Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-24-2013


There is a common myth about the average French soldier at the time of the French Revolution that presents him as a reckless, heroic citizen-soldier, swept to victory by the power of revolutionary fervor. This myth obscures some important realities of French military life. The French military was often characterized not by fantastic victories, but rather by an early incompetence. Indeed, this inability threatened to destroy France on many occasions. This essay attempts to reconcile the myth and reality by exploring what motivated common Frenchmen to fight and win wars. Demographic, political, tactical, and organizational analysis of the French Revolutionary Army reveals how the military was a transitional organization caught between the monarchic model and the nascent democratic ideology. The military saw a growth in its wider “Frenchness” as men from all of France volunteered. Many of the operations of the army were carried out with the French conception of democracy and national identity in mind. At the same time, the older influences anchored the army, enabling the revolutionary spirit to survive. One finds an army struggling to reconcile its old monarchical roots in organization, equipment, manpower, and even battlefield tactics with the new revolutionary French identity.

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