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 Revolutionary Army|
French Revolutionary Army
|Allegiance||First French Republic|
|Motto(s)||Honneur et Patrie|
|Engagements||War of the First Coalition|
War of the Second Coalition
Jean Victor Marie Moreau
As the ancien regime gave way to a constitutional monarchy, and then to a republic, 1789–92, the entire structure of France was transformed to fall into line with the Revolutionary principles of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity". Reactionary Europe stood opposed, especially after the French king was executed. The signing of the Declaration of Pillnitz between Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor and King Frederick William II of Prussia and the subsequent French declaration of war meant that from its formation, the Republic of France was at war, and it required a potent military force to ensure its survival. As a result, one of the first major elements of the French state to be restructured was the army.
Almost all of the ancien regime officer class had been drawn from the aristocracy. During the period preceding the final overthrow of the Monarchy, large numbers of officers left their regiments and emigrated. Between 15 September and 1 December 1791 alone 2,160 officers of the royal army fled France eventually to join the émigré army of Louis Joseph, Prince of Condé. Of those who stayed numbers were either imprisoned or killed during the Reign of Terror. The small remaining cadre of officers were promoted swiftly; this meant that the majority of the Revolutionary officers were far younger than their Monarchist counterparts. Those high-ranking aristocratic officers who remained, among them Marquis de la Fayette, Comte de Rochambeau and Comte Nicolas Luckner, were soon accused of having monarchist sympathies and either executed or forced into exile.
Revolutionary fervour, along with calls to save the new regime, resulted in a large influx of enthusiastic yet untrained and undisciplined volunteers (the first sans-culottes, so called because they wore peasants trousers rather than the knee-breeches used by the other armies of the time). The desperate situation meant that these men were quickly inducted into the army. One reason for the success of the French Revolutionary Army is the "amalgamation" (amalgame) organized by the military strategist Lazare Carnot, later Napoleon's Minister of War, who assembled in the same regiment, but in different battalions, young volunteers full of enthusiasm at the thought of dying for liberty and old veterans from the former royal army.
The transformation of the Army was best seen in the officer corps. Before the revolution 90% had been aristocrats, compared to only 3% in 1794. Revolutionary fervor was high, and was closely monitored by the Committee of Public Safety, which assigned Representatives on Mission to keep watch on the general. Indeed, some generals deserted, others were removed or executed. The government demanded that soldiers be loyal to the government in Paris, not to their generals.
Officially, the Revolutionary Armies were operating along the guidelines set down in the 1791 Reglement, a set of regulations created during the years before the Revolution. The 1791 Reglement laid down several complex tactical maneuvers, maneuvers which demanded well trained soldiers, officers and NCOs to perform correctly. The Revolutionary Army was lacking in all three of these areas, and as a result the early efforts to conform to the 1791 Reglement were met with disaster. The untrained troops could not perform the complex maneuvers required, unit cohesion was lost and defeat was ensured.
Realizing that the army was not capable of conforming with the 1791 Reglement, commanders began experimenting with formations which required less training to perform. Many eminent French military thinkers had been clamoring for change decades before. In the period following the humiliating performance of the French Army during the Seven Years' War, they began to experiment with new ideas. Guibert wrote his epic Essai général de Tactique, Bourcet focused on staff procedures and mountain warfare, and Mesnil-Durand spent his time advocating l'ordre profond, tactics of maneuvering and fighting in heavy columnar formations, placing emphasis on the shock of cold steel over firepower.
In the 1770s, some commanders, among them the brilliant duc de Broglie performed exercises testing these tactics. It was finally decided to launch a series of experiments to try out the new tactics, and comparing them to the standard Fredrickian linear formation known as l'ordre mince which was universally popular throughout Europe. De Broglie decided that l'ordre profond worked best when it was supported by artillery and large numbers of skirmishers. Despite these exercises, l'ordre mince had strong and powerful supporters in the Royal Armée Française, and it was this formation which went into the 1791 Reglement as the standard.
