Isaac (Leabo) LeBas:
French Soldier in the Soissonnais Regiment
Researched and written by
his fifth great grandson, Dr. Oran Roberts
My ancestor, Francois Isaac
LeBas, father of Noah Leabo and grandfather of the 1846, Oregon pioneer, Isaac
Leabo, came to America with the French army under General Count de Rochambeau in
1780. He was born in Noirville, Normandy, France in 1754, and when he was
approximately 25 years old, he enlisted as a private in Captain Saint-Leger's
company of the Soissonnais Regiment on February 13, 1779 (Les Combattants
Francais..., 283). "Most [of the soldiers] were in their twenties and
were serving their first eight-year enlistment..." (Kennett, 23).
According to records, the
Soissonnais Regiment is one of the oldest French regiments, having been formed
in 1598, out of very select "gentilshommes". "It still clings to
it's ancient motto, the words of a sergeant who was killed in the hour of
victory, 'What does it matter? We have won the battle.'" (Bonsal, 26).
In 1791, the regiment lost its name of Soissonnais, and was designated as the
40th Infantry Regiment.
The Officers of the
The 1st colonel and commander of
the Soissonnais Regiment during the American campaign was the Count Felix d'Olieres de Saint-Maisme. He, like other career officers, had purchased his
colonelcy. "The colonel proprietor ... owned the regiment as a whole in
much the same way as the captains owned the individual companies" (Duffy,
71). The 2nd Colonel of the regiment was the Vicomte de Noailles
(Louis-Marie), the cousin and brother-in-law to Lafayette, who married his
sister, Adrienne de Noailles. Another officer in the regiment, who followed the
Vicomte de Noailles as the second Colonel, was Count Louis Phillipe de Segur.
These two men were very close friends with Lafayette and had volunteered to
leave with him when he first sailed for America. However, the resistance of
their powerful families prevented this. When the King finally sent his
expeditionary army to assist the Americans, they were allowed to go with their
regiment. The commander of my ancestor's infantry company was Captain Charles
Louis Boel de Saint-Leger. De Saint-Leger's unit was a fusilier company, not one
of the elite grenadier or chausseur (light infantry) companies. Captain de
Saint-Leger was promoted to Capitaine de Chausseurs on March 19, 1780,
prior to the Battle of Yorktown. He was most likely replaced by Francois Armand
de Sinety, who was promoted in the regiment to Capitaine Commandant on
April 15, 1780.
Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Count de Rochambeau (1725-1807)
The commanding general of the Expedition
Particuliere -- the codename given to the French expeditionary army sent to
help the American Revolution--was Lieutenant-General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de
Vimeur, Count de Rochambeau. "Rochambeau had chosen to take with him the
regiments of Bourbonnais, Saintonge, Soissonnais, and the German regiment of
Royal Deux-Ponts. They were neither the oldest nor the most prestigious
regiments in the army, but he judged them to be well officered and disciplined.
They were near at hand, and the returns of January had shown them to be at full
strength with 67 officers and 1,148 men" (Kennett, 22). In all,
about fifty-five hundred soldiers sailed with Rochambeau (Perkins, 303).
They were well equipped and armed with the St. Etienne 1777 model muskets and
The Operations of the
Soissonnais Regiment against the British in America
The Soissonnais Regiment embarked at
Breast with other regiments in the French expeditionary army on April 6, 1780.
It landed in July at Newport, Rhode Island with the Bourbonnais Regiment. It was
at first employed to defend the forts of Rhode Island, and participated in all
of the principal operations of Rochambeau's army down to the siege of Yorktown.
On the long march from Providence, Rhode Island to Yorktown, Virginia, the
Soissonnais along with the other French regiments marched through Philadelphia
and rendered honors to Congress. Du Bourg, who always showed a marked partiality
for the Soissonnais regiment, said that in the march through Philadelphia they
wore their [white] coats with rose-colored facings, "and their grenadier
caps with white and rose-colored feathers, which stuck with astonishment the
beauties of the city." (Bonsal, 127-128) Finally, on September
28, 1781, the army arrived at Yorktown. One thousand soldiers of the Soissonnais
and Bourbonnais Regiments opened the first trench on the night of October 6th.
