Page:EB1911 - Volume 11.djvu/184
FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS
pay, to admit of developing the expected field strength. Arms, discipline, training alike were wanting to the new levies, and the repulse of Brunswick was effected by manœuvring and fighting on the old lines and chiefly with the old army. The cry of La patrie en danger, after giving, at the crisis, the highest moral support to the troops in the front, dwindled away after victory, and the French government contented itself with the half-measures that had, apparently, sufficed to avert the peril. More, when the armies went into winter quarters, the Volunteers claimed leave of absence and went home.
But in the spring of 1793, confronted by a far more serious peril, the government took strong measures. Universal liability was asserted, and passed into law. Yet even now whole classes obtained exemption and the right of substitution as usual forced the burden of service on the poorer classes, so that of the 100,000 men called on for the regular army and 200,000 for the Volunteers, only some 180,000 were actually raised. Desertion, generally regarded as the curse of professional armies, became a conspicuous vice of the defenders of the Republic, except at moments when a supreme crisis called forth supreme devotion—moments which naturally were more or less prolonged in proportion to the gravity of the situation. Thus, while it almost disappeared in the great effort of 1793-1794, when the armies sustained bloody reverses in distant wars of conquest, as in 1799, it promptly rose again to an alarming height.
Universal service of the “Amalgam.”
While this unsatisfactory general levy was being made, defeats, defections and invasion in earnest came in rapid succession, and to deal with the almost desperate emergency, the ruthless Committee of Public Safety sprang into existence. “The levy is to be universal. Unmarried citizens and widowers without children of ages from 18 to 25 are to be called up first,” and 450,000 recruits were immediately obtained by this single act. The complete amalgamation of the regular and volunteer units was decided upon. The white uniforms of the line gave place to the blue of the National Guard in all arms and services, The titles of officers were changed, and in fact every relic of the old régime, save the inherited solidity of the old regular battalions, was swept away. This rough combination of line and volunteers therefore—for the “Amalgam” was not officially begun until 1794—must be understood when we refer to the French army of Hondschoote or of Wattignies. It contained, by reason of its universality and also because men were better off in the army than out of it—if they stayed at home they went in daily fear of denunciation and the guillotine—the best elements of the French nation. To some extent at any rate the political arrivistes had been weeded out, and though the informer, here as elsewhere, struck unseen blows, the mass of the army gradually evolved its true leaders and obeyed them. It was, therefore, an army of individual citizen-soldiers of the best type, welded by the enemy’s fire, and conscious of its own solidarity in the midst of the Revolutionary chaos.
After 1794 the system underwent but little radical change until the end of the Revolutionary period. Its regiments grew in military value month by month and attained their highest level in the great campaign of 1796. In 1795 the French forces (now all styled National Guard) consisted of 531,000 men, of whom 323,000 were infantry (100 3-battalion demi-brigades), 97,000 light infantry (30 demi-brigades), 29,000 artillery, 20,000 engineers and 59,000 cavalry. This novel army developed novel fighting methods, above all in the infantry. This arm had just received a new drill-book, as the result of a prolonged controversy (see Infantry) between the advocates of “lines” and “columns,” and this drill-book, while retaining the principle of the line, set controversy at rest by admitting battalion columns of attack, and movements at the “quick” (100-120 paces to the minute) instead of at the “slow” march (76). On these two prescriptions, ignoring the rest, the practical troop leaders built up the new tactics little by little, and almost unconsciously. The process of evolution cannot be stated exactly, for the officers learned to use and even to invent now one form, now another, according to ground and circumstances. But the main stream of progress is easily distinguishable.
The earlier battles were fought more or less according to the drill-book, partly in line for fire action, partly in column for the bayonet attack. But line movements required the most accurate drill, and what was attainable after years of practice with regulars moving at the slow march was wholly impossible for new levies moving at 120 paces to the minute. When, therefore, the line marched off, it broke up into a shapeless swarm of individual firers. This was the form, if form it can be called, of the tactics of 1793—“horde-tactics,” as they have quite justly been called—and a few such experiences as that of Hondschoote sufficed to suggest the need of a remedy. This was found in keeping as many troops as possible out of the firing line. From 1794 onwards the latter becomes thinner and thinner, and instead of the drill-book form, with half the army firing in line (practically in hordes) and the other half in support in columns, we find the rear lines becoming more and more important and numerous, till at last the fire of the leading line (skirmishers) becomes insignificant, and the decision rests with the bayonets of the closed masses in rear. Indeed, the latter often used mixed line and column formations, which enabled them not only to charge, but to fire close-order volleys—absolutely regardless of the skirmishers in front. In other words, the bravest and coolest marksmen were let loose to do what damage they could, and the rest, massed in close order, were kept under the control of their officers and only exposed to the dissolving influence of the fight when the moment arrived to deliver, whether by fire or by shock, the decisive blow.
