French Revolutionary wars

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French Revolutionary wars
French Revolutionary wars

French Revolutionary Wars, a title given to the hostilities between France and one or more European powers between 1792 and 1799. It thus comprises the first seven years of the period of warfare that was continued through the Napoleonic Wars until Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, with a year of interruption under the peace of Amiens (1802–03). The end of 1799 may be conveniently taken as the dividing point between the Revolutionary and Napoleonic phases of the conflict since in that year the consulate of Napoleon Bonaparte was established.

Nature Of The French Revolutionary Wars

While warfare is generally undertaken for political reasons, the French Revolutionary wars were exceptional for the degree to which they were concerned with political considerations. They are associated above all with the appearance in France, and with the imposition by France on neighboring states, of fundamental changes in the structure of the state and society. No other European wars have shown such intimacy with, or novelty in, political motives. The Napoleonic Wars, which grew out of those undertaken by the first French Republic, were characterized by the extent to which they retained and extended the political and social innovations of Revolutionary France. It will be seen that the political situation in Revolutionary France impelled the new government to make war on neighboring states and that French Revolutionary doctrines, as well as French expansionist policies, encouraged these states to oppose France in the field. The course of the French military and foreign policy, furthermore, was greatly influenced by the continuation of an internal political and social revolution during hostilities, and in this too the continual interaction of political and military affairs presents a marked contrast with the Napoleonic Wars.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to lose sight of more conventional considerations in the motives and conduct of the belligerent powers. The leaders of the French Revolution took over and expanded the traditional objectives of French foreign policy. Conversely, although the restoration of the ancien régime in France and its preservation in the rest of Europe was among the motives of the attack by France’s enemies, so often and so greatly did they allow this objective to be obscured by the demands of their traditional interests that it must be considered as subsidiary to their fundamental objectives in making war. The British especially, being geographically insulated and having a more liberal constitution than their Continental allies, were concerned far less with combating Revolutionary ideology than with preventing French attempts to create a Continental hegemony. In contracting a series of alliances with the powers of the First Coalition in 1793, Great Britain indeed insisted that they abandon their demands for a royalist restoration (virtually, unconditional surrender), so that ultimate war aims were left uncertain. The British sought to uphold a balance of power in Europe that would enable them to affirm their control of the seas, to extend their colonial conquests, and to achieve predominance as a trading and manufacturing nation both beyond Europe and on the Continent.

The wars of the Revolution and of the First Empire were the culmination of an intermittentFranco-British conflict that had begun with the War of the Grand Alliance and the War of the Spanish Succession. At its close, Great Britain had succeeded in preventing France’s predominance in Europe and asserted British supremacy overseas. Great Britain, with a population not much more than one-third that of France in 1789, depended for its strength on preponderance in commerce and manufactures. Thus it remained preoccupied with the sources and maintenance of wealth, which required that military efforts should be concentrated on naval and colonial affairs. This diminished still further Great Britain’s ability to mount substantial operations in Europe; for this, the Continental allies, immediately threatened by invasion and not lacking in military manpower, had to serve. Great Britain, however, saw that if the French could impose peace on their own terms on Europe, they would be free to mobilize their resources against the British at sea and in the colonies and to close the European markets essential to British commerce. Therefore Great Britain, alone of all the coalition powers ranged against France, remained at war for virtually the entire duration of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, pursuing a strategy dominated by maritime, colonial, and economic motives. The divergences in interests and objectives between the British and their European allies explain some of the dissensions which arose in the allied camp and also the hostility that Great Britain was to encounter among the neutral powers. By blockading French-held ports and issuing licenses to control trade with the enemy bloc, the British advanced their own interests to the detriment or at least the expense of the neutrals. Thus, broadly speaking, throughout the wars from 1792 to 1815, Great Britain devoted the profits from an increasingly advantageous position in world trade to furthering the struggle with France, while the French, since they could not match British maritime power, were obliged to master Europe if they were to turn the tables on Great Britain strategically and economically.

During the period 1793–99, however, it was by no means certain that France would have to wait until Europe had been pacified before defeating Great Britain. For the first few years of the war the existing strength of the French fleet, if it could gain enough support from other states’ navies, seriously threatened to overcome the British naval supremacy. For some time Great Britain’s preoccupation with colonial warfare proved costly, comparatively unsuccessful, and, eventually, detrimental to the outcome of the war in Europe, where British land forces might have tipped the balance. Only twice in the Revolutionary wars did small British expeditionary forces fight in Europe, and then only in Holland, in 1794 and 1799. By 1796 some 60,000 British troops had fallen in largely indecisive fighting in the West IndiesArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, would suffer fewer losses during his campaigns in the Iberian Peninsula (1808–14), which not only reconquered Spain and Portugal but also tied down a far larger number of French troops.

The British government was unique in its ability to undertake an enormous debt in order to finance its own war effort and to subsidize that of its allies. The great expansion of the British national income, however, was at that time due more to unusually favorable terms of trade in conventional goods produced by largely traditional means than to the initiation of the Industrial Revolution—the distinguishing characteristics of which belong to the years after 1815. The wars put obstacles in the way of industrial development and financial organization on the Continent, however, and Britain’s lead in these fields seems to have been lengthened still further by the time peace came. Two factors contributed considerably to the outbreak and to the course of the early years of the French Revolutionary wars: (1) the weakness of France caused by the Revolution itself, which from the meeting of the Estates-General in May 1789 continued with mounting intensity and throughout the first three campaigns (1792, 1793, and 1794); and (2) the second and third Partitions of Poland (1793 and 1795), which served to distract the Continental powers from their invasion of France.

The unprecedented successes of the French in the Revolutionary wars were due to their advantages in numbers; to the fact that France, even before the Revolution, was in many respects the most developed nation on the Continent; and finally to the often contradictory effects of Revolutionary ideas and methods. The first French Republic could afford to be prodigiously wasteful of its resources in making war. It could utilize the energies and wealth of the entire population to a degree far beyond the limits of action available to the neighboring Continental governments of the ancien régime. These novel developments, however, lay several years ahead, when the Continental powers undertook to make war on Revolutionary France. Indeed, in very large part the most striking characteristics of French Revolutionary warfare, together with the men and the domestic policies of the Jacobin Committee of Public Safety with whom it is associated, owed their appearance to the first successes of the invaders. This threat to the new regime inspired the Terror, its radical political reforms, and the massive mobilization of national resources.

For Great Britain, the many complexities of the European scene during the first three years of the French Revolution were problems of secondary importance since the influence of the chief rival state on the Continent had been largely neutralized by internal dissension. Inevitably, Great Britain was less concerned by developments in eastern and central Europe, and less than a year before the outbreak of war with France (February 1793) prime minister William Pitt, the Younger reduced the strength of the home army from 17,000 to 13,000. When war came, Pitt, with most of his countrymen, anticipated that it would soon be over.

Throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the British avoided recourse to a system of direct conscription for the army, and the pressing of men for the navy fell or was intended to fall, on merchant seamen. The expedients adopted in recruiting land forces during the first years of the war were not particularly efficient. In order to free regular regiments, which were recruited wholly from volunteers, for service overseas, 30,000 militiamen were called up in 1794 for home defense. As it was permissible to pay a substitute to perform militia service, the recruitment of regular formations suffered in consequence.

Europe During The French Revolutionary Wars

The last years of the 1780s and the early 1790s had been marked by a general instability in European affairs which considerably affected the position of the Continental powers. In the Dutch Republic the stadholder, William V of Orange, had been assisted by Prussia and Great Britain in his difficulties with the democratic party supported by FranceFrederick William II of Prussia sent troops into Holland in 1787 and concluded with Great Britain and the stadholder the Triple Alliance of 1788. It was intended to oppose French influence in Dutch affairs and Russian and Austrian designs against Poland and Turkey. The entente between Great Britain and Prussia, however, was soon dispelled by the latter’s overambitious policies. In 1789 Prussia came close to declaring war on Russia and Austria, having urged Sweden to invade Russia and the Poles to seek the return of Russian annexations. In 1789 Austria was confronted by a revolt in the Austrian Netherlands (roughly, modern Belgium) against Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II’s liberalization of their institutions. Dissatisfied with the course of Prussian policy and desiring to strengthen the Austrian Netherlands against France, Great Britain welcomed the chance of a rapprochement with Austria. Despite the growing understanding between Austria and Great Britain, the Prussians concluded an alliance with the Poles in March 1790 and massed their troops near Austria’s Bohemian frontier. Leopold II, however, the new Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of the Austrian dominions, signed a truce with the Turks, and the Poles refused to cede Toruń and Gdańsk to Prussia in return for aid. Dangerously isolated, Prussia came to terms with Austria at Reichenbach (July 27, 1790) and even suggested a common front against the French Revolution in which the possibility of annexing some French territory might arise.

