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Jean Danjou

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Jean Danjou (15 April 1828 – 30 April 1863) was a decorated captain in the French Foreign Legion. He commanded the two lieutenants and 62 legionnaires who fought the legendary Battle of Camarón during the French intervention in Mexico. He was killed during the battle.

Jean Danjou was born in Chalabre into a family with a great military history. At the age of 20, he enlisted in the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, the foremost French military academy. He graduated from the academy as a 2nd lieutenant.

After graduation from Saint-Cyr, Danjou was transferred to Algeria, to assist French colonization efforts. It was here that he lost his hand in combat on 1 May 1853 when his rifle misfired and exploded in his hands. He had a wooden prosthetic hand made, which he used for the rest of his life. Danjou was promoted to 1st lieutenant on 24 December 1853.

As a 1st lieutenant, Danjou was part of the French army that fought in the Crimean War, and served during the Siege of Sevastopol. He was promoted to captain on 9 June 1855.

His next campaign during the Austro-Sardinian War, where in 1859 he fought in the Battle of Magenta and the Battle of Solférino.

After serving in Morocco for some time, Danjou was part of the French expeditionary corps sent to Mexico in 1862. He was the quartermaster of Colonel Jeanningros, who was in charge of the Foreign Legion regiment in Mexico. It was the duty of the French Legion to ensure the movement and safety of French supply convoys.

On 29 April, Colonel Jeanningros was informed that an important convoy was on its way to Puebla with three million francs and material and munitions for the siege. Danjou decided to send a company to escort the convoy. The 3rd company of the Foreign Regiment was assigned to this mission, but had no officers available. Danjou himself took command.

At 1 a.m. on 30 April, the 3rd company was on its way, with three officers and 62 men. At 7 a.m., after a 15 miles (24 km) march, it stopped at Palo Verde to rest. Soon after, a Mexican force of 2,000 soldiers (800 cavalry and 1,200 infantry) was spotted. Danjou had the company take up a square formation and, even though retreating, he drove back several cavalry charges, inflicting the first heavy losses on the enemy.

Looking for a more defensible position, Danjou decided to make a stand at the nearby Hacienda Camarón, an inn protected by a 10 foot (3 m) high wall. His plan was to tie up the enemy forces to prevent any attacks on the nearby convoy. While the legionnaires prepared a defense of the inn, the Mexican commander, Colonel Milan, demanded that Danjou and his men surrender, pointing out the fact that the Mexican Army was greatly superior in number. Danjou went around to each of his men with a bottle of wine and made them all swear not to surrender.

At noon, Danjou was shot in the chest and died. His soldiers continued to fight, despite overwhelming odds and the extreme heat until 6 p.m. The 60 men, who had had nothing to eat or drink since the day before, resisted many charges of the Mexican army. The last five survivors were all down to their very last bullet. Instead of dishonour, they decided to charge with fixed bayonets. When they did, the Mexican commander ordered his troops to cease fire. Out of admiration for their courage, he spared the surviving men and allowed them to form an honour guard for the body of Captaine Danjou. They were released to return to France. This story has become legendary in French military history.

Danjou was buried on 3 May 1863 in Camarón.

After the battle, a Mexican named Ramirez took Danjou's wooden hand. Ramirez was arrested and the hand retrieved by Lieutenant Karl Grübert of the Austrian army, which replaced the Foreign Legion in this conflict on 17 July 1865. Today, Danjou's wooden hand is paraded annually on April 30, Camerone Day.