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Battle of Quiberon 1795
Aug 11, '20

With Hoche and L'Héritier to Quiberon

The invasion of France in 1795 or the Battle of Quiberon was a major landing on the Quiberon peninsula by émigré, counter-revolutionary troops in support of the Chouannerie and Vendée Revolt, beginning on 23 June and finally definitively repulsed on 21 July. It aimed to raise the whole of western France in revolt, bring an end to the French Revolution and restore the French monarchy. The invasion failed; it had a major negative impact, dealing a disastrous blow to the royalist cause.

The Battle of Quiberon took place in 1795 during the fighting of the Chouannerie. The primary concern was the recapture of Fort de Penthièvre (called "Fort Sans-Culotte" by the Republicans), which was held by the royalists and which dominated the access to the Quiberon peninsula. It was the last combat action that took place in the course of the so-called "Expedition to Quiberon" (L’expédition de Quiberon) by monarchist counter-revolutionaries.

The royalist supporters who had fled to England made an attempt here, taking advantage of the Vendée uprising, to return to the old order in France and to restore the monarchy with the help of their own army, which they had raised from all possible sources. Only half-heartedly supported by England and planned in an amateurish way, marked by jealousy and quarrels of the noble lords, the attempt was doomed to failure from the start.

In the battle near Plouharnel on July 16, the royalists (French called émigrés - emigrants) were repulsed. The Général Hoche called a council of war, in which it was recognized that the Fort de Penthièvre had to be captured before any further action on the peninsula, as this blocked the narrow neck of the bottle with the only way to the peninsula. On the same day, however, the royalists received reinforcements of 1,500 men under the command of Charles de Sombreuil. In addition, there were the 2000 men in Louis Charles d'Hervilly's division and more than 5000 Chouans on the peninsula, which made a total royalist troop strength of 8000 to 9000 men. Hoche had more than 15,000 men at their disposal, which were concentrated in Lorient and Vannes. However, to get to the peninsula you first had to pass the British naval guns and the Fort de Penthièvre. The engineer officers wanted to undertake a regular siege to take the fort, but Hoche thought nothing of it and relied on the surprise effect.

On the same day, three soldiers of the 41e demi-brigade de bataille (formerly 1st battalion of the 41e regiment d'infanterie ci-devant "La Reine") were present at the staff. They were the sergents-majors Antoine Mauvage and Nicolas Litté as well the gunner David Goujou. They belonged to the fort's garrison, which had to capitulate to the royalists. Faced with the choice of either joining the royalist army or going to England as a prisoner of war, they chose the former. Assigned to the new fortress garrison, they deserted to rejoin the Republicans. The three men claimed that the majority of the garrison soldiers were ready to turn against the royalists and offered to lead the Republican forces to surprise the fort.

Hoche hesitated, fearful of a trap, and subjected the three men to an intensive questioning. Finally, the gunner suggested to Goujon that they return to the fortress to investigate the matter. He then came back with a positive result. These statements ultimately convinced Hoche, who decided to try the surprise attack. However, the long, thin strip of sand that separated the village of Sainte-Barbe from the Fort de Penthièvre was guarded by Commodore Warren's British fleet.

Hoche decided to wait for strong winds and rough seas so that the ships would move away from the coast to carry out an unnoticed attack under the noses of the English at night. The three deserters returned to Fort de Penthièvre to warn their companions. The attack was scheduled for the night of July 19-20. On July 19, Hoche in Vannes gave instructions to his officers.

“The Quiberon peninsula will be attacked today, on the 1st thermidor at 11 o'clock in the evening.

The Général Humbert will move towards the village of Kerostin at the head of 500 elite soldiers of his vanguard. Led by a guide whom I will send him, he will pass the headland at low tide with Fort de Penthièvre on the right and the English fleet on the left. He will march in two columns, with the least noise and the least possible distance from one another.

Once near the village, he will turn sharply to the right and move quickly towards the fortress, taking it after negotiating the palisade; he will put down everything found there, except those who wish to join his troop. The officers, Sergents d’infanterie and the artillerymen have to expect no mercy.

The Général Botta will follow Humbert with the same mission and the rest of the vanguard. All armed men are shot in kerostene as soon as they leave their houses. Unarmed soldiers are happily welcomed into our ranks, officers and NCOs are shot on the spot.

Upon arrival on the peninsula, the two officers will call out to the opposing troops: 'Put down your arms! Come to us, the patriots!‘

Adjudant-général Mesnage will support Humbert's attack by attacking the main enemy forces themselves; he will overrun them and drive them back to the fort. The palisade will be crossed and he will follow the moat to the throat with his left wing.

Mesnage won't fire a shot; he will bayonet whatever enemies he finds. The elite of Général Valletaux will be the force that will carry out this attack.

Valletaux supports the Mesnage attack with the rest of his brigade; he will make sure that he gets as close to the fortress as possible to avoid his fire.

Humbert will start on the left exactly at midnight, Mesnage on the right a quarter of an hour later. The two columns will follow the tide even if they have to march a little in the sea.

The Général Lemoine and his brigade are at the height of the vanguard. A battalion with two four-pounder cannons was deployed to support the Valletaux column.

