seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of William Lawless, Officer in Napoleon’s Irish Legion

General William Lawless, surgeon, revolutionary, and officer in Napoleon‘s Irish Legion, is born in Dublin on April 20, 1772. He is also an important member of the Society of the United Irishmen, a revolutionary republican organisation in late 18th century Ireland.

Lawless, a Catholic, is the confidant of Lord Edward FitzGerald, and Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin. Closely connected with John Sheares in the direction of affairs in the spring of 1798, a warrant for his arrest is issued on May 20 with a reward of £300. Timely notice is, however, given him of the fact by Mr. Stewart, the Surgeon-General, and he escapes to France, where his abilities and spirit recommend him to the special favour of Napoleon. While in Paris, he spends time with other United Irishmen in exile, including Myles Byrne and William James MacNeven.

Lawless is placed on half-pay in 1800, but in 1803 is appointed captain of the Irish Legion, and in July 1806 is ordered to Vlissingen, then besieged by the English, to command the Irish battalion. To reach his post he has to pass in a small open boat through the English fleet. He is dangerously wounded in a sortie, and when General Monet capitulates without stipulating for the treatment of the Irish as prisoners of war, Lawless escapes from the town with the eagle of his regiment, conceals himself for two months in a doctor’s house, and at length finds an opportunity of getting to Antwerp by night in a fishing boat. Marshall Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte welcomes him, extols him in general orders, and reports his exploits to Napoleon, who summons him to Paris, decorates him with the Legion of Honour, and promotes him to be lieutenant-colonel. In 1812 he gains a colonelcy, and on August 21, 1813 he loses a leg at the Battle of Dresden. He retires to his country house in Tours.

After the restoration of the Bourbons, Lawless is returned, in October 1814, to half-pay with the rank of brigadier-general. He dies in Paris at the age of 52 on December 25, 1824. His remains are buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. He is one of the best officers of the last large French unit of The Wild Geese. Thomas Moore describes him as “a person of that mild and quiet exterior which is usually found to accompany the most determined spirit.”

(Pictured: Gravesite of General William Lawless in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France)


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The Battle of Löwenburg

napoleons-irish-legionNapoleon‘s Irish Legion fights at the battle of Löwenburg on August 21, 1813. This is the first occasion on which Napoleon is frustrated by the Trachenberg Plan, in which the Allies had agreed not to risk a battle against the Emperor in person (War of Liberation).

On August 14, Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher prematurely crosses the armistice line in Silesia and begins to advance west. After briefly considering a move south to attack the Austrians in Bohemia, Napoleon decides to join his forces on the Bóbr and try and defeat Blücher.

By the evening of August 20 Blücher’s army is on the east bank of the Bóbr, facing Löwenberg (now Lwówek Śląski). On the opposite side of the river Michael Ney (III Corps), Jacques Lauriston (V Corps) and Jacques Macdonald (XI Corps) are spread out between Löwenberg and Bunzlau (modern Bolesławiec), a few miles to the north. Auguste de Marmont (VI Corps) and the Guard are approaching from the west, and Napoleon is at Lauban, where he puts in place attacks for a full scale attack on the following day.

On the following day Napoleon is disappointed. The French capture Löwenberg without any problems and at noon V Corps crosses the Bóbr over the bridges in the town, followed by XI Corps. As they advance toward the heights on the east bank of the river, Blücher retreats. Yorck’s corps is pushed back along the road to Goldberg (Złotoryja, ten miles to the south west of Legnica).

Further to the north III Corps and VI Corps cross the Bóbr at Bolesławiec pushed by General Fabian Gottlieb von der Osten-Sacken‘s Imperial Russian Army.

Napoleon misinterprets this move as demonstrating a lack of confidence amongst the Allied commanders, and that they had assumed the French would retreat without risking a battle so far east. Instead it is part of a deliberate Allied plan – no individual Allied army is to risk a battle with the Emperor in person.

On August 22 the French continue to push east, fighting a skirmish between Lauterseifen and Pilgramsdorf. Blücher retreats behind the Kaczawa. However the French pursuit is halted by news from Dresden, where Claude Carra Saint-Cyr finds himself facing a considerable Austrian and Russian attack. As a result, Napoleon decides to return west to deal with the threat to Dresden, leaving Marshal Macdonald in command of a new Army of the Bóbr (III Corps, XI Corps and V Corps).

Over the next few days Napoleon wins the Battle of Dresden (August 26-27, 1813), his most impressive victory of the entire 1813 campaign, but at the same time Macdonald suffers a defeat on the Kaczawa on August 26, 1813, largely negating the results of that victory.

(From: Rickard, J (3 May 2017), Combat of the Bobr or Lowenberg, 21 August 1813 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_bobr.html | Pictured: Foreign regiments in the French Army 1810, painting of 1830 by Alfred de Marbot (1812-1865). In the center, wearing green uniforms, officer and grenadier of the Irish Legion.)