Ongoing Russian and Austrian hostilities with Turkey prevented effective action by the Continental powers against France. Peace with Turkey was signed finally by Austria on August 4, 1791, and peace preliminaries by Russia on August 11. Soon, however, tension grew up in central Europe. At the end of 1791, Catherine the Great had brought a Russian army of 130,000 to the Polish frontier. Though it was prepared to offer Austria and Prussia a share of the spoils should they oppose its designs on Poland, the Russian government declared its enthusiasm for a monarchical alliance against France—both in order to cover its intentions against Poland and in the hope of directing Prussian and Austrian attention to the west. Thus it is clear that France had occupied a secondary place in the minds of European leaders until mid-1791. Events in France, far from inspiring the powers with the zeal that they professed for a monarchical crusade, had encouraged them to seek advantages in the east while the French were preoccupied with their internal affairs. Later, the very real divisions among the Continental powers were to precipitate their defeat by the French armies.

Austria had shown little response to Prussia’s suggestions, from the Reichenbach convention onward, for joint action against France with the double purpose of counteracting the Revolution and making territorial gains in the west. The Prussians’ own interest in such a policy and the fact that the Polish situation had yet to be regulated were powerful arguments to deter the Austrians from committing themselves in the west while Russia’s hands were free in the east. Leopold’s concern for the safety of his sister Marie-Antoinette and her husband, Louis XVI of France, led him to promise positive action when he heard that they were about to escape from their critical position (the flight to Varennes, June 1791). On August 27 he and the king of Prussia issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, appealing to the European sovereigns to use force to strengthen Louis XVI’s position.

In Paris, the Legislative Assembly, from which members of the former Constituent Assembly were excluded, met on October 1, 1791. The situation which confronted its less experienced and more radically minded deputies continued to deteriorate. There was a worsening financial crisis, right-wing insurrections had arisen in the Vendée in August, and peasant risings were continuing elsewhere. The Declaration of Pillnitz, however, instead of intimidating the supporters of the Revolution, served to discredit the moderate Feuillants in the assembly, which grew more disposed to war. In December 1791 the French government called upon the elector of Trier, Clement Wenceslas of Saxony, to disband the armed forces of émigrés on his territory, whereupon Leopold retorted that he would defend the elector against aggression. In March 1792, Leopold’s son and successor, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, was informed by Marie-Antoinette that the Girondin ministry, which Louis XVI had just accepted, was about to attack the Austrian Netherlands. Austria and Prussia, though their relations were already strained over the actual disposition of their forces in the west and over the steps to be taken in the event of Russian action in Poland, sent a circular to the European powers on April 12, inviting concerted action.

Contradictory motives impelled the new Girondin ministry and its supporters to hostilities, though they had failed to recruit foreign support. War, they hoped, would safeguard and complete the Revolution, exposing the bad faith of the king and his relations with the émigrés. Lafayette and the partisans of constitutional monarchy believed that war would strengthen the new regime and Louis’s position by distracting popular attention from domestic problems. The Girondins, led by Jacques-Pierre Brissot, gained the support of the Jacobins, for the club ignored the pleas of Maximilien Robespierre and the extreme left who opposed a war managed by aristocrats, foreseeing that they might use it against the Revolution.

France Declares War

On April 20, 1792, the Girondin ministry’s proposal to declare war on Austria (but not on the Holy Roman Empire) was ratified by the Assembly. A month later it likewise undertook war against Sardinia, which had responded affirmatively to the Austro-Prussian circular of April 12, as did Russia. Charles-François du Périer Dumouriez, the French minister of foreign affairs, like Lafayette and the Comte de Narbonne (Louis de Lara), envisaged a short war—defensive on the upper Rhine and, if Spain should attack in the Pyrenees, offensive in Savoy and in Belgium—from which the victorious army would return to restore the king’s power in a stabilized democracy. They discounted the growing crisis in the nation’s economic and political life, ignored the manifold weaknesses of the army which was to carry out this ambitious policy, and above all underrated the army’s divisions and hesitations over the political considerations which bulked continually larger in the public mind.

Far from saving the king, the war, naturally enough, soon precipitated the fall of the monarchy, long suspected of plotting to overthrow the new regime. On June 13 Louis dismissed the Girondin ministry in favor of the more moderate Feuillants that it had replaced. A week later there were demonstrations at the Tuileries to demand the restoration of the Girondins. On June 28 Lafayette left his headquarters to appear in the Assembly but returned to the army disappointed in his hopes of checking the advance of popular pressure on the government and the existing constitution. At the end of July, he moved his forces to Compiègne, but with no more influence on the course of events in Paris. The new ministry, attacked by the Girondins, resigned on July 10. During the second half of July, the Jacobin republican movement in Paris grew fast, attracting widespread support from the provinces. On July 27 Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick and commander of the allied army, issued a manifesto which, by threatening Paris with reprisals if the king and queen were harmed, stimulated French determination to resist.

On August 10, 1792, when the Tuileries palace was sacked by a mob and the king’s Swiss guard slaughtered, the Revolutionary commune of Paris assumed the powers of the municipality. The Legislative Assembly recognized the insurrectionary commune, suspended the monarchy, and resolved that a new national assembly, the Convention, should be elected by universal male suffrage to determine the future form of government. Having failed to raise the northeastern districts and to turn his army against Paris, Lafayette fled across the frontier with Alexandre, count de Lameth, and many of his officers on August 19. Two days later, the peasantry of the Vendée took up arms against Paris. The “second Revolution” that began on August 10 soon wrested control of affairs from the Assembly, which was increasingly subject to the whims of the Paris commune. A provisional executive council was nominated, of which Georges Danton was the moving spirit. The commune had made its first arrests on August 10. Less than a month later, the first Terror began with the September massacres.

Campaign Of 1792

For his invasion of France, Brunswick had only 29,000 Austrians and 42,000 Prussians available, together with 4,000–5,000 émigrés. Some 25,000 Austrians remained on guard in Belgium and 16,000 were tasked with the defense of the Rhine. Small though these numbers may seem for the repulse of the French attack on Belgium and Brunswick’s march on Paris, the condition of the numerically superior French forces, not to mention the disorder in France, offered substantial hope of success to the allies. The regular French army was understrength and with 82,000 men (including garrisons) would find it difficult to sustain prolonged hostilities. Morale and efficiency too had suffered grievously from the emigration of more than half the officer corps. The defections to follow and the deepening divisions of the nation as the Revolution went on were to aggravate distrust, uncertainty, and indiscipline. The separately brigaded volunteer battalions—enrolled after July 11, 1792, to fight for one campaign—were better paid and, electing their own officers, had enthusiasm for the cause. However, they lacked training, equipment, arms, and discipline, and their presence provided a further solvent of the morale of the regulars, whom they frequently abandoned under fire. The reverses of the allies in 1792 were due primarily to the inadequacy of their own strategy and second to the efforts of the old army that the Revolution had inherited from the ancien régime.

One reason why Austria, with an estimated total of 223,000 men under arms, and Prussia, with 131,000, withheld so much of their strength from Brunswick’s invasion force was their mistrust both of one another and of Russia with regard to Poland. The Russians began their invasion of Poland on May 19, 1792, and had occupied most of the country by the end of July. Only then did Brunswick’s army set out from Koblenz. Even so, it suffered from divided counsel: Brunswick urged an over hesitant strategy envisaging a systematic advance with the reduction of the fortresses on the Meuse and reserving a march on Paris for the following spring, while the king of Prussia and Hohenlohe (Friedrich Wilhelm von Hohenlohe-Kirchberg) thought in terms of a military promenade to carry them to Paris by the late summer.

The allied army crossed the French frontier on August 19, took Longwy (August 23) and Verdun(September 2), crossed the Meuse and reached the Argonne plateau on September 8. Its right, under Charles de Croix, count von Clerfayt, then was supposed to watch the French Army of Sedan; its left rested on the Verdun-Châlons road a few miles east of Valmy. The Army of Sedan, however, which had been falling back from the frontier before Dumouriez took command on August 28, now marched boldly southward across Clerfayt’s front (September 1–3), escaped a turning movement by Clerfayt (September 13), and reached Sainte-Menehould, east of Valmy. There Dumouriez’s 3,000 men were joined by Pierre de Ruel, the marquis de Beurnonville, with 12,000 men from the north. While Dumouriez kept guard against the allied center’s attempt to encircle the French by a southwesterly movement, François-Christophe Kellermann, duke de Valmy, arrived with 18,000 men from the French Army of Metz and took up a position facing westward against the allied left.

