Pierre Belon Lapisse, Baron de Sainte-Hélène (25 November 1762 – 30 July 1809) commanded an infantry division in Napoleon‘s armies and was fatally wounded fighting against the British in the Peninsular War. He enlisted in the French Army during the reign of Louis XVI and fought in the American Revolutionary War. Appointed an officer at the start of the French Revolutionary Wars, he rose in rank to become a general officer by 1799. From 1805 to 1807 during the Napoleonic Wars, he led a brigade in the Grande Armée at Dornbirn, Jena, Kołoząb, Golymin, and Eylau. After promotion he commanded a division in the thick of the action at Friedland in 1807.
In 1808, Napoleon ennobled Lapisse and transferred him to Spain where he led his division at Espinosa. Detailed to lead one of three columns that were invade Portugal, he was completely outmaneuvered by an inferior force. He surprised and defeated a British infantry division in the Casa de Salinas action, but was mortally wounded the following day during heavy fighting at Talavera. Lapisse is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 37.
Lapisse was born into the family of a tapestry weaver in Lyons on 25 November 1762. He enlisted on 5 April 1779 in the Armagnac Infantry Regiment, which had been created by splitting it from the old Navarre Regiment. He fought with the unit in the American Revolutionary War and was promoted to sergeant in 1784.
After the outbreak of the French Revolution Lapisse was named lieutenant in the Corsican Chasseurs Free Company on 19 December 1789. This unit was incorporated into the 16th Light Infantry Battalion. On 9 May 1793 he was promoted adjutant major when the battalion was expanded into the 16th Light Infantry Demi-brigade. He became captain on 2 August 1793 and chef de bataillon (major) on 22 March 1794. In this period Lapisse served in Corsica, including the Siege of Bastia during which he was wounded. He then fought against the Kingdom of Piedmont and was promoted chef de brigade (colonel) on 26 March 1795. He was wounded at Ormea. On 8 November 1795 he was named the commander of the 83rd Line Infantry Demi-brigade.
At the beginning of 1796 the 83rd was part of André Mouret’s 1st Division of the Coast in the Army of Italy. After the Second Amalgame in May 1796, the 83rd became the 57th Line Infantry Demi-brigade with Lapisse as chef de brigade on 19 June 1796. The demi-brigade fought at the Battle of La Favorita which took place on 16 January 1797 and was part of the Battle of Rivoli. The 57th also participated in the spring campaign in Carinthia including the Battle of Valvasone on 16 March 1797.
In 1798, Lapisse and the 57th were assigned first to the Army of England and later to the Army of Mainz. On 10 June 1799 he was appointed chef de brigade of the 36th Line Infantry Demi-brigade. In mid-September that year, the 36th was part of Jean-de-Dieu Soult‘s division in André Masséna‘s army in Switzerland. During the Second Battle of Zurich on 25 September 1799, Soult launched a surprise assault crossing of the Linth River while the French main body under André Masséna attacked the Russians at Zurich. The Austrian commander on the Linth, Friedrich Freiherr von Hotze was killed and his command defeated. Lapisse received a battlefield promotion to general of brigade on 26 September 1799. Subsequently, Lapisse fought with the Army of Italy under Guillaume Brune and Bon-Adrien Jeannot de Moncey. On 12 January 1801 he had his horse killed under him at Castelfranco Veneto while leading the 1st Brigade of the Advance Guard. After the peace he commanded French troops in Liguria from 1801 to 1803. He became a member of the Légion d’Honneur on 11 December 1803.