Pierre Dupont de l'Étang: Regency Duellist

dupontPierre-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. General François Fournier-Sarlovèze, by Antoine-Jean Gros, 1812, Musée du Louvre. 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. 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 : —
  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3.  No excuse whatever, excepting those resulting from military obligations, will be admitted.
  4. The present being a bond fide treaty, cannot be altered from the conditions agreed upon by the consenting parties.
This contract was religiously executed in all its rigour. Moreover, the contracting parties found no difficulty in keeping their engagements ; this state of war became to them a normal condition, a second nature. Their eagerness to meet was like that of two lovers. They never crossed swords without first shaking hands in the most boisterous manner. Their correspondence during this periodic duel is the essence of burlesque. Take the following : — " I am invited to breakfast with the officers of the regiment of Chasseurs, at Suneville. I hope to be able to accept this pleasant invitation. As you are on leave in that town, we will take advantage of the opportunity, if you please, to get a thrust at each other." Here is another, less familiar, perhaps, but not less tender :— " My dear friend, — I shall be at Strasbourg on the 5th of November, proximo, about noon. Wait for me at the H6tel des Postes. We shall have a thrust or two.'' Such was the style and such the tenor of the entire correspondence. At intervals, the promotion of one of them provisionally interrupted the meeting; this was one of the cases anticipated by Article 3 of the treaty. As soon as they got on an equality of rank in the service, the party last promoted never failed to receive a letter couched in the following terms, written by Fournier. " My dear Dupont, — I hear that the Emperor, doing justice to your merit, has just promoted you to the grade of Brigadier-General. Accept my sincere congratulations on a promotion, which by your future and your courage is made natural, a mere matter of course. I have two reasons for exultation in this nomination. First, the satisfaction of a fortunate circumstance for your advancement; and secondly, the facility now vouchsafed to us to have a thrust at each other on the first opportunity. They afterwards became generals. Dupont was ordered to join the army in Switzerland. He arrived, unexpectedly, in a village occupied by the staff, and which had not a single inn or tavern in it. The night was dark. Not a light was seen excepting at the window of a small cottage. Dupont went to the door, entered, and found himself face to face with Fournier. "What! You here?" exclaimed the latter rapturously. " Now for a thrust !" They set to at once, conversing as they fought.' " I thought you were promoted to some high administrative function ?" " You were wrong ; I am still of the trade. The Minister has sent me to the fourth corps d'armee, and here I am." '' And your first visit is to me ? It is very kind of you. Sacrebleu !" Dupont drove his sword through Fournier's neck, and held him spitted to the wall, saying, — '' You will admit that you did not expect that thrust !" Dupont still held him fast, and Fournier muttered, — " I'll give you a thrust quite equal to this." " What thrust can you give ?'' " Why, as soon as you lower your arm, and before you can parry, I shall lunge into your belly !" " Thank you for the hint. Then we shall pass the night in this position." " That's an agreeable prospect ! But, really, I am not very comfortable." " Drop your sword, and I set you free." " No, I must stick you in the belly." Meanwhile some officers, attracted by the noise they were making, rushed in and separated the two generals. Thus the contest continued, the contract being faithfully fulfilled on both sides. At length, however, Dupont thought of marrying, and he set his wits to work to find out how to make an end of the engagement. He must either kill Fournier, or muzzle him effectually. He went to him one morning ; it was at Paris. " Ah !" said the latter at seeing him, " Glad to see you. Let's have a brush together." "A word first, my dear fellow," said Dupont. " -- I am on the point of getting married. We must end this quarrel, which is becoming rather rancid. I now come to get rid of you. In order to secure a definitive result, I offer to substitute the pistol for the sword — there !" " Why, man, you are stark mad !" exclaimed the dead-shot Fournier, astounded by the proposal. " Oh, I know your skill with the pistol, mon ami, . . . But, let me tell you, I have hit upon a plan which will equalize the conflict. Here it is. Near Neuilly there is an enclosure, with a little wood in it. It is at my disposal. My proposal is this. We shall enter the wood, each provided with a pair of horse- pistols, and then, having separated, and being out of sight of each other, we shall track each other as best we can, and fire at our convenience." " Capital ! Agreed !" exclaimed Fournier ; but let me give you, mon vieux, a little piece of advice." " If you please," said Dupont. " Well, don't go too far with your marriage project. It will be time and trouble lost ; for I warrant you'll die a bachelor." " They who win may laugh," said Dupont. On the day appointed Fournier and Dupont set out in their hunt. Having separated, and got out of sight of each other, as agreed, they crept about or advanced like cautious wolves or foxes, striving to catch a glance at each other through the thicket, whenever the motion of the leaves showed their presence. All at once, as though by a common movement, both came in sight together, standing behind two trees. They squatted down, and thus remained for a few minutes. The situation was delicate — critical. To stir was certain death, to one of them, at least. Dupont, however, was the first to make the attempt, or rather to pretend to do so. He raised the flap of his coat, and allowed one end to project out of cover. Bang! came the bullet in an instant, cutting through the cloth. "That settles one shot," ejaculated Dupont, with a sigh of thanksgiving. After a short interval, Dupont returned to the charge, but this time on the other side of the tree. Holding his pistol with his left hand, he presented the barrel, as though about to fire, and at the same instant he held out his hat with his right hand. Bang! came another bullet, driving the hat into the bushes. "Now, my brave, it's all up with you !" exclaimed Dupont, stalking out, with both pistols in hand and cocked ; and marching up to Fourneir, he said: -- "Your life is at my disposal, but I will not take it." "Oh, just as you please about that !" muttered Fournier. Dupont continued: -- "Only you must remember that I do not give up my right of property in it. Beware of ever crossing my path again, for if you do, I may probably put my two bullets into your brains, as I might this instant." Such was the termination of this long quarrel of nineteen years, ending with the marriage of one of the parties, who contrived at last to beat the unapproachable crack-shot at his own weapon.  

Biographical information from Wikipedia.com


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