GREGORY FREMONT-BARNESwas born in San Francisco andstudied history at the Universityof California, Berkeley, and theUniversities of Chicago andOxford. Since 1993 he haslectured in British and Americanhistory in Japan, principally atKobe University. He haspublished a number of articleson British diplomatic andmilitary history.PROFESSOR ROBERT ONEILL,AO D.Phil, is the ChicheleProfessor of the History of Warat the University of Oxford andSeries Editor of the EssentialHistories. His wealth ofknowledge and expertise shapesthe series content, and providesup-to-the-minute researchand theory. Born in 1936 anAustralian citizen, he served inthe Australian army (1955-68)and has held a number ofeminent positions in historycircles. He has been ChicheleProfessor of the History of Warand a Fellow of All SoulsCollege, Oxford since 1987.He is the author of many booksincluding works on the Germanarmy and the Nazi party, andthe Korean and Vietnam wars.
Essential HistoriesThe French Revolutionary Wars
Contents Introduction 7 Chronology 10 Background to war Historical rivalries 12 Warring sides Opposing strength 17 Outbreak A clash of ideologies 19 The fighting The first and second coalitions 25 Portrait of a sailor William Dillon: A midshipman in the Royal Navy 67 The world around war The impact of conflict 72 Portrait of a civilian Emma Hamilton: British Ambassadress at Naples 78 How the war ended 82 Hohenlinden and Copenhagen 85 Conclusion and consequences 93 Further reading 94 Index
Major actions on land 1792-18001. France Valmy (1792), Valenciennes, Perpignan, Truillas, Lodi, Lonato, Castiglione, Bassano, Caldiero and Arcola Hondschoote, and Wattignies (1793), Le Boulon and (1796), Rivoli (1797), Magnano, Cassano, The Trebbia Tourcoing (1794). and Novi (1799), Montebello and Marengo (1800).2. Belgium Jemappes (1792), Neerwinden, (1793), 7. Spain Campródon, San Marcial and Figueras (1794). Courtrai. Tournai and Fleurus (1794). 8.The Middle East The Pyramids (1798). Mount Tabor3. Holland Bergen, twice, and Castricum (1799). and Aboukir (1799), Heliopolis (1800) and Alexandria4. Germany Amberg, Friedberg, Wurzburg, Schliengen twice (1801). Important sieges: Lille. Longwy and (1796), Stockach (1799), Hochstadt and Hohenlinden Verdun (1792);Valenciennes, Condé, Mainz, Quesnoy (1800). Dunkirk and Toulon (1793); Collioure (1794), Rosas5. Switzerland Zurich - three times (1799). Luxembourg (1795), Mantua (1796-97); Valetta6. Italy Loano (1795), Montenotte, Dego, Mondovi, (1798-1 800): Acre and Milan (1799); Genoa (1800).
IntroductionTwo centuries now separate us from the themselves on the fields of Belgium and series of conflicts known as the French Germany, the plains of northern Italy and onRevolutionary Wars. These wars, fought by the sands of Egypt and Syria.armies of unprecedented size, in the course The Revolutionary Wars were fought on aof a single decade (1792-1802) thrust upon vast geographical scale. They raged acrossan unwilling continent political, social, and much of western and central Europe, themilitary changes of such radical proportions Middle East, southern Africa and the Westthat they forever changed the Western Indies. At sea, rival navies struggled forworld. For the first time in European history supremacy in all the waters around Europe,war unleashed ideological forces whose the Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Indianpower and appeal called into question the Ocean and beyond. When we consider theirprinciple that underpinned the European extent it should perhaps not surprise us thatpolitical system: the principle of monarchy. contemporaries and 19th-century historiansThe French Revolutionaries, in challenging referred to these conflicts, in conjunctionthe political legitimacy of the ancien regime, with the Napoleonic Wars, as the Greatlaid the foundations for the widespread War.acceptance of democratic, representative, The French Revolutionary Wars were moreand constitutional rule. Wherever their than just the last conflict of a centuryarmies went they brought with them the already riven by intense strife; they markedabstract notions of Nation and People. an abrupt and shattering end to the era ofHere began a new phase in the history of limited wars which had begun in the age ofwarfare whose impact is still seen today in Enlightenment. Up until this time, rivalthe existence of mass citizen-armies. The dynasties ruling absolutely over their feudalprecedent was set, through universal societies matched the power of their small,conscription and the systematic marshaling meticulously trained, highly expensiveof national resources, for total war. professional forces in the quest for territorial The greatest naval and military figures of spoil or economic advantage withoutmodern times - Nelson and Napoleon - radically upsetting the existing balance ofcame to the fore during this period. They power between great empires.were to reach their respective heights only a The wars of the French Revolution sweptshort time later in the Napoleonic Wars all that into the dustbin of history. Here was(1803-15). Indeed, the French Revolutionary a new and epic struggle, which theWars were fought in an age when leaders revolutionaries characterized as a life orand men still regarded war as glorious and death contest between the forces of liberty,the cult of the hero was at its pitch. The equality, and fraternity, on the one hand,Revolutionary Wars were the first proving- and the corrupt despotism of the ancienground for the band of charismatic and régimes on the other. Indeed, for France thecolorful men who were to serve as marshals early years were nothing less than a fight forunder the French Empire. Most of political survival, with cries of la Patrie enNapoleons great marshals and Nelsons able danger! coming from all quarters. Yet evenlieutenants gained their experience at this before security from invasion was assured thetime. Augereau, Jourdan, Massena, war aims of the Revolutionaries took aKellermann and many others proved radical turn: the liberation of their
8 Essential Histories • The French Revolutionary Warsoppressed brethren in the Low Countries and the French Revolutionary Wars broughtthe Rhineland became the new objective. conflict directly to the home front throughAnd, finally, emboldened by victories, the the permanent presence of foreign armies,noble aims of the Revolution had been conscription, wholesale requisitioning andforgotten and the whole movement appeared heavy, sometimes crippling, taxation. Into have lost its early idealism. What had France, particularly, war made hithertobegun as an ideological struggle, within a unheard of demands on its citizens, thusfew, turbulent years developed into a simple establishing the close link between soldierwar of territorial expansion in the great and civilian so familiar to the generationstraditions of the revolutionaries monarchist which fought the World Wars more than apolitical forebears. It was a supreme irony century later.indeed, and by 1795 - for the first time since The wars placed into the hands of thethe Carolingian kings of the 9th century - Revolutionary government in France powerFrance stood triumphant on her natural which the European monarchs could notfrontiers: the Rhine, the Alps, and the have imagined - power which translatedPyrenees. She achieved what both Louis XIV itself into armies whose combination ofand Louis XV had failed to do earlier in the sheer size and patriotic fervor drove themcentury despite the kings enormous across Europe, defying all who stood in theirexpenditure in men and money. paths. Indeed, so great was the military The Revolutionary Wars mark the power unleashed by the Revolution thatbeginning of modern war not because of the nothing less than the whole of Europe, sevenintroduction of new technology, but because coalitions and a generation of fighting werethey established the idea of the great citizen- required finally to bring France to heel.army now so familiar to us today. Universal Politically, the Revolutionary Wars openedconscription implemented with a Pandoras box which even the final alliedorganizational genius by Lazare Carnot victory in 1815 could not completely close.enabled France to field vast new armies. As the revolutionary armies marchedThese, composed of men fired with patriotic triumphant across the Low Countries,enthusiasm, were used not only to hold back Germany, Italy, and Switzerland they laid thethe tide of counter-revolution, but to cross groundwork of nationalism andthe French frontiers taking with them the constitutional rule so necessary for a strongseeds of republicanism. Marching to the sense of nationhood or, in some cases, futurestrains of the Marseillaise and with cries of unification. The wars brought an effectiveVive la Republic!, these armed missionaries, end to the Holy Roman Empire. Prussiasas Robespierre termed them, introduced status and influence within Germany wereforms of political and social changes therefore increased. This had far-reachingwhich opponents of the Revolution could implications. Prussia ultimately became a farnot contain. more aggressive state than Austria ever was The wars revolutionized warfare itself, and would become a menace to Europeanwith the use of light troops, the deployment security after German unification in 1871. Byof armies by corps and divisions, the use of eliminating dozens of antiquated princedomsconcentration both tactically and and electorates, France inadvertently openedstrategically to bring maximum force to bear the way for eventual German unificationon a weaker opponent, and, above all, the under Prussian leadership.principle of living off the land rather than The French Revolutionary Wars includeddepending exclusively on depots and some of historys most dramatic battles onenormous supply trains. Gone forever were land as well as at sea - and no previousthe days when civilians lived a separate conflict boasted so many. Seldom have warsexistence from the conflicts waged by their begun with battles so decisive not only forrespective sovereigns. For occupied peoples, the immediate conflict itself, but for history
