Georges Mouton was born in Phalsbourg (in the Moselle département of France) on 21 June, 1770, and was the ninth of fourteen children born to Joseph Mouton and Catherine Charpentier. In 1790, his father obtained for him work as an accounts clerk at an iron merchants in Lunéville, before on 1 August, 1792, he volunteered for the 9th bataillon de la Meurthe. He received a baptism of fire in the fighting around Trèves, and thanks to the election and grade nomination system adopted during the Revolution, he advanced rapidly through the ranks. On 5 November, 1792, he was appointed captain and in 1793, he became the aide-de-camp to General Meynier. In 1796, he followed Meynier into the Armée d'Italie. There, he was attached to the 60th demi-brigade and was involved in operations based around the fortress in Mantua. In May 1797, he became Joubert's aide-de-camp, and as officer in charge of the 99th demi-brigade, was appointed to the Armée de Rome. It was there, whilst in command of the Castel Sant'Angelo, that he cement his ties with the future cardinal, Consalvi. Between December 1799 and April 1800, he defended Genoa and was seriously injured twice before being repatriated to France. In a letter to Napoleon, Soult wrote of him "One cannot be more brave".
Source: Dictionnaire Napoléon (tr. & ed., with permission, H.D.W.)
In 1801, he entered the Armée du Midi as colonel of the 3e de ligne, serving in Bayonne. He was then posted to the camps at Saint-Omer and Ambleteuse (March 1804). At Saint-Omer, Bonaparte, noticing the Mouton's well-drilled regiment, suggested he enter his service as aide-de-camp. Mouton initially refused, having disapproved of the coronation and its "masquerade", remarking "I am not one for the honours of the palace and they are not for me." But after his promotion to général de brigade in February 1805, he eventually accepted the post as aide-de-camp to Napoleon (6 March 1805). Napoleon wrote "Mouton is the best colonel to have ever commanded a French regiment."
"Mon Mouton est un lion"
He would remain in Napoleon's service until the end of the Empire, during which time he showed himself to be forthright, direct ("he's no fawner", Napoleon is noted to have said to Caulaincourt) but also disciplined, loyal, meticulous and highly organised. He was at Austerlitz with Napoleon and was charged with the preparation of the campaigns in Spain (1808), Russia (1812), Germany (1813) and Belgium (1815).
At Austerlitz, whilst the other generals assured the Emperor that his soldiers would go to the end of the earth for him, Mouton intervened: "You are deceiving yourselves, and you are deceiving His Majesty. The acclaim that the soldiers address to the Emperor is because they want peace and he is the only one who can give it. My conscience obliges me to say that the army can take no more. They will continue to obey, but only reluctantly..." He later participated in the Prussian and Polish campaigns (Jena, Pultusk, Eylau [8 February, 1807], Friedland [14 June, 1807, where he was injured] and was promoted to Général de division on 5 October, 1807. On 6 December, 1807, Napoleon charged him with the organisation of a "observation division for the Western Pyrenees" in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, as preparation for the French campaign in Spain. Between January and March 1808, he was stationed in Vitória, and then Valladolid, inspecting the troops that would become the Armée d'Espagne. Then in Bayonne, he organised an elite division, with which he was distinguished in service a Rio del Saco, Burgos and Santander. On 1 December, 1808, he was replaced by General Pierre Merle, and he returned to Paris with the Emperor. He would go on to participate in the Austrian campaign.
His involvement at Landshut, where on 21 April, 1809, he crossed a burning bridge at the head of a troop of grenadiers of the 17e de la ligne, thus setting in motion the victory at Eckmühl, as well as his participation at Essling, before the Lobau floodplain, led to his being named Comte de l'Empire (28 May, 1809) and Comte de Lobau (19 September, 1810). He became close to the Emperor and until 1812 was given an important role in overseeing army personnel (including officers and conscription).
On 12 August, 1812, Mouton was named aide-major général de l'infanterie and was involved in the capture of Smolensk (17 August, 1812). At this time, he disapproved openly, as he would do later on in Moscow, of Napoleon's campaign plans. However, this independence did not prevent him from being selected as one of the privaleged few to accompany Napoleon back to France. Afterwards, he was actively involved in training the army that would later participate in the German campaign in 1813.
In France, he was made Chevalier de Saint-Louis (8 July), but resisted any overtures from the Bourbons. After Napoleon's return from Elba, Mouton resumed his duties as the Emperor's aide-de-camp (20 March, 1815) and was given the command of the 1e Division militaire in Paris (in which he oversaw the appointment of officers to army corps passing through the capital), followed by the 6e corps d'Armée du Nord. He was also made a Peer of France (2 June), and served at Ligny (16 June, 1815). At Waterloo, he fought against the Prussians on the right-wing, earning their admiration. During the retreat, he lost his Etat-major and, coming across Napoleon again, attempted to organise a rear-guard action with General Neigre at Quatre-Bras. It was during this action, on 19 June, 1815, at Gassiliers, that he was taken prisoner by Prussian cavalry.
He was handed over to the English and sent to England, to the camp at Ashburton. He was afterwards sent into exile following an announcement on 24 July 1815 and took refuge in Belgium. In December 1818, he was allowed to return to France. After his return, the July Monarchy covered him in honours: grand-croix of the Légion d'honneur (19 August, 1830), ambassador extraordinary to Berlin (September 1830), commander in chief of the Gardes nationales de la Seine following Lafayette's resignation (26 December 1830), Maréchal de France (30 July, 1831), and Peer of France for the second time (27 June, 1833). His wife, Félicité, became dame du palais to the Queen, Marie-Amélie.
Death and posterity
Mouton died on 27 November, 1838, aged 69. He was buried on 11 December, 1838, in the Caveau des gouverneurs in the Crypte des Invalides, between Bessières and Lariboisère. His name, Maréchal Mouton, Comte de Lobau, can be found on the East side of the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris.
Marc Allégret Revue du Souvenir Napoléonien n°463 February-March 2006 pp. 67-68