The guard of the camp is formed by two reserve battalions and the 3rd battalion of the Demi-Brigade. It is under the command of Général Drut."

Hoche scheduled the attack on the night of June 20th. Fort de Penthièvre was defended by 4,000 men - emigrants and Chouans - covered by the guns of a British fleet.

He knew, however, that many of the soldiers in the emigre's army were Republicans who had been forcibly forced into the royalist troops and were ready to hand over the fort to him. Still, the Republican troops were greeted with artillery fire, and Hoche was quick to surrender and ordered the withdrawal, believing the defectors would not have responded.

Adjudant-général Jacques Mesnage, however, circled the fort on the lake side and managed to climb the walls with his men. Many defectors joined him and turned their weapons against the royalists, and a large number of the defenders were massacred.

After Hoche had noticed the tricolor on the fort, he revoked his order to withdraw and ordered the attack again, although the defenders of the "Régiment de Rotalier" ignored the fighting inside the fort and continued to fire at Hoche's troops. After the fort was conquered, Mesnage was congratulated by Hoche and promoted to Général de brigade.

The British then attempted to open fire from their ships, but some shots hit both the royalists and the Republicans, or even the civilians. Joseph de Puisaye (the royalist troop commander), judging the desperate situation, ordered his men to re-embark and board the flagship to limit the defeat: he was later accused of deserting in order to save his life. 2500 of the emigrants and chouans could be evacuated thanks to the help of the British rowing boats. North of the peninsula, several soldiers from the first emigre division joined the Republicans, the others surrendered after a brief resistance.

The progress of the Republicans on the peninsula could no longer be stopped, only Sombreuil and his men, cornered, attempted a final resistance at Port-Haliguen. In the early morning of July 21, Hoche and Sombreuil began negotiations, and shortly afterwards the royalists surrendered under the promise to spare the lives of all royalist soldiers.

Monument in memory of the defeat of the royalist armed forces by Général Hoche on the beach at Fort Neuf in Port-Haliguen:

According to Hoche, the Republicans recorded casualties of 10 to 15 dead and 300 wounded. (Of the wounded, however, a number died from their injuries, including the General de brigade Pierre-Paul Botta.) The politician and journalist Jean Tallien, on the other hand, gave the number of casualties with no more than 20 and the number of wounded 60.

According to Hoche, 160 of the royalists had died in battle, around 100 soldiers and 700 civilians. 2,600 Chouans and 2,662 emigrants were taken prisoner. Of these, 278 were officers, 260 royalist soldiers, 792 citizens from Toulouse and 1632 republican conscripts (known as deserters) who had no opportunity to change sides again during the battle. 575 of the prisoners belonged to the nobility.

At Général Louis Lemoine, 2,848 republican soldiers from the royalist troop contingent were reintegrated into the army of the republic. 1216 had already changed sides during the fighting.

1327 Chouans, 902 royalists and 890 civilians escaped on the British ships. The royalists were put on the Île d’Houat, the rest in the Lorient area, where they were soon recaptured by the Republicans. A total of 2,662 royalists and 5,000 chouans and civilians fell into the hands of the Republicans.

According to the laws of the republic in force, the royalists found with gun in hand were executed. However, Hoche was able to obtain the pardon of most of the Chouans from the Convention nationale. The civilians (women, children, old people) were sent home immediately. 4929 prisoners were interrogated, 2000 Chouans were released for ransom and another 3180 were sentenced to prison terms.

400 prisoners died of their wounds or illnesses.

The royalists did not get off lightly, 757 were sentenced to death, including Charles de Sombreuil, nine people were able to flee. 80 of the royalists were sentenced to prison terms and the rest were acquitted.

A total of 748 people, including 627 royalists including the clergy, and 121 Chouans were fusilated.

222 prisoners were executed in Auray, 259 in Vannes and 167 in Quiberon.

General Hoche

Louis Lazare Hoche: (24 June 1768 – 19 September 1797) was a French soldier who rose to be general of the Revolutionary army. He won a victory over Royalist forces in Brittany. His surname is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 3. Richard Holmes says he was "quick-thinking, stern, and ruthless...a general of real talent whose early death was a loss to France." A famous statement of general Hoche: "Facta, non verba" ("acts, no words").

Following in Hoche’s footsteps

The next year L'Héritier, on 18 August 1793, he was appointed secretary to the General Staff of the Army of the Rhine and then provisional deputy of the general adjutants of the army, with the rank of Sub-lieutenant of infantry (17 May 1794), his first junior officer rank. His rank as Sub-lieutenant was at first provisional and was only rendered permanent two and a half years later, on 4 December 1796.

That when my memories of the Véndée kick in. The stealth attack on Quiberon 1795 and sneaking under the guns of the British Fleet was like my memory of Colonel Robert Magaw defending Fort Washington, Manhattan in 1776, except Magaw was defending and L'Héritier was attacking! Magaw suffered betrayal of turncoat to the British General Howe and General Hoche gain knowledge from a turncoat!

The Universe alway give you the chance to relive both side of the experience.

By .....

Ian Charles Baillie/Samuel-François Lhéritier


Aug 11, '20
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