The decisive Battle of Valmy on September 20 was little more than a prolonged and heavy cannonade in which 40,000 rounds were fired. When the Prussian infantry advanced, the French held firm. Seeing his columns hesitate, Brunswick ordered the retreat. At Valmy 34,000 Prussians had faced 52,000 French, of whom 36,000 were engaged. Total casualties were fewer than 500. The unexpectedness of the reverse, due largely to the staunchness of Dumouriez’s regular troops and to his artillery, increased its great moral effect. Militarily it was a victory for the Revolution in that it gave the French a substantial breathing space. The wastage of effectiveness in Brunswick’s army (particularly from dysentery), leaving him only 17,000 fits for the campaign, obliged him to retire from the theatre of war and to accept Dumouriez’s offer, sanctioned by Paris, to negotiate a suspension of hostilities.

Brunswick’s retreat to the Meuse allowed Dumouriez to turn his attention to the northern frontier. Having been held up in an advance on Lille, the Austrian Army of the Netherlands had withdrawn toward Mons early in October. On November 6, in the battle of Jemappes, Dumouriez’s heavily superior numbers brought him success in an assault en masse—the most practicable formation for his inexperienced and ill-trained troops—delivered frontally without preliminary maneuver. The battle was typical of the early Revolutionary victories where the sheer weight of numbers and élan supplied the want of training, discipline, and organization. Overrunning Belgium, the French advanced into Germany and took Aachen.

Meanwhile, in September and October, the French army on the Rhine, under Adam Philippe de Custine, was winning successes. It advanced northward across the Palatinate, taking Speyer, Worms, and Mainz, before turning eastward and seizing Frankfurt, which it held till December 2. In September Sardinian resistance collapsed before Anne-Pierre de Montesquiou-Fézensac in Savoy and Jacques d’Anselme in the county of Nice.

The First Coalition And The Jacobin Regime

The new Convention, which had been at one in proclaiming the republic on September 21, 1792, was afterward deeply divided. Its extremists were insistent on an aggressive and provocative policy, one which the deceptive triumphs of 1792 greatly encouraged. On November 16, 1792, it declared that the navigation of the Scheldt was open to all nations, thus abrogating the Austrian regime’s undertaking of 1785 and inviting British hostility. Three days later, France offered assistance to any people rising against its government. In December, as if this challenge were not enough, the Convention undertook to introduce the social reforms of the Revolution in the territories occupied by French forces. It was moreover in the months after Valmy and Jemappes that France’s claims to “natural” frontiers—the RhineAlps, and the Pyrenees—were heard, in effect, for the first time (although the history of the concept can be traced to Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban’s memoranda during Louis XIV’s reign and even to Julius Caesar). Some inhabitants of NiceSavoy, and the Rhineland had asked for annexation by France and, consequently, social reform, in the first weeks of their occupation. Later the commanders of the occupation forces had pursued varying policies in the administration of their territories, frequently to the disillusionment of local champions of revolution (after September 1793 the Committee of Public Safety ordered the systematic spoliation of all the occupied territories). Savoy was annexed on November 27, 1792. Anxious to escape wholesale reform, particularly of the church, the Belgians (December 4) and the Rhinelanders asked for independence. The financial difficulties of the Revolution and its armies encouraged the Convention to conclude that the Austrian Netherlands should pay for its own “liberation” by the proceeds of enforced reforms and that the already heavily inflated assignats should be “exported.” Nice was annexed on January 31, 1793. Next, the Belgian provinces were absorbed since it had become clear that only annexation would prevent a counterrevolution in the occupied countries. The Rhineland was taken over on March 17 and the bishopric of Basel made a département on March 23.

Confronted by such policies, Great Britain, already allied with the Dutch from 1788, was inevitably drawn into the war. In addition to their alarm at the course of French conquests, the British became suspicious of French intentions toward the United Provinces of the NetherlandsWilliam Wyndham Grenville, Baron Grenville, the British foreign secretary, protested to the French ambassador, Bernard-François, marquis de Chauvelin, against decrees of November 6 and 19 and finally, on January 24, 1793, gave him his passports. A week later the Convention declared war. A war between France and Spain was declared on March 7; and before long the French Republic was to find itself at war with all Europe, save for Switzerland and Scandinavia.

After some initial successes, the weaknesses of the First Coalition were to bring its armies to a standstill or else to retreat before the hasty general mobilization of the French population. The coalition was based on Great Britain’s alliances with Russia (March 25, 1793), Sardinia (April 25), Spain (May 25), Naples (July 12), Prussia (July 14), Austria (August 30), and Portugal (September 26). There was thus no common pact, and there was to be no common understanding of aims, still less a united command, The absence of an integrated strategy and the dispersal of forces to Poland and to naval and colonial warfare hamstrung the coalition’s attack on France. Austro-Prussian unity, in particular, shaken as it was by the defeats at Valmy and at Jemappes, was further impaired because Prussia, in January 1793, concluded with Russia a second treaty for the partition of Poland under which Austria received nothing,

Against the formidable numbers to be sent against them in 1793 the French had their regular troops and the volunteers who had remained with the colors. To bring the armies up to strength it was agreed in February—too late to influence the early stages of the campaign—to levy 300,000 men (about half this number joined the army). By July French effectiveness numbered about 650,000, and it was with these forces that the rest of the campaign of 1793 was fought, since the 440,000 men raised by the levée en masse of August 23 had yet to be equipped and incorporated. The amalgamation of the army’s regular and Revolutionary formations was decreed in principle in February 1793 but not begun until spring 1794. Until then, recruits were drafted into existing formations.

The course of military events in the spring and early summer of 1793 might well have been disastrous for the republic but for the advent to power of the energetic government of the Jacobins in Paris. On April 6, 1793, the Convention, which had condemned Louis XVI to death in January, established a Jacobin-inspired committee—the Committee of Public Safety—intended to control the acts of the moribund and discredited Girondin ministry. As earlier in the Revolution, a movement in public opinion further to the left and recourse to extremist measures had arisen in response to the imminent danger that the regime would be overthrown by the allies’ final success in the field. The Convention and the commissioners, namely représentants en mission, whom it was now sending to each army to establish its authority, were already dominated by the committee before the overthrow of the Girondins on June 2, 1793.

In the north, the représentants en mission ordered a local levée en masse on August 4. Ten days later, Lazare Carnot, the moving spirit of the committee in military affairs and later to be justly called the “organizer of victory,” entered the committee with a demand for a general levée en masse for which he drafted the decree of August 23:

Article I. From this moment until that in which our enemies shall have been driven from the territory of the Republic, all Frenchmen are permanently requisitioned for service in the armies. Young men will go forth to battle; married men will forge weapons and transport munitions; women will make tents and clothing and serve in hospitals; children will make lint from old linen; and old men will be brought to the public squares to arouse the courage of the soldiers, while preaching the hatred against kings and the unity of the Republic.

The new government’s actions and its plight were no less extreme than this declaration. It had to make way against the collapse of public credit and formidable economic difficulties. The Bourse had closed on June 27, 1793. Forced loans were raised, and between October and December, all foreign commerce was prohibited. The notorious Law of Suspects (September 17, 1793) announced the employment of the Terror to crush obstruction to the central committee’s purpose. The queen was sent to the guillotine on October 16. A fortnight later the Girondin chiefs were tried and condemned, and in November constitutional changes replaced local self-government by an almost complete centralization of power. The effect of the Jacobin rule, however, on the recruitment and immediate organization of the army was decisive in stemming the tide of invasion.

The successes of the army of the Revolution and its composition, however, have given rise to many misunderstandings. Its novelty lay in its numbers, far greater than those of the other states of the period; in its wholesale adoption of the divisional system; and in its composition, which, as a result of conscription, made it the first national army of modern times, The divisional system, in which the units were between 8,000 and 9,000 strong in 1794, was developed during the Revolution to permit the articulation of an army in which detachable and independently maneuverable members replaced a single, rather rigid mass. Its introduction can be dated from developments in the 1760s, however. The really effective appearance of the corps system, like the strategy which its use permitted, is directly associated with Bonaparte during the consulate and empire.

Campaigns Of 1793

Foreseeing that the French would invade Holland rather than pursue their advance into Germany on the northern front, the Prussians early in February 1793 sent reinforcements to the Dutch, to whom the British also sent a small contingent under Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany. Dumouriez, having launched his invasion, found himself obliged to hasten back to Belgium to confront an advance by the Austrians under Prince Josias of Coburg. Prematurely engaging the Austrians at Neerwinden, west of Liege, Dumouriez was severely defeated on March 18. Beaten again at Louvain three days later, he then entered into negotiations and concluded an armistice with Coburg’s chief of staff, Karl Mack, baron von Leiberich: the Austrians were to reoccupy the southern Netherlands, and Dumouriez would lead the French troops against Paris to overthrow the Convention.

