A Look at Lauzun in L’Expédition Particulière

Armand Louis de Gontaut, Duc de Lauzun

Best known in this country for his role in the in the Yorktown Campaign of the American Revolution, the Duc de Lauzun (April 13, 1747 –December 31, 1793) has often been dismissed as a man who loved the ladies and grumbled about Rochambeau. Lauzun deserves a much closer look. He was a dedicated and (usually) diplomatic military leader who cared deeply about his men and their mission. Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp, Hans Axel von Fersen, wrote in the fall of 1780, “Opinions are divided about him. You will hear both good and harm; the first is right, the second is wrong. If people knew him, they would change their ideas and do justice to his heart.”[1]

L’Expédition Particulière: The Yorktown Campaign

On February 6, 1778, King Louis XVI of France signed the Treaty of Amity and Friendship negotiated by Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee. Arnold Whitridge captured the resultant enthusiasm: “To Fersen, Closen, the Berthiers, the Duc de Lauzun, and all the other gallants who had tumbled over each other to get a place in the expedition, the revolt of the English colonies in America offered the adventure of a lifetime. [2]

Thirty-one-year-old Armand Louis de Gontaut, Duc de Lauzun, was among the first to volunteer. Les Volontaires Étrangers de Lauzun was a multi-ethnic group composed of officers, infantry, artillery, workmen and hussars. His hussars were cavalrymen used in battle for harassing enemy skirmishers, overrunning artillery positions, and pursuing fleeing troops. Due to lack of ships, half his troops and all their horses were left behind when, along with other French regiments, the Légion de Lauzun left for America on May 2, 1780. [3]

      They landed in Rhode Island in July. Lauzun’s Legion camped a mile in front of the rest of the French army to guard the coast.[4]   He wrote, “a squadron of fourteen or fifteen men of war, commanded by Admiral Arbuthnot, come cruising in the Rhode Island channel. We were informed from New York that he had embarked a great part of the army; we expected to be attacked at any moment … Notwithstanding the bad condition of our troops, we toiled without ceasing at building redoubts and fortifying ourselves.” [5]

On August 28, 1780, Lafayette wrote to Washington, “The extreme desire which Duke de Lauzun had of serving in this expedition made him embark with the first part of his Légion wiz three hundred hussards, hundred grenadiers, hundred chasseurs, and a company of artillery. The dress and accoutrements of the hussards make it almost impossible for them to serve a foot, and if they are not mounted, the Duke de Lauzun had rather serve in the line, than to stay with the Légion.”[6]

Eventually, horses arrived from Pennsylvania.   Late summer and fall were spent repairing buildings, training horses, and settling in. Rochambeau, who was old enough to have been Lauzun’s father, remarked that Lauzun “rendered himself very agreeable to the Americans by his prepossessing manners, and succeeded in every transaction which he had to conclude, either with the veteran governor Trumboldt or with the other members of the legislature of the State.”

A formal visit from members of the Six Nations was a social highlight of the season. Rochambeau ‘s regiments paraded and went through their manual of arms and fired muskets and cannon. The Duc de Lauzun’s hussars delighted the Indians, as did a tour of the beautiful ships in the harbor. In turn, the delegation entertained by performing colorful traditional tribal dances. [7]

In November, Lauzun observed: “The scarcity of forage obliged [Rochambeau] to send me to the forests of Connecticut … As I spoke English I was charged with an infinite number of details, boring in the extreme, but necessary. I did not leave Newport without regrets; I had formed a very pleasant circle of acquaintances there.” [8]

In January, 1781, Maj. Gen. Marquis de Chastellux, wrote happily of visiting Lauzun in Connecticut:

We had fine weather all day and got to Lebanon at sunset … It will be easily imagined that I was not sorry to find myself in the French army, of which these Hussars formed the advanced guard, although their quarters be seventy-five miles from Newport; but there are no circumstances in which I should not be happy with M. de Lauzun. For two months I had been talking and listening; with him, I conversed, for it must be allowed that conversation is still the peculiar forte of the amiable French.

