French Revolutionary Forces (Part 2) – Ludwig Baer
The French Army
• Masion du Roi
• Line Regiments (mostly soldiers of French nationality)
• Foreign Regiments
No details of the Masion du Roi troops are needed, because they are listed in the first part of this article, but normally they were not used in battle. The line regiments were established by a man who got money from the King or from a wealthy part of the country. They were citizens of the state. For the “Foreign Regiments" (l’Infanterie Etrangere de Ligne) the story is different. Foreign soldiers came with their officers from foreign countries. The Royal French Army had the following foreign regiments: Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, and Wallonie. Switzerland sent twelve regiments and Germany sent around 16 regiments.
In late 1790 the French army was in bad condition. The officers, most of which came from the nobility, had left their units because they feared for their lives. During September and December 1791, more than 2,000 officers left their troops and migrated east to join the emigre armee of the Prince of Conde stationed near Coblenz, east of the French border. Other officers were put into jail or killed during the Reign of Terror.
In 1791 the army organization changed. The army had lost most of their officers because they left their posts, were arrested or sent to the guillotine. Nevertheless, they started with a reorganization. The regiments of the infantry lost their traditional titles and received numbers starting with Nr.1 and ending in 1791 with Nr.111. The former name of the 111th regiment was “Ile de Bourbon" established in 1772. The same goes for the cavalry and other troops. The foreign regiments were sent home, except the Swiss Guard, which was headed for disaster (details on that later). After these changes the army no longer stood loyal to the King (except the Swiss guard) but to the Republic.
In 1791 the “French Authorities" implemented a new regulation that governed the Revolutionary Armies. The 1791 Reglement seemed great in theory, but it had one big problem: to work it needed well-trained officers, NCOs and soldiers. The Revolutionary Armies needed soldiers quickly, though, so the National Assembly called for volunteers. A large number of untrained and undisciplined men showed up for service (they were called sansculotte, because they did not wear the standard knee-breeches of the old soldiers, but wore peasant trousers that were more comfortable). The French had a good military planer, Lazare Carnot, who later served as Minister of War under Napoleon. He formed the new demi-brigade with three battalions, two of them with young volunteers and one with old veterans from the Royal Army. Along with these units, there were light infantry demi-brigades with soldiers skilled in marksmanship that were used at the front of the main force as skirmishers.
On September 14, 1791, France became a constitutional monarchy, which meant that from now on King Louis had to share the power with the Legislative Assembly, but he still kept his right of veto. By December 14,1791, the Army of the Rhine (Armee du Rhin) was established by the order of King Louis. This was one of most important French Revolutionary armies operating along the River Rhine. A volunteer battalion came from the City of Marseille via Paris (July 30th) singing a special war song. This song later became the French National Anthem, “La Marseillaise."
On December 14, 1791, the King signed an order to establish “The Army of the Centre." The army was stationed in the Centre Region and occupied the center between the Army of the North and the Army of the Rhine. By decree of the National Convention dated October 1, 1792, the army was renamed the Army de la Moselle. The first commander was General Lafayette.
On April 28, 1792, the French foreign minister prepared a paper requesting the invasion of the Austrian Netherlands (currently a part of Belgium and Luxemburg). After the foundation of the Batavian Republic, 25,000 French soldiers remained in the country. At the same time the Legislative Assembly supported by Louis XVI voted for war against the Holy Roman Empire on April 20, 1792, almost half a year after Pillnitz. King Louis XVI signed the declaration of war.
On February 7, 1792, Prussia and Leopold4 signed an alliance against France. One day later, on February 8th, the French declaration of war against Prussia followed. Prior to their invasion of France, the Duke of Brunswick, commander of the Prussian/Austrian Army issued a manifesto to the people of Paris that they should keep the King and his family in good condition otherwise there would be repercussions. Before they published the paper King Louis received it through secret channels and approved it.
The Brunswick Manifesto had the opposite effect on the Allies. On August 10th a group of people from Paris (Sansculottes) and other rioters loyal to the Paris Commune assailed the Tuileries and took the King and his family as prisoners. They were brought to the Temple, an old fortress in Paris, which was used as prison. During the entire day there was heavy fighting between the last guard unit of the King and the assailants. During the course of the fighting, the King ordered that the Swiss Guard cease-fire, but not all received the order. The crowd killed those who ceased fire and those who continued, all together about 900 Swiss guardsmen, including their officers. Slightly more than 300 made it home. On September 21, 1792, France became a Republic.
After the Tuileries disaster, Austrian and Prussian troops, beginning on August 19, 1792, crossed the French border and attacked at Longwy, a fortress on August 23rd. The next town to surrender was Verdun on September 3, 1792. Thereafter, the allied forces, made up mostly of Prussian troops, turned to Paris. On their march through the Forest of Argonne they came in contact with French troops belonging to Army of the North under General Dumouriez and the Army of the Centre under the command of General Kellermann. The Army of the North was on their march towards the Austrian Netherlands and had turned against the allied troops to assist General Kellermann.
On September 22, 1792, French troops penetrated without declaration of war into Savoy, which belonged to the kingdom of Piedmont Sardina. Just ten days later the City of Mainz, and two days later the City of Frankfurt, were occupied by French troops. On November 6, 1792, the Austrian army lost the battle of Jemappes against the French Revolution army and the Austrian Netherlands fell to France.
