Portrait of François Antoine Christophe Gérard in the uniform of a French colonel, bears the emblem of the officer of the Legion of Honor, the painter Jules DELAROCHE (Paris 1895 – Versailles 1849)

 

General François-Antoine-Christophe Gérard was born on July 25, 1786 in Nancy, France. His father’s name was François Gérard and his mother was Marie Elisabeth Gabriel.

He served in the French Army, where he enlisted as a volunteer on October 5, 1804, in the 62nd Infantry Regiment. In 1833 he became Brigadier General and in 1848 Lieutenant General.

During his career in France, he took part in sixteen military campaigns: in 1804 in the Cotes de l’Océan, in 1805 in Ulm and Austria, in 1806, 1807 and 1808, in Prussia and Poland. In 1809 he fought in Austria, in 1812 in Russia, in 1814 with the Great Army, and in 1815 in France.

From 1829 to 1831 he served in Greece. He was a strong and fearless fighter, who was wounded five times in action: on February 6, 1807 in Eyleau, on May 21, 1809 in Essling, on July 6, 1809 in Wagram, on August 18, 1812 in Polotsk, and on February 17, 1814 in Vangis. He was distinguished for his bravery in the battles at Nogent, Mormand, and especially at Polotsk and Soissons, where he served as guard at 1814 – 1815. During the Restoration in France, he remained under a semi-paid status for six years in his hometown and then he held various positions in the army as a commander of regiments.

In 1829 he arrived in Greece. Gérard was the nephew of the great French War Minister Etienne-Maurice, Earl Gérard, who, according to some scholars, secured him while in Greece, a strong power, even after the assassination of Kapodistrias. It is recalled that Count Gérard was a member of the Philhellenic Committee of Paris and that he had actively supported the Greek War for liberation.

Etienne Maurice Gérard, first Earl Gérard (1773 – 1852), French General, politician and Marshal of France. Uncle of François Antoine Christophe Gérard.

This choice of Earl Gérard was followed and supported by his nephew. Indeed, thanks to the records of the French Police, we learn that François-Antoine-Christophe Gérard had travelled to Greece at the end of 1825, when he was still a captain, and stayed there for about nine months. He transported money and ammunition to support the Greek fighters. In his trip he was accompanied by Philhellenes volunteer fighters.

He went again to Greece in 1829 when he was a Colonel. This time he was charged by the King of France on a mission to assist Governor Kapodistrias, for the effective organization of the Regular Army, but also for the “regularization” of the irregular fighters. Governor Kapodistrias promoted him to a “Brigadier General”, and he took over, on November 21, 1829, the duties of Inspector General of the Regular Corps. The Commander of the Regular Corps was at that time another French Philhellene, General Trézel. General Gérard took over from him in September 1830 and was then appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Regular Army.

General Gérard also assisted actively, with the support of the French Government, Ioannis Kapodistrias in his attempt to achieve a complete “regularization” of the irregular troops. The last battle of the Greek War for Independence took place victoriously in Petra, in September 1829. After this battle, it was decided to replace the Chiliarchies of the irregular fighters (units of one thousand men), with twenty Light Battalions, consisting of four companies each. They were placed close to the northern boarders of the continental Greece.

Uniform of a Chiliarch of the Corps of irregular fighters, Archive of the Army General Staff.

At the same time, General Gérard submitted a proposal to the Governor for the establishment of a peculiar battalion, called the “Model Battalion”.

According to the historian Konstantinos Vakalopoulos, Gerard took advantage of a number of proposals which were submitted by Kassomoulis and other chieftains who had been left out of service due to the reorganization of the military.

In this context, the Light Battalions were founded to group these ex-irregular fighters. Kapodistrias asked General Gerard to evaluate all these plans. Gerard improved and expanded them and then he submitted a final plan to the Governor for approval. The central idea of ​​the plan was in line with the policy of the Governor for the “regularization” of the irregulars, and Gérard worked with great zeal for its success.

Uniform of a soldier of the Light Battalions, Archive of the Army General Staff.

Uniform of a soldier of the infantry of the Regular Corps, Archive of the Army General Staff.

Uniform of a Lieutenant of the infantry of the Regular Corps, Archive of the Army General Staff.

In this context, the Model Battalion, as it was called, would function as a model-battalion for the training of the soldiers and officers. This would assist to train the men of the Light Battalions to study the principles of the military service and financial management. The Model Battalion was enacted by decree on December 7, 1830, and it was initially formed by four and then by six companies, each of which included 80-100 men. The uniform of the men of the Model Battalion was the traditional Greek foustanela, which pleased the old warriors and impressed the public. Their armament consisted of a rifle with a bayonet and two cartridge boxes.

Uniform of a Lieutenant of the “Model” infantry battalion, Archive of the Army General Staff.

Uniform of a Sergeant of the “Model” infantry battalion, Archive of the Army General Staff.