The Duke de Lauzun entertained with this diversion [squirrel hunting], which is much in fashion in this country. These animals are large and have a more beautiful fur than those in Europe … On returning from the chase, I dined at the Duke de Lauzun’s with Governor Trumbull and General Huntington. [9]

After Chastellux’s visit, boredom struck. Lauzun moaned that “Siberia alone can furnish any idea of Lebanon, which consists of a few huts scattered among vast forests.” One patrol of hussars, horses and all, had deserted in December. William Williams, who had turned his home over to the French officers, berated Lauzun for his troops’ behavior. The winter was unseasonably cold and the legion had stolen wood, including thirty or more trees, much of Williams’ fence, four or five sheep, a number of geese, and much more.[10] In February, Lauzun sent Alexander Hamilton a letter to forward to Lafayette, asking if his legion could join him. Communication was slow, but in the spring there was, finally, some positive action.

In June, the allied troops began marching south. Washington asked Rochambeau to allow Lauzun and his men to help surprise the British at Morrisania (South Bronx) with “a Coup de main” slated for July 2. They would be “joined by Colonel Sheldon with 200 horses and Foot and about 400 Infantry, both officers and men perfectly acquainted with the country.” [11] The effort was in vain. Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp, Baron Von Closen, explained that a deserter had forewarned their opponents of Lauzun’s arrival. The event amounted to “some pistol shots fired without the loss of a man.” [12] Washington sent a note to French headquarters, announcing that the mission had failed. [13]

American Henry Dearborn wrote in his journal,

at 9 oclock in the evining the whole of our army together with the French march’d … & at day break were paraded before the Enemies work at King’s bridg. A party of our horse, with some Militia from Connectcut, went on to Frog’s Neck, (a nest of tories), & the Duke Delozen with his legion & Colonel Scammell, with a Corps of Light Infantry, went on to Morrissania, (the place of randisvoos for Delensees [DeLancey’s] Infamus corps of horse thieves & murderers). a considerable number of horses, Cattle & sheep, together with about twenty of the above mentioned corps ware taken & brought off & the remeinder dispers’d, except what ware killed. [14]

On August 18, 1781, the war’s theater of operations shifted from New York to Virginia. On the 19th, Count William de Deux-Ponts (not to be confused with duPont) noted, “left camp at Phillipsburg. We do not know the object of our march and are in perfect ignorance as to whether we are going against New York or whether we are going to Virginia to attack Lord Cornwallis … A rear-guard is essential under the present circumstances. The Count de Rochambeau formed it of the two battalions of grenadiers and chasseurs of the army and of the Légion de Lauzun. The Viscount Vioménil is Commander-in-Chief of it.” [15]

Marching south from New Jersey, Lauzun reported:

M. le Baron de Vioménil, whom a kick from a horse obliged to travel in a carriage, did not know what to make of this. He would indeed have been almost helpless had he been attacked.   I felt that the greatest service that I could render him was to advance as far as possible towards the enemy so as to give him time to retire into the woods. I sent out strong patrols upon all the roads by which the english might come. I took fifty hussars well-mounted and went myself for more than ten miles along the road to Brunswick, by which they would most probably appear. I met two or three strong patrols of light troops which retired after exchanging a few pistol shots with my hussars. I assured myself that the English army was not on the march and went back to reassure the Baron de Vioménil. [16]

On September 3, the First Brigade arrived in Philadelphia. Von Closen described the parade: “All the gilded contingent was drawn up between the lancers and the hussars of Lauzun’s Legion to salute with all the grace possible the congress [assembled on] the balcony of the Hall of Congress … All the ladies were assembled at M. de Luzerne’s residence, where they watched the army pass and were enchanted to see such handsome men and to hear such good music. The French minister gave a dinner for 180 that day.”[17]

Two days later in Chester, Pennsylvania, Lauzun witnessed Washington’s relief at learning that deGrasse had anchored in the Chesapeake Bay. Lauzun commented, “I have never seen a man more overcome with great and sincere joy than was General Washington. We heard at the same time that Lord Cornwallis had received orders from Sir Henry Clinton … to fortify himself at Yorktown.”[18]

From Chester, the troops passed through Delaware to Head of Elk, Maryland. There were not enough boats to transport everyone down the Chesapeake. It was agreed that 1,000 men, including the Artillery Regiment, the Grenadiers and Chasseurs of the Brigade of Bourbonne, and the Infantry of Lauzun’s Legion would sail. The rest, including Lauzun’s hussars, advanced down the road.

