Skip to main content

Full text of "France and her army"

See other formats










Translated by 

HUTCHINSON & GO. (Publishers), LTD. 


















*'Mire, voyez vosfils, qui se sont tant battus /'* 

— P6guy. 



on to the stage of history with the sword of Brennus. Roman arms brought 
them civilization. After the fall of the Empire the country regamed con- 
sciousness of itself, thanks to the axe of Clovis. Thcfleur-de-lySy the symbol of 
national unity, owes its origin to the three-pronged javelin. 

But although a state may be created by force of arms, yet the waging of war 
is of no avail save as an instrument of policy. So long as the country was 
covered by the dense forest of Feudalism, blood flowed in vain on to the barren 
soil. From the day which marked the union of a strong government and a 
powerful army, France became a nation. 

The fury of the Gauls had been broken by the military art of the Legions. 
By throwing down his arms at Caesar's feet Vercingetorix did no more, it is true, 
than invest the loss of independence with a tragic shroud of glory. Perhaps, too, 
by this desperate act of submission to discipline, he wished to teach his race an 
imperishable lesson. The victor, in any case, imdertook the task of educating 
the vanquished foe, and for five hundred years Rome was to impress upon our 
laws and customs, our language, our monuments, our roads and our artistic 
creations the stamp of her order and authority, while manifesting to a score of 
generations the spirit of military might. From that experience sprang the idea 
— or the nostalgic desire — of a centralized state and a regular army, an ideal which 
survived all the vicissitudes of the Barbarian invasions. 

For several centuries, however, the Roman order sujffered an eclipse. The 
Merovingians made some attempt to utilize the remaining fragments of Roman 
organization. On the Catalaunian Fields Clodion mingled his hordes with the 
cohorts of Aetius. Clovis, as Gallo-Roman consul, created a well-knit force. 
As Duke of the French, Charles Martel led good troops against the Saracens 
at Poitiers, while the Carolbgians attempted to restore both the Empire and the 
army. Charlemagne imposed upon his subjects compulsory military service, 
and led well-trained legions of conscripts as far as the Tiber, the Ebro, the Oder, 
and the Danube. ♦ But all these last strivings towards order were finally wrecked 
by the superior force of centrifugal tendencies. -{In the chaos of races, passions, 
and interests, the central authority became a fiction, and military art a remem- 
brance. .As security, however, must have the support of some kind of authority. 
Feudalism imposed its rule as an antidote to anarchyT] 

By splitting up sovereignty into as many fragmeiits as there were claimants, 
who, by violence or cunning, could grab a share of it, the feudal system multiplied 
frontiers ad infinitum. A host of local disputes, which would formerly have been 
settled by law, could no longer find any solution except by force of arms. A 
long series of struggles began between one fief and another on the subject of dues, 
inheritances, and boundaries — disputes concerning details which no longer 
aroused any widespread popular feeling. The feudal principle was a kind of 
bargain whereby the benefits received from the overlord were paid for in service. 
The fortunes of the vassals depended on those of the lord. As for the humble 
peasants, they were linked by a multitude of bonds to their local chief, who 
provided them with house and field, administered justice, and lived among them. 
A man's obligation to follow his master to war was, however, subject to condi- 
tions varying widely according to time and place. The effect, as far as military 
forces were concerned, was great diversity in composition. Before undertaking 
any expedition the suzerain was obliged to negotiate for the co-operation of his 



The latter presented themselves with their arms at the appointed time and 
place. They were assembled by their feudal lords on the "Champ de Mai", 
where lords and lordlings, accompanied by their own retainers, contingents 
provided by the towns, the corporations and the monasteries, were joined by 
adventurers prepared to risk their lives in return for foodj Each group, roughly 
gathered round its own standard, was known and scrutinized by all the others. 
While the leaders prepared to assert their rival claims, the crowds of humble 
folk extolled the valour of their own cantons with shouts of "Beauvais ! Beau- 
vais !" "Chatillon !" or "Long live Coucy !" Meanwhile the troop marshals 
appointed by the suzerain endeavoured to calm the tumult, form bodies of horse 
or foot, assemble the mechanics to work the machines, and reduce the crowd of 
camp-followers and the baggage to some semblance of order. 

The fractions which constituted the army had no more homogeneity than the 
army itself. Here and there one of the nobles might appear at the head of a 
numerous escort, or a township would draw up an orderly line of soldiers. But 
a vassal of noble birth brought nothing but his own person, while certain groups 
were no more than a useless rabble. Even so, each man agreed to serve only 
within stipulated limits. There were, presumably, few knights who showed them- 
selves as intransigent as a certain Guillaume de la Roche, who claimed that he 
owed the king no more than one day's service a year, and that only in the district 
of Tonnay-Boutonne ; but all were able to produce contracts which limited their 
period of service, promises that they would not have to go outside a certain 
region, assurances that they would not march if others did not do so. There 
were prescriptive rights concerning routes, quarters, and battle order. The 
desire for privilege and the love of equality — those dominating and contra- 
dictory passions of Frenchmen of every age — found ample material for endless 

/Since a knight imposed his rights upon the mass of his humble followers by 
force, and was unable in return to count with certainty upon the support of his 
reluctant vassals, he had to arm himself so as to be able to ward off every attack 
by his own resources/ Hence he was armoured in front, behind, and on the 
sides. He was padded with leather and steel plates from his neck to his feet, 
and bore a heavy helmet on his head and a stout shield on his arm. In course 
of time the blacksmith's art was to replace the clumsy carapace by jointed armour. 
Our knight wielded the mace, the flail, the battle-axe, the lance riveted to his 
side, and the enormous two-handed sword. (Thus equipped he was borne by a 
sturdy horse, protected like its rider by armour, so that horseman and mount 
might be compared with some massive castle-keep.; 

It is true that the army included other elements besides this mobile fortress. 
The knights needed helpers. < Every knight had his henchmen who carried and 
polished his weapons, looked after his baggage, groomed his horses, led him into 
battle (since he was virtually blind and deaf^under his helmet), hoisted him into 
the saddle, and ran to his assistance when he was unhorsed. The team of 
assistants comprised anything from a solitary servant to a numerous staff of 
squires and arms-bearers constituting, with the knight himself, the tactical unit 
of feudal troops, the "lance", that is, a knight surrounded by his retainers. 

Although the infantry, in the strict sense of the term, was relegated to the 
background, it had not altogether disappeared. The feudal lord took care to 
recruit serfs from his own domains, while, in addition, numerous towns, com- 
munes, and corporations were obliged to provide contingents of foot-soldiers. 
At the beginning of each campaign, therefore, troops of infantry assembled, 
armed with bows, spears, pikes, sometimes with scythes, slings and pointed 
stakes, and more or less protected with coats of mail, quilted coats, and bucklers. 
(It is a far cry from this heterogeneous infantry to the ancient phalanxes and 
legionsl Deficient in zeal, in training and in armament, the soldiery was any- 
thing btit reliable. Certain districts, however, such as Flanders, Switzerland, 


Gascony, where the old civic spirit had retained its vitality, provided a trust- 
worthy militia. Many towns, moreover, rather than mobilize their burgesses, 
preferred to furnish their suzerain with professional soldiers. These trained 
bands, under vigorous leadership, showed (when they had a mind to it) consider- 
able courage and resource. 

When we consider the way in which these armies were recruited, it is easy to 
understand that discipline was of the most rudimentary kind. The leader, were 
he king or prince, enjoyed but a precarious authority. William the Conqueror 
took ten years to raise the forces he required to enforce his claim to the duchy of 
Normandy.v During the First Crusade, after Nicaea, Antioch, and Area, the 
combined authority of the leaders could not prevent the Christian army from 
melting away like snow in the' sun. Tradition has it that before the battle of 
Bouvines Philip Augustus gathered his barons around him and, while food and 
drink were being prepared for them, took the precaution of pleading with any 
who might be meditating trickery or knavery. 

It is true that the "point of honour" compensated to some extent for the in- 
subordJjiation of feudal armies. .In the eyes of this warlike society, not far 
removed from the days when a prince was merely a warrior raised upon the 
shield, a duke a military leader, and a count a companion in arms, a man's 
reputation, his titles and fortune, were acquired by combats The education of 
young men of noble birth aimed, therefore, at developing their valour and their 
warlike vigour. From the age of seven, as pages, squires and, finally, as knights, 
they were trained physically for war and morally for deeds of daring. More- 
over, in spite of hunting, jousting, feasting, and despite the charms of languishing 
and neglected chatelaines,Uhe existence of a youth in a gloomy mediaeval castle 
was melancholy enough to make him dream of adventure.""' As for men of 
lesser rank, their only hope of ennoblement lay in their prowess as soldiers. 
A villein, singled out by his lord, might become a squire. Thereafter, his good 
services might be rewarded by a fief. From this it resulted that the principal 
combatants on the battlefield showed the greatest zeal in order to distinguish 
themselves. Thus the audacity and skill of the individual, though badly com- 
bined and often rash or even absurd, endowed the military operations of the time 
with a character of heroism which offset their lack of coherence. 

In point of fact the struggles between feudal lords were not usually char- 
acterized by any great determination. Bach side endeavoured to damage th^ 
other by raids and skirmishes, avoiding pitched battles as far as possible. • Not 
that caution was always carried so far as to "wage the campaign for five years 
without meeting once", as in the war narrated by Girard de Roussillon. Even 
when battle was joined the two armies were not completely engaged, each side 
leaving the task of settling the quarrel to a few champions. Hostilities were con- 
stantly suspended by a "Truce of God" or a "king's quarantine", and from the 
autumn to the spring the wamors stayed at home. If things were going badly, 
moreover, there was always the expedient of shutting oneself up in one's castle or 
fortified town. There, behind walls of tremendous thickness, one could safely 
wait for better days. To lay a regular siege to a fortified place, with battering- 
rams, catapults and mines placed beneath the ramparts, or to storm it with 
scaling-ladders or wooden towers built up to battlement height, demanded a 
degree of method and perseverance in the attacker which was rarely to be found. 
Sometimes, however, passions reached boiling-point and war was waged in 
deadly earnest. But Simon de Montfort lost twenty thousand men in taking 
Beziers and Carcassonne from the Albigensians ; Philip I "grew old" in destroying 
Montlery ; while it took Louis VI three years to reduce the keep of Puiset Castle. 
/At certain moments of dire peril France became conscious of her national 
identity." 3 When the people of Paris were defending the passage of the Seine 
againsf the Normans under Rollo, the whole country prayed for their success. 
The invasion of French soil by the Emperor Otto in alliance with the Count of 


Flanders gave rise to a real movement of popular resistance to the invaders. At 
other times the mass of the population was at one with the aristocracy in their 
enthusiasm for conquest. The invasion of England by William the Conqueror, 
the foundation of the Norman-French kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and the 
establishment of a son of the Duke of Burgundy on the throne of Portugal all 
attracted large numbers of plebeian volunteers. Almost a million villeins set 
out on the First Crusade in the company of sixty thousand knights. These 
wars of national defence, conquest or proselytism assumed an entirely different 
character from that of the usual military escapades. Poitiers, Hastings, 
Bouvines, Dorylaion, Mons-en-Puelle were great battles in which the little men 
fought with as much determination as their lords. * 

Nevertheless, in these vast conflicts as in local squabbles, the efforts of a 
medley of troops, commanded by leaders unskilled in the art of war and in- 
secure in their authority, were made amidst the utmost confusion. The dis- 
positions of the army, the time and place of the action, were decided by custom 
and convention. . Nothing would have persuaded the Crusaders of Bouillon to 
go into action under the command of the Count of Toulouse. At Bouvines the 
burgesses of Soissons, in their capacity as privileged vassals of the Abbot of Saint- 
Medard, would never have given way to the peasant militia of Peronne. It 
needed the discovery, in a church in Antioch, of the spear which pierced the side 
of Christ to persuade the Christian army to march against the Emir Kerboga. 
There was, of course, no system of, and often no provision for, supplies, quarters 
or medical care, with the result that an army's progress was marked by pilfering 
and waste, while the fighting-men were surrounded by a noisy swarm of mer- 
chants, labourers and beggars. Famine and epidemics inevitably followed. At 
the siege of Antioch the poor wretches in the bands of Tafur were reduced to 
eating human corpses.^. At Hattin, owing to the lack of arrangements for a 
supply of water, the Criisaders were driven mad by thirst. At Damietta and, 
later, at Tunis a dreadful epidemic of dysentery put an end to the crusade of 
Louis IX. 

In such conditions the armies of the day could perform only the most rudi- 
mentary concerted movements. Once the enemy was sighted, if an engagement 
was desired, the army marched straight towards him. First came the vanguard 
of well-tried men. ! There followed the armed mob divided up into its com- 
ponent parts, advancing along the road with scant attention to any marching 
order. As the danger approached the excitement increased, expressing itself in 
oaths, challenges, and prayers which were intended to encourage the disorderly 
crowd. However, since they were now in full view of the enemy, something had 
to be done about marshalling all these fragments into their battle order. This 
task fell to the leaders' "companions" and took hours to perform — provided, 
that is, that the prevailing chaos allowed the operation to be completed at all. 
While this was going on the leaders held a council of war. Somehow or other 
decisions were taken and the roles assigned. Then the battle began. 

The action was usually opened by the infantry. Bowmen, preceding the 
main body, which advanced in loose formation, exchanged arrows with the 
enemy, while ready to dart back to shelter behind the more heavily armed 
infantry. Sometimes a particularly bold battalion would surge forward in serried 
i;a.nks and assail the enemy with mighty thrusts and blows of pike and sword. 
This was what the mercenaries of Guillaume des Barres did at Courtray and, 
later, the Flemish infantry at Bruges, and the German mercenaries at BouviQes. 
But everybody realized that this was only a prelude to the real battle, namely, the 
engagement of the chivalry/ 

The knights are drawn up and await their turn. Each knight has put on his 
helm and breastplate, has seized his weapons and taken up his position. On his 
left side, where he finds it difficult to strike, he has placed his carefully chosen 
seconds. The squires hold aloft the banners so that the vassals can recognize 


their own suzerain. The signal is given and the line advances with cries of 
"Out ! Out !" from each warrior beneath his armour. This is no dashing on- 
slaught, for the chargers, with a weight of four hundred pounds on their backs, 
cannot sustain a gallop for long. In a cloud of dust and with a clatter of iron, 
all lances couched, the wall of armour reaches the enemy. The infantry are of 
course incapable of standing up to the charge. To do so would require a cool- 
ness and a skill in opening and closing their ranks which they are far from pos- 
sessing. The first result of the engagement of the cavalry is therefore, in most 
cases, the flight of the foot-soldiers. This, quite apart from any question of 
flattery or boasting, explains the heroic exploits recounted in the epic poems of 
the time. The scattered infantry keeps well out of the way until its own cavalry 
has attacked in its turn. When it does so there is a deafening milee between the 
opposing masses of chivalry. 

<1rhis duel is a severe test of endurance. To cut and thrust and parry needs 
gred;t muscular eff'ort beneath a suit of armour. But all this rough-and-tumble, 
all these attacks with the point of the lance or the edge of the sword, cause very 
little bloodshed^^ There are much dented armour, many bruised. limbs and 
broken lances, and very few dead. A chronicler who fought at Brenneville 
wrote: "There are two hundred lords engaged in this battle; few were slain, 
for they were covered in iron and strove rather to take one another that they 
might hold each other to ransom than to kill one another." Big losses among 
the knights occurred only as a result of some trap or unexpected disaster. They 
were crushed beneath the boulders of Roncevaux ; many perished of thirst at 
Hattin ; others were drowned in the canal at Courtray. ,j[n any case the great 
lords were the main target.) If they could be taken prisoner, they would pay a 
bigger ransom for their liberty ; while if they were killed, their vassals would lose 
their main incentive to fight. The battle, therefore, was fought in separate 
groups round the most important leaders — round the king if he were present. 
Louis VI, seized by some English soldiers at Brenneville, was released only with 
great difficulty. At Laodicaea Louis VII had to fight alone for some time amidst 
a crowd of Saracens ; while at Bouvines, Philip Augustus, unhorsed by the 
German foot-soldiers, was in great danger of being killed or captured. 

■^The intensive stage of the struggle, however, entailing so much muscular 
effort and nervous strain, was of short duration.\ The combatants soon reached 
the point of exhaustion ; and it was then that the early advantage of one side in 
numbers, position or speed, made itself felt, for it was almost impossible to 
retrieve an unfavourable situation by attacking with such unwieldy, slow* 
moving material. Once the line was broken, therefore, there was little likeli- 
hood of closing it again, despite the exploits of the bravest, who found them- 
selves gradually deserted by the others. It was at this point that the foot- 
soldiers on the winning side would return to the rescue. It was no part of their 
job to attack unscathed knights in armour, but to slink up behind those who 
appeared to be in a bad way, to bring them down by ham stringing their horses, 
and then to deal with the poor wretches as they lay unarmed and powerless. 

In such a case the hard-pressed army would be able to fight back only by a 
supreme effort of discipline. But self-sacrifice in adversity is something that 
only well-trained bodies of troops can show. In feudal armies there were plenty 
of men who were brave, or even rash, so long as hope remained unshaken. But 
when the moment came for individuals to sacrifice themselves for their cause, 
personal considerations gained the upper hand. In most cases, therefore, the 
resistance of the losing side collapsed suddenly. The chivalry scattered like 
sheep, so that even the troubadours were hard put to it to explain their headlong 
flight.^^i The infantry, alone and helpless, was hacked to pieces, while tl\e com- 
manders, abandoned by their companions, sought safety in some refuge/ Dis- 
tracted fugitives poured into the nearest friendly keeps or into those fortified 
towns which consented to open their gates. The pursuit did not last long, 


however, for the most determined victor was apt to lose his ardour for the chase 
when there was so much booty to be collected, so many estates, castles, and towns 
to be plundered. 

It will be seen that the art of combination in warfare, which had been 
brought to such a pitch of perfection by certain peoples of antiquity, reached its 
decline in the customs and institutions of feudalism. It was not a question of 
defective material, either in quantity or quality. ' The elite possessed an indi- 
vidual skill in the use of weapons and a spirit in attack which have never been 
surpassed ; the masses were docile and cheap ; their leaders, having assumed 
command by right of birth at an age when their vigour was unimpaired, were men 
experienced in war and ready to take personal risks. . But the cohesion which 
can be attained only by troops who are subjected to a imiform discipline and are 
accustomed to live, suffer, and act in common, was lacking in feudal warfare. 
The feudal army represented a chance grouping of unrelated fractions, rather 
than the closely bound assemblage of complementary parts which is a pre- 
requisite of success in every sphere of human action. 

Yet the valour of these feudal warriors did ^lot fail to bear fruits which brought 
glory, if not always profit, to their country. Oslam was halted on the frontiers 
of Aquitaine ; Britain was conquered by men from the other side of the Channel 
who were to provide the aristocracy which became the backbone of England's 
might ; the Germanic tribes were kept in check ; dynasties of French blood were 
established in Naples and Portugal ; French kingdoms were founded in Asia, and 
an empire in Greece, by campaigns whose renown has not perished after the lapse 
of eight centuries. In order to measure the tireless audacity of our feudal ances- 
tors one has only to see, still standing on the hills of Lebanon, the fortresses 
which they built and defended for a century and more in an untamed country 
and an exhausting climate. :■ Nor did the warlike ardour of the Middle Ages fail 
to produce certain beneficial effects of a moral order. It is not a matter of in- 
difference that an epoch exalted courage and honour above all else. It is good 
that the spirit of chivalry, like some beautiful flower growing on the thorny stem 
of battle, should have succeeded in ennobling, though not in mitigating, the 
horrors of war. 

Meanwhile, amidst all the storm and stress, the kings worked for unity. 
Merovingians, Carolingians, and Capetians all tended the flame of national 
feeling which was already bright in the days of the Gauls and continued to burn 
on the ruins of the Empire. Each king in his turn strove to bring into one whole 
the territories which had been dispersed for so long by exchange or conquest, as 
dowries or legacies. For although feudalism involved a perpetual dispersal, 
it could also be used to recover and unite. When the king of France con- 
fiscated, purchased, married or enfranchised, he did so by right of his suzerainty. 
In the thirteenth century the process seems to be almost complete : Louis IX, 
Philip the Bold, and Philip the Fair reigned in theory and in fact over the greater 
part of the former territory of Gaul. Later, Philip VI was the unchallenged 
ruler of three-quarters of the kingdom, suzerain in respect of their French fiefs of 
the kings of England, Navarre, and Majorca, an ally of the kings of Bohemia and 
Scotland, a relative of the rulers of Naples and Hungary, and the protector of the 
Pope at Avignon. 

However, the feudal system began to show signs of decadence. The best 
of the nobles had perished in the Crusades. The others had returned from the 
East with luxurious tastes, ruinous alike to their purse and their reputation. 
Most important of all, the absence of the lord from his fief had resulted in a 
weakening of loyalty. Vassals had become disaffected ; rights had lapsed and 
reverted to the suzerain. Many of the gentry who had hitherto been intimately 


connected with local affairs found themselves uprooted, with the result that dues 
appeared heavier than ever. The country districts heard the first low rumblings 
of discontent which were to culminate in the Jacquerie and the revolts of the 
Maillotins, Cabochians and others. At the same time new forces appeared 
before the public eye ; towns gained their enfranchisement, monasteries received 
safeguards, and corporations acquired privileges. New industries — cotton, 
glass, mirrors, silk, paper — and new enterprises — the building of churches, 
markets, and roads — brought wealth to intelligent burgesses. The first uni- 
versities, in Paris, Angers, Orleans, Toulouse, Montpellier, were demonstrating 
the superior power of the mind over matter. Jn many parts of the country 
"Parliaments" were soon to substitute the king's justice for that of the lords.") 
The taste for communal undertakings was everywhere gaining the upper hand 
over the habit of personal enterprises. The thirteenth century built as many 
cathedrals as castles. The aristocracy was itself losing its youthful spirit whence 
it had drawn its strength and its grace. What must have been the corruption 
which made the twenty-year-old Margaret of Scotland exclaim before her 
death : "A fig for life ! Speak to me of it no more !" 

Developments of this kind were bound to have repercussions in the military 
field. Armed force had hitherto been the monopoly of the feudal lords. Their 
decline was accompanied by a weakening of the military system which depended 
exclusively on them. This was even more marked because this innovating age 
transformed weapons no less than customs. Despite the ban of the Lateran 
Council, the crossbow, which had been introduced from Asia, was already in 
widespread use and was making it possible for well-trained foot-soldiers to stand 
up to the chivalry. It was no longer a case of a wooden bow shooting wooden 
arrows which failed to pierce metal, but of hard armour-piercing iron bolts, 
hurled by a mechanically tightened steel bow and guided along a groove. And 
the dawn of the fourteenth century saw the appearance of cannon. It is true 
that these early bombards, cast-iron tubes stidfed with fragments of iron, pos- 
sessed no great range or accuracy. But such as they were they thundered and 
belched fire, scaring the horses and even killing man and beast. Before long, 
loaded with cannon-balls, they were capable of blowing a hole in the walls of 
a castle-keep. 

The decline of feudalism should have led the kings of France to create an 
armed force capable of waging war under the new conditions. A standing army 
had become a necessity. This need had been felt more or less clearly by royal 
governments for some time. Louis VI, on the advice of Suger, had tried to 
organize the militia of certain communes; Philip Augustus endeavoured to 
transform bands of mercenaries into well-disciplined troops ; Louis IX had 
formed a corps of crossbowmen and another of engineers, each having its com- 
mander, its pay, and even a system whereby old soldiers could be pensioned off 
as lay monks of a monastery or as inmates of the Quinze-Vingts Hospital in 
Paris. But these unco-ordinated measures did not constitute a reorganization 
of the system. Failure to carry out the necessary reforms in time was to bring 
disaster on the monarchy. 

.When Edward III disembarked at Saint- Vaast-la-Hougue in July 1346 he 
brought with him a very different army from any that had hitherto been seen in 
France. His thirty-two thousand men were organized, arm.ed and trained, with 
the result that the French were surprised and overwhelmed at the outset. The 
English archers, drawn up in regular companies, were skilful bowmen, trained to 
make the best use of the ground and to erect stockades. \The horsemen were 
well-ordered and manoeuvrable. Finally, use was made of bombards which 
were placed among the infantry. The first French bands to come up against 
these fine troops were the militia of Caen. "As soon as the burgesses saw the 
English advancing in three battles," says Froissart, "in close and powerful array, 
perceived their pennons and heard the road of those archers which they were not 



wont to see, they were so dismayed that no man in the world could have stayed 
them from flight." Throughout the whole course of the Hundred Years' War 
A^3 the enemy was to be the master of the battlefield. It is true that France, twice 
; on the point of collapse, nevertheless recovered. Small engagements carried 

out by a few scattered bands, the resistance offered by towns and castles, the 
ingenuity and determination of certain leaders, and above all, the growing 
national feeling, created increasing difficulties for the English who, in the end, 
succumbed to them. But Crecy, Poitiers, and, later, Agincourt saw the be- 
ginning of a period in which neither numbers nor daring were of any avail when 
matched against art, discipline, and armament. 

It was not that feudal France lacked the means for resisting her enemies. 
To give battle to the eighteen thousand English troops entrenched near Crecy, 
fifteen thousand Genoese bowmen, twenty thousand irregulars and several corps 
of militia were hastily recruited. In addition there were ten thousand knights, 
among whom were some of the most powerful lords. But this host was un- 
organized. ' When it moved off under the orders of Philip VI it had to march 
six leagues in the pouring rain, a circumstance which was sufficient to destroy 
any semblance of order : [ '^either the king nor the marshals were masters of 
their men." It would have been prudent to delay the opening of hostilities 
until the following day, especially as the Genoese archers, "cruelly tired and 
worn out with marching more than six leagues fully armed", seeing that the 
strings of their crossbows were drenched and useless, begged their officers to 
let them get their breath and dry themselves. But the headstrong lords forced 
the king to give the order : "Let our Genoese advance and begin the battle !" 

The crossbowmen retreated beneath the shower of arrows and shot against 
which they could do nothing, whereupon the lords, furious to see "these rascals 
encumbering the ground", charged in among them, their exhausted horses 
slipping on the wet ground. The arms of the English bowmen, the hail of shot 
from the bombards, created chaos among the attackers until, finally, the knights, 
overthrown by the Black Prince's men-at-arms, who had been kept under cover 
and in formation until they launched their attack, were completely routed. Such 
were the successive phases of this defeat which, in two hours, laid France open 
to the invader. 

Ten years later, at Poitiers, the feudal army showed no more wisdom. The 
. Black Prince was entrenched on a hill covered with vineyards and hedges. The 
only access to his position was by a steep path. The French vanguard, con- 
sisting of the flower of the chivalry, made a headlong charge, piled up until it 
could advance no further, until, under the blows of the enemy, these rash 
assailants were driven back on to the main body behind them. Panic seized 
half the army, which fled without having fought. The others stayed with John 
the Good, but in a state of great confusion. To make things worse, the French 
knights Iiad sent back their horses, fearing that they would be terrified, as at 
Crecy, by the bombards. When the English charged in their turn, the knights 
fought back on foot, paralysed by their armour, to be overcome at last by the 
men-at-arms of the Prince of Wales. Despite prodigies of valour King John 
himself was made prisoner. 

Thus, as a result of the failure to adapt her arms to the new conditions, 
France was plunged into the worst crisis of her history. As a consequence of 
the King's captivity and the military collapse, there followed not only invasion 
but a spate of treachery and disorder amidst which the nation was within an ace 
of total destruction.' The Dauphin, who later became Charles V, had to organize 
resistance while the States-General fomented revolution. Etienne Marcel 
stirred up revolt in Paris, murdering the ministers. Charles the Bad carried on a 
civil war of his own, while the members of the Jacquerie were hanging the lords 
and burning down their chateaux. 

In such conditions no military reforms were possible. After Poitiers, it is 


true, at the insistence of the States-General, the * 'Great Ordinance" of 1357 
was promulgated, by virtue of which * 'every man in France shall be armed" — 
a vain proclaimation by politicians, which raised no troops. In fact during a 
long period, all idea of engaging in pitched battles was abandoned. ^ Local 
resistance and attacks by partisans were the means by which the English and the 
renegades who supported them were finally overcome, not without multiplying 
the horrors of war to the point of devastating the whole country. In return for 
many an enfranchisement or promise by the king, numerous towns undertook 
to build ramparts to be manned by the militia when the enemy appeared. 
Desperadoes like Duguesclin, Clisson, Renty, Boucicaut and Amaud de Cervole 
roamed the country at the head of bands of mercenaries. These, in the four- 
teenth century, were easily raised, for anarchy in Italy, poverty in Germany, the 
war against the Infidels in Spain, Hungary and the Balkans, produced swarms of 
beggars and adventurers in every comer of Europe. 

In this way the English, weary and bewildered, and, what is more, widely 
scattered as a result of their taste for good living and the necessities of the 
occupation, were gradually expelled from French territory. .'But what a price 
had to be paid for a military system of this kmd ! Almost the whole of the 
king*s resources was absorbed by the mercenaries, who in addition extorted 
innumerable taxes from the population, taking provisions and quarters, plunder- D «. 
ing public money and treasure, selling safe-conducts and rights of way. What 
is more, this guerilla warfare provoked dreadful reprisals. Both sides competed 
in massacring, plundering, and burning, so that whole provinces were literally ij^^r 
emptied of men and property. All this at the expense of the innocent inhabitants. 
When, at last, the national peril had passed, the king's government had no more 
urgent task than to rid the country of these powerful armed bands. 

