General Jean-Martin Petit

General who led the 1st Grenadiers à Pied of the Old Guard in 1814 and 1815

Born: July 22, 1772

Place of Birth: Paris, Paris, France

Died: June 8, 1856

Place of Death: Paris, France

Arc de Triomphe: PETIT on the north pillar


Like many during the Revolution, Jean-Martin Petit enlisted as a volunteer, joining the 2nd Battalion of Volunteers of Paris in July of 1792. A month later he was serving as sergeant major and he and his men were then sent to the Army of the North. Petit served with the Army of the North for the next few years and he was wounded in May of 1793 near Saint-Amand. In April of 1794 he was promoted to lieutenant and then when the army was reorganized that summer he joined the Army of the Sambre and Meuse. In 1797 Petit was sent to the Army of Italy and the following year he joined the expedition to Egypt as an aide-de-camp to General Mireur. Shortly after arriving in Egypt, he received a promotion to capitaine and not long thereafter his general was killed. After the death of Mireur, Petit became an aide-de-camp to General Friant. He continued to serve in Egypt and in February of 1799 he fought at the combat of Aboumana where he was wounded by multiple saber blows. Petit remained in Egypt with the French army and he served at the Siege of Cairo in 1800 where he was wounded. He was later promoted to chef de bataillon in March of 1801.

After returning to France, Petit was sent to the Army of the Coasts in 1803. He served wtih the Grande Armée during the War of the Third Coalition and he was appointed a major of the 15th Light in August of 1806. In 1807 Petit was sent to Portugal and he served there in 1808, fighting at the combat of Evora. Petit received a promotion to colonel in September of 1808 but he did not take command of a regiment until March of 1809 when he took command of the 67th of the Line. Serving against Austria during the Danube campaign, Petit led his men as part of General Molitor's division and he fought at the Battle of Aspern-Essling . That July he also fought at the Battle of Wagram where he was wounded by the blast of a shell. After the conclusion of the campaign, Petit was named a Baron of the Empire.

Petit was next sent to Spain in 1810. He remained there for the next few years, serving under General Baraguey d'Hilliers in 1811 and under General Decaen in 1812. In 1813 he was promoted to général de brigade in the Army of Catalonia and he served in Lamarque's division. That November Petit was appointed a major in the 1st Grenadiers à Pied of the Imperial Guard and he returned to France to take part in the defense of France of 1814. During that campaign, he fought at Château-Thierry and Montereau in February. After Napoleon abdicated in April, Napoleon said farewell to the Old Guard at the chateau of Fontainebleau in a scene captured in a famous painting by Horace Vernet. Petit was embraced by Napoleon during the farewell.

With the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, Petit was named a major in the Royal Corps of Grenadiers of France. Nevertheless, when Napoleon escaped Elba, returning to France and resuming power for the Hundred Days, Petit rallied to him. Petit was appointed major colonel of the 1st Grenadiers à Pied of the Old Guard and he served under General Roguet in the Army of Belgium. Taking part in the Battle of Waterloo, after the battle was clearly lost he helped cover the retreat of the army. Petit was later put on non-activity after the Bourbons were once again restored to power by the Coalition powers.


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Updated March 2016

© Nathan D. Jensen