1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Carnot, Lazare Nicolas Marguerite
CARNOT, LAZARE NICOLAS MARGUERITE (1753–1823), French general, was born at Nolay in Burgundy in 1753. He received his training as an engineer at Mézières, becoming an officer of the Corps de Génie in 1773 and a captain ten years later. He had then just published his first work, an Essai sur les machines en général. In 1784 he wrote an essay on balloons, and his. Éloge of Vauban, read by him publicly, won him the commendation of Prince Henry of Prussia. But as the result of a controversy with Montalembert, Carnot abandoned the official, or Vauban, theories of the art of fortification, and went over to the “perpendicular” school of Montalembert. He was consequently imprisoned, on the pretext of having fought a duel, and only released when selected to accompany Prince Henry of Prussia in a visit to Vauban’s fortifications. In 1791 he married. The Revolution drew him into political life, and he was elected a deputy for the Pas de Calais. In the Assembly he took a prominent part in debates connected with the army. Carnot was a stern and sincere republican, and voted for the execution of the king. In the campaigns of 1792 and 1793 he was continually employed as a commissioner in military matters, his greatest service being in April 1793 on the north-eastern frontier, where the disastrous battle of Neerwinden and the subsequent defection of Dumouriez had thrown everything into confusion. After doing what was possible to infuse energy into the operations of the French forces, he returned to Paris and was made a member of the Committee of Public Safety. He was charged with duties corresponding to those of the modern chief of the general staff and adjutant-general. As a member of the committee he signed its decrees and was thus at least technically responsible for the acts of the Reign of Terror. His energies were, however, directed to the organization, not yet of victory, but of defence. His labours were incessant; practically every military document in the archives of the committee was Carnot’s own work, and he was repeatedly in the field with the armies. His part in Jourdan’s great victory at Wattignies was so important that the credit of the day has often been assigned to Carnot. The winter of 1793–1794 was spent in new preparations, in instituting a severe discipline in the new and ill-trained troops of the republic, and in improvising means and material of war. He continued to visit the armies at the front, and to inspire them with energy. He acquiesced in the fall of Robespierre in 1794, but later defended Barère and others among his colleagues, declaring that he himself had constantly signed papers without reading them, as it was physically impossible to do so in the press of business. When Carnot’s arrest was demanded in May 1795, a deputy cried “Will you dare to lay hands on the man who has organized victory?” Carnot had just accepted promotion to the rank of major in the engineers. Throughout 1793, when he had been the soul of the national defence, and 1794, in which year he had “organized victory” in fourteen armies, he was a simple captain.
Carnot was elected one of the five Directors in November 1795, and continued to direct the war department during the campaign of 1796. Late in 1796 he was made a member (1st class) of the Institute, which he had helped to establish. He was for two periods president of the Directory, but on the coup d’état of the 18th Fructidor (1797) was forced to take refuge abroad. He returned to France after the 18th Brumaire (1799) and was re-elected to the Institute in 1800. Early in 1800 he became minister of war, and he accompanied Moreau in the early part of the Rhine campaign. His chief work was, however, in reducing the expenses of the armies. Contrary to the usual custom he refused to receive presents from contractors, and he effected much-needed reforms in every part of the military administration. He tendered his resignation later in the year, but it was long before the First Consul would accept it. From 1801 he lived in retirement with his family, employing himself chiefly in scientific pursuits. As a senator he consistently opposed the increasing monarchism of Napoleon, who, however, gave him in 1809 a pension and commissioned him to write a work on fortification for the school of Metz. In these years he had published De la corrélation des figures de géométrie (1801), Géométrie de position (1803), and Principes fondamentaux de l’équilibre et du mouvement (1803), all of which were translated into German. His great work on fortification appeared at Paris in 1810 (De la défense de places fortes) and was translated for the use of almost every army in Europe. He took Montalembert as his groundwork. Without sharing Montalembert’s antipathy to the bastioned trace, and his predilection for high masonry caponiers, he followed out the principle of retarding the development of the attack, and provided for the most active defence. To facilitate sorties in great force he did away with a counterscarp wall, providing instead a long gentle slope from the bottom of the ditch to the crest of the glacis. This, he imagined, would compel an assailant to maintain large forces in the advanced trenches, which he proposed to attack by vertical fire from mortars. Along the front of his fortress was built a heavy detached wall, loop-holed for fire, and sufficiently high to be a most formidable obstacle. This “Carnot wall,” and, in general, Carnot’s principle of active defence, played a great part in the rise of modern fortification.
He did not seek employment in the field in the aggressive wars of Napoleon, remaining a sincere republican, but in 1814, when France itself was once more in danger, Carnot at once offered his services. He was made a general of division, and Napoleon sent him to the important fortress of Antwerp as governor. His defence of that place was one of the most brilliant episodes of the campaign of 1814. On his return to Paris he addressed a political memoir to the restored king of France, which aroused much attention both in France and abroad. He joined Napoleon during the Hundred Days and was made minister of the interior, the office carrying with it the dignity of count, and on the 2nd of June he was made a peer of France. On the second Restoration he was proscribed. He lived thenceforward in Magdeburg, occupying himself still with science. But his health rapidly declined, and he died at Magdeburg on the 2nd of August 1823. His remains were solemnly removed to the Panthéon in 1889. Long before this, in 1836, Antwerp had erected a statue to its defender of 1814. In 1837 Arago pronounced his éloge before the Académie des Sciences. The sincerity of his patriotism and his political convictions was proved in 1801–1804 and in 1814. The memory of his military career is preserved in the title, given to him in the Assembly, of “The organizer of victory.” His sons, Sadi and L. Hippolyte, are separately noticed.