Charles Jennings Kilmaine

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Kilmaine, Charles Jennings, a distinguished general in the French army, was born in Dublin in 1754. In his fifteenth year he went to France, and entered the cavalry regiment of Lauzun as a private. He served under Lafayette through the American War of Independence, distinguished himself in several engagements, and was appointed Sous-Lieutenant. He returned to France with strong republican principles. Upon the breaking out of the French Revolution he contributed largely by his influence and example to keep the men of his regiment true to their colours; while, as the principal officers left the country in large numbers, the way was opened for his rapid promotion, and he soon attained to the post of Chef d'Escadron. In this capacity he served through the first campaigns of the Revolution, and fought with remarkable bravery at Jemappes (6th November 1792).

In consequence of the neglect of the National Convention, his cavalry were for a time destitute of boots, saddles, carbines, pistols, and even sabres, the military chest was empty, and 6,000 horses were permitted to die of starvation. With other staff officers, he frequently supplemented out of his private means the miserable rations of his men, who with difficulty were prevented from deserting. After the defection of Dumouriez, Kilmaine adhered to the National Convention, and so ably seconded General Dampierre and the aroused energies of the country, that the army was quickly supplied with all necessaries, and discipline was re-established. He took a leading part in the engagements of the army of the north with the Allies; and escaped the fate of many of the leading commanders, only to be thrown into a Paris dungeon. By the influence of the more extreme revolutionary party, Kilmaine recovered his liberty after the fall of Robespierre. Without employment for a time, on the 22nd May 1795, he assisted General Pichegru in his defence of the National Convention against the faubourgs. He was appointed to the command of a division of the army of Italy, marched with Napoleon across the Alps, and shared in all his Italian victories. He conducted the operations of the siege of Mantua, which (gallantly defended by Wurmser) ultimately surrendered, 3rd February 1797, after a desperate resistance. In the spring of the following year he was appointed to command the centre of the army intended for the descent on the British Isles.

On St. Patrick's day he and the other Irish generals met at a great banquet in Paris, at which Thomas Paine and Napper Tandy were present. The Irish Republic was enthusiastically toasted, and every confidence expressed in the accomplishment of their most ardent desires for the emancipation of Ireland. There were 500 gunboats ready, and 300 transports were collected at Dunkirk to carry over the vast armament encamped on different parts of the French coast. By the end of the year, however, Napoleon turned the ambition of the Directory eastwards; and Tone's two descents upon the Irish coast failed miserably. In 1798 Kilmaine was appointed generalissimo of the army of Switzerland, but his rapidly failing health obliged him to resign the baton to Massena. Family sorrows and disappointments contributed to the break-up of his constitution, and he died in Paris, 15th December 1799, aged about 45.

Sources

34. Biographie Générale. 46 vols. Paris, 1855-'66. An interleaved copy, copiously noted by the late Dr. Thomas Fisher, Assistant Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin.

116. Dublin University Magazine (47). Dublin, 1833-'77.

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