But even these terrible lessons proved useless in teaching our leaders common 
sense. Scarcely had Charles V died when France was once more torn by fierce 
dissensions, i Charles VI was a child, who, when he reached manhood, was to 
become insane. The factions exploited the situation to resume their civil strife. 
The crimes of the royal princes, treachery on the very steps of the throne, the 
death-struggle between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs, risings in Paris 
and the Jacquerie in the country districts — all combined to give the English the 
opportunity to attempt another invasion. In 1415 Henry V landed near 
Harfleur with twenty-four thousand bowmen, six thousand mounted men-at- 
arms, and bombards — a small but well-trained army on the model of those of 
Edward III and the Black Prince. Once again France, prevented by internal 
strife and general apathy from creating a standing army, could confront the 
enemy only with the rabble of an outworn feudalism. \ 

At Agincourt ten thousand French foot-soldiers met the fifteen thousand men 
which remained to the English after their costly capture of Harfleur. The battle 
was fought on a plain of ploughland, soaked by rain and hemmed in between 
woods into which the heavy cavalry was careful not to penetrate, but which the 
enemy had manned with archers. Realizing the restricted area of the ground the 
Constable d'Albret wished to dispose the three bodies of his army in depth. 
But every one of the leaders insisted on being in the front, with the result 
that there was hopeless congestion. Moreover, the knights, terrified of the 
cannon and crossbows, had increased the weight of their armour to such 
a degree that they were scarcely able to wield their lances and swords. In the 
words of Lefebre de Saint-Remy, "they were borne down with exceeding long 
and heavy steel coats, in addition to their harness and their headpieces". As foi 
the archers and the bombards, they were kept so far to the rear that they could 
not be used. 

Although the foremost troops were paralysed by their very numbers, both 
flanks did succeed in making some headway. But as they skirted the edges of 
the woods they were attacked from the side and from behind by the English 



bowmen and sustained serious losses. In great disorder they reached the 
enemy line, which repelled them without difficulty. As they retreated they 
became entangled with the main body of their own troops. This was the signal 
for the English infantry to press home the attack in the centre and on both 
flanks. The French army was no longer anything but a chaotic struggling mass 
of men and horses, in which the great sword-blows of the professional soldiers 
bred panic, developing into a disorderly flight. CSeven thousand were killed, 
three thousand taken prisoner, while the English losses amounted to less than 
six hundred meal 

TThe defeat of Agincourt meant the literal disintegration of Franccj The 
dukes of Brittany, Anjou, and Burgundy signed treaties of neutrality with the 
English. The Paris mob massacred thousands of Armagnacs in their prisons. 
At Troyes, Isabelle of Bavaria recognized by treaty Henry V's claim to the 
throne ; and on his death, three years later, his son Henry VI was proclaimed 
king of France, and recognized as such by the capital, the Parlement, the Univer- 
sity, and by nearly the whole of the country north of the Loire which Bedford 
governed in the name of the English king. Meanwhile at Bourges, the young 
Charles VII, with neither an army nor money, surrounded by all the intrigues 
and quarrels which accompany misfortune, kept alight the feeble flame of French 

Once again the national recovery was to depend on makeshift measures. 
Orleans, the only town remaining in the king's hands, was defended by no more 
than five hundred partisans and by its burgesses. At Patay the French army 
consisted at most of five thousand men from all sources. The attack on Rouen 
in 1432 was carried out by a handful of adventurers, anxious above all for booty. 
The leaders, Xaintrailles, Dunois, la Hire, Boussac, concerned themselves, 
therefore, with small-scale engagements, a procedure which prolonged the war 
and added to its devastation, but which at least did afford the country the oppor- 
tunity of pulling itself together. ['The most remarkable feature of the epic of 
Joan of Arc was that the blows then struck had the support and the approval of 
the population. At Orleans, Jargeau and Beaugency, it was the attitude of the 
people, whose new and unexpected enthusiasm surprised and demoralized the 
English, that contributed to the defeat of the enemy2 sJ^Henceforward the in- 
vaders could put up no more than a sullen defence. The coronation of the king 
at Rheims had the result of extending enormously the country's resurgent 
patriotism. When Paris was attacked, the presence of Joan before the Saint- 
Honore gate aroused such intense enthusiasm among the townspeople that this 
alone was almost enough to procure her entry into the capital^ Richemont 
skilfully exploited the psychological impulse. Shortly afterwards the Duke of 
Burgundy was to renounce the hateful alliance and to come over to the national 
cause. Paris opened its gates to the king, and the English, divided withm by the 
Wars of the Roses, and deprived of reinforcements — for the bowmen were no 
longer willing to sign on for a campaign which had become unpopular — ^were 
pressed back yard by yard to the sea. 

This time the dearly bought experience was not lost. In 1439, with the 
consent of the States-General, Charles VII promulgated the Orleans Ordmance 
which created a standing army. Henceforth the king would have at his dis- 
position a force consisting of fifteen "companies of gendarmerie", each of one 
hundred "lances", or units, of six men, that is, a total of nine thousand horse- 

As for the foot-soldiers and mechanics, the improvised formations of the 
feudal period were replaced, in part, by paid companies of crossbowmen and 
bideaux, and by artillery imits or cannoneers. Henceforward, the fitful heroism 
of the paladins, the cunning of partisans and the short-lived zeal of the militia 
were replaced by the steady devotion of professional soldiers who, for three 
centuries and a half, were to be the bastion of France. 



It needed more than an ordinance to transform the army into a regular and 
permanent military body. / There was a long period of transition during which 
the results of the feudal system made themselves felt. Wars between fiefs were 
henceforward impossible. But the bigger vassals \yere still powerful enough to 
hire troops and to support policies of their own. <jhe Praguerie under Charles 
VI, the League of the Common Weal under Louis XI, and the * 'Crazy War" 
under Charles VIII all served to check the royal power.' _ A century later France 
was to be so shaken by the Wars of Religion that influential men like Conde, 
Montmorency, Guise, the Princes of the Blood, Anjpu, Alen^on, Navarre, aided 
by the heat of passions, were able to recruit armies. ^Things came to such a pass 
during the minority of Louis XIII and, for the last time, during the Fron,de, that 
the great nobles waged private wars at the head of their own troopsj, This, 
however, was nothing but the last writhings of a dying order. The fury of the ' ^ 

Swiss mercenaries, followed by the death of Charles the Bold, marked the end , ^'^^ ^^ 
of the Burgundian army. That of Brittany melted away at Saint- Aubin-du- ^ .jiV 
Cormier. When Constable Bourbon took up arms against Francis I he was J^^ 
looked on as a traitor.' Henry IV had only to hear mass and to sign the Edict of 
Nantes to bring about the end of the civil war between the League and the 
Protestants., A little later the heads which fell at Richelieu's behest afforded 
ample proof that no weapons could any longer avail against those of the king. 
As for the Fronde, its sole supporters were the Parlement of Paris, ten thousand 
nobles and a handful of prelates. 

(As national unity became more and more a reality, the country's ambitions,, 
which hitherto had been centred upon internal strife, were directed abroad^ 
The wounds of the Hundred Years' War healed rapidly. France, prosperous 
and prolific, disputed the claims of Maximilian in Flanders, marched to the con- 
quest of Italy, held the balance of power against Charles V, supported the 
Stuarts, and rounded off her frontiers. Despite grave disorders wluch emptied 
the treasury time and time again, the reforms enacted by Jacques Coeur and 
Louis XI provided public finance with a stability which allov/ed the country to 
support the costs of war. In principle military expenses were covered by the 
taille or poll-tax. There were, it is true, abuses enough, delays and waste. 
"No more money, no more Swiss", was often a Hteral description of the situation. 
Only too often the lansquenets (German landsknechts : soldiers of fortune) had 
to find their own pay. The Gascons regretted bitterly at times that they had 
accepted service in the king's army. All the same, Charles VII had forty 
thousand soldiers on his pay-roll, while Charles VIII and Louis XII both led 
sixty thousand men into Italy. Francis I had even more troops under his 
command when he undertook the conquest of Milan. When, in 1 536, Charles V 
invaded Picardy, Provence, and Languedoc, he was opposed by over a hundred 
thousand soldiers. With an equal number Henry II was able to capture the 
three Bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, and to wage campaigns in Lorraine, 
Piedmont, and the Pyrenees at the same time. Equal numbers were used by the 
various factions in the Wars of Religion ; and although, in view of the country's 
exhaustion, Henry IV and Sully decided to disband part of the army, Richelieu 
found no difficulty in bringing it up to strength. Vlt would be true to say that^ 
between the Hundred Years' and the Thirty Years* Wars, France was served^ 
by the finest army in the world J 

' Like technical development in general, the changes in armaments tended to- 
wards the creation of a regular professional army. ^Firearms were imdergoing 
constant improvements. The iron bombards with their stone cannon-balls 
were soon displaced by bronze cannon hurling metal projectiles. From the end 
of the fifteenth century both light artillery, such as falcons and sakers, and 



hjeavier pieces such as culverins, possessed enough power and mobility to 
make them formidable weapons, provided they were capably handled. It 
soon became evident, too, that, with the help of gunpowder, a portable metal 
tube projecting bullets would be more effective than bows with arrows or bolts. 
The arquebus was the result. The priming was fired by a match grasped be- 
tween the jaws of a nipping apparatus or serpentin, the weapon being supported 
by a fork stuck into the ground, and serving to absorb the recoil. The effect of 
fire in its turn brought about modifications in the division of the different arms, 
in the tactics gpveming their employment, either alone or in combination with 
other arms. [ Tavannes was able to say that in his own century *'no art has 
suffered so many changes as the art of war ; so much so that books and precepts 
are no longer useful after thirty years^'';; 

As befitted its prestige, the cavalry was the first arm to be reorganized as a 
striking force. From the time of Charles VII the cavalry unity, or "lance", 
consisted of one man-at-arms, three bowmen, a cutler, and a page, all mounted 
and armed. A hundred Jances formed a company, whose commander was 
nominated by the king. CGradually the cavalry was divided up into three sec- 
tions : the gendarmerie, clad in magnificent armour purchased at a high price in 
Milan, and wielding the twelve-foot lance and the two-edged sword; then the 
light cavalry — known as rettres if they came from Germany — wearing the half- 
cuirass and armed with a shorter weapon than the lance — with the pistol from 
the reign of Francis I onwards ; and companies of scouts arid arquebusiers to 
reconnoitre and skirmish ahead of the main body .J 

Great as was the progress of the cavalry, the infantry became the masters of 
the battlefield. This was partly, no doubt, a result of the general improvement 
in social conditions. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there was a 
notable decline in poverty, ignorance and servitude, and the enhanced con- 
ditions of the masses was reflected in their military achievements. But the foot- 
soldier owed his new power and dignity, unheard of in feudal times, to the fact 
that he was a professional soldier equipped with deadly weapons. The infantry 
had already shown during the Himdred Years' War that it could combine 
mobility with bowmanship to great effect. By crushing the Burgundians the 
cantonal detachments demonstrated the tremendous stability possessed by well- 
disposed and well-trained foot-soldiers. The Swiss mercenaries with their 
long pikes formed mobile "hedgehogs" able to withstand the fiercest charge and 
capable of piercing the enemy lines. During a period of a hundred and fifty 
years the tendency was to increase progressively the proportion of firearms 
among the infantry, to develop the cohesion of the pikemen and, above all, to co- 
ordinate even the smallest units of both arms. The natural consequence of these 
reforms was the creation of permanent tactical formations. 

In point of fact the infantry did not come into its own without a struggle. 
At first governments were chary about committing themselves to such an ex- 
pensive item as a permanent body of foot-soldiers. Would there not always be 
time, in an emergency, to hire those who were ready and waiting in foreign 
countries ? There were the Swiss mercenaries, famous throughout the whole of 
Europe since Granson and Morat, ready to auction themselves to the Emperor, 
the King of France, Venice, the Pope or Piedmont ; there were the lansquenets 
provided by the German princes who made a regular industry of training and 
hiring them out ; there were Flemings and Brabants, once employed by the dukes 
of Burgundy, but now available to the highest bidder. Moreover, why give up 
the old militia which supplied foot-soldiers so cheaply ? It was an easy matter 
to muster the "free archers" from every parish and, as Francis I was to do sub- 
sequently, to form seven provincial legions, each of six thousand men. But it 
gradually became evident that it is not possible to make a reliable body of 
infantry out of a thousand bits and pieces. The Swiss, it is true, brave, tough 
and battle-trained, rendered magnificent service. At Fomovo, Agnadello, and 


Cerisoies they took a large share in the French success and losses. But at La 
Bicocca and on the Sesia they proved so unreasonable, sullen and touchy that 
they put their employers into dire straits. At Marignano they suffered a defeat 
at the hands of the king's troops which brought them to reason. But they took 
their revenge at Pavia. The lansquenets, on the other hand, fought willingly 
enough for the French. But these worthy sons of the Palatinate, Swabia, and 
Westphalia were for ever asking for increases in pay. What is more, they were 
past-masters in the art of plunder. So long as the fighting was done in Italy 
the king tolerated this behaviour, but when the campaign moved to Champagne 
or Picardy the case was altered. Moreover, Charles V was to expel Germans 
serving the enemy from the Empire. This raised difficulties in recruiting, soon 
to be further complicated by questions of religion. Meanwhile Spain, suzerain 
of the Low Countries since the death of Charles the Bold, was anxious to keep 
for herself the services of the Brabants and the Flemings. When it is added that 
after the Free Archers had been crushed by Maximilian at Guinegate owing to 
their lack of organization, the remnants had to be sent home, and that the 
Legionaries, apathetic and badly trained, fought badly and deserted en masse, 
it will be realized that force of circumstances gradually compelled France to 
constitute a national force of regular infantry. ^ 

The work was already begun by Louis XL lId 1481 at the camp of Pont de 
I'Arche he ordered d'Esquerdes and William Picquart to muster twenty thousand 
seasoned foot-soldiers of France to be formed into regular troops; These 
goodly companies subsequently garrisoned the towns on the Somme, this river 
then forming the French frontier, and later became the "Picardy Bands". Anne 
de Beaujeu made use of them during her regency to prevent Maximilian from 
invading French territory during Charles VIIFs minority. Later, the attempts 
of Charles V against the eastern provinces led Francis I to complete the bands of 
Picardy by those of "Champagne". Meanwhile, Louis XII brought into exist- 
ence the "Bands of Piedmont" to form the nucleus of the infantry to be used 
beyond the Alps. "Piedmont" recruited chiefly Gascons, Provencals, and 
Basques, as well as those Corsicans who were "law-abiding and conscious of 
their duties" ; "Picardy" and "Champagne", on the other hand, drew their 
recruits chiefly from the northern provinces. In this way two bodies of in- 
fantry were formed in France, each with its own characteristics ; the northerners 
heavier and tough, dependable and somewhat dour ; the southerners quicker, 
more adaptable, mercurial and high-spirited. These distinctions were destined 
to remain ; the armies of the Rhine have always been different in character from 
the armies of Italy. 

For general purposes the company was the unit. When the troops went into 
action the army corps, known as "battles", were subdivided into "battalions". 
But it was not until much later that Francois de Guise formed "regiments", so 
great was the fear of putting an organically constituted military force into the 
hands of any individual. \rhe first regiments were, naturally, "Picardy", 
"Piedmont" and "Champagne". They were followed by "Guyenne", "Navarre", 
and the "French Guards". Charles IX had three regiments, Henry IV eleven, 
Louis XIII thirty. For centuries operations and administration were to work 
together with the same unit, though without any excess of mutual esteem. 

Whereas the infantry was to have such a chequered existence, the artillery 
found its organization from the outset. Depending as it does on its equipment, 
it is not a suitable medium for experiments. A corps of artillery was created 
forthwith. Its commanders, the brothers Bireau, the two Genouillacs, Lan- 
gieres, Cosse-Brissac, d'Estrees, Sully, enjoyed the constant support of the king. 
^Ithough the French were slow to appreciate the importance of artillery, they 
showed great perseverance in developing it, once they were converted. For 
one thing, the Crown soon realized the power conferred on it by cannon, while, 
on the other hand, the element of mathematics involved appealed to the French 


mind. In fact, the artillery of Charles VII and of Louis XI had already played a 
leading part at Formigny, Castillon, Saint-Aubin, and Montlhery. It was res- 
ponsible, according to Mathieu de Cousay, for placing all the towns of Burgundy 
and Flanders in the king's hands. Charles VIII brought a hundred and forty 
heavy guns and over two thousand light pieces to Italy, "to the great amazement 
of the inhabitants". In later years there was no great increase in the numbers of 
cannon put into the line, but improvements in the founding, manufacture, and 
calibration of guns and projectiles, as well as in the manufacture of powder and 
in methods of laying and loading, rendered their fire increasingly powerful, 
accurate and rapid. After twenty shots at a range of six hundred paces the 
bombard of Crecy was out of action. (A hundred years later, an average cannon 
could fire sixty cannon-balls an hourj Giyen a few shots, a good marksman 
could hit the target at two thousand feet. The mobility of artillery was in- 
increased by providing the cannon with limbers, by improving the wheels, gun- 
carriages, ammunition waggons and the system of haulage. In Henry II's reign 
the artillery was organized on a permanent basis by standardizing the '*six royal 
calibres" of field artillery and by organizing the baggage "train". 

But changes were to follow not only in the character of the troops but in 
that of the command, lla former times a lord went into battle at the head of his 
own troops; now all troops without exception owed allegiance to th| king. 
Ranks, therefore, became officers, and a corps of officers came into existence. 
The nobility, it is true, still provided the majority of officers, and a great name 
still counted, especially as the local influence of the aristocracy was found useful 
for recruiting purposes— a consideration which tended to make royal policy 
favour the great families,] The royal princes remained, as before, generals by 
right of birth. Nevertheless, army rank gradually ceased to be a question of pre- 
rogative and became instead a career. The desire to excel was reinforced by a 
spirit of subordination : a leader was less anxious to appear as a "proud baron" 
than as a "loyal servant". 

This union of the old knightly spirit with the new idea of discipline was to 
produce a brilliant galaxy of leaders. In like manner the finest crops spring 
from the best-ploughed land. A host of first-rate captains was to give the 
standing army its indispensable backbone. Men like Bayard, Louis d'Ars, 
La Cropte, Mollard, and, later, Montluc, Biron, La Noue and many others like 
them, or anxious to emulate them, were loyal and honourable men whose ideal 
still remained the individual escapade, but who made it a point of honour to 
carry out their orders. Soldiers such as these, children of a hot-blooded cen- 
tury, nurtured by a prodigal motherland, displayed miracles of valour and 
ingenmty, at Naples, on the Ebro or the Rhine, without counting the cost. 
Bayard died on the battlefield m his thirty-seventh year, having fought in nine- 
teen campaigns and eighty battles. 

As for leaders like d'Esquerdes, La Tremoille, Bonnivet, La Palice, Lautrec, 
Brissac, Montmorency, Termes, Strozzi, Coligny, Saint-Andre, Tavannes, 
whether their high office was the result of birth or service or the turn of events, 
they showed themselves brave and inured to battle, good judges of the enemy 
and of their own troops. The princes, Gaston de Foix, Enghien, the Guises and 
Condes, presuming upon their youth, their birth and their reputation, snapped 
their fingers in the face of fate. As for the kings, they took command in all 
the principal theatres of war, and gave proof of brilliant military qualities. The 
Valois took readily to warfare and were quick to realize how much their presence 
could do to stiffen wavering loyalties. Despite his infinnities, Louis XI was 
present at more than one engagement. Throughout the Italian campaigns 
Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francis I took charge of operations. In the 
struggle against Charles V, Henry II put himself at the head of his troops in 
Lorraine and Champagne. The Princes of the Blood, constables and marshals 
of France, followed their king's example and did not hesitate to risk their own 


skins. La Tremoille and La Palice were killed at Payia, Gaston de Foix at 
Ravenna, Termes at Gravelines, Strozzi at the siege of Thionville, Fran9ois 
de Guise near Orleans, Saint- Andre at Dreux, Joyeuse at Coutras and Conde 
at Boussac. The wound of which Montmorency, Constable of France, died at 
Saint-Denis was the eighth he had received during sixty years of active service. 
Their opponents, men like the Duke of Alba, the Duke of Savoy, Count Egmont, 
Ferdinand of Gonzago, William and, later, Maurice of Nassau, all showed the 
same distinction. And yet on neither side did leaders emerge who, by bending 
war to their own wills, were able to exploit its manifold combinations to obtain 
results of the first magnitude. . -j 

\ It must be realized that armies of those days were crippled by sheer weighs 
The arquebus weighed fifty pounds, exclusive of powder and shot. The ten- 
foot pike was no lighter. In addition, the foot-soldier carried a sword or dagger 
at his side, often a helmet on his head, while his body was weighed down by 
layer upon layer of leather and steel. When one takes into account the weight 
of provisions, cloak, shield and, in many cases, the trenching tool, one realizes 
what the unfortunate infantry had to carry with them on the march. The 
mounted gendarmerie were scarcely mobile beneath their coat of armour. Their 
horses were so heavily loaded that they could jump a fence only with the greatest 
difficulty. The artillery was able to get along at a jog-trot on roads fit for 
wheeled traffic, but once off" the roads the cannons and limbers soon became 
bogged. ' Moreover, neither men-at-arms nor mercenaries would consent to do 
without a thousand-and-one comforts, with the result that the troops were 
followed by a mass of transport carrying food as well as military supplies^ The 
fact that armies rarely left the roads, which, in any case, were few and in bad 
repair, endowed the places commanding the roads with a role of capital im- 
portance. Hence the long and costly sieges. A constant struggle was waged 
between artillery and fortifications, which, under the influence of Italian engin- 
eers, were given rounded lines offering little hold to artillery bombardment. 
In its turn, the artillery increased in power and precision until it was able to 
breach the stoutest walls. 

If straightforward marches presented such difficulties, it is easy to imagine the 
slowness of manoeuvres. Scouts, whether mounted or on foot, could scour the 
country easily enough ; but whole infantry battalions, companies of men-at- 
arms, batteries and convoys were hard put to it to make any headway over hills 
and dales, across meadow and ploughland, through woods and vineyards. 
pThe greatest care was needed in choosing suitable terrain for deploying troops or 
[giving battle. The commander-in-chief and the camp marshals were faced with 
the extraordinarily difficult task of marshalling the troops, for the value of tlie 
infantry depended on its battle-array ; the cavalry was helpless on ground un- 
suitable for the charge ; the artillery had to be placed and protected by earth- 
works once and for all ; while the extremely vulnerable convoys were not only a 
tempting target for the enemy, but a cause of anxiety for their various owners. 

As the two opposing sides approached each other there were skirmishes 
bdlween the foremost elements on the flanks. The first care of the attackers 
was to mop up the host of stragglers, a task usually left to the cavalry. The 
operation was fraught with perils : an excess of enthusiasm or, more simply, 
booby-traps might easily lead the horsemen into an ambush. But in any case, 
once the main body of the enemy troops was located, the moving shield of horse- 
men divided, uncovering the infantry behind. 

Cautiously, with their pikes held high, protected by swarms of crossbow- 
men, the leading battalions advanced, dragging along with them a few light 
cannon. The crisis was reached when the first shots were fired. Bullets and 
cannon-balls cut deep lanes through the opposing ranks of footmen, who could 
neither scatter nor lie down, for fear of the cavalry. Captains in front, lieutenants 
on the flanks and the serre-files who brought up the rear, endeavoured by every 


available means to keep each man in his place. Every n ow and then a halt was 
called to re-form ranks, to gather in the rovers and allow the artillery to make 
itself heard in its turn. But if, despite every care, it should happen that the 
enemy cavalry came on, with lances lowered, at the gallop, then, quickly, the 
square had to be formed,- or all was lost. Then, packed tight behind the 
bristling forest of their lances, the infantry waited for the storm to pass. 

At last comes the moment for the death-grapple. The crossbowmen make 
way. At the word of command, the pikemen, gripping their pikes with both 
hands, bend their heads and bodies forward to support their weapons. Then 
with a mighty growl and shouts of "Forward! Thrust! Follow up!" the 
infantry dashes with a tremendous roar into the enemy line. 

The assault may force the enemy to abandon his defensive positions. At 
Granson, the Burgundian infantry, attacked by the Swiss mercenaries on the 
outskirts of its encampment, fled at the first shock of arms . At Guinegate , when 
Maximilian went over to the offensive, his Flemish troops dispersed the French 
militia with their first charge. Sometimes, however, the defenders would 
recoil only to unmask their hidden batteries and to make a surprise counter- 
attack. The Genoese of the "Promontory", who attacked the French lines as 
they thought victoriously, were routed in this manner. There were other in- 
stances where the two opposing forces of infantry became locked in a death- 
struggle : at Novaro, for example, where the Swiss mercenaries of Milan met the 
lansquenets of Louis XII. In any case, once the enemy's formation has been 
broken up by fire, or by the charge or by obstacles, the attacking cavalry is 
quickly on the scene driving in the flanks with lance and sword, or harassing the 
front with arquebus and pistol, endeavouring by every means to produce among 
the infantry a state of panic which will make it an easy prey for the horsemen. 

So the battle develops, in many cases split up into isolated struggles in which 
the decisive factor is the enterprise and energy of individual leaders. An ad- 
vance here, a withdrawal there, casualties, fatigue, mistakes, combine to dis- 
locate an army's dispositions. There are so many breaches and scrimmages 
that any sudden event may upset the whole equilibrium. The moment has come 
for the general with reserves to throw them into the battle. This is, in fact, 
what happened at Morat when, towards the end of the day, Hans de Hallwyl's 
Swiss Corps overwhelmed the right wing of the Burgundians, broke through into 
their camp and captured their artillery. At Cerisoles, the Count of Enghien, 
exploiting a false move on the part of the Neapolitan light horse, rallied his 
cavalry and broke through the line of Spanish infantry. At Fauquembergues 
the victory was decided by the unexpected charge of the French gendarmerie 
against the exhausted army of the Duke of Savoy. When this happened, the 
vanquished had little hope of recovery ; to flee was to court disaster. The 
kni^ts, it is true, were able to dig in their spurs and save their skins. But the 
foot-soldiers, throwing down their arms in order to run faster, offered an easy 
prey to the victorious cavalry. Occasionally, whole battalions which, despite 
everything, had managed to keep their formation, did succeed in retreating 
either under cover of darkness or thanks to a momentary respite during which the 
enemy gave up the pursuit in order to plunder the baggage train. But some- 
times, isolated and surrounded by enemies, maddened by suffering, like 
Romagnes' infantry at Agnadel, the Spanish "tercios" at Ravenna, or the old 
French trainbands on the evening of Saint Lawrence's day, they put up a last 
fight. Then, pounded by the artillery, exposed to musket-fire from every side, 
chargd without mercy or quarter, they died on the "bed of honour". 

In the military sphere, as in all others, the Renaissance paved the way for the 
classical period. Though war may not yet have become the perfect instrument 
which, later, was to serve the genius of Gustavus Adolphus, the talent of Turenne, 
or, finally, the art of Frederick, yet it contained at least the germs of the future 
masterpiece. [In any case, from its very beginnings, the standing army succeeded 


in protecting and strengthening France. It is true that, to build the edifice, a 
certain amount of inferior matter, or even rubbish, had to be mixed with the 
finest material in the country. But war has the virtue of ennobling even the 



It fought shy of abstractions, preferring facts to fancies, usefulness to sublimity, 
and opportunism to glory. For each particular problem it sought the practical 
rather than the ideal solution. Though unscrupulous as to the means employed, 
it showed its greatness by keeping a nice proportion between the end in view and 
the resources of the state. 

What was true of policy was true of its instrument, the army. Its recruit- 
ment and its organization were based not on law but on experiment. Its 
discipline and its code of honour were based on fact rather than theory. Strategy 
and tactics took as their guide common sense, experience and a wise opportu- 
nism, unhampered by formulae. 

The wars of the period rarely aroused great national enthusiasm. Revolu- 
tion in the Low Countries, the hostility of the Dutch, the union of the Rhine- 
land towns, the English Revolution, the succession to the Spanish and Polish 
thrones, the strength of Prussia, the extent of France's colonial empire — all these 
things exercised the minds of Frenchmen. But none of the resulting struggles 
seemed to provide justification for tearing peasants away from their fields, crafts- 
men from their benches, or citizens from their businesses or public offices. 
Saint-Germain was accurately expressing the general opinion when he said: 
"It is not seemly to destroy thJenation in order to form armies." The majority 
of Frenchmen, therefore, were to be allowed to live their lives peacefully. Only 
a few of them would be required to fight. 

But which were they to be ? In this seventeenth-century society a host of 
privileges, contracts and traditions limited, complicated, and modified the rights 
of each social group : class, province, township, statutory body or corporation. 
On whatever category of citizens compulsory military service had been imposed, 
the whole fabric of society would have been rent from top to bottom. Recruits 
were provided, therefore, by those isolated individuals whose absence would in- 
convenience nobody : young men with a distaste for a humdrum existence on the 
farm, in the shop or counting-house, and a taste for adventure and uniform ; 
down-and-outs, ready to exchange their liberty for food and clothing; bad 
characters with little choice in life except that between military service or the 
gallows. Each colonel was responsible for finding recruits for his own regiment. 
[Recruiting was a specialized profession, using methods varying from persuasion, 
with or without intoxication, to intimidation .'2] Nevertheless, the abuses must not 
be too patent : "His Majesty," runs an order of Louvois, "finds it good that small 
irregularities be concealed. Only violence and kidnapping from fairgrounds 
and markets are forbidden." 