The French struck first, with an invasion of the Austrian Netherlands proposed by foreign minister Charles François Dumouriez. This invasion soon turned into a debacle when it was found that the hastily trained Revolutionary forces badly lacked obedience: on one occasion, troops murdered their general to avoid a battle; on another, troops insisted on putting their commander's orders to a vote. The Revolutionary forces retreated from the Austrian Netherlands in disarray.
In August 1792, a large Austro-Prussian army commanded by the Duke of Brunswick crossed the frontier and began its march on Paris with the declared intention of restoring full power to Louis XVI. Several Revolutionary armies were easily defeated by the professional Austrian, Hessian, Brunswick and Prussian troops. The immediate result of this was the storming of the Tuileries Palace and the overthrow of the king. Successive Revolutionary forces failed to halt Brunswick's advance, and by mid-September it appeared that Paris would fall to the monarchists. The Convention ordered the remaining armies to be combined under the command of Dumouriez and François Christophe Kellermann. At the Battle of Valmy on 20 September 1792, the Revolutionary forces defeated Brunswick's advance guard, causing the invading army to begin retreating to the border. Much of the credit to the victory must go to the French artillery, widely viewed as the best in Europe thanks to the technical improvements of Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval.
The Battle of Valmy ensured that the Revolutionary armies were respected by their enemies, and for the next ten years they not only defended the fledgling First French Republic, but under the command of Generals such as Moreau, Jourdan, Kléber, Desaix and Bonaparte expanded the borders of the French republic.
While the Cannonade of Valmy had saved the Republic from imminent destruction and caused its enemies to take pause, the guillotining of Louis XVI in January 1793 and the convention's proclamation that it would 'export the revolution' hardened the resolve of France's enemies to destroy the Republic and reinstate a monarchy.
In early 1793, the First Coalition was formed, not only from Prussia and Austria, but also Sardinia, Naples, the Dutch United Provinces, Spain and Great Britain. The Republic was under attack on several fronts, and in the fiercely Catholic region of La Vendée an armed revolt had broken out. The Revolutionary army was greatly overstretched, and it seemed that the fall of the republic was imminent.
In early 1793 Lazare Carnot, a prominent mathematician, physicist, and delegate to the Convention, was promoted to the Committee of Public Safety. Displaying an exceptional talent for organization and for enforcing discipline, Carnot set about rearranging the disheveled Revolutionary Armies. Realizing that no amount of reforming and discipline was going to offset the massive numerical superiority enjoyed by France's enemies, Carnot ordered (24 February 1793 decree of the national Convention) each département to provide a quota of new recruits, a number totaling around 300,000. By mid-1793, the Revolutionary Army had increased around 645,000 men.
On 23 August 1793, at Carnot's insistence, the Convention issued the following proclamation ordering a levée en masse
All unmarried able bodied men aged between 18 and 25 were to report immediately for military service. Those married, as well as the remaining men, women and children, were to focus their efforts on arming and supplying the army.
This increased the size of the Revolutionary Armies dramatically, providing the armies in the field with the manpower to hold off the enemy attacks. Carnot was hailed by the government as the Organizer of Victory. By September 1794, the Revolutionary Army had 1,500,000 men under arms. Carnot's levée en masse had provided so much manpower that it was not necessary to repeat it again until 1797.
Seeing the failure of the 1791 Reglement, several early revolutionary commanders followed de Broglie's example and experimented with the pre-revolutionary ideas, gradually adapting them until they discovered a system that worked. The final standard used by the early Revolutionary Armies consisted of the following.
Following the dissolution of the ancien regime, the system of named regiments was abandoned. Instead, the new army was formed into a series of numbered demi-brigades. Consisting of two or three battalions, these formations were designated demi-brigades in an attempt to avoid the feudal connotations of the term Regiment. In mid-1793, the Revolutionary Army officially comprised 196 infantry demi-brigades.
After the initial dismal performance of the Fédéré volunteer battalions, Carnot ordered that each demi-brigade was to consist of one regular (ex-Royal Army) and two fédéré battalions. These new formations, intended to combine the discipline and training of the old army with the enthusiasm of the new volunteers, were proven successful at Valmy in September 1792. In 1794, the new demi-brigade was universally adopted.