Arriving in Williamsburg, Virginia, Lauzun’s Legion received orders to reinforce 1,200 militiamen serving under Brig. Gen. George Weedon at Gloucester Courthouse.[19] Rochambeau sent artillery plus eight hundred men drawn from M. de Choisy’s garrisons. Choisy, by the right of seniority, took command over both Weedon and Lauzun. Lauzun commented, “M. de Choisy is a good and gallant man, ridiculously violent, constantly in a rage, always making scenes with everyone, and entirely devoid of common sense. He began by finding fault with General Weedon and all the militia, told them they were cowards, and in five minutes had them almost as frightened of himself as of the English, which is certainly saying a good deal.” [20]

The following days were busy. Count Deux-Ponts described the sights and sounds of October 2: “Rather sharp firing was heard in the morning from the other side of the river, after which Tarleton’s cavalry was seen returning in a hurry and in disorder. We think that it has made a sortie from the lines of Gloucester to attack the Légion de Lauzun and we hope that it has been driven back.” [21] On October 4, a woman standing outside her house told Lauzun that the British cavalry commander, Banastre Tarleton, had said he was most anxious “to shake hands with the French duke.” Lauzun assured her that he had come to give Tarleton that very satisfaction.

I saw as I approached that the English cavalry outnumbered mine by three to one. I charged them without drawing rein … Tarleton caught sight of me, and came towards me with raised pistol. We were about to fight a duel between our lines when his horse was overthrown by one of his dragoons pursued by one of my lancers. A troop of English dragoons thrust themselves between us and covered his retreat. His horse remained in my hands … I charged him a third time, routed part of his cavalry and pursued him as far as the earthworks of Gloucester. [22]

       Cromot du Bourg, an aide to Rochambeau, elaborated:

The Duke de Lauzun, after charging several times at the head of his legion, was ordered by M. de Choisy to fall back and obeyed. As he was returning with his troops he saw one of the lancers of his legion at some distance engaged with two of Tarleton’s dragoons. Without a word to any one, Lauzun lowered his guard and went to [the lancer’s] assistance. I only knew of this incident on the 20th November from M. de Rochambeau; the modesty of M. de Lauzun had prevented his mentioning it, but I should feel that I was very wrong should I omit to write down in this Journal everything that relates to the Duke de Lauzun, who, in these minor actions, set the best possible example to the army.[23]

Summing up the story, Rochambeau wrote: “Tarleton happened to be thereabouts with four hundred horses and two hundred infantrymen on a foraging expedition. De Lauzun’s Légion, backed by a corps of American militia, attacked him so vigorously that he was put to flight with his detachment and was obliged to put back with a severe loss.”[24]

Two weeks later, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. Capt. Johann Ewald, a German officer serving with the British, noted that after the British troops surrendered, every officer “was greeted by the French generals and officers with the greatest courtesy. I had the pleasure and honor of being invited to dine with the general officers, Washington, Comte de Rochambeau, Marquis de Lafayette, Duc de Lauzun, Choisy, the Princes of Deux-Ponts, and General Comte Custine …. One scarcely knew whether he was among his friends or foes.” [25]

Rochambeau now selected Lauzun and Deux-Ponts to carry news of the capitulation to France. [26] Lauzun grumbled, “I advised him to send M. de Charlus. This would put him in the good books of M. de Castries and might perhaps secure better treatment for the army. I could not bring him to agree. He said to that I had been first in action and ought to carry the news, that M. le Comte William des Deux-Ponts had been the second, and should carry the details.” [27]

Rochambeau wrote to the Comte de Ségur:

Sir, I have the honor to send you the Duc de Lauzun who is bringing to the King the news of the capture of Lord Cornwallis and his corps of troops. Comte William de Deux-Ponts will bring the duplicate and the recommendation for Grâces. These are the two superior officers who have performed the two most distinguished feats, as you will see in the journal that will inform you of all the details[28]

Before leaving, Lauzun put Lt. Col. Claude Etienne Hugau in charge of his legion. Except for a February move to the settlement of Charlotte Court House where there was more fodder, that winter would prove as boring for the men as the previous winter had been.[29]

Arriving at Brest, France, on the evening of November 19, Lauzun hurried to Versailles. According to his memoires, “My news caused great joy to the King … he asked me many questions and had many kind words for me. [30] Louis XVI ordered a Te Deum to be sung in the Metropolitan Church in Paris on November 27, and directed “all bourgeois and inhabitants” of the city to illuminate the front of their houses to celebrate the great victory.[31]

