Thomas Robert Bugeaud de la Piconnerie, Duke of Isly (1784-1849), was a French national hero as a result of his role in conquering Algeria.
Thomas Bugeaud was born in Limoges on Oct. 15, 1784, into a family of country squires who were later ruined by the Revolution of 1789. Growing up in rural France, he guarded his rustic manners and attachment to the land throughout his life. His education was cursory and prevented him from entering a military academy.
Bugeaud's army career nevertheless began in 1804, and he quickly rose in the ranks during Napoleon's Imperial wars. He participated in the difficult Spanish campaigns, in which he encountered widespread guerrilla warfare and became the foremost expert in counterinsurgency techniques on the European continent. Later he applied these lessons against Abd el-Kadir.
In 1831 Bugeaud was named marshal of the French army and also became the deputy from Dordogne. In 1834 he harshly repressed popular uprisings in Paris.
Although initially hostile to the conquest of Algeria, Bugeaud went there in 1836 and defeated Abd el-Kadir, the leader of Algerian resistance. This first African campaign was a military success, but by the Treaty of Tafna (1837), Bugeaud handed his adversary the sovereignty over the major portion of Algeria. Despite a scandal which erupted over secret financial clauses of this treaty, Bugeaud was named governor general of Algeria in 1840. Aided by his powerful Parisian friends, especially L. A. Thiers, Bugeaud established a veritable proconsulate over Algeria.
Militarily, Bugeaud imposed his conceptions of offensive warfare on the army. He trimmed heavy artillery from his contingents, adding to the mobility of his columns, and introduced the practice of burning the crops and the villages of all Algerians suspected of aiding Abd el-Kadir. Chased from his capital, Tagdempt, Abd el-Kadir took refuge in Morocco. His presence there provoked a war with France. Bugeaud defeated the Moroccan troops at the battle of Isly in 1844—a turning point in modern Moroccan history— after which he acquired the title Duke of Isly.
During the respite which Bugeaud gained when the defeated Moroccans evicted Abd el-Kadir and declared him an outlaw, the marshal repressed with ferocity a new insurrection in Algeria led by Bou Maza. Abd el-Kadir, profiting from this diversion, reappeared in western Algeria, only to be defeated for a last time in 1847. That same year Bugeaud, on his own authority, led a military campaign into the Kabylie mountains south of Algiers. Disillusioned at being reprimanded by the French government for this independent action, he demanded to be replaced.
During the Revolution of 1848 Bugeaud received from King Louis Philippe the command of the Parisian troops, but Bugeaud's presence did not stop the monarchy from falling. He died of cholera on June 18, 1849.
Further Reading on Thomas Robert Bugeaud de la Piconnerie
There is no book-length biography of Bugeaud in English, although there are several in French. Background studies that discuss Bugeaud include John P. T. Bury, France, 1814-1940 (1949; 4th ed. 1969), and John Plamenatz, The Revolutionary Movement in France, 1815-71 (1952).
Additional Biography Sources
Sullivan, Antony Thrall, Thomas-Robert Bugeaud, France and Algeria, 1784-1849: politics, power, and the good society, Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1983.