Battle of Valmy

The Battle of Valmy was the first major victory by the army of France during the Revolutionary Wars that followed the French Revolution. The action took place on 20 September 1792 as Prussian troops commanded by the Duke of Brunswick attempted to march on Paris. Generals François Kellermann and Charles Dumouriez stopped the advance near the northern village of Valmy in Champagne-Ardenne.

In this early part of the Revolutionary Wars—known as the War of the First Coalition—the new French government was in almost every way unproven, and thus the small, localized victory at Valmy became a huge psychological victory for the Revolution at large. The outcome was thoroughly unexpected by contemporary observers—a vindication for the French revolutionaries and a stunning defeat for the vaunted Prussian army. The victory emboldened the newly assembled National Convention to formally declare the end of monarchy in France and to establish the First French Republic. Valmy permitted the development of the Revolution and all its resultant ripple-effects, and for that it is regarded by historians as one of the most significant battles in history.

The Battle of Valmy
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
Valmy Battle painting

Painting of the Battle of Valmy by Horace Vernet from 1826. The white-uniformed infantry to the right are regulars while the blue-coated ranks to the left represent the citizen volunteers of 1791. The Moulin de Valmy was burnt down on the orders of Kellermann on the day of the battle.
Date20 September 1792
49°04′46″N 4°45′56″E / 49.07944°N 4.76556°ECoordinates: 49°04′46″N 4°45′56″E / 49.07944°N 4.76556°E
Result Decisive French victory
Republic proclaimed two days later
Kingdom of France (1791–1792) Kingdom of France  Kingdom of Prussia
 Holy Roman Empire
Kingdom of France Army of Condé
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of France (1791–1792) Charles François Dumouriez
Kingdom of France (1791–1792) François Christophe Kellermann
Kingdom of Prussia Duke of Brunswick
Habsburg Monarchy Prince of Hohenlohe
Habsburg Monarchy Count of Clerfayt
32,000 34,000
Casualties and losses
~300 ~200
Battle of Valmy is located in France
Battle of Valmy
Location within France
Monument Kellermann 03 09
Valmy obelisk with statue of Kellermann


As the French Revolution continued, the monarchies of Europe became concerned that revolutionary fervor would spread to their countries. The War of the First Coalition was an effort to stop the revolution, or at least contain it to France. King Frederick William II of Prussia had the support of Great Britain and the Austrian Empire to send the Duke of Brunswick towards Paris with a large army.[1] In the war's early encounters of mid-1792, French troops did not distinguish themselves,[2] and enemy forces advanced dangerously deep into France intending to pacify the country, restore the traditional monarchy, and end the Revolution. The French commander Charles Dumouriez, meanwhile, had been marching his army northeast to attack the Austrian Netherlands, but this plan was abandoned because of the more immediate threat to Paris.[3] A second army under General François Kellermann was ordered to link up with him in a mutual defense.[4]

Just over half of the French infantry were regulars of the old Royal Army, as were nearly all of the cavalry and, most importantly, the artillery,[3][5] which were widely regarded as the best in Europe at the time.[6][7] These veterans provided a professional core to steady the enthusiastic volunteer battalions.[8] Combined, Dumouriez' Army of the North and Kellermann's Army of the Centre totalled approximately 54,000 troops.[9] Heading towards them was Brunswick's coalition army of about 84,000, all veteran Prussian and Austrian troops augmented by large complements of Hessians and the French royalist Army of Condé.[9]


The invading army handily captured Longwy on 23 August and Verdun on 2 September, then moved on toward Paris through the defiles of the Forest of Argonne.[6] In response, Dumouriez halted his advance to the Netherlands and reversed course, approaching the enemy army from its rear.[3] From Metz, Kellermann moved to his assistance, joining him at the village of Sainte-Menehould on 19 September.[6] The French forces were now east of the Prussians, behind their lines. Theoretically the Prussians could have marched straight towards Paris unopposed, but this course was never seriously considered: the threat to their lines of supply and communication was too great to be ignored. The unfavorable situation was compounded by bad weather and an alarming increase in sickness among the troops. With few other options available, Brunswick turned back and prepared to do battle.[3]

