Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult
Born: 29 March 1769 France
Died: 26 November 1851 France
Rank: Major-General (Chief of Staff)
Soult was born at saint-Arnans-la-Bastide (now Saint-Amans-Soult near Castres in the Tarn) in March of 1769. The son of a country notary Jean Soult and his mother Jeanne de Calvet.
Soult had the best of education and wanted to become a lawyer, but due to his father’s death in 1779 when he was still a boy, it was necessary for him to seek his fortune, so he enlisted as a private in the French infantry in 1785.
His education ensured his promotion to the rank of sergeant after six year’s of service.
In July 1791 Soult became instructor to the first battalion of volunteers of the Bas-Rhin. He served with this battalion in 1792.
By 1794, Soult became adjutant-general (with rank of Chef de brigade). After the battle of Fleurne in 1974, in which he greatly distinguished himself for coolness, he was promoted to general of brigade.
On 26 April 1796, Soult married Jeanne Louise Berg and had three children. (One boy and two girls)
For the next five years, Soult was constantly employed in Germany under Jourdan, Moreau, Kleber and Lefebvre, and in 1799 he was promoted general of division and ordered to proceed to Switzerland. It was here that Soult laid the foundations of his military fame, and he particularly distinguished himself in Massena’s great Swiss campaign, and even more so at the Second Battle of Zurich. He went with Massena to Genoa and acted as his principal lieutenant throughout the siege of that city, during which he operated with a detached force without the walls, and after many successful actions he was wounded and taken prisoner at Monte Cretto on 13 April 1800.
The French victory at Marengo gave Soult his freedom, and he received the command of the southern part of the Kingdom of Naples. In 1802 he was appointed one of the four generals commanding the consular guard.
It is said that Soult disliked and despised Napoleon, but he had the wisdom to show his devotion to the ruling power. In August 1803, he was appointed to the command-in-chief of the camp of Boulogne, and in May 1804 he was made one of the first marshals of the Empire. He commanded a corps in the advance on Ulm, and at Austerlitz he led the decisive attack on the allied centre.
Soult played a great part in all the famous battles of the Grande Armee, including the Battle of Jena in 1806. But he missed the Battle of Friedland because on that day he forced his way into Konigsberg.
After the conclusion of the Peace of Tilsit, Soult returned to France and was made Duke of Dalmatia in 1808. The title displeased him, for he felt that his proper title would be Duke of Austerlitz, a title Napoleon had reserved for himself. In the following year he was appointed to the command of the II corps of the army with Napoleon intended to conquer Spain, and after winning the Battle of Gamonal he was ordered by the emperor to pursue Sir John Moore’s British army. At the Battle of Corunna, in which Moore was killed, Soult was defeated and the British escaped by sea.
For the next four years Soult remained in Spain and played a big part in the Peninsular War. In 1908, he invaded Portugal and took Oporto, but isolated and unable to move, Soult was eventually driven from Portugal in the Second battle of Porto by Wellesley, making a painful and almost disastrous retreat over the mountains, pursued by Beresford and Silveria.
After the Battle of Talavera in 1809, he was made chief-of-staff of the French troops in Spain with extended powers, and on 19 November 1809, Soul won a great victory at the Battle of Ocana.
In 1810 he invaded Andalusia, but he turned aside to seize Seville, the capture of Cadiz eluded him. This led to the prolonged and futile Siege of Cadiz, a strategic disaster for the French. In 1811 he marched north into Extremadura and took Badajoz. When the Anglo-Portuguese army laid siege to the city he marched to its rescue, and fought and nearly won the famous and very bloody Battle of Albuera on 16 May.
In 1812, after the Duke of Wellington’s victory of Salamanca, he was obliged to evacuate Andalusia. In the subsequent Siege of Burgos campaign, Soult was able to drive Wellington’s army back to Salamanca. There, Soult failed to attack Wellington despite a 80,000 to 65,000 superiority of numbers, and the British army retired to the Portuguese frontier. Not long after, he was recalled from Spain at the request of Joseph Bonaparte, with whom, as with the other marshals, he had always disagreed.
In March 1813 he assumed the command of IV Corps of the Grand Armee and commanded the centre at Lutzen and Bautzen, but he was soon sent, with limited powers, to the South of France to repair the damage done by the great defeat of Vitoria. It is to Soult’s credit that he was able to reorganise the demoralised French forces with a rapidity that even took Wellington by surprise.
Although often found wanting tactically – even some of his own aides queried his inability to amend a plan to take into account altered circumstances on the battlefield his performance in the closing months of the Peninsular War is the finest proof of his talents as a general. Although he was repeatedly defeated in these campaigns by the Allies under Wellington, many of his soldiers were raw conscripts, while the Allies could count greater numbers of veterans among their ranks. His last offensives into Spain were turned back by Wellington in the Battle of the Pyrenees and by Freire’s Spaniards at San Marcial. Persued into France soil, Soult was maneuvered out of several positions at Nivelle, Nive and Orthez, before dealing Wellington a final bloody nose at the Battle of Toulouse.
After the first abdication of Napoleon in 1814, Soult declared himself a Royalist, received the order of St. Louis, and acted as minister of war from December 1814- March 1815. When Napoleon returned from Elba, Soult at once declared himself a Bonapartist and was made a peer of France and acted as major-general (Chief of staff)
to the emperor in the campaign of Waterloo, in which role he distinguished himself far less than he had done as commander of an over-matched army.
At the second Restoration in 1815 he was exiled, but not for long, for in 1819 he was recalled and in 1820 again made a marshal of France. With the rest of his political career, Soult served as minister of war from 1830 to 1834, as Prime Minister from 1832 to 1834. He then became Prime Minister from 1839 to 1840 and 1840 to 1847, and again as minister of war from 1840 to 1844. In 1851 Soult died at his castle of Soultberg, near his birthplace.