By Herman J. Cohen
When I drive between Dupont Circle and Georgetown, I usually take the bridge on P Street NW, between 23rd and 25th Streets NW. There is a sign on the bridge that reads “Lauzun’s Legion Bridge.” Since the name is French, I was curious about the connection to the USA.
In 1778, King Louis XVI decided to provide assistance to the American revolutionary forces who were fighting for independence against the British king, George III. He made an alliance with the Continental Congress and their military under the command of General George Washington. The first French assistance was in the form of arms and logistical supplies.
In 1780, General Washington’s army was not making progress. For this reason, Louis XVI made the decision to send French troops to fight alongside the Americans. He sent 6,000 French soldiers under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau. Within the French forces, there was a regiment under the command of Armand Louis de Gontaut, the Duke of Lauzun (1747–1793).
What was interesting about this regiment was the fact that the Duke of Lauzun recruited most of his soldiers from different countries in Europe, including England, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Russia, and Poland. Known as Lauzun’s Foreign Volunteers (Volontaires étrangers de Lauzun), this special fighting unit was organized by Lauzun in 1773 and participated in military expeditions to Senegal and other West African nations.
Rochambeau’s army, including Lauzun’s Legion, marched 400 miles over 36 days, from Rhode Island to Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, providing Washington with invaluable assistance for his final victory over the British. The National Park Service has established a historical marker called the Washington-Rochambeau Trail that covers the Rhode Island-Yorktown route. Although Washington, DC, did not exist at the time, the route traced by the NPS goes over the M Street NW bridge between 26th and 28th Streets NW, at the east entrance to Georgetown. (Click here for NPS brochure.)
After the end of the American Revolutionary War, Lauzun returned to France where he eventually became a victim of the French Revolution of 1789. His name will always be associated with the beginnings of the French Foreign Legion, and with French support to the American Revolution against England. His commander, General Rochambeau, has his own bridge that crosses the Potomac at 14th Street NW.