The troops trudged laboriously through a heavy downpour—"rain as of the days of Noah", in the words of Thomas Carlyle.[10] Brunswick headed through the northern woods believing he could cut off Dumouriez. At the moment when the Prussian manœuvre was nearly completed, Kellermann advanced his left wing and took up a position on the slopes between Sainte-Menehould and Valmy.[6] He centered his command around an old windmill, which he quickly razed to prevent enemy artillery spotters from using it as a sighting location.[11] His veteran artillerists were well-placed upon its accommodating ridge to begin the so-called "Cannonade of Valmy".[3] Brunswick moved toward them with about 34,000 of his troops.[9] As they emerged from the woods, a long-range gunnery duel ensued and the French batteries proved superior. The Prussian infantry made a cautious, and fruitless, effort to advance under fire across the open ground.[3]

As the Prussians wavered, a pivotal moment was reached when Kellermann raised his hat and made his famous cry of "Vive la Nation". The cry was repeated again and again by all the French army, and had a crushing effect upon Prussian morale. The French troops sang "La Marseillaise" and "Ça Ira", and a cheer went up from the French line.[12] To the surprise of nearly everyone, Brunswick broke off the action and retired from the field. The Prussians rounded the French positions at a great distance and commenced a rapid retreat eastward. The two engaged forces had been essentially equal in size, Kellermann with approximately 36,000 troops and 40 cannon, and Brunswick with 34,000 and 54 cannon. Yet by the time Brunswick retreated, casualties had risen no higher than three hundred French and two hundred Prussians.[13]

Prussian retreat

The precipitous end to the action provoked elation among the French.[3] The question of exactly why the Prussians withdrew has never been definitively answered. Most historians ascribe the retreat to some combination of the following factors: the highly defensible French position[3] together with the rapidly growing numbers of reinforcements and citizen volunteers[14] with their discouraging and thoroughly unexpected élan[15] which persuaded the cautious Brunswick to spare himself a dangerous loss of manpower,[16] particularly when the Russian invasion of Poland had already raised concerns for Prussia's defensibility in the east.[14] Others have put forward more shadowy motives for the decision, including a secret plea by Louis XVI to avoid an action which might cost him his life, and even bribery of the Prussians, allegedly paid for with the Bourbon crown jewels.[17] Brunswick had actually been offered command of the French armies prior to the outbreak of war and émigré factions subsequently used this as a basis to allege treachery on his part. However no proof of this charge exists and the more likely explanation remains that, having initially adopted an aggressive strategy, he lacked the will to carry it through when confronted by an unexpectedly determined and disciplined opposition.[18] In any case, the battle ended decisively, the French pursuit was not seriously pressed,[19] and Brunswick's troops managed a safe if inglorious eastward retreat.[20]


This engagement was the turning point of the Prussians' campaign. Beset with food shortages and dysentery, their retreat continued well past the Rhine River.[20] French troops soon struck forward into Germany, taking Mainz in October. Dumouriez once again moved against the Austrian Netherlands and Kellermann ably secured the front at Metz.[20]

Dumouriez would bear a harsh change of fortune: after one more influential success in November 1792 at Jemappes, he was by the following year a broken man. His army had suffered such catastrophic losses that he defected to the royalist side for the rest of his life.[21] Kellermann, however, continued in a long and distinguished military career. In 1808 he was ennobled by Napoleon and became Duke of Valmy.[22]


Valmy Windmuehle 01 09
A modern replica of the windmill at Valmy stands amid a memorial site.

