Tronson du Coudray, Philippe Charles Jean Baptiste

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Tronson du Coudray, Philippe Charles Jean Baptiste

TRONSON DU COUDRAY, PHILIPPE CHARLES JEAN BAPTISTE. (1738–1777). Continental general. France. Born in Reims, he became an artillery lieutenant in 1760 and a captain in 1766. On 14 September 1768 he was promoted to chef de brigade. His brother, Alexandre, was lawyer to Marie Antoinette. He tutored the king's brothers, the comte d'Artois and the duc de Chartres, in the art of war and was technical adviser to several ministers of war, including Saint Germain. He was also a prolific writer. Selected to cull the arsenals for matériel that might be sent covertly to America without impairing French combat effectiveness, he worked with the great Gribeauval, whose new system of artillery had just been adopted in France. He also supervised the selection of artillery and engineer officers who would go to America as technical advisers. Gribeauval, Beaumarchais, and Silas Deane were impressed not only by his zeal and professional competence but also by his spirit of cooperation. On 11 September 1776 Deane signed an agreement that du Coudray would accompany a shipment of officers, men, and matériel to America and would then be commissioned major general with the title of general of artillery and ordinance, and that he would have "the direction of whatever relates to the Artillery and Corps of Engineers."

Du Coudray reached America in May 1777. Although Deane had exceeded his authority, Congress had to treat du Coudray with respect for fear of alienating powers near the French throne. John Adams expressed the quandary in two letters of June 1777. To Nathanael Greene, he swore that a foreigner such as du Coudray "shall never have my consent to be at the head of the artillery." Yet to James Warren he wrote, "His interest is so great and so near the throne, that it would be impolitick not to avail ourselves of him." Greene, Knox, and Sullivan threatened Congress in a letter read on 5 July that they would resign if du Coudray were made senior to them. Congress responded on 7 July by denouncing their threats as an "invasion of the liberties of the people." Four other French engineers who had arrived before him—Duportail, Gouvion, Laumoy, and La Radière—complained that he was not even in the French Royal Corps of Engineers. On 11 August, Congress voted a solution that at least satisfied the disgruntled American generals. They made du Coudray a major general "of the staff," as they later did with Conway, so he had no command authority over the major generals "of the line." Instead, they declared him inspector general of ordnance and military manufactories. Congress still had contrived nothing more than an interim solution, but the problem soon resolved itself. On 15 September 1777, he rode his horse onto the Schuylkill Ferry; the horse was spooked and rode out the other end and into the river. Du Coudray was drowned. He was buried that afternoon in Philadelphia.

SEE ALSO Adams, John; Beaumarchais and the American Revolution; Conway, Thomas; Deane, Silas; Duportail; Gouvion, Jean Baptiste; Greene, Nathanael; Laumoy, Jean Baptiste Joseph, Chevalier de.


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                            revised by Robert Rhodes Crout