On the same principle, the maximum possible Wmber of foreigners was 
pressed into service. Some joined up of their own accord, having been driven 
from their home? by the harshness of economic conditions. Among such were 
many Germans, Belgians, Swedes, Poles, Danes, and Hungarians. Others were 
lent under contract by their governments. Such were the Swiss, provided for the 
king of France by virtue of the "Capitulations" of Francis I with the Cantons ; 
the Piedmontese, presented by Savoy; the Rhinelanders, Bavarians, and 


Swabians dispatched by their respective princes. Others, Uke the English regi- 
ments which had come over with the Stuarts or the Irish Brigade of James II, 
fought as auxiUaries. When Louis XIV gave orders for the invasion of Holland, 
he had 45,000 foreign to 80,000 French foot-soldiers, whilst half his horsemen, 
that is 20,000 men, had been recruited from outside the national frontiers. This 
explains why Louis never allowed the term "the French army", but only "the 
army of France". According to a contemporary witness : "In the king's eyes a 
foreign soldier is worth three men. He's one man less for the enemy and one 
more in our ranks. Moreover, he's one more Frenchman that can be left on the 
land or in the workshop." 

The army in the field, therefore, consisted of pressed men from inside the 
country and foreign mercenaries. And pre-Revolution France was quite con- 
tent with this type of recruiting. Its irregularity and poor quality were admitted, 
and, on occasions, corrected. But the method was retained as weighing less 
heavily on the nation than any other. It was considered good in so far as it was 
adequate for its purpose. 

But the country had to be prepared for any eventuality. If the existence 
of France were imperilled by a foreign enemy, she could count upon a 
national armed rising. The Monarchy was fully conscious that the country 
was saved in this way at Bouvines and at Mons-la-Puelle. So it carefully pre- 
served the ancient institution of the regional militias, in which the soldiers, 
recruited by parishes, were formed into companies and regiments imder the 
command of retired officers or of officers on furlough. This militia provided 
garrisons for towns, kept watch on the frontiers between the bodies of regular 
troops, helped to maintain order, tracked dovm deserters, escorted convoys and 
guarded prisoners. Their duties, which were usually inglorious, roused little 
enthusiasm among the militiamen, and the organization remained unpopular 
so long as its usefulness was not apparent as a matter of urgency. But when, 
in 1709, the Allies had advanced into Hainault and Flanders, and, after capturing 
Lille, were preparing to m.arch on Paris, the militia, which went into action at 
Malplaquet, acquitted themselves valiantly. 

The king employed the same empirical methods in his choice of officers. 
The nobility had a taste for and the tradition of war. Its mem»bers were accus- 
tomed by social circumstances to command. The custom whereby the family 
property and responsibilities passed to the eldest son tended to drive the 
younger sons into the army. Moreover, the France of Louis XIV had just 
emerged from a succession of crises in which both the royal authority and national 
unity had been imperilled by the turbulence and the ambition of the nobility. 
The government had every reason, therefore, to urge this class to fight the enemies 
of France. And finally, the nobles were in possession of wealth which, by skil- 
ful management, might be made to benefit the whole army. \ The nobles pro- 
vided, in fact, the majority of the officers.j 

x^'To foster the loyalty of the greatest among them, and to turn to advantage 
their prestige, and even their wealth, the king began by selling them the right to 
form regiments and companies of their ovm and to dress, equip and feed thenu> 
In this way a youth of noble birth found himself captain or colonel as soon as he 
reached man's estate. If, in action, he gave proof of military aptitude, he might 
later become one of the great leaders. 

Those, whether noble or bourgeois, of more modest birth served as young 
men with the musketeers of the King's Household, or else in the cadets or Military 
School. They left with an officer's commission and, having gained a little 
experience, they purchased a company. From that moment onwards their 
future depended entirely on themselves and their stars. In many cases they 
were killed or maimed in action. ;' Others, after twenty or thirty years' service, 
retired as captains, majors or lieutenant-colonels into their native province, 
more or less crippled with wounds, but rich in heroic and picturesque memories 


which they were fond of telling to theii nephews, or even of committing to paper.; 
Some became brigadiers, camp marshals, lieutenants-general or marshals ot 
France. In such cases, loaded with glor>', titles and pensions, they looked back 
wistfully upon their youth with its fruitful illusions. 

The difficulty of disciplining an army of this kind may readily be imagined. 
These hotheads, ne'er-do-wells and vagabonds turned soldiers were not docile 
by nature. Some of them had no scruples about deserting, thereby breaking a 
contract into which they had been hoodwinked by fear or ignorance. Unless 
drastic measures had been taken, the troops would soon have been ruined by the 
chances of pillage and plunder and other misdemeanours afforded by a cam- 
paign. The pains and penalties with which they were threatened were terrible 
indeed. Yet, despite everything, as soon as the opportunity presented itself, 
the troops melted into thin air. In the expedition to Sicily in 1677 Marshal de 
Vivonne discovered in the course of an inspection of the infantry that four 
thousand out of seven thousand men had deserted. At the time of the war with 
Holland, Louvois, writing to Luxemburg, stated: "Letters from Nijmegen 
apprise me that over two thousand French deserters have passed through the 
place." The fearful punishments incurred by the bad soldiers were, in fact, 
rarely enforced. As a rule, when, willingly or not, the deserters had rejoined their 
unit, they were pardoned in the hope of making good soldiers of them. "De- 
sertion," we read in an order of the day of 1666, "has become so habitual among 
the troops that there are few soldiers who have not fallen into this criminal 

^^r Nor was it easy to obtain regular service and obedience from the officers. 
[Richelieu and Mazarin had lopped off the last branches from the tree of feudal 
independence, but the roots remained deeply embedded in the soil,. jThe nobles, 
who were exemplary in their courage on the battlefield or in the trenches, found 
their other military obligations irksome. No sooner had the army taken up its 
quarters than many of the leaders went home or to court, leaving the troops in 
the charge of a few so-called "officers of fortune" — though they were possessed 
of none. Moreover, the rank bestowed by virtue of birth and fortune conferred 
but little authority on men of real worth, while, conversely, the latter, placed in 
positions of authority, found it difficult to exact obedience from men of higher 
nobility or from those more favoured than themselves at court. The great 
leaders themselves failed to give an example of subordination. Several of them, 
notably Conde and Turenne, had previously taken up arms against the royal 
authority. Each of them, jealous of the others, claimed the privilege of in- 
dependence for himself. 

This lack of discipline among soldiers and officers would have ruined the 
French army of the ancien regime if there had not been a Minister who, while 
making allowances for what was inevitable, did everything in his power to check 
it. ^Brought up by his father, Le Tellier, in the tradition of those great servants 
of the state who owed their advancement to merit and held their positions as a 
reward for services rendered, Louvois, during thirty years of office, worked hard 
and tirelessly, showing at the same time his strong will and his discrimination. 
Disdainful of theories, he was careful not to disrupt and destroy ; as a realist he 
was persistent in his efforts to reform and improve. Though obstinate in pursu- 
ing his ends, he was nevertheless capable of flexibility. An enthusiastic planner, 
he knew how to bide his time. Unfettered by scruples, he used whatever means 
appeared simplest and most expedient. Though severe in his judgments of men, 
he did not despise them. He was clear-sighted without scepticism, devoid of 
illusions but ^oi of faith ; and although hard on inefficiency and pitiless towards 
pretentiousness, he was ungrudging in his recognition and encouragement of 
talent. He was reserved without being unapproachable, prepared to read 
reports but firm in forming his own judgment, welcoming advice but reserving 
the final decision for himself. I^Jaad enemiesLjmdjalUfes^bm no friends. Living 


only for his work, revelling in power, prodigal with time — the stuff of great 
endeavour — patient and daring, active and cautious, thorough and practical at 
the same time, Louvois was the ideal Minister of War for the ancien regime. 

rln order to discipline his troops Louvois set out to provide them with the 
kind of life which induced discipline.] Every corps, clothed hitherto according to 
the personal ideas of the colonel, 'was required to don the king's uniform. 
Weapons must conform to regulations. To remedy the notoriously incon- 
venient system of billeting soldiers on private individuals, Louvois brought into 
being the first barracks, which he was careful to place on the outskirts of the 
towns. The barracks in Paris bearing the names of Lourcine, ^epiniere, 
Courtille, Babylone, Roule, and Courbevoie all date from this period. ^, Louvois 
ordered frequent changes of garrisons and, to ensure that the moves were carried 
out smoothly, mapped out the routes and stages in advance. He introduced 
into the army a system of compulsory instruction, creating for the infantry, 
cavalry, and artillery a body of inspectors who reviewed the troops and were 
present on exercises and manoeuvres.^ To Louvois the army owes the practice 
of marching in step and of arms drillTj Pay, which hitherto had been fixed by a 
so-called agreement between the captain and the recruit, was made uniform, 
while war commissioners were appointed to see that it reached the men. Louvois 
transformed the conditions under which the soldiers lived while on active service 
by organizing stores and quarters before operations were undertaken. As soon 
as the common soldier realized that he. would draw his pay regularly and find 
bijlets prepared for him, he was much less inclined to desert or plunder. 

Ot would have been futile to expect discipline from the soldiers if the officers 
did not set the example : Louvois, therefore, undertook to compel them to do so. 
In time of war they were to be with their units from one end of the campaign to 
the other. There were to be no more of those casual commanders who turned 
up on the eve of the battle and departed the day after. Once the king had 
announced the opening of the campaign, every officer was obliged to remain at 
his post with the army until it went into winter quarters) Then, and only then, 
could he return home, visit his property, hunt, settle his accounts with the 
farmers, or run off" to Versailles to catch the eye of the king and of the "best 
people", show himself during the winter season, and acquire from the smiles of 
the ladies, the compliments of friends or the discomfiture of jealous rivals the 
requisite amount of amour-propre to carry him through the following year's 
campaign. Henceforward an officer could leave the service only if his resigna- 
tion had been regularly tendered and accepted. In peacetime he was required 
to put in a minimum number of appearances and was held responsible for his 
troops during his time of absence. Any dereliction of duty on his part was 
liable to be sharply pointed out by the inspectors or by the Minister himself, 
who reprimanded or punished the guilty with no light hand. Whatever an 
officer's rank or birth or protection, he was required to obey. When Martinet, 
the Inspector-General of Infantry, showed signs of reluctance in rebuking certain 
high-bom officers, Louvois wrote in these terms : "Tell them that the first man of 
them to disobey orders will be cashiered." On another occasion he wrote: 
' 'The King desires you to imprison the first officer who makes difficulties ." When 
a certain General Montil raised objections and spoke of resigning in the middle 
of the campaign, Louvois wrote to his Commander-in-Chief as follows : "I 
believe Montil to be too intelligent to ask me for permission to resign, because 
it is the direct path to the Bastille, where the King habitually consigns those who 
make such requests to him." 

L'But Louvois did more than demand obedience; he took steps to make 
obedience easier to give. In order to increase the part played in promotion by 
merit, he created the ranks of major and lieutenant-colonel which might be 
bestowed on ofllicers who were too poor to purchase a regiment, and which led 
directly to the r^nk of general. He inaugurated "promotion lists", and saw to 


it that promotions were decided accordingly. To make it possible for the less 
wealthy nobles to enter the exclusive corps of Musketeers or of the King's 
Household, Louvois founded schools in which cadets could qualify as comets, 
ensigns or lieutenants. 

However dictatorial he might be by nature, Louvois showed considerable 
skill and flexibility in his dealings with the great captains of his day. His pro- 
cedure varied according to the personality of his man. The great Conde, a 
Prince of the Blood, covered with glory and ripe in experience, would never have 
taken advice from the young Secretary of State. Louvois was clever enough to 
make it appear that any suggestion he had to make came in fact from Conde 
himself. With the cold and haughty Turenne, who in his dealings with the 
Minister showed the very natural impatience of overbearing characters when 
faced with men of their own stamp, Louvois adopted the method of going 
straight to the point. But with Vauban he could reason. He knew that this 
great soldier was disinterested, resourceful and endowed with common sense, 
and more likely than anyone else to throw light upon a problem. His bluntest 
speech was reserved for Luxemburg, the great lord consumed by ambition and 
vice, but exceptionally gifted ; the Minister was treated in turn to extremes of 
flattery or insolence. The steady, thoughtful Catinat, on the other hand, had 
to be prodded, for, though methodical in preparing and determined in executing 
a plan, he was apt to be moody and vacillating and unwilling to undertake bold 
and vigorous actions. A factor which did much to inspire the loyalty of the 
marshals and to help to solve some of the thorny questions of precedence in the 
organization of the command was the frequent appearance of the King among his 
armies. Louvois, then, was able to impose his will, either by authority or 
diplomacy, by rough methods or gentle. But he put up with a certain amount 
of resistance and rebelliousness from the great leaders, realizing that this is but 
the usual accompaniment of strong personalities. As leaders of his armies he 
preferred^strong if awkward characters to more manageable but less vigorous 

[^Despite the improvements introduced by Louvois, discipline remained im- 
perfect. The great unifying bond of the army was military honour, in which 
self-respect and comradeship joined with devotion to the king, who was the 
embodiment of patriotism and chivalry. Every means was employed to evoke 
and foster the corporate spirit : illustrious names for regiments, brilliant uni- 
forms — every corps had its own particular details, badges, and so on, of which it 
was jealously proud-rcarefully-preserved traditions and customs .J In addition, 
many units possessed certain traditional privileges : the twelve oldest regiments, 
for example, enjoyed the privilege of fighting on the right wing of the infantry, 
while the Picardy regiments had the right of leading the attack. Several corps 
displayed the white standard at the head of their first company — the "colonel's 
company" ; others had received their equipment from the king ; others again had 
the "right of provost", that is to say, their men could be tried only by the provost 
of their own regiment. This team spirit,- whert^xaggerated, became fanatical 
^d intolerant. In 1 644, at the siege of Gravelines, the regiments of the Guards 
and of Navarre quarrelled as to which one should be the first to enter the town. 
In the presence of their excited troops, the colonels drew their swords and 
fighting broke out between the soldiers, who were separated only with the 
greatest difficulty. 

Picked imits not only kept alive a spirit of emulation in the army, but often 
carried out special tactical tasks. The general reserve for battle consisted of 
troops of the King's Household, the Gendarmes of the Guard, the Light Horse', 
French Guards, Swiss Guards and Musketeers. In each infantry regiment the 
assault columns were led by companies of grenadiers. With the cavalry it 
was the duty of the carabiniers to cover the flanks during the charge. In order 
to combat staleness among the troops the ancien regime gave certain soldiers or 


certain picked units new weapons, with higher pay for those using them. It 
was in this way that it created musketeers when the musket replaced the arque- 
bus, grenadiers when grenades came into use, carabiniers when the cavalry had 
to be reconciled to the use of firearms, fusiliers when the decision was made to 
replace the musket by the rifle, and bombardiers when artillery began to be 
organized on a regular footing. There was great competition to get into one of 
these privileged units. L At the siege of Montheliard in 1694 General Catinat 
had a young soldier brought before him who had just performed an act of 
gallantry, and asked him what reward he would like. "Let me join a grenadier 
company, sir," replied the soldier.] 

Nor was the soldier's individual pride forgotten. Ceremorial parades 
with flourish of trumpets, public commendation, stripes, long-service medals 
gratified the valiant soldier and the veteran. Officers received the Order of St. 
Louis, or, if they were Protestants, the Order of Military Merit. In addition, 
every soldier might have his name entered on the pensions list. 

So long as he lived and fought in the ranks, the soldier of the ancien regime 
was supported by a soldier's honour. But at last wounds and age, or else the 
demobilization which follows every war, obliges him to leave the service. What 
is to become of him in that civilian life with which he has no links ? The king 
will grant him a small pension, it is true. No doubt, too, his adventurous life 
has taught him how to make the best of circumstances ; he will have brought 
home from the Low Countries, Germany, Italy, America or India a host of 
soldiers' tales which will not fail to find a willing — and sometimes a generous — 
audience in the parks and taverns of the town. Then many a great lord or 
wealthy merchant will be glad to engage this respectable old soldier as a house- 
porter, many a convent will take him to look after the garden and serve mass, 
and will endeavour to cure him of his bad language by the ministrations of 
tobacco. But in many cases he cannot adapt himself to this kind of life. 
He needs the atmosphere of the army with its comradeship and its regulations. 
In this case he goes to the Invalides, where he puts on uniform again, becomes 
part of a company, salutes his officers, obeys rules, lives among other soldiers 
and continues to enjoy the glamour of arms. \\i was Louvois, that stem War 
Minister, who, by founding the Invalides, made It possible for the soldier to end 
a life of hardship with honour. ' 

The state certainly owed this care to the veterans from whom it demanded 
such great sacrifices. Not content with building its greatness upon their labours, 
it imbued both strategy and tactics with the spirit with which it was itself ani- 
mated. It is true to say that at no other period of history was war more strictly 
subordinated to policy. Policy did not hesitate to unleash war, yet it never lost 
its grip on the reins, taking care to define its objective and to limit its scope. 
Warfare was never allowed to outstrip the exigencies of policy. 

Governments were careful to limit the objectives at which they aimed. It 
is true that they strove incessantly to increase their territory, to support their 
allies and weaken their rivals, but they avoided great cataclysms and uncon- 
trollable upheavals. Conscious of the nation's limited resources, they sought no 
hegemony. Since the enemy of today rnight be the friend of tomorrow, no 
adversary was to be crushed completely. ^^ But, .on the other hand, no state must 
be allowed to grow too powerful. Above all, life must go on, and no useful 
purpose was served by unleashing between nations those wild ambitions, those 
xmquenchable hatreds, which poison international relations and threaten world 

In any case, the means at the government's disposal precluded grandiose 
enterprises. Soldiers were scarce and costly. They represented assets which 
must not be squandered. So long as it was possible to guarantee regular pay and 
properly organized lodging, so long as the troops could be moved by easy stages, 
it was possible to maintain discipline. But as soon as the army was far from its 


supplies, billeted at random and travelling through unknown country, the con- 
scripts began to desert and plunder, whilst the mercenaries mutinied. 

Strategy, too, was determined by the political end in view and by the means 
at the government's disposal. .The ancien regime was not concerned with gigantic 
onslaughts aiming at the total destruction of the enemy, with grandiose schemes 
of invasion or with the desperate resistance of the whole nation. ' The war effort 
consisted in capturing or defending key towns, in brushing aside the enemy's 
forces at the smallest possible cost, in penetrating far enough into his territory to 
bring him to terms, in preventing opposing coalitions from joining forces, in 
reinforcing an ally, in bringing pressure to bear upon a neutral, or in laying waste 
the territory of an ill-disposed state. Battles were still fought in close for- 
mation ; movement was slow and formal. For although cannon in the fifteenth 
century and muskets in the sixteenth had become effective weapons, the rate of 
fire was still slow and the range short. A cannon could fire one shot per minute 
at twelve hundred yards. A musket had a range of a hundred yards, and a skil- 
ful marksman could fire one shot in forty seconds, provided, that is, that neither 
the powder nor the flint was damped by rain and that the wind did not blow out 
the match. If the enemy against whom the army was advancing held his ground, 
the musketeers were obliged to withdraw in order to prepare their next volley, 
[if the pikemen, with their formidable eighteen-foot weapon, had kept formation, 
the musketeers would shelter behind them J The battalion had, therefore, to be 
in close formation, with the pikemen in the centre and with a wing of musketeers 
on either side. In any case, these professional soldiers, grouped in units with 
jealously preserved traditions, could not have been drawn up in any other way. 
Battle array was prescribed to the last detail with a scrupulous respect for the 
"normal order" and the prerogatives of the various units. 

If formation was broken during the battle, the enemy cavalry, hovering on 
the flanks, would go over to the attack. Infiltrating through the gaps torn in the 
line of infantry, harassing it from the sides and in the rear, it quickly transformed 
confusion into a rout. 'It was therefore of the utmost importance to keep cohe- 
sion during the advance. At the Battle of the Dunes the French army formed 
up in its battle positions within a thousand yards of the Spanish army, and then 
took three hours to reach the enemy, because the dunes made it necessary to re- 
form constantly. 

Not that bold strokes were ruled out. Conde affords a striking proof to the 
contrary. How could the example of such a royal prince fail to inspire an army 
in which so many officers came from a high-spirited aristocracy and soldiers 
held their lives cheap, having nothing else to lose? Conde, who may at times 
have thrown prudence to the winds, always took his full share of danger. At 
Freiburg and at Nordlingen, smiling amidst the smoke, he led the infantry to the 
attack. After the battle of Bleneau, Turenne had only to see the headlong flight 
of the Royalist army to exclaim : "The Prince has arrived and is in command of 
the pursuit !" At the battle of Senef, as soon as he learned that the Prince of 
Orange was present, Conde placed himself at the head of his vanguard and led a 
frontal attack against his rival. In such situations, the infantry bore him no 
grudge, though aware of what his conduct would cost them. A legend grew up 
round his person. The soldiers told how the Prince threw his stick into the 
enemy ranks and went to retrieve it with his own hands. But it was the cavalry 
more especially, which, led by Conde, passing through the zone of fire of a bat- 
talion in five seconds, developed a tremendously powerful punch. At Rocroi, 
for example, the Prince, at the head of some cavalry squadrons, began by crush- 
ing the enemy's left, and then, making a turning movement round the Spanish 
army, attacked the right wing from the rear, turned against the infantry in the 
centre and charged it three times before breaking it, after his weapons had been 
thrice hit by musket-fire. 

Conde's daring was not mere recklessness. His dislike of minutely detailed 


plans and protracted preparations sometimes put him in a difficult situation — 
at Lens, Freiburg and Senef, for example. But his faculties were sharpened by 
action and danger, flke had the gift which, according to the degree in which it 
is possessed, is variously termed knack or genius, of deciding quickly when and 
where to strike with the maximum effect. In war and peace he played for high 
stakes and won or lost in the grand manner. 

Nevertheless, Turenne's methods were better suited to a period which aimed 
at using restricted means to attain limited objectives. At Freiburg, Nordlingen, 
Arras, Sintzheim, and Turckheim, Turenne, sparing in his use of inadequate 
effectives and careful to maintain order among troops whose whole value lay 
therein, acted only after full and due reflection. Before deciding on the direc- 
tion and scope of his operations he devoted an extraordinary amount of energy 
to gathering information. He insisted on complete reconnaissance (which he 
carried out in person and which, on the last occasion, at Salzbach, cost him his 
life), and on outposts placed so as to give him complete liberty of action. But 
once the position was clear, once he was armed with all the available knowledge 
of all the variable factors — enemy, ground, morale — he made up his mind quickly 
and acted. 

Such was Turenne's method of making war, seeking only the results required 
by policy and calculating the outlay accordingly, without expecting more than 
could be gained by the means available. Though complex, his tactics were 
always opportune. If, in many instances, he preferred minor actions to full- 
scale battles, provided he could get the same advantages from them, he did not 
hesitate to give battle whenever this course would give him the results he wanted. 
In such cases he made the most meticulous preparations for the battle, which he 
fought with the utmost vigour. His exploitation of success was usually limited 
by the consideration that all that was asked of the enemy was his withdrawal, 
and that a relentless pursuit might produce a dangerous state of disorder among 
the pursuing troops. The importance the Marshal gave to fortified positions 
was based on the conviction that nothing was gained so long as they remained 
in the enemy's hands, protecting his supplies, controlling roads and harbouring 
garrisons ready to make sorties. By his nice adjustment of ends to means, his 
love of facts and his contempt for theories, Turenne gave to military art the 
stamp of the Grand Siicle. "Other victories were more brilliant and more 
resounding than his, though few were more durable. His triumphs have lasted, 
as those seventeenth-century masterpieces of literature and architecture have 
lasted, thanks to the nobility of their conception and the regularity of their 


The prevailing seventeenth-century philosophy was calculated to strengthen 
the military power of France. After the Wars of Religion and the Fronde the 
nation felt the need of law and order. The following century, however, saw the 
birth and development of ideas and emotions which were to sweep away the 
ancien regime, after undermining its foundations. As the logical consequence of 
this lack of stability, scepticism and corruption disintegrated loyalty and crippled 
authority. J 

'^ The crisis did not leave the army unaffected. Signs of trouble had been 
evident during the War of the Austrian Succession. After Dettingen, Marshal 
deNoailles wrote to the King : "Our enemies (English and Hanoverians) owe the 
success of their tactics entirely to their discipline, a thing which is not to be seen 
among our troops." Maurice of S^ony, in a report made to d'Argenson 
before the battle of Fontenoy, says :'. "There is so much disorder and insubor- 
dination, that I have been obliged to take drastic action." "Our troops," wrote 
an officer, "entered Bohemia, Westphalia and Bavaria with good and complete 


equipment. They have returned exhausted by the prodigiously large numbers 
of losses among officers and men. Yet we have been in no regular engagement. 
The soldiers spend their time in pillage and take the first opportunity of getting 
out of their leader's sight in order to decamp.*** 

The Seven Years' War revealed the full extent of the evil. ; A weak and negli- 
gent administration handed over the organization of supply^ to dishonest con- 
tractors, with the result that the ill-fed and ill-equipped soldiers deserted to live 
on plunder. The officers did likewise. On the day of Rosbach, the army of 
18,000 men under Soubise lost 6,000 men who deserted and gave themselves up 
to the enemy. From India, Dupleix begged the. home government to stop 
sending him *'the lowest ruffians by way of soldiers".> When Lally was about to 
take Madras, his soldiers refused to march. Saint-Germain, lieutenant-general 
in the army of Hanover, wrote in a fit of uncontrollable rage :i*'X command a 
band of thieves and ruffians who run away at the first shot and are always on 
the verge of mutiny." j There is a case on record of eight officers being cashiered 
in one day. The aged Marshal de Belle-Isle, who witnessed the operations, was 
horrified by what he saw : "Disorder, insubordination and brigandage," he 
writes, "have reached alarming proportions. In all my fifty 'years of soldiering 
I have never seen anything like it ! ' ^ 

What is more, the commander-in-chief himself. Marshal Richelieu, the 
victor of Port Mahon and Kloster-Seven, cheerfully bore the name given to him 
by his men of Per e la Maraude ("Old Plunderer")^ Saint-Germain, too, who 
judged his soldiers with such severity, simply abandoned them in the middle of a\ 
retreat, when Richelieu was replaced by Clermont, on the grounds that, in his 
opinion, he was a better general than Clermont. His departure was termed 
* 'resignation' ' and that was the end of it. The King was surrounded by intrigues 
of which the military leaders were both the instigators and the victims. 

Patronage and intrigue, undermining authority, forced the government to 
multiply the number of officers. Towards the end of the Seven Years' War, 
there were 650 generals and 16,000 officers on the active list for an army of 
200,000 men. Every regiment had anything up to ten colonels who took com- 
mand in turn for a day at a time. In such conditions discipline and the coror 
mander's responsibility became meaningless terms. The supply lines behind 
the army were cluttered with a mass of personal baggage. At Rosbach, for 
example, the Prussians captured 1,200 wagon-loads of officers' baggage. 
Officers left their troops on every possible occasion, and in any case as soon as 
the campaign was over. As one minister put it : ' 'The main cause of the country's 
reverses is the disastrous habit which deprives the troops in peacetime of the 
officers who are to lead them in time of war." 

. it would have been surprising if French strategy and tactics had remained 
sound and realistic in such conditions. ' Formerly they had been based on well- 
defined objectives, dependable resources and, above all, experience. The gap 
was filled by theory. And while in the French army common sense gave way to 
dogma, discipline became a formality and personality was swamped by con- 
vention, in Prussia a great king was perfecting the art of war of the ancien 
regime by which Turenne and his peers had won such fame and France such 

The policy of that uncompromising realist, the King of Prussia, was directed 
towards the attainment of limited objectives which were clearly defined and 
steadily pursued. Frederick's object in entering the war of the Austrian Suc- 
cession was to take Silesia and make of Prussia a great state, while the stubborn 
struggle in which he then engaged for seven years had as its aim to preserve what 
he had already acquired. He did not for one moment dream of destroying his 
neighbours, any more than they wished to annihilate Prussia. Louis XV, Maria 
Theresa, Maximilian and Catherine were just as anxious as Frederick to keep the 
balance of power in Europe. 


Frederick's strategy was classical in its opportunism and its limited resources. 
In the War of the Austrian Succession he threw his troops into Silesia, and, 
having conquered it, was glad to accept the armistice. Then, disturbed by the 
successes of Maria Theresa, he went to war again to defend his conquest. At 
Millwitz and Friedberg he struck hard blows, but without going beyond his 
objective. At the beginning of the Seven Years' War Frederick attempted to 
seize Bohemia because it would serve a useful purpose in keeping the Austrians 
at arm's length. The attack on Prague had no other end in view. WTien the 
army of the German Circles and the forces of Soubise invaded Saxony and 
Richelieu was victorious against the English in Hanover, Prussia was in danger of 
invasion. [At Rosbach Frederick defeated the Circles and Soubise, but refrained 
from pursuing them or from turning against Richelieu, his success being judged 
sufficient to keep the French in checK.N The Austrians in the meantime had 
marched into Silesia ; Frederick drove them out at Leuten and contented him- 
self with that. After Zomdorf he allowed the beaten Russians to withdraw at 
their leisure. 

