The body of a Napoleon general identified in Russia, two hundred years after his death

The remains of General Charles Etienne Gudin La Sablonnière, killed near Smolensk in 1812, could be transferred to the Invalides.

Posted today at 18h33, updated at 19h19 Time to Reading 4 min.

Archaeologists search for the remains of the general based on historical sources to guess the location of his tomb.
Archaeologists search for the remains of the general based on historical sources to guess the location of his tomb. DENIS MAXIMOV / AFP

Dhe, Napoleon Bonaparte wrote that he "Was one of the most distinguished officers of the army; he was commendable for his moral qualities as much as for his bravery and intrepidity ". His superior, Marshal Davout, mourned his death. DNA analyzes have confirmed that a team of French-Russian archaeologists had found the remains of Empire General Charles Etienne Gudin La Sablonnière, ending a mystery more than two hundred years ago, reported Point, Monday, November 4th.

Charles Etienne Gudin of La Sablonnière had been mown on 19 August 1812 by a Russian cannonball at the Battle of Valoutina Gora, 20 kilometers east of Smolensk, a Russian city near the present border with Belarus. He had had his left leg amputated; Napoleon, who had entrusted him to the care of his personal physician, had visited him and had taken him in his arms just before he died of gangrene. His heart had been removed and stored in his grave in the Parisian cemetery of Père-Lachaise (40).e division), in Paris.

Research based on historical narratives

In May 2019, a team of French-Russian archaeologists undertakes research to find his body, which nobody knows then where he really is. Pierre Malinowski, president of the Foundation for the Development of French-Russian Historical Initiatives, is at the initiative of this quest. This historian and former French soldier is the former parliamentary assistant of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Aymeric Chauprade in Brussels.

Archaeologists search for the general based on historical sources. The team first followed a track, according to the memoirs of Marshal Davout, who had organized the funeral of his subordinate, in a fort near Smolensk. According to the marshal, a mausoleum had been formed by several barrels of cannon erected to the sky to support the roof. Rifles broken during the fighting had been placed in the shape of a star on the coffin. But this track is a dead end.

Deadly wound of General Gudin at the Battle of Valoutina Gora, by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux.
Deadly wound of General Gudin at the Battle of Valoutina Gora, by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux.

Archaeologists then travel 1 kilometer southeast to check the testimony of Count de Ségur, who had attended the funeral of General Gudin, and according to which the tomb was "In the citadel of Smolensk, to the right of the entrance".

1st July, under an old dance floor in a park, they finally fall on the debris of a wooden coffin. When the team opens the grave a few days later, its members discover a skeleton with the skull tilted to the left, resting on a wooden head support. Above all, the body has only one leg. "As soon as I saw a skeleton that had only one leg, I understood that it was our man", says the head of the team of archaeologists, Marina Nesterova.

Six round depressions in the ground are also visible around the tomb, evoking the traces of barrels of cannons of the mausoleum, mentioned by Marshal Davout. A few days later, an expertise of the bones in Moscow will confirm that "The remains are those of a man aged 40 to 45, missing a piece of tibia in his left leg".

On the physical plane, everything agrees, say during a press conference in the premises of the Russian Society of Military History Russian and French specialists including Christian Bourdeille, President of the Napoleonic Remembrance, historical research company established in Paris. To confirm his identity definitively, the DNA of the skeleton was then compared with that of members of his family: his brother Pierre César Gudin des Bardelières (1775-1855), also General of Empire, buried in Montargis (Loiret), and that of his mother.

"As soon as I saw a skeleton that had only one leg, I understood that it was our man," says the head of the team of archaeologists, Marina Nesterova.
"As soon as I saw a skeleton that had only one leg, I understood that it was our man," says the head of the team of archaeologists, Marina Nesterova. DENIS MAXIMOV / AFP

Hope for a ceremony at Les Invalides

Noble, Charles Etienne Gudin of La Sablonniere had made the choice of the Revolution, as the future emperor, whom he had met at the military college of Brienne and where they became friends. At the time of the death of the General, in August 1812, the French army was in full advance and nothing foreshadowed the disaster of the Russian campaign. With the capture of Smolensk on August 16, Napoleon opened the way to Moscow, 400 kilometers further east. But during the battle of Valoutina Gora, the Russian army escaped the trap of French troops, which allowed him to continue his retreat to Moscow.

Pierre Malinowski hopes that the general's corps will be repatriated and that an official ceremony will be organized in 2020 at the Invalides in the presence of the French and Russian Presidents. He does not hide the support of Vladimir Putin who, according to him, "Very much appreciated the project". The way for the Kremlin leader, by playing these good offices, to help restore the image of Moscow, in crisis with Western countries, at a time when French President Emmanuel Macron calls for "rethink (the) links with Russia ».

Our analysis : Macron assumes its Russian turn

At the end of August, Alberic d'Orléans, the descendant of General Gudin, had explained to Radio France that the general had "Always been very present in the memory of the family. Napoleon had even written a letter of condolence to the general's wife, something he rarely did.. Napoleon had granted his widow a pension of 12,000 francs and an endowment of 4,000 francs for each of his children with the title of baron. Alberic d'Orleans added: "We hope he can be welcomed in France with the honors he deserves and get his burial at the Invalides. "

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