General Jan Henryk Dąbrowski

Jan Henryk Dąbrowski
Polish général de division who served with the French army from 1796 to 1814

Born: August 29, 1755

Place of Birth: Pierzchów, Poland

Died: July 6, 1818

Place of Death: Winna Góra, Poland

Arc de Triomphe: DOMBROWSKY on the south pillar


The son of a colonel who served in the military of Saxony, Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, known as Jean Henri Dombrowski to the French, began his military career in the Saxon military like his father. After serving with a regiment of uhlans and later as an aide-de-camp, he joined the guard of the Elector of Saxony. In 1791 Dombrowski left Saxon service and entered the Polish military as a colonel. Troubles followed though as in 1793 he was denounced by his enemies who claimed he was promoting intrigues with the pro-Russian party. Arrested by the government, he was taken to Warsaw but absolved of the charges and returned to active duty. The next year he was promoted to lieutenant general and he served under Kosciuszko and fought against the Prussians at Labiszin and Rydgocszy. In 1795 he was taken prisoner by General Suvarov but was well treated and later that year he was released.

Once free, Dombrowski traveled to Cologne and in 1796 he was authorized by the French to serve as a volunteer in the staff of the Army of the Sambre and Meuse. After also raising a Polish legion to serve France, in December he traveled to Italy where he took command of the 1st and 2nd Polish legions of the Army of Italy. After serving in Delmas' and Baraguey d'Hilliers' divisions, he took command of the auxiliary troops of the Cisalpine Republic in late 1798. In early 1799 Dombrowski took command of the Polish legion in the Army of Naples with which he occupied Pontremoli, Massa, and Carrare. At the Battle of the Trebbia in June of that year he was wounded, and two months later he served in the right wing of the Army of Italy under Gouvion St. Cyr and distinguished himself at Novi . Finishing the year out with more fighting, Dombrowski went on to fight at Bosco and again at Novi. Awarded the rank of général de division in the French army, he commanded the Polish troops in Italy for the next few years. In February of 1802 Dombrowski officially entered the service of the Cisalpine Republic.

With the armies mobilized for war in 1805, Dombrowski commanded the camp of Montechiaro in Italy until December of that year when he took command of a division and fell under the overall command of the Viceroy Eugene de Beauharnais. After participating in the blockade of Venice, he took command of a division in the Army of Naples. In August of 1806 Dombrowski was named commander of the province of Pescara, but the next month he joined the Grande Armée preparing for war with Prussia in Germany. Raising another Polish legion, this time at Posen, he led it into action in February of 1807 at Dirschau where he was wounded but victorious. In May Dombrowski led his men at the Siege of Danzig as part of Marshal Mortier's VIII Corps, and then he and his men took part in the Battle of Friedland.

With the creation of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw after the Treaty of Tilsit, General Dombrowski entered the service of the newly created duchy. During a formal ceremony where the officers were being presented to the King and Queen of Saxony, Dombrowski participated by introducing each of the Polish officers to the king and queen. As he stepped forward and back, saluting and introducing each of his officers, one of his spurs caught the queen's dress and he fell, ripping her dress in the process. All present attempted to continue standing at attention until the king burst out laughing, then the queen, then everyone else, and finally Dombrowski began laughing too.1

In 1809 Dombrowski took command of a division in the Polish corps under General Poniatowski, taking part in the campaign in Poland of that year. For the next two years he commanded the 2nd military division. Preparing for the war with Russia in 1812, Dombrowski took command of the 17th Division in Poniatowski's V Corps and during the campaign he was charged with blocking Bobruisk and covering the right flank of the army to Minsk and Mohilew. During the retreat that followed, Dombrowski successfully captured a bridge over the Berezina River at Borisov. Unfortunately, despite his fierce attempts to hold the bridge against Russian attacks, he was so badly outnumbered that he was forced to give it up, enabling the Russians to destroy the bridge. This was a disaster for the Grande Armée, now unable to cross the river and escape the pursuing Russians, but the disaster was negated by General Corbineau's timely discovery of a ford over the river. Dombrowski then took part in the Battle of the Berezina where he was wounded.

March of 1813 saw Dombrowski commanding a Polish division and ordered to defend Wittenberg. Throughout the fighting of 1813 he commanded a Polish division under different commanders and he also fought at Magdeburg. Serving at the Battle of Leipzig in October, Dombrowski took command of VIII Corps after Marshal Poniatowski's death. Charged with the defense of Compiègne in February of 1814, after Napoleon's abdication in April he returned to Poland where Tsar Alexander placed him as commander of Polish cavalry until his retirement in 1816. Over the course of his career he received many awards, including being named a Commander of the Legion of Honor, receiving the Grand Cord of the White Eagle of Poland, being named a Commander of the Order of the Iron Crown and a Knight of the Orders of Saint Wladimir and Saint Anne of Russia.



Updated March 2023

© Nathan D. Jensen