Though vigorous in repelling every impending threat, once the danger was 
past Frederick husbanded his resources, restricting his activity to supporting his 
Hanoverian or Hessian allies, garrisoning his towns and guarding his frontiers. 
He made no ambitious plans, undertook no large-scale operations, no devastat- 
ing attacks or relentless pursuits. To do so would have been inconsistent with 
his policy, ruinous for his effectives and his budget, and, above all, dangerous in 
arousing national passions. 

Whenever Frederick struck, he made sure that the blow was both necessary 
and effective, and suited his tactics to the occasion. But the famous oblique 
order was a skilful adaptation of means to circumstances rather than the panacea 
which contemporary theorists saw in it. Prussian superiority was no more 
due to exceptional formations than to the use of superlatively good weapons. 
Frederick's soldiers were armed in the same way as their opponents : the infantry 
with musket and bayonet, the cavalry with sabre or lance, while the artillery 
consisted of light cannon firing between the battalions and a few very heavy 
pieces which were considered more or less immobile, for the theories of Grib- 
eauval were not yet in fashion. But, on the other hand, Frederick's troops 
were trained to the last ounce. No other army drilled so much and so well as 
his. The troops were able to move quickly over various types of country, to 
deploy rapidly to face in any given direction, to group themselves for volley- 
fire, to advance without mishaps and, if the need arose, to make an orderly with- 

Monarch and military leader at the same time, Frederick endowed the military 
art of the eighteenth century with matchless glory. His policy, strategy and 
tactics, vigorous and moderate at the same time, exploiting circumstances 
without abusing them, formed a stable and well-knit whole. 

But although the King of Prussia had been able to deprive France of her 
military ascendancy, there was abundant evidence that the eclipse was only 
temporary. In the early part of the reign of Louis XVI thef rehabilitation of the 
army was undertaken by the Ministers of War, Marshal de Muy and Saint- 
Germain. Henceforward the regular army was to comprise 11 2, infantry, 59 
cavaliy and 8 artillery regiments with complete cadres and effectives, and a 
nucleus for large formations was formed by 16 territorial divisions. These re- 
forms were carried out against the background of the great intellectual and 
philosophical movement, which had the Encyclopaedia for both cause and 
effect, and which showed itself in the army by an intense interest in progressive 
ideas. It was the time when Guibert published his "Treatise on Tactics" and 
his "Defence of the Modem System of War", in which he foresaw the organiza- 
tion of the division of all arms, the lightening of packs and supply services, the 
creation of more flexible formations and the decentrahzation of command. All 


these reforms, which were designed to give greater freedom and speed of 
manceuvre, were later adopted by the Revolution and the Ernpire*, At the same 
period Marshal de Broglie organized his "Normandy Camp" where troops and 
staffs, after a surfeit of parades, were made familiar once more with training 
exercises in various types of country." With the flintlock musket of the 1777 
pattern and the paper cartridge, the infantry received an excellent weapon which 
doubled their fire power. At the same time Gribeauval was carrying out his 
ideas for making the field artillery stronger in material and more mobile. 6n \ 
the Grand-Master's orders the army adopted the pole-limber, the back sight and \ 
elevating screw, the quick-match, which obviated the necessity of pouring the ' 
powder into the touch-hole, case-shot, and the cartridge with charge and bullet 
in one piece. Gribeauval was responsible for the formation of a general reserve 
comprising 600 cannon of 4, 8, and 12 inches, and 36 6-inch howitzers, making 
mass artillery bombardment possible, and contributing greatly tofuture victories. 
And, finally, fortifications and siege-parks were provided with 8, 12, 16, and 24- ] 
inch cannon and 8, 10, 12-inch hov/itzers such as were possessed by no other 

In the War of American Independence the French army was to prove its 
return to pre-eminence. ' While the seas were dominated by Orvilliers, Estaign, 
Guichen, Grasse and SufEVen, the soldiers of Rochambeau were covering them- 
selves with glory at Yorktown, like those of Bouille at Saint-Eustace and Crillon 
at Minorca. A In India, on June 13, 1783, the Austrasian Regiment under de 
Bussy fought the last battle of the ancien regime by defeating the English on the 
Gohdelour glacis. In its decline, the monarchy showed renewed strength both 
in its military power and in its foreign policy. It bequeathed to the nation which 
it had assembled throughout the centuries all the means whereby it might defend 
and increase its heritage. 

^Taking all in all, the v/ork of the ancien regime remains efficient and lasting ; 
its strength outweighed its weaknesses, its qualities exceeded its defects'. Every- 
where the frontiers of France were extended without exhausting the nation : 
Artois, Flanders, Lorraine, Alsace, the Franche-Comte, Corsica and Roussillon 
had been incorporated ; Belgium and the Rhineland had been opened to French 
influence ; Austria had been humbled and Prussia kept in check ; Spain was an 
ally and Italy friendly ; England had been deprived of her enclaves in French 
territory ; France's friends, Scandinavians, Poles and Turks, were sound and faith- 
ful ; Russia sought her support. France had conquered, lost and partially 
regained a great colonial empire ; Canada was being colonized by Frenchmen ; 
the United States were liberated with the aid of French arms ; the king's 
squadrons cruised off the coasts of Africa. There was no mortgage on the 
past ; the present was guaranteed and provision made for the future. 
f - This edifice was built by the soldiers of the ancien regime. When time has 
borne the men away, leaving their work behind, it is fitting to pay tribute to the 



ancien regime. Its febrile innovations, its boiling passions, its fanatical readiness 
to shed blood shocked both public opinion and the prudence of governments. 
Here, it was felt, was no mere rebellion but rather a new order, claiming to im- 
pose its subversive influence on ideas, customs and laws. 

The movement was serious enough in itself, but, coming from France, it was 
doubly disturbing. For four centuries France had been an object of jealousy 



and suspicion for the whole of Europe. Her ambitions were feared and her 
power envied. Yet Europe was involuntarily imbued with French thought and 
was to that extent the more disturbed by the path it was taking. Both by hatred 
and by reason the neighbours of France were driven to take preventive action 
to make her harmless, even had they not considered her to be in a state of weak- 

An elemental force impelled Europe to go to war. This time it was not a war 
of interests fought for a province, a local right or a crown, but a war of principles, 
of whole nations — and correspondingly ferocious. To carry on a war of this 
nature France had to demand of herself a gigantic and unprecedented effort. 

Fundamentally Revolutionary France was in a strong position, with a 
population in 1789 of twenty-eight millions, equal to the populations of 
Austria, Prussia and England together. The soil of France was the most fertile 
in Europe and her workmen the most skilful and hard-working. National 
unity was an accomphshed fact. The peoples on her frontiers — Belgians, 
Luxemburgers, Palatines, Swiss, Piedmontese — were attached to France by a 
thousand bonds of ideas, customs, and interests. All these assets were, in time, 
to be exploited by the dynamism of the Revolution. But the old social frame- 
work, containing vast reserves of power, had been shattered with such violence 
that the result was chaos. The Revolution squandered many of its ample 
resources and left upon its military effort its own characteristic stamp of great- 
ness and confusion. 

At the opening of hostilities with Austria, on April 20, 1792, the army was in 
a sorry state. There had been no recruiting for the line for two years, the 
practice being considered as a relic of the disgraceful past. The existing regi- 
ments, infected by the general turmoil, were riddled with disaffection. As a 
matter of fact, everything was done to deprive them of their military virtues. 
Clubs and societies were allowed to carry on their work with impunity. The 
traditional regimental names were abolished. Revolts among the soldiers were 
a constant occurrence and were rarely suppressed. In despair and humiliation 
the majority of officers — five thousand out of nine thousand — left the country 
or resigned. Others, either because they had adopted the new ideas or because 
they felt that the times favoured the ambitious, threw themselves into the 
movement. Some, with the patience of Job, remained at their posts in silent 
devotion to their country. At the opening of the States-General Necker de- 
clared, "We are not sure of the troops." In January 1790 twenty regiments got 
rid of their commanders. In December of the same year the Minister de la 
Tour du Pin denounced before the Assembly "a torrent of military insurrection'*. 
At the declaration of war there were 35,000 deserters out of a total force of 170,000 

But long before the cannon spoke many poUticians and technicians had 
realized that this numerically reduced army could not bear the heavy load which 
the Revolution was to place on its shoulders. The monarchy had bequeathed 
its militia, but its abolition had been demanded in all the Cahiers and put into 
effect by the Constituent Assembly. On paper the National Guard represented 
a tremendous force of two and a half miUions, but its military value was nil. 
Where, then, should the soldiers come from ? The Declaration of the Rights of 
Man had proclaimed the equality of all Frenchmen ; so France would have to be 
defended by volunteers. In June 1791 the Constituent Assembly resolved to take 
a contingent of 101,000 men from the National Guard and in the following year 
the Legislative Assembly asked for an additional 30,000. They were to enlist 
for one campaign and would be paid at the rate of 15 sous a day. 

The young men were not displeased to put on their blue uniform. The ver- 
dict of the generals was that the elements were good. There remained the task 
of making soldiers of them. Once the men had been split up into battalions 
according to their part of the country, they were invited to select their own 


officers. Whilst certain battalions chose as their leaders ex-officers or n.c.o.s 
or, at any rate, men of authority, others chose to be led by knaves or fools. 
The commander of the three departments of Upper Rhine, Upper Saone, and 
Doubs complained in a letter to the Minister of War that "the method of 
appointing officers has had the most unfortunate and ridiculous results. The 
posts have been filled by tricksters, windbags and drunkards." Clothing and 
equipment, which was the responsibility of the departments, were a knotty 
problem. As for training the volunteers, if they happened to be near a regular 
regiment, the latter provided instructors who were "amazed to see so many 
recruits at the same time, whereas formerly they had received at most eight per 
year to a company". However, somehow or other they taught them to fall in, 
to fire and to use a bayonet. If such facilities were not available, the volunteers 
would receive their training at the same time as their baptism of fire. They 
arrived in the field full of good intentions, but very uneven in value. 

As soon as hostilities began this incoherent mixture of mutinous regulars 
and partly trained volunteers broke at the first shot. At the sight of the Austrian 
Hussars the Northern Army under Rochambeau, which was trying to make 
contact with Coburg in the neighbourhood of Toumai and Mons, was seized 
with panic. Dillon, who commanded one of the columns, was murdered by his 
men, while Biron, who led the other, escaped by a hair's-breadth from the blind 
fury of the fugitives. In the Ardennes Army, despite Lafayette's prestige, the 
chaos was indescribable. Meanwhile, in the east, the Prussians had crossed 
almost unopposed into French territory, had taken Longwy and Verdun and 
were advancing into Champagne, 

But the very gravity of the evil imposed its own cure. Despite the storms 
which raged within it, the country understood that it was lost if those entrusted 
with its defence shirked their duty. Taking advantage of this trend in public 
opinion, Dumouriez, Custine, Kellermann and Montesquiou took wise and 
vigorous action to restore some semblance of discipline. The regulars, ashamed 
of their plight and far away from their garrisons and ringleaders, recovered their 
tradition of honour. In the course of active service the volunteers acquired a 
certain cohesion. Over two thousand inefficient officers were relieved of their 
commissions. Thanks to the stocks in the northern towns it was possible to 
replenish equipment and arms. At Valmy the very sight of the revolutionary 
army was enough to make Brunswick retire. At Jemmapes the enthusiasm of 
the troops, backed by discipline, made its appearance as a weapon of war. When 
the Fifth Line Regiment, formerly Navarre, was about to attack Flenu Wood, 
the colonel, a veteran officer who had served in the regiment for thirty-five years, 
drew his sword, stood up in his stirrups and gave the regiment's old war cry : 
'"'Navarre ! En avant ! Navarre sans peur /" and the soldiers followed suit. 
The Seventeenth — formerly Auvergne — which was on their right, began to shout 
in their turn : '^ Toujour s Auvergne sans tache r ; whereupon the volunteers, who 
were coming up behind the regulars, put their hats on the end of their bayonets 
and filled the air with fervent shouts of ''Vive la Nation /" The whole body 
moved forward like one man, and the Austrian position was captured, amidst 
much shouting, at the first assault. 

But as the hardships became greater, this noble enthusiasm waned. For 
inexperienced troops the winter of 1792-3 in Belgium, in the Treves district and 
on the Rhine, was a cruel experience. While in Paris the Extremists were at 
grips with the Girondists amidst the general disorder, the army, thanks to the 
dishonesty of the various committees and commissars responsible for the 
administration, was left without the bare necessities of life. The result was 
plunder, often organized by the officers, who led their men to loot the houses of 
the wealthy. The Assembly, in theory at least, had abolished the white uniform 
of the regulars. This provided a further cause for dissatisfaction among the 
veterans. Pay, which was in the form of assignats (the paper money of the 


Revolution) was irregular. The troops were inundated by the Extremist clubs 
with propaganda leaflets and newspapers, such as the P^re Duchine^ which 
openly advocated insurrection. Discipline under such conditions collapsed. 
Wastage through desertion and disease was disquieting, while many of the 
volunteers of 1791 returned home, claiming that they had enlisted for one cam- 
paign and that that campaign was over. 

The year 1793 was a black one for France : the bungled offensive in the Low 
Countries, the defeat at Neerwinden, the treachery of Dumouriez and the loss of 
Belgium brought discouragement and chaos to a head. On March 25 Valence 
wrote to the Minister of War : "The disorder and disappointments of the winter, 
coupled with the lack of officers, have produced among the troops a lack of dis- 
cipline which is the despair of men who love their country." And this was the 
moment chosen to declare war on England, the Empire, Spain, and Holland, 
whose troops were soon to threaten France with deadly peril. 

The first need was of men. The army fighting on the frontiers consisted of 
at most two hundred thousand men whose condition was deplorable. The 
flow of volunteers had become a trickle ; in January and February, of the few 
hundreds that came to sign on, half were poor wretches in bad health, 
who were anxious to join the army to get food, and had to be turned away. The 
voluntary principle had failed to produce the required number of recruits. 
Henceforward the Revolution was to use compulsion. 

In February the Convention, which in the following March was to institute 
a dictatorship and create the Committee of Public Safety, voted the conscription 
of 300,000 men. In August it declared all citizens liable to military service, 
thus constituting a rich reserve of man-power from which the Committee could 
draw at will. In the year 1793 a million young men were called to the colours. 

Their recruitment was no light task. The whole royal system of comp- 
trollers and intendants, with its bureaux, its authority and its experience, had 
disappeared. Its place had been taken by the Departments which were in- 
formed by the Committee of their quota of men. Apart from the obligation of 
taking bachelors between the ages of twenty and twenty-five before other cate- 
gories, the departmental authorities were free to adopt their own methods. The 
usual procedure was to draw lots, but there were cases of more arbitrary prac- 
tices. Conscription met with a great deal of resistance. Some departments 
supplied nothing but sickly or criminal recruits. Whole districts rose at the 
cry of: "Down with the militia !" while recruiting was further impeded by the 
federalist risings which spread over half the coimtry. But the dreaded com- 
missioners sent into the provinces by the Committee imposed obedience, and 
soon, willingly or unwillingly, columns of recruits were marching along the 
roads of France towards the frontiers. 

What use was the army to make of this mighty but chaotic flood of recruits ? 
In most cases the conscripts arrived full of the latent enthusiasm and thirst for 
glory with which, in that amazing period of history, men's minds were dominated. 
Yet, in the words of Camot : "The popular frenzy must be organized." At first 
the Convention had decided to use the new material to create new battalions, 
but the generals and the commissioners with the armies would have none of it : 
they had seen enough of these incoherent formations with which the battle area 
was cluttered. Nor were they willing any longer to tolerate officers chosen at 
random and despised by their men, officers who had to be cashiered en masse 
after every rout. They recognized the necessity of the greatest possible imifor- 
mity in the composition of their armies, with fixed effectives and leaders worthy 
of the name. "The Republic," wrote Scherer to Bouchotte, the Minister of 
War, "needs not so much a large number of battalions, as good ones with their 
full complement of men." 

The practice of keeping the new units separate from the line regiments no 
longer appeared wise. The regulars had an experience and a discipline which 


the others could scarcely hope to acquire, whereas the volunteers and con- 
scripts brought with them a youthful enthusiasm that the regular officers would 
have liked to see in their own troops . Moreover, differences in pay, uniform and 
conditions caused bitterness and jealousy between the two sections of fighting- 
men. The veterans complained that while they toiled and sweated and bled, 
all the praise of the Assembly and the Commissioners, all the rewards and 
promotions went to the newly formed battalions. Not that the prestige of the 
line regiments suffered by this discrimination. "Every day," said Dubois- 
Crance, addressing the Convention, "we find captains and even lieutenant- 
colonels in the Volunteers asking to be given as a favour the rank of second- 
lieutenant in a regular regiment." The amalgamation of the professional troops 
with the citizen levies could no longer be deferred. 

In this way the arrival of masses of new recruits on the frontiers led by 
force of circumstances to the supersession of chaos by order. Henceforward 
these untrained troops were to be embodied in already existing formations whose 
experience had given them leaders and cohesion. From sections of the old- 
established regiments and of volunteers and conscripts, half brigades of three 
battaUons were formed on the model of the regiments of former days. This 
fusion, which had been demanded from the beginning by the generals, which 
had been urged by Dubois-Crance before the Convention in February 1793, 
and approved by the Assembly in June, became operative towards the end of the 
year. It produced homogeneous formations, made training easier and provided 
a regular cadre for the choice and promotion of officers. 

From the year 1794 the Revolution had at its disposal the instrument it 
needed. Since the country had to be saved and the sacred doctrine of the 
Revolution propagated throughout Europe, France had to have a national army 
whose power was proportionate to the issues at stake and whose spirit was cal- 
culated to lead the people along the path of glory. Conscription was the answer. 
In the spring of 1794 the Republic had a million soldiers on its frontiers, while its 
enemies had only half that number. France was the only country to fill her 
ranks with determined citizens, while Austria used the press-gang, Prussia armed 
adventurers, England bought mercenaries here, there and everywhere, and 
Russia used serfs torn from their villages by the whim of local governors. But, 
more than all that, having abandoned the illusions which had twice wellnigh 
brought her to disaster, she understood at last that order and discipline are the 
necessary conditions of power. 

Henceforward the armies of the North, of Sambre-et-Meuse, the Moselle, 
the Rhine, the Alps and the Pyrenees faced their trials with undiminished ardour. 
"We marched," wrote Marmont in his old age, "surrounded by a kind of radiance 
whose warmth I can still feel as I did fifty years ago." "We sufiered," wrote a 
grenadier, ' 'but we were proud of our sufferings and tried to laugh at them. Our 
officers, with their packs on their backs, shared our meagre rations and were 
mad with joy when they received an overcoat or a pair of boots .' ' Yet these men 
had to fight at Wattignies, Kaiserlautem, Wissembourg, Fleurus ; on the Ourthe, 
the Roer, the Rhine, at Boulou and Saorgio. Ragged and ill-fed, they endured 
fatigue, hunger, cold and want in order that the army contractors might in- 
crease their profits. But the soldiers had learned not to complain or rebel. 
The Anglo-Dutch troops, expelled from the Low Countries during the winter of 
1794-5, gave themselves up en masse, and were amazed to find that their relentless 
pursuers were "ill-clad ragamuffins". An eye-witness has thus described the 
astonishment of the burghers of Amsterdam when French troops entered the 
town on January 20, 1795 : "This famous and wealthy city saw the battalions of 
these valiant fellows, all without shoes or stockings, clothing their nakedness 
with straw, march through the gates of the town to the sound of music, pile 
arms and bivouac in the public square amidst ice and snow, and wait without a 
murmur to be provided with food and lodging." And a volunteer from the 


Upper Mame, one Fricasse, wrote a few months later : "We owe our success to 
our discipline, which kept up our courage when times were bad." 

After much groping and many mistakes the Revolution succeeded in making 
a fighting machine of the army which it had forged. The frenzy with which 
France was torn had long paralysed both the civil government and military 
command. Even when the Brunswick Manifesto had shown in the clearest 
possible manner to all concerned the extent of the perils with which the country 
was faced, the public authorities were in such a chaotic state that they were 
powerless to play their part in the direction of the war. The disturbed state of 
public opinion, rebellions and party strife deprived the "Executive Committee" 
of all tranquillity and of all stability. In the space of twelve months, from the 
spring of 1792 to that of 1793, there were nine Ministers of War : Duportail, 
Narbonne, de Grave, Servan, Lazard, d'Abancourt, Pache, Beurnonville, Bou- 
chotte. What is more, not one of them could act without previously consulting 
the Assembly. All of them allowed events to take their course, concerned much 
less with the action they proposed to take than with the attitude they should 

Among the generals of the old army, some, like the conscientious veterans 
Liickner and Rochambeau, heartbroken at seeing themselves prevented from 
applying their experience to this new form of war, soon ceased to play any part. 
But others, like Biron, Custine, Kellermann and Montesquiou, showed remark- 
able resource in most difficult circumstances. Dumouriez excelled in those 
rarest of gifts : breadth of vision, firmness of purpose, vigour and sureness of 
touch in execution. Entrusted with the command of the Northern Army after 
the shameful displays of panic in 1792, he restored order in a matter of days, by 
means of energy and good sense. Hard-pressed by the Austrians while the 
Prussians were advancing into the heart of the country, he had the audacity to 
break off his action with the former in order to attack the latter, and showed in 
so doing an exceptional gift of freeing himself in imfamiliar circumstances from 
accepted theories. At Valmy, having made his dispositions for the battle which 
was to decide the fate of France, he ignored the entreaties of the govern- 
ment, who, horrified at seeing the road to Paris left open, begged him to fall back 
on Chalons in order to cover the capital. After his victory in Champagne, he 
did not lose an hour before turning towards the Low Countries until, at Jem- 
mapes, realizing that the strength of his scratch troops resided in their enthusiasm, 
he made this the basis of his tactics. In the depth of a severe winter, with few or 
no supplies, he conquered Belgium at one stroke, after which he conceived no less 
a plan than that of marching into Germany from a previously subdued Holland. 

The Revolution had thus inherited from a generous past talented military 
leaders capable of appreciating at once the type of warfare which the times de- 
manded and possessing in addition the habit of wielding authority. But political 
passions were to perform the dastardly work of throwing away these advantages. 
Despite their worth^-or rather, on account of it — the generals were deprived by 
political madness of their prestige, their honour, and, somictimes, of life itself. 
It was thus with Dumouriez, whose help was sought by the Girondists against 
the extremists of "The Mountain", and whom the Clubs could never forgive for 
his popularity. During the whole winter after Jemmapes the Jacobins attacked 
him relentlessly with insults, threats, and accusations of treason. Not content 
with this, they undermined his authority among his own troops and even in his 
own staff. In this they were supported by the delegates of the Minister of War, 
Pache, if not by the Minister himself. Beneath all the disorders which became 
more and more frequent among his soldiers, the commander could discern the 


hand of the politician, against whom lie could obtain no redress. Dumouriez, 
incensed at this mischievous attitude, alarmed at the course the Revolution was 
taking, and disgusted by the execution of the King, made protest after protest to 
the Assembly. Between the capital and the general there was a war of abuse and 
recrimination, which deprived the commander of his peace of mind and of the 
confidence of his troops. The result was that on the battlefield of Neerwinden, 
the victor of Valmy and Jemmapes was no longer the man he was. His army 
fought without conviction ; and the left flank, composed of volunteers and 
"federalists", deserted on the pretext that they were being betrayed. It was then 
that Dumouriez, forced out of Belgium and incensed at the flood of abuse which 
his defeat had brought upon his head, lost his sense of duty. He resolved to 
march on Paris, and negotiated an armistice with the Austrians to this end. 
When the Convention's commissaries, together with the War Minister, Beumon- 
ville, summoned him to go and explain his conduct before the Assembly — in other 
words, to offer it his head — he had them arrested and handed over to the enemy. 
Then, seeing that his troops had lost all desire to follow him, he went over him- 
self to the Austrians. 

As soon as. the treachery of Dumouriez was known, the Convention set up 
the Committee of Public Safety, entrusting it with the task, among others, of 
the conduct of the war. But before the Committee could effectively play its 
part several months of disorder were to ensue, during which time the country's 
safety was to depend on the laxity of the enemy and the fortifications of Vauban. 

It is true that, in its desire to imbue the armies with the same will to victory 
with which it was itself animated, the Assembly sent commissioners with un- 
limited powers to all fronts, with instructions to keep an eye on the generals. 
The procedure had certain advantages. The presence of the nation's representa- 
tives tended to stiffen the resolve of the less determined among the commanders, 
and to impart to their operations a certain air of ferocity and determination which 
sometimes impressed a wavering enemy. It often enabled the commander to 
make his requirements known without delay to the central authority, and in 
many cases expedited the promotion of officers of value. It was in this sense 
that commissioners like Carnot and Dubois-Crance understood their task. 
Others, however, exploited their position and terrorized the military com- 
manders with the perpetual threat of the guillotine, assuming control of opera- 
tions without accepting responsibility for them, insisting on the adoption of un- 
workable plans, and generally aggravating the ills which they claimed to cure. 

When Dumouriez's successor with the Northern Army, Dampierre, was 
killed in an action which he was obliged to undertake against Conde, his troops 
melted away. Kilmaine, who succeeded him, was dismissed a few days later, 
to be replaced by Custine, who received orders from the commissioners to pass 
immediately to the offensive. He refused to obey and paid for his independence 
with his life. After him Houchard, guilty of having won an incomplete victory 
at Hondschoote, was sent in his turn to the scaffold. The Army of the North, 
which in five months, from March to August 1793, had been successively com- 
manded by six generals-in-chief, without counting the temporary appoint- 
ments, had fallen into a state of complete disorganization. It would have been 
destroyed, had the English and the Austrians not wasted their time besieging 
Dunkirk and the fortified towns on the Sambre and Scheldt. 

The armies of the East were no better led. The main army, led by Custine, 
after losing Mainz and falling back under Beauhamais to the Wissembourg 
lines, saw its general sent to the scaffold and replaced by another one, Landre- 
mont. Landremont, forced by the representatives of the government to attack 
forthwith, was defeated. The same thing happened at Pirmasens with General 
Moreau. While, after these setbacks, the army was preparing to defend the 
Wissembourg line, the commissioners again intervened and upset the com- 
mand. Landremont was replaced first by Curlu and then, soon afterwards, by 


Pichegru. The chief-of-staff, Clarke, having been relieved of his post on the 
morning of the battle, received no substitute. All the divisional commanders 
saw themselves dismissed or reshuffled at the height of the battle, with the result 
that the troops, without orders or leaders, gave up their positions, allowing 
Wurmser to march into Alsace. He was stopped outside Strasburg, less by the 
French army than by his own quarrels with the Prussians and by his anxiety to 
besiege Fort Vauban . 

In the Alps, General Brunet was sent to the guillotine after his defeat at 
Reuss. Kellermann, having been found guilty of taking the bulk of his troops 
into Savoy, whence he had expelled the Piedmontese, instead of pushing on with 
the siege of Lyons, was cashiered and imprisoned. In the Pyrenees, Generals 
Servan, Flers, d'Elbecq, Dagobert and Daoust, first of all favoured, and then 
thrown over by the commissioners, were unable, with the ill-organized and un- 
provided troops under their command, to prevent the Spaniards from invading 
the Basque country and Roussillon. 

But it was the last straw. In August 1793 Camot became a member of the 
Committee, where he was entrusted with military affairs. At long last he was to 
be enabled to give to the war the direction it so sorely lacked. Not that the 
Committee was wanting either in determination or in power, even before the 
arrival of Carnot. But the great merit of the "War Delegate'* was to en- 
lighten this hitherto blind resolve and to fructify the powers which, before him, 
had remained sterile and chaotic. 

Amidst the whirlwind by which, all around him, men and parties were being 
swept away, he concentrated upon his task. "I shut myself up," he wrote, "in 
the section with which I had been entrusted. I worked sixteen hours a day and 
listened to nothing that took place outside my office." But then Camot was an 
expert — a military engineer who had been studying the problems of war for 
twenty years. In his capacity of people's representative and commissioner to the 
armies he had had the opportunity of observing conditions among the troops, of 
seeing their strength and their weakness, and of forming his own judgment on the 
personalities of the actual or potential commanders. Camot surrounded him- 
self with first-rate colleagues : d'Aboville, Galbaud, Laffite-Clave, Lacuee de 
Cessac, distinguished officers of the old army and pupils of Guibert and 
Gribeauval, who formed a competent and homogeneous general staff around 
the delegate. In this way Camot brought to the government both skill and 
experience, thanks to which he snatched victory from chaos. 

His first task was to re-establish order in the army. For the whole country 
he created "assembly camps" where the recruits could receive their preliminary 
training. On the frontiers he expedited the amalgamation of new recmits and 
regulars. Above all, imbued with the theories of Guibert and Broglie, he 
created divisions, made up of various arms, homogeneous and interchangeable, 
each capable of acting as an autonomous unit. Thanks to this divisional 
organization, armies which had hitherto been rigid formations found a new 
flexibility ; and the young generals of the Republic, finding themselves suddenly 
faced with the command of great masses of men, were given a simple and elastic 
basis for their manoeuvres and operations. In the early part of 1 795 France had 
54 divisions, 260 half-brigades, to bring against the enemy. 

