This Month in Celtic History
by Stephen Paul DeVillo

January 2004


30 January 1793:   Charles Armand Tuffin, Marquis de la Rouerie, founder of the Association Bretonne, died.

A Breton aristocrat who distinguished himself in the struggle for American independence, Charles Armand Tuffin experienced a life of romantic adventure seldom found outside the pages of fiction.

As heir to a high-ranking title, Armand was enrolled at the age of ten in France’s elite Royal Horse Guards. Thriving in the life of a well-connected subaltern, Armand did the aristocratic thing by fighting in duels. Though dueling among young noblemen was generally winked at in the military culture of the day, Armand nevertheless managed to carry things too far when, in a duel over the attentions of a woman (an older woman and an opera singer, no less) he seriously wounded a favorite nephew of King Louis XVI. Barely dissuaded from tossing young Armand into the Bastille, Louis instead had him dismissed from the royal service.

Deprived of his occupation and now too notorious to show himself in polite society, Armand was living in a Trappist monastery when news came of the outbreak of the American Revolution. Securing a letter of recommendation to the Continental Congress from American envoy Silas Deane, Armand took ship and arrived in Chesapeake Bay in April 1776. To avoid capture by a British warship, he and his valet jumped overboard and swam ashore, and then walked the 100 or so miles to Philadelphia, where he volunteered his services to the American cause.

Amongst the many European adventurers and blowhards then bedeviling Congress, he found it difficult at first to be taken seriously, but eventually, under the democratic nom de guerre of Charles Armand, he was authorized to raise, at his own expense, a body of light infantry, and assumed command of a unit of German-speaking Pennsylvanians. Armand soon demonstrated his energy and creativity to an initially dubious George Washington. He won a series of small actions by having his German-speaking recruits fool the British into thinking they were their Hessian allies. This trick worked especially well at the battle of Short Hills, New Jersey on 26 June 1777 when he won a commendation for saving an American cannon from capture. Though this action cost thirty casualties from his eighty-man unit, Armand was not a reckless or profligate commander, as was shown later that year when he captured sixty Hessians at the cost on only one of his men.

Commissioned a Colonel, Armand fought alongside Count Casimir Pulaski at the battle of the Brandywine, and later served as Lafayette’s second-in-command. In 1778 he organized his own 450-man unit of cavalry and light infantry and spent most of that year skirmishing in the “neutral ground” known today as the Bronx.

When Pulaski was killed at the battle of Savannah in 1779 Armand took over his command, which became known as Armand’s Legion. He and his Legion fought under General Horatio Gates at the battle of Camden in August 1780, and after a brief visit home to Brittany he returned to the army in time for the Yorktown campaign. At Yorktown he joined Alexander Hamilton in the climatic assault on Redoubt Number 10. This successful attack forced the British to surrender, effectively ending the war and earning Armand a long sought-after promotion to Brigadier General.

Back home, the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 placed Armand in an awkward position. In America the noble-born Armand had been steadfast and sincere in his adherence to democratic principles, even dropping the use of his aristocratic name and title (unlike several other members of Washington’s staff.) Moreover, shortly before the fall of the Bastille he had been ready to remonstrate with King Louis on behalf of Breton national privileges, but by 1792 the deepening radicalism of the Parisian-dominated revolutionary government pushed him into the royalist opposition. With the revolutionary government sweeping away the last remnants of Breton national autonomy in the name of remaking France, Armand called on Bretons to recover their “ancient freedoms and ancient rights,” organized the Association Bretonne, and began preparations for an armed struggle.

As a key leader in the developing uprising in Brittany and the west of France that would become famous as the Vendee revolt (known in Brittany as the Chouannerie. see June 2004), Armand’s American experience in small unit tactics would have proven valuable, if not decisive, but Armand died of a heart attack on 30 January 1793. Legend has it that his seizure was brought on by the execution in Paris of Louis XVI, the same king who once had nearly ruined Armand’s life. Whether that is true or not, Armand eventually shared the king’s fate when his body was dug up and decapitated by vengeful French troops.

A public commemoration of Armand Tuffin de la Rouerie is held every third Sunday in May at Saint Denoual in Brittany by the organization Koun Breizh.

For more information on Brittany, see the Brittany Nation Page.

The stories in This Month in Celtic History are drawn from the over 1000 anniversaries of people and events from the histories of the six Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Mann in the 2004 Celtic Calendar, now available from the Celtic League American Branch.

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