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Gen. Alexandre Dumas

Gen. Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, fighting off the Austrian army, at the bridge of Clausen in Tyrol, on 17 January 1797.

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Napoleon Bonaparte was a well-known figure who rose to power during the French Revolution. But Bonaparte was not its only hero. Meet Gen. Alexandre Dumas.

Dumas was born in what is now Haiti to a white father who was a member of the aristocracy and a black mother who was enslaved. Although Dumas kept his mother's familial name, his father raised him in France, which guaranteed opportunities to people of mixed race. There, Dumas completed his education and entered the military, where he became a master of strategy and sword. Dumas rose to the rank of general, led more than 50,000 soldiers and earned a reputation for action. He reportedly captured 13 soldiers singlehandedly, rode into enemy territory to imprison 16 more and led his men up icy cliffs in the dark to surprise opposing forces [source: Taylor].

Although Dumas continued his military career in the subsequent French campaign to conquer Egypt, he attracted the ire of his chief rival, the up-and-coming Bonaparte. Whether Bonaparte, a diminutive man, was jealous of Dumas' height, charisma or infantry skills is impossible to say. One thing is for certain, though: The competition (even if only in Napoleon's own mind) would be Dumas' undoing.

In the late 1790s, when Dumas found himself washed onto Italian shores because of an alarmingly leaky vessel, Napoleon's followers tossed Dumas into a dungeon. There he languished for two years as he suspected the prison physician of poisoning him. Although Dumas was eventually released, his military career was over. Stories of his exploits, however, inspired "The Count of Monte Cristo," a novel written by his son Alexandre, who also wrote "The Three Musketeers" [source: Damrosch].

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