All these men had to be provided with arms, munitions, food and clothing, 
commodities which had to be found in a country rent by disorders which had 
brought normal life to a standstill ; they had to be paid for in a currency v^hich 
was daily losing its purchasing power, at a time when the country's administra- 
tive services had been completely disorganized by the reforms of the Constituent 
Assembly, decimated by emigration, by prison and the guillotine, and corroded 
by peculation. The Convention, it is tme, applauded Barrere when he described 
the state of affairs he would like to see realized : "The young men will fight, 
married men will make weapons ; the women will make clothing and tents for the 


soldiers, the children will make lint from old linen ; the old men will be carried 
on to the public squares to hearten the population." But more effective than 
this eloquence was the work of Camot and his fellow-workers. The War Dele- 
gate set up a "Commission of Arms, Powder and Mines", composed of officers, 
scientists and engineers, which, under his direction, undertook the task of supply- 
ing armaments. For the equipment, the methods and the skilled craftsmanship 
for manufacturing weapons cannot be improvised. Fortunately the monarchy 
had left behind it well-stocked miUtary and naval arsenals in which the Revolu- 
tion found 730,000 muskets of the 1777 model and more than 2,000 field-pieces 
designed on the Gribeauval system. The fortified places were equipped with 
large numbers of 16 and 24 cm. cannon as well as mortars, while the coastal 
defences were equipped with huge pieces of 36 cm. Camot did everything in his 
power to increase the production of armaments. Scientists were called in to 
help. The discoveries of Monge and Fourcroy in metallurgy made it possible 
to multiply the production of projectiles by five. Thanks to Berthellot, who in- 
vented a method whereby the manufacture of gunpowder was simplified, the 
ordnance factories increased their output of powder from three to seventeen 
millions of tons a year. At the same time Chappe, who had been appointed 
"telegraph engineer", organized a network of rapid communications between the 
fronts and Paris. On the battlefield of Fleurus, Montgolfier's observation bal- 
loons produced enthusiasm among the French troops and alarm among the 

It would appear easier to feed and clothe troops than to provide them with 
weapons. Camot, however, was less successful in this field. The supply 
services, formerly provided in the provinces by royal intendants, and in the field 
by the commissioners for war, had been abolished. The new departments and 
war commissioners had to be called upon to replace the missing organizations. 
But even with the best will in the world the departments showed themselves in- 
competent ; and as for the delegates, those playthings of poHtics, their efficiency 
was erratic. For one thing, it was difficult to get an exact estimate of the 
enormous effectives of the armies and, all the more so, of demands and needs ; 
for the young divisional and corps commanders were loth to concern themselves 
with administration, to compile detailed reports of stores and equipment. The 
net result was that the govemment was forced to rely on contractors, with the 
safeguard of threatening them with trial before the revolutionary tribunal if they 
abused their responsibilities. But despite the most severe punishments, the con- 
tractors continued to pile up immense fortunes, the root of later corruption 
under the Directory. In Jourdan's words : "I have had a hundred and fifty 
thousand men under my command. The govemment paid scoundrels for a 
hundred and fifty thousand rations, and the army got ten thousand." Yet, 
despite all these obstacles, Camot kept in the field an army of a million fighting- 
men, and, during the winter of 1794-5, when the troops were fully engaged in 
enemy country and far from their bases, the hospitals contained "fewer sick 
soldiers than ever". 


Victory was to be bought at the price of suffering. Carnot, like Dumouriez 
before him, had understood that it could be won only by abandoning complicated 
tactics, formal battles, sieges and picked detachments. These, suitable enough 
in days when limited objectives were attainable economically and unhurriedly, 
were ill-adapted to the relentless war of nations. What is more, the procedure 
of earlier times would have worked to the detriment of the French armies, lack- 
ing as they did the training and discipline of their opponents. The right strategy 
was one whereby masses of troops stmck their blows regardless of expenditure 


and losses, but so hard and so suddenly as to exploit the advantages of numbers 
and enthusiasm. 

This was Carnot's method. When he joined the Committee in August 1 793, 
the northern frontier had been crossed by the enemy, the last strong points on 
the Scheldt were about to fall, and the road to Paris lay open. He immediately 
ordered all available reinforcements to the Scheldt in addition to 40,000 men 
taken, with great daring, from the armies of the Moselle and Rhine. Thanks 
to these dispositions, Houchard at Hondschotte and, later, Jourdan at Wat- 
tignies, found themselves enjoying a considerable numerical superiority over the 
English and Austrians. 

Once the northern invasion had been repulsed, Camot concentrated his 
effectives in the east. The right wing of Jourdan's forces was sent to reinforce 
the Moselle and Rhine armies, which were then able to go over to the offensive. 
Hoche and Pichegm combined forces to attack the now isolated Austrians who, 
at Froeschwiller and Wissembourg, could put only 60,000 men in the field against 
150,000 Frenchmen. They were defeated and forced to evacuate Alsace. The 
Prussians, finding themselves uncovered by this retreat, raised the siege of 
Landau and fell back on Worms. 

Having averted the immediate danger, Camot decided that the moment had 
come to undertake the conquest of France's natural frontiers. With the enemy 
encamped at the source of the Oise, Revolutionary France had realized in its 
turn that no real security was to be found except on the Rhine. In 1794 the 
northern sector again became the chief theatre of operations. The northern 
army was strengthened by the addition of 100,000 conscripts who had been 
enrolled during the winter, and by the entire Army of the Moselle. Pichegm 
in Flanders and Jourdan in Hainault and the Ardennes had tremendous 
effectives. At Charleroi and at Fleums the Regiment of Sambre-et-Meuse 
fought at an advantage of two to one. Forty thousand French soldiers swept 
over the Low Countries. 

In the east, the situation which had been momentarily endangered by the 
enemy's advance into the Palatinate was soon restored, the cmshing of the revolt 
in Vendee having allowed Camot to bring up the victorious troops from Savenay. 
The French returned to the offensive, pushing back the Austrians from Hohen- 
lohe and the Pmssians from Mollendorf. By the end of 1794 French troops 
were in occupation along the Rhine from Bale to the sea. 

While in the north and east Camot's strategy of concentrating his forces to 
ensure numerical superiority saved the country, in the south it restored a very 
dangerous situation by a co-ordination of effort. At the end of 1793 the most 
urgent task was to recapture Toulon. By boldly withdrawing troops from the 
Alps and the Pyrenees Carnot formed a powerful besieging force under Dugom- 
mier, which took Toulon in December. Next, doubling the armies of the Var 
and Eastern Pyrenees by conscript units, he made it possible for Dumerbion to 
expel the Sardinians from the province of Nice while enabling Dugommier to 
clear the Roussillon and capture the Camp du Boulu. 

Camot's succesful planning was complemented by the employment of suit- 
able tactics on the battlefield. More by instinct than by reason the armies of the 
Revolution had adopted a method of fighting which suited their potentialities. 
The rigid tradition of well-formed ranks and complicated drill movements 
would have been entirely out of place among those keen, yet ill-trained, troops. 
In order to fire a shot the infantry soldier had to tear a cartridge with his teeth, 
pour the powder down the barrel, ram it down with the ramrod, using the casing 
of the cartridge, push in the bullet against the wad, cock, pour the serpentine 
powder into the pan and touch-hole, take aim, and fire. In addition to all this 
he had to clear the clogged barrel at frequent intervals or clean the touch-hole 
with the priming-needle. Rain, resulting in damp cartridges or a damp lock, 
Caused a misfire. In such conditions it would have been foolish to insist on 


concerted fire or, for the same reason, on concerted movements by recruits who 
had been thrown into battle as soon as they had received their weapons. 

No such thing was, in fact, demanded of the divisions. They were preceded 
by a dense swarm of sharpshooters. Each soldier, acting independently, still 
remained an integral part of the whole. The sharpshooters initiated the attack, 
profiting by their dispersal to make the best use of cover. The artillery, which 
had retained its old organization and possessed excellent material, took up its 
positions and opened fire. Under the covering fire of a hail of bullets and pro- 
jectiles the main body of the division formed up in columns of great depth but 
with a narrow front, with the officers at the head of the column. Then, at the 
right moment, the whole body dashed forward with fixed bayonets, yelling to 
heighten morale. The crisis did not last long, however, for the range of the 
muskets was no more than three himdred yards and their rate of fire two shots a 
minute. If the enemy allowed the attackers to get near, they were usually swept 
away by the serried masses of the attackers. If not, the attackers retreated, 
pursued half-heartedly by the much more rigid enemy formations, in order to 
re-form in the rear. 

These were the tatics employed at Wattignies, Wissembourg, and Fleurus, 
as they had been at Jemmapes. Though simple and expensive, they were 
vigorous, and well suited not only to numerically strong, enthusiastic troops, 
but also to the capabilities of the new commanders, who brought to their task 
great energy, resource and initiative, rather than science, experience and authority. 
These generals, who led the Republican forces from 1793, had nearly all risen to 
commander's rank at one bound. Jourdan, who commanded a battalion in 
1792, was thirty-two when Fleurus was fought. Pichegru, who started as an 
n.c.o., was thirty-three at the time of Wissembourg. Marceau, who was a 
corporal in a line regiment at the beginning of the campaign, commanded a 
division when he met his death at the age of twenty-seven. Moreau, a former 
notary's clerk, was commanding an army when he was thirty-three, while Kleber, 
an architect in peacetime, was thirty-nine when he commanded a division. 

Among this galaxy of brilliant young generals Hoche stands out as a symbol. 
His personaHty bore all the signs by which his generation was distinguished : a 
precocious maturity combined with an early development of activity. When he 
was a frank if turbulent junior subaltern in the French Guards, idle, yet eager for 
action, he became fired with enthusiasm for the revolutionary movement in which 
he discerned a chance to satisfy his ambitions. But when he was promoted to 
the rank of lieutenant in the Army of the Ardennes, he was quick to realize that 
zeal was impotent without discipline, and from that time onwards he had for 
both of these qualities the same high regard. 

War was to provide him with every opportunity of developing his faculties. 
During the stormy retreat from Belgium in March 1793 he showed such firmness 
in the exercise of his humble duties that a great leader singled him out. As 
captain and aide-de-camp of the former Count Le Veneur, a lieutenant-general 
in the royal army, who commanded the forces in the Maestricht area, Hoche was 
the pupil of an experienced soldier. He made useful contacts : Camot, the 
delegate to the army of the North, and Couthon, a member of the Committee, 
both noticed the aide-de-camp who had been entrusted by the general with the 
task of presenting his reports. And when, in June 1793, Souham needed a 
second-in-command for the defence of Dunkirk, Hoche was the man chosen for 
the post. He acquitted himself of his task so successfully that when the siege 
was over Camot promoted the young officer to be general-in-chief commanding 
the Army of the Moselle. 

Having attained his exalted rank almost at one bound, Hoche bore his 
responsibilities soberly and resolutely. His judgment seemed to grow in keen- 
ness with the growing complexity of the problems with which he was faced. His 
men, attracted by the striking discrepancy between his age and his functions, 


accorded him their unbounded confidence. They bore him no grudge for his 
failure at Kaiserlautem in an action which exposed him to his full share of 
danger. Confident that he would restore the situation, they saw him cover him- 
self with glory at Froeschwiller a few days later. At Wissembourg, with 1 50,000 
men under his command, he showed as much wisdom as daring, following 
his own precept : "Prepare with caution, strike like lightning." 

Thus, thanks to the magnitude and speed of events. General Hoche acquired 
a maturity which in normal times would have crowded the efforts of a long 
career. Now he had to complete his experience of men ; to see envy as a com- 
panion to glory ; to suffer injustice and adversity. He was not to remain long 
in ignorance of this lesson. "In my zeal for the Revolution", he was to write, 
"I thought that it would change the behaviour of mankind. Alas, intrigue is 
still intrigue !" 

His pre-eminence and his success aroused the jealousy of his colleagues, 
especially of Pichegru, and offended certain members of the Committee, among 
whom was Saint- Just. The victor of Wissembourg saw himself suddenly trans- 
ferred to the Army of the Alps, and, once there, arrested and sent under escort 
to Paris. Thinking that there must be some misunderstanding which he could 
put right with a word, the general asked to be brought before the Committee. 
There he found himself face to face with Saint- Just, who, somewhat taken aback 
despite his usual coolness, showed signs of embarrassment. ' 'Have you a request 
to make ?" he asked. "Yes," replied Hoche, "I demand justice !" Saint- Just, 
having had time to recover his composure, replied : "You shall have justice, 
very shortly — the justice you deserve," and Hoche was thrown into prison. 

The fall of Robespierre (9 Thermidor) brought about his release. He was 
now without illusions. Camot immediately gave him the command of the 
Army of the Cherbourg Coast, one of the most arduous of missions. In Ven- 
dee Hoche was faced with one of those complicated situations in which the 
instability of the central authority, intrigue at every level and bad faith every- 
where combine to tangle the skein. From above he could expect nothing but 
voluntarily confused instructions, and from below grudging obedience at best. 
He was surrounded by people who, though ready to take credit for success, 
refused to share the burden of failure. Yet Hoche made a success even of this 
task. With no other training than that which he had given himself, the young 
man found wise solutions for a host of thorny problems, military, political and 

For Hoche had derived from experience both prudence and daring, and his 
whole bearing bore witness to this happy state of equilibrium. According to 
one biographer, "matured beyond his age by the habit of command, he relin- 
quished his fiery, sparkling loquence in favour of a cold dignity of bearing and 
a laconic style of speech". Rouget de Lisle, who saw him at his headquarters 
a few days before Quiberon, wrote of him : "While he was speaking I was con- 
stantly aware of his imposing stature and of his warlike, though modest, bearing. 
I admired his simplicity, the harmony between gesture and word, between word 
and tone. Everything in him marked him as an outstanding man." 

But while growing in prudence Hoche lost nothing of his daring. A proof 
of it was his plan for an attack on Ireland. The idea was to transport a French 
expedition there in secrecy and to promote a rising against England. To con- 
vince the Directory of the feasibility of his plan, and to shake the lethargy of the 
Admiralty, Hoche showed a degree of energy worthy of the great design. But 
the spectacle of the naval ports with their ships in disrepair and of the in- 
discipline of the crews at the naval depots convinced the young general that 
"creative genius" by itself was not enough. 

In 1797 Hoche was appointedcommander-in-chief of the Army of Sambre- 
et-Meuse, the most famous army of the Republic. At its head he crossed the 
Rhine at Neuwied and Dusseldorf, pushed back the Austrians as far as Frank- 


fort and, with Moreau, was just about to bring about their destruction when his 
victorious advance was hahed by the negotiations at Leoben which were to lead 
to the peace of Campo-Formio. A few months later, as commander of all the 
forces on the Rhine, he had begun to toy with the idea, so foreign to this loyal- 
hearted soldier, of political intervention, when death carried off the twenty-nine- 
year-old generalissimo. 

The death of Hoche marked the end of the military age which had witnessed 
his rise, so that the destiny of the young general seemed one with that of the 
revolutionary army. This army, born in a surge of enthusiasm, had gradually 
been obliged by its contact with reality to submit like any other army to the 
eternal laws which govern all action. It had been obliged to create a hierarchy 
and to observe discipline. Its apprenticeship was costly both in men, who, 
fortunately, were numerous, and in energy, a quality of which there was happily 
no lack. And all the time this struggling army was protected by the remnants, 
still sound, of the former army, by the fortified places and by the enemy's 
irresolution. Thereafter, this military machine had sublimated the unchained 
passions of the time into practical virtues, forging its weapon in the flame of new 
fires, but in accordance with long established rules, and achieved a monumental 
work for the good of France. But no sooner had the task been accomplished 
and the country saved before the army turned its eyes to home affairs. The 
weakness, the licence and the vices which met its gaze shocked and angered it 
all the more because its own victories had been won by strength and discipline 
and honour. Public opinion applauded and invited its power. It only needed 
some new ambition to pit itself against the anarchy of the state for the well- 
ranged bayonets of the army to give it enthusiastic support. 



opinion. Weary of confusion, France clung to the strong arm which promised 
to pull her out of it ; and by a natural reaction against an excess of disorder and 
the abuses of liberty, abandoned herself to the master to whom she offered willing 
obedience. Apart from the irony of certain salons, the intrigues of one or two 
generals and the reserve of a small number of politicians, there was no opposition 
to the Consul's absolute power. 

But this power existed only by virtue of military glory. It concerned itself 
entirely with war, in which it excelled and in which it found an unbridled career 
for its activity and its expansion. The nature of the Emperor's power was such 
that it was bound to drive France into the dreadful cycle of war. 

Napoleon found ready for him a splendid army, forged by eight years of 
campaigning, sure of itself and thirsty for honour, ready for the most ambitious 
enterprises. Such a perfect instrument in the hands of such a genius can stagger 
the world by the magnitude of its achievements. But it is a perishable instru- 
ment ; the rapid succession of campaigns makes its replacement by material of 
the same quality impossible. Yet in face of this deterioration, the tasks to be 
performed were to grow proportionately greater. At first Europe, weakened 
and divided, could offer only an unco-ordinated resistance, but its strength was 
to increase with its reverses. At the same time every victory only whetted 
Napoleon's appetite, magnifying his plans beyond the bounds of the possible, 
until the day came when the relationship of ends and means collapsed, and with 
it all the vainly constructed plans of genius. 

The Directory bequeathed to the First Consul a new system of recruiting. 


both simple and categorical enough to be applied without difficulty by a zealous 
administration, and extensive enough to allow the impatient energy of the master 
to bleed France of her youth without infringing the law or creating unpleasant- 
ness in the legislative assembly. A few months before Brumaire (November 
1799) Jourdan got the "Five Hundred" and the "Ancients" to pass a con- 
scription bill which regularized the revolutionary ''requisition". Henceforward 
all unmarried men between the ages of twenty and twenty-five became liable to 
active military service for a period of four years, beginning with the youngest 
classes. The draft had to be voted by the representatives of the nation and 
chosen by lot. In the minds of the legislators conscription would enable the 
army to be kept up to strength by a moderate call-up, and in the early days the 
First Consul made use of the institution without abusing it. Up to the year 1 802 
he asked for no more than some 30,000 men a year. He took good care, how- 
ever, not to demobilize the old soldiers. Nor was this regular call-up immedi- 
ately effective ; out of 63,000 conscripts raised with great difficulty in 1801 and 
1802, only 49,000 ever reached their units. 

But for the series of wars which opened with the rupture of the Peace of 
Amiens, and for plans which grew bolder with success, Napoleon needed men. 
He needed men to threaten England at the Camp of Boulogne, to cross the Rhine, 
to expel the Austrians from Southern Germany, to march into Vienna and to 
conquer two emperors at Austerlitz. He needed men to occupy Italy, to seize the 
Illyrian provinces, as well as to guard Vendee and the coasts. He needed men to 
crush Prussia, to keep his hold on Northern Germany and to try out the Con- 
tinental Blockade. He needed men for his Polish campaign, by which he sought 
to revive Poland and persuade Alexander of the futility of fighting against 
France. No wonder that his demands were constantly increasing ; 60,000 men 
in 1803, 65,000 in 1804. In the following year the Senate assumed the right 
of voting the annual contingent, a right reserved up to that time to the Legisla- 
tive Body. Thus the last traces of opposition faded away. The Emperor secured 
a grant of 80,000 men on account of the 1805 class and another 100,000 on the 
previous years. But no sooner had these men joined their regiments before 
Napoleon, from Moravia, asked for a further 80,000 in advance from the next 
call-up. In December 1806, by a decree of the Senate, he was granted 80,000 
from the 1807 class and, in April 1807, another 80,000 from the 1808 class. 

Despite the glory of the Empire, conscription met with considerable resistance. 
For centuries the French people had borne only the lightest military burdens, and 
no foreign invader now threatened the soil of their country. There was, there- 
fore, no enthusiasm for Napoleon's demands. "A conscript is a lost child", 
was a common saying among the people ; and although the Government en- 
deavoured to spare the departments in the west, south-west and south, still 
muttering with memories of the Chouans and Federalists, although it dealt 
gently with the big towns out of respect for their rebellious leanings, although 
substitutes were permitted, making it possible for middle-class parents to "buy 
a man" for their son, a tremendous effort was required to collect and despatch 
the prescribed contingents. This task fell to the prefects, goaded on by the 
central government. In a letter to these officials Fouche wrote : "A prefect who 
fails to make conscription work cannot deserve the confidence of the Emperor" ; 
while the Emperor expressed the following view of the duties of prefects, taking 
care that his words should come to the ears of the people concerned : "My 
opinion of their zeal and of their services depends on the success of conscription." 
Nor did the government neglect the collaboration of the clergy : "The spirit of 
the shepherd is judged by the conduct of his sheep," the bishops were told. A 
whole system of repression was put into force against those who resisted ; their 
villages had to provide substitutes and pay fines ; gendarmes were billeted on their 
families, man-hunts were organized to track them down. 

Despite the very great numbers of men liable to be called up, a considerable 


selection was possible up to the year 1 807. A hundred thousand men per annum 
taken from a class of double that number was by no means beyond the powers 
of a country which had reached its natural frontiers and whose fertility, already 
high in pre-Revolution days, now provided large numbers of conscripts for the 
Emperor. The recruiting authorities were able to pick and choose, to reject 
the sickly or the undersized and to reserve those who were not yet sufficiently 
developed. Those who joined the colours were robust young men, mostly 
peasants, used to hard living, to long journeys and heavy burdens. They were 
gloomy at first, as they had every. cause to be — "I cried my eyes out," said 
Coignet, "and my leave-taking was sad" — but they were soon converted by the 
all-absorbing roughness of their new life. Even on the long march to their 
depots the incidents of the journey, the strangeness of their billets, began the up- 
rooting process. Once with their regiment everything combined to carry it a 
stage further ; even the most second-rate conscript could feel the warlike ardour 
with which the Grande Armee was inspired. The regiments contained, of course, 
a considerable number of old soldiers, toughened by the ups and downs of many 
campaigns, steady under fire, grousing and quarrelsome and not easily amenable 
to discipline. 

It is no matter for surprise that, in the army of the Empire, where the old 
soldier set the tone, mere differences of rank were incapable of sustaining dis- 
cipline. These men, whose whole training had been received in the field, who 
had been constantly on the march or in action, were too good judges of men and 
situations to put their trust in any and every commander. The junior officers 
had little more authority than that which accrued to them from their courage. 
Most of them had risen from the ranks by force of circumstances and, though 
able to read, differed neither in manner nor education from their fellows. If 
they showed courage and presence of mind, their men would follow them into 
battle ; but each man obeyed only his immediate superior. The higher ranks 
were of very recent growth, and owed any authority they possessed to their own 
capacity. Rank counted for nothing; everyone knew that promotion was 
largely a matter of luck. At Marengo the general of a division, Chambarlhac, 
showed signs of cowardice ; on the following day his men greeted him with hoots 
and shots. He forthwith disappeared and was never heard of again. 

Napoleon, however, did much to raise the intellectual and social level of his 
officers. This was no easy task, for not only did the middle classes buy their 
sons out of the army, but the former military aristocracy had been decimated 
by emigration and the scaffold. The Emperor founded schools like Fontaine- 
bleau, Saint-Cyr, Metz, and Chalons, entrance to which was, in theory, com- 
petitive, but to which in fact he sent carefully selected young men. He created 
a corps of volunteers of good family, which he called "Velites of the Guard", 
and intended to serve as a nursery for future subalterns. He welcomed any 
emigre officers who offered their services. On the other hand, when by chance 
he found the necessary leisure — during the Peace of Amiens, for example — 
he pensioned off those officers who were exhausted or inefficient. But despite all 
these efforts the quality of recruits was not materially improved. The pupils 
from the schools, who left too young and without sufficient training (so great 
was the haste to fill the vacant places and to provide cadres for new formations), 
lacked the necessary authority over their men. The Velites were slaughtered in 
large numbers during every campaign, while many of the returned emigres 
sought a quiet life and ensconced themselves in offices well behind the lines. 
So the average quality of officers and the relationship between commanders and 
their men did not change, while obedience remained very relative. Something 
else was needed to sustain the army during the exacting trials into which it was 
to be launched. 

Napoleon set out to supply the missing element. To carry with him a 
generation whose minds had been saturated with the epic deeds andfiery passions 


of the Revolution, he turned to the spirit of emulation, of honour, to the desire 
for personal glory. He placed the stamp of his own greatness on everything. 
FeeUng that his own genius suppUed the motive force for these masses of fight- 
ing men, he identified every ambition, every distinction, and every reward with 
his own person and his own prestige. It was as if the army were for ever 
engaged in a competition organized and judged by the Emperor, with glory as 
the prize. 

With this purpose in mind he created crack regiments in whose privileged 
ranks every soldier was eager to serve. He took the cream of his regiments to 
form the Guards. No one was eligible who had not done four campaigns or 
been wounded twice or distinguished himself by some outstanding feat. In the 
Guards every soldier had the rank and the pay of a sergeant, every corporal 
those of sergeant-major and every sergeant-major those of second lieutenant. 
The Emperor's escort was always formed by the Guards. The Guards had the 
best barracks and the best camps; they marched by the shortest route and 
received extra rations. A soldier would do anything to become a grenadier, 
a sharpshooter, a cavahyman, or a bombardier in the Guards. If he was un- 
successful and obliged to remain with his own regiment, he could nevertheless 
win precious distinctions : a stripe for five years' service (some men wore as many 
as six) gave a man the right to higher pay and put the "old sweat" in the front 
rank, in front of the conscripts — at the head too, of the attacking column, but 
also well in view of the Emperor at a review or a march past. A man who dis- 
tinguished himself by an exceptional deed of valour received a weapon of 
honour — a musket, sword or lance — ^with silver embellishments, which the 
soldier was proud to bear and which brought with it double pay in addition to a 
gratuity. And above all these distinctions was the Cross, that dazzling token of 
merit, the symbol of an exclusive, privileged caste, by which the humblest became 
a knight. Napoleon distributed it widely, though not prodigally, and "cere- 
moniously conferred it upon the private soldier on the same day and with the 
same gestures as upon a Marshal of the Empire or the Grand Chancellor". 

At the same time as he stimulated emulation by these methods the leader 
gave many proofs of his concern for and care of those who were ready to lay down 
their lives for his glory. He knew how to speak to them, carefully, calculating 
every gesture, how to impress them by the pomp of his surroundings and to 
touch them by his simplicity. When he reviewed a garrison, which he did 
frequently and with the greatest care, he would interview several of the men whose 
names he pretended to know, gave orders that the petitions which the men 
stuck on the end of their ramrods should be collected, and invited any soldiers 
who had anything to say to step forward. Then he would give orders for the 
distribution of wine or brandy. One day he put into orders that he was giving 
the grenadiers a cap, which they henceforward wore with pride — though it 
differed not at all from the one they were already wearing — because it was now the 
Emperor's Cap. He never lost an occasion of associating his soldiers with his 
greatness. Often he would invite them to dine with him. On his coronation 
day he filled Notre Dame with them. Victorious troops returning to France 
were received by the municipal authorities. Banquets, hke the one given by 
Paris to the Guards in 1807, were given in their honour, and the doors of the 
theatres were thrown open to them. On the occasion of the birth of the King of 
Rome every soldier received a present. 

In the course of a campaign Napoleon would show himself everywhere ; he 
would spend hours visiting outposts, bivouacs and artillery parks, but always 
unexpectedly, so as to give the impression that he was everywhere and that 
nothing could escape him. After the battle he would inspect the battlefield, 
salute the troops, enquire about the wounded and reward instantaneously and in 
the most dramatic manner soldiers who were pointed out to him. Morvan in 
his Soldier of the Empire has described the leader on the evening of Abensberg 


as he inspected General Legrand's division. "Wiiicli regiment has suffered 
most. General?" "The Twenty-sixth Light." He goes to it. "Introduce the 
bravest of your officers. Colonel." Lieutenant Guyot is sent for. "I make you 
a baron and I grant you an annuity of four thousand francs. Which is the 
bravest private?" A battalion commander pushes forward a grenadier called 
Bayonet. "I name you a knight of the Legion of Honour and here is a certi- 
ficate entitling you to one thousand five hundred francs a year." The Emperor 
departs, leaving the regiment stunned with emotion. 