Introduction 9in general. Valmy did just that. A few hours Although France ultimately attainedcannonade brought a halt to the carefully supremacy on land, Britain had swept thedressed ranks of Prussian infantry, that great oceans of the French merchant marine,legacy of Frederick the Great. This exchange snapped up most of Frances colonies, anditself illustrates the emergence of the new had consistently defeated her navy in greatcitizen-soldier and the decline of the fleet actions which so reduced French powerwalking muskets of absolutism. As Marshal at sea as to render the outcome at TrafalgarFoch declared a century later, The wars of almost a foregone conclusion. Naval powerkings were at an end. The wars of peoples complemented and sustained Britainswere beginning. Lodi, though not in itself commercial and financial strength. Britainmore than a minor engagement, nevertheless was able to establish and maintain twosymbolized the spirit of the age, with the great coalitions, only to see them crushed byyoung, energetic Bonaparte, flag in hand, her seemingly invincible counterpart onleading his men across a heavily defended land. After a decade of conflict France hadbridge, driving before him a vastly vanquished all the Continents great powerssuperior force. - Austria, Prussia, and Russia - leaving an Battles at sea were no less significant. At uneasy and temporary stalemate withCape St Vincent, off the Spanish coast, Britain mistress of the seas and FranceHoratio Nelsons success bore out his policy master on land.of ignoring orthodox naval tactics. The In 1802, Napoleon inherited a Frenchfollowing year, with his crushing victory at Republic greatly enlarged and supremelythe Nile, Nelson would end forever self-confident. He was by then not simply aBonapartes dream of establishing an Eastern leader of men but a leader of the nation. Hisempire and threatening British rule in India. unrivalled success in the Revolutionary WarsAnd there was Marengo - where after driving gave him the authority he needed to seizehis weary men over the Alps in the great political power in France, and also atraditions of Hannibal, Bonaparte snatched mandate to prosecute war on an even greatervictory from the jaws of defeat, leaving scale than before, so building - andAustria defenseless in Italy and almost ultimately losing - the greatest empire inincapable of further resistance. Europe since Rome.
Chronology1789 14 July Storming of the Bastille. A 27 August-19 December Siege of Paris mob seizes the infamous state Toulon. Royalist forces, backed by an prison and fortress, signaling the Anglo-Spanish fleet and troops, fail to revolt against the monarchy and hold the city. established authority. 8 September Battle of1791 2 August Declaration of Pillnitz. Hondschoote. Houchard with Prussia and Austria declare their 24,000 French defeats 16,000 men intention to form a general European under the Duke of York. coalition to restore the Bourbon 1794 23 May Battle of Tournai. Drawn monarchy in France. action between equal forces; both sides1792 7 February Conclusion of retreat. Austro-Prussian Alliance. Troops 1 June Battle of the Glorious First of begin advance toward French June. British naval victory; Howe frontier; Sardinia (Piedmont) joins defeats his rival but fails to prevent a soon after. vital food convoy from reaching France. 20 April French declare war on 26 June Battle of Fleurus. Kléber Austria. Hostilities begin in Flanders. defeats Saxe-Coburgs attempts to 20 September Battle of Valmy. relieve Charleroi. Dumouriez and Kellermann, with 1795 January-March French Occupation 59,000 men, confront and drive away of both Belgium and Holland. 35,000 Prussians by cannon fire alone. 5 April-22 June Treaty of Basle. The Allied advance on Paris is Prussia, plus several minor German temporarily checked; the Revolution is states, leaves the war. Spain follows saved. suit. 6 November Battle of Jemappes. 1796 27 March Bonaparte assumes Austrian defeat leads to the fall of command of the Army of Italy. Brussels to the French, who then lay 10 May Battle of Lodi. Bonaparte siege to Antwerp, causing alarm in personally leads the attack over the Britain. bridge and secures victory. Milan is1793 21 January Execution of Louis XVI, captured (May 15) and peace reached outraging the crowned heads of with Piedmont. France annexes Nice Europe; national conscription called; and Savoy. Belgium annexed; invasion of Holland 5 August Battle of Castiglione. imminent. Bonaparte turns both flanks of 1 February France declares war on Würmsers army, forcing it across the Britain and Holland, then against Mincio River. Spain (March 7). 19 August Treaty of San Ildefenso. 18 March Battle of Neerwinden. Spain becomes a French ally, Austrians repulse French under threatening the Royal Navys presence Dumouriez. in the Mediterranean. 23 August Levee en masse. French 3 September Battle of Würzburg. government decrees universal male Archduke Charles of Austria defeats conscription. Jourdan.
Chronology 11I 8 September Battle of Bassano. Suvorov enter Milan (April 28) and French defeat the Austrians, who soon after Turin. retreat into the besieged city of 5 June Massena repulses the Mantua. Austrians at Zurich but is forced 15-17 November Battle of Arcola. to withdraw by overwhelming Bonaparte, with the able assistance of numbers. Augereau and Massena, defeats 17-19 June Battle of the Trebbia. the Austrians. Suvorov defeats Macdonald and1797 14 January Battle of Rivoli. pushes the French back to the Riviera. Significant French victory over the August-October Anglo-Russian Austrians. operations in the Netherlands. The 14 February Battle of Cape St Allies campaign is withdrawn as a Vincent. Admiral Jervis defeats a failure. The Dutch fleet is, however, Spanish fleet with a vital contribution captured in the Texel. from Nelson. 15 August Battle of Novi. The 17 October Treaty of Campo Formio. Russians decisively defeat the French, Austria recognizes French annexation allowing Suvorov to pursue them of Belgium; France establishes satellite across the Apennines. Cisalpine Republic in northern Italy; 25 September Third Battle of Austria compensated with Republic of Zurich. Massena severely defeats the Venice; most of the left bank of the Russians, bringing the campaign to an Rhine becomes French. end.1798 19 May Expedition to Egypt begins. 4 November Battle of Genoa. Bonaparte embarks from Toulon with Austrian victory; French retreat back the Army of the Orient. over the Alps. 21 July Battle of the Pyramids. 1800 8 March Bonaparte raises a new Bonaparte repulses Mameluke forces army. Having returned from Egypt, he near Gizeh. plans to invade northern Italy and July-August Occupation of Egypt. reverse French misfortunes. 1 August Battle of the Nile. Nelson 14 June Battle of Marengo. decisively defeats Brueys fleet in Significant Austrian defeat, Aboukir Bay, leaving Bonapartes army Bonapartes greatest victory thus far. stranded in Egypt. 3 December Battle of Hohenlinden. 24 December Anglo-Russian alliance Brilliant French victory over Archduke establishes the basis for the Second John in southern Germany. Coalition, which includes Austria, 1801 9 February Treaty of Lunéville. Portugal, Naples, and Turkey. Austria withdraws from the Second1799 March Jourdan invades Germany; Coalition; terms of Campo Formio operations begin in Switzerland. reconfirmed. 25 March Battle of Stockach. Jourdan March-August British operations in retreats to the Rhine after serious Egypt. The French capitulate on defeat at the hands of Archduke 31 August and are shipped back home. Charles. . 2 April Battle of Copenhagen. 5 April Battle of Magnano. Austrians Nelson crushes the Danish fleet, defeat the French under Schérer. effectively ending the League of 17 April Battle of Mount Tabor. Armed Neutrality. Bonaparte drives off a Turkish force 1802 27 March Treaty of Amiens. during his campaign in Syria. Establishment of peace between 27 April Battle of Cassano. Moreau Britain and France, ending the French defeated. Russian troops under Revolutionarv Wars.
