Joseph Gallieni was born in Haute Garonne in 1849. He joined the army and served in West Africa and Tonkin and in 1886 was appointed governor of Upper Senegal. This was followed by the position of governor-general of Madagascar (1897-1905).
Gallieni retired from the French Army in 1914 but was recalled on the outbreak of the First World War. He was given the task of organizing the defence of Paris. When Gallieni realised that the German First Army were turning east in early September, he sent the Sixth Army from Paris to strike at its flank. This was an important factor in the subsequent victory of the French at the Marne.
In October 1915 Gallieni was appointed French War Minister. Gallieni clashed with Joseph Joffre, the French Chief of Staff, and in March 1916 he resigned over the tactics used at Verdun. Already a sick man, Joseph Gallieni died three months later.