Napoleon saw to it that the general public was made aware of the army's 
glory. To this end he organized, especially in Paris, sparkling military parades 
which dazzled the soldiers almost as much as the sightseers. On the Champ de 
Mars or on the Place du Carrousel he paraded the garrison troops in their hand- 
some uniforms. First came the infantry of the line with the French blue coats 
over white tunics and breeches, black gaiters and three-cornered hats, preceded 
by their grenadiers, imposingly tall in their bearskin caps. Then the light in- 
fantry in dark blue coats with light yellow facings ; next the artillery in black. 
Then the cavalry ; the carabineers with the red silk on their helmets, the cuiras- 
siers in their coats of red and gold, dragoons in blue, chasseurs in green, hussars 
with tuft and sabretache, wearing their frogged cloak hanging from the shoulder. 
And, last of all, the Guards. "The grenadiers in blue coats with white facings, 
white dimity jackets, white breeches and gaiters, silver buckles at the knees and 
on their shoes, powdered hair with a six-inch pigtail and, on top of everything, 
the huge bearskin with its big red cockade and its brass medallion on which the 
gilt eagle spreads its wings." Leading their amazing band which, according to a 
contemporary account, included thirty negroes, and in which the sound of the 
flute pierced the clash of the brass and the roll of the drums, marched the drum- 
major, "nine foot high including everything"and gilt all over — ^his outfit cost thirty 
thousand francs — and surmounted by an extraordinary plumed hat on which, 
into the bargain, waved a tremendous feather. After the grenadiers came the 
chasseurs, in green ; the artillery, in black ; and the sappers with their scarlet- 
trimmed helmets. The cavalry brought up the rear : grenadiers in blue and gold 
coats, bearskins with red plumes, chasseurs in green coats frogged with gold, 
with red and white cloaks, dragoons with blue tufted helmets and, last of all, 
"the mamelukes, strange with their turbans, short Turkish coats, red trousers, 
mounted on Arab horses, which take fright and prance at the sound of the 

But all this magnificence was nothing but a fagade which, once the army was 
in the field, made way for a revelation of the wretched plight of the soldiers. 
Napoleon set out to ennoble even their wretchedness. The widows and children 
of soldiers killed in action became entitled to a pension. In point of fact the 
cost of this measure was not high, as few of the conscripts were married men. 
The Emperor granted a pension of two hundred francs after Austerlitz and of 
five hundred after Wagram to the families of the fallen, and adopted their 
children. ' 'The boys,' ' he wrote, ' 'will be educated at my expense at Rambouillet 
and the girls at Saint-Germain." He restored the institution of the Invalides, 
which had been neglected by the Revolution, and made a large grant to the 
pensioners whom he reinstalled in their hospital, founding branches at Louvain 
and Avignon. He put at their disposal the Palace of Versailles, where many of 
them were lodged, and placed at their head a great leader. Marshal Serurier. 
Men who had remained fairly active were found employment or were grouped 
into companies of veterans in one or another of the fortified towns where they 
could perform duties as guards or instructors. Those who had lost their sight 
or one of their limbs were made lieutenants and recommended by Napoleon to 
his relatives. To the young Vice-Queen of Italy he wrote : "Let your purse 
be always at their disposal. Nothing could be closer to my heart". He visited 
the Pensioners, tasted their soup and offered them snuff*. He made many a 



delicate gesture on their behalf, as, for example, when on entering Berlin after 
Jena, he sent the sword of Frederick the Great to the survivors of Rosbach. 

In this way Napoleon sustained the moral strength of his soldiers by the 
breath of his own body. Everything — honour, discipline, rewards and even 
justice — flowed from him, returned to him, shone with his glory. Duty and 
ambition, work and merit, depending on his word alone, had no other object 
than to give him satisfaction. Every man's mind was concerned with him : "Is 
he pleased? Is he dissatisfied?" Those were the great questions discussed at 
every level throughout the army. A company fought twice as well when it 
fought under his eyes. The wounded on the battlefield saluted him, and the 
dying rallied to acclaim him. All the enthusiasm in men's souls expressed itself 
in one formula : "Long live the Emperor !" 

He inspired the talents of his senior commanders quite as much as the 
devotion of the lowly. Napoleon's Marshals, however brilliant, could be 
nothing but his executants to whom the exclusive and imperious genius of the 
master left but little initiative. Those who aroused his mistrust or jealousy were 
denied a command. Of the great generals of the Republic, Hoche, Kleber, 
Championne, Desaix were dead ; Moreau and Pichegru had ruled themselves out 
by intriguing or plotting. But Jourdan, Kellermann, Brune, Perignon, Serurier, 
Moncey, who were appointed Marshals, performed nothing but administrative 
or honorific duties. Lecourbe, of whom Napoleon nevertheless said that "he is 
very brave and a better man than Ney", remained without an appointment. 
Macdonald, a friend of Moreau, whom he dared to defend, remained in disgrace 
for a long period. Even Massena, who, according to the Emperor, "possesses 
military qualities before which one should kneel", was kept in the background 
until 1 809. On the other hand, the Emperor made use of that unbending warrior 
Davout, the most competent of the soldiers in his service. Davout was the 
type of shortsighted man who insists on seeing everything for himself, the 
prudent man who knows when to be bold, capable of planning as well as 
executing commands. Napoleon usually gave him an independent role, which 
kept him clear of the Emperor's immediate circle. The Marshal, for his 
part, despite a certain gruffness and awkwardness, knew how to give way. 
Napoleon never hesitated to eclipse his subordinate's fame when he con- 
sidered it untimely ; in his bulletin on the battle of Jena he scarcely mentioned 

His usual lieutenants, however brilliant when under his orders, however 
skilful under his guidance, however indefatigable under a master who knew no 
rest, lost much of their value when they found themselves in a situation which 
called for individual action. But in his hands they formed an admirable execu- 
tive instrument. Berthier, the ideal chief-of-staff for Napoleon, was a tireless 
worker with a supple brain, quick to seize and translate his master's wishes into 
orders, knowing everybody and what should be said or written to each individual, 
thoroughly conversant with all the inner mechanism of the army, a master of 
liaison work, and perfectly at home with reports, returns and registers. Murat, 
of whom it was said that he had not his equal in the cavalry, was the man for 
feats of daring rather than for cool calculations, unsuited to command large- 
scale operations but a first-rate man for dashing charges and hell-for-leather 
pursuits. "Without me," said the Emperor, "he is nothing; at my side, he is 
my right arm." Ney, erratic in everything except courage, sometimes showed 
the greatest shrewdness, and at others an obvious failure to understand. En- 
dowed with energy which, according to the occasion, became admirable per- 
severance or unfortunate obstinacy, heroic and impulsive, carried by his tempera- 
ment to the height of success or the depths of failure, he was variously held by 
Napoleon to be "worth two hundred millions" and "mad". Lannes, "a pygmy 
when I took him and a giant when I lost him", was a man whose mind improved 
with his rank, "better than any of the generals when it is a case of manoeuvring 


twenty-five thousand infantry" ; a man who "did not understand large-scale 
tactics but might, perhaps, have learned". Soult, a remarkably able tactician 
but no strategist, was one of the most distinguished generals of second rank, an 
organizer rather than a creator. Marmont, the artillery expert of this brilliant 
group, an educated and cultured man with a quick and supple brain, though his 
character hardly matched his intelligence, was a special favourite of the Emperor, 
who declared that he "loved him like a son' ' . With Bernadotte, whose ambition 
knew no bounds and who was as skilful in war as in everything else, military 
talent was often inhibited by personal interests. Among the other Marshals 
were: Augereau, brutal, brave and dashing, but lacking in judgment and 
dazzled by his own fortune, Lefebvre, Victor, Bessieres, experienced and valiant 

These military leaders were ambitious men, and everything conspired to 
encourage their ambition. Seeing that a soldier like themselves had succeeded 
in climbing on to the throne of the world's most powerful monarchy, that the 
Revolution had torn down the traditional barriers which set bounds to oppor- 
tunity, and that in the convulsion which had shaken Europe there were empty 
thrones, provinces for sale to the highest bidder, and wealth for those who were 
strong enough to lay hands on it, they were ready to wage war and accept risks 
in the hope of making their fortunes. The Emperor did everything in his power 
to encourage them. He created a new nobility. He made kings of Berna- 
dotte and Murat. He married Berthier to the daughter of the King of Bavaria 
and allowed Marmont to play at kingship in Illyria, Davout to hope for the 
Polish throne, Junot to dream of the sceptre of the Braganzas, and Soult to rule 
in Andalusia with the powers of an absolute monarch. He doled out to them 
immense fortunes, gifts of money, baronial domains, fiefs in conquered territory, 
representing incomes of millions of francs. Thus these obscure officers who, 
under the monarchy, would have finished as subalterns and dreamed of nothing 
better to end their days than as pensioners at the Invalides or as porters at the 
Palais Royal — these sons of coopers, tanners and vine-growers were loaded by 
the Emperor with wealth and honours at an age at which they were able fully 
to enjoy these satisfactions. 

For these men were young. At the time of the Camp of Boulogne Marmont 
was 30, Murat 33, Davout 34, Ney, Lannes, Soult 35, Mortier and Bessieres 
36, Oudinot 37, Victor 38, and Macdonald 39. They found idleness irksome, 
but revelled in action. Blessed with iron constitutions, they gladly suffered the 
fatigues of campaigning, endured cold, heat and rain ; they could remain in the 
saddle for days together, go without sleep and eat anything. In the art of war 
they were already experienced veterans. Moreover, Napoleon was always there 
to make the general plan ; all he asked of them was to perform the particular task 
at which each of them excelled. Their contribution consisted of an instinctive 
grasp of the immediate situation, daring interventions, and the exercise of their 
personal influence over their troops. 

What were the elements of which the Imperial Army was formed ? Carefully 
selected conscripts whom no family ties or personal interests withheld from 
sacrifice ; tried veterans of twenty fights, men who had seen much and suffered 
much ; junior officers whose only authority sprang from their courage and their 
services ; in the higher ranks, young officers who were burning to distinguish 
themselves ; ambitious senior commanders, conscious that their own careers were 
bound up with that of their master — such were the elements of the Grande 
Armee which Napoleon found ready to his hand, and which he inspired with 
devotion to himself and led towards the glittering mirage of glory. 

An army like this in the hands of a leader like Napoleon was bound to smash 
the enemy forces. What effective resistance could there be from the Austrians 
of 1805 who recruited their troops by the system in vogue under the ancien 
regime, mixing in the same unit men from fifteen different races, sickened with 


parades and pettifogging details, lined up to the accompaniment of "blows from 
the sticks of the mechanical drill-sergeants", led "by old, slow, lazy, stubborn 
captains", and organized from far away by the regulations and. orders of a crowd 
of pretentious clerks tucked away in their offices ? How could anything be 
expected from a monarchy that put its regiments under the command of noble 
lords acting as improvised colonels, and its armies under generals whose military 
ideal was to offend nobody and who were themselves held on the end of a string 
by pompous Aulic Councils ? What could the Russians do — poor dazed serfs, 
rounded up by their local governors, trained by kicks from the boots of their 
n.c.o.s and catechized by their popes ? Disciplined, yes, but passive, ready to 
die rather than to fight, strong by their fatalistic self-sacrifice in defence, but 
clumsy in manoeuvre, dying of starvation in hundreds while their commissariat 
officers filled their own pockets. What could the Prussian army do — petrified 
in its glorious routine, with mercenary soldiers, still drawn up in close formation, 
stiff in their long coats, weighed down by their packs, choked by their collars, 
cramped by a mass of straps, braces and belts, marching without enthusiasm or 
confidence behind fifty-year-old captains, colonels of sixty, and septuagenarian 
generals ? Decimated by sickness before the battle, the Prussian army spent the 
night before Jena shivering with fear, while men fainted with hunger and cold, 
lacking shelters which they did not know how to build and fires which they dared 
not light. For this army defeat immediately became a rout. When the fugitives 
were stopped at Magdebourg their shattered morale received the heartening 
ministrations of "Governor Kleist, a decrepit old man smothered in decorations, 
who reviewed the troops, tottering along the line, bent and leaning heavily on his 

The state of affairs in the Grande Armee provided a striking contrast. Once 
the Emperor had selected the most favourable place and time to strike, had fixed 
his dispositions, chosen his terrain and decided the methods by which it could be 
exploited, the troops were capable of providing that speed of manoeuvre and that 
irresistible punch in battle which carried all before them. Napoleon's dis- 
positions in face of divided and ill-prepared adversaries proved in practice their 
deadly efficiency. In a few days the French army was able to surprise an enemy 
who thought he was at a safe distance ; a single battle sealed the destiny of a 
state. Napoleon struck so swiftly and so hard that allies had no time to confer 
and neutrals no desire to intervene. Scarcely had Austria, in 1802, threatened 
the Emperor before, to her horror, she saw him march into Southern Germany, 
exterminate the army which she was holding ready in that country, and march 
upon Vienna. When Prussia was thinking of joining the Austrians and Russians, 
her ambassador who came post-haste with an ultimatum to Napoleon's head- 
quarters arrived just in time to congratulate him on the victory of Austerlitz. 
In 1806 the Prussians were totally defeated on the Saale while the Russians were 
still a hundred leagues away. In the following year the Russians were defeated 
in their turn before the desperate and defeated coalition could re-form round 

For the Grande Armee could cover a hundred and forty leagues in twenty 
days, as they did from Boulogne to Ulm, followed by a hundred and fifty more in 
less than a month, from Ulm to Brunn. They marched without supplies, living 
on what they could carry in their haversacks or find on the road. They bivou- 
acked wherever they stopped, rolled in their greatcoats near the camp-fire, or, 
if the weather was too bad, in huts made of branches and straw. The length of 
the day's march, the discomfort of the halts and the irregularity of the rations 
strung out the columns, which, followed as they were by considerable numbers of 
stragglers and marauders, gave the impression of "advancing in disorder" and 
greatly astonished an enemy accustomed to keep its ranks and files during the 
march. The disorder was more apparent than real, for the soldiers who 
"dodged the column" in order to find some dinner for their squad soon caught 


Up with their comrades again. At the first sound of the cannon the units were at 
full strength. 

Under the cover of their advance guard, of the flanking units of cavalry and 
of outposts who engage the enemy's fire, the divisions are massing. The com- 
manders make their reconnaissance, the troops get ready, prepare their weapons, 
eat if possible and drink a tot of brandy handed round by the cantiniires. The 
impassibility of the old soldiers is a powerful aid to the moral of the conscripts. 
An air of cheerfulness is de rigueur before the battle. Often the Emperor tours 
the battlefield, gives orders, says a few words of encouragement which are 
immediately passed on. Sometimes, as at Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, and Fried- 
land, darkness falls before all these preliminaries are completed. During the 
night there is a lull in the firing. It is a sleepless night, spent in counting the 
number of camp-fires on the enemy's side. Some of the more enterprising scour 
the neighbouring villages for food ; others conceal their nervousness beneath a 
forced facetiousness. 

The great battle is joined at first light. The artillery opens up with a terrific 
bombardment that makes the earth tremble, deafens the troops and spreads a 
pall of smoke over the ground. At first the four- to twelve-pounders do little 
damage, for the opposing bodies of infantry are still far away. The projectiles 
plough up the soil and make gaps in ranks which are soon closed up again. 
"Keep your heads up !" yells the serve- file from the rear, and the soldiers try 
valiantly not to ' 'bow to the bullet' ' . A compact line of musketeers — usually the 
voltigeurs — opens fire, while the units who are to make the attack form up in 
columns-with the grenadiers in the front ranks. Then at the appointed moment 
the men fix bayonets, the officers place themselves at the head of their troops with 
a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other ; the standard is raised in the 
centre, the band strikes up an inspiring tune — ''On va lew percer le flanc r 
''La victorie est a nous /" or "Fanfan la tulipe'' ; the drums beat a wild tattoo, and 
the infantry moves forward with weapons at the ready. 

The defenders have deployed their leading battalions in order to bring to 
bear a maximum of fire-power. But since their range is little more than three 
hundred yards and their rate of fire at most two shots a minute, they are powerless 
to stop a determined attacker. The latter, advancing in columns against an 
enemy drawn out in a long line, has every chance of breaking through, only to 
be exposed in his turn to the counter-attack which, for the same reason, often 
succeeds in hurling him back. He re-forms and, strengthened by reinforcements, 
returns to the attack. This alternation of attack and counter-attack makes the 
infantry engagements particularly fierce . Certain positions change hands several 
times within a few hours : Castel-Ceriolo at Marengo, for example, Vierzehn- 
heiligen at Jena, the cemetery at Eylau, the wood and hamlet of Sortlack at 
Friedland, or the villages of Essling and Aspem at Essling and Wagram. 

Once the ranks are broken, however, whether advancing or retreating, the 
enemy cavalry loses no time in making a charge. If the infantry have time and 
presence of mind enough to form a square, they suffer no great harm and can 
watch the flood of horsemen helplessly milling round them. If not, they will be 
sabred and scattered unless their own cavalry squadrons arrive quickly enough to 
rescue them. 

Thus the battle of attrition takes its course, using up effectives and wearing 
down morale. The Emperor calmly watches the battle, usually remaining 
motionless at an observation point where messages can reach him easily, sitting 
or lying on the ground when he can spread out his maps, sheltering in some hovel 
when obliged to take cover from rain or snow, quietly giving orders to his liaison 
officers and listening to their reports without making interruptions. For 
though usually abrupt and unceremonious, while a battle is in progress he is gentle 
and considerate with everyone, "especially when things are going badly". 

At length the situation for which he has been waiting has matured. The 


balance between the two sides, both engaged to the full, is delicate. It can be 
upset in a matter of minutes by hitting the enemy hard and suddenly on his 
sensitive spot. Napoleon's genius excelled in bringing about such a situation, 
in procuring the means of dealing with it and in recognizing the right moment 
and the suitable action to be taken. For this task he used his infantry reserve, 
supported by the general artillery reserve, and followed by the heavy cavalry 
whose onslaught clinched the success of the operation. Austerlitz provides an 
example of the method ; the attack on the plateau of Pratzen by Soult, Berna- 
dotte, the Guards, and Oudinot's grenadiers smashed the enemy's centre, while 
the stubborn resistance of Lannes on the left, in the neighbourhood of the San- 
ton, and of Davout on the right, on the Goldbach, paved the way for the decisive 
blow. At Jena, the offensive of Lannes, Augereau and Soult between the 
Muhlthal and the Lobstedt ravine wore down the Prussians before they were 
routed by Ney's sudden and concentrated attack. It was Ney again who, at 
Friedland, supported by the two hundred guns of Senarmont, ensured victory 
during the afternoon by capturing the bridges over the Alle after Lannes, 
Mortier, and Grouchy had been struggling with the Russians for the possession 
of ground since three o'clock in the morning. 

To ensure, moreover, that the final effort should be as vigorous as possible, 
the Emperor would intervene in person. He would appear on horseback at a 
prearranged spot, watch the columns massing for the attack, ride along the 
artillery line and question generals and corps commanders. When the veterans 
saw him, they knew that the great moment had come. He took up his position 
at a point from which he could observe the operations without delay or inter- 
mediary. This often happened to be under fire, close to the batteries. As soon 
as events allowed, he would move forward towards the enemy, and allow the 
fact to be known. From one end of the battlefield to the other the word went 
round that the Emperor had moved forward. Men took fresh courage just in 
time to give added dash to the general offensive which was then imminent, and 
the final stages of the battle reached the pitch of intensity which favoured its full 


Despite the prodigious successes which his genius wrung from the army under 
his command, up to Tilsit the Emperor took care never to assume a task which 
was beyond his means. However ambitious and overbearing his policy had been 
in the period from 1805 to 1807, it had preserved a character of relative modera- 
tion. If Napoleon plundered his victims, there was at least the excuse that they 
had attacked him. If he kept the whole of Italy, he could maintain that since 
the House of Savoy, the Venetian Senate, the Princes of the North and the 
Bourbons in Naples had always been hostile to France, their expulsion was a 
measure of self-defence. .True, he had founded the Confederation of the Rhine, 
strengthened Bavaria at the expense of Austria, from whom he had wrested her 
provinces on the Adriatic, but was it not necessary to weight the scales in 
Germany against those hostile states, to reward one's friends and to cut off the 
Hapsburgs as far as possible from the sea and from English influence ? If he 
dismembered and humiliated Prussia, retained possession of Hanover, fashioned 
a greater Westphalia and clung to Magdeburg, it was because he had nothing but 
hatred and treachery to expect from the HohenzoUems. He had given a body to 
the soul of Poland, had encouraged Swedish designs on Finland, striven to 
restore Turkey and to conciliate Persia. But while mollifying Alexander it was 
surely prudent to keep him in check in the west and in the north ; for why, in 
order to please Russia, should Napoleon give up the idea of the road to the east 
along which he might one day strike a blow at that irreconcilable enemy, England ? 

After Tilsit, however, at the very moment when his army was no longer the 


perfect instrument it had been, the Emperor's pohtical plans lost all touch with 
reality. His victories, decisive as they were, had not been won without losses ; 
35,000 men had been killed in the period from the Camp of Boulogne to Fried- 
land. The wounded totalled 150,000, half of whom would never be fit for 
service again, for despite the efforts of Larrey, the field hospital service was 
extremely primitive and surgeons knew no method of preventing gangrene apart 
from amputation. In addition, 100,000 men had died of disease or exhaustion 
in the hospitals of the Rhineland or on the roads of Germany. 

The wastage was all the more serious because from this time onwards the 
eneriiy was able to put into the field ever-increasing forces, inspired more and 
more by national feeling. Hofer's Tyrolese had already shown in 1809 what an 
exasperated nation could do. Spain was to provide the Emperor with a cruel 
confirmation of the same lesson. England, having decided to make a serious 
military effort, sent to the Peninsula first-rate troops who showed their toughness 
in their first encounters with Napoleon's soldiers. At Talavera the corps under 
Victor was surprised and decimated by the English fire. "Never had such 
running fire been heard before," said one witness. In 1809 Austria put a very 
different army in the field from any that had gone before. It was carefully 
recruited, and commanded by the Archduke Charles, who ranked high enough 
both in respect of generalship and birth to make himself independent of a 
tyrannous court. The Russia of 1812, roused by what she held to be a sacri- 
legious invasion, drew from her population masses of resolute fighters. Prussia, 
despite treaties which attempted to reduce her armed forces to 40,000 soldiers, 
raised an army of 80,000 in 1813 and later, after Pleisswitz, 150,000— not well 
trained, perhaps, but filled with enthusiasm and hatred. Inspired by Prussia's 
example the whole of Germany armed vast numbers of young men. In 1814 
France was invaded by a million enemy troops, while another million were pre- 
paring to follow them. These masses were commanded by generals schooled by 
reverses. The tenacious Duke of Wellington, the indomitable Blucher, and 
the methodical Schwartzenberg, to whom must be added Bernadotte, were 
leaders of quite another stamp from that of their predecessors Melas, Mack, or 

Every year, moreover, conscription weighed more heavily on France. In 
January 1808, computing the cost in effectives likely to be incurred in Spain, the 
Emperor asked for 80,000 men from the 1809 class, and then, in the August 
after Baylen, with an eye on Austria's armaments, for 80,000 more from the 
earlier classes in addition to a further 80,000 from the 1810 call-up. These 
drafts provided the soldiers for Eckmiihl, Essling and Wagram. A further 
36,000 recruits were called up in September 1809. The year of peace--1810 — 
was the glorious year of victory, the year of the Emperor's marriage. There was 
to be no conscription ! This did not prevent 40,000 boys of 16, 17 and 18 
from being taken for the navy, or 10,000 French subjects from the new de- 
partments, freed from Austrian military service, from being enlisted. What is 
more, profiting by the lull in foreign wars, the government was able to track down 
50,000 deserters, and to lick them into shape at Belle-Isle, Re, or Walcheren 
before sending them to join their regiments. 

But the war which Napoleon was anxious to wage against the Tsar without 
abandoning either the Spanish or Italian campaigns and without any relaxation, 
to say the least, of the Continental Blockade, made yet greater demands on man- 
power. The year 1811 was spent in satisfying them. In April a force of 1 20,000 
men was raised from the class of that year and another 100,000 from the recently 
annexed departments were taken from previous classes that had not been called 
up. In December 120,000 men were provided by the 1812 class, while the 
National Guard, composed of married men and of men not liable for active 
service, was called upon to supply a first contingent of 100,000 soldiers. The 
Emperor, it is true, gave an understanding that these men should not be sent out 


of France ; nevertheless they were gradually moved to the garrisons on the Elbe, 
to Hamburg, Lilbeck and to the furthest parts of the Empire. As soon as he 
arrived in Moscow and observed what wide gaps had been made in his army 
by the mere march there, he asked for 140,000 conscripts from the 1813 class. 

Even these figures, however, do not represent the whole recruiting effort. 
They do not include the volunteers, the seventeen-year-old schoolboys who auto- 
matically became sergeant-majors, the soldiers' sons who became drummer- 
boys, the prisoners-of-war from the conquered countries, who had become 
French citizens, the emigres who joined up in order to get their property back, 
the Chouans anxious to redeem their past by offering their services to Napoleon, 
or recaptured deserters, escaped or pardoned criminals who sought refuge from 
the law in the ranks of the army. The nation, stunned by such heavy sacrifices, 
which it felt to be useless, nevertheless put up with them because the Emperor's 
authority was great enough to coerce and to dazzle it. Yet every day 
confidence gave way to doubt, willingness to lethargy, resignation to simmer- 
ing revolt. 

If this was so in France, what could be said of the allies or satellites from whom 
the Emperor demanded ever-increasing contingents ? Even when he was First 
Consul he used to raise regiments of Piedmontese, Ligurians, Dalmatians, 
Albanians, Swiss, Hessians and Dutch ; he recruited a Polish legion and formed 
pioneer battalions with enemy deserters — ^real or supposed — and with negroes 
from San Domingo. But after Austerlitz, after Tilsit especially, foreign coun- 
tries had to provide v^hole armies. Italy, of which Napoleon was king, was 
saddled with conscription, and half-yearly levies were imposed on Naples. 
Junot raised recruits in Portugal; Spain provided 15,000 men; the German 
princes of the Confederation of the Rhine were taxed at the rate of 120,000 men. 
Holland, despite the lamentations of Louis Bonaparte, had to produce first 
25,000 and then 36,000 men. The Swiss cantons, of which the Emperor was the 
"Protector", had to find 16,000 soldiers. Poland raised large nimibers of 
troops : 12 regiments of infantry, 9 of artillery and 3 of sappers, without counting 
the lancers of the Guard, the Galician bands, partisans and territorial units. 
For the Russian campaign alone the Grand Duchy raised 50,000 conscripts. 
In Vilna, Bassano endeavoured to organize Lithuanian imits; while Prussia, 
still seething with hatred, and Austria, embittered though she was, were each 
forced to provide Napoleon with 30,000 men. 

At the very beginning of the retreat from Russia Napoleon foresaw the 
disaster. For however wild his political dreams had become, in military matters 
he never lost touch with reality. On the day he left Moscow he began to con- 
cern himself with the question of finding replacements for the troops that he 
would lose during the retreat. The 10,000 men forming the first contingent 
of the National Guard, now stationed on the Elbe and the Oder, were em- 
bodied in the regular army "at their own request". He sent instructions to 
Paris for the immediate call-up of 100,000 conscripts from the earlier classes and, 
in addition, in order to replace his lost cavalry, for the provision of three mounted 
horsemen from each canton, making a total of 12,000 in all. "I have been 
offered these men," he declared. After Beresina he rushed back to Paris, leav- 
ing the army in charge of Murat. Public opinion was now up in arms against 
conscription, and the harassed civil service was at its wits' end to overcome re- 
sistance. As thousands of gendarmes, customs officers and foresters had been 
sent to the front to form the cadres for new units, they were no longer available 
for tracking down deserters. These rebels against conscription, becoming more 
numerous every day, formed bands which in some districts controlled parts of 
the countryside with the complicity of the local population. 

By a decree of the Senate, dated January 11, 1813, the 1814 class was called 
to the colours: 150,000 young men of 18. A further decree imposed upon 
communes, towns, departments and state corporations a further levy of 1 5,000 


fully-equipped men. On April 3 a new decree took 80,000 recruits from the 
classes already called and, in addition, raised 12,000 mounted "guards of 
honour" recruited from middle-class families irrespective of whether they had 
already paid for substitutes. This last measure, which hit the important people, 
caused more consternation than all the others together. In August, after the 
breakdown of the Pleisswitz armistice, a further batch of 120,000 men was called 
for from the earlier classes. 

After Leipzig, in November 1813, Napoleon was back in Paris again, squeez- 
ing from an exhausted France the means for her defence. The August figure 
was increased by 30,000. Then he was granted another 300,000 to be taken 
from every class between 1803 and 1814, and, in the following month, 150,000 
youths were called up from the 1 81 5 class. The National Guard was mobilized 
and given its marching orders. In the east the Emperor declared a state of 
siege. He recalled veterans who had been demobilized years previously, in- 
cluding men who had been discharged as unfit, "provided they can stand up to 
cannon-fire and fire a musket". The figures stretched in never-ending lines, but 
not the soldiers. France in 1814 was gripped with a dreadful apathy. Despite 
the hateful invasion, her will-power, stretched for too long, suddenly broke. 
Bled white and crushed by a task of war-making to which she could see no end, 
she resigned herself to her fate, beaten already in her heart, hoping for a speedy 
end to her misery. Having taken three million men from the country, the 
Emperor was reduced at the decisive moment to a handful of soldiers. 

In the war of masses which he had imposed upon himself, the quality of the 
troops had entered into an irreversible decline long before numbers began to 
fail. The flood of under-aged and unselected conscripts and foreigners with 
which the ever-widening gaps were filled were no substitute for the steady, 
toughened veterans who had neither the desire nor the time to train the raw 
material. The old regiments had been swallowed up by the Peninsular War, 
and the Emperor had fought his 1809 campaign with new formations. In the 
French army atWagramone soldier in three was a foreigner, either a German or 
an Italian, the rest being recruits with less than eight months' service. Out of 
600,000 men who crossed the Niemen, only half were French and, apart from 
the Guards, there was not one veteran in ten in any regiment. In 1813, at 
Lutzen, Bautzen, and Leipzig, the proportion was still smaller, despite the old 
soldiers recalled from Spain. With the exception of the Poles, all France's 
allies had abandoned her one by one. 