Background to warHistorical rivalriesOn the eve of the French Revolution the a standing army proportionally much largerpolitical construction of Europe was than that of any other European state.remarkably simple. The Continent was Frederick used that army aggressively: hedominated by five great powers: Britain, invaded Austrian Silesia in 1740, and thusFrance, Austria, Russia, and Prussia. Their began the War of the Austrian Successionweaker neighbors - Sweden, Spain, Poland, (1740-48). This was followed by the SevenHolland, and Turkey - had all once enjoyed Years War (1756-63) (see Osprey Essentialperiods of economic, military, or naval Histories,The Seven Years War, by Danielgreatness, but by the end of the 18th century Marston) in which Prussia used herhad slipped into the ranks of the lesser formidable army for the glory of the nationpowers. Most of western Germany remained and to consolidate her territorial gains,fragmented into hundreds of minor generally at the expense of Austria. Duringprincipalities, ecclesiastical cities, and minor the Seven Years War Frederick fought thestates contained within the Holy Roman greatest coalition ever seen in Europe -Empire. Italy, similarly, contained a number Austria, France, Russia, Sweden, and most ofof small kingdoms, some independent and the German states of the Holy Roman Empireothers controlled by Austria. - and survived intact. It was the hard-fought Europe was overwhelmingly agrarian and bloody encounters of this war that confirmedfeudal, particularly in the east, with for Prussia her place among the Great Powers.monarchs ruling absolutely within their The Russian Empire covered a vast stretchdomains. Britain was a somewhat different of territory containing at the turn of thecase: though the vast majority of her people century about 48 million subjects, over halfwere disenfranchised, the monarchy ruled of whom were serfs tied to the land. Theunder constitutional constraints. The autocratic Romanov dynasty had ruled sincenations prosperity was based not on the early 17th century. Russias militaryagriculture but on trade. The process of reputation had been won under Peter theindustrialization, though still in its infancy, Great, who had defeated the Swedes in thewas well under way. Great Northern War (1700-21). Although A generation before the French Revolution, Russia had briefly fought Prussia in the laterPrussia, under the ruling house of years of the Seven Years War, her territorialHohenzollern, had established herself as gains were made at Polish and TurkishEuropes newest great power, having won a expense during the reign of Catherine theseries of costly and exhausting wars in which Great (1762-96), particularly during the Firstshe had taken on and defeated practically Partition of Poland in 1772 and in theevery major state on the Continent. Frederick annexation of the Crimea, an Ottomanthe Great had inherited from his father, possession, in 1783.Frederick William (1713-40), a highly Russia fought simultaneous conflicts withmilitarized, extremely efficient state where Sweden (1788-90) and, in alliance withthe landed aristocracy and king enjoyed a Austria, Turkey (1787-92). She wasclose relationship. The aristocracy were ultimately successful in both of thesefreeholders of their land and, in effect, over conflicts. When the French Revolutionarytheir peasants as well. In return, the crown Wars began, Catherine the Great remainedtaxed the nation heavily in order to maintain neutral and she died four years later in 1796
Background to war 13without having challenged the Revolution.That task was left to her son and successor,Paul I, who would finally face France duringthe War of the Second Coalition(1798-1802). Paul was known for his mentalinstability and obsession with militarymatters and was assassinated in 1801. George III, who had presided over thesomewhat different and more constitutionalmonarchy of Britain since 1760, proved to beone of the Revolutions most implacableopponents. Political power rested withParliament and the Prime Minister. WilliamPitt the Younger had attained office in 1783with a loyal following in the House ofCommons and the support of the crown.Though small by continental standards - witha population of fewer than 10 million -Britain was the worlds most prosperousnation. Her wealth was based on thrivingtrade with Europe and her exclusive access toa vast empire which, in addition to Canadaand, above all, India, included newly acquiredterritories in Australia and many of thebountiful sugar islands of the West Indies. Asinternational trade was the basis of the rapidlyincreasing national wealth, the protection of George III. By the time Britain entered the Revolutionarytrade was paramount. Britains unrivalled Wars he had already reigned for 33 years, during which time he had presided over the loss of the Americanmerchant fleet, which exceeded 10,000 colonies. He suffered from periodic fits of madness, butvessels, could confidently rely on the power of his eccentricities did not adversely affect his conduct asthe Royal Navy for its protection. Although sovereign during the 1790s. Indeed, his own patrioticagriculture was still important - accounting idealism enhanced his popular reputation. He opposedfor one-third of the national product - Britain the Revolution on ideological grounds and sharply condemned the execution of his brother sovereign.was the birthplace of the recent phenomenon Louis XVI. (Ann Ronan Picture Library)of industrialization, and its growingmanufacturing capacity played a major role instimulating a booming economy. Continent. The cornerstone of this policy was Britain and France were long-standing the protection of the Low Countries and theenemies, having fought one another regularly Channel ports, in support of which aimover the past century and on opposite sides Britain had participated in the Wars of thein nearly every conflict in which the two Spanish and Austrian Successions,countries were engaged since the Middle challenging France in Europe as well asAges. Indeed, the French Revolutionary Wars overseas. The two powers were traditionalwere just the latest conflict in a long colonial and commercial rivals. Britain hadsuccession dating back to Louis XIV which fought over North America and India, and athistorians would later refer to as the second the end of the Seven Years War Britain wasHundred Years War. The roots of Anglo- in possession of the whole of Canada and theFrench hostility were political and economic. American colonies, together with largeBritain was chiefly concerned with portions of the subcontinent. France hadpreventing the French from dominating the exacted a degree of revenge by providing vital
14 Essential Histories • The French Revolutionary Wars Hungary, parts of Poland and portions of the Balkans, to the Netherlands (roughly modern Belgium). The number of nationalities - the empire included Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Italians, Poles, Croats, and others, totaling about 27 million subjects in 1800, with 250,000 in Vienna - and geographical circumstances (the fact that, for example, Belgium was not contiguous to Austria) rendered the empire less cohesive than the states of western Europe. Austria had been repeatedly defeated: by France during the War of the Polish Succession (1733-35); by the Turks during a Balkan war from 1737 to 1739, and, as already noted, by Prussia in a series of major conflicts between 1740 and 1763, during the reign of Maria Theresa. Not only did the Empress suffer loss of territory, she jealously witnessed the slowly rising influence of Prussia in German affairs. Her successor had his own share of problems. In 1787, JosephEmperor Francis II of Austria. Succeeding to the throne II had been obliged to go to war againstin 1792 just as relations with France were worsening, his Turkey after the Turks declared war onopposition to the Revolution helped bring the two Austrias ally, Russia. As the Russians soonnations closer to war Francis accompanied his troopsduring part of the campaign in Flanders during 1793-94. became enmeshed in a simultaneous warThroughout the wars his policies shifted under the with the Swedes in the north, this left Josephinfluence of court and military factions which divided his alone to take on the Turks in the south,counsels between doves and hawks. (Roger-Viollet) where they briefly invaded southern Hungary. To complicate matters, the Austrianaid to the American colonies during the War possessions in the Low Countries rose inof Independence (1775-83), a war that revolt in 1789. Yet in the meantime thedeprived Britain of an important piece of her Turks were defeated, Belgrade taken and theempire and left her in serious debt. war ended in the same year. The Habsburg At the start of the French Revolution monarchy thus continued to enjoy its statusAustria was ruled by Joseph II, brother to as a great power when war again loomedMarie Antoinette. As head of the Habsburg after the revolution in France.monarchy he also held the title of Holy France possessed an illustrious militaryRoman Emperor, which enabled him to past, though the wars of the 18th centuryexercise considerable political influence over had done much to erode this reputation.a large number of small German states, Since the 16th century her rivalry withmany bordering France, whose existence Habsburg Spain and Austria had formed thestretched back to the days of Charlemagne. pillars of her foreign policy, and the conflictsFrancis II (1768-1835) succeeded to the that resulted enabled France to expand herthrone in 1792. He held personal control of territory and commerce to such a degree thataffairs through a council of ministers, under Louis XIV she was Europes foremostalthough regional diets, or parliaments, military power. Louis continued to challengeadministered Hungary, Holland, and lands in Habsburg power, particularly in the LowItaly. His domains were vast and stretched Countries and regularly fought Britain bothfrom northern Italy, across Austria proper, in Europe and overseas. Yet the War of the
