The Rhine campaign of 1794, waged as before chiefly by the Prussians, was not of great importance. General v. Möllendorf won a victory at Kaiserslautern on the 23rd of May, but operations thereafter became spasmodic, and were soon complicated by Coburg’s retreat over the Meuse. With this event the offensive of the Allies against the French Revolution came to an inglorious end. Poland now occupied the thoughts of European statesmen, and Austria began to draw her forces on to the east. England stopped the payment of subsidies, and Prussia made the Peace of Basel on the 5th of April 1795. On the Spanish frontier the French under General Dugommier (who was killed in the last battle) were successful in almost every encounter, and Spain, too, made peace. Only the eternal enemies, France and Austria, were left face to face on the Rhine,and elsewhere, of all the Allies, Sardinia alone (see below under Italian Campaigns) continued the struggle in a half-hearted fashion.
The operations of 1795 on the Rhine present no feature of the Revolutionary Wars that other and more interesting campaigns fail to show. Austria had two armies on foot under the general command of Clerfayt, one on the upper Rhine, the other south of the Main, while Mainz was held by an army of imperial contingents. The French, Jourdan on the lower; Pichegru on the upper Rhine, had as usual superior numbers at their disposal. Jourdan combined a demonstrative frontal attack on Neuwied with an advance in force via Düsseldorf, reunited his wings beyond the river near Neuwied, and drove back the Austrians in a series of small engagements to the Main, while Pichegru passed at Mannheim and advanced towards the Neckar. But ere long both were beaten, Jourdan at Höchst and Pichegru at Mannheim, and the investment of Mainz had to be abandoned. This was followed by the invasion of the Palatinate by Clerfayt and the retreat of Jourdan to the Moselle. The position was further compromised by secret negotiations between Pichegru and the enemy for the restoration of the Bourbons. The meditated treason came to light early in the following year, and the guilty commander disappeared into the obscure ranks of the royalist secret agents till finally brought to justice in 1804.
The Campaign of 1796 in Germany
The wonder of Europe now transferred itself from the drama of the French Revolution to the equally absorbing drama of a great war on the Rhine. “Every day, for four terrible years,” wrote a German pamphleteer early in 1796, “has surpassed the one before it in grandeur and terror, and to-day surpasses all in dizzy sublimity.” That a manœuvre on the Lahn should possess an interest to the peoples of Europe surpassing that of the Reign of Terror is indeed hardly imaginable, but there was a good reason for the tense expectancy that prevailed everywhere. France’s policy was no longer defensive. She aimed at invading and “revolutionizing” the monarchies and principalities of old Europe, and to this end the campaign of 1796 was to be the great and conclusive effort. The “liberation of the oppressed” had its part in the decision, and the glory of freeing the serf easily merged itself in the glory of defeating the serf’s masters. But a still more pressing motive for carrying the war into the enemy’s country was the fact that France and the lands she had overrun could no longer subsist her armies. The Directory frankly told its generals, when they complained that their men were starving and ragged, that they would find plenty of subsistence beyond the Rhine.
On her part, Austria, no longer fettered by allied contingents nor by the expenses of a far distant campaign, could put forth more strength than on former campaigns, and as war came nearer home and the citizen saw himself threatened by “revolutionizing” and devastating armies, he ceased to hamper or to swindle the troops. Thus the duel took place on the grandest scale then known in the history of European armies. Apart from the secondary theatre of Italy, the area embraced in the struggle was a vast triangle extending from Düsseldorf to Basel and thence to Ratisbon, and Carnot sketched the outlines in accordance with the scale of the picture. He imagined nothing less than the union of the armies of the Rhine and the Riviera before the walls of Vienna. Its practicability cannot here be discussed, but it is worth contrasting the attitude of contemporaries and of later strategical theorists towards it. The former, with their empirical knowledge of war, merely thought it impracticable with the available means, but the latter have condemned it root and branch as “an operation on exterior lines.”
The scheme took shape only gradually. The first advance was made partly in search of food, partly to disengage the Jourdan and Moreau.Palatinate, which Clerfayt had conquered in 1795. “If you have reason to believe that you would find some supplies on the Lahn, hasten thither with the greater part of your forces,” wrote the Directory to Jourdan (Army of the Sambre-and-Meuse, 72,000) on the 29th of March. He was to move at once, before the Austrians could concentrate, and to pass the Rhine at Düsseldorf, thereby bringing back the centre of the enemy over the river. He was, further, to take every advantage of their want of concentration to deliver blow after blow, and to do his utmost to break them up completely. A fortnight later Moreau (Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle, 78,000) was ordered to take advantage of Jourdan’s move, which would draw most of the Austrian forces to the Mainz region, to enter the Breisgau and Suabia. “You will attack Austria at home, and capture her magazines. You will enter a new country, the resources of which, properly handled, should suffice for the needs of the Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle.”
Jourdan, therefore, was to take upon himself the destruction of the enemy, Moreau the invasion of South Germany. The first object of both was to subsist their armies beyond the Rhine, the second to defeat the armies and terrorize the populations of the empire. Under these instructions the campaign opened. Jourdan crossed at Düsseldorf and reached the Lahn, but the enemy concentrated against him very swiftly and he had to retire over the river. Still, if he had not been able to “break them up completely,” he had at any rate drawn on himself the weight of the Austrian army, and enabled Moreau to cross at Strassburg without much difficulty.
The Austrians were now commanded by the archduke Charles, who, after all detachments had been made, disposed of some 56,000 men. At first he employed the bulk of this force against Jourdan, but on hearing of Moreau’s progress he returned to the Neckar country with 20,000 men, leaving Feldzeugmeister v. Wartensleben with 36,000 to observe Jourdan. In later years he admitted himself that his own force was far too small to deal with Moreau, who, he probably thought, would retire after a few manœuvres.
The archduke’s plan.
But by now the two French generals were aiming at something more than alternate raids and feints. Carnot had set before them the ideal of a decisive battle as the great object. Jourdan was instructed, if the archduke turned on Moreau, to follow him up with all speed and to bring him to action. Moreau, too, was not retreating but advancing. The two armies, Moreau’s and the archduke’s, met in a straggling and indecisive battle at Malsch on the 9th of July, and soon afterwards Charles learned that Jourdan had recrossed the Rhine and was driving Wartensleben before him. He thereupon retired both armies from the Rhine valley into the interior, hoping that at least the French would detach large forces to besiege the river fortresses. Disappointed of this, and compelled to face a very grave situation, he resorted to an expedient which may be described in his own words: “to retire both armies step by step without committing himself to a battle, and to seize the first opportunity to unite them so as to throw himself with superior or at least equal strength on one of the two hostile enemies.” This is the ever-recurring idea of “interior lines.” It was not new, for Frederick the Great had used similar means in similar circumstances, as had Souham at Tourcoing and even Dampierre at Valenciennes. Nor was it differentiated, as were Napoleon’s operations in this same year, by the deliberate use of a small containing force at one point to obtain relative superiority at another. A general of the 18th century did not believe in the efficacy of superior numbers—had not Frederick the Great disproved it?—and for him operations on “interior lines” were simply successive blows at successive targets, the efficacy of the blow in each case being dependent chiefly on his own personal qualities and skill as a general on the field of battle. In the present case the point to be observed is not the expedient, which was dictated by the circumstances, but the courage of the young general, who, unlike Wartensleben and the rest of his generals, unlike, too, Moreau and