In the event, however, Dumouriez failed to persuade his troops to take part in his treasonable plan and had to seek refuge behind the Austrian lines (April 5), whereupon the Austrians went forward into French Hainaut (April 9). The French had to abandon their entrenchments at Famars, just south of Valenciennes, on May 23; the Austrians finally took Condé on July 10 and Valenciennes on July 28. With the French under Charles Jennings Kilmaine now concentrated in Artois, Coburg moved toward Cambrai, the next step on the road toward Paris. There was an encounter at Marquion, between Cambrai and Arras, on August 10. At this moment Coburg, the coalition’s commander in chief in the north, had 100,000 men at his disposal. He could not press forward with them, however, because the Prussians transferred their contingent to the east while the Anglo-Hanoverians insisted on besieging Dunkirk. The scene of active operations was thus temporarily shifted to the country between Lille and the Channel coast. Reinforced, the French army there, under Jean Nicolas Houchard, defeated the Hanoverian general Wilhelm von Freytag at Hondschoote on September 8, thus relieving Dunkirk. Houchard failed to press his advantage, and Coburg, still on the front north of Cambrai, was able to take Le Quesnoy on September 12 and besieged Maubeuge on September 28. The victory of the French at Wattignies (October 15–16) compelled Coburg to raise the siege and averted the immediate threat to Paris.

On the eastern front, Custine, with 45,000 men, was threatened with encirclement in the spring of 1793. The Prussians crossed the Rhine at Bacharach and defeated his left on the Nahe (March 27–28), while Dagobert Siegmund Graf von Wurmser’s Austrians, crossing the Rhine north of Speyer, advanced on his right. To extricate himself and to protect Alsace, Custine withdrew most of his forces to Landau. The Prussians were thus free to invest Mainz, where the French garrison put up a fine resistance and obtained an honorable capitulation before marching out on July 23. The fall of Mainz, however, was the only real success for the allies on this front. Throughout the summer Brunswick’s Prussians took no decisive action against the French Army of the Moselle in the Saarland, though they prevented its junction with the Army of the Rhine and won a battle at Pirmasens (September 14). South of Landau the Army of the Rhine was in a strong position on the Lauter River. When at last Wurmser breached this line (October 13) the French made good their retreat farther south, while Landau still held out. By November, Carnot could send more forces to the eastern front and find new commanders for the two armies: Charles Pichegru for the Rhine and Lazare Hoche for the Moselle. Both armies took the offensive, but Hoche’s attempt to relieve Landau by a direct attack from the east against the Prussians was checked at Kaiserslautern (November 28). Hoche then turned southeast, unhindered by the Prussians, to join the slowly advancing Army of the Rhine. Wurmser, to avoid being caught between the converging armies, retired northward. Hoche, placed in command of the two French armies, now advanced steadily down the Rhine valley to Speyer, relieving Landau on the way. By the end of the year, Wurmser’s Austrians were back on the right bank of the Rhine.

On the southeastern front, the Sardinians (20,000 men) were held in check throughout the spring by Kellermann’s Army of the Alps. In Kellermann’s rear, however, Lyon revolted against Jacobin control at the end of May, and the subsequent diversion of forces from the Army of the Alps enabled the Sardinians to overrun Savoy. Though the siege of rebel Lyon lasted from August 8 to October 8, the French were strong enough to recover Savoy in the autumn. The revolt of Marseille, coinciding with that of Lyon, had necessitated a further diversion from the Army of the Alps but was put down by the end of August. A more serious blow to the republicans was the loss of Toulon, handed over by the royalists there to Adm. Richard Howe’s British squadron on August 28. William Pitt, the British prime minister, was particularly anxious to exploit this opportunity, but could not do so for lack of ready ships and men; some 7,000 troops had been sent to the Caribbean in the preceding winter. The Sardinians could ill afford much help for Toulon since the contingents that they had been expecting from Austria were sent instead to help Wurmser on the Rhine. After a long siege by the republican forces, among which the young Napoleon Bonaparte distinguished himself, Toulon fell on December 19. The only lasting result of the enterprise for the allies was the destruction of 34 French warships in the harbor, including 13 ships of the line.

On the southwestern front, the Spaniards, with 50,000 men and a Portuguese contingent, concentrated their major effort on the invasion of Roussillon from the eastern end of the Pyrenees. Gen. Antonio Ricardos led his forces across the frontier on April 16, 1793, and reached the Tech River on April 18, but his advance on Perpignan was repulsed on July 17. Villefranche-de-Conflent, southwest of Prades, fell to the Spaniards early in August, and by the end of the month, the Spaniards had established themselves on the left bank of the Têt River. The northward progress of the Spaniards was halted by the French recapture of Villefranche on September 17. At the western end of the Pyrenees, where Ventura Caro was in command of the Spanish armies, a few frontier positions changed hands in 1793, but the campaign was fought for the most part defensively by both sides. Western France in 1793 was thrown into confusion by the revolt of the Vendée, which broke out in March and soon grew into a civil war. The rebels appealed for British help and won some notable victories until the late summer. Then the 12,000 men who had capitulated at Mainz could be set to serve against the rebels. The open war was virtually brought to an end by the republican victory at Savenay (December 23), though guerrilla actions continued.

Campaigns Of 1794

Despite their largely unnecessary setbacks in 1793, the allies had reconquered Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine and taken three fortresses (Condé, Valenciennes, and Le Quesnoy) in the north of France. Yet by the beginning of 1794, their prospects of success were far smaller than they had been in the previous year. The increase in French troop numbers was now assuming massive proportions and Tadeusz Kościuszko’s successful rising against the Russians in Poland in March 1794 irresistibly drew the attention and resources of the Continental powers. Inevitably Polish affairs dissolved what understanding remained between Austria and Prussia. Great Britain’s relations with Prussia were unsatisfactory from the start of the campaign of 1794. On April 19 Pitt’s envoy Lord Malmesbury signed a treaty with the Prussians, who had threatened to quit the field, Great Britain undertook to support 62,400 troops by paying £300,000 and thereafter £50,000 per month. Reinforcements from Prussian troops in British pay under Wichard Joachim Heinrich von Möllendorff did not move to the Low Countries, as Pitt had wished, and thus further friction between London and Berlin had been caused to no avail. The British had barely 12,000 men in the theatre, and since the Austrians could spare no reinforcements, the allies had only 185,000 men between the sea and Luxembourg. Against them, the French had almost as many, and Möllendorff’s lethargy in the south, like Brunswick’s in 1793, was to allow them to achieve heavy numerical superiority and to seize their advantage on the main front.

In the spring of 1794 the allied forces under Coburg in northern France occupied a deep salient between the French Army of the North (150,000), which blocked their road to Paris and threatened their right flank in western Flanders, and the Army of the Ardennes, which stood on their left between the Sambre and the Meuse. When Pichegru, in command of both armies, began his offensive with a thrust into Flanders by his left, Coburg’s Austrians moved southward up the Sambre to take Landrecies (April 30) and engage the French center around Le Cateau. An attempt to isolate advanced French left between the Lys and the Scheldt was frustrated by the French victory at Tourcoing (May 18). The French Army of the Ardennes, meanwhile, had failed to take Charleroi despite the addition of 50,000 troops gained through the efforts of Louis de Saint-Just, the Convention’s representant en mission. It was the arrival of 40,000 more men under Jean-Baptiste, Count Jourdan from the Army of the Moselle that transformed the situation.

The Army of the Moselle was primarily supposed to contain the Prussian right and center on the eastern front, but in the last week of May the 40,000 under Jourdan set off northwestward from Longwy against the Austrians under Johann Peter Beaulieu. Beaulieu was in the duchy of Luxembourg, east of the Army of the Ardennes, and his forces were driven back toward the Meuse. The junction with the Army of the Ardennes was effected on June 3, and the resultant formation was to become famous in the annals of the Revolution as the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse. Charleroi fell to it on June 25, while Pichegru’s Army of the North, on the Flanders front, took Ypres. Coburg now decided to withdraw from his increasingly dangerous salient before the French could cut off his retreat by a drive from Charleroi. Anxious to prevent Jourdan’s interference with his withdrawal, on June 26 Coburg attacked him with inferior forces near Fleurus, 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Charleroi. Although the Coburg was soundly beaten, the disorganization of the French forces after their victory and their heavier losses allowed the allies to retreat from Belgium in good order.

On July 27, the very day of Pichegru’s entry into Antwerp and Jourdan’s into Liege, the regime of Robespierre and Saint-Just in Paris was overthrown. Though the successes of the armies that the Jacobins had raised and reorganized had removed the justification for extreme measures, the Terror had nevertheless been intensified. A backlash against the regime had culminated with the Thermidorian Reaction, a coup d’état staged on 9 Thermidor, and in the execution of Robespierre and of Saint-Just the next day (July 28).

