WARRIOR WEDNESDAY: JEAN DANJOU AND HIS LEGIONNAIRES
Alright, I love making jokes at the expense of the French as much as the next red-blooded American but they actually have a pretty rich history of warfighting worth looking into. And of course, we can't talk about French badassery without mentioning The French Foreign Legion. The French Foreign Legion was and still is the last refuge of some of the toughest sons of bitches who have nowhere else to turn. In days past, they were even enlisted under a false identity to give them a fresh start. These Legionnaires began fighting around the world since 1831. The name “French Foreign Legion” usually brings up an image of hard-bitten men with mysterious and possibly criminal pasts, fighting and dying in some forgotten corner of the world against impossible odds. Well, That’s EXACTLY what this week’s Warrior Wednesday is about. This is the glorious last stand of Capitaine Jean Danjou and the Legionnaires of the 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment of the French Foreign Legion at the Battle of Camarón.
Jean Danjou was born in Chalabre, France in 1828. He enrolled in the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, the most prestigious military academy in France, and graduated when he was 20. In 1852, he transferred to the 2nd Foreign Regiment and fought in Algeria. In 1853 he lost his arm when his musket exploded during use. That’s pretty metal. He then designed a wooden prosthetic hand, which he used for the rest of his life, Danjou would go on to fight with distinction during the Crimean War and served during the Siege of Sevastopol. By 1855 he was promoted to the rank of Capitaine. in 1859 he fought in the Battle of Magentaand, and the Battle of Solférino during the Austro-Sardinian war. After serving in Morocco for some time, Danjou was part of the French expeditionary corps sent to Mexico in 1862 during the Second French Intervention of Mexico.
It was the duty of the Legion to ensure that French supply convoys were able to freely maneuver and were provided with ample security while the rest of the French Army laid siege to the city of Veracruz. The Legion’s job was like the 1860’s version of driving along Route Irish in 2003, except they were on foot. In support of the siege, the French sent a convoy with 3 million francs in gold bullion, siege cannons, and sixty wagons of ammunition and while Two companies of fusiliers were to escort the convoy from La Soledad to Chiquihuite. The convoy requested extra Legion security presence because of intel that suggested a possible ambush. Unfortunately, practically half of the French Army in Mexico was struck with dysentery and were violently shitting themselves to death. This included half of the Legion’s 3rd Company's soldiers and all of their officers.
But the Legion didn’t get its reputation by backing down from a challenge and they weren’t going to start now. One-handed Jean Danjou, volunteered to lead the remaining soldiers of 3rd company who were still fit to fight on their convoy escort mission. Danjou, and 2LTs Napoleon Vilain and Clement Maudet led an understrength company of only 62 Legionnaires ahead of the convoy. After marching 15 miles in the brutal Mexican heat, Danjou ordered his men to rest and get some food and water. Unfortunately shortly after the legionnaires sat down, they were attacked by 250 Mexican Ranchero Cavalry. Danjou immediately ordered his men to fix bayonets, form up and repulse the Mexican horsemen. Under a wall of disciplined volleys and brutal bayonet vs. saber skirmishes, the French Foreign Legion fought a tactical withdrawal while pumping Mexican bodies full of lead or stabbing 12 inches of cold steel through chest cavities. Danjou knew that the convoy supplies were desperately needed to continue the siege of Puebla. Rather than break contact and regroup with the two companies of fusiliers and the convoy, he and his men drew the Mexicans away from the rest of their element. While being outnumbered 4 to 1, they still managed to hold back three cavalry charges and made their way to the desolate town of Camarón. There they took defensive positions in an abandoned inn that was surrounded by 10-foot tall mud walls. Unfortunately for Danjou and his men the Mexican cavalry, who were scouts for a much larger contingent, made contact with the rest of their unit. Over 2,000 Mexican Infantry and an additional 800 Cavalry riders were on their way.