The Revolutionary Army had been formed from a hodgepodge of different units, and as such did not have a uniform appearance. Veterans in their white uniforms and tarleton helmets from the ancien regime period served alongside national guardsmen in their blue jackets with white turnbacks piped red and fédérés dressed in civilian clothes with only the red phrygian cap and the tricolour cockade to identify them as soldiers. Poor supplies meant that uniforms which had worn out were replaced with civilian clothes, and so the Revolutionary Army lacked any semblance of uniformity, with the exception of the tricolour cockade which was worn by all soldiers. As the war progressed, several demi-brigades were issued specific coloured uniform jackets, and the Revolutionary Armée d'Orient which arrived in Egypt in 1798 was uniformed in purple, pink, green, red, orange and blue jackets.
Along with the problem of uniforms, many men of the Revolutionary Army lacked weapons and ammunition. Any weapons captured from the enemy were immediately absorbed into the ranks. After the Battle of Montenotte in 1796, 1,000 French soldiers who had been sent into battle unarmed were afterwards equipped with captured Austrian muskets. As a result, uniformity was also lacking in weapons.
Besides the regular demi-brigades, light infantry demi-brigades also existed. These formations were formed from soldiers who had shown skill in marksmanship, and were used for skirmishing in front of the main force. As with the line demi-brigades, the light demi-brigades lacked uniformity in either weapons or equipment.
Supporting the skirmishers was the French artillery. The artillery had suffered least from the exodus of aristocratic officers during the early days of the Revolution, as it was commanded mostly by men drawn from the middle class. The man who would shape the era, Napoleon Bonaparte, himself was an artilleryman. The various technical improvements of Général Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval in the years preceding the Revolution, and the subsequent efforts of Baron du Teil and his brother Chevalier Jean du Teil meant that the French artillery was the finest in Europe. The Revolutionary Artillery was responsible for several of the Republic's early victories; for example at Valmy, on 13 Vendémiaire, and at Lodi. The revolutionary cannon played a vital role in their success. The cannon continued to have a dominating role on the battlefield throughout the Napoleonic Wars.
The cavalry was seriously affected by the Revolution. The majority of officers had been of aristocratic birth and had fled France during the final stages of the monarchy or to avoid the subsequent Terror. Many French cavalrymen joined the émigré army of the Prince du Conde. Two entire regiments, the Hussards du Saxe and the 15éme Cavalerie (Royal Allemande) defected to the Austrians.
Lacking not only trained officers, but also mounts and equipment, the Revolutionary Cavalry became the worst equipped arm of the Revolutionary Army. By Mid 1793, the paper organisation of the Revolutionary Army included twenty six heavy cavalry regiments, two regiments of carabiniers, twenty dragoon regiments, eighteen regiments of chasseurs à cheval and ten hussar regiments. In reality, it was seldom that any of these regiments reached even half strength. However, unlike the infantry, where all battalions of the old Royal Army were merged with freshly raised volunteers to form new demi-brigades, the cavalry retained their regimental identities throughout the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. As one example, the Regiment de Chasseurs d'Alsace (raised in 1651) was renamed the 1er Regiment de Chasseurs in 1791 but otherwise remained unchanged until it was finally disbanded after Waterloo.
The French Aerostatic Corps (compagnie d'aérostiers) was the first French air force, founded in 1794 to use balloons, primarily for reconnaissance. The first military use of the balloon occurred on 2 June 1794, when it was used for reconnaissance during an enemy bombardment. On 22 June, the corps received orders to move the balloon to the plain of Fleurus, in front of the Austrian troops at Charleroi.
On 1 October, the Armée de la Rochelle was redesignated as the armée de l'Ouest.
