Pierre Thouvenot (9 March 1757 – 21 July 1817) was a French Army officer who served with distinction in the American Revolutionary War. He fled from France during the revolution but returned under an amnesty and went on to serve in Napoleonic Wars. Thouvenot is most famous for his defence of Bayonne in 1814 and the sortie he made when the war was all but over, which drew criticism from both sides, particularly from the Duke of Wellington, who branded him a "blackguard".
Thouvenot was born on 9 March 1757 in Toul, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France. He did not join the military until 1779, having spent the previous five years as a geographical engineer. He enrolled in L'école d'artillerie de La Fère, leaving as a cadet in the French artillery during December 1779. He served for a time on the Île de Ré where he became a Second-lieutenant in 1780 before being sent to Guadeloupe. He distinguished himself in Bouillé's attack on St Lucia in May 1781, and took part in the subsequent invasion of Tobago. Thouvenot received a promotion to Lieutenant in 1783 and continued to serve in the Caribbean following the Treaty of Paris. He was promoted to Capitain in 1788 and was made a Chevalier de Saint-Louis (Knight of Saint Louis) in 1791 and was appointed to the foundry at Indret, near Nantes, initially as an inspector but later as the director. Towards the end of 1792, Thouvenot was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and was transferred, as director, to the foundry at Malines.
Leaving naval armament behind in December 1792; Thouvenot returned to serving with the army in the field as the commander of the Belgium artillery and in February the following year, he became attached to General Charles-François du Perrier Dumouriez, as his chief of staff. When, some two months later, a warrant for his arrest was issued by the new government in France, Thouvenot was prompted to flee Belgium. He was captured by Austrian soldiers and imprisoned at Treurenberg. After his release in 1794, Thouvenot sought refuge in the neutral country of Brunswick where he remained until an amnesty was granted by Napoleon in 1800.
Thouvenot returned to France and the military; and with a promotion to colonel, was part of a force sent to Saint-Domingue to combat insurgency by the slaves there and served as Chief of staff to Generals Desfourneaux, Clauzel and Salme successively. Desfourneaux's reprisals were brutal. After his first major operation, Thouvenot recorded how, over a seven-day period, slaves were hunted down and shot, hanged or clubbed to death.
In recognition of his actions, which included the liberation of Port-de-Paix from insurrectionists, Thouvenot was promoted again, on the 15 October 1802, this time to Brigadier-general, and given command of the artillery of the Army of Santo Domingo. On 10 April 1803 Thouvenot was made the army's chief of staff, but the actions and decadent lifestyle of his commanding officer, Général Rochambeau, so enraged Thouvenot and General Clauzel that they planned to have him removed. On hearing of the plot, Rochambeau accused the conspirators of stealing supplies and had them both deported. Thouvenot returned to France a few months later having found passage via Cuba.
Thouvenot's version of events regarding the Rochambeau affair, was accepted by Napoleon, and in 1805; Thouvenot was sent to the Rhineland, where he joined the second division of the II corps in the Grande Armée and took part in operations in Prussia and Pomerania. Thouvenot served as governor of Würzburg in the then Electorate of Bavaria, before successively taking up the post at Erfurt in Prussia, and the towns of Stettin and Stralsund, both in Pomerania. While on active service with Loison's division in 1807, he was wounded in the siege of Kolberg, on June 14.
On 18 January 1808, Thouvenot was sent to Spain, initially to serve as the governor of San Sebastián, then in November, Vitoria. In 1811, Thouvenot was rewarded for his service, being made a Baron de l'Empire (Baron of the Empire) and Officier de la Légion d'honneur (Officer of the Legion of Honour). After the Battle of Vitoria on 21 June 1813, General Thouvenot joined Marshal Soult's army in the Pyrenees where he held various commands before being appointed General of division on 25 November 1813. In February the following year, Thouvenot was made governor of the city of Bayonne.
On 27 February 1814, having crossed the River Adour, Wellington's army began to lay siege to the city of Bayonne. During the fight for the suburb of St Etienne, which the British required to complete their investment, Thouvenot was wounded by a bullet to the thigh. The British and their allies were slow to start their preparations and had thus failed to force the city to surrender when, on 13 April 1814, news of Napoleon's abdication reached the British lines. Despite having received the news unofficially on the 12 April and although it was widely known that a new French government would sue for peace; Thouvenot ordered a sortie which proved to be the last major action of the Peninsular War. On the morning of 14 April, Thouvenot attacked the British siege lines with 6,000 men. The French sortie was defeated but with heavy losses on both sides. The Allies lost 838 men, including Major General Andrew Hay who was killed defending the church of St Etiene and Sir John Hope, who was wounded and captured while charging into a melee on his horse. French casualties totaled 905 men, including 111 killed, 778 wounded and 16 missing. The siege of Bayonne continued obstinately until 27 April when written orders from Marshal Soult finally compelled Thouvenot to hand the fortress over to the British.
Thouvenot's actions were condemned by both sides as a needless waste of lives. Particularly scathing was the Duke of Wellington who branded Thouvenot a "blackguard". In Bayonne however a monument was raised and an annual celebration of Thouvenot's "brave" defence still takes place. Sir Charles Colville did not join in the criticism either. He thought Thouvenot to be, "a well intentioned and gentlemanly individual" and suggested that perhaps the sortie had been forced upon him by his subordinates.
Thouvenot was sent back to Bayonne when Napoleon returned from exile in Elba but after defeat at Waterloo and the restoration of the monarchy, Thouvenot was labelled inactive and never served the French military again. He died in Orly on 21 July 1817. Pierre Thouvenot is one of the 660 names inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.