Alfred Baron Van der Smissen
Alfred Baron Van der Smissen was born in Brussels (Belgium) on the 1st of February 1823. He entered military service in 1843 and soon became an officer in the Belgian army. When in 1851 nearly all the tribes in Algeria rose against the colonial power, General Saint-Arnaud defeated them in 26 battles in only 80 days. Captain Van der Smissen was present during this campaign receiving a great deal of experiences in combating irregular troops as was common in colonial wars of this century. These experiences later made him the perfect choice to command the Belgian Volunteer Corps.
When in 1864 Erzherzog Maximilian and his wife Charlotte of Belgium traveled to Mexico the Belgian King Leopold decided that his daughter should also be guarded by a Belgian Foreign Legion similar to the Austrian Volunteer Corps. In contrast to the Austrian Legion, which was formed from veterans, the Belgian Corps consisting of a Grenadier and a Jäger Battalion, was newly raised in Brussels from young men - more than 90% younger than 25 years - without any military experience. Besides the commander, Lieutenant Colonel Van der Smissen only his deputy commander Major Tigdal had any war experience under real fire. This was one of the reasons why they suffered heavy causalities shortly after arriving at Mexico. On the 11th of April 1865, their first contact with the enemy, a force of about 300 men strong under the command of Major Tigdal, was surrounded by superior republican forces. Major Tigdal, Captain Chazal (the son of the Belgian minister of war), Captain Delaunay, three Lieutenants and about 110 men were soon killed. The remaining three wounded officers and about 190 men surrendered to the Republicans. This early shock made Van der Smissen cautious during the following operations. In 1866 he was promoted to Colonel and by the time of the disbanding of both foreign volunteer corps on the 6th of December 1866 he had been honored with the award of the Officer's Cross of the Order of the Mexican Eagle, the Commander's Cross of the Order of Our beloved Madonna of Guadalupe and the Golden Medal for Military Merit. After his return to Europe he was appointed commander of the Belgian Royal Guards shortly followed by his promotion to Major General. In 1868 he received the Knight's Cross of the Austrian Order of Leopold for his efforts during the Mexican Adventure.
In 1879 he received the promotion to Lieutenant General and published the book "Organisation des forces nationales" (Brussels 1879). In 1882 he was appointed military commander of the Belgian capital Brussels. In this position he was responsible for the suppressing of the workers' mutiny at Chareroi in 1886 in a ruthless fashion. Lieutenant General Van der Smissen was also well known for his strong support for universal conscription. In 1887 he again published a book named "Le service personnel et la loi militaire" (Brussels 1887). In 1889 he retired to write a book about his adventures in Mexico which was published under the name of "Souvenirs de Mexique" (Brussels 1894). Lieutenant General Alfred Baron Van der Smissen died in Brussels on the 16th of June 1895 in the age of 72.
In the 20th century it was rumored that Van der Smissen could have been the father of the famous French General Louis Maxime Weygand (born in Brussels on the 21st of June 1867). This was never officially confirmed but the Belgian historian Albert Duchesne, who published the important book about the Belgian volunteers in Mexico in 1967, was after decades of research absolutely certain. The French historian André Castelot, who published a book about Maximilian in Mexico in 1977, corroborated this by publishing photos of Van der Smissen and Weygand showing their close likeness - as usual between fathers and sons, legitimate or not.
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