In the varied historiography of the French Revolution, the Battle of Valmy is often portrayed as the first victory of a citizen army, inspired by liberty and nationalism. Many thousands of volunteers did indeed swell the ranks, but at least half of the French forces were professional soldiers, particularly among Kellermann's critical artillery units.[3] The French artillery also held a tactical advantage in its modern Gribeauval gun system which proved highly successful on the battlefield.[7] But in popular conception, Valmy was a victory of citizen-soldiers: the battle was emblemized by Kellermann's cry, augmented by the troops' singing of "La Marseillaise" and the "Ça Ira" while under fire.[20]

On the day of the battle, the Legislative Assembly had duly transferred its power to the National Convention.[19] Over the next two days, flush with the news from Valmy, the new Convention deputies abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the French Republic.[23] The victory was a much-needed source of pride for the revolutionary French state, and provided enduring inspiration for the years that followed.[15] It was considered by many contemporaries to be a miraculous event for France, and a "decisive defeat" for one of the most effective armies in Europe.[24] Scholars continue to count it among the most significant clashes in military history.[13][25]

The Prussians themselves recognized the importance of the battle, not merely as a setback in the war but as a crucial advancement for the Revolution as a whole.[26] The German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was present at the battle with the Prussian army, later wrote that he was approached by some of his comrades in a state of dejection. He had previously cheered them up with memorable and clever quotes but his only consolation this time was, "Here and today, a new epoch in the history of the world has begun, and you can boast you were present at its birth."[23]


  1. ^ Creasy, p. 334.
  2. ^ Creasy, p. 330.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Schama, p. 640.
  4. ^ Fuller, p. 352.
  5. ^ Price, p. 311.
  6. ^ a b c d Chisholm, p. 171.
  7. ^ a b Fuller, p. 350.
  8. ^ Crowdy, pp. 8, 24.
  9. ^ a b c Tucker, p. 260.
  10. ^ Carlyle, p. 39.
  11. ^ Azema pp. 84-85.
  12. ^ Soboul, p. 589.
  13. ^ a b Lanning, p. 145.
  14. ^ a b Doyle, p. 198.
  15. ^ a b Soboul, p. 269.
  16. ^ Esdaile, p. 161.
  17. ^ Webster, pp. 348–52.
  18. ^ Price, pp. 311–12.
  19. ^ a b Soboul, p. 270.
  20. ^ a b c d Schama, p. 641.
  21. ^ Thiers, pp. 298ff.
  22. ^ Dunn-Pattinson, p. 321.
  23. ^ a b Doyle, p. 193.
  24. ^ Horne, p. 197.
  25. ^ Creasy, pp. 328ff.
  26. ^ Blanning, pp. 78–79.


  • Azema, Jean-Pierre Henri. Les Moulins de France (in French). Rennes: Fédération Française des Amis des Moulins. ISBN 2-7373-1673-1.
  • Blanning, T. C. W. (1996). The French Revolutionary Wars 1787–1802. London: Arnold. ISBN 0-340-64533-4.
  • Carlyle, Thomas (1800s) [1837]. The French Revolution: A History. 3. London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd. OCLC 461166553.
  • Chisholm, Hugh (1910). Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 11. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. OCLC 490852439. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  • Creasy, Edward Shepherd (1851). The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, from Marathon to Waterloo. New York: Harper & Brothers. OCLC 5026550. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  • Crowdy, Terry. French Revolutionary Infantryman, 1791–1802. Warrior series. 63. Oxford: Osprey. pp. 8, 24. ISBN 1-84176-552-X.
  • Doyle, William (2002). The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-925298-5.
  • Dunn-Pattinson, Richard P. (2010) [1909]. Napoleon's Marshals. Bremen, Germany: Europaeischer Hochschulverlag GmbH & Co. ISBN 978-3-86741-429-6. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  • Esdaile, Charles (2009). Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803–1815. New York: Penguin. p. 161. ISBN 0-14-311628-2. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  • Fuller, J. F. C. (1987) [1954]. A Military History of the Western World. II. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80305-4.
  • Horne, Alistair (2004). La Belle France. New York: Vintage. ISBN 978-1-4000-3487-1.
  • Lanning, Michael Lee (2005). The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History's Most Influential Battles. Chicago: Sourcebooks, Inc. ISBN 1-4022-0263-6. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  • Price, Munro (2002). The Fall of the French Monarchy. London: Pan Macmillan Ltd. ISBN 0-330-48827-9.
  • Schama, Simon (1989). Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-72610-1.
  • Soboul, Albert (1975). The French Revolution 1787–1799. New York: Vintage. ISBN 0-394-71220-X.
  • Thiers, Adolphe (1838). The History of the French Revolution. II. London: Richard Bentley. OCLC 2949605. Retrieved 2013-01-29.
  • Tucker, Spencer Tucker (2010). Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict. Oxford: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-59884-429-6.
  • Webster, Nesta Helen (1919). The French Revolution: A Study in Democracy. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. ISBN 0-7661-7996-6.

