Biography of John Gaspard Le Marchant
John Gaspard Le Marchant was born on
9 February 1766 in Amiens. His father encouraged him to join the Army
despite his headmaster, Dr Morgan of King Edward's School, Bath describing
him as "the greatest dunce I ever met".
Joined the York Militia at sixteen and in 1784 spent four years in Gibraltar.
He was granted a lieutenancy in the 2nd Dragoon Guards by King George
III in October 1789.
On 29 October 1789 aged twenty-three, he married Mary Carey,
the daughter of a Guernsey neighbour. Over the years, during their periods apart,
they wrote to each other frequently.
In a letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Le Marchant to Mrs Le-Marchant
March 7, 1797
will see by the papers in what a prosperous state we are. The
funds at just below 49 and are expected to be lower. Some of
the principal banks in this part of the country have stopped
payment, and all credit has sunk along with them. Not a guinea
is to be seen anywhere; nothing but paper. It is expected that
Mr. Pitt will go out; yet what will that produce? If peace,
it must be such as will eventually ruin the country, and by
a perseverance in the war, what is to be hoped for? You can
have no idea of the dejection of the public mind: and I cannot
help so far participating in it, as to regret that we did not
make some small investment last year in the American funds.
It would have been a resource for our children. People here
are as much afraid of invasion, as you can be in Guernsey. I
do not expect to be above six weeks longer in England, as my
party will be conveyed from hence to Bath on coaches, in order
to save time, as our presence in Ireland (to teach the sword
exercise) General Dundas tells me, is much wanted.
Le Marchant commanded the cavalry squadron during the Flanders campaign
against the French (1793-94). Taking notice of comments made to him
by an Austrian Officer describing British Troopers swordplay as "reminiscent
of a farmer chopping wood", he designed a new light cavalry sword to
improve the British cavalryman's success. It was adopted by the Army
in 1797 and was used for over fifty years. Alongside this, he developed
a range of sword exercises and published a book - Rules and Regulations
for the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry. He was requested by Sir William
Fawcett, the Adjutant General to select another officer to take up the
task of instructing the exercises, to which he arranged the appointment
of his brother-in-law, Lieutenant Peter Carey
of the 16th Light Dragoons who had been his assistant in instructing
the Cavalry in Great Britain.
An example of sword exercises in use at the time can be found by clicking
King George III learnt all the exercises by heart and encouraged their
use within the Army. As a reward, Major Le Marchant was appointed as
a Lieutenant Colonel in the 7th Light Dragoons in 1797. His response
was to write a series of pamphlets on the duties of officers in order
to establish precise definitions of orders, rules and regulations. He
soon realised that the course for educating the officers in his own
regiment would spread no further in the Army without suitably trained
instructors. His vision was to educate officers at a central military
college and train them in the art of warfare. Despite many objections
and prejudices by existing powerful members of the establishment, he
gained the support of the Duke of York in establishing the Royal Military
College, later to become the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and the
Army Staff College.
In 1811, when nearing completion of this task, he was removed from
his post as Lieutenant Governor of the College by Lord Wellington to
command the heavy cavalry in the Peninsula. Appointed as Major General,
he arrived in Lisbon fifteen days after leaving Portsmouth. Within ten
days, he received the news that his wife, Mary had died giving birth
to their tenth child, Anne. Lord Wellington wrote on 11 September 1811,
offering him passage home, but Mary's brother Thomas
Carey had already made arrangements for the care of the children
and wrote to Major General Le Marchant urging him to stay with his command.
He accepted the offer gratefully and wrote to Lord Wellington expressing
his sense of duty:
15 Sept 1811
lose not a moment in acknowledging the receipt of your Lordship's
letter bearing date the 11th inst together with its enclosures;
and I beg leave to express the grateful sense which I entertain
your just goodness to me on the present melancholy occasion.
Nothing could be more kind and considerate than that HR. Highness
the Duke of York should have suggested the expediency of my
return to England with a view to settling my family and I should
have eagerly profited of the opportunity afforded me by your
Lordship's leave of absence had I not learnt by the last packet
that my children were placed under proper care. Yesterday's
post will have conveyed to your Lordship a request to withdraw
the application that I had previously made and I look forward
with satisfaction to the honour of serving under your Lordship's
The Final Battle
On 22nd July 1812, Lord Wellington and the Allied Army of 48,500
men and 60 cannon were situated at Salamanca, Spain against the
French Commander Marshal Marmont. Wellington had ordered his baggage
trains westwards to provide a covering force in the event of a
full scale retreat, however Marmont mistakenly took the movement
to be the retreat of the Army itself and ordered eight divisions
of Infantry and a cavalry division westwards in an attempt to
outflank the retreat. Wellington on seeing the enemy's army now
spread out over four miles and therefore losing it's positional
advantage, ordered the full attack. Le Marchant, at the head of
one thousand British cavalry rode at a gallop towards the surprised
French infantrymen, who had no time to form squares, and reduced
their numbers greatly. The Heavy Brigade had received thorough
training under Le Marchant and on reforming their lines charged
repeatedly, until five battalions of the French left wing had
been destroyed. After twenty minutes, in the final charge, Le
Marchant fell from his horse having received a fatal musket shot
and General Packenham who watched the attack later remarked "
the fellow died sabre in hand...giving the most princely example".
Two days later, he was buried, in his military cloak, near an
olive grove where he had fallen. Aged forty-six.