Meanwhile, Möllendorff and Hohenlohe, commanding the Prussians on the eastern front, were concerned chiefly with keeping their army in being. They worsted the French in two actions at Kaiserslautern (May 23 and September 30) but finally retired across the Rhine in October. The armies of the Rhine and of the Moselle could thus converge to besiege Mainz. When Jourdan’s army, having consolidated its position in Belgium, turned eastward in September, the Austrians in Germany between the Meuse and the Rhine gave way: Aachen and Cologne fell, and by October 23 Jourdan was in Coblenz. By the end of the year, the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse and the Army of Rhin-et-Moselle were in contact along the left bank of the Rhine from the frontier of the Netherlands to Alsace. Mannheim, on the right bank, was taken on December 24. At the same time Pichegru, having crossed the Dutch frontier in October and overrun the country south of the Lek, was on the point of completing the conquest of the rest of the United Provinces, from which the British troops were withdrawn to Hanover. Behind the French lines, however, an Austrian garrison, besieged from November 24, still held the fortress of Luxembourg.

The disastrous outcome of the coalition’s campaign in the Low Countries was largely attributable to the reactions of Prussia and Austria to the Polish uprising of March 1794. Since the Russians could not find enough troops to suppress Kościuszko’s forces, Prussia sent 50,000 men into Poland in the summer; Austria, however, sent no more than 20,000. Russian reinforcements did not arrive until October, and the rising was brought to an end only with the capitulation of Warsaw on November 6. The Poles, therefore, had prevented any Russian forces from being used against France and had tied down significant numbers of Prussians and Austrians. The virtual defection of the Prussians from the fighting in the west so exasperated the British government that in October 1794 it stopped its subsidy to Prussia. Thereupon Frederick William gave orders for negotiations to be sought with the French. In following this course, he could hope not only to free his own hands for action in Poland but also to leave Austria embroiled in the west and so unable to exclude Prussia from the forthcoming Third Partition of Poland.

Against the Sardinians and their Austrian auxiliaries, the French maintained two armies in 1794: that of the Alps and that of Italy. The Army of the Alps captured the Little St. Bernard Pass and the Mont-Cenis pass in April–May, while the Army of Italy, from Nice, occupied the Colle di TendaBonaparte’s plan for a coordinated invasion of Piedmont, with the major thrust delivered by the Army of Italy across the Genoese territory, was suspended, however, after the Thermidorian Reaction. Instead, Carnot decided to reinforce Jacques François Dugommier’s Army of the Eastern Pyrenees. Dugommier already had driven the Spaniards out of Roussillon(April–June 1794) and entered Catalonia but was held up by the lines in front of Figueras. On November 28, however, Figueras fell to the French, who then proceeded with the siege of Rosas. At the western end of the Pyrenees, the French repulsed a Spanish offensive on the Bidassoa, took the offensive themselves in April, crossed the frontier into the Baztan valley and, outflanking the Spaniards, captured Fuenterrabia and San Sebastian in the summer. By the end of the campaign, the Spaniards had lost Tolosa as well. A Spanish force of 8,000 men crossing the central Pyrenees from Jaca was routed by 1,000 French at Lescun in September.

The War At Sea And In The Colonies Through 1795

At the outbreak of war, the British navy had 113 ships of the line, of which 75 percent could be put into service once crews had been found for them. Against these, the French could mobilize 76. But the French navy suffered greatly in the early years from the consequences of emigration, treason, and indiscipline, and it proved far more difficult to create an efficient fleet than it did to reorganize the army. Later, however, the French added not only the Dutch fleet of 49 ships but also the Spanish, which numbered 76 ships of the line in 1793 (of which 56 were in commission). In the early years of the war the British navy was not strong enough to free large squadrons to seek general actions, for it had to provide ships to maintain the blockade and to protect Great Britain’s extensive lines of communication. The successive capture or destruction of enemy ships and the heavy program of naval construction, which was to furnish 24 ships of the line between 1793 and 1801, permitted the admiralty to affirm its command of the seas by the late 1790s. At that time a series of successful battles were fought and after 1798 the earl of St. Vincent (Sir John Jervis) organized a system of permanent surveillance off enemy ports.

In May 1794 Earl Richard Howe set out to intercept a large French convoy from America and met Louis Villaret de Joyeuse’s squadron, which had come out to protect it. In the Battle of the First of June, the British captured 6 of the French ships of the line, but Villaret was able to return to Brest, though he had only 9 ships left capable of action to Howe’s 15. Howe’s successor, Henry Hotham, was no more successful in establishing unchallenged British supremacy at sea, and he did not find it possible to fight a decisive battle. In the Mediterranean, however, the British fleet could scarcely be challenged, thanks largely to the Spanish and Neapolitan alliances. Apart from the intervention at Toulon (1793), the British were able to occupy Corsica, where Pasquale Paoli had appealed to them for help. Horatio Nelson took Calvi in August 1794. In November 1794, however, Tuscany made overtures for peace with France.

In colonial warfare, too, the French succeeded in maintaining an unequal struggle longer than the British or they themselves might have expected. In the autumn of 1793, the British occupied the ports of Santo Domingo. During 1794 the 7,000-man expeditionary force with which Jervis had set sail in November 1793 to assault the French West Indies succeeded in capturing GuadeloupeSaint LuciaMarie-Galante and the Saints, and established itself on Haiti, where it took Port-au-Prince by midsummer. In Haiti, however, the rising of Toussaint Louverture’s 500,000 followers was directed against both the French and the British, and the British held only the coastal settlements by the close of 1795.

Peace Efforts And The Campaigns Of 1795

The prospect of peace with Prussia and with Tuscany was opportune for France, where the abandonment of the Jacobins’ controlled economy after Thermidor had precipitated the worst consequences of inflation. The administration of the army, which lacked equipment and supplies, fell into disorder. This disorder, the course of political events, and the removal of the threat of invasion served to increase the rate of desertions alarmingly.

A peace treaty with Tuscany was signed on February 9, 1795. This was followed by the Convention of La Jaunaye (February 17), whereby an amnesty was accorded to the guerrilla leaders of the Vendée. Then, on the night of April 5–6, the peace of Basel was finally concluded between France and Prussia. To safeguard Prussian neutrality, a line of demarcation was drawn whereby northern Germany, including Hanover, was closed to the belligerents. By a secret clause, Frederick William agreed to abandon his support of the exiled stadholder of the Netherlands, William V of Orange. This peace of Basel enabled the French to deliver an ultimatum to the Dutch; by the peace of The Hague (May 16, 1795) the estates-general of the United Provinces ceded the left bank of the Scheldt estuary, Maastricht, and Venlo to the French Republic and allied themselves with it, agreeing also to pay an indemnity of 100,000 florins. It was because of this enforced change of side that the Dutch lost some of their colonies to the British, who occupied Cape Province on September 16 and later seized Dutch Guiana (now Suriname).

The second peace of Basel was concluded between France and Spain on July 22, 1795. The French, who had lost some of the territories won in Catalonia but had advanced farther into the Basque country, undertook to withdraw to their old frontier, while the Spaniards ceded Santo Domingo to France. There was, however, much division of opinion in France over the policy that the Revolution should follow abroad. The matter derived more urgency from the possibility of signing a peace with the Holy Roman Empire—over which Austria had very little real control—since the imperial diet was prepared to make peace with France provided that the integrity of the empire was respected; i.e., if the French would abandon their conquests west of the Rhine. The French annexationist party, however, regained a majority in the government, and the proposal was rejected.

Austria, therefore, together with Sardinia and Great Britain, remained at war with France. Already in January 1795 Austria and Russia had come to an understanding for the Third Partition of Poland, overriding Prussia’s claims. On May 20 a new Austro-British treaty was concluded whereby Great Britain (weak in land forces and committed to operations overseas of decidedly secondary importance) granted Austria a subsidy of £600,000 for the maintenance of 200,000 men in the field. The Austrians, indeed, had considerable success on the Rhine in 1795. The Army of Sambre-et-Meuse under Jourdan, having taken the fortress of Luxembourg (June 25), eventually crossed the Rhine at Dusseldorf and Neuwied in September. Clerfayt’s Austrians were at first driven back southeastward to Main. Pichegru, instead of advancing in strength from Mannheim with the Army of Rhin-et-Moselle to support Jourdan, let himself be repulsed. Pichegru was, in fact, in treasonable collusion with the enemy, and he had been in contact with French émigrés since August 1795. After Clerfayt had won a victory over Jourdan at Hochst (October 10), Wurmser defeated Pichegru’s army outside Mannheim (October 18), took Mannheim (November 23), and crossed to the left bank of the Rhine. Jourdan had to retreat westward as far as the Moselle, and Clerfayt, overrunning the Palatinate, obliged him to accept an armistice on December 19. Pichegru, recoiling toward Alsace, likewise signed an armistice on December 31. In the autumn of 1795, Russia had acceded to the Anglo-Austrian alliance.

