Pierre-Antoine, comte Dupont de l'Étang (4 July 1765 – 9 March 1840) was a French general of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as well as a political figure of the Bourbon Restoration. His exploits, encountered during a 19 year long conflict with brother officer François Fournier-Sarlovèze, are the stuff of legends. Born in Chabanais, Charente, Pierre first saw active service during the French Revolutionary Wars, as a member of Maillebois legion in the Netherlands, and in 1791 was on the staff of the Army of the North under General Theobald Dillon. He distinguished himself in the Battle of Valmy, and in the fighting around Menen in the campaign of 1793 he forced an Austrian regiment to surrender. Promoted Brigadier General for this accomplishment, he soon received further advancement from Lazare Carnot, who recognized his abilities. In 1797 he became Général de Division. The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he supported in the 18 Brumaire Coup (November 1799), brought him further opportunities under the Consulate and Empire. In the campaign of 1800 he was chief of staff to Louis Alexandre Berthier, the nominal commander of the Army of Peierve of the Ains which won the Battle of Marengo. After the battle he sustained a successful combat, against greatly superior forces, at Pozzolo. In the campaign on the Danube in 1805, as the leader of one of Michel Ney's divisions, he earned further distinction, especially in the Battle of Haslach-Jungingen (Albeck), in which he prevented the escape of the Austrians from Ulm, and so contributed most effectively to the isolation and subsequent capture of Freiherr Mack von Leiberich and his whole army. He also distinguished himself in the Battle of Friedland. With a record such as but few of Napoleon's divisional commanders possessed, he entered Spain in 1808 at the head of a motley corps made up of provisional battalions and Swiss troops impressed into French service from the Spanish Royal Army (see Peninsular War). After the occupation of Madrid, Dupont, newly created count by Napoleon, was sent with his force to subdue Andalusia. After a few initial successes he had to retire toward the passes of the Sierra Morena. Pursued and cut off by a Spanish army under the Duke of Castaños, his corps was defeated in the Battle of Bailén after his Swiss deserted and returned to their former allegiance. Painfully wounded in the hip, Dupont felt constrained to capitulate. Even so, Dupont sent secret orders to General Vedel to escape with his division, which was outside the Spanish trap. When the Spanish found out, they threatened to massacre Dupont's men if Vedel did not also surrender, which Vedel did. Altogether 17,600 French soldiers laid down their arms in the disaster. Madrid fell to the resurgent Spanish forces and this soon compelled Napoleon to intervene with his Grand Army in order to salvage the situation. Dupont fell into the emperor's disgrace, as it was not taken into account that his troops were for the most part raw levies, and that ill-luck contributed materially to the catastrophe. After his return to France, Dupont was sent before a court-martial, deprived of his rank and title, and imprisoned at Fort de Joux from 1812 to 1814. Released only by the initial Restoration, he was employed by Louis XVIII in a military command, which he lost on the return of Napoleon during the Hundred Days. But the Second Restoration saw him reinstated to the army, and appointed a member of the conseil privé of Louis XVIII. Between April and December 1814, he was Minister of War, but his reactionary politics made the monarch recall him. From 1815 to 1830, Dupont was deputy for the Charente. He lived in retirement from 1832 until his death in 1840. What makes the life of Pierre Dupont de l'Étang, exceptional is his 19 year long ordeal involving a series of duels with Fournier-Sarlovèze, which formed formed the basis for a Conrad short story which was adapted in turn by Ridley Scott in his first feature film as director, The Duellists in 1977. There are some who claim that the rivalry was of a friendly sort, though it is hard to see how friendly it could be, under the circumstances. In 1868, Andrew Steinmetz wrote of their meetings in The Romance of Duelling in All Times and Countries, vol. 2:
A Duel lasting Nineteen Years. This most curious duel was brought to a termination in 1813, after lasting nineteen years. It began at Strasbourg, and the cause of the protracted fighting was as follows : —A captain of hussars, named Fournier, who was a desperate duellist, and endowed, as the French say, " with deplorable skill," had challenged and killed, on a most frivolous pretence, a young man, named Blumm, the sole support of a family. At the event the entire town put forth a cry of lamentation — a cry of malediction on the murderer. The young man's funeral was attended by an immense multitude, and sympathy was felt for the bereaved family in every household. There was, however, as it happened, a ball at the quarters of General Moreau. The ball was expressly given to the citizens of Strasbourg, and the General, apprehensive that the presence of Fournier might be offensive to his guests of the evening, charged Captain Dupont, his aide-de-camp, to prevent him from entering the ball-room. He accordingly posted himself at the entrance, and when Fournier made his appearance, he exclaimed, " Do you dare to show yourself here?" "The deuce! what does this mean!" asked Fournier. " It means," replied Captain Dupont, " that you ought to have understood that on the day of the funeral of poor Blumm, it would have been only decent to remain at home, or certainly not to appear at a reunion in which you are likely to meet with the friends of your victim.'' " You mean enemies ; but I would have you to know that I fear nobody, and that I am in a mood to defy all the world," said Fournier."Ah, bah! You shall not enjoy that fancy to-night; you must go to bed, by order of the General," rejoined Dupont. " Yon are mistaken, Dupont ;'' said Fournier, ''I cannot call the General to account for insulting me by closing his door upon me, but I look to you and to them, and I am resolved to pay you handsomely for your commission as door-keeper which you have accepted !" " Oh, as for that, my dear fellow, I'll fight you when you like. The fact is, your insolent and blustering behaviour has displeased me for a long time, and my hand itches to chastise you!" " We shall see who is the chastiser,'' said Fournier. A scene from Ridley Scott's, The Duellists The duel came off, and Fournier was laid on the grass with a vigorous sword-thrust. "That's the first touch," he exclaimed as he sank. "Then you wish to have another bout, do you ?" asked Dupont. " Most assuredly, my brave fellow, and before long, I hope," said Fournier. In a month Fournier got well; they fought again; this time Dupont was grievously wounded, and in falling he exclaimed, " That's the second. As soon as possible again; and then for the finish." The two adversaries were about equal with the sword; but with the pistol the chances would have been very different. Fournier was a frightful crack shot. According to M. de Pontecoulant, often when the hussars of his regiment were galloping past smoking, he amused himself with smashing their short pipes between their lips! I have seen some wonderful doings with the pistol. I have known a determination to hit a certain part of the adversary, and it was hit. I have seen hens held out by the hand of a negro, hit by a pistol bullet ; but the feat of hitting a pipe in the mouth of a galloping horseman is beyond my comprehension. If Fournier could do that, then Dupont was perfectly justified in refusing to try him at that game, as he proposed. They fought again with swords, but the finish was not forthcoming; it was only a slight wound on both sides; but now they resolved to continue the contest until either of them should confess himself beaten or satisfied. They drew up formal terms of the warfare, as follows : —
- Every time that Dupont and Fournier shall be a hundred miles from each other, they will each approach half the distance to meet sword in hand.
- Should one of the contracting parties be prevented by the duties of the service, he who is free must go the entire distance, so as to reconcile the duties of the service with the exigencies of the present treaty.
- No excuse whatever, excepting those resulting from military obligations, will be admitted.
- The present being a bond fide treaty, cannot be altered from the conditions agreed upon by the consenting parties.
Biographical information from Wikipedia.com