On May 27, 1782, Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp, Axel von Fersen, wrote from Williamsburg, “We have no news as yet from M. de Lauzun; we expect some with great impatience—at least I do, and we are beginning to feel uneasy.” [32] Clermont-Crevecoeur said, “Finally, a frigate arrived from France bringing us the King’s bounties (graces) for the capture of York. M. de Rochambeau was awarded a governorship with a salary of 30,000 livres … The Baron de Vioménil was appointed governor of La Rochelle and his brother was granted a pension of 5,000 livres …The Duc de Lauzun was allowed to keep his legion and the Marquis de Laval was promoted brigadier.[33]

In spite of this news, there was no sign of Lauzun’s return. His legion remained in the vicinity of Charlotte Courthouse, Virginia, until June 1782 when they headed back to New York and Boston with the rest of the French Army.[34] Meanwhile, back in France, Lauzun was trying to get to America. The trip was an unpleasant adventure, best described in Lauzun’s own words:

For four days [the ship] was in constant peril of being taken or dashed upon the coast … We anchored in the River of Nantes, our frigate greatly damaged …

We then set sail from La Rochelle upon the 14th of July … we came into violent collision with the French frigate Ceres, she did us considerable damage. Sickness broke out among our crew … I had a violent fever with intense paroxysms and delirium … I had been ill for twelve days when we encountered by night a vessel of 74 guns which we were obliged to fight. We had a score of men killed … A week after our battle, we arrived off the coast of America, at the mouth of the Delaware … at daybreak we sighted an English squadron of seven men of war bearing down upon us under full canvas. We were forced to raise anchor and enter the river without pilots … M. de la Touche sailed two leagues farther up the channel, then seeing that no hope remained, decided to put ashore the packages from the court, the money, and passengers.

We were put ashore about a league from the nearest habitation, without having brought away so much as a shirt a piece.   I was still in a fever, I could barely stand, and I should never have been able to reach a house had it not been for a powerful negro who gave me his arm. As soon as we had put our money in a safe place, I made my way slowly towards Philadelphia … the French and American doctors were agreed in their opinion that I must die before the end of the autumn. The doctors had declared that it was impossible that I should think of joining the army, then M. de Rochambeau sent one of his aides-de-camp with letters for the Chevalier de la Luzerne, and wrote bidding me do everything in my power to come to camp as he had matters of the greatest importance to communicate to me. I made up my mind without consulting anyone. I mounted a horse and rode to camp, death being no worse on the road than in Philadelphia. The ride did me good. I was already much better when I arrived at Headquarters.

     … My health returned. I wished for nothing now but letters, and we received none. [35]

That fall, Von Closen wrote, “Everyone is preparing to depart … We are leaving in North America the siege artillery, as well as the sick and the detachment of 400 men in Baltimore, commanded by M. de la Valette, Lieutenant Colonel of Saintonge and Brigadier. He will be subordinate of M le Duc de Lauzun who is to remain in Wilmington [Delaware] with his legion.”[36]

Lauzun reported, “The inhabitants of Wilmington appear willing to deliver us by being disposed to do everything that suits us. But it will be necessary to completely build our quarters and this expense, we know from the reconnaissance of M. Collot, will cost around 800 dollars.” The minutes of the Trustees of Wilmington Academy show: “Duc de Lauzun, commanding officer of the King of France’s troops in the service of America has fixed upon our school house as a barrack for those troops the ensuing winter.” [37] Stables to hold 281 horses were built at the expense of the King of France at 8th and King Street near French Street. On December 24, 1782, more than 600 men and 281 horses arrived in Delaware, staying with Wilmington families paid to house them.   Finally, on May 11, 1783, their horses sold at auction, Lauzun’s Legion left for home.[38]

Ten years later, on December 31, 1793, Lauzun was guillotined. Although he had supported the French Revolution, he was accused as a nobleman sympathetic to the royalists. The story is told that his executioner interrupted Lauzun’s last meal. “You don’t mind if I finish my oysters?” asked Lauzun, politely offering the executioner a glass of wine. “Your business must make you thirsty.” The executioner obliged and, it is said, the two men spent a pleasant half-hour together before getting on with the day’s work.[39]


Special thanks to W3R’s Bob Selig for his many years of good and careful studies of Lauzun and the French troops of the American Revolution.