The Mexican Commander, at the head of over 3,000 troops ordered Danjou to surrender. Danjou responded with a short letter. It read: “We have munitions. We will not surrender." The Mexicans attacked. Danjou and his men stood in extreme heat without minimal food, water, or overhead cover and repelled the 3,000 enemy soldiers. The Legionnaires were exhausted from the 15-mile march and the fighting withdrawal; they all knew that they were in a hopeless scenario. But like the professional body stackers they were, they stood their ground and fought with everything they had. Danjou ran up and down the line rallying his men and firing his pistol into the endless horde of Mexican infantrymen. Legionnaires started to fall dead or wounded, ammunition supplies dwindled and the inn started to burn, but over the horrific noise of battle and gunsmoke, Danjou’s voice could be heard. "The Legion dies; It does not surrender!"
After the Mexicans pulled back to lick their wounds and ready themselves for yet another attack. Danjou brought all the remaining legionnaires together. He opened up his last bottle of wine, a luxury afforded to officers, took a drink and passed it around to his men. He urged his men to take an oath to fight to the death rather than surrender. He made them swear on his wooden hand to not bring dishonor to the Legion. They swore an oath down to the last man. They would not fail.
During the next attack, the Mexican infantry was able to push in more aggressively. The mounting Legionnaire casualties and the dwindling ammo supply meant that the defenders couldn’t maintain fire superiority. In this attack Danjou, while rallying and inspiring his men, was shot in the chest and died shortly after. He was 35 years old. If the Mexicans thought that killing the leader would demoralize the Legionnaires, they were woefully fucking mistaken.
2LT Vilain assumed command and continued fighting until the Mexicans withdrew again and sent another offer to surrender. Legionnaire-Sergeant Vincent Morzycki responded with “Merde”, which is French for “Shit” and the 3rd company continued to fight. Three hours later 2LT Vilain would be shot in the head and killed. 2LT Maudet took command of the final twenty remaining men. With ammunition expended, they resorted to waiting for the Mexican infantry to try to breach through the doors and windows before violently bayoneting anyone trying to gain entry into the hacienda. Unfortunately, during this hand to hand struggle, several Legionnaires were captured and dragged behind enemy lines.
By the end of the day, only 2LT Maudet and 5 of his men remained standing. After telling the Mexicans to fuck off with their third offer to surrender, the six remaining members of the 3rd Company shook hands, and as one committed themselves to one final bayonet charge out of the hacienda and across open ground towards the Mexican military. Two Legionnaires were killed in the volley, 2LT Maudet fell gravely wounded and the last 3 men were surrounded. Before they could be killed, the Executive Officer of the Mexican army who was dumbfounded by the ferocity and bravery of these soldiers, called his men off and convinced his commander, Colonel Fransisco De Paula Milán, to talk to the French fighters. Milán approached the three half-dead men and demanded their immediate surrender.
Corporal Phillipe Maine looked the commander in the eyes and countered with a demand for immediate freedom, safe passage home, with their wounded, their fallen officers, their weapons, and their Regimental Standard. Milán looked back at them stunned at the sheer balls of this Legionnaire and said, "What can I do to such men? No, these are not men, they are demons!" He granted their request, and the Legion withdrew from the field with their weapons, equipment, and most importantly their honor intact. The survivors never broke their promise to Danjou. They never surrendered.
Jean Danjou’s wooden hand was returned to the Legion, it remains their most prized possession, and once a year, the most prestigious Legionnaire has the honor of carrying the wooden hand during their annual parade. It is one of their highest honors. To this day, the Mexican Army renders a salute whenever they pass by the monument raised to the brave Legionnaires that their ancestors fought at Cameron. Earning the respect of your enemy is an honor afforded to few.
About the author: Andy, is a US Army Infantryman and your local Friendly Neighborhood Rooftop Korean. When he's not burning through his savings at the range, you can find him online sharing memes, playing video games, and writing stories about the baddest warriors throughout history. You can follow all of Andy's NSFW content at @call_me_ak on Instagram.