Background to war 15Spanish Succession did not yield the Low Treaty of Paris offered independence to theCountries, as France had hoped, and in later Americans and territorial gain to Spain butyears, in spite of several successful campaigns virtually nothing to France. The halcyon daysduring the War of the Austrian Succession, of Louis XIV were now long in the past.France was obliged to return to Austria the Frances wars had not only cost her dear inconquests in the Netherlands she had made colonies and men, but they were alsoduring that conflict. During the diplomatic crippling financially. The strain on the Frenchrevolution of 1756 she made amends with economy and the threat of bankruptcyher long-time Habsburg foe and allied herself obliged ministers to institute radical reforms,with Austria to take on Prussia, as well as her beginning in 1787, which required thegreat colonial and commercial rival, Britain. imposition of new taxes. In order to pass However, France suffered catastrophically these reforms, Louis XVI required theas a result of the Seven Years War, losingCanada to Britain, and also many of her The Storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789. The great statepossessions in the West Indies and most of prison in Paris held only seven inmates but a large quantity of weapons and gunpowder eagerly sought bythose in India. Thus France was in decline, the Paris mob.Thus armed, they marched on Versailles inand although she was instrumental in October and brought the king and queen back to theensuring the success of the rebel cause during capital, where they remained effective prisoners until theirthe War of American Independence, the flight to Varennes in June, 1791. (Oil by David. Gamma)
16 Essential Histories • The French Revolutionary Warsconvocation of the Estates General, a body the crown. On the contrary, politicaldivided into three parts consisting of the disaffection in the officer corps was soclergy, nobility, and commoners. widespread that it was impossible to rely on It was here that all the trouble began. One the army to confront the National Assemblyof Louiss ministers warned him of the or, still less, to disperse seething Parisianpotentially disastrous consequences: As a mobs. Indeed, an overwhelming proportionFrenchman, I want the Estates General, [but] of the nobles among the Estates Generalas a minister 1 feel bound to tell you that were army officers who actively supportedthey could destroy your authority. The radical political change, and without thepolitical and financial crisis grew throughout armys defection the Revolution would 1788, with many army officers discontented probably never have happened.at the imposition of new reforms. Things Louis recalled elements of the army fromfinally came to a head in the spring of 1789 the frontiers but feared that they wouldwhen Louis convened the Estates General. mutiny if ordered to fire on the people.Catastrophic harvest failures had caused a rise Worse still, when the French Guards whoin the cost of bread - this in an essentially were garrisoned at Paris began to fraternizemedieval society still held together by feudal with the people, any hopes of relying onties and peopled by millions of impoverished them to uphold the royal will evaporated.peasants and an increasingly discontented Then, on the fateful day of 14 July, the moburban working class. stormed the Bastille and the Revolution was The Revolution was unleashed on two set on its radical course. But it was not thevery different fronts. The Estates General, people alone who captured the greatwhich met in May at Versailles, represented prison-fortress; the French Guards andpolitical legitimacy, even if they had not other mutinous elements of the armybeen elected by the people; while in Paris, a provided the military know-how to seize thevast city of 700,000 inhabitants, the crowds Bastille, a structure less significant as ahad no such claims to power, but would no bastion of royal power than it was as alonger accept disenfranchisement, much less storehouse of the weapons needed to armoutright tyranny. Events moved swiftly and the new militia, shortly to become thein June the Estates General - or rather that National Guard.portion consisting of commoners, known as The next day Louis ordered the army tothe Third Estate - declared the creation of a withdraw from Paris and Versailles. Now thatNational Assembly and pledged in the the king could no longer depend on hisfamous Tennis Court Oath not to dissolve army, the last defense of royal authority haduntil a new constitution for the nation had evaporated. One can easily oversimplify thebeen settled. The nation and not the king role of the army in explaining the outbreakwas now the supreme authority in the land. of the Revolution; it was only one factorThe Third Estate regarded itself as the among many. Crop failure, food shortages,legitimate representative body of the nation. and bankruptcy also played their part. YetIn effect, the king was no longer sovereign. the armys role was decisive, not only Louis was not prepared simply to sit back ensuring the survival and expansion of theand watch the erosion of royal authority, Revolution at home, but within a few yearsand while the National Assembly, supported achieving a succession of military victories.by the people of Paris, might declare the These victories would preserve andprinciple of national sovereignty, the king consolidate the Revolution, and, in astill retained that ultimate instrument of relatively short space of time, raise Frenchabsolutist power: the army. Yet Louis could power to heights never dreamt of, much lessnot depend on this traditional bulwark of achieved, under the ancien regime.
Warring SidesOpposing strengthsAustria was to become Frances most Frederick William II, it was resting on itsdetermined continental foe, fighting in both laurels and clinging to the tactics of ancoalitions against the Republic with by far the earlier period. It had fought as recently asgreatest contribution of forces. Her armies 1778 against Austria, and later intervened inwere raised partly by voluntary enlistment and Holland in 1787, but with few opportunitiespartly by conscription, which in German- for action its deficiencies were not entirelyspeaking areas meant conscription for life. revealed, and the popularly held belief in theUnits were designated German, which superiority of the Prussian army remainedincluded men from the Netherlands, Italy and the orthodox view of many observersPoland, and Hungarian, which included throughout Europe. In contrast to his uncle,Croatia and Transylvania. Training varied in Frederick William preferred cooperation withquality, was often poorly funded and Austria, and thus his kingdom entered theconstantly underwent reorganization. Officers war as Austrias ally with an army numberingwere largely drawn from the minor aristocracy, a respectable 200,000 men.and earned their commissions through social When Britain entered the Frenchand political connections. Though Austria on Revolutionary Wars in 1793 she waspaper had an army of nearly 360,000 men, in unquestionably the worlds leading navalactual numbers she mobilized only about power, with 195 ships-of-the-line in230,000 when war began. commission, 210 frigates, and 256 sloops - a As discussed earlier, during the reign of total of over 600 vessels manned byFrederick the Great, Prussia entered the ranks 100,000 men. Emphasis on naval strengthof the Great Powers largely through the had always adversely affected the army,remarkable military successes of her king. In which was small by continental standards.the course of two wars against Austria and Defeat in the American colonies only aher allies, Frederick raised the armys decade earlier had damaged the armysreputation and effectiveness to unrivaled reputation and its leadership left much to beheights in Europe. By making maximum use desired. It was not only Britains navy thatof his relatively scarce resources and small was strong. The economy, the product of herpopulation, by economizing in Spartan style, booming trade with her far-flung colonies inby a strict system of recruitment and by India, Canada, the West Indies, andextolling the virtues of loyalty to state and elsewhere, as well as with Europe, enabledarmy, Frederick built an army that was her to supply her allies with enormoussecond to none. By the time of his death in subsidies with which to prosecute their1786, Prussia was the thirteenth largest campaigns on the Continent. In 1800 alonecountry in Europe in population and the the Treasury spent over 7 percent of its totaltenth largest in area, yet possessed the third revenue on subsidies, most of it for Austria.largest army - the very model of a Although Russia did not join the conflictmilitarized state which could count on the until the formation of the Second Coalition atloyal support of its proud subjects. the end of 1798, her army had recent combat However, since the glory days of the experience in wars with Sweden, Poland, andSeven Years War the army had undergone Turkey, as well as with various peoples on hersomething of a decline, such that by the lengthy frontier. Imperial rule was absolute.time Prussia entered the war in 1 792 under The Russian soldier in the ranks was almost
