Biography and History

Louis-Alexandre Berthier (1753-1815), one of the four sons of Jean-Baptiste Berthier, was born in Versailles, where his father was in charge of the Royal Map Service. He entered the army as a young man; in 1777, at the age of twenty-four, he attained the rank of captain. In 1780 he asked to be assigned to Rochambeau's army which was preparing to leave for America, and was offered a place on the staff of Count de Saint-Maisme who commanded the Soissonais regiment. Through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings (related in the journal in the Princeton Library), Berthier did not leave with Rochambeau's army when it sailed from Brest in May 1780, but proceeded to America via the West Indies and finally joined up with the army at Newport, Rhode Island, on September 30, 1780.

In January 1781, Captain Berthier was assigned to the staff of General Rochambeau, as "aide maréchal général des logis surnuméraire." In this capacity he accompanied the army in 1781 on its march to Yorktown, and in 1782 on its return march to Boston, and thence to the West Indies, before returning to France. In all, Berthier was in the United States from September 30, 1780, until December 24, 1782.

After his return to France, Berthier was sent on a military mission to Prussia in 1783. (The Journal of this mission is among the manuscripts at Princeton.) He continued to be employed in staff posts, and to earn regular promotions. When the French Revolution came he again saw active service in the field. In 1796 he accompanied General Bonaparte in the Italian campaign, as chief of staff of the army. Henceforth, his fortunes were linked to those of Bonaparte. Berthier participated in the coup d'état of the 18th Brumaire (1799) which established the Consulate, and received the post of Minister of War. Soon after Bonaparte became Emperor Napolean I, in 1804, he chose Berthier as one of the eighteen army officers to be named Marshal of the Empire. Subsequently, Berthier acquired other titles: Duke of Valangin, Price of Neufchâtel, Prince of Wagram. Marshal Berthier was with Napolean in the campaigns of Austerlitz, Jena, and Friedland; he was in the Peninsular Campaign (1808), the Austrian Campaign (1809), in Russia (1812), Germany (1813), and France (1814). In 1814 he abandoned Napoleon, and died the following year, on June 1, 1815, at Bamberg.

Source: From the finding aid for C0022

  • Louis-Alexandre Berthier Collection. 1780-1783 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0022

    The collection consists primarily of a set of handcolored, topographical, manuscript maps (111 of them), created by Louis-Alexandre Berthier, an officer on General Rochambeau's staff, depicting the historic overland march of the French and American forces from Philipsburg, New York, to Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781 and their return march to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1782. Accompanying these maps is Berthier’s journal (in French), providing a detailed description and explanation of the routes covered by the maps. In addition, there are documents and memoranda concerning French military events in America, Berthier’s departure from France in 1780, and his return to France via the West Indies in 1782-1783.

  • Howard C. Rice Papers. 1965-1975 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0519

    Consists of papers relating to the preparation of The American Campaigns of Rochambeau's Army, 1780-1783 (1972), which was translated and edited by Princeton's Rare Books and Special Collections librarian Howard C. Rice and Anne S. K. Brown.