Francois 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).

Regiment de Soissonnais

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 Regiment

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.

Lieutenant-General 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 siege cannons.

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, 232).

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.

Selected Bibliography

Bonsal, Stephen. When The French Were Here. New York, Doubleday, 1945.

Chartrand, Rene. The French Army in the American War of Independence. Oxford, England: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1991.

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 Press, 1884.

Whitridge, Arnold. Rochambeau. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965.

 

 

Francois Isaac Leabo's Headstone

 

 

 

We would love to hear from you, please contact us:

jbsmith@dc.rr.com