18 Essential Histories • The French Revolutionary Warsinvariably illiterate and destitute, and was veterans, defeat would have been inevitable atdistinguished by his unquestioning loyalty, the hands of the more professional andhigh degree of discipline in combat, and his better-disciplined armies. Laws formalizingextraordinary ability to endure privation and conscription were passed in 1798, requiringhardship without complaint. all men between the ages of 18 and 40 to Vast as the Russian Empire was, stretching register, with those between 18 and 25 liablefrom the Baltic to the Ukraine, the Crimea to be called. Conscription raised vast armiesand beyond, its soldiers were principally and between January 1791 and July 1799 thedrawn from the heartland of ancient Great French Republic called up 1,570,000 men - anRussia. In theory the army exceeded amazing achievement which other nations400,000 men, including garrison regiments, could not match: they simply did not dare tomilitia and irregular forces - notably the press into service such a huge proportion ofCossacks - but in reality its effective strength their subjects for fear of political instability.was much lower. The army and navy were Since the start of the revolution the armyconscripted by imperial levies, of which there had undergone considerable changes. Forwere three under Tsar Paul. At the end of example, old regimental titles were abolishedCatherines reign in 1796, Russia had in her and replaced by numbered units, units wereregular forces 140,000 infantry (rising to increased in size, and large numbers of new200,000 by 1800), 30,000 cavalry, and battalions were raised. Some of these8,000 in the artillery. Irregular forces were battalions were of reasonable quality, such aslarge but of limited value. In any event, the Garde Nationale, while others were poorlySuvorov had only about 20,000 men during trained, often ill-disciplined conscripts andhis campaign in Switzerland in 1799. volunteer hordes such as those created by thePrincipally a land power, Russia nevertheless levee en masse in 1793. If they were not quitepossessed a respectable navy operating out of as drilled and precise as their adversaries, theyCronstadt on the Baltic and Sebastopol on more than made up for it in elan andthe Black Sea. In 1790 she possessed 67 ships- devotion to their cause. As one Prussian,of-the-line, 36 frigates, and 700 sloops, Laukhard, noted at the time:crewed by 21,000 sailors. Although defeated in the Seven Years War The volunteers were not as straight as a die,the French army had regained some of its as were the Prussians, and were not as polished,reputation in America. With monarchist well-trained or skilled in handling a gun orenemies ranged against her in 1792 France marching in step; nor did they know how toburst forth with patriotic fervor with the cry tighten their belts around their tunics as theof la patrie en danger! thus calling forth the Prussians did, yet they were devoted to the causemassive manpower and financial resources of they served in body and soul. Nearly all those Ithe nation in a wave of unprecedented encountered at that time knew for whom and fornationalist enthusiasm. The officer corps, what they were fighting and declared that theytraditionally dominated by the aristocracy, were ready to die for the good of their patrie. Thewas by the beginning of the war open to all only alternatives they knew were liberty or death.on merit. However, the flight and purge ofroyalist officers in the early years of the wars The navy consisted of 81 ships-of-the-line,left the army in a pathetic state, and officials 69 frigates, and 141 sloops, crewed byfound that there was no time to train the 78,000 sailors. Numbers can prove deceptive,large influx of recruits and conscripts. Some however: the general state of the ships waseven refused to accept the degree of discipline poor, dockyards suffered from a shortage ofnecessary for an effective fighting force. supplies, and the service was generallyNevertheless, enough officers and men of the dogged by an inefficient administration,old regular army remained to form a nucleus poor seamanship, defective gunnery, and lowfor the new Republican armies. Without these morale and discipline.
OutbreakA clash of ideologiesIt might seem logical to presume that the was prepared to lead a counter-revolution.European monarchs, witnessing the fall of the Indeed, the Emperor Joseph was determinedBastille, the deposing of the French king, and to remain neutral, whatever the fate of thethe establishment of constitutional French king and the queen, his sister. Thegovernment should immediately have gone Prussians were equally blase. Catherine ofto war against the revolutionaries, if only to Russia, despite her hostility to the ideas ofprevent similar uprisings in their own the Revolution, effectively did nothing,countries. But it was not to be, largely while Charles IV of Spain, cousin of Louisbecause of events elsewhere in Europe, XVI, made vague threats which in realityparticularly in the East. Frederick William, amounted to nothing more than meresupremely smug from his conquest of bluster. In any event, he was soon caught upHolland in 1787 and already a beneficiary of in a nasty disagreement with Britain overthe first partition of Poland, had his eye on far-off Vancouver Island - the Nootka Soundfurther gains, particularly Danzig and Thorn, incident - which brought the two countrieswhile the Austrians and Russians were to the brink of war in 1790. Thus the Frenchengaged in conflicts of their own against Revolutionaries had absolutely no reason toSweden and Turkey. The fact that all the fear intervention by the absolute monarchs.continental Great Powers were engaged for Put in simple terms, in the first two years oftwo years in intrigues and conflicts in eastern the Revolution every potential enemy ofEurope meant that France and its nascent significant power had other matters torevolution remained undisturbed - indeed contend with: in 1787, Turkey was at waralmost entirely ignored - by its powerful and with Russia and Austria, and Prussia invadedotherwise suspicious neighbors. Holland; in 1788, Sweden and Russia were at It is also important to remember that, far war; in 1790, Prussia and Poland came closefrom being disturbed by the implications of to war with Austria, and Britain and Spainthe French Revolution, many of Britains narrowly escaped conflict; in 1791, Britainleaders and politicians actually welcomed the and Prussia nearly fought Russia.upheavals in France. When Pitt first heard How, then, did this atmosphere ofnews of the Revolution while dining with a complacency and even satisfaction change tofriend, he spoke of it as an event highly one of open hostility? The simple answer isfavorable to us & indicates a long peace with that, by the middle of 1791, all of theseFrance. As the Revolution developed, many conflicts or disputes had been settled, orBritish observers suggested that France were on the point of being settled. The mostappeared to be embracing the principles of serious of these, in which Russia and AustriaBritains own Glorious Revolution of 1688. were allied against Turkey, ended in August.What better way to maintain good relations Now all these countries could consider thethan to deal with another constitutional problem of France. But the origins of thedemocracy, particularly one distracted from French Revolutionary Wars also owed muchcolonial gain and commercial competition to the vociferous and consistent pleas ofby internal political upheaval? In short, a royalist emigres, who tirelessly agitated forself-obsessed France could hardly threaten armed foreign intervention against the forcesBritish trade or interests abroad. of radicalism. The hawkish policies of radical In fact, none of the continental powers politicians in Paris and the gradually