Further reading

  • Arthur Chuquet, Les Guerres de la Révolution. 2, Valmy (En: The Revolutionary Wars, Vol. 2: Valmy), 1887 (in French)
  • Campagne du Duc de Brunswick contre les Français en 1792 (En: Campaign of the Duke of Brunswick against the French in 1792) – an eyewitness account by a Prussian officer, first published in France in 1794 (in French)

External links



was a leap year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar and a leap year starting on Thursday of the Julian calendar, the 1792nd year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 792nd year of the 2nd millennium, the 92nd year of the 18th century, and the 3rd year of the 1790s decade. As of the start of 1792, the Gregorian calendar was

11 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.

1792 in France

Events from the year 1792 in France.

Army of the Centre

The Army of the Centre (armée du Centre) was one of the first French Revolutionary Armies, named after the location it was set up, the Centre region. It was created by order of king Louis XVI of France on 14 December 1791 and attached to Champagne. It had only an ephemeral existence after the battle of Valmy and the Prussians' evacuation of the territory.

Its name reflects its position occupying the centre of the French order of battle on the northern and eastern frontiers, between the armée du Nord and armée du Rhin, the 3rd and 4th military divisions on their creation, then also the 2nd division from 23 March.

By a National Convention decree of 1 October 1792, it was renamed the armée de la Moselle, but remained known as the armée du Centre whilst Kellermann was at its head (i.e. until 7 November 1792).

Fernig sisters

Félicité Fernig (1770–1841) was with her sister Théophile Fernig (1775–1819), known as one of the Sœurs Fernig (Fernig sisters); two sisters who enlisted in the French army dressed as men during the French revolutionary wars, and who were allowed to remain in service after their gender was discovered, becoming celebrities frequently mentioned in the contemporary French press.

They were born to Marie Adrienne Bassez and the military François Louis Joseph Fernig, who educated them in the use of weapons, and when the Austrians invaded France in 1792, they enlisted in the defense dressed as men and were admired for their courage. When their sex were discovered, they were allowed to remain in service, which happened in at least some cases during this period. They served during the Battle of Valmy, Battle of Jemappes, Battle of Anderlecht, and the Battle of Nerwinde. They were appointed aid-de-camp officers under general Charles François Dumouriez, and was after his treason in 1793 sentenced to exile despite their pleas that they had taken no part in his betrayal. Their exile was retracted in 1802 and they settled in Brussels, were Félicité married captain François Joseph Herman Van der Wallen.

Forest of Argonne

The Forest of Argonne is a long strip of rocky mountain and wild woodland in north-eastern France, three hours east of Paris, France.

In 1792 Charles François Dumouriez outmaneuvered the invading forces of the Duke of Brunswick in the forest before the Battle of Valmy.

During World War I, the forest again became the site of intense military action. Bitter fighting between German and Allied units took place here in autumn and winter 1914, summer 1915 and autumn 1918. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (1918), several United States Army soldiers earned the Medal of Honor there, including Colonel Nelson Miles Holderman, Major Charles White Whittlesey, Sergeant Alvin C. York - most of them part of the "Lost Battalion", and William Henry Johnson a.k.a. "Black Death".

The World War I Montfaucon American Monument consists of a large granite Doric column, surmounted by a statue symbolic of Liberty. The monument is located twenty miles northwest of Verdun. It is not far from the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial.