The Austro-Sardinian forces, supported by the British fleet, had some success on the southeastern front in the early summer of 1795, but the Franco-Spanish peace of Basel made possible the reinforcement of the Army of Italy. Under Barthélemy Schérer, who took command of that army in October, Pierre-François-Charles Augereau and André Masséna won the battle of Loano (November 23–24), but the immediate opportunity of pushing on to Turin was not taken.

The Directory And The Campaigns Of 1796–97

On August 22, 1795, the new and notably unrealistic constitution of the year III had been promulgated in Paris. Its greatest internal weakness lay in the tenuous relationship between the Directory and the chambers. Control of the executive lay in the hands of the five directors, to whom the ministers, named by them, were responsible. Political divisions, widespread dissatisfaction with the regime, distress among the nation at large, and increasing pressure from the right obliged the government to curtail the elections for the new chambers in order to ensure majorities in the Council of the 500 and the Council of Ancients. Bonaparteovercame the threat of a royalist coup d’état with the “whiff of grapeshot” of October 5 (13 Vendemiaire year IV). Next, on May 10, 1796, the Directory was again threatened directly, if far less seriously, this time from the left, by the Babeuf conspiracy. The difficulty of establishing a regime of moderate views and policies in a nation riven so recently by the multiple anarchies of the Revolution serves partly to explain the formation of the Directory’s foreign policy. Even so, the decision of the Thermidorians to retain and extend the conquests of the Revolution had impelled France to a career of expansion in which the separate peace treaties imposed on defeated states would be no more than truces in the struggle against the rest of Europe—temporarily divided but collectively superior in economic power and in number. So long as the British maintained the struggle, the French could always foresee renewal of war with one or more of the European powers in alliance with Great Britain. Yet such far-reaching considerations were vouchsafed to only a few French statesmen, and the development of policy was to be controlled very largely by the appreciation of immediate advantages or in response to pressing needs.

The Directory undertook the campaigns of 1796 in the hope of ending the war on the Continent with the advance toward Vienna of the 150,000 men of Jourdan’s Army of Sambre-et-Meuse and Victor Moreau’s Army of Rhin-et-Moselle. The Army of the Alps under Kellermann and that of Italy under Bonaparte, who had received his command on March 2, 1796, were far inferior in numbers and still poorer in supplies. They were intended to play only a secondary role, attempting, if possible, the conquest of Piedmont and Lombardy. In the event, Bonaparte’s Italian campaign, his first as a commander in chief and among the most remarkable in history, was to furnish the Directory with the opportunity of forcing Austria out of the war.

Campaign in Germany

Crossing the Rhine at Dusseldorf at the end of May 1796, Jourdan advanced to Wetzlar on the Lahn River before a counterattack by Archduke Charles, who had taken Clerfayt’s place, drove him back over the Rhine. Moreau, from Strasbourg, crossed the Rhine on June 24, and the Austrian opposition to him was weakened by the transfer of Wurmser’s forces to the Italian theatre of war. Charles, therefore, who had taken command of all the Austrian forces on the Rhine, now judged it prudent to withdraw from the Palatinate. Jourdan crossed the river yet again at Neuwied and this time advanced into Bavaria, pushing back the lesser Austrian force under Wilhelm Ludwig von Wartensleben and reaching the Naab River. On August 24 Charles attacked Jourdan at Amberg with the bulk of the Austrian army and won a victory. Pursuing Jourdan toward the Main, Charles defeated him again at Würzburg on September 3, after which Jourdan withdrew to the Lahn and finally to the left bank of the Rhine.

Moreau, who had been halted by Charles at Malsch on July 7 but had subsequently pressed on toward Munich with the Army of Rhin-et-Moselle, might have been isolated in Bavaria if Charles had turned promptly southward after defeating Jourdan. Moreau, however, made good his withdrawal to Alsace, and throughout the winter of 1796–97 the Austrians were held at Kehl (opposite Strasbourg) and at Huningue. In the spring of 1797 Hoche, who had succeeded Jourdan in command of the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse, was on the point of enveloping the Austrians under Franz, Freiherr von Werneck, between the Lahn and the Nidda rivers when the armistice of Leoben suspended hostilities.

French Revolutionary Wars:  Campaign in Italy

Bonaparte’s campaign of 1796 marked the appearance of the new system of war—the organization of the Revolution’s methods of warfare and the ideas of previous 18th-century reformers into a coherent and immensely effective body of strategic thinking and technique. The changes in the French army’s personnel, logistics, and tactics during the Revolution had not been accompanied, until Bonaparte’s assumption of command in Italy, by a corresponding revolution in strategy. In very many ways, the generalship of the armies of the Republic had closely resembled the methods of the enemy commanders who had continued to employ the strategical concepts of the ancien régime, and the French had owed their successes primarily to superior numbers and mobility. Where these advantages did not obtain, the coalition powers had enjoyed a fair measure of success.

Bonaparte’s first objective at the opening of the campaign was to separate the Austrian and Sardinian forces in the expectation that the defeat of the latter would lead them to fall back on their capital, Turin. The Austrians would thus be obliged to withdraw from them, eastward, to protect Milan and their lines of communication. In this grand strategy, as in the conduct of the individual battles and marches of the campaign, he sought by every means to divide the forces opposing him and to concentrate superior strength at the point that he had chosen for the decisive stroke. The difference between Bonaparte and other commanders who had perceived the advantages of such situations lay in his constant determination to create a favorable opportunity for attack and in his unusual ability to calculate the means by which a successful offensive might be launched, customarily by the use of interior lines and by insistence on superior speed of movement.

After less than three weeks’ campaigning and five engagements, the Sardinians were forced to withdraw from the coalition and to surrender Savoy and Nice to France (Armistice of Cherasco, April 28, 1796). Bonaparte now turned his forces to attack the Austrian Milanese. His seizure and consolidation of a bridgehead over the Po River at Piacenza demonstrated the limited usefulness of river lines as a means of defense. After the Battle of Lodi (May 10), which preceded the Austrians’ evacuation of Lombardy, Milan was occupied on May 15. On May 27 the French secured permission from the neutral republic of Venice to pursue the Austrians across its territory. The Mincio River was crossed, principally at Borghetto on May 30, because the Austrians under Beaulieu had been strung out with few reserves and with no chance of concentrating to obtain local superiority. The Austrians abandoned the Mincio to retire to the strong fortress of Mantua and the valley of the Adige. Their temporary departure from the field allowed the French to enter the northern Papal States, with which an armistice was concluded on June 23, and to occupy Leghorn, where the English base was surprised. At GenoaJoachim Murat secured the expulsion of the Austrian ambassador and the protection of the French lines of communication. The appearance of Wurmser and his forces from Germany restored the initiative and numerical superiority to the Austrians. Wurmser’s object was to relieve Mantua, where the French besieged 14,000 men and were on the point of success.

With the approach of the Austrian forces from the north, Bonaparte’s situation had become extremely dangerous. Before long it became clear that Wurmser was marching with the main Austrian force to relieve Mantua, whose siege he expected Bonaparte to cover, while Peter Vitus, Freiherr von Quasdanovich, struck farther to the west to pierce the French communications at Brescia. Though it entailed the loss of his siege train and though the surrender of the fortress seemed imminent, Bonaparte abandoned the siege of Mantua and thus threw Wurmser’s offensive temporarily off balance. Leaving a rear guard to check Wurmser’s pursuit, Bonaparte moved all his available forces against Quasdanovich, whom he drove back at Lonato on August 3. Two days later, Wurmser was defeated in his turn at Castiglione. Bonaparte’s unexpected success was due not only to his sacrifice of the investment of Mantua but to the extraordinarily hard marching that his strategy had demanded of his army.

Wurmser met with no more success in his second attempt to relieve Mantua, whose investment the French had resumed. Again the Austrians divided their forces, and when the main enemy body had been committed to the Brenta valley, Bonaparte attacked Paul Davidovich’s troops in Tirol with greatly superior numbers, instead of falling back to Verona. Thus Wurmser found himself pursued down the Brenta to be heavily defeated at Bassano on September 8, whence he was fortunate to escape to Mantua.

Severe though the previous crisis had been, the French came closest to disaster with the actions fought around Arcole in November. The defeats in Germany, which now permitted the Austrians to send heavy reinforcements to Baron Alvinczy in the Italian theatre, had depressed French morale. The army’s physical condition was pitiable. Its numbers were reduced by the losses of its numerous actions, arduous campaigning, and an outbreak of fever. The enthusiasm with which it had supported prolonged marching and fighting had waned at the prospect of yet another Austrian counteroffensive. Bonaparte dared not release the troops employed to contain the numerous Austrian forces in Mantua, and the division in Tirol, under Claude Henri Belgrand, comte de Vaubois, like the main French army was outnumbered. Bonaparte withdrew his force through Verona to reappear at Arcole to threaten Alvinczy’s rear and lines of communication. After four days’ indecisive and costly fighting in the marshes of the Adige, Alvinczy’s flank was turned and his army obliged to retreat. Early in the new year, Alvinczy returned to the attack, descending the Adige while Giovanni di Provera advanced on Mantua. Leaving a defensive screen to check Provera, Bonaparte concentrated all his remaining troops to rout Alvinczy at Rivoli on January 14, 1797. He then promptly regrouped the bulk of his forces to attack Provera, who had reached Mantua. Overwhelmed by Bonaparte’s converging forces, Provera was obliged to capitulate on January 16, and Mantua surrendered on February 2.