The Soissonnais Regiment also helped dig the more dangerous second parallel
trench closer to the enemy. The Chevalier de Menonville, aide-major-general
himself led two hundred workmen of the Soissonnais Regiment to push the second
parallel as far as the redoubt carried by the Count William des Deuxponts, who
stated, "This work has been so wellperformed, under the direction of the
Chevalier Doire, so near the enemy, and so promptly, that I consider it just to
give ten sous extra to each of the workmen" (Deux Ponts, 160).
According to the military historian, Christopher Duffy, one of the most
potentially dangerous operations for the infantry was to establish a new trench
parallel to the first closer to the enemy. "This was done in darkness, for
the sake of secrecy, and the working parties strove to dig themselves sufficient
cover before daylight arrived to reveal their activities. The danger to the
officers and men digging the trenches in a siege were so great that it provoked
the Abbe Robin, chaplain of the Soissonnais Regiment, to conclude "true
bravery manifests itself chiefly in sieges" (Duffy, 290). The
Soissonnais Regiment, led by the Vicomte de Noailles, also helped repel the
British sortie against the second parallel trench.
After the British surrender at Yorktown
on October 19, 1781, General Washington and his main army returned to New York.
General Rochambeau and his army remained in Virginia during the winter of
1781-82. In the summer of 1782, the French army returned north in an overland
march. Upon reaching Connecticut, the French troops retraced their earlier route
to Rhode Island (SAR Online). The French broke camp for the last time in
Rhode Island on December 1, 1782, and resumed their march for Boston. They
proceeded in intervals with different starting times for each regiment. The
Soissonnais Regiment was under the command of Count Segur, its Colonel, because
the Count de St. Maime preceded it to Boston (Stone, 525). On the cold
march to Boston, where the army would disembark for France, French soldiers
started to desert to remain in America. The Count de Segur wrote, "The
severe cold that prevailed caused much suffering. I was moreover obliged to keep
a strict watch night and day over our men ... . The prospect of liberty,
presented everywhere in this country to our soldiers, had developed in many of
them a desire to desert the colors and remain in America. In several detachments
the number of desertions was important; thanks however to our unfailing
vigilance and good fortune the regiment of Soissonnais lost but few men" (Bonsal,
My ancestor was one of those few men that
the Soissonnais Regiment lost to "the prospect of liberty" in America.
His participation in the American Revolution helped secure that liberty for
himself and his descendants. He returned to Virginia where he married Sarah
Jennings, who he had no doubt met during the winter stay in Virginia. Francois
Isaac LeBas changed his name to the more American sounding name, Leabo, and
eventually moved his family to Indiana to pioneer new land. He died around 1840
and is buried in the Van Buskirk Cemetery, Gosport, Indiana.
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French Were Here. New York, Doubleday, 1945.
Chartrand, Rene. The French
Army in the American War of Independence. Oxford, England: Osprey Publishing
Davis, Burke. The Campaign
that Won America: The Story of Yorktown. Eastern Acorn Press, 1997.
Duffy, Christopher. The
Military Experience in the Age of Reason 1715-1789. New York: Barnes &
Noble, Inc., 1987.
Fleming, Thomas J. Beat the
Last Drum: The Siege of Yorktown 1781. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1963.
Johnston, Henry P. The
Yorktown Campaign and the Surrender of Cornwallis 1781. New York: Harper
& Brothers, 1881, Reprinted by Eastern Acorn Press, 1997.
Kennett, Lee. The French Forces in America
1780-1783. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1977.
Les Combattants Francais de la
Guerre Americaine 1778-1783 (The French Combatants of the American War
1778-1783) published in 1903 by the French Foreign Ministry, Ancienne Maison
Quantin, 7 rue St-Benoit, Paris, from the original documents in the French
National Archives and the French War Ministry Archives.
Perkins, James B. France in the
American Revolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911.
Robin, Abbe. New Travels Through
North America. New York: The New York Times & Arno Press, 1969.
Stone, Edwin M. Our French
Allies...In the Great War of the American Revolution from 1778 to 1782...Providence
Whitridge, Arnold. Rochambeau.
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965.
Francois Isaac Leabo's Headstone