Additional Forces Act of July 1803 created the Army of Reserve for the defence of England against the imminent threat of sea-borne invasion by Napoleon's French Revolutionary Army. A total of 15,780 men were added to the English armed forces by this compulsory measure, creating the "Army of Reserve". The act was passed by William Pitt the Younger despite strong political opposition.Army of Mainz
The Army of Mainz or Army of Mayence (Armée de Mayence) was a French Revolutionary Army set up on 9 December 1797 by splitting the Army of Germany into the Army of Mayence and the Army of the Rhine. Part of it split off on 4 February 1799 to form the Army of Observation, though part of that army then re-merged as the Army of Mayence on 28 March that year. The remainder formed the Army of the Danube. In 1793, the French soldiers captured in the Siege of Mainz were paroled by the Prussians with the promise not to fight against the First Coalition for one year. As their parole conditions did not prohibit them from fighting French rebels in the interior, the troops were sent to fight in the War in the Vendée under the unofficial name "Army of Mayence". This body was absorbed into the Army of the West on 6 October 1793.Army of the Ardennes
The Army of the Ardennes (armée des Ardennes) was a French Revolutionary Army formed on the first of October 1792 by splitting off the right wing of the Army of the North, commanded from July to August that year by La Fayette. From July to September 1792 General Dumouriez also misused the name Army of the Ardennes for the right wing of what was left of the Army of the North after the split, encamped at Sedan and the name of Army of the North for the left flank of the army.
It was reorganized by a decree of the Conseil exécutif on the first of March 1793, leading to only the right flank of the army keeping the name of Army of the Ardennes. The first division of the Army of the Ardennes re-merged back into the Army of the North on 5 October 1793, at which date the rest of the Army of the Ardennes continued as the Army of the Ardennes until 29 June 1794, when it merged with the Army of the North's right wing and the Army of the Moselle's left wing to form the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse.Army of the Coasts of Cherbourg
The Army of the Cherbourg coasts (French: Armée des côtes de Cherbourg) was a French Revolutionary Army.Army of the Moselle
The Army of the Moselle (Armée de la Moselle) was a French Revolutionary Army from 1791 through 1795. It was first known as the Army of the Centre and it fought at Valmy. In October 1792 it was renamed and subsequently fought at Trier, First Arlon, Biesingen, Kaiserslautern, Froeschwiller and Second Wissembourg. In the spring of 1794 the left wing was detached and fought at Second Arlon, Lambusart and Fleurus before being absorbed by the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse. In late 1794, the army captured Trier and initiated the Siege of Luxembourg. During the siege, the army was discontinued and its divisions were assigned to other armies.Battle of Grauholz
The Battle of Grauholz on 5 March 1798 was a battle between a Bernese army under Karl Ludwig von Erlach against the French Revolutionary Army under Balthazar Alexis Henri Schauenburg. The battle took place at Grauholz, a wooded hill in what is now the municipalities of Urtenen-Schönbühl and Moosseedorf in the canton of Bern in Switzerland. The government of Bern had already surrendered the previous day and the Bernese defeat at Grauholz ended their resistance to the French in the north of the canton.Capture of the Dutch fleet at Den Helder
The Capture of the Dutch fleet at Den Helder on the night of 23 January 1795 presents a rare occurrence of a "naval" battle between warships and cavalry, in which a French Revolutionary Hussar regiment surprised a Dutch Republican fleet frozen at anchor between the 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) stretch of sea that separates the mainland port of Den Helder and the island of Texel. After a charge across the frozen Zuiderzee, the French cavalry captured 14 Dutch ships and 850 guns. A capture of ships by horsemen is an extremely rare feat in military history.The French units were the 8th Hussar Regiment and the 15th Line Infantry Regiment of the French Revolutionary Army. Jean-Charles Pichegru was the leader of the French army that invaded the Dutch Republic. The Dutch fleet was commanded by captain Hermanus Reintjes. The actual capture was accomplished by Louis Joseph Lahure. The action happened during the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars.François Franceschi-Losio
François Franceschi-Losio (3 July 1770 – 1810) was an Italo-French general, who entered the French Revolutionary army in 1795.