The Training Company constituted the core of the Model Battalion. It was staffed by Army officers and non-commissioned officers. According to the relevant decision of the Military Secretariat, the Model Battalion was conceived to operate as a “model for the new Greek Army”.

Cadet of the Military school, Archive of the Army General Staff.

It was also decided that ten men from each regiment of the irregulars would be detached to the Model Battalion, as well as a number of officers and non-commissioned officers from the Regular Army battalions. General Gérard and the government hoped that through the parallel service of officers and soldiers of the Light Battalions with their colleagues from the Regular Corps, a spirit of solidarity and cooperation would be cultivated between the irregulars (and undisciplined) and the regular soldiers of the Greek Army. However, due to the reduced willingness of the soldiers of the Light Battalions to enlist in the Model Battalion, this effort did not have the expected results.

Uniform of a General of the Regular Army, Archive of the Army General Staff.

General Gérard worked diligently and with devotion to organise the Army in a professional manner, and to design and establish the Model Battalion, with the support of War Minister Panagiotis Rodios and Governor Kapodistrias himself. For this reason, they even called him “the father of the Model battalion”.

General Gérard attached considerable importance in his mission and this is confirmed by the fact that he maintained regularly personal correspondence with French politicians (the French Ambassador Rouen, the French Foreign Minister Prince de Polignac, the French Minister of War Earl de Bourmont). He presented to them the results of his actions in Greece regarding the organization of the Army and the “regularization” of the irregulars. It is clear from his correspondence that he was placed in charge of the Regular Corps in line with an “agreement” of April 1, 1832, between Governor Kapodistrias and General Maison, and that the mission assigned to him by the French government was to restructure the army and to “organise successfully the 20 Battalions of the Palikars (Greek irregulars)”.  This led to the design of the Light Battalions, as Gérard explained in one of his letters to Prince de Polignac.

In addition, despite the confrontation that certain French political figures had with the Greek Governor (for political reasons), General Gérard, as can be seen from his correspondence, always expressed a special appreciation for Kapodistrias. For example, he wrote to the Earl de Bourmont the following about him: “SE he always shows to me great respect and trust and I respond as best I can to this noble feeling on his part […]. The Governor speaks with so kind words and shows such abnegation that I could only admire him. His transition from the first to the second line, with devotion, is an act of patriotism, which is very rare nowadays, and it certainly doubles all its glory”.

Unfortunately, things in Greece took a turn for the worse when Governor Kapodistrias was assassinated. As pointed out by professor Veremis, during the preliminary investigation that followed the assassination of Governor Kapodistrias, it appeared that General Gérard and French Ambassador Rouen, tried to protect the assassin from the rage of the crowd. Due to this incident, Augustinos Kapodistrias requested the removal of Gérard.

On the other hand, General Gérard’s feelings, were not at all friendly towards the Governor’s brother, Augustinos Kapodistrias. Gérard considered that Augustinos Kapodistrias wanted to remove him from Greece and from the administration of the Regular Corps. The British historian George Finlay states that Augustinos actually managed to stop Gérard from exercising his duties. Following these events, Gérard submitted his resignation to Minister Rodios, signing his resignation as “Former General Director of the Regular Corps” and “Colonel in the service of France, sent by his Government to the Greek Government” (October 28 / November 9, 1831). On the same day, he sent a second letter in which all French officers serving in the Greek Army were asked to return to the headquarters of the French Army in Methoni. However, this evolution should be considered within its broader context.

An important number of French officers also left with General Gerard. Unfortunately, the significant efforts made by French officers to reorganize the Army in all areas, came to an abrupt end. The change in the political climate in France and the enthronement of Louis Philippe, did not allow them to continue.

After returning to France, in 1833 General Gérard left for Belgium where he commanded a brigade for six years. In 1839 he served in the city of Rouen, and in 1848 in Nantes as a division commander. In 1851 he was pensioned and retired to his tower in Orme-Guignard, where he was especially dear to the inhabitants, who called him “the good general”. Before he died, since he had no descendants, he funded the establishment of a school for girls and an institution for the sick.

During his long career, Gérard was awarded the Order of the Knight of the Legion of Honor on July 13, 1809, the medal of the Officer of the Legion of Honor on February 18, 1814, and the Order of the Knight of St. Louis on September 19, 1821, the medal of the Knight of the Battalion of Leopold (Belgium) on 15 December 1833 and the medal of the Commander of the Legion of Honor on 14 May 1834. The Greek state honored him with the Cross of the Brigadiers of the Order of the Redeemer on 19 June 1834. He also received the medal of the officer on 14 December 1837, and then the medal of the Commander of the Battalion on August 21, 1839, of Leopold, and finally, on June 4, 1850, he received the Order of the Senior Officer of the Legion of Honor. He died on December 22, 1856 at Orme-Guignard in Moisy at the age of 70.

The Greek Army evolved, relying on the values, principles and practices established by General Gerard and the Greek nation is grateful for his contribution.

 

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