Louis Lebègue Duportail

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Louis Lebègue Duportail
Minister of War
In office
25 May 1791 – 7 December 1791
MonarchLouis XVI
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byLouis de Narbonne-Lara
Secretary of State for War
In office
16 November 1790 – 25 May 1791
MonarchLouis XVI
Preceded byJean-Frédéric de la Tour du Pin-Gouvernet
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Chief Engineer of the Continental Army
In office
22 July 1777 – 10 October 1783
Preceded byCol. Rufus Putnam
Succeeded byLieut. Col. Stephen Rochefontaine (as Commandant of the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers)
Personal details
Born(1743-05-14)14 May 1743
Pithiviers, France
Died12 August 1802(1802-08-12) (aged 59)
  • Military engineer
  • politician
Military service
Allegiance Kingdom of France
 United States
BranchFrench Army
Continental Army
Years of service1765–1790
Rank Major-General
WarsAmerican Revolutionary War

Louis Antoine Jean Le Bègue de Presle Duportail[1][a] (French: [lwi ləbɛɡ dəpʁɛl dypɔʁtaj]; 14 May 1743 – 12 August 1802) was a French military leader who served as a volunteer and the Chief Engineer of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He also served as the last Secretary of State for War and first Minister of War during the beginning of the French Revolution.

Early life and education[edit]

Louis Lebègue Duportail was born in 1743 at Pithiviers, France. He graduated from the royal engineer school at Mézières in 1765.

Military career[edit]

Promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Royal Corps of Engineers, Duportail was secretly sent to America in March 1777 to serve in Washington's Continental Army under an agreement between Benjamin Franklin and the government of King Louis XVI of France. He was appointed colonel and chief engineer of the Continental Army, July 1777; brigadier general, November 17, 1777; commander, Corps of Engineers, May 1779; and major general, November 16, 1781.

Duportail participated in fortifications planning from Boston, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was captured following the surrender of the city in May 1780, and helped Washington evolve the primarily defensive military strategy that wore down the British Army. Subsequently exchanged, he also directed the construction of siege works at the Battle of Yorktown, site of the decisive Franco-American victory of the Revolutionary War. During the encampment at Valley Forge in late 1777 and early 1778, his headquarters was at Cressbrook Farm.[2]

Returning to France in October 1783, Duportail became an infantry officer and in 1788 a Maréchal-de-Camp (brigadier general). He served as France's minister of war from November 16, 1790, through December 7, 1791, during the beginning of the French Revolution and promoted military reforms. Forced into hiding by radical Jacobins, he escaped to America and bought a farm near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. He lived there until 1802, when he died at sea while attempting to return to France.


This article contains public domain text from "Major General Louis Lebègue Duportail". Portraits and Profiles Chief Engineer - 1775 to Present. Retrieved 27 March 2016.


  1. ^ Some sources spell his name as Louis Le Bèque de Presle du Portail, with a mistaken ⟨q⟩ instead of a ⟨g⟩.


  1. ^ Historic Valley Forge – General Chevalier Louis Lebègue dePresle Duportail
  2. ^ "National Historic Landmarks & National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania" (Searchable database). ARCH: Pennsylvania's Historic Architecture & Archaeology. Retrieved 2012-11-02. Note: This includes Pennsylvania Register of Historic Sites and Landmarks (January 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Cressbrook Farm" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-03.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
New office Minister of War
May – December 1791
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by
Colonel Rufus Putnam
Chief Engineer of the Continental Army
1777 – 1783
Succeeded by
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Rochefontaine
as Commandant of the
Corps of Artillerists and Engineers