Born in Milan, he served through the Italian campaign of 1796-97, and subsequently, like Franceschi-Delonne, with Masséna at Zurich and at Genoa, and at the headquarters of King Joseph Bonaparte in Italy and Spain. He was killed in a duel by Carlo Filangieri in 1810.Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars
The Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802) were a series of conflicts fought principally in Northern Italy between the French Revolutionary Army and a Coalition of Austria, Russia, Piedmont-Sardinia, and a number of other Italian states.Jean-Baptiste Jourdan
Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, 1st Comte Jourdan (29 April 1762 – 23 November 1833), enlisted as a private in the French royal army and rose to command armies during the French Revolutionary Wars. Emperor Napoleon I of France named him a Marshal of France in 1804 and he also fought in the Napoleonic Wars. After 1815, he became reconciled to the Bourbon Restoration. He was one of the most successful commanders of the French Revolutionary Army.Jean François Carteaux
Jean Baptiste François Carteaux (31 January 1751 – 12 April 1813) was a French painter who became a General in the French Revolutionary Army. He is notable chiefly for being the young Napoleon Bonaparte's commander at the siege of Toulon in 1793.Légion des Allobroges
The Légion des Allobroges was a unit of the French Revolutionary Army that consisted mainly of volunteers from Switzerland, Piedmont and Savoy.
The Legion's name refers to the Allobroges, a Gallic tribe in Roman times. Reviving Roman names and concepts was a common practice of the French Revolution.Old Swiss Confederacy
The Old Swiss Confederacy (Modern German: Alte Eidgenossenschaft; historically Eidgenossenschaft, after the Reformation also République des Suisses, Res publica Helvetiorum "Republic of the Swiss") was a loose confederation of independent small states (cantons, German Orte or Stände) within the Holy Roman Empire. It is the precursor of the modern state of Switzerland.
It formed during the 14th century, from a nucleus in what is now Central Switzerland, expanding to include the cities of Zürich and Berne by the middle of the century. This formed a rare union of rural and urban communes, all of which enjoyed imperial immediacy in the Holy Roman Empire.
This confederation of eight cantons (Acht Orte) was politically and militarily successful for more than a century, culminating in the Burgundy Wars of the 1470s which established it as a power in the complicated political landscape dominated by France and the Habsburgs. Its success resulted in the addition of more confederates, increasing the number of cantons to thirteen (Dreizehn Orte) by 1513. The confederacy pledged neutrality in 1647 (under the threat of the Thirty Years' War), although many Swiss served privately as mercenaries in the Italian Wars and during the Early Modern period.
After the Swabian War of 1499 the confederacy was a de facto independent state throughout the early modern period, although still nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War. The Swiss Reformation divided the confederates into Reformed and Catholic parties, resulting in internal conflict from the 16th to the 18th centuries; as a result, the federal diet (Tagsatzung) was often paralysed by hostility between the factions. The Swiss Confederacy fell to invasion by the French Revolutionary Army in 1798, after which it became the short-lived Helvetic Republic.Political commissar
In the military, a political commissar or political officer (or politruk, a portmanteau from Russian: политический руководитель, "political leader", "political official"), is a supervisory officer responsible for the political education (ideology) and organization of the unit they are assigned to, and intended to ensure civilian control of the military.
The function first appeared as commissaire politique (political commissioner) or représentant en mission (representative on mission) in the French Revolutionary Army during the Revolution (1789–99). It also existed, with interruptions, in the Soviet Red Army from 1918 to 1942, as well as in the armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1943 to 1945. The function remains in use in China's People's Liberation Army.Rheinfels Castle
Rheinfels Castle (German: Burg Rheinfels) is a castle ruin located above the left (west) bank of the Rhine in Sankt Goar, Germany. It was started in 1245 by Count Diether V of Katzenelnbogen. After expansions, it was the largest fortress in the Middle Rhein Valley between Koblenz and Mainz. It was slighted by French Revolutionary Army troops in 1797. It is the largest castle overlooking the Rhine, and historically covered five times its current area.
