General Jean Baptiste Olivier

General who watched the Battle of Fleurus from the balloon and lost a leg at the Battle of the Trebbia

Born: December 25, 1765

Place of Birth: Strasbourg, Bas-Rhin, France

Died: September 27, 1813

Place of Death: Witternesse, France

Arc de Triomphe: OLIVIER on the north pillar


The son of a soldier in the regiment of Aquitaine, Jean Baptiste Olivier followed his father's footsteps and volunteered to join the regiment of Aquitaine in December of 1781. At the start of 1790 he obtained a leave and then in August of 1791 he joined the 4th Battalion of Volunteers of Moselle. Olivier was promoted to chef de bataillon in June of 1792 and he served with the Army of the Moselle. Receiving a promotion to général de brigade in September of 1793, he skipped the intermediary rank of chef de brigade. That November Olivier took command of a brigade and he served at Kaiserslautern. On December 1st he was suspended and arrested, accused of pillaging and looting. In April of 1794 Olivier returned to duty after having been judged and then in June of 1794 he joined Championnet's division in the Army of the North. Present at the Battle of Fleurus , Olivier had the distinction of watching the battle from the French balloon flying overhead. Next he joined the Army of the Sambre and Meuse when that army was formed and he served in Morlot's division. In October of 1795 Olivier joined Grenier's division and then in 1796 he was placed in charge of the cavalry of the advance guard. He won at Limburg and then on July 10th, 1796 he distinguished himself by defeating two Austrian squadrons and taking Grunselheim. Olivier next served at the combat of Burg Eberach and then at Giessen in September. In April of 1797 he took command of the 3rd Division of the corps of the center under General Grenier and he served at the crossing of the Rhine and Neuwied. Continuing to serve notably that April, Olivier attacked Heddesdorf and seized Wetzlar.

Olivier next served in the Army of Mainz, the Army of England, and then the Army of Italy. In early 1799 he was placed with the Army of Naples, promoted to général de division, and sent on an expedition to Calabria. That April Olivier evacuated Pouille, in May he won at San-Germano and seized Isola, and then in June he served at Modène. On the 19th of June he fought at the Battle of the Trebbia where he had a leg taken off by a ball. Olivier survived and was taken prisoner at Piacenza the next day.

Once returned to France, Olivier was named inspector of reviews in 1800 and then sent to serve in the Italian Republic. In 1803 he was named commander at Brescia, in 1804 he was named a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, and in 1805 he took command of the 20th military division. Olivier's next position came in 1809 when he took command of the 16th military division at Lille and then in August he was employed in the army assembled on the Scheldt. In September he took command of a division of the National Guard under Marshal Moncey, and then in November he returned to the 16th military division. Olivier was named a Knight of the Iron Crown that year and in 1811 he was named a Baron of the Empire.


Updated March 2018

© Nathan D. Jensen