The Death of General Lariboisière’s Son

General Jean-Ambroise Baston Lariboisière was in command of all of the artillery of the Grande Armée on the campaign.  His two sons, Honoré and Ferdinand were both with the army in Russia.  Honoré was one of his Aides-de-Camp while Ferdinand served as a lieutenant in the 1st company of the 1st squadron in the 1st Carabiniers-à-Cheval regiment.

General Lariboisiere and his son
By Antoine-Jean Gros
Musée de l’Armée

On the morning of the Battle of Borodino, Ferdinand’s unit rode past where General Lariboisière was positioned.  Father and son had a few moments to spend together, a scene that was captured in Antoine-Jean Gros‘ painting.

From the website “Although the painting sits squarely in a military context – Gros chooses to depict the moment as the young man passes by his father’s command post, just before charging off into the Battle of the Borodino, on 7 September, 1812 – this is just a pretext for what is in actual fact a very private moment of familial attachment. The worry on the two subjects’ faces is clear to see. The way in which the father clasps his son’s hand tight to his body is deeply moving, without ever becoming overly dramatic or mawkishly sentimental. Seated on a canon support, his medals pinned to his division general uniform, Lariboisière ceases in this moment to be the artillery officer thinking of the battle ahead. The plans of attack hang limply from his right hand. He is simply a father, with his son by his side, considering the unhappy fate that lies in store for them. Standing out from the background behind them and the clear sky above, Ferdinand, looking particularly dashing in his uniform, appears less fatalistic. But the left-hand side of the painting betrays the drama that is about to unfold: a dark, foreboding sky hangs over and the young man’s white steed awaits him, clasped by a carabineer officer. The terror in the horse’s eyes mirror the horror of the combat taking place all around them. ”

Charge of the Carabiniers
by Marck Churms

Ferdinand rode into battle where he was mortally wounded.  He lingered for five days.  Lt. Nicolas Louis Planat, an ADC of the general and friend of the general’s other son, Honoré, wrote, “Although I’d known him but slightly, I’d taken a great liking to him.  There was something gay, chivalrous and generous about him, which pleased everybody.  A charming young man, as frank and loyal as could be.  Truly born to the military estate, he’d just come from the pages.  I believe he was hardly eighteen years old.”

The headquarters staff prepared to leave Borodino on September 12.  General Lariboisière delayed leaving for a few hours to spend more time with his dying son.  Finally he had to leave and asked Planat to stay, “… until his last moment.  About 4 pm the poor young fellow, who’d been groaning from his wound ever since morning, began to rattle and suffer convulsive spasms that heralded his end.  Ferdinand then opened his eyes a moment, put one arm around my neck and, a moment afterwards, died.”

Planat informed the father,  “The general squeezed my hand and a few moments later left to rejoin the Emperor.”  Planat was entrusted with the funeral arrangements and, later that night, received a note from Honoré instructing him to preserve his brother’s heart.

“After allowing twenty-four hours to pass, Gudolle opened up the corpse and, in my presence, extracted the heart, for me a very terrible and dolorous spectacle. This heart was placed in a little beaker of spirits of wine…”

The body was placed in a coffin, “… nailed together by the workmen of the Engineer Corps.  In it I enclosed a scroll of strong paper, on which I’d written these words: ‘The body of Ferdinand Gaston de Lariboisière, lieutenant of Carabiniers, killed at the Battle of the Moscowa, Sept. 1812.  His father recommends his remains to the public piety.’  The funeral took place at nightfall, without any religious ceremony, we not having a priest with us.  A detachment of 25 gunners commanded by a lieutenant escorted the coffin.  To secure it from any profanation we’d dug a ditch in the old town wall, of Tartar construction, which was in ruins.  Enormous stone blocks had been displaced and were afterwards put back again on top of the coffin, with such are it was impossible to see what had been done.  Yet if I were to visit Mojaisk I could still point to the spot where Ferdinand is buried.”

Planat sent a lock of Ferdinand’s hair to his brother along with his heart and belongings.

General Lariboisière himself did not have much longer to live.  Although he survived the retreat, he died in Königsberg on December 21, 1812.  He is buried in the church of Les Invalides.  The general’s heart and that of his son are kept in the chapel at the Château de Monthorin in Louvigné-du-Désert (Brittany).

Sources: 1812: Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, by Paul Britten Austin, p. 325

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