General Simon Bernard

Simon Bernard
Engineering officer and aide-de-camp to Napoleon who later served in the United States Army

Born: April 22, 1779

Place of Birth: Dôle, Jura, France

Died: November 5, 1839

Place of Death: Paris, France


Studying to be an engineer, Simon Bernard first entered the Central School of Public Works and then the École Polytechnique. At the end of 1796 he was commissioned as a sous-lieutenant and sent to the engineering school of Metz. A year later he graduated as a lieutenant and joined the army. In 1799 Lieutenant Bernard served in the Army of the Rhine and at the Siege of Philipsburg, and he was later wounded when a ball shattered his left arm under the walls of Mannheim. In the year 1800 Bernard joined the advance guard of the Army of the Reserve and received a promotion to capitaine. Serving in General Watrin's division during the campaign in Italy, he was the first up the walls during the assault on Invrée in May, and then he was at the front during the attack on the bridge of Romano and at the Battle of Montebello. Staying in Italy, Bernard served at the crossing of the Mincio that December where he wounded in the knee.

In 1801 Bernard was first sent to Belle-Isle-en-Mer and he was later sent to direct the siege of Porto Ferrajo. With the Peace of Amiens suspending hostilities, he was next sent back to Italy in 1802 and then in 1803 he was sent to Geneva. In 1805 Bernard joined the staff of engineers at the camp of Boulogne and then when the Grande Armée moved against Austria he was sent deep into enemy territory to make a reconnaissance of Vienna. Completing his mission, he returned to the Grande Armée to report to Napoleon at Ulm and then continued the rest of the campaign with the army. That December Bernard was promoted to chef de bataillon. In 1806 he was sent to command the engineers at Palma-Nova and then he was employed in the Army of Dalmatia where he served against the Montenegrins. Bernard went on to help fortify Ragusa and he served at Castelnuovo.

In 1808 Bernard returned to France where he was named interim director of fortifications of Sarrelouis. The following year he was placed in charge of the engineers at Antwerp where he would remain for a few years. In 1812 Bernard was made a Knight of the Empire, and then in 1813 he was promoted to colonel and named an aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Serving in the campaigns in Germany of 1813, he fought at Lützen and Bautzen in May. That August Bernard was near Zittau when he fell from his horse and had his leg shattered. He was taken to Torgau where he helped defend the city until January of 1814. After the surrender of Torgau, Bernard took the news back to Napoleon. In March of 1814 he was recognized as a Baron of the Empire and promoted to général de brigade. After Napoleon's abdication, Bernard was named a Knight of Saint Louis by the restored Bourbons and then named director of engineers of Rochefort.

When Napoleon resumed power in 1815 for the Hundred Days, General Bernard rallied to him and resumed his position as an aide-de-camp to the Emperor. He also was named director of the topography cabinet and he was appointed to the commission that evaluated the promotions given out by the Bourbon government. Despite all these duties, Bernard served on the campaign that June as an aide-de-camp to Napoleon and he served at the Battle of Waterloo. After Napoleon abdicated for the second time, Bernard followed him to Rochefort and offered to accompany Napoleon into exile. He ended up not following Napoleon into exile and he was ordered by the Bourbon government to leave Paris and reside at Dôle.

In 1816 Bernard asked for and received permission to leave France and join the military of the United States. King Louis XVIII granted his consent to this request and Bernard set sail for the United States in September of 1816. After arriving in the United States, he was given the rank of brigadier general and he lent his engineering knowledge to the young nation. After the July Revolution of 1830 ended the reign of Charles X and brought Louis Philippe into power, Bernard left the United States and returned to France where he resumed his military career there.


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Updated August 2019

© Nathan D. Jensen