, some for simply liberal principles, others for the religious status quo which was interrupted by Emperor Joseph II. You are maybe a little sympathetic to the Emperor as I remember?