As the physical quality of the troops deteriorated their morale was progres- 
sively weakened. For a long time the Emperor had succeeded in riiaking them 
believe that the effort he was asking of them would be the last and that 
immediately afterwards they were going to be able to enjoy the fruits of victory. 
He had said it already at Marengo. "One last spurt," he declared to Oudinot's 
grenadiers at Hollabriinn, "and we have done it !" After Austerlitz he said : 
"Now you can go home !" At Tilsit he announced : "We've done with war," 
whereupon, we are told, "everyone went mad". When he led an army into 
Spain he held up before them the dazzling mirage of peace : "Your efforts will be 
rewarded by lasting peace and enduring prosperity," he proclaimed ; and on the 
morning of the battle of the Moskowa ; "Victory will give us abundance, good 
winter quarters and a speedy return to our own country." But as he was soon 
to realize, hope deferred maketh the heart sick. In the soldiers' mind the en- 
thusiasm of yesterday gave way more and more to hopeless resignation. Some- 
times it was kindled to bursts of anger. Even on the morrow of Eylau, when the 
Emperor passed in front of Saint-Hilaire's troops, who were incensed by the 
slaughter, he heard "ugly shouts". At the crossing of the Guadarrama, he 
passed by the division of General Lapisse ,"whose men were howling on the ice- 
covered ground, swept by a biting wind, and daring one another to put a bullet 
through him". At Wiazma, after a retreat of two weeks over the Russian 


plain, as he watched the army pass, *'from time to time the silence was broken 
by insults shouted at him". When, at Smorgon, he was leaving the army, 
according to an account of Segur : "One can hardly imagine the dreadful insults 
hurled at the Emperor by the soldiers." "In 1813," wrote Coignet, "you 
didn't hear any singing in the ranks ; only blaspheming and curses at the 
least bit of trouble. In December, near the bridge at Mainz, Napoleon watched 
the disorderly passage of the defeated troops from Leipzig. Seeing General 
Drouot, calm and loyal as ever. Napoleon went up to him and, tapping him 
on the chest, said : "I need a hundred men like that !" To which Drouot, with 
a glance at the disorderly throng, replied : "No, Sire, you need a hundred 

Yet, despite their outbursts of irritability provoked by their sorry plight, the 
troops did their best ; despite hardship and disillusion the great mass kept their 
sense of duty, and even their devotion to the Emperor, to the end. But willing- 
ness is not enough in war if it is unaccompanied by material strength, a factor 
which was constantly diminishing in the army of the Empire. How were the 
masses of conscripts which flowed into the depots to be trained, seeing that they 
had to be sent into the firing-line almost as soon as they were provided with 
uniform and weapons ? From 1809 onwards this lack of training was painfully 
evident in the inelasticity of the troops and their lack of staying power in battle. 
On the evening of the battle of Eckmiihl, when the Archduke Charles could have 
been driven back on to the Danube and destroyed, Napoleon, acting on the 
reports of his Marshals, had to give up the pursuit on account of the state of 
exhaustion in which the young soldiers were found. This lack of experienced 
troops was the chief cause of the heavy losses sustained at Essling : "Our form- 
ations remain deep, owing to the difficulty of deploying or concentrating un- 
trained troops." Even before the Russian campaign Caulaincourt noted that 
"the front rank of the army cannot conceal the weakness of the other two". In 
1813 the conscripts engaged at Lutzen had been on the march ever since they had 
left their homes. It is true that the Emperor had given orders that "no soldier 
shall leave until he has been under arms for a month and done some musketry 
drill." At the same time he expected to see young men who had been called up 
in France at the end of February assembled in Saxony in April ! In any case, 
from now onwards he had to dispense with cavalry, with the result that his 
victories could never be clinched. 

It was in the hope of repairing these grave deficiencies that he agreed to sign 
the Pleisswitz armistice. The Emperor used this breathing-space for training, 
and a great musketry competition was organized for the whole army. However, 
operations were resumed before any satisfactory results had been achieved. This 
was evident at the Katzbach, where Macdonald's regiments, which were scarcely 
organized at all, with "two thirds of the muskets out of order", were seized with 
wild panic. After Leipzig many units dispersed, and the Emperor complained of 
70,000 deserters, who, in reality, were merely stragglers. The campaign in France 
was fought by a handful of veterans, remnants of the Spanish War and the Old 
Guard. The unfortunate conscripts who accompanied them can hardly be said 
to have reinforced him. At Champaubert the Marie-Louise Company of the 
113th were leading. Marmont rode along the line and asked the men why 
they were not firing. "We can't shoot," was the reply. Another man said: 
"I'd have a go at firing if I had somebody to load for me." At Craonne the 
2nd Division of the Young Guard found itself facing the Russians. General 
Boyer de Rebeval could only deploy his men in mass formation, for they had 
never learned any other kind of manoeuvre. Meanwhile, in one battery ' 'Drouot 
was showing a gunner, gently and calmly, how to train a gun." 

Napoleon endeavoured to compensate for the progressive deterioration in 
the quality of his troops by increasing their armaments. "The poorer the troops 
the more artillery they need, ' ' he said. Thus, in 1 806 he estimated that he needed 


3,000 serviceable cannon; in 1809 he wanted double that number. Every 
campaign saw an increase in the general artillery reserve. At Austerlitz the 
French fired 50,000 rounds ; at Wagram they fired 96,000 ; at the Moscawa, over 
100,000 ; at Dresden the artillery of the Guard alone hurled 48,000 projectiles. 
The great artillerymen of the Empire, Senarmont, Lariboisiere, Drouot, ex- 
celled in these mass actions and were able, at first, to make up for lack of skilled 
troops by superior fire-power. But material wore out and replacements became 
progressively poorer in quality. The armaments industry suffered from lack 
of men, who, in any case, were badly paid. Botched work became more and 
more frequent. Twelve hundred cannon had been left behind in Russia and 
almost as many at Kulm, on the Katzbach and at Leipzig, without counting 
those that were abandoned by the roadside in Germany, Spain and Italy, and 
even in France. For the wood of which the gun-carriages and wheels were made, 
instead of being seasoned, as formerly, for ten, twenty or thirty years, now came 
from newly cut timber ; as a result it warped, split and bent. As for the artillery 
from the fortified towns of France, multiplied by the Monarchy and by Camot, 
Napoleon had taken it to equip the forts of the Elba, the Oder, the Vistula and 
the Quadrilateral. The infantry's armament also was deteriorating. It would 
have needed years to replace all the muskets lost in 1812 and 1813. Reserve 
stocks were locked up in Danzig, Stettin, Hamburg, Magdeburg or Dresden, 
with the result that during the campaign in France, according to Marmont, 
*'the conscripts were given muskets with barrels that burst, touch-holes that were 
badly pierced or not pierced at all, and badly fitted triggers which produced con- 
stant misfires". The National Guard had sporting guns, and even pikes for the 
rear rank. At La Fere-Champenoise, recruits of Pacthod's division were mown 
down holding sticks in their hands. 

If the Emperor had been able to count on lieutenants imbued, like himself, 
with the spirit of 1793, whose military worth gathered strength with adversity, 
fortune might have smiled on him again. But the zeal and loyalty of the leaders 
had not stood the test. They remained the valiant warriors they were, ready to 
take their lives in their hands and jealous, despite everything, of their military 
reputation ; but they had lost their former fire just when it was most needed to 
warm the hearts of their weary troops. They now indulged in an ostentatious 
luxury which contrasted cruelly with the increasing wretchedness of the soldiers, 
and provoked them to acts of indiscipline. At the crossing of the Niemen the 
troops were furious at the sight of * 'the personal baggage of the king of Naples, 
drawn by a hundred horses, the baggage wagons and barouches of the marshals, 
the landaus and coupes of the generals, the two-in-hands or three-in-hands of 
the colonels, the cabriolets of the staff oflicers". Whenever certain great com- 
manders found themselves on their own in occupied territory, they exhibited a 
disgraceful cupidity for which the Emperor reproved them, without putting an 
end to their conduct. And so their loyalty gradually crumbled away. No 
longer eager for action, they undertook it with minds troubled with personal pre- 
occupations, reservations and suspicions. But as they were still afraid of their 
master and still anxious to get what they could from him, they were ready to 
deceive him in order to conceal their failings, surrounding Napoleon with 
exaggerations and boasts which invalidated his decisions. "The military re- 
ports*', wrote Berthezene, *'are suspect. Facts are tampered with for the sake 
of self-interest and vanity". The Bulletin itself had set the bad example and, 
ever since Eylau, had carefully concealed the truth. 

Not that acts of daring and devotion were lacking. Lannes met his death at 
Essling, Bessieres at Weissenfels, Duroc at Reichenbach. In Catalonia Suchet 
waged a magnificent campaign unaided. During the march on Moscow, Murat 
was still the dashing swordsman, always to be found among the leading scouts, 
amazing the enemy and his own cavalry as well by his dazzling outfits, indifferent 
to bullets and replying with a theatrical gesture to the distant salutes of the 


Cossacks, 'Vho took him for a magician and presented arms to him". During 
the retreat Ney performed miracles of heroism in the rearguard and continued 
to fight heroically until Waterloo. Elbe spent hours with the pontooners in the 
icy waters of the Beresina, an action which brought about his death a few days 
later ; Oudinot, seriously wounded at Polotsk and suffering agonies in the saddle, 
made haste to join up with the army as soon as news of the retreat reached him ; 
Gouvion-Saint-Cyr displayed the greatest resolution at Dresden, Davout de- 
fended Hamburg until peace was signed, Rapp won glory at Danzig, while, at 
Montereau, the veteran Lefebvre took part in the charge with such energy that 
"he foamed at the mouth" ; Marmont worked untiringly as battalion commander 
during the whole campaign in France. Nevertheless, Napoleon complained 
that in Russia, "when there were more than nine degrees of frost he could not 
find a general at his post". Bemadotte betrayed him in 1 8 1 3 . In 1 8 1 4 the king 
of Naples turned against his leader. At Leipzig, when a staff officer brought 

orders from the Emperor, Augereau shouted at him : "Does that b y 

think that I am going to get myself killed or captured ? Tell him from me that 
I'm not !" At Essounes Marmont led his troops over to the enemy lines. At 
Fontainebleau Ney, in an endeavour to force his master to abdicate, behaved 
"in an abominably violent manner", while Lefebvre, on leaving the Emperor's 
room, explained to the people he met : ' 'I put the screw on pretty tight. Does he 
think that when we have got lands and titles and endowments we are going to get 
killed to please him ? It's his own fault. He picked us out of the gutter too 

The decadence of his armies did not make the Emperor lose courage. He 
remained as clear-sighted, as confident and resolute at Wagram as at Marengo, 
at Lutzen as at Austerlitz, and in 1814 he was once more the general of the 
Italian campaign, sure of himself and indefatigable as ever. His will remained 
as unshakable in the depths of misfortune as at the height of success. But by 
striking too hard and too long he had broken the sword of France, for men's 
souls, like material things, suffer from wear and tear. Still undismayed, and 
still resolved to tempt providence once more, he suddenly found himself without 
soldiers or weapons, and saw, towering above him and ready to break, the 
swollen wave of ill will, of cowardice and treachery which was to engulf his 

His fall was as prodigious as his glory. The mind boggles at the thought of 
either. In the presence of such a stupendous career the judgment hesitates 
between blame and admiration . Napoleon left France crushed, invaded, drained 
of blood and courage, smaller than when he had taken control of her destinies, 
condemned to ill-drawn frontiers, the evils of which still persist, and exposed to 
the distrust of Europe which has weighed upon her to this day. But it is im- 
possible to dismiss as of no account the matchless lustre whch hv. imparted to 
our armies, the sure knowledge vouchsafed once and for all to his nation of her 
incomparable warlike qualities, the mighty reputation won for his country, the 
echoes of which still resound among mankind. No man had stirred human 
passions more profoundly, evoked fiercer hatreds or called forth more vehement 
denunciations. Yet few names have aroused such enthusiastic devotion that 
the very sound of it could stir men's souls. Napoleon exhausted the good-will of 
Frenchmen, abused their sacrifices and covered Europe with graves and ashes and 
tears ; yet those who suffered most by him, even the soldiers, were his most 
faithful followers. Even today, despite the passing of time, shifts of opinion 
and new causes of mourning, crowds from every comer of the earth pay homage 
to his memory and feel the thrill of greatness as they stand beside his tomb. 

Outraged reason exacted her inexorable vengeance ; yet never did human 
genius and warlike virtue shine with such imperishable lustre. 




with the task of creating a new one at the same time as she rebuilt her other in- 
stitutions. So violent had been the revolutionary upheaval, with such a pro- 
found effect on the soul of the nation, leaving so much bitterness between differ- 
ent sections of the community, that the reconstruction of society was achieved 
in an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion. Painful compromises had to be sought 
between the betrayals of the past and the principles of the present. 

Conscription, having provided immense numbers of men who had been 
swallowed up by the wars of the Empire, had become, by its abuse, a hateful 
burden. All Napoleon's authority had been needed to maintain it. With the 
return of the Bourbons public opinion greeted with enthusiasm Article 12 of the 
Constitutional Charter, by which conscription was abolished, while the parties 
on the Right looked forward to a return to the army of the ancien regime. 
Recruiting was to be voluntary and the army's strength was to reside in its 
* 'quality". In fact, as Courtaval declared before the Representative Chamber 
to the great satisfaction of the reactionaries : "The family of European kings is 
reunited once more . . . Monarchical France has nothing to fear from Europe." 

The liberal and left-wing parties, on the other hand, heirs of the Revolution, 
in their desire to undo the work of the Treaties of Vienna, continued to call for 
"quantity". "Would France," said Roger CoUard, "fall a prey to nations that 
might wish to fall upon her ? No. She would call upon all her sons. It is a 
right which has no need to be written and of which the Charter has been power- 
less to deprive her. Thanks to a uniform and simultaneous system of reclruit- 
ment she will draw from her population those vast reserves of patriotic and 
nationally minded citizens who have endowed her with such glorious armies in 
the past." 

The Gouvion-Saint-Cyr Act of 1 8 1 8 struck the balance between these opposite 
tendencies. It did in fact proclaim that, to start with, recruiting would be on a 
voluntary basis, but conscription was nevertheless retained. However, the 
harshness of the life-blood tax was mitigated in favour of the privileged class of 
the day. The middle classes, whose political supremacy was assured by the 
electoral system, escaped from military service either by virtue of exemptions 
or by ransom. In point of fact the whole burden of military service fell on to the 
poorest classes. The load was lightened, however, by the fact that only a small 
part of the annual contingent was actually called up, the names being drawn 
by lot. And so for over half a century French society cheerfully put up with a 
system that let off many humble folk and left out altogether the people of in- 
fluence and wealth. 

But those who were affected bore a grievous burden ; they were liable to six, 
seven or eight years' service, followed by the same length of time in the reserve 
after their demobilization. In his regiment a soldier was cut off from his family, 
among lads from every part of France, and changed from one garrison to an- 
other every eighteen months. Little was done for his comfort ; he had to share 
a bed with a comrade and eat from a common bowl. He was subject to all the 
complicated rules and regulations of military duties and parades, sent to remove 
the barricades raised during disturbances in Paris and Lyons, despatched to 
fight in Spain, Morea, Algeria, Belgium, the Crimea, Italy, Syria, Mexico and 
China, and finally entrusted with the duty of guarding the frontier. Between 
1820 and 1869 300,000 Frenchmen were killed in war. Only too often lack of 
imagination and negligence in high places added to the hardness of the soldier's 
lot. It needed ten years of Algerian heat and fevers and 2000 cases of suicide 


before authority abolished the heavy shako, the black horsehair collar and the 
straps crossed over the chest. Fifty thousand men perished in the Crimea 
before proper arrangements were made for feeding and sheltering the troops, 
while the neglect of the wounded in Italy is notorious. In return for these 
hardships the soldier received a miserable pittance of one sou a day. It was 
years before he could hope for the most modest promotion, while decorations 
rarely came his way. Until the Second Empire not a single private soldier 
received a distinction. The Military Medal was instituted in 1852 and the 
custom of distributing commemorative medals began only after the Crimea. A 
disabled soldier could become a pensioner at the Invalides, but a fit man was 
sent home without pension or gratuity once his term of service was up. He 
returned to his village to find his job gone and his girl married. In many cases 
he signed on again in return for a small cash payment, in the hope of becoming 
one day a policeman or clerk, a museum attendant or park-keeper. 

At this period seventy-five per cent of the population of France lived in the 
country. The soldier was usually, therefore, a peasant, especially as the 
middle classes were exempt from military service, while the workmen from the 
towns were often medically unfit. These country lads brought with them a 
characteristic toughness and docility, combined with the vague thirst for ad- 
venture natural to their age and race. They accepted their bad luck stoically, 
and even cheerfully. The newly conscripted man would proudly display his 
registration number in his hat, deck himself out with ribbons and sing lustily. 
Once he was in the army, his service was so long and so unpredictable that he 
did not bother to count the days. In public he pulled himself together, for by the 
curiosity of the men, the glances of the women, and the admiration of the 
children he felt that he was an exceptional person. On his rare visits home, 
during his leaves or his six months' furlough, he took pride in the smartness of his 
uniform and the freedom of his expressions. In the field his gift for adaptation 
to circumstances was amazing. He accepted with equally good grace the forced 
marches of the African column, the war of attrition before Sebastopol, the great 
battles in Italy and the unfamiliarity of distant voyages. He even managed to 
show a certain amount of good humour in it all, celebrating in scores of ditties his 
pride in being a "Glazier" (Vitriers : the "chasseurs de Vincennes" were so called 
on account of their high knapsacks like a glazier's pack), a "Jackal", a "Por- 
poise" {Marsouins: Colonial infantry) or even a "Pebble-pusher", staging 
amateur theatricals in the sand of North Africa or the mud of Balaclava, march- 
ing to battle through Turin, Genoa, or Alexandria with a rose stuck in the muzzle 
of his gun, and blowing kisses to the balconies. In every climate, in all con- 
ditions, he greeted fate with the same slightly forced exuberance, the same 
philosophy touched with irony, that have found expression in the pungent and 
melancholy words he has fitted to his bugle-calls. 

There was no more equality in the choice of officers than in the conscription 
of soldiers . Theoretically the epaulettes continued to be available to all. There 
were, too, a fair number of old soldiers who, thanks to the slaughter of the 
Napoleonic Wars, had been made officers, provided they could read and write 
their own name. But these old stalwarts died off" in time, and were replaced by 
young men from the mihtary colleges. By force of circumstances promotion, 
which during the great wars had been a question of courage and fighting ability, 
was now largely a matter of education. In practice most of the officers, especially 
in the higher ranks, were provided by middle-class families or by the old or the 
new aristocracy. 

From their superiors and brother officers who had survived from the Empire 
these officers received strong military traditions, a taste for grandeur and con- 
fidence in the might of French arms. The Soult Act of 1832, by which their 
status was defined, removed them from the sphere ofpolitics by confirming their 
commission and regularizing their position within the state. The party strife 


which they witnessed, the civil disturbances which they quarrelled, and all the 
other signs of disruption in the world around them had the effect of making them 
more devoted than ever to order, discipline and military stability. Their pay 
was poor, it is true, but the subaltern, who was nearly always a bachelor, had no 
commitments. He lived cheaply in the mess or hostel with the simplest appoint- 
ments. This kind of life, which fostered comradeship and esprit de corps to a 
high degree, made the officer ready at any moment to leave for active service 
without anxieties or worries ; but, on the other hand, it was prejudicial to serious 
study and to any other contacts with civilian society except those provided by 
balls and hunting. It came to be considered as something rather reprehensible 
for a military man to indulge in discussion, to show originality, or even initiative. 

By their meticulous and absolute nature regulations were in keeping with the 
ideas of the time. An officer had only to consult them in any given situation to 
be told what course to pursue. He was thus spared the effort of making up his 
own mind. They conferred upon commanders the doubtful advantage of 
being able to act by the book rather than in the light of events. A few 
veterans of the Empire, having formed different habits, were at first loth to 
accept the tyrannous rule of regulations. But their resistance was of no avail. 
In 1833 at Perpignan, at the time of the Carlist wars. General de Castellane was 
inspecting the regiment of Colonel Combes. Knowing that they were due any 
day to march into Catalonia, Combes had taken it upon himself to relieve his 
men of a few of their impedimenta. Castellane stopped in front of the band. 
"Why are the sappers not wearing their aprons?" he asked. "Where is the 
bigdium? Where are the Chinese bells and the serpents ?" "As we do not 
need them for war," replied the colonel, "I had them left at the depot." "It is 
laid down in regulations that you must have them," was the reply, "you will send 
for them at once !" 

Limited in their outlook and passive in their discipline, officers became less 
and less aware of general ideas, of the interdependence of things, and, in con- 
sequence, blind to the more complex aspects of action. Those who rose to the 
highest positions had not formed the necessary habit of applying their minds to 
a wide field of observation. 

This weakness did not become evident at first. Men who, like Gouvion- 
Saint-Cyr, Marmont, Soult, Gerard and Mortier, had held high positions under 
the Empire, continued for decades to fill responsible military posts. Their 
immediate successors had fought long enough in the great wars as high-ranking 
officers to have preserved their instinct for leadership, while the Princes, who had 
played an efiective part in the army of the Restoration and the July Monarchy, 
used their influence to favour the promotion of the best men . This was specially 
true in the case of the Dukes of Angouleme, Orleans and Aumale. Bugeaud 
again, by bringing his brilliant brain to bear on the lessons of his youth, acquired 
that sense of reality, that love of initiative, that tendency to rely on common sense 
and personal judgment rather than on theory and habit, which enabled him to 
adapt himself to the novel circumstances of the African war. Later, Saint- 
Amaud proved himself capable of daring in large-scale enterprises. Pelissier 
showed inflexible and reasoned determination. But these exceptional per- 
sonalities became fewer and fewer among the High Command. Baraguay- 
d'Hilliers, Canrobert, Bosquet, MacMahon, Bazaine and Bourbaki, brought 
to the forefront by the Algerian campaign, were brilliant as majors or colonels 
in handling small bodies of men. Having reached the High Command they 
still showed authority and strength, on condition that their task was strictly 
limited. A few generals, like Leboeuf and Frossard, who had served in the so- 
called "technical" sections of the army, became specialists and lost the wider 
view in an excess of technicalities. Still others, like Castelnau and Trochu, 
though gifted with exceptional intelligence, had applied it too long to adminis- 
trative duties and had lost their sense of action. 


Leaders who have never attained that high standard in the philosophy of 
their art which alone can give breadth of vision can never produce appreciations 
of wide application. They are destined to play subsidiary parts in the elabora- 
tion of any plan of campaign. The plans of 1854 and of 1859 were inspired 
respectively by the Englishman, Burgoyne, and the Swiss, Jomini. When left 
to their own devices our generals endeavoured to prepare themselves against 
eventualities, but were incapable of mastering events. In the Crimea, Can- 
robert showed a docile resignation. At Melegnano, Baraguay-d'Hilliers dis- 
played a blind energy. In Mexico, Bazaine resorted to intrigue and dissimula- 
tion in order to hide his inefficiency. 

So long as the army was fighting in Africa in relatively small groups against 
an indifferently armed enemy, the command could rely on its long familiarity 
with local conditions. But when whole armies were engaged in operations in 
Europe, the methods used in Africa were misleading. The army had a trained 
and conscientious General Staff. In this respect Martimprey, for example, 
showed exceptional abilities in the Crimea and in Italy. But the best general 
staff is powerless unless the commander has a clear plan. Thus the 1859 cam- 
paign was marked by every kind of blunder and neghgence in its preparation. 
The concentration of troops on the Doria and at Genoa was attended by con- 
fusion. During the whole campaign our troops were fed less by the foresight 
of the Commander-in-Chief than by the kindness of the inhabitants of Lombardy. 
In 1867 Napoleon III assembled all the highest and most reputable officers in the 
army at the Camp of Chalons. It was resolved that they would work out a plan 
of campaign together. But in order to do so they would have had to have a 
framework of the general plan, they would have had to make an appreciation of 
the situation and finally to give the necessary orders. But as nobody there was 
capable of evolving any such plan, the Emperor adopted the course of asking 
General Trochu to read aloud some passages from the work of Thiers on The 
History of the Consulate and the Empire. 

The commanders were untiring in the execution of their duties. It is true 
that, for want of a sound method, their zeal often prevented them from dis- 
tinguishing between essentials and non-essentials, and impelled them to make 
unnecessary personal interventions and to become embroiled in details to the 
detriment of the whole. But, whatever their rank, they showed a complete 
disregard for their personal safety. When three assault columns were to enter 
Constantine, their three colonels, Lamoriciere, Combes, and Corbin, sword in 
hand, were literally the first to enter the breach. At Sebastopol seventeen 
generals were killed. MacMahon scaled MalakofF behind the first wave of his 
division. Knowing that the fort was mined, he remained near his divisional 
flag, and the sight of him kept the terrified soldiers at their posts. At Magenta, 
General Regnault de Saint-Jean d'Angely, General Cler and General Mellinet 
constantly walked about among the sharpshooters of the Guard who were 
bearing the whole brunt of the battle. Thanks to this attitude on the part of the 
leaders, their troops knew them and trusted them. But sometimes the hard- 
ships suffered by the sorely-tried soldiers led to demonstrations. After the 
Dobruja expedition, while Saint- Amaud was reviewing three divisions which 
had been decimated by cholera, there were shouts of: "What were we sent here 
for? To die of cholera? Send us back to Africa or against the Russians !" 
Pelissier was booed by the columns returning from the fruitless attack on 
Sebastopol on June 18. On the day before the battle of Magenta the 
division commanded by General Espinasse loudly demanded food and rest. 
Lapses of this kind, however, were of no great significance. They werd 
offset, on the other hand, by a certain cordial familiarity. Marshal 
Bugeaud was not in the least offended by jokes about his famous cap. The 
Turcos were wont to celebrate their leader in a ditty which ran sometlung like 


Why are Turcos so snappy 
And their girl-friends so happy ? 
Ifs thanks to that chappie 
Called Charlie Bourbaki. 

At Magenta Marshal Canrobert was among the Grenadiers of the Guard when 
they began to cheer him as they fired. The Marshal, "doffing his kepi with a 
theatrical gesture, and throwing back his big head with its long wavy hair and 
tumed-up moustache", replied to the cheers with : "Greetings, gentlemen of the 
Guard !" whereat the enthusiasm of the grenadiers knew no bounds. 

These hard-bitten soldiers who had learned to expect nothing for their 
services, these officers who revelled in action but recoiled from hard work, made 
a tough but uninspired army, first-rate for a limited task in which the men's en- 
durance and the inventiveness of the officers found their full scope and produced 
the happiest results. But an army of that calibre could not stand the test of a 
large-scale war. 

As the instrument of a policy of realism and moderation the army would 
have been entirely adequate. This was, in fact, the purpose for which it had been 
formed by the government of the Restoration. By "forging anew the links with 
the past" the monarchy intended to resume its traditional foreign policy : to 
preserve the European balance of power, to hinder the formation of great 
powers on the French frontiers — above all, to keep Germany divided ; to form 
alliances based on self-interest, to attract the adhesion of the small powers, to 
extend gradually towards the Rhine, consolidating every step before embarking 
on new ventures, to maintain supremacy in the Mediterranean and to prevent 
any naval hegemony in the Atlantic. For the purpose of the small-scale inter- 
ventions, preventive operations and long-distance expeditions necessitated by a 
policy of this nature, the army constituted by the Acts of Gouvion-Saint-Cyr 
and Soult was adequate and necessary. It gained the respect without arousing 
the alarm of Europe, was ready to perform its function of waging war without 
enquiring into motives, and to fight at any time or anywhere, and proved highly 
satisfactory in Spain, Morea and Algeria. 

But from 1830 onwards an ever-increasing current of opinion favoured a 
more enterprising policy abroad. Not for nothing had France drunk her fill of 
glory in the days of the Revolution and the Empire. The renewal of the caution 
of the ancien regime seemed to many patriots an anachronism. The treaties of 
1815 seemed to them to imply the acceptance of a humiliation which must at all 
costs be obliterated. France, they said, had "settled in the mud". Under the 
impulsion of these memories, ambitions and grievances, men's minds were 
stirred with the desire for a more grandiose policy. The ideas of the "Action" 
party were becoming more and more accepted ; France should take as her guid- 
ing principle not the national interest, but an abstraction, such as liberty, justice, 
nationality ; she should listen more readily to sentiment than to reason ; she 
should embark upon a course of action, provided it seemed good and right, and 
damn the consequences. "France is bored," said Lamartine ; while Armand 
Carrel denounced what he called "the cowardly system that proclaims the 
political egoism of France". The July Monarchy was able to resist the ten- 
dency ; the desire for enterprise was humoured by the expeditions of Antwerp 
and Ancona and by the conquest of Algeria. 

But Napoleon III made a clean break with traditional policy. The siege of 
Sebastopol and the expulsion of the Austrians from Lombardy were, it is true, 
limited objectives, in the attainment of which the army acquitted itself honour- 
ably . But by promoting the formation of two great new powers on the frontiers, 



contributing to the weakening of Russia and Austria, and allowing the European 
equilibrium to be upset, the Emperor was preparing all the conditions for a con- 
flict in which France would have to defend her soil and her future by her own 
resources. To wage a national war of this nature France would have needed 
quite another kind of army. 

