He entered the army in 1817, and after ten years of garrison service, which he varied by gambling and wild courses, he still held only the lowest commissioned grade. He then resigned, led a life of adventure in several lands and returned to the army at thirty as a sub-lieutenant. He took part in the suppression of the Vendée émeute, and was for a time on General (Marshal) Bugeaud's staff. But his debts and the scandals of his private life compelled him to go to Algeria as a captain in the Foreign Legion. There he distinguished himself on numerous occasions, and after twelve years had risen to the rank of maréchal de camp.
In 1848 he was placed at the head of a brigade during the revolution in Paris. On his return to Africa, it is said because Louis Napoleon considered him suitable to be the military head of a coup d'état, an expedition was made into Little Kabylia, in which St. Arnaud showed his prowess as a commander-in-chief and provided his superiors with the pretext for bringing him home as a general of division (July 1851).
He succeeded Marshal Magnan as minister of war and superintended the military operations of the coup d'état of December 2, 1851, which placed Napoleon III on the throne. A year later he was made marshal of France and a senator, remaining at the head of the war office till 1854, when he set out to command the French in the Crimea, his British colleague being Lord Raglan. He died on board ship on the 29th of September, 1854, shortly after commanding at the battle of the Alma. His body was conveyed to France and buried in the Invalides.
See Lettres du Maréchal de Saint Arnaud (Paris, 1855; 2nd edition with memoir by Sainte-Beuve, 1858).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.