François Marie d'Aboville

François Marie d'Aboville (January 23, 1730 – November 1, 1817) was a French général de division (major general). He was the father of Augustin Gabriel d'Aboville and Augustin-Marie d'Aboville. He was born in Brest. He fought in the Seven Years' War. He fought in the American Revolutionary War against the British at the Battle of Yorktown (1781). He fought at the Battle of Valmy in the War of the First Coalition. During the Hundred Days of 1815 and after the Bourbon Restoration, he served in the Chamber of Peers. He was a grand officer of the Legion of Honour and a recipient of the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Louis.

French Revolutionary Army

The French Revolutionary Army (French: Armée révolutionnaire française) was the French force that fought the French Revolutionary Wars from 1792 to 1802. These armies were characterised by their revolutionary fervour, their poor equipment and their great numbers. Although they experienced early disastrous defeats, the revolutionary armies successfully expelled foreign forces from French soil and then overran many neighboring countries, establishing client republics. Leading generals included Jourdan, Bonaparte, Masséna and Moreau.

As a general description of French military forces during this period, it should not be confused with the "revolutionary armies" (armées révolutionnaires) which were paramilitary forces set up during the Terror.

French ship Valmy (1847)

Valmy, named after the Battle of Valmy, was the largest three-decker of the French Navy, and the largest tall ship ever built in France.

Gabriel, comte d'Hédouville

Gabriel-Marie-Théodore-Joseph, comte d'Hédouville (27 July 1755 in Laon, Aisne – 30 March 1825) (also Thomas Hedouville) was a French soldier and diplomat.

Horace Vernet

Émile Jean-Horace Vernet (30 June 1789 – 17 January 1863) was a French painter of battles, portraits, and Orientalist subjects.

Isidore Lynch

Isidore Lynch (7 June 1755 – 4 August 1841), was an Irish soldier.

Lynch was the son of Isidore Lynch and Judith Meade of Lynch Grove, County Galway, and a member of The Tribes of Galway. He was sent to France to be educated at Louis-le-Grand, Paris. He served in the 1770 war in India under one of his maternal uncles, colonel-commandant of Clare's Regiment. In the American War of Independence he served under Count d'Estaing, who commanded Lynch to carry an urgent order to another column at the siege of Savannah. To do so, Lynch chose to ride in a position that exposed him to fire from both the French and the English. Asked on his return why he chose such a route, he replied "Because it was the shortest."

Returning to France in 1783 he was appointed colonel of the second regiment of Walsh in the Irish Brigade, and was decorated with the Cross of Saint Louis. However, he took service in the army of the republic during the French Revolution and became lieutenant-general. He commanded the corps of infantry at the battle of Valmy in 1792.

Louis Gabriel Michaud

Louis-Gabriel Michaud (January 19, 1773, Castle Richemont – August 3, 1858) was a French writer, historian, printer, and bookseller. He was notable as the compiler of Biographie Universelle (1811-).

He became a lieutenant on July 15, 1791 and joined the Zweibrücken Regiment. In 1792 he participated in the Battle of Valmy and the Battle of Jemappes. Having reached the rank of captain in the 102nd line regiment, he left the army for health reasons.

In 1797, with his brother Joseph François Michaud and N. Giguet (died in 1810), he founded a (at first clandestine) printing press, specializing in books about religion and the monarchy. He was imprisoned with his brother and N. Giguet for several months in 1799 for having printed anti-Bonapartist literature. He obtained his first commission from abbot Jacques Delille, then a refugee in London, who entrusted him with his books to be printed.

Moulin de Valmy

The Moulin de Valmy is a post mill (French: moulin pivot) at Valmy, Marne, France. A windmill that stood on the site in 1634 was burnt during the Battle of Valmy in 1792. Its replacement was demolished in 1831. A mill was moved from Attiches, Nord in 1947. It blew down in 1999, but was rebuilt in 2005.

Nicolas-Joseph Beaurepaire

Nicolas-Joseph Beaurepaire (7 January 1740, Coulommiers, Seine-et-Marne – 2 September 1792) was a French officer.

