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Macdonald, Jacques Etienne Joseph Alexandre, Duke of Taranto (1765-1840).

French Marshal of the Empire. Principal wars: French Revolutionary (1792-1799) and Napoleonic Wars (1800-1815). Principal battles: Jemappes (1792); Tourcoing, Hondschoote (1793); Modena, the Trebbia (1799); the Piave, Wagram (1809); Riga (1812); Lutzen, Bautzen, the Katzbach (Kocaba), Leipzig, Hanau (1813).

Born at Sedan on November 17, 1765, the son of Nael Stephan Macdonald, a Scots Jacobite who had gone into exile in France after Charles Stuart's defeat at Culloden (1745) and Alexandrina Gonart; he joined the Irish Legion in French service, and the following year transferred to the Dillon Regiment; made lieutenant in 1789; by 1792 he was a captain serving as aide-de-camp to General Dumouriez; for courageous service at Jemappes (1792) he was promoted to colonel of the 94th Infantry; later, on General Pichegru's recommendation, he was promoted to general of brigade (August 27, 1793); he fought at Tourcoing and Hondschoote in 1794 and was promoted to general of division in November of that year; during 1795-1798 he served in the armies of the Sambre-et-Meuse and of the North; while campaigning in Holland he formed a friendship with Moreau; he was transferred to Italy in May 1798 to serve under Championnet and replaced him as commander of the Army of Italy the following year; on June 7 he attacked Hohenzollern at Modena and defeated him; on June 17-19, however, he was repulsed with heavy losses by Suvarov and Melas at the three-day battle on the Trebbia; in 1800 he was given command of the Army of Reserve at Dijon and crossed the Alps at Splugen (November-December), an exploit which won him great fame; from 1801 to 1802 he served as envoy to Denmark; he was made a grand officer of the Legion of Honor in 1804, but fell from Napoleon's favor when he publicly defended Moreau against the charge of treason; he joined the Neapolitan army in 1807 and fought under Eugene de Beauharnais at the Piave (May 1809), where he was wounded a second time; he led a corps at Wagram (July 5-6), where he regained Napoleon's trust by heading the decisive attack on the Austrian center; he was presented his marshal's baton on the field, along with Oudinot and Marmont, on July 12, 1809; the following December he was created Duke of Taranto; he then replaced Augereau, in Catalonia (1810-1811), a command which proved injurious to his health; for the invasion of Russia in 1812 he was given command of the X Corps and spent most of the campaign unsuccessfully besieging Riga; withdrew on receiving news of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow (November), and suffered the defection of Yorck's Prussian Corps to the Russians (December 30); in the 1813 campaign in Germany, he commanded the XI Corps, fighting at Lutzen (May 2) on the left flank, and at Bautzen (May 20-21) on the right; on August 26, in command of the newly created Army of the Bober (Bobr), he disobeyed Napoleon's orders and pursued Blucher's Prussians to the Katzbach River; in the ensuing battle his corps was caught with its back to the river and nearly destroyed, the remnants withdrawing toward Dresden; at Leipzig (October 16-19) he was ordered to take charge of the rearguard with Poniatowski and was forced to swim the Elster to escape capture; he then fought at Hanau (October 30) before taking over the defense of the lower Rhine; in the campaign for France in 1814 he fought well in a number of minor actions but was forced to abandon Troves to the enemy in March; he was one of the last of the marshals to accept Napoleon's abdication and, in return for his loyalty, he was given the sword of Murad Bey, which Napoleon had taken in Egypt; he was created a peer of France, knight of the Order of St. Louis, and made governor of the Twenty-First Military Division by Louis XVIII; he escorted the King to Belgium on the return of Napoleon; he took no part in the Waterloo campaign but was given the sensitive task of disbanding the Army of the Loire on its return to France; in July 1815 he was made grand chancellor of the Legion of Honor and a member of the King's Privy Council; in 1825 he went to England and Scotland, where he visited his ancestral home; on his return he was appointed one of the four marshals in command of the Royal Guard; on September 7, 1840 he died at the chateau of Courcelles-le-Roi (near Gien).

Macdonald was a brave and competent commander, capable of independent command, but his abilities declined after 1809; his lack of caution and sound judgment lost him his corps and nearly cost him his life at the Katzbach; Napoleon said of him: "Macdonald was good and brave, but unlucky" and "could not be trusted within the sound of bagpipes." <BL>
Delderfield, R. F., Napoleon's Marshals. Philadelphia, 1962.
Humble, Richard, Napoleon's Peninsular Marshals. New York, 1974.
Meeks, Edward, ed., Napoleon and the Marshals of the Empire. Reprint
     (2 vols. in one), Philadelphia, 1885.

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Author:Hawkins, Vincent B.
Publication:The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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