Local history: General ‘Kilmaine’ served in France, Senegal and America
By Tom Gillespie
GENERAL Charles Edward Saul Jennings, sometimes romanticised as Brave Kilmaine, was an Irish soldier and revolutionary who served France in the 18th century. He was committed to the cause of Irish independence and an active supporter of the French Revolution.
Jennings is known to have been an associate of Theobald Wolfe Tone and served as a brigade and division commander under Napoleon I.
Jennings served in the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary Wars.
He played a minor role in the Irish independence movement. Jennings was known for his personal reserve and as one of the most charismatic Irish generals of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period.
Though he was not ennobled, he is sometimes referred to as de Kilmaine and Baron de Kilmaine in reference to the Jennings' ancestral home in Kilmaine on the Mayo-Galway border.
He was one of the military advisors to General Humbert in planning the 1798 Rebellion and the landing of French troops at Kilcummin and the routing of the British in the ‘Races of Castlebar’.
Jennings, according to Wikipedia, was born on October 19, 1751, at Saul's Court, Temple Bar, Dublin. His father, Dr. Theobald Jennings, of Polaniran (Ironpool), Tuam, was a prominent physician who married a cousin, Eleanor Saul, daughter of Laurence Saul, a wealthy Dublin distiller.
In 1738, Dr. Jennings and Eleanor left Ireland and settled in Tonnay-Charente in south-west France. In 1751, when Eleanor became pregnant, she left France for Dublin in order that her child might be born in Ireland. Jennings spent his early boyhood in Saul's Court with his relatives. When he was 11 years old, he left Ireland and joined his father in France. Jennings was educated in Tonnay-Charente and quickly became proficient in French.
Jennings began his military career in 1764 at the age of 14 when he entered the Austrian army. After seven years' service as a junior officer in Austria, he entered the French Army in 1774.
In September 1778 Kilmaine was appointed adjutant of the Volontaires-étrangers de Lauzun (Lauzun's Legion), a mercenary unit owned and commanded by the Duc de Lauzun, Armand Louis de Gontaut. He served with this unit in Senegal in 1779 and in America under Rochambeau (1780 to ‘83), and remained after it was reorganised as a hussar regiment.
In 1780, Jennings was appointed sous-lieutenant of Lauzun's Legion. He served under Rochambeau and the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolutionary Wars. He was deeply affected by his experiences in America. This, combined with the impressions made upon him during his youth in Ireland and the teachings of his father, caused Jennings to imbibe strongly the revolutionary ideals of the era. He developed strong republican principles and upon his return to France he became an energetic supporter of the French Revolution.
In 1786, he was awarded the title lieutenant in command, and took control of the regiment of Hussard of Duc de Lauzun. Two years later he attained the rank of captain. A growing military reputation brought him further promotion to chef d'escadron.
On March 21, 1791, seven months shy of his 40th birthday, he honourably retired from the army, was given the title of Baron and took the civic oath, sworn by all persons as a pre-condition for French citizenship. This was especially important leading up to and during the French revolution, particularly among foreigners and nobility.
For almost a year he pursued family life and philanthropic interests. In 1792, by personal invitation of Gilber du Motier, Marquis de Lafayett, Jennings rejoined the French Army when war broke out between France and monarchic Europe.
Reinstated as a chef d’escadron, Jennings served in the French Revolutionary Wars. He was a Corps Commander under Charles Francois Dumouriez and Lafayette. He performed with great valour at the Battle of Valmy in September 1792, when a unit of hussars under his command saved a whole French division from annihilation.
In November 1792 at the Battle of Jemappes, he fought with remarkable bravery. When that battle seemed lost, Kilmaine and the Duke of Chartres (Louis Philippe) turned apparent defeat into victory. On the field he was raised to the rank of Chief Colonel, and from that day was ever afterwards known as ‘le brillant et courageux Kilmaine’.
Kilmaine continued to serve with the Army of the North, and proved to be one of its ablest officers. Following the victory at Jemappes, the Army of the North comprised 48 infantry battalions and 3,200 cavalrymen.
By December, 1792, thanks to the neglect of the Revolutionary Government, these troops were shirtless, shoeless, starving and in rags. Fifteen hundred men deserted. Kilmaine's cavalry were critically short of boots, saddles, weapons and horses.
Nearly 6,000 troop and baggage horses died at Lisle and Tongres for want of forage. Honourable testimony has been given to the unceasing efforts of Kilmaine to preserve order among his soldiers amid these horrors. He frequently endeavoured by private contribution to provide subsistence for his men, who roved about in bands, robbing the villages around their cantonments at Aix-la-Chapelle.
Many of Kilmaine's soldiers were murdered by vengeful peasants when found straggling alone away from their billets. Kilmaine was named general of brigade on March 8, 1793.
After the defection and flight of Dumouriez in April 1793, Kilmaine adhered to the National Convention, and was rewarded with a promotion to general of division on May 15, 1793. He now redoubled his energies to restore order in the army, which by the defection of its leader was almost disbanded. Auguste Marie Henri Picot de Dampierre took command. He was so ably seconded by Kilmaine that within one month after he assumed command discipline was completely restored.
Kilmaine commanded Dampierre's advance-guard in the campaign against the allied powers after the failure of the Congress of Antwerp on April 8, 1793. Dispatches testified to Kilmaine's gallantry during the ‘murderous affairs of the 1st and 2nd May’ in which, according to the official report, he had two chargers killed from under him as he managed to fight off a determined attack.
Six days of incessant skirmishing followed. Kilmaine displayed extraordinary valour on May 8 during the Battle of Raisnes, fought by Dampierre to deliver Condé-sur-I’Escaut. The French were defeated with heavy losses. Dampierre was slain, and Kilmaine was ordered to fight a rearguard action to cover the retreat. The infuriated and disorderly army fell back to the barrier town of Condé, which was at that time under the nominal lordship of the unfortunate Duke d’Enghien.
Francois Joseph Drouot de Lamarche succeeded Dampierre and sent Kilmaine with his division to the Army of Ardennes. He remained there only a short time before being recalled to the main army, which he found in the most critical circumstances.
The fall of de Dampierre and the arrest of Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine, acted fatally on the Army of the North. It was now reduced to about 30,000 rank and file soldiers. These men remained in a disorderly state, without a proper chief, and without aim or object. The Army's manoeuvrings were committed to chance or directed by ignorance, for, with the exception of Kilmaine, its leaders were destitute of skill, experience, and energy. Quitting the camp of Caesar, they returned to their fortified position at Famars, three miles distant from Valenciennes, the approach to which it covered. Here they were attacked on 23 May, driven back, and obliged to abandon the city to its own garrison under Jean Henri Becays Ferrand.