Born in Coulommiers, he commanded the defense of Verdun against the invading Allied armies of the First Coalition, shortly before they were stopped at the Battle of Valmy. He chose death by suicide to avoid the dishonor of surrendering Verdun.

He was buried in the Panthéon, though his body has since disappeared.

Paul Grenier

Paul Grenier (29 January 1768 – 17 April 1827) joined the French royal army and rapidly rose to general officer rank during the French Revolutionary Wars. He led a division in the 1796-1797 campaign in southern Germany. During the 1800 campaign in the Electorate of Bavaria he was a wing commander. Beginning in 1809, in the Napoleonic Wars, Emperor Napoleon I entrusted him with corps commands in the Italian theater. A skilled tactician, he was one of the veteran generals who made the Napoleonic armies such a formidable foe to the other European powers. After the Bourbon Restoration he retired from the army and later went into politics. Grenier is one of the Names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe.

Reign of Terror

The Reign of Terror, or The Terror (French: la Terreur), is the label given by most historians to a period during the French Revolution after the First French Republic was established.

Several historians consider the "reign of terror" to have begun in 1793, placing the starting date at either 5 September, June or March (birth of the Revolutionary Tribunal), while some consider it to have begun in September 1792 (September Massacres), or even July 1789 (when the first lynchings took place), but there is a consensus that it ended with the fall of Maximilien Robespierre in July 1794.Between June 1793 and the end of July 1794, there were 16,594 official death sentences in France, of which 2,639 were in Paris.


Valmy is a commune in the Marne department in north-eastern France.

Valmy, Nevada

Valmy is a census-designated place in Humboldt County, Nevada, United States, named after the Battle of Valmy in France. It is home to Newmont Mining's large Lone Tree gold-mining complex; mining ended there in 2007, though a small gold resource remains in place there. Valmy is also home to the North Valmy Generating Station, jointly owned by NV Energy and Idaho Power.Valmy has a post office, with the ZIP code 89438. As of the 2010 census, the community had a population of 37.

War of the First Coalition

The War of the First Coalition (French: Guerre de la Première Coalition) is the traditional name of the wars that several European powers fought between 1792 and 1797 against the French First Republic. Despite the collective strength of these nations compared with France, they were not really allied and fought without much apparent coordination or agreement. Each power had its eye on a different part of France it wanted to appropriate after a French defeat, which never occurred.France declared war on the Habsburg Monarchy (cf. the Holy Roman Empire, Austrian Empire etc.) on 20 April 1792. In July 1792, an army under the Duke of Brunswick and composed mostly of Prussians joined the Austrian side and invaded France, only to be rebuffed at the Battle of Valmy in September.

Subsequently these powers made several invasions of France by land and sea, with Prussia and Austria attacking from the Austrian Netherlands and the Rhine, and the Kingdom of Great Britain supporting revolts in provincial France and laying siege to Toulon in October 1793. France suffered reverses (Battle of Neerwinden, 18 March 1793) and internal strife (War in the Vendée) and responded with draconian measures. The Committee of Public Safety formed (6 April 1793) and the levée en masse drafted all potential soldiers aged 18 to 25 (August 1793). The new French armies counterattacked, repelled the invaders, and advanced beyond France.

The French established the Batavian Republic as a sister republic (May 1795) and gained Prussian recognition of French control of the Left Bank of the Rhine by the first Peace of Basel. With the Treaty of Campo Formio, the Holy Roman Empire ceded the Austrian Netherlands to France and Northern Italy was turned into several French sister republics. Spain made a separate peace accord with France (Second Treaty of Basel) and the French Directory carried out plans to conquer more of the Holy Roman Empire (German States, and Austria under the same rule).

North of the Alps, Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen redressed the situation in 1796, but Napoleon carried all before him against Sardinia and Austria in northern Italy (1796–1797) near the Po Valley, culminating in the Treaty of Leoben and the Treaty of Campo Formio (October 1797). The First Coalition collapsed, leaving only Britain in the field fighting against France.

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