“The saint of Anjou” storms Saumur for a fourth Catholic victory in five days

January 3, 2011

Jacques Cathelineau, the "Saint of Anjou"

Cathelineau, from his elevated position on the heights near the castle, observed attentively the situation of the various corps engaged. The want of plan with which the eager peasants had rushed to the attack was now beginning to tell upon the fortunes of the day; and he saw that, if the assault was to be successful, Larochejacquelein must be assisted in his attempt on the camp in the Varin meadows. He consulted his colleagues and himself advanced to the point of attack. The republican general Coustard equally perceived the importance of that movement, and gave the order to two battalions to march to the succor of the camp. The soldiers refused to obey him; and while they were parleying, a Vendean battery arrived to block up the passage. “Charge that battery!” cried he to his cuirassiers. “Whither do you send us, general?” demanded Colonel Weissen. “To death,” replied Coustard; “the safety of the Republic demands it.” The cuirassiers charged; their shock was valiantly sustained, and almost the whole troop perished. The battery, however, was carried. But it was immediately abandoned, for the infantry refused to advance; and Weissen regained his division covered with wounds and without a follower.

Henri de La Rochejacquelein & La Vendée

Meanwhile Larochejacquelein had attacked the republican camp. Leaving seven hundred men with De Baugé to guard the bridge of St. Just in front of the camp, he had gone round to force an entrance on the rear. But Donissan bringing up a reinforcement of about six hundred men, he and De Beaugé attacked the position in front. They passed the ditch, broke down the wall beyond, and the post was carried. At the same time Larochejacquelein burst in on the other side. Taking off his cap, he threw it over the entrenchments, crying, “Who will go and get it for me?” and leaped in to get it for himself. A great number of his brave peasants poured in after him. The two assaults took place at the same moment, and the Vendeans had the misfortune to fire upon each other as they advanced from opposite quarters. The republicans, thus taken between a double fire, retreat in disorder into Saumur. Larochejacquelein and De Baugé, jumping on horseback, precipitate themselves upon their steps, and with three others penetrate into the streets. At the faubourgs they encounter a battalion from the castle, who, seeing the Vendeans, cast down their arms, and take refuge within its walls. Larochejacquelein and his gallant comrades continue their progress through the city, undeterred by the random shots which fly about their heads. At last they are rejoined by their soldiers, and by those of Lescure; for the town is now in the hands of the

Henri de La Rochejaquelein

besiegers, although the redoubts of Bournan and the castle still hold out. The mass of the republican army were seen escaping by the great bridge across the Loire, but the conflict was still going on between Marigny and his artillery and the Bournan redoubts. When night came, the Vendeans ceased from firing, intending to renew the attack in the morning. But during the darkness the post was evacuated; and on the morrow the garrison of the castle, which was fourteen hundred strong, capitulated. The republican army attempted no sort of order in its flight. The runaways dispersed on all sides, spreading the alarm, and might have fallen an easy prey to the victors, if they had followed in pursuit. But full of other thoughts, they ran to the churches, crying, Vive le Roi! Vive la religion Catholique!—the bells rang, and the men who before the battle had resigned their lives into the hands of God, now thanked Him for giving them the victory.

By the capture of Saumur, the Vendeans became masters of the passage of the Loire, and found themselves abundantly supplied with ammunition of all sorts—eighty pieces of cannon, thousands of muskets, powder, lead, saltpeter, and equipments. The spoils were all shut up in a church, which the Blues had turned into a magazine of artillery. The next morning Larochejacquelein was seen at a neighboring window buried in deep thought, with his eyes fixed on this church. An officer asked him what he was doing. “I am thinking,” he said, “of our success; and I am lost in astonishment—it is the hand of God!” There was not a common soldier in the whole insurgent army who did not share his sentiments. The prisoners taken in the five days, in the four victories of Vihiers, Doué, Montreuil, and Saumur, amounted to eleven thousand. The loss of the Vendeans in this last affair was sixty killed and four hundred wounded.

George J. Hill, The Story of the War in La Vendée and the Little Chouannerie (New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co. n.d.), pp. 51-53.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 37

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