Lazare Nicolas Marguerite Carnot

Lazare Nicolas Marguerite Carnot


Lazare Nicolas Marguerite Carnot, the “Organizer of Victory’’ for the French Revolution, became a lieutenant in the French engineering corps in 1774. He rose to captain and joined the Academy of Arras in 1787. There he studied military science and engi¬ neering. Having a special interest in fortifica¬ tions, he devoured the writings of Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban (see no.54).

Carnot became an ardent patriot at the start of the French Revolution. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1791 and then to the more radical National Convention in 1792. In January 1793, he was one of the delegates who voted to put King Louis XVI to death.

Austrian and Prussian forces entered the country and came close to capturing the heart of France during the summer of 1793.Responding to the emer¬ gency, the Committee of Public Safety was formed.

Although it is best known for its indiscrimi¬ nate use of the guillotine, the committee also ran the war effort. Carnot held a prominent place on the committee; by the end of the year he had become the equivalent of both the secretary of defense and minister of prop¬ aganda.

Carnot spared no effort to win the war. He called lor the Levee en masse. Issued on August 23, 1793, the new law required all french citizens to contribute to the war effort. By the end of the year, Carnot’s troops were winning battles on all fronts. Known as the Wars of the French Revolution, Carnot won

three of the four major campaigns he waged that year: the Battle of Hondschoote, the Battle of Wattignies and the Third Battle of Toulon. The latter followed defeat at the Battle of Neerwinden and lasted from mid- March until mid-December.

They went on the offensive in 1794 and conquered the Netherlands. One of the main reasons for their success was Carnot’s strategy. He called for the French army to move in divisions rather than as an entire army. As a result, the French troops traveled more quickly than their foes, and then could concentrate and fight together as one when the situation called for it.

When the Committee of Public Safety fell from power because of its extreme meth¬ ods, Carnot escaped punish¬ ment. He pointed to his record, which demonstrated he had been the indispensa¬ ble leader needed to save the Revolution from its foreign foes.

He served as one of the five directors in the Directory government (1795-1799), and then occupied the post of minister of war for Napoleon (see no. 67). Carnot quarreled with Napoleon and resigned the position. (Napoleon was the young artillery captain credited for France’s victory at Toulon.)

When France was threatened by invasion in 1814, he volunteered to serve and led the defense of the city of Antwerp. When Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815,

Carnot was exiled from the country because of his status as a regicide (“king killer ”). He died in Magdeburg, Prussia, one of the for¬ gotten heroes of Revolutionary France.