Count Theobald Dillon

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Dillon, Theobald, Count, son of the 11th Viscount, was born in Dublin about 1745. He joined the French army as a colonel of cavalry, was made Brigadier in 1780, and Marechal-de-Camp three years afterwards. He was sent to Flanders in 1792 when France declared war against Austria. While he commanded at Lille in April, General Dumouriez ordered him to march on Tournay with ten squadrons of horse, six battalions of infantry, and six pieces of artillery, to make a demonstration, but on no account provoke a conflict. In pursuance of these orders, he advanced slowly and with great precaution, having remarked among his soldiers some symptoms of insubordination. At Bessieux, on a road half way between the two towns, he perceived the enemy in superior numbers moving forward to give him battle. It was the first time for many years that the French and Austrians found themselves face to face. There was hesitation on both sides. The Austrians opened an artillery fire on the French troops without any effect. Dillon, true to his orders, directed a retreat, covering it with his cavalry. The infantry retired in good order; but the cavalry, notably those of the Queen's Regiment, attributing the movement to an understanding with the enemy, turned bridle, and threw themselves on the infantry, whom they bore down with cries of "Sauve qui peut: on nous trahit!"

Meanwhile the Austrians, far from pursuing, returned to Tournay, while the French, abandoning two of their pieces of artillery, and four caissons, fled precipitately to Lille, despite all Dillon's efforts to rally them. The men declared their officers had betrayed them, and massacred all without mercy. Dillon fell by a pistol bullet, and his body after being dragged about the streets, was burnt in a fire lit in the marketplace (29th April 1792). His murderers were afterwards executed, and by order of the Legislative Assembly the honours of the Pantheon were accorded to his memory, and a pension was granted to his children.

The regiment of Dillon had then been commanded by successive members of the same family for 101 years. At the French Revolution it was, like the other French regiments, deprived of its distinctive name, and numbered the 87th Regiment. His grandson, Count Theobald Dillon, died in Paris in June 1874. He was much interested in Irish affairs, and at his death was engaged upon a work on the Irish Brigades. Several other members of this branch of the family, born in France or England, have also distinguished themselves.


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.

186. Irish Brigades in the Service of France: John C. O'Callaghan. Glasgow, 1870.

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