20 Essential Histories • The French Revolutionary Warsmounting antagonisms of the German failures in the war against the Ottomanmonarchies also played a significant role in Empire. Thus, in the course of his two yearsbringing about war. in power (1790-92), Leopold chose to placate Up until the spring of 1792 few obstacles internal opposition and implement reformsexisted to prevent the flight from France of the rather than confront revolutionary France.aristocracy, nobles, clergy, and army officers. Yet if Leopolds conduct exasperatedLarge numbers left, swelling the population of emigres for a time, French domestic eventsdisaffected expatriates longing for a return to gradually altered his views and, with them, histhe old order. They were right to leave, for policies. Louiss flight from Paris to Varennestheir lives and livelihoods were under grave in June 1791 was important in promptingthreat and the political changes forced upon Austrian intervention. Louis had consistentlythem were naturally quite intolerable to them rejected proposals to leave France and returnwhen compared to the life of unchecked at the front of an army determined onprivilege that they had previously enjoyed for re-establishing Bourbon rule. Duty to theso long. The leading emigre was the kings nation and to himself as sovereign - howeveryounger brother, the Comte dArtois, who left restricted his political role had become -France soon after the fall of the Bastille and encouraged him to remain in Paris. But by thebecame the focal point for dispossessed spring of 1791 the King had come round toaristocrats. From their base at Turin, Artois and the idea, for by then it had become all toohis adherents established a committee which clear that the Revolution was no mere passingthroughout 1789-90 produced plans to phase and that the concessions now forced onextricate the King from Paris, establish him were only going to increase in the future.counter-revolutionary insurrections inside Now persuaded that the only sensible measureFrance, and secure foreign aid in a royalist was to flee the country to secure foreign aid,crusade to crush the Revolution and Louis made his historic escape from there-establish legitimate Bourbon rule. capital, only to be arrested at Varennes and Yet all such plans failed completely, for they returned to Paris a prisoner. The suspension ofwere unable to attain the aid necessary from his royal powers soon followed and allpowerful foreign governments without which government matters were now theany hopes of a return to absolute rule were responsibility of the Constituent Assembly.illusory. Although Austria seemed the natural The Kings attempt to leave France hadally of the emigres - after all, Marie Antoinette far-reaching consequences, triggering fearswas sister to Joseph II - the fact remained that inside the country that foreign armies wouldfrom the outbreak of the Revolution until soon be on the march to save the captive1792 the Habsburg monarchy never showed sovereign. Vigorous military measures weremuch enthusiasm for the emigre cause. undertaken and the widespread belief thatIndeed, Joseph had demanded their departure foreign intervention was only a matter offrom his domains in the Netherlands, and time began to affect the political scenewhen his brother Leopold succeeded to the throughout the country. The Kings arrestimperial throne at the beginning of 1790 he had still more significance abroad, forshowed little interest in the cause of restoring throughout Europe both at court and amongBourbon rule on its previous footing. the populace there emerged a groundswell of In any event, the pressing internal sympathetic support for the French royalproblems that Leopold confronted family and a sense of apprehension for theirnecessarily took precedence over foreign safety. Such sentiment was encouraged byaffairs: rebellion in the Austrian Netherlands the constant calls for aid from Marieand near-revolt in Hungary, together with Antoinette. Action soon resulted: in Julymore moderate, but nevertheless widespread, 1791, Leopold approached the otherdissent across Habsburg domains. These crowned heads with a proposal for a jointdomestic problems were compounded by declaration demanding the release of the
Outbreak 21French royal family, the Padua Circular. throne and the altar, to re-establish the legalThis did not amount to a threat of war - power, to restore to the king the security andwhich Leopold did not seek - but rather a liberty of which he is deprived, and to put himdemonstration of royalist unity meant to in a position to exercise the legitimate authorityoverawe the Republican government. which is his due. In fact, there was no unified opposition tothe French revolutionary movement at the No such support was forthcoming, andcourts of Europe, though each of them Pillnitz remained for a time nothing moreprovided substantial financial assistance to than bluster and intimidation.the emigre cause. Tsarina Catherine However ineffective the declarationadamantly opposed the Revolution, but her appeared for the moment, it neverthelessforeign policy remained focused on added to the general sense of impendingacquiring territory at the expense of Poland danger within France. As the year progressed,and Turkey, both weak and easy prey. moreover, the prospect of war became an everSweden, under Gustavus III, wholeheartedly more attractive option for those politicians inembraced military action against the Paris who viewed it as an opportunity to attainrevolutionaries, but his countrys their own specific aims. This was particularlygeographical isolation and meager resources the case among the war part} under theprecluded any unilateral intervention on his leadership of Jacques-Pierre Brissot, whosepart. In any event, Gustavus was assassinated popularity continued to rise as the new yearin March 1792. The Prussian king repeatedly began. His followers, the Brissotins ordeclared his desire for a military solution to Girondins, held an aggressive stance in theFrench internal upheaval and the threats Legislative Assembly. The 37-year-old Brissot,which revolutionary ideas posed abroad. an unsuccessful writer with a grudge againstNonetheless, like Catherine, Frederick the ruling establishment, had been one of theWilliam had an eye on Polish land and was first to call for the abolition of the monarchy.not prepared to fight unaided. Thus, in the Brissot was not alone. By the winter of 1791-92summer of 1791, in spite of growing the Jacobins could more than match theantagonism within the courts of several Girondins for radicalism. Yet as a speechcapitals, the likelihood of joint military- delivered on 26 December by Gensonné, oneintervention in France remained slight. of Brissots colleagues, shows, the Girondins That situation soon took a decisive turn, were exceptionally provocative as they stood:however, for since Leopold had assumed the The common enemy is at the gates of the city;Imperial throne, Austro-Prussian relations - a general assault threatens us; so now there cantraditionally tense and occasionally be no more beating about the bush; let us rushoutwardly hostile - had improved to the breach; we must defend our ramparts orconsiderably. This made possible a joint bury ourselves beneath their ruins.declaration by the respective sovereigns, A fortnight later Guadet stood before theissued at Pillnitz on 27 August 1791, which Assembly and raised the members to feverexpressed their anxieties over Louiss pitch in a dramatic foretaste of the hysteriapredicament and their hope that the leading which was to engulf France during the Reignroyal houses of Europe would make a joint of Terror two years later. Gentlemen, heeffort to assist him. Though outwardly declared earnestly, let us make known to allthreatening, it was not a general call to arms these German princes that the French nationand in any event did not commit Austria and has decided to maintain its constitution inPrussia to anything without the cooperation its entirety; we shall die here. His wordsof other powers. It aimed to were met with wild applause as the members rose in acclamation with cries of Yes, weput an end to the anarchy in the interior of swear it! Waving their hats in the air andFrance, to stop the attacks carried on against the with arms outstretched, the deputies,
22 Essential Histories • The French Revolutionary Warsgovernment ministers, ushers, and those provoke the republican government in Paris,thronging the public galleries shouted a Leopold paradoxically achieved the reversecommon oath: We shall live in freedom or of his intentions. Hoping to lend weight towe shall die, the constitution or death! the power of the moderates in Paris, he inAmidst the tumult Guadet concluded his fact increased the power of the radicals. Thusspeech in words calculated to bring the was created a vicious circle: increasinghouse down: In a word, let us mark out in French fears of emigre activity on theiradvance a place for traitors, and that place borders and the apparently menacingwill be on the scaffold! The message was posture of Austria and Prussia gave impetusclear: the Republic must have war; a war to the general atmosphere of fear and thewith total victory or total defeat. The nation prospect of not only counter-revolution, butwas to live free or die in its defense, while also armed foreign intervention.those at home who threatened France from Events took on a new momentum with 1within would be crushed. March 1792, and the succession of Francis. At the same time, those at the opposite Consistently unwilling to embrace the moreend of the political spectrum - the monarchy bellicose views of the Prussian king, theand its traditional ally, the aristocracy - princes of the Empire, and the emigres,increasingly viewed war as an answer to their Leopold had preferred merely to pressurerapidly declining political fortunes. Into this France rather than openly threaten her withcauldron of hostility was thrown the still force. True, he had shown greater support foractive efforts of the emigres to restore the the restoration to power of Louis XVI -status quo, and however little their efforts may briefly suspended by the National Assemblyhave as yet achieved, their very existence after Varennes before moderates reinstatedassumed an importance out of all proportion him in September 1791 - than most otherto the actual danger to the Revolution that crowned heads, yet Leopolds death usheredthey presented. The recent growth of an in an entirely new Habsburg attitude towardemigre presence in the Rhineland, an area foreign affairs. Leopold had acted withused as the springboard for the emigres caution and restraint; Francis tended moresubversive schemes, naturally raised concerns toward belligerence. The hawkish elementsfor the Republican government, ever vigilant of the court grew in influence while the newfor evidence of counter-revolutionary enemies cabinet, particularly with the replacement ofwithin and without France. the more pacific chancellor, Kaunitz, opened Artois and his adherents amounted to a sort the way for an altogether more hostile policyof royalist government in exile, based at toward revolutionary France. The road to warKoblenz; although their influence in foreign was now free of its former obstacles.courts was minimal, seen together with theDeclaration of Pillnitz, the emigres were OPPOSITE On the eve of the French Revolutionary Warserroneously assumed to be a real and powerful the European continent contained about 180 millionthreat to the Revolution. In addition to people, most of whom still lived under feudal conditionsreceiving large amounts of financial aid, Artois within the realms of a sovereign or prince endowed with substantial - if not autocratic - power over his subjects.could boast of a respectably sized emigre army Representative institutions with more than simply a tokenin the Rhineland. The threat posed by such political role were rare, and even in Britain the franchiseforces was negligible in military terms, but the extended only to men of sufficient property or financialvery presence of this emigre army caused means. In the realm of power politics five powers stoodwidespread alarm in France, where war fever above the rest: Britain. France. Austria, Russia and Prussia. Austria was a natural target for those revolutionarieswas spreading. looking to export their creed: to the north lay the Austrian Austria was not only pressured by the Netherlands: to the east the Holy Roman Empire, overemigres but also miscalculated the situation: whom the Habsburgs traditionally exercised their notby adopting an increasingly threatening inconsiderable power and influence, and to the south lay Italy, another region with strong Habsburg connections.attitude designed to intimidate but not
24 Essential Histories • The French Revolutionary Wars As politicians in Paris were rightly on 21 May, wished to restore the old order inperceiving the changing mood in Vienna, France, whereas for the revolutionaries thisthey were growing more vocal and bellicose was to be an ideological struggle betweenthemselves. The new foreign minister, a free people and the tyranny ofCharles Francois Dumouriez, came to office monarchical rule. This had been thefrom relative obscurity amidst the growing philosophy so stridently advocated bywar fever. Long hostile to Austria, Dumouriez Brissot since the autumn of 1791. Towarddemanded immediate military action. War this end the revolutionaries were confidentnow seemed inevitable. Indeed, it was not in their hopes of seeing a general risinglong in coming: on 20 April, France formally of the minority nationalities of thedeclared war on Austria. The National Habsburg Empire: they were to be sorelyAssembly, the declaration of war ran, disappointed. Those powers ranged against France clungdeclares that the French nation, faithful to the steadfastly to a policy more than merelyprinciples consecrated in the constitution, not to ideological: there were distinct territorialundertake any war with a view to making gains to be made, a wholly realistic aimconquest, and never to employ its forces when one considers the Allies completeagainst the liberty of any people, takes arms confidence in the superiority of theironly to maintain its liberty and its professional, highly trained, highlyindependence. disciplined armies over the rabble that That the war which it is forced to sustain is appeared to them to constitute the forces ofnot a war of nation against nation, but the just the Republic. It was therefore not surprisingdefense of a free people against the unjust that the Allies did not yet appreciate theaggression of a king. immense threat to the political stability of That the French will never confound their Europes monarchies posed by the armiesbrothers with their real enemies; that they will marching in the name of the People, forneglect nothing in order to alleviate the scourge those armies were as yet untested. Theyof war, to spare and preserve property, and to could hardly then know - and indeed itcause to return upon those alone, who shall would be to the astonishment of all - thatleague themselves against its liberties, all the the revolutionary armies would, despitemiseries inseparable from war. some serious setbacks, achieve remarkable triumphs in the field between 1793 and 1795, rapidly annexing neighboring Little did anyone know that this war - territories in great swathes never evenwhich all sides believed would be short - imagined - much less achieved - by Louiswould eventually engulf all of Europe in XIV or Louis XV. Nor could the Allies havemore than two decades of conflict. dared to imagine the full horror that lay Neither side bore sole responsibility for ahead for them: seemingly unstoppablethe war. The conflict cannot be said to have revolutionary forces carrying with them theoriginated either exclusively in Paris or in banner of liberté, egalité et fraternité acrossVienna. It was not only kings and politicians western and central Europe, challenging thewho shaped foreign policy; prevailing views very legitimacy of monarchical rule. Onlyamong the general populace in both capitals then was the war perceived as the truly graveplayed their role. In the end both sides threat to European political and socialsought war, but their objectives proved very stability that it actually was.different. Austria, joined shortly by Prussia
The fightingThe first and second coalitionsThe War of the First Coalition, occupied the border with Piedmont, on the1792-97 south coast. Each of these armies was understrength and suffered from poorThe Campaign of 1792 discipline and disorganization.The French Revolutionary Wars were divided Fighting began when French forcesinto two distinct periods, organized around invaded the Austrian Netherlands (modernthe War of the First Coalition (1792-97) and Belgium), where, at Valenciennes, thethat of the Second Coalition (1798-1802), Republicans overcame all resistance in theeach with its own combination of European first action of the war. Further south, alongpowers. The fervor of revolutionary ideology the Rhine, however, the Austrians andin France, together with the revulsion that it Prussians were aiming directly for Paris itself.inspired abroad, brought France into open The prospect of invasion had a profoundconflict with Austria and Prussia, soon to be effect in the French capital, where thejoined by various other states. The Allies National Assembly decreed that every citizenexpected a quick and decisive victory. was to come forward in defense of theOnce across the Rhine they expected to Republic, while radical politicians movedbrush aside the poorly equipped amateurish closer to deposing the King. On 24 Julyforces sent to meet them. At the end of a Prussia, together with a number of lesserdecade of continuous fighting, the French German states, formally joined AustriasRevolutionary Wars left France in a far cause by declaring war on France.stronger position than she had begun On 1 August the Allies issued thethem, controlling not only the so-called Brunswick Manifesto, a statement thatnatural frontiers of the Rhine, the Alps, proved immensely counter-productive sinceand the Pyrenees, but exercising it inadvertently fanned the flames ofconsiderable influence over her satellite revolutionary fervor in France. While it wasstates in the Low Countries, western meant to be an ominous warning ofGermany, Italy, and Switzerland. These punishment which would cow the French, asachievements, though relatively swiftly well as being a pledge to protect Louis XVI,attained, were made only after fighting on it played into the hands of Frenchan unprecedented scale, in many separate propagandists who presented it as a diretheaters of war and under very different threat to the nations existence. If thegeographical conditions. Tuileries were attacked, the Brunswick When hostilities began in April 1792, Manifesto said,France deployed her armies along all herborders. To the north, two officers if the least violence or outrage he offered to theirdistinguished by their previous service in the Majesties, the king, queen and royal family, ifWar of American Independence, Generals their preservation and their liberty be notRochambeau and Lafayette, with about immediately provided for, they [the Allies] will50,000 men each, held positions extending exact an exemplary and ever-memorablefrom the northern coast to the Ardennes. A vengeance, by delivering the city of Paris over tosomewhat smaller army under General a military execution and to complete ruin, andLuckner stood near the Rhine further south. the rebels guilty of these outrages to theFifty thousand men under Montesquieu punishments they shall have deserved.