The conclusion of Bonaparte’s first campaign in Italy was no less swift and eventful than its earlier course. A fortnight’s campaign was sufficient to reduce the ill-prepared Papal States. By the Peace of Tolentino (February 19, 1797), Pope Pius VI abandoned his claim to Avignon and consented to pay an indemnity, to hand over works of art, and to cede Romagna and the legations of Bologna and Ferrara. These territories, together with Austrian Lombardy and the duchy of Modena, the ruler of which Bonaparte deposed, were to be formed into the Cisalpine Republic. The new state was to be completely under French control and to undergo the reforms of the Revolution. On March 20 Bonaparte began a short and final offensive against Archduke Charles, who had been transferred from the Rhine front to take Alvinczy’s place. Charles retreated northeastward and at Judenburg in Styria, on April 7, Bonaparte signed armistice preliminaries. On April 18 at Leoben, two days’ march from Vienna, without any authorization from the Directory, he ratified the armistice and signed the peace preliminaries. Meanwhile, a quarrel was being picked with the Venetians, whose ancient republic was replaced by a democratic regime in May.

The Coup Of 18 Fructidor And The Treaty Of Camp Formio

Between the armistice of Leoben and the signature of the Treaty of Campo Formio with Austria in the autumn, the basic instability of the regime in France led to another coup in Paris. The coup of 18 Fructidor year V (September 4, 1797) was provoked by the growth of royalist representation of the councils and in the provinces, where, especially at Marseille and Lyon, the anti-Jacobin movement was strong enough to initiate a “white terror.” The government, however, remained in the hands of the opposite camp, since four out of the five directors were men of Jacobin views. These four enlisted the support of Bonaparte, who sent troops to Paris under Augereau to ensure the purge of 18 Fructidor. The director François de Barthélemy and 53 deputies were arrested, elections in more than half the départements annulled, liberty of the press suspended, and banishments decreed. After 18 Fructidor, the government of what has been termed the second Directory was in effect a dictatorship, with the result that the impulse toward an ambitious foreign policy was greatly strengthened. Bonaparte’s freedom to dictate virtually his own terms to Austria led to the signature at Campo Formio, on October 17–18, 1797, of what could only be a truce and not a final settlement. The treaty preserved the bulk of Bonaparte’s Italian conquests for France. By way of compensation for the loss of possessions in Lombardy, Austria received the Venetian territories east of the Adige, but Venice’s the Ionian Islands were retained for France. At the same time Austria agreed that France should annex the occupied German lands south and west of a line drawn from Venlo on the Meuse to the source of the Nette River, then along the Nette to the Rhine between Andernach and Neuwied and then southward up the Rhine to the Swiss frontier. The estates of the empire were to meet in a congress at Rastatt to ratify these arrangements and to consider how the dispossessed German princes should be compensated.

French Revolutionary Wars: Britain And The War (1796–97)

For Great Britain, the loss of the Austrian alliance in 1797 was the culmination of a long succession of misfortunes and setbacks. Naples had signed an armistice with France on June 5, 1796, and peace on October 10. On October 6, moreover, the alliance between France and Spain under the Treaty of San Ildefonso (negotiated in August) had been made public. This so strengthened enemy sea power to threaten British maritime supremacy, and Pitt thought that the situation demanded an attempt to open peace negotiations. Though the Austrians at this point refused to associate themselves with the British, Malmesbury was sent to Lille on October 14, 1796, to demand the abandonment of Belgium and the cession of colonies as the conditions of peace. The death of Catherine the Great in November led to a weakening of Great Britain’s understanding with Russia. In little more than two months after Malmesbury’s arrival, the Directory, as was to be expected, instructed him to return to England. On August 10, 1797, Portugal made peace with France.

The combined French, Dutch, and Spanish navies had sufficient numbers to challenge Great Britain’s command of the seas, barring the British fleet from the Mediterranean, threatening communication and commerce (it was in 1797 that the French took their greatest number of prizes, capturing 700 merchantmen), and, above all, menacing the British Isles, where an invasion force, once landed, might hope to succeed. Furthermore, the completely unsatisfactory living conditions in the British fleet caused the mutinies of Spithead (April–May) and The Nore (May–June). Talks with the French were resumed on July 7 but collapsed, partly because of the growing insecurity of the government in Paris, whose fall might be expected to offer greater advantages than its representatives were prepared to admit. Yet, as has been noted, the purge of 18 Fructidor was to stiffen French policy.

Great Britain was certainly not so disadvantageously placed as to be ready for peace at any price or likely to ignore the prospects of a more favorable prosecution of the war. The economic warfare of the Directory had not prevented the increase of British exports; and though government expenditure had been almost trebled between 1792 and 1797, the marked growth in national income permitted heavy borrowing by the government to make up the mounting deficit. For more than a year Great Britain stood alone against France, and a growing sense of the need to sustain the war and the national cause pervaded British society. In the budget of 1798, Pitt increased the assessed taxes, and in an act of 1799, he introduced the income tax, levied at 2 shillings in the pound on incomes over £200 and at graduated rates down to incomes of £60 per annum. Apart from these internal considerations, two naval victories in 1797 did much to reduce Great Britain’s immediate concern. Jervis’s defeat of the Spanish fleet off Cape Saint Vincent on February 14 was followed by his blockade of Cádiz and Admiral Duncan defeated the Dutch fleet at Camperdown on October 11.

French Revolutionary Wars: The French Expedition To Egypt And Syria

On his return from an inspection in the west, Bonaparte advised the Directory (February 23, 1798) to abandon its project for an invasion of Great Britain. He and the Directory then turned their attention to the Mediterranean and, in particular, to Egypt, from which the French might dislocate British trade in the Levant and, possibly, threatened the British position in India.

The expedition sailed from Toulon on May 19, with a fleet of 65 navy vessels escorting 280 transports and an army of 38,000 men. It reached Malta, which surrendered at once, on June 6 and landed in Egypt on July 1, having narrowly escaped the fleet with which Nelson had set off from the Gulf of Cadiz in pursuit. On July 21 the French routed the Mamluks in the Battle of the Pyramids and entered Cairo. Nelson, who had gone back as far as Sicily, appeared with his fleet in Aboukir Bay, and in the Battle of the Nile, in the night of August 1, destroyed all of the French fleets but two ships of the line and two frigates.

Nelson’s victory stimulated European opinion toward a resumption of hostilities with France and encouraged the Turks, nominal sovereigns over Egypt, to declare war on September 9. With the support of a British squadron, they began to assemble an army in Syria for the invasion of Egypt. Bonaparte resolved to anticipate this by an offensive in Syria, for which he set off in February 1799 with 15,000 men. The obstinate defense of Acre—assisted by Sir Sydney Smith’s capture of the vessels bringing the French siege artillery—obliged Bonaparte on May 20 to begin the retreat to Egypt, in which his already much-depleted force suffered considerable losses. Not long after his return to Egypt, the Turks landed an army at Aboukir which the French destroyed on July 25. On August 22, 1799, Bonaparte handed over the Egyptian command to Jean-Baptiste Kléber in order to return to France. The allies in the war of the Second Coalition had reached the frontiers of France and had brought the government close to collapse. Its weaknesses, together with the threat of a royalist reaction, offered Bonaparte the opportunity to make himself it’s master.

French Revolutionary Wars: Formation Of The Second Coalition

If Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt had paved the way to a Second Coalition by inspiring the alliance of Great Britain, Russia, and Turkey, the foreign policy of the Directory itself had served still more to provoke a new alliance which, with the adhesion of Austria, would oblige the French to exert every effort if they were to retain their conquests in Europe. From the beginning of 1798, the Directory had undertaken new conquests which Vienna could construe as a violation of the settlement of Campo Formio. At the end of 1797 local revolutionaries had attempted a rising in Rome. For this, the French were blamed, and their general, Leonard Duphot, was killed in a riot. The French Army of Italy was ordered to march on Rome, where the Roman Republic was proclaimed on February 15, 1798. Bonaparte had prompted the Directory to occupy Switzerland, where the democratic party had hoped not for a French invasion but for sufficient threats from the French to make the governing classes submit to its demands. On the night of February 13–14, 1798, the Directory ordered an advance on Bern, which capitulated after some brisk fighting. The cantons were summoned to raise 15,000,000 francs for France. At the same time, the French intervened in the internal affairs of the other satellite republics. In Holland the Batavian assembly was obliged on January 22, 1798, to draft a new constitution more in keeping with French demands. On February 21 the Directory concluded an alliance with the Cisalpine Republic which maintained its occupation by 25,000 troops at the expense of the population. Meanwhile, at the congress of Rastatt, which had begun its sessions on November 16, 1797, the French demanded not only the Rhine frontier as proposed at Campo Formio but also the Cologne area north of the Nette; the estates of the empire agreed to this in principle on March 9, 1798. In the nine départements which the French had formed from the Austrian Netherlands, the bishopric of Liege and the territory ceded by the Dutch in 1795, and in the four départements of the Rhineland, the Directory installed administrations controlled by Paris.

