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Drawn portrait of Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy

Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy

Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy mapped the Revolution.

Opportunities abroad

Young Frenchman Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in 1777, one of the many officers who saw the war in the Americas as a chance to advance in rank. A lieutenant in the French army, du Chesnoy was made a Captain in the engineer corps of the Continental Army, which was eager to recruit experienced European officers who had the skills the Patriots needed to defeat the British.

Filling an essential role

During the war, du Chesnoy served fellow Frenchman the Marquis de Lafayette as both his aide-de-camp and mapmaker. Both roles were important: accurate maps were vital to military success, especially for French officers who were strangers to the terrain of the Thirteen Colonies, and aides-de-camp performed vital duties as secretaries, couriers, and assistants to officers.

Map showing the location of the battle of Rhode Island, and a historical battle map.

Du Chesnoy created maps of several major battles in which Lafayette participated, including the Battle of

Image: Plan de Rhode Islande; Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy; Library of Congress

Map showing the location of the battle of Monmouth, and a historical battle map.

… and the Battle of , New Jersey.

Image: Carte de l'affaire de Montmouth; Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy; Library of Congress

Praise from Washington

On one occasion, General George Washington described a map he had received from du Chesnoy as “executed with great accuracy and military intelligence.” Washington promised that the map would have “a place among the papers on which I set a value.” High praise from a general whose first career in public service had been as a surveyor!

Chesnoy's maps also came in handy as propaganda tools. When the Marquis de Lafayette returned to France in 1779 to encourage greater support for the American cause, du Chesnoy accompanied him. He presented a collection of his battle maps to King Louis XVI. Chesnoy received a promotion to the rank of captain in the French army, and an assignment to the King's Dragoons.

Map showing the location of the Virginia campaign and an illustrated historical battle map.

Mapping a victory

Chesnoy returned to America with Lafayette in 1780, and continued in his role as aide and mapmaker for the marquis during his campaign in Virginia.

Image: Campagne en Virginie du Major Général M'is de LaFayette; Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy; Library of Congress

This print shows the Marquis de Lafayette at the conclusion of the 1781 campaign in Virginia.

The Virginia campaign concluded with the Franco-American victory at the in October 1781. This print shows the marquis de Lafayette at the conclusion of the 1781 campaign in Virginia.

Image: Conclusion de la campagne de 1781 en Virginie. Le Marquis de la Fayette; Library of Congress

A valuable legacy

Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy departed America for good in December 1781, returning to France with Lafayette. He retained his rank in the Continental Army until it was disbanded at the official end of the war in November 1783. The late 1700s were a time of nearly constant conflict for France, as it engaged in imperial struggles and then revolutionary conflicts with Britain and other European powers.

Chesnoy served on the general staff of the French army until 1790. He died in 1804. Original maps by du Chesnoy are highly-sought by libraries, museums, and public collectors. In 2014, du Chesnoy's map of the Battle of Monmouth sold at auction for nearly half a million U.S. dollars!