Rochambeau was born in Vendome, Loir-et-Cher. He was schooled at the Jesuit college at Blois. However, after the death of his elder brother, he entered a cavalry regiment, and served in Bohemia, Bavaria, and on the Rhine, during the War of the Austrian Succession. By 1747, he had attained the rank of colonel.
He took part in the siege of Maastricht in 1748 and became governor of Vendome in 1749. After distinguishing himself in 1756 in the Battle of Minorca on the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War, he was promoted to Brigadier General of infantry. In 1758, he fought in Germany, notably in the Battle of Krefeld. He also received several wounds in the battle of Clostercamp in 1760. In 1761, he was appointed marechal de camp and Inspector of Cavalry. In this position, he was frequently consulted by the ministers on technical points.
In 1780, Rochambeau was given the rank of Lieutenant General in command of 5,000 French troops and sent to join the American colonists under George Washington fighting the Kingdom of Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War.
He landed at Newport, Rhode Island, on July 10, but was held there inactive for a year, owing to his reluctance to abandon the French fleet blockaded by the British in Narragansett Bay. At last, in July 1781, Rochambeau’s force finally left Rhode Island, marching across Connecticut to join Washington on the Hudson River. There then followed the celebrated march of the combined forces and the siege of Yorktown. On September 22, they combined with the Marquis de Lafayette’s troops and forced Marquess Cornwallis to surrender on October 19.
Rochambeau’s behavior has been celebrated: he had placed himself entirely under Washington’s command and handled his troops as part of the Continental Army. In recognition of his services, the Congress of the Confederation thanked him and his troops and presented him with two cannons taken from the British. These guns, with which Rochambeau returned to Vendôme, were requisitioned in 1792.
Return to France
Upon his return to France, he was honored by King Louis XVI and was made governor of Picardy.
During the Revolution, he commanded the Armée du Nord in 1790, but resigned in 1792 after several reverses. Rochambeau was arrested during the Reign of Terror and narrowly escaped the guillotine. He was subsequently pensioned by Napoleon Bonaparte and died at Thoré-la-Rochette during the First French Empire.