Cavalry. Artillery. Engineers.
The cavalry underwent little change in its organization and tactics, which remained as in the drill-books founded on Frederick’s practice. But except in the case of the hussars, who were chiefly Alsatians, it was thoroughly disorganized by the emigration or execution of the nobles who had officered it, and for long it was incapable of facing the hostile squadrons in the open. Still, its elements were good, it was fairly well trained, and mounted, and not overwhelmed with national guard drafts, and like the other arms it duly evolved and obeyed new leaders.
In artillery matters this period, 1792-1796, marks an important progress, due above all to Gribeauval (q.v.) and the two du Teils, Jean Pierre (1722-1794) and Jean (1733-1820) who were Napoleon’s instructors. The change was chiefly in organization and equipment—the great tactical development of the arm was not to come until the time of the Grande Armée—and may be summarized as the transition from battalion guns and reserve artillery to batteries of “horse and field.”
The engineers, like the artillery, were a technical and non-noble corps. They escaped, therefore, most of the troubles of the Revolution—indeed the artillery and engineer officers, Napoleon and Carnot amongst them, were conspicuous in the political regeneration of France—and the engineers carried on with little change the traditions of Vaubanand Cormontaingne (see Fortification and Siegecraft). Both these corps were, after the Revolution as before it, the best in Europe, other armies admitting their superiority and following their precepts.
In all this the army naturally outgrew its old “linear” organization. Temporary divisions, called for by momentary necessities, placed under selected generals and released from the detailed supervision of the commander-in-chief, soon became, though in an irregular and haphazard fashion, permanent organisms, and by 1796 the divisional system had become practically universal. The next step, as the armies became fewer and larger, was the temporary grouping of divisions; this too in turn became permanent, and bequeathed to the military world of to-day both the army corps and the capable, self-reliant and enterprising subordinate generals, for whom the old linear organization had no room.
The starting point of modern warfare.
This subdivision of forces was intimately connected with the general method of making war adopted by the “New French,” as their enemies called them. What astonished the Allies most of all was the number and the velocity of the Republicans. These improvised armies had in fact nothing to delay them. Tents were unprocurable for want of money, untransportable for want of the enormous number of wagons that would have been required, and also unnecessary, for the discomfort that would have caused wholesale desertion in professional armies was cheerfully borne by the men of 1793-1794. Supplies for armies of then unheard-of size could not be carried in convoys, and the French soon became familiar with “living on the country.” Thus 1793 saw the birth of the modern system of war—rapidity of movement, full development of national strength, bivouacs and requisitions, and force, as against cautious manoeuvring, small professional armies, tents and full rations, and chicane. The first represented the decision-compelling spirit, the second the spirit of risking little to gain a little. Above all, the decision-compelling spirit was reinforced by the presence of the emissaries of the Committee of Public Safety, the “representatives on mission” who practically controlled the guillotine. There were civil officials with the armies of the Allies too, but their chief function was not to infuse desperate energy into the military operations, but to see that the troops did not maltreat civilians. Such were the fundamental principles of the “New French” method of warfare, from which the warfare of to-day descends in the direct line. But it was only after a painful period of trial and error, of waste and misdirection, that it became possible for the French army to have evolved Napoleon, and for Napoleon to evolve the principles and methods of war that conformed to and profited to the utmost by the new conditions.
Those campaigns and battles of this army which are described in detail in the present article have been selected, some on account of their historical importance—as producing great results; others from their military interest—as typifying and illustrating the nature of the revolution undergone by the art of war in these heroic years.
Campaigns in the Netherlands
The year 1793 opened disastrously for the Republic. As a consequence of Jemappes and Valmy, France had taken the offensive both in Belgium, which had been overrun by Dumouriez’s army, and in the Rhine countries, where Custine had preached the new gospel to the sentimental and half-discontented Hessians and Mainzers. But the execution of Louis XVI. raised up a host of new and determined enemies. England, Holland, Austria, Prussia, Spain and Sardinia promptly