[1] Hans Axel von Fersen to his father, October 16, 1780, in Newport, R.I., Diary and Correspondence of Count Axel Fersen (Memphis, TN: General Books LLC).

[2] Arnold Whitridge, Rochambeau: America’s Neglected Founding Father (New York: Collier Books, 1965), 194.

[3] Lee Kennett, French Forces in America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977), chapter 1.

[4] Jean François Louis Clermont-Crèvecœur, “Journal,” in The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army, edited by Howard C. Rice and Anne S. K. Brown (Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1972), 1:18.

[5] Armand Louis de Gontaut Biron, Duc de Lauzun, Memoirs of Lauzun, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff (New York, NY, Brentanos, 1928), 191-193.

[6] Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Moitier Lafayette, The Letters of Lafayette to Washington, edited by Louis Reichenthal Gottschalk (Philadelphia American Philosophical Society, 1976), 110.

[7] Richard M. Ketchum, Victory at Yorktown (New York, NY., Henry Holt and Co., 2004), 83.

[8] Lauzun, Memoirs, 194-195.

[9] François Jean Chastellux, Travels in North America (Classic Reprint, Forgotten Books ,2012), 297.

[10] Williams’ house was allotted to Lauzun’s second-in-command, Robert Dillon.  http://www.digplanet.com/wiki/William_Williams_House_(Lebanon,_Connecticut)

[11] The Writings of George Washington, Volume 22 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1937), 293-294.

[12] Baron Ludwig Von Closen, The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen,

1780-1783 (Chapel Hill: University of South Carolina Press, published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, 1958), 90.

[13] Diaries of George Washington, Volume III, 1771-75, 1780-81, Donald Jackson, ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978), 390.

[14] Henry Dearborn, Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn 1775-1783, Lloyd A. Brown and Howard H. Peckham, editors (Chicago: Caxton Club, 1939), 213.

[15] William de Deux-Ponts, My Campaigns in America: A Journal Kept by Count William de Deux-Ponts, Samuel Abbott Green, ed. (Boston: J.K. Wiggin and Wm Parsons Lunt, 1868), 121-122.

[16] Lauzun, Memoirs, 204. Vioménil was Rochambeau’s second in command.

[17] Von Closen, Revolutionary Journal, 120.

[18] Lauzun, Memoirs, 204

[19] Robert A. Selig, “The Duc de Lauzun and his Legion: Rochambeau’s Most Troublesome, Colorful Soldiers,” The Journal of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Vol. 21, No. 6 (December/January 2000), 56-63.

[20] Lauzun, Memoirs, 205-207.

[21] Deux-Ponts, My Campaigns in America, 137.

[22] Lauzun, Memoirs, 208.

[23] Marie François Joseph Maxime, Baron Cromot du Bourg, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, http://discover.hsp.org/Record/ead-Am.6360

[24] Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, Memoirs of the Marshal Count de Rochambeau, translated by M.W.E. Wright, Esq. (Paris: Belin and Co., 1838), 68.

[25] Captain Johan Ewald, Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal, Joseph P. Tustin, trans and ed. (New Haven, Yale University Press. 1979), 342.

[26] Rochambeau, Memoirs, 74.

[27] Lauzun, Memoirs, 208. Charlus, (1756-1842), second-in-command of the Saintonge Regiment, was the son of the French Minister of the Navy.

[28] The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army, 63 n127.

[29] Gérard-Antoine Massoni, “Claude Hugau (1741-1820), Vivax Hussar,” (Tarbes, no 24, 1994), 79-96.

[30] Lauzun, Memoirs, 209.

[31] Ketchum, Victory at Yorktown, 258.

[32] Fersen, Diary and Correspondence, 18.

[33] Clermont-Crevecoeur, “Journal,” 71-72.

[34] Von Closen, Revolutionary Journal, 216.

[35] Lauzun, Memoirs, 214-21.

[36] Von Closen, Revolutionary Journal, 270.

[37] Manuscript folder 4, Schools, Wilmington Academy. Delaware Historcal Society, Wilmington, DE.

[38] Robert Selig and Daniel Griffith, Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route in the State 1781-1783 (Delaware Society Sons of the Amerixan Revolution and State of Delaware, 2003), 123-139. http://history.delaware.gov/pdfs/SeligWRRR_2.pdf

[39] Whitridge, Rochambeau: America’s Neglected Founding Father, 303.

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