REILLE, Honoré Charles, Comte

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A promising start

Honoré Reille was born on 1 September, 1775, into a bourgeois family, and began his military career at the age of fourteen by volunteering for the Garde Nationale d'Antibes in 1789. He became a grenadier in the 1er bataillon du Var on 1 October, 1791 and served under Dumouriez in 1792. His first campaigns were in Belgium (at Rocoux, Liège, and Nerwinde) and he was promoted to captain in 1796. In November of that same year, he fought at the siege of Toulon, alongside Masséna, for whom he served as aide-de-camp. Following him to Italy, Reille distinguished himself at Montenotte, Dego, Lodi, Arcola and Rivoli. In 1797, he was made squadron chief for the 15e dragon.

After the treaty of Campo-Formio (17 October, 1797), and with Masséna having received the command of the Armée d'Hélvétie, Reille was named adjudant general (15 February, 1799). He fought bravely at Zurich (25-26 September, 1799) and when General Oudinot was wounded, he took over command of the troops. He later succeeded in breaking into Genoa, at the time besieged by the Austrians, to bring First Consul Bonaparte's orders to Masséna.

The imperial campaigns

On 29 August, 1803, Reille was made Général de brigade and served at the Boulogne camp. Napoleon subsequently dispatched him on a reconnaissance mission to Bavaria and Austria. Upon his return to Paris, Reille was charged with the inspection of all troops from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). He was afterwards made second in command of troops serving in the fleet under Villeneuve, which had received orders to sail for the West Indies. During this time he participated in the naval combat off Cape Finisterre.

Napoleon then recalled him back to Europe, where he joined up with the Grande Armée, on campaign in Germany, and participated in the Austerlitz campaign. After Iéna and Pultusk (December, 1806), he received the title of Général de division, and having distinguished himself in combat once again, at the battle of Ostrołęka (16 February, 1807) against the Russians, he was made aide-de-camp to the French Emperor.

After Tilsit (July 1807), Reille was made commissaire extraordinaire in Tuscany before leaving for Catalonia. In 1808, at the head of five-hundred odd recruits, he liberated the fortress at Figueras and captured the town of Rosas. But the Austrian campaign of 1809 was calling and he returned to Eastern Europe where he took part in the battles at Essling and Wagram.

It was not long though before he was posted back to Spain, although even this was not without a short detour via Zeeland (where he served under Bernadotte during the Walcheren debacle). On return to Spain, he was named Governor of Navarre (29 May, 1810) and in 1811, he served alongside Suchet at the siege of Valencia. Replacing Masséna at the head of the Armée du Portugal, he commanded the right wing at the Battle of Vitoria (28 June, 1813). As the Peninsular War slipped away from France and the French army retreated, he fought at Bidassoa, Navarre, Bayonne (the Battle of the Nive) and Toulouse. 

A well-earned rest

On 12 September, 1814, after Napoleon's abdication and the declaration of peace, he married Victoire Thérèse Thécle, Princesse d'Essling and the daughter of Masséna. During the Cent-Jours, he commanded the 2e corps in the Armée de Belgique and on 15 June, he fought at Quatre-Bras (serving under Ney) and at Waterloo. During this last battle, he twice saw his mount shot from under him and was eventually forced to retreat. He retired to the Loire (department in east-central France) where the couple had a second son (their first, André-Charles-Victor Reille, who later served at Sedan, in 1870, was born in 1815). Gustave Charles Prosper Reille, born in 1818, graduated from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, and who went on to become a depute for the Eure. In 1819, Honoré-Charles became a peer of France and in 1820, a gentleman of the King's Chamber. In 1847, the King of France, Louis-Philippe I, made Reille a Maréchal of France. He died on 4 March, 1860, at the age of eighty-five, and is buried in the Masséna crypt in Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris.

General Moline de Saint-Yon’s portrait of Reille

General Moline de Saint-Yon, who served as aide-de-camp to Reille, gave a long eulogy, praising the Maréchal's qualities:

“His eyes burned with an unusual fire: one could read in his traits both enthusiasm and inspiration. His voice, his speeches, everything about him bore testament to his impatient fervour. To put it simply […] he was a man of Virgil transformed suddenly into a Homeric hero.

The combat over, this spirited and intrepid leader instantly rediscovered his simplicity and his tranquillity. Nothing about him betrayed any hint of the dangers that he had braved or the great deeds that he had accomplished.

He was modest to an extreme, both in his daily orders and his relations. He played down any superiority, for fear that he be accused of seeking praise, and if in the event he was obliged to acknowledge a success, he never failed to share the credit with others.”

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