26 Essential Histories • The French Revolutionary WarsParisians bid farewell to the National Guard, September 34,000 professional troops under Brunswick. 1792. Scenes like these took place all over France: At last, on September 20, the two armies metsoldiers leaving for the front kiss their sweethearts and at a position prepared by the French at Valmy.receive bouquets from enthusiastic ladies lining thestreets while men cheer and raise or throw their hats Both sides opened a cannonade until 1 pm,into the air. Every citizen should be a soldier proclaimed when the Prussian guns fell silent and theirone revolutionary,and every soldier should be a citizen. infantry, arrayed in two lines, marched(Print after Coginet, Roger-Viollet) forward in attack. Kellermann seized the moment: raising his hat on his sword he cried Received in Paris on 3 August, it caused Vive la Nation! and thousands of troopswidespread public demonstrations and the answered back in a great surge of patrioticimprisonment of the King, who was now enthusiasm. To the astonishment of thesovereign in name only. The determination French, Brunswick halted his attack andto repel the enemy grew enormously withdrew - and he did not stop until he hadand volunteer enlistments rose at an gone back across the Rhine. Goethe, who wasastonishing pace. present with the allied army, rightly perceived Initially the army of the Duke of Brunswick the great historical significance of the Frenchmet little resistance in its August advance on victory, for not only did it save Paris, it savedthe French capital. In leisurely fashion he the Revolution itself. From here and today,took the fortresses at Longwy and Verdun he told his colleagues, there begins a newbefore proceeding through the Argonne epoch in the history of the world, and youforest. Opposing him was the Army of the can say that you were there.Centre under General Francois Kellermann, On the southern front Montesquieus armyjoined by part of the Army of the North invaded Piedmont and Savoy, capturing Niceunder General Charles Dumouriez. Together in the process. Dumouriez, for his part, madethe Generals could deploy 36,000 men progress in the north. On his approach theof dubious quality compared to the Austrians raised the siege of Lille and made
The fighting 27camp for the winter at Jemappes, just over the This, together with a French declarationBelgian frontier. Now was the time for on 16 November that opened the ScheldtDumouriez to strike. While Austrian and Estuary to international shipping (in overtPrussian attention was diverted by matters in violation of existing treaties whichPoland, where the Eastern powers were guaranteed Holland sole control), led Britainarranging the second partition of that to make war preparations. British securityunfortunate country, Dumouriez launched rested on the premise that no great maritimeanother, more powerful invasion, this time power held control of the Channel ports.with 40,000 men and 100 guns, defeating the Britain was right to be concerned, for13,000 Austrians at Jemappes on 6 November. Dumouriez planned to invade the Dutch The battle was a turning point in the war, Republic in the spring. In Paris Anglophobiafor the French followed up by taking Brussels was growing rapidly, particularly within the10 days later, and sent a squadron up the National Assembly.Scheldt to besiege Antwerp. Significantly, the The so-called Edict of Fraternity, issuedFrench had now adopted new tactics and on 19 November, gave further alarm indisplayed a thirst for the offensive, of élan, Britain, for it was an open invitation forwhich was to serve them well over the next radicals across Europe - and specificallyseveral years. Meanwhile, on the Rhine front, within the small German states of the Holyneither side had gained the upper hand.General Custine took Mainz but penetrated Valmy, 20 September 1792. In one of historys mostinto Germany only as far as Frankfurt. decisive battles, the Duke of Brunswick made twoNevertheless, by the end of 1792, republican half-hearted advances against Dumouriez andarmies had preserved the nation and, Kellermann before acknowledging his numericalmoreover, sat ominously on the borders of inferiority and declaring:We shall not strike here. French morale soared. The French Revolutionaries have comeHolland, while at home the Revolution had through their baptism of fire, noted one Prussian officertaken a more radical turn. A new government, They expected more from us. Now we have fallen inthe National Convention, came to power and their estimation, but they have risen. We have lost morepromptly abolished the monarchy. than a battle. Our credibility is gone. (Gamma)
28 Essential Histories • The French Revolutionary WarsRoman Empire - to overthrow their administrative collapse left the armies of thegovernments, whether or not those Republic lacking in supplies and pay andgovernments were then hostile to France. suffering from low morale. In theory theyThe French could hardly have produced a numbered 270,000, but the true figure mustmore provocative document: have been considerably lower, and with morale at its lowest point there was no telling The National Convention declares, in the what the next season of campaigning wouldname of the French nation, that it will grant bring. To make matters worse, France hadfraternity and assistance to all peoples who wish now also to contend with the powerful Royalto recover their liberty, and instructs the Navy, which was reckoned by all more than aExecutive Power to give the necessary orders to match for its French counterpart. With Francethe generals to grant assistance to these peoples already on the verge of bankruptcy, theand to defend those citizens who have been - or prospect of losing her colonies and havingmay be - persecuted for their attachment to the her commerce swept from the seas must havecause of liberty. seemed like a nightmare. The French duly invaded Holland in the The critical point came on 21 January middle of February, but the Allies were1793. The execution of Louis XVI caused meanwhile launching their own offensiveoutrage throughout Europe, including with 40,000 Austrians under the Prince ofBritain, where the government had already Saxe-Coburg, who crossed the Meuse tobegun discussing military plans with retake Belgium. On the Rhine, BrunswickAustrian and Prussian officials. Just 10 days returned with 60,000 Prussians to besiegelater, on 31 January, the National Assembly Custine in Mainz, but neither of their twoformally annexed Belgium, and it declared operations was vigorously pressed. Indeed,war on Britain and Holland the next day. the allied campaign in Flanders stumbledThe power of the Allies coalition was along without any rush to reach the Frenchenormously increased with the additional frontier. Adhering to the strategies ofmilitary, naval, and above all financial previous wars, the forces of the coalitionresources of Britain, who began to use her instead chose to spend the summerdiplomatic influence to draw in other consolidating their ground by laying siege tomembers. Naples and Portugal soon joined the cities of Valenciennes, Condé, and Mainz.the ranks of the Allies, followed by Spain, on Nevertheless, the French under Generalwhom France declared war on 7 March. To Francisco de Miranda suffered defeat atthese Sweden and Russia gave their Maastricht on 6 March, while on the 18th, atsympathy, if not their practical support. Neerwinden, Dumouriez launched eight separate columns totaling 45,000 menThe Campaign of 1793 against Saxe-Coburg in an attempt to turnFrance faced a whole host of threats in the his left. The French columns were defeatedspring of 1793: to the south Spain could in detail, rapidly putting paid to Frenchmount an attack across the Pyrenees; Austrian plans of swift conquest. The Austrians retookand Italian troops were preparing for the Brussels, and Dumouriez, unwilling to facespring campaign season near Nice; a the inevitable backlash in Paris where hismultinational army under British command Jacobin political enemies demanded blood,was being readied for operations in Flanders defected to the enemy on 5 April. Custine,in conjunction with Habsburg forces; and the who ultimately replaced him, was defeated atAllies now boasted an army of the besieged city of Valenciennes on120,000 men along the Rhine. These 21-23 May, and fell victim to the ruthlesscombined forces numbered nearly Committee of Public Safety in Paris, the350,000 men, while in France civil and main instrument of the Reign of Terror (apolitical instability, workers strikes, and sort of revolutionary dictatorship led by
The fighting 29Maximilien Robespierre). Custine was sent to Execution of Louis XVI. His death at the guillotine notthe guillotine, setting a chilling precedent only galvanized existing opposition to the Revolution from abroad, it went far in persuading even many Britishfor many other generals who would either republicans that things had gone sour 1 will tell you whatfail on the battlefield or whose loyalties to the French have done. said William Cowper. They havethe Republic would come under suspicion. made me weep for a King of France, which I neverSaxe-Coburg duly followed up his success by thought to do, and have made me sick of the very name of liberty, which I never thought to be. (Roger-Viollet)taking Condé on 10 July and Valencienneson the 29th. While the Terror sought to cleanse France Fortunes shifted, however, as a result ofof its internal enemies - real and imagined - faulty allied strategy and wrangling amongthe nation was in an increasingly dangerous the various governments. The new offensiveposition, with fighting along the Pyrenees in Flanders failed to concentrate its forces,and, from August, serious royalist counter- dividing them instead between the British,revolutions under way in the Vendee, Lyon, who marched on Dunkirk, and the Austrians,and Toulon. An Anglo-Spanish fleet under who laid siege to Quesnoy. These forces nowAdmiral Lord Hood appeared off Toulon, confronted French armies that were newlydisembarked troops for its defense against enlarged, well led, and encouraged by therepublican forces, and prepared to burn or far-reaching reforms instituted by Lazarecapture the French fleet sitting at anchor. Carnot, the new War Minister. Later dubbedThe British were also active to the north, the Organizer of Victory, Carnot wasdispatching an Anglo-Hanoverian expedition instrumental in formulating the famous leveeunder the Duke of York to Flanders, where it en masse, decreed on 23 August, by which theinvested Dunkirk and linked forces with the Republic ordered the conscription of theAustrians to the east. Elsewhere, with low entire male population. From this moment untilmorale among both their leaders and men, that in which the enemy shall have been drivenFrench forces along the Rhine could not from the soil of the Republic, ran one of thehope to stop the allied advance from the east Revolutions greatest documents,that recaptured Mainz in August. These weredark times indeed for France, a country now all Frenchmen are in permanent requisition forapparently on the point of collapse. the service of the armies. The young men