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Capt. William Tone, U.S. Army
|Courtesy of Chuck Laverty|
William Theobald Wolfe Tone brought to his American military career an impressive record of campaigning under the legendary Murat, cavalry genius of the Napoleonic army.
|Read more about the life and times of Matilda and William Tone on The Wild Geese Today.
While William's father made the supreme sacrifice for Irish freedom in a Dublin gaol (the British had treated their French captives as military prisoners, but the Irish as rebels), few recall the sacrifice of the leader's brother, Matthew, who was hanged in Dublin just two months earlier, at Arbor Hill. Lord Cornwallis, whom George Washington treated as a gentleman at Yorktown in 1781, approved both verdicts -- quite apparently not learning the "rules of war" so respected by Washington.
William Tone, a young lieutenant, saw battle at Goldberg, Leipzig, Lutzen and other fields, ending his French military career at Waterloo. As did numerous Napoleonic veterans, Tone migrated to the United States, living in Washington. [Many of his French colleagues settled in New Orleans, where some joined General Andrew Jackson in the victory over the British in 1814.]
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Tone's insights into the modern employment of cavalry and artillery must have been eagerly sought by the armies of Jackson and Scott, whose numbers in the War of 1812-1814 were tiny by comparison with those of Europe.
Tone shared battle with the great figures of the Napoleonic Wars: the Little Corsican himself, Marshal Ney, Marshal Murat (the brother-in-law of Napoleon and King of Naples, under whom Tone served), Marshal Macdonald (who first entered French service in the Irish Legion, by now a mere shadow of the once-illustrious Irish Brigade), Grouchy, Bertrand, and St. Cyr -- all part of the Grand Armee, the French Army of the Elbe. He faced such foes as Blucher, Bulow, and Wellington.
Between them, these European formations assembled as many as 200,000 men on a dozen battlefields where staggering numbers of artillery pieces fired 150,000 to 200,000 rounds. At Leipzig (eight months before Waterloo), for example, Napoleon assembled 700 guns on the field, supporting 120,000 infantry and cavalry, opposed by 203,000 Austrians and Prussians.
For 22-year-old William Tone, it must have been an awesome scene. At his death in 1828, he left behind a widow and daughter. Few, if any, Americans in uniform had witnessed so much. Little do the visitors to Greenwood Cemetery, where he lies in Brooklyn, New York, realize what memories lie buried there.
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