In September 1798, with the consent of the Turkish government, a Russian fleet entered the Mediterranean, where the emperor Paul, appointing himself the protector of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, intended to liberate Malta from the French. This, together with Nelson’s victory at Aboukir Bay, encouraged the Neapolitans, with British help, to attack the new Roman Republic, and they occupied Rome on November 26, 1798. Inevitably the Directory declared war on Naples (December 4), and it sent French troops to invade Sardinian Piedmont. The French commander in Rome, Jean Étienne Championnet, was attacked by the Neapolitans at Civita Castellana but routed them and then advanced to occupy not only Rome but also Naples. Russia then signed alliances with Naples and with Great Britain (December 29), undertaking to send contingents to Naples and to Lombardy in return for a British agreement to pay £225,000 and £75,000 a month. Russia also signed an alliance with Turkey (January 3, 1799, New Style; December 23, 1798, Old Style). Meanwhile, the Russians attacked the Ionian Islands; Corfu, the last to fall, capitulated on March 3, 1799. Austria, which had signed a defensive alliance with Naples in May 1798, but was hesitating, despite assurances of Russian support, to break with France, finally declared war on March 12.

French Dispositions And The Campaigns Of 1799

The renewal of general war found the Directory ill-prepared numerically as well as materially. Since the allies could bring roughly twice as many men into the field, the safest course for the French would have been to concentrate their forces in the two most vital theatres—southern Germany and the Italo-Austrian frontier—in the hope of containing the initial allied offensives until such time as the conscription introduced in September 1798 yielded sufficient men for the French to adopt a more ambitious policy. Instead, they dispersed their armies and were consequently defeated in detail; they were spared further reverses only because the Austrians likewise failed to distribute their forces to best effect.

At the opening of the campaign, nearly 80,000 Austrians under Archduke Charles were assembled behind the Lech river in Bavaria. To the south were 26,000 in Vorarlbergcommanded by David von Hotze, and behind them, in Tirol, a further 46,000 under Heinrich von Bellegarde. With the 85,000 in Italy, there were thus close on 240,000 deployed against the French before the arrival of the Russians, who were expected to add another 60,000. Against these formidable numbers, the French had 210,000 men, of whom only 136,000 were made available to meet the Austrians. In Italy, where the total French effective stood in the region of 110,000, the Directory could find no more than 60,000 for the defense of the Adige. They had resolved to retain Jacques Macdonald in the south with 30,000 men in order to complete the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples, though this would count for nothing if their principal army were defeated in the north. Of their remaining 100,000 troops, 24,000 were in Holland under Guillaume Brune, which left Jourdan on the upper Rhine to face Charles with 46,000 men, while 30,000 were in Switzerland with Masséna.

Having decided that the best prospect of success lay in attacking before the Russians could appear on the scene, the French took the offensive on all three fronts. Early in March Jourdan went forward between the upper Danube and Lake Constance while the Army of Switzerland advanced toward Vorarlberg. On the center and right of his front. Masséna obtained a number of advantages, the most notable being the march of Claude Lecourbe into Tirol along the Engadine. Masséna failed, however, to capture the essential post of Feldkirch (March 23) whose possession would have enabled him to open communication with the Army of the Danube. Jourdan, meanwhile, had already been forced to fall back before Charles’s doubly superior numbers and on March 25 was defeated at Stockach. By April 6 Jourdan’s troops had recrossed the Rhine, and Masséna, who was now in command of both armies, began to concentrate his forces for the defense of central Switzerland. In Italy, Schérer opened his offensive along the Adige on March 26 but did not exploit his initial success. Ten days later, he was beaten at Magnano and withdrew prematurely to the Oglio and then to the Adda. The Austrians, under Paul Kray, halted on the Mincio, where they were joined by 18,000 Russians under Aleksandr Vasilyevich Suvorov, the allied commander in chief. On the French side, the much abler Moreaureplaced Schérer, and Macdonald was instructed to make his way northward. After four days’ costly fighting along the Adda (April 25–28), the French were obliged to resume their retreat. Fortunately for Moreau, the allies neglected to press their pursuit of his greatly weakened forces toward Alessandria and the mountains north of Genoa. For more than a month Moreau maintained himself in the Apennines while awaiting Macdonald’s approach from the south. At length, he advanced to threaten the allies’ rear as Macdonald marched westward from Parma. Suvorov nevertheless succeeded in gathering together sufficient troops to defeat Macdonald on the Trebbia (June 17–19). After withdrawing eastward by way of Parma and Modena, Macdonald finally recrossed the Apennines to reach Moreau at Genoa in mid-July.

In the northern theatre, the French left-wing and center had retired to the Rhine in early April. During the next six weeks, Masséna’s right-wing was pushed back through the Grisons by the Austrians under Bellegarde and Hotze. When the French right had completed its retreat the Austrians redistributed their forces, Hotze marching to join the archduke east of Zürich while Bellegarde was sent south to Lombardy. On June 4, Masséna repulsed Charles and Hotze before Zürich prior to withdrawing to establish his front along the Aare River. There the Austrians left him virtually undisturbed for longer than two months while they waited for the arrival of Aleksandr Korsakov with 30,000 Russians. The lull was broken in mid-August when the French right-wing under Lecourbe recaptured the St. Gotthard Pass at the same time that Masséna beat off an assault on the Aare. The allies had originally intended to employ both the archduke’s and Korsakov’s armies against Masséna’s front and to complete his difficulties by bringing Suvorov against his rear. They now decided to send Charles and 35,000 of his army to unimportant operations on the middle Rhine. Before long the consequences of leaving Hotze and Korsakov to contain Masséna were to prove decisive. Meanwhile, in Italy, where Barthélemy-Catherine Joubert had replaced Moreau as commander in chief, the French had sought battle only to receive a heavy defeat at Novi on August 15. Soon afterward the allied command in Italy also changed hands with the departure for Switzerland of a 28,000-strong contingent under Suvorov. The transfer of Charles’s forces to Germany had reduced the allied strength in Switzerland to 55,000 men, and the French, who had disposed of 77,000, took the offensive while Suvorov was still at the St. Gotthard. In the second battle of Zürich (September 25) Masséna gained a crushing victory over Korsakov and drove the Russians northward across the Rhine. On the same day, Nicolas-Jean de Dieu Soult routed Hotze on the Linth River southeast of Lake Zürich. To the south, Suvorov forced the St. Gotthard Pass and continued his advance, still harassed by Lecourbe, until he reached the southern end of Lake Lucerne, where he was obliged to turn eastward. Pursued by increasing numbers, the Russians achieved an extraordinary retreat to Ilanz, where their arrival on October 7 marked the virtual end of the campaign. The emperor Paul recalled his Russians on October 23.

Elsewhere in Europe, an Anglo-Russian expedition to Holland had its genesis on June 22, when the two powers concluded an agreement in which the British, who were to furnish 30,000 men, undertook to pay and transport a Russian contingent of 18,000. It was hoped that the enterprise would free the Low Countries of the French, but the sole positive outcome was the surrender of 13 Dutch ships of the line, together with a number of other warships, three days after the first British landing at Den Helder (August 27). At Bergen, on September 19, Brune’s Franco-Batavian army halted the allies’ advance, and the expected rising of the Dutch against the French did not take place. After a further reverse at Castricum (October 6), the duke of York was obliged to sign the convention of Alkmaar (October. 18) for the evacuation of his forces. The expedition, with inadequate food supplies, further had been hampered by excessive rains, by flooding from broken dikes, and by the outbreak of fever.

The final defeat of the coalition and its dissolution belong to the campaigns of Bonaparte in 1800 in Italy, where the Austrians were decisively defeated at Marengo on June 14, and of Moreau in Germany, where he forced them out of the war by his crushing victory at Hohenlinden on December 3. The consequences of the Second Coalition had proved fatal to the Directory. Blamed for the resumption of hostilities in Europe, it was compromised by its defeats in the field and by the measures required to repair them. Conditions were now ripe for the military dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte, who landed at Fréjus on October 9. A month later he seized power by the coup of 18–19 Brumaire year VIII (November 9–10, 1799) to make himself first consul.

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2 COMMENTS

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