At the beginning of the war the quality of the French infantry was not the greatest, but they did have excellent artillery and had enough qualified officers, mostly coming from the middle-class (the most famous of these officers was Napoleon Bonaparte). The artillery single-handedly won the Battle of Valmy. After their march through the Forest of Argonne, the allied forces reached the area of Valmy where the Prussian commander Duke Brunswick tried to cut off the Army of the North. On the morning of September 20th, 47,000 French soldiers stood against 35,000 allied soldiers of Austria, Prussia and Hessen. The French army opened fire and the French artillery kept their superior position using better, more modern guns made according to the new Gribeauval-System.
The French army had 40 cannons designed in the new system while Brunswick’s artillery had 54 cannons made from the old system. The Prussians attacked twice, but failed in each attempt. They retreated from the battlefield because of soldier sickness and lack of supplies, including food and ammunition. The Prussian troops retreated across the River Rhine while the Austrians went back to the Netherlands. The French army followed the Prussians and conquered the entire western part of the Rhine. Details on this can be found in the article War of the First Coalition.
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 First French Republic, but under the command of Generals such as Moreau, Jourdan, Kléber, Desaix and Bonaparte expanded the borders of the French republic.
But the story does not end there. After France became a Republic, King Louis XVI and his family lost their royal titles. They became known as the Family Capet and the King now “Citoyen Louis Capet.”
In November 1792, while people were inspecting the Tuileries Palace, they found an iron cabinet (Armoir de Fer) filled with secret documents. These documents brought forth accusations against the King of high treason. A convention held on January 15, 1793, ended with a vote of 361 members in favor of an immediate execution for the former king. On January 21, 1793, Louis made his last way to the guillotine. His widow, Marie Antoinette, was later called to a Revolutionary Tribunal on October 14, 1793. After two days of proceedings she was also found guilty of treason and was executed the same day.
On January 31, 1793, France declared war against Great Britain and Holland. On February 1st Great Britain joined the Austrian/Prussian Coalition against France.
Because of the massive scope of the war, the French army was in need of additional soldiers. Therefore, the National Convention called by decree on February 14, 1793, for a national draft of about 300,000 men with each French département supplying a certain number. By March 1793 France was at war with Austria, Prussia, Spain, Britain and Piedmont. On March 11th a royalist uprising occurred in the Vendee part of France. By that time the French army strength was up to roughly 645,000, though the military situation was not good.
On March 18, 1793, Austria re-conquered the Netherlands, and on July 23rd the City of Mainz fell back into Prussian hands. Therefore, on August 23rd the French National Convention called for a conscription, a so-called “levée en masse.”
“From this moment until such time as its enemies shall have been driven from the soil of the Republic, all Frenchmen are in permanent requisition for the services of the armies. The young men shall fight; the married men shall forge arms and transport provisions; the women shall make tents and clothes and shall serve in the hospitals; the children shall turn old lint into linen; the old men shall betake themselves to the public squares in order to arouse the courage of the warriors and preach hatred of kings and the unity of the Republic."
All unmarried men from age 18 to 25 were called with an immediate effect to military service. This increased the number of servicemen in the army to about 1,500,000 in September 1794. The actual fighting strength, however, was no higher than 800,000. Furthermore, the decree said that everybody of the country should support the army by producing arms, food and other needed equipment.
Five days after that decree, Toulon fell into British hands, but was later retaken by French troops on December 18th. The plan of attack was prepared by a captain of the French artillery, Napoleon Bonaparte, who in turn was promoted to brigadier general.
Additional Important Events and Dates
• On December 23, 1793, the Republican army exterminated the uprising in Vendee.
• On February 15, 1794, the Tricolor became the national colors of France.
• Army of the North, or Armée du Nord, established by King Louis XVI on December 14th 1791
• Army of the Centre, or Armée du Centre, established by King Louis XVI on December 14th 1791
• Army of the Rhine, or Armée du Rhin, established by King Louis XVI on December 14th 1791
• In 1792 the French Revolutionary Army formed eight new armies:
o Army of the North was separated by decree of the Convention on March 1, 1793, into the remaining Army of the North and Army of the Ardennes.
o Army of the Centre, by decree of October 1, 1792, of the National Convention, was renamed the Armée de la Moselle.
o Army of the Rhine was established by decree on October 1792 to form an expeditionary corps of the Army of the Rhine under the name Armée des Vosges and ended per decree on March 14, 1793.
o The Army of Le Midi, or Armée du Midi, was located in the Le Midi region and established by King Louis XVI on 13 April 1792. It existed under this name for less than five months, and formed by decree of the National Convention on October 1, 1792, into the Armée des Alpes and the Armée des Pyrénées.
o Armée des Alpes, per decree dated November 1, 1793, split into the Army of the Savoie and Army of Italy.
o Army of the Var, or Armée du Var, was actually only a corps, but its commander was not happy with the commander of the Army of Midi and named his corps on September 29, 1792, to be the Army of the Var. On November 7, 1792, it was integrated into the Army of Italy. The Var is a river between France and Piedmont.
• 1793: ten active armies.
• 1794: 11 active armies.
• On June 1, 1794, the British Royal Navy defeated the French Fleet some 400 NM away from the French coast.