While much of the castle is a ruin, some of the outer buildings are now a luxury hotel, "wellness" centre and restaurant. There is also a museum within some of the better preserved structures.Schliengen
Schliengen is a town in southwestern Germany in the state of Baden-Württemberg, in the Kreis (district) of Lörrach. Schliengen's claim to international fame is the Battle of Schliengen (24 October 1796), fought between forces of the French Revolutionary army under Jean-Victor Moreau and the Austrian army under Karl von Österreich-Teschen. As both sides claimed victory, the battle is commemorated on a monument in Vienna and on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.Sylvain Charles Valée
Sylvain-Charles, comte Valée (17 December 1773 – 16 August 1846), born in Brienne-le-Château, was a Marshal of France.
Upon the outbreak of the French Revolution, Valée enlisted in the French revolutionary army and was sent to serve in the Army of the Nord. Promoted to captain in 1795 and to lieutenant colonel in 1804, Valée distinguished himself in the Battle of Jena, after which he was promoted to colonel in 1807 and given command of the 1st Artillery Regiment. In 1809, Valée was made commander of the artillery of the III Corps in Spain, where he distinguished himself in the sieges of Lleida, Tarragona, Tortosa and Valencia. In 1811 Valée was promoted to général de division and in 1814 Napoléon created him a count.
With the restoration of the House of Bourbon to the throne of France, Valée was made Inspector-General of the artillery. Although Napoléon upon his return from Elba made him commander of the artillery of the 5th military division, after the failure of the Waterloo campaign and the second restoration, Valée was retained by Louis XVIII as Inspector-General of the artillery. In this position he reorganized the French artillery, implementing the "Valée system".
Put on the non active list in September 1830, Valée was made a Peer of France in 1835 and in 1837 when the need arose for an experience artillery general, Valée was reinstated on the active service list and sent to Algeria. He commanded the artillery in the expedition against Constantine, and after the death of the army's commander, general Charles-Marie Denys de Damrémont, Valée was made commander of the French expeditionary forces. The forces commanded by Valée stormed and captured the city on October 13, a feat which gained him the Marshal's baton. Valée founded Skikda, and built the largest Roman theatre in Algeria in the town. It was built upon the ruins of ancient Roman and Phoenician history.Valée was then made governor-general and served in this capacity until 1840. During his time as governor-general, Valée was faced with the insurrection of Abd-el-Kader. Count Valéé died in 1846 in Paris.Tarrare
Tarrare (c. 1772 – 1798), sometimes spelled Tarare, was a French showman and soldier, noted for his unusual eating habits. Able to eat vast amounts of meat, he was constantly hungry; his parents could not provide for him, and he was turned out of the family home as a teenager. He travelled France in the company of a band of thieves and prostitutes, before becoming the warm-up act to a travelling charlatan; he would swallow corks, stones, live animals and a whole basketful of apples. He then took this act to Paris where he worked as a street performer.
At the start of the War of the First Coalition, Tarrare joined the French Revolutionary Army. With military rations unable to satisfy his large appetite, he would eat any available food from gutters and refuse heaps but his condition still deteriorated through hunger. He was hospitalised due to exhaustion and became the subject of a series of medical experiments to test his eating capacity, in which, among other things, he ate a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting, ate live cats, snakes, lizards and puppies, and swallowed eels whole without chewing. Despite his unusual diet, he was of normal size and appearance, and showed no signs of mental illness other than what was described as an apathetic temperament.
General Alexandre de Beauharnais decided to put Tarrare's abilities to military use, and he was employed as a courier by the French army, with the intention that he would swallow documents, pass through enemy lines, and recover them from his stool once safely at his destination. Tarrare could not speak German, and on his first mission was captured by Prussian forces, severely beaten and underwent a mock execution before being returned to French lines.
Chastened by this experience, he agreed to submit to any procedure that would cure his appetite, and was treated with laudanum, tobacco pills, wine vinegar and soft-boiled eggs. The procedures failed, and doctors could not keep him on a controlled diet; he would sneak out of the hospital to scavenge for offal in gutters, rubbish heaps and outside butchers' shops, and attempted to drink the blood of other patients in the hospital and to eat the corpses in the hospital morgue. After being suspected of eating a toddler he was ejected from the hospital. He reappeared four years later in Versailles with a case of severe tuberculosis, and died shortly afterwards, following a lengthy bout of exudative diarrhoea.