Charles Leclerc

This article is about French Army general. For the Monegasque racing driver, see Charles Leclerc (racing driver).
Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc by François-Joseph Kinson (1771–1839)
Born 17 March 1772 (1772-03-17)
Pontoise, France
Died November 1, 1802(1802-11-01) (aged 30)
Tortuga, Haiti
Allegiance  Kingdom of the French
 French First Republic
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1791-1802
Rank Général de division
Battles/wars French Revolutionary Wars
Saint-Domingue expedition

Charles Victoire Emmanuel Leclerc (17 March 1772, Pontoise 2 November 1802) was a French Army general who served under Napoleon Bonaparte during the French Revolution He was husband to Pauline Bonaparte, sister to Napoleon. He was sent to Saint-Domingue (Haiti) where an expeditionary force under his command attempted to reassert control over a slave rebellion, eventually capturing and deporting Toussaint L'Ouverture.


To 1801

Leclerc started his military career in 1791 during the French Revolution as one of the army volunteers of Seine-et-Oise and passed through the ranks of sous-lieutenant in the 12th Cavalry, then aide-de-camp to general Lapoype. He was made a captain and divisional chief of staff during the siege of Toulon, at which he first allied himself to Napoleon Bonaparte. Following the revolutionary success there, he campaigned along the Rhine. He began serving under Napoleon Bonaparte in the Alpine and Italian campaigns, fighting at Castiglione della Pescaia and Rivoli and rising to général de brigade in 1797. He was then charged with announcing to the French Directory the signature of the peace preliminaries at Leoben. Pauline Bonaparte was at this time receiving a large number of suitors, thus pressing her brother Napoleon Bonaparte to have her married off. On Leclerc's return, he accepted Bonaparte's offer of Pauline's hand in marriage and they married in 1797, having one child, Dermide, and occupying the Château de Montgobert.

He became chef d'état-major to generals Berthier and Brune and served in the second unsuccessful French Army military expedition to Ireland led by Jean Joseph Amable Humbert in 1798. On Bonaparte's return from the Egyptian expedition in 1798, he made Leclerc a général de division and sent him to the armée du Rhin under Moreau. At this rank Leclerc was able to participate in the coup d'etat of 18 Brumaire (in November 1799) that made his brother-in-law Napoleon First Consul of France - supported by Murat, he ordered the grenadiers to march into the room of the Council of Five Hundred. He was next noted for his participation in the Rhine campaign and the battle of Hohenlinden, receiving the supreme command of the 17th, 18th and 19th military divisions. He then passed from that post to being commander-in-chief of an army corps that Napoleon meant to send to Portugal to force it to renounce its alliance with England, though that expedition never took place.


The French National Assembly granted free Blacks full French rights in Saint Domingue, however the European colonists refused to uphold and implement the decision which soon resulted in a slave uprising led by French general Toussaint L'Ouverture, a former slave, on August to October 1793, which soon resulted in the death of 2,000 settlers and 10,000 slaves. L'Ouverture then established a government with a constitution appointing himself President for life, although he still swore loyalty to the French nation.

Napoleon then appointed Leclerc commander of the expedition to re-establish slavery in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haïti).[1]

Leclerc set off from Brest in December 1801 and landed at Cap-Français in February 1802, with other warships and a total of 40,000 troops (including reinforcements, upwards to 80,000 troops were sent to Saint-Domingue during Leclerc's campaign), publicly repeating Bonaparte's promise that "all of the people of Saint-Domingue are French" and forever free. L'Ouverture's harsh discipline had made him numerous enemies and Leclerc played off the ambitions of L'Ouverture's younger key officers and competitors against each other, promising that they would maintain their ranks in the French Army and thus bringing them to abandon L'Ouverture. The French won several victories and regained control in three months after severe fighting, with L'Ouverture forced to negotiate an honorable surrender and to retire to tend his plantations under house-arrest. However, Napoleon had given secret instructions to Leclerc to arrest Toussaint L'Ouverture, and so Leclerc seized L'Ouverture - during a meeting - for deportation to France, where he died while imprisoned at Fort-de-Joux in the Jura mountains in 1803.

Despite his superiors' warnings, Leclerc did not consolidate his victory by disarming L'Ouverture's old officers and they and the black and Creole population rose up again when news reached the island of the reestablishment of slavery on Guadeloupe, bringing the prospect of a similar restoration on Saint-Domingue and swinging the tide inexorably against French hopes for reimposing control.

He was succeeded in command by General Rochambeau, whose brutal racial warfare drove more leaders back to the rebel armies, including black and mulatto army officers Jean Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Pétion and Henri Christophe. On 18 November 1803, François Capois defeated Rochambeau's forces in the Battle of Vertières. Dessalines proclaimed the independence of Haïti and its new name on 1 January 1804. In the meantime Leclerc's body had been transported to France by his widow and buried on one of his estates.


Statue of Leclerc at Pontoise

A statue at Pontoise shows him in Napoleonic uniform, his scabbard touching the earth. It was put up by marshal Davout and his second wife Louise-Aimée-Julie (Leclerc's sister) at the top of a staircase built in 1869 by François Lemot. Around 3m high, the statue is on a square stone pedestal inscribed with information on him in gold majuscule letters. It adjoins the south side of city's cathedral. There is also a statue of him by Jean Guillaume Moitte in the Pantheon de Paris.


  1. Philippe R. Girard, "Liberte, Egalite, Esclavage : French Revolutionary Ideals and the Failure of the Leclerc Expedition to Saint-Domingue," French Colonial History, Volume 6, 2005, pp. 55-77 doi:10.1353/fch.2005.0007


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