The Emperor was conscious of the shifting of the balance. After Sadowa, 
seeing that war against Prussia, strengthened by the German states, was becom- 
ing inevitable. Napoleon III and several of his advisers gave their serious 
attention to the country's military potential. Already in 1866, profiting by the 
shock caused by the new Prussian needle-gun, the Emperor had given orders for 
the introduction of the chassepot, which had been invented eleven years earlier 
but turned down by the experts of the Artillery Committee as being "quite useless 
for service purposes". The rifled barrel had been adopted in exactly similar 
conditions, just as, in 1869, the machine-gun was put into production on the 
orders of the Emperor. But the improvement of weapons was not the only 
important question. The Emperor, who saw quite clearly that the whole organi- 
zation of the army needed overhauling, wished to bring in compulsory short- 
term military service on the Prussian' model in order to make the army numeri- 
cally strong. Here again the reform came up against the two usual obstacles : 
public opinion, which opposed any increase in taxation, and the objections of 
the technicians to any change in the familiar order of things. 

At first, yielding to opposition, the Emperor gave up the idea of a general 
system of conscription and supported the hand-to-mouth plans of Marshal 
Niel for the retention of long-term military service and the formation of a 
mobile National Guard, which was to be given a summary training and drafted 
into the regular army in the event of mobilization. 

The plan was attacked both by the Prefects and by the Conseils Generaux. 
As soon as the bill was proposed it was mangled by the Council of State and 
when it came up for debate in the Legislative Assembly it became a party matter, 
openly attacked by the opposition on the Left, who denied the danger of war and 
called on the government to abolish the standing army, and secretly opposed by 
the Right, who feared its effect on the already growing unpopularity of the govern- 
ment. "For my own part," said Jules Simon, "I do not believe that war is 
imminent, for Prussia has no interest in making war on France." The German 
army, contended Emile Ollivier, is an essentially defensive army. "We are 
obliged to pass the bill", wrote an official deputy, "because the Emperor wants 
it, but we shall see to it that the law is inoperative." As a result the Mobile 
Guard, for which the minister had first of all demanded four months' training, 
and then seventy-five days, was finally subject to the following regulation : "The 
Guard cannot be mustered more than fifteen times a year. No muster may 
entail more than one day's absence from work. Young men who satisfy the 
authorities that they are proficient in the use of weapons are exempt." 

Many of the soldiers showed no more understanding of the situation than 
the politicians. In the early days of his reign Napoleon III had drafted a bill for 
recruitment by districts and for the call-up of reservists in the nearest town to 
their home, a measure designed to simplify the operation of a mobilization order. 
The military committee to which the suggestions were submitted, however, 
rejected them. Its secretary. Colonel Trochu, concluded his report with these 
words : "An army of this kind would be a national army ; that is something we 
do not require." Niel's plan met strong opposition from the army. The 
military commission appointed to examine it could not agree. "These pro- 
posals," said Marshal Randon, "will give us only recruits. It is soldiers we 
need !" 

The plan for reorganizing the armed forces was therefore changed out of all 
recognition. The death of the minister who had formulated it, together with the 
general state of inertia, prevented the enforcement even of the small part that 


remained of it. The Mobile Guard was never mustered, except for a few days, in 
Paris. In 1 870 France, armed for a local war, was plunged into a war of nations . 

In contrast to their French contemporaries, the German authorities had made 
their army into a most efficient instrument. William, on his accession in 1861 
to the throne of Prussia, after his regency, had given his whole mind to the task. 
While Bismarck, appointed Chancellor in 1862, was bringing about the political 
conditions of victory, Roon, War Minister from 1858, and Moltke, Chief of 
General Staff from 1861, were forging the military conditions. The campaigns 
of 1864 and 1866 had put the existing organization to a severe test. Every 
citizen served three years in the regular army (one year only if he belonged to 
one of the liberal professions) and then passed into the reserve and, later, the 
Landwehr. He was automatically called out at the first mobilization order. 
This system, imposed by William as Regent, in the teeth of bitter opposition from 
Parliament, was extended to the confederation of northern states and completed 
after Sadowa by military agreements with the southern states, and gave the 
Prussian commander a force of over a million m.en at the very beginning of 

It was an army of docile troops, led by officers taken almost exclusively from 
among the Prussian landed gentry, forming a homogeneous body both by reason 
of their social standing and of their devotion to the reigning dynasty, supported 
by the king, who wore their uniform ; by the princes, who served in their ranks ; 
and by the public authorities, who saw in them the bulwark of the state. This 
haughty and exclusive caste might have provided a fertile soil for routine and for 
an exaggerated admiration of the past had not a great soldier made of it a train- 
ing school for talent. Conscious that the conduct of operation in modem war- 
fare demands intellectual qualities of a high order, Moltke had given his whole 
mind and energy to the formation of a General Staff, recruited from the best 
officers leaving the Military Academy. Its quaUty was maintained by a con- 
stant process of selection, and its efficiency was ensured by exercises and missions 
of all kinds designed to fit it for the task of handling the complicated military 

Thus the French army, which a weak government had been unable to re- 
form, found itself on the outbreak of war faced with a well-prepared enemy. 
The mobilization order of July 14, 1870 had resulted in the arrival of 250,000 
men on the frontier on August 5 ; 60,000 were in their depots or else in Algeria 
or Rome. Nothing more could be expected for several months. Worse still, 
these forces were organized, armed and transported in chaotic conditions, for 
since no large units were in existence in peacetime, the task of forming them had 
to be undertaken from A to Z on the frontier ; they had to be allotted staffs, 
cannon, ammunition, wagons and material of all kinds. During this time the 
enemy brought up for the first encounters 500,000 men already organized into 
army corps and divisions, manned his depots with a further 160,000 soldiers, 
and called up a well-disciplined Landwehr of 100,000 men. 

The French had no superiority in armaments to offset their numerical in- 
feriority. It is true that the chassepot was a better rifle than the dreyse ; it had 
a higher rate of fire and its flat trajectory made its fire more deadly. But there 
were two German infantrymen to every one on the French side. The German 
artillery was far and away the better. Instead of the 900 cannon of the French, 
the Germans had 1,500. Every German gun was capable of firing 450 times, 
whereas the French guns could fire no more than 280. The German weapons 
were superior both in range and precision. The French, on the other hand, had 
machine-guns, bullet-firing weapons secretly manufactured at Meudon, on 
which the most extravagant hopes were placed. There had been no oppor- 
tunity, however, of studying their use, and their chief value was to be chiefly 
moral, by virtue of the illusions which were entertained as to their mysterious 


Yet, such as it was, the French had a keen and hardened army which con- 
stituted a powerful instrument. In the hands of resolute leaders it could have 
snatched success, if not victory, from many an opportunity. But whereas the 
German masses were directed by a clear, well-conceived plan, the French forces 
were bandied to and fro by contradictory orders. 

Before the war the "Archduke Albert" plan for the offensive and the plan of 
General Frossard for the defensive had remained in the state of proposals. The 
Emperor and his advisers had come to no definite conclusions. To begin with, 
therefore, they contented themselves with stringing out the troops all along the 
frontier. On August 6 an isolated army corps was defeated at Froesch wilier, 
when it would have been easy to concentrate three. At Forbach the 2nd Corps 
was reduced to its three divisions, when an order, given in time, could have put 
seven into the line. 

After this unfortunate beginning, followed by a week of vacillation, the 
High Command decided to concentrate all its forces in the field. Bazaine 
received orders from the Emperor to bring back the army from Metz to Verdun 
in order to join up with the troops from Alsace which were being re-formed by 
MacMahon at the Chalons Camp. At last it would seem that the fine French 
divisions were to be grouped and given the requisite flexibility for manoeuvre. 
But for that Marshal Bazaine would have had to know how to move, encamp 
and supply a body of 180,000 men ; how to reconnoitre, how to organize defence 
and liaisons. Of this he was incapable. Feeling his incapacity, but refusing to 
admit it — and herein lay his greatest fault — he saw fit to do nothing and to cling 
to an obstinate and unimaginative system of inaction. 

Learning that Bazaine was immobilized. Marshal MacMahon prepared to 
fall back on Paris. There, his experienced troops would be joined by the new 
forces which were being raised in all parts of the country, and the national 
defence could then be organized. But the Regency government, terrified at the 
political consequences of a retreat of such dimensions, ordered him to march 
on Montmedy to the aid of Bazaine. Twice MacMahon broke off the move- 
ment, and twice he was ordered to continue ; and so this ill-conceived plan, 
hindered at every turn, succeeded in placing round Sedan, in a situation fraught 
with mortal danger, a distracted Commander-in-Chief and a bewildered army. 
While the battle was actually in progress three commanders took charge of 
operations in turn, each adopting measures which cancelled out the earlier ones. 
The first commander, MacMahon, wanted to hold his ground; the second, 
Ducrot, decided to fall back on Mezieres ; the third, Wimpffen, launched an 
offensive in the direction of Carignan. 

This infirmity of purpose gave rise to tragic mistakes in execution. The 
absence of adequate precautionary measures on August 4 at Wissembourg, the 
march of the army of Metz on August 1 5 along one road when three might have 
been used, the failure of the cavalry to intervene, on August 15 and 16, while 
the army was in retreat, the tangle into which the columns of the Chalons army 
got themselves during the march on Montmedy, the lack of any serious cover 
for the 5th Corps during its halt near Beaumont on August 30 — all these blunders 
contained the germ of future disaster. 

Not that the enemy's tactics were always irreproachable ; on several occasions 
he was in such an awkward situation that a little local initiative on the part of 
the French commanders would have put him in serious danger. But there is 
always a way out if one's adversary remains passive. Having no specific orders, 
MacMahon at Froeschwiller and Frossard at Spicheren contented themselves 
with defending the positions they occupied. At the same time, Failly and 
Bazaine, who could have marched towards the sound of the cannon, failed to do 
so, or did so too late. On August 16 Canrobert, who had engaged his main 
forces to the west of Rezonville, and saw quite well that his right wing, by 
advancing on Trouville Wood, could easily outflank the 3rd Prussian Corps 


and bring about a decision, scrupulously refrained from taking the necessary 
action, because he had received no orders to that effect, and remained at his 
commander's post on the Roman Way, imperturbably smoking one cigar after 
another amidst a hail of cannon-fire. Ladmirault, who shortly afterwards 
debouched further to the right with 30,000 men who could have made victory 
certain had they been sent forward, contented himself with local gains, for fear 
of going counter to the intentions of the High Command. 

The commanders, men experienced in many campaigns, were by no means 
devoid of talents. Placed as they were in a most unenviable situation, they 
frequently gave proof of resourcefulness. The positions both at Froeschwiller 
and Spicheren were well-chosen. General Bataille's counter-attacks round 
Stiring on August 6 were models of vigour and timeliness. No exception could 
be taken to the dispositions ordered by Ducrot to cover the retreat of the 1st 
Corps at Neiderbronn. On August 14, before Mey, Ladmirault conducted the 
engagement of his 4th Corps with great skill. On August 16 the entire action 
of Cissey's division — the approach march behind the fighting line, the debouch- 
ment and the engagement near the Cuve ravine — is deserving of the highest 

What is more, following a noble tradition, the French generals exposed them- 
selves unhesitatingly to fire, as if they hoped to compensate by personal valour 
for their lack of method and means. At Froeschwiller MacMahon spent the 
whole day in the most exposed observation posts. On August 16 Bazaine 
moved about in the firing-line with great courage, massing a battalion here, plac- 
ing a battery there. On August 18 Canrobert, who was defending Saint-Privat, 
remained with his sharpshooters during the whole battle, withdrawing only with 
the last echelon. At Sedan, Wimpfien, on foot and sword in hand, endeavoured 
up to the last moment to hack his way towards Balan, leading the groups of 
soldiers that he had been able to collect in three assaults. On the battlefields of 
Alsace, Lorraine, and the Ardennes, a Marshal of France and twenty generals 
were killed. The honour of the leaders was saved thereby. What they lacked 
was neither experience nor courage, but farsightedness, depth of judgment and 
breadth of outlook. Without these qualities the problems presented by a 
large-scale war are insoluble. 

Yet, despite their weakness in effectives, .despite their almost hopeless 
strategical and tactical dispositions, despite the demoralization engendered 
among the lower ranks by vacillation in the higher command, the troops on the 
battlefield showed themselves so tough and so resolute that defeat, though losing 
nothing of its bitterness, yet assumed a certain grandeur. Most of the ofiicers, 
many n.c.o.s and a certain number of private soldiers had already fought, 
with the result that their regiments had acquired a certain degree of cohesion. 
The story of those tragic days is full of gallant actions, sprung from brilliant, 
warlike qualities. The counter-attacks launched by the 1st Tirailleurs at 
Wissembourg on August 4, and, two days later, to the east of Froeschwiller, the 
stubborn fight of the 3rd Zouave Regiment at the Niederwald and the counter- 
blow struck by the 8th Line Regiment against the Gifertwald at Spicheren, 
the capture of Mey Wood by Grenier's division at Bomy on August 14, the 
vigorous action north of Vionville on August 16 by the artillery of the 2nd 
Corps, the defence of Roncourt and Saint-Privat by the divisions of Levassor- 
Sorval and Lafont de Villiers and by the 9th Line Regiment, the fight put up 
by the Marines at Bazeilles and at Balan, the cavalry charges at Morsbronn 
and Floing : feats of arms such as these have never been surpassed by any army 
at any time. 

These gallant men strove by sheer courage to counter the blows of an evil 
fate. Knowing full well what they were doing, they rushed gladly to arms when 
they were called ; on August 14, during the retreat to the Moselle, they turned 
about when they heard the cannon, scaled the plateaux of Bomy and Saint- Julien 


at the run, so fired with enthusiasm that some of the soldiers wept with emotion ; 
on August 16, east of Mars-la-Tour, feeUng that the enemy, exhausted and out- 
flanked, was near breaking-point, yet hampered themselves by inexplicable 
orders to do nothing, they raised a shout of "Forward !" along the whole line. 
They were steadfast and undaunted by every setback. They fought as bravely 
at Saint-Privat as at Spicheren ; bottled up in Metz and seeing disaster approach- 
ing, they fought at Noisseville and at Ladonchamps as if hope still remained un- 
dimmed. Despite the absurd use that was made of them, outnumbered by two 
to one, crushed by the enemy's superior artillery, they handled their weapons so 
well that, during the first three great weeks of August they killed or wounded 
.58,000 of the enemy, losing 49,000 themselves. These loyal men paid by humi- 
liation and wretchedness for the mistakes of others ; returning from the prison- 
camps in which they had been herded by the enemy, they summoned up enough 
devotion and discipline to tear down the barricades of the Commune and save 
the state. The undeserved misfortunes of these gallant men remain as a grim 
yet salutary warning to all who hold the reins of government or military command. 


When, on the morning of September 2, Bismarck asked Napoleon III if the 
sword which the Emperor was handing over to the King of Prussia was the sword 
of France, he had no doubt that the German victory would shortly be crowned by 
peace. From the purely material point of view, indeed, all resistance was im- 
possible. Yet France was to raise new armies and carry on the struggle for 
another five months, saving thereby her honour if not her prestige. 

The national defence, however, had to be organized under the most un- 
favourable conditions. Vainly did the Regency Government, on Augut 7, 
after the first setbacks, call upon Frenchmen "to recognize one party only, that of 
France" ; political passions were unleashed, and the Imperial regime was unable 
to survive the news of Sedan. 

The war had, therefore, to be carried on by a makeshift government. The 
efforts of the National Defence were hampered by the confusion caused by such 
a sudden and complete changeover. The men of the Republican opposition 
who had seized power did not possess the requisite authority for their task. 
They were distinguished neither by their political ideals, which were by no means 
shared by the majority of the country, nor by their talents, which they had so 
far had no opportunity of showing except on the platform. Nor can it be said 
that they were remarkable for their foresight, seeing that up to the last moment 
they had failed to recognize the Prussian danger and had opposed the reform of 
the army. What is more, in their anxiety to establish the new regime, they upset 
the existing administration in order to fill the vacant posts with their own place- 
seeking followers, thus multiplying a hundredfold the grievous disadvantages 
inherent in a revolution accomplished in the presence of the enemy. 

Yet despite all their mistakes, due to ideology, prejudice, and lack of experi- 
ence, the Government of National Defence did in fact undertake the direction of 
the war. It raised men, gathered material, found leaders and imposed its own 
plans. It is true that this was not accomplished without inefficiency and waste, 
for there can be no substitute for method and knowledge. But the Government 
did what it set out to do and, notwithstanding all the disappointments insepar- 
able from improvisation, it is to these men that France is indebted for the moral 
benefit she gained from the prolongation of the struggle. 

This national resurgence is identified with the person of Gambetta. When, 
on October 9, the young deputy arrived at Tours in order to assume the direction 
of the war in the provinces, he had had no experience which fitted him for this 
crushing task. However, he had faith in himself and strove to compensate for 


his lack of knowledge of practical affairs by his eloquence, his enthusiasm and 
his determination ; an eloquence composed of metaphors rather than reasoning, 
yet pregnant with ideas ; an ostentatious enthusiasm, rooted less in intellectual 
convictions than in a fiery temperament, yet communicating itself to others and 
sweeping away doubts in its flood ; a reckless determination, but one which over- 
came the prevailing inertia and flabbiness. Gambetta, in short, though head- 
strong rather than enlightened, and active rather than diligent, yet succeeded in 
bringing to bear the weight of a powerful personality. He possessed gifts of 
leadership and knew how to make use of them at a time when France was 
foundering for want of direction. 

After Sedan there were practically no more French troops in the field. 
Bazaine's army, hopelessly cut off near Metz, was entering upon its death agony. 
Twenty-five thousand men under Vinoy, having failed to join up with MacMahon, 
were retreating from Mezieres towards the capital. In Paris a further 30,000 
were assembled with great difficulty from the depots, with over 14,000 sailors, 
and the same number of gendarmes, customsmen and foresters. In Algeria 
the colony was guarded by a few battalions and cavalry squadrons. That 
represented the sum total of trained and organized men which could be set 
against the million victorious German soldiers advancing into French territory. 

Although the army depots contained 145,000 men, this figure included 
90,000 conscripts of the 1869 class who had been called to the colours only a 
month previously, 15,000 tradesmen and clerks, and 10,000 unfit men. The 
Mobile Guard, which was mustered at the beginning of August, consisted of 
365,000 young men. The 1870 class, called up in October, provided 160,000 
recruits. Thirty thousand men had signed on for the duration. In November 
there was a call-up of what was known as the "Mobilized" National Guard; 
single men or childless widowers of thirty-five. In the fortified tovms, more 
especially in Paris, the National Guard performed a number of duties, and 
finally, certain auxiliary formations, partisans, Pontifical Zouaves and the 
Legions of Garibaldi made their contribution to resistance. In this way France, 
a country where, for fifty-five years, the mass of the nation had been exempt from 
military service, afforded striking evidence of her vitality by giving so many of 
her sons to meet the emergency. But until they could receive training they 
represented little more than a shapeless mass. 

The Government of National Defence and, above all, its Provincial Dele- 
gation, employed every efibrt to organize this host. Between September 4, 1 870 
and February 2, 1871 over a million men, forming seventeen army corps and 
several independent divisions, were thrown in against the enemy. This result 
was all the more remarkable since all decisions and preparations had to be made 
at the centre, for the former military zones no longer existed, and the new pre- 
fects to whom fell the task of recruiting and organizing units proved to be in- 
competent. Moreover, the Delegation found considerable difficulty in preventing 
their forces from splitting up into irregular formations. Fortunately certain 
bodies, such as the "Francs-Tireurs of the Atlas", the "Marseilles Guerillas", 
the "Republican Chasseurs of the Loire", the "Bears of Nantes", and the 
"Mountain Irregulars" were exceptions to this rule. 

If there had existed, at least, good cadres of officers to lead these scratch 
troops, the soldier's adaptability might, up to a certain point, have compensated 
for his lack of knowledge and training. But the greatest need was for officers. 
The ordinary rules for promotion had to be waived ; commanders were appointed 
at random as the need arose, officers on the retired list were recalled, and com- 
missions given to every n.c.o. who could be discovered in barracks, depots, 
and stores. An auxiliary cadre was formed in order to incorporate into the 
army naval officers and suitable men from civilian employment to serve in the 
administration, engineers and postal services. On the other hand, there 
appeared in the higher ranks people whose chief qualifications were their political 


friendships, and others who were mere adventurers unfitted in every way for 
their positions. In the Mobile Guard the officers, who at first had been 
appointed by the Minister of War, were chosen after September 4 by election. 
Fortunately the men showed sense enough in nearly every case to confimi the 
previous nominations, with the result that the cadres of these young battalions 
were, as a rule, reasonably good. 

The Ordnance Department at Tours, under the direction of General Thoumas 
and Colonel de Reffye, performed miracles of hard work and ingenuity in arming 
these vast numbers of troops. In Paris the War Minister, Palikao, had by 
August amassed great stores of material, while the capital's productive capacity 
was able to provide the rest on the spot. Elsewhere, however, things were very 
diiferent. In October the stores provided 120,000 chassepot rifles, while a 
further 200,000 were in existence in the depots. In addition, the factories turned 
out 20,000 a month. This total was insufficient to provide a rifle for every 
infantryman. The National Guards, the "Mobilized" men and certain mobile 
battalions had to be issue4 with fusils a tabatiires — muskets converted into 
breech-loaders — ^which, although quite useful weapons and almost as good as the 
Dreyse rifle, were unpopular with the men, who were aware that better rifles 
existed. Above all, the government had to buy from abroad anything that 
foreign countries were willing to sell them. At the time of the armistice the 
French troops were armed with no fewer than eighty-nine different patterns of 

As regards artillery the situation was little better. It is true that the arsenals 
provided over a thousand pieces of ordnance, but these did not represent 
batteries, since there were neither gun-carriages, ammunition wagons, gunners, 
horses nor harness. The National Defence did finally succeed in putting 2,200 
field-gims into the line, with the necessary equipment and artillery parks, but the 
relation between the quantity of material and the use that could be made of it 
was remote. 

It was no easy task to lead such heterogeneous troops into battle. Most of 
the new units were commanded by generals who, like Ducrot, Martin des Pal- 
lieres, Clinchamp, Bourbaki or Cambriels, had either escaped or had been re- 
leased from captivity on account of wounds or some other chance circumstance, 
or who, like d'Aurelles de Pa la dines or Vinoy, were taken from the reserves, 
or again, like Chanzy, Sonis, Faidherbe, Farre and Crouzat, had remained at 
first in Algeria, in the colonies, or in the interior of France. Nearly all of them 
did their best with the defective material at their disposal, but others lost courage 
in the bewildering and unfamiliar circumstances. Several naval officers, such 
as La Ronciere Le Nourry, Jaxireguiberry, Jaures and Gougeard, exercised great 
common sense and authority in acquitting themselves oftheir unforeseen task. 
And lastly, among the improvised generals, men like Charette or Garibaldi 
gave proof of talent ; others, like Cremer or Clement-Thomas, were busy rather 
than efficient ; whilst yet others, like Robin or Crevisier, were simply incapable. 

Nevertheless, in those grim days, when those in command were faced not 
only with a victorious enemy but with all the adverse circumstances which dog 
the steps of every attempt at improvisation, there emerged leaders who wielded 
their broken sword with vigour. D'AureUe made the Army of the Loire into a 
reliable fighting force. Thanks to him, at Coulmiers, "the genius of France was 
reborn". Although at Beaune-la-Rolande, Loigny and Orleans he was worsted 
by the veterans of Frederick-Charles, he did at least keep control of the engage- 
ment and organize the retreat in good order. Near Paris, Ducrot made the best 
of a hopeless situation. Although failing in their object of raising the siege, 
Champigny and Buzenval were both soundly prepared and well-conducted 
operations. In the north, Faidherbe, in the course of a vigorous campaign, 
struck the enemy hard at Pont-Noyelles and Bapaume, and succeeded after 
Saint-Quentin in saving his troops. As Gambetta said of him : "He thinks and 


he k)oks ahead, a rare enough quality in these days !" Cambriels, too, showed 
a real understanding of war in his operations in the Vosges and in the Franche- 

But it was Chanzy who, more than any other man, succeeded in adapting his 
talents and his knowledge to the new circumstances. He brought his instinct 
of war into relation with his general knowledge of events. His soul remained 
steadfast, so that amidst the most trying circumstances and the worst disasters he 
retained "that calmness in adversity" which, according to Voltaire, "is Nature's 
supreme gift to a commander". At Coulmiers and Villepion he showed great 
skill in leading the young troops of his 16th Corps. As Commander-in- 
Chief of the 2nd Army of the Loire after the loss of Orleans, he hung on to the 
Josnes lines with his hard-pressed troops, reformed them while the battle was 
still in progress, and held the best German troops in check for four days. The 
retreat to the Loire which he subsequently had to undertake with a decimated 
army, over abominable country and in dreadful weather, was a masterpiece of 
coolness. The later retreat to Mons, carried out by exhausted troops, would 
have been transformed into a rout had it not been for the general's foresight and 
determination. No sooner had his army been restored before he made an 
attempt to harass the enemy by means of mobile columns. Under heavy attack 
in the lines at Le Mans, he repulsed the enemy again and again. Thrown back 
as far as Laval, he prepared to fight again. If it had been possible for one man 
to change the fate of France, that man would have been Chanzy. 

In fact, France, with its wealth of resources, could in time have acquired the 
means of regaining the initiative. The war was lost, but another war might have 
been won if only there had been time. Time was needed to organize, arm and 
train the new masses of recruits and to select their leaders. Time was needed to 
set the administration of the army going again, to rouse the sympathies of Europe 
and to amass supplies. Time was needed to tide over that dreadful winter of 
1870-71 without risking any decisive operations. But time was not available. 
The blockade of Paris had to be broken. Owing to the part played by the capital 
in the life of the nation, the memories of 1814, the theory of entrenched camps, 
due to Rogniat and popularized by the Belgian general Briahnont, and owing to 
the personality of Trochu, the Governor, a large army and a considerable amount 
of material had been concentrated in the city. Moreover, the government of 
September 4 was the result of an agitation in Paris, being composed of Paris 
deputies and including the Governor of the city. It tended, therefore, to identify 
the fate of the country with that of its capital. By allowing her government and 
the major part of her resources to be shut up within the great city, France 
defined the meaning and the limits of her resistance. For despite the spirit of 
sacrifice shown by the population, the supplies within the walls of the city were 
by no means inexhaustible. The date at which surrender was inevitable was 
fixed by the Governor, first for the middle of December, and then for mid- 
January. This inexorable time limit was to compromise everything by obliging 
the country to act with undue haste. 

This was evidenced by the offensive launched in November by the Army of 
the Loire, and intended to coincide with a sortie by the Paris garrison. Vainly 
did d' Aurelle plead that his forces were scattered and his preparations incom- 
plete. He had to act, and act quickly, since Paris demanded it. And although 
this first attempt at the offensive was rewarded by the victory of Coulmiers, 
it was an incomplete victory ; the troops were unable to exploit their success, 
owing to their lack of experience in manoeuvre. 

A few days later, first at Beaune-la-Rolande and then at Loigny, the sanie 
reasons provoked the same haste. It became known that the Army of Paris 
was engaged in a big-scale sortie. On the pretext of saving time the Delegation 
gave orders direct to the various army corps. The right wing, sent forward 
without any co-ordination with the left wing, was held up in front of the German 


lines ; whereupon the left wing tried, in vain, to go over to the offensive, while 
the right stayed where it was. Having been defeated section by section, the 
Army of the Loire was no longer able to hold its positions round Orleans. 

But, despite his successes, the enemy too was exhausted. With constantly 
diminishing effectives and ever-waning enthusiasm, he waged a hard winter 
campaign in which every victory was costly without being decisive, in which 
communications remained precarious and skirmishes between the main battles 
gave him no rest. The Army of Paris, the two Armies of the Loire, the corps 
engaged in operations in the east, the formations in Normandy and Brittany, 
and, finally, the Army of the North might have struck hard blows if only they 
could have struck together. A general offensive demanded time for its prep- 
aration, but the government considered that delay was impossible. It con- 
sequently adopted a plan for cutting the enemy's communications in the east : 
an unorthodox operation, but one capable of being carried out without delay. 
While, therefore, the Army of the East set out amidst the general confusion to 
attempt a risky decision at the other end of the country, Chanzy at Le Mans, 
Ducrot at Buzenval, and Faidherbe at Bapaume and Saint-Quentin were wearing 
themselves out in unco-ordinated efforts. 

It was evident that this fumbling strategy was entirely inadequate to make 
good use of the forces available. Gambetta demanded swift and heavy blows, 
struck continuously and at all points ; Chanzy approved and Freycinet gave 
orders to this effect. But for his orders to be carried out the troops would have 
had to be of a very different calibre. Disorder set in as soon as they began to 
march ; the roads were strewn with men crippled with their packs, their boots, 
their equipment, while isolated groups fought little wars of their own. To make 
things worse, the supply services functioned badly or not at all, and the soldiers 
were constantly engaged in plunder. To avoid the danger of dispersal, canton- 
ments were rarely used ; the troops bivouacked in the November mud and rain, 
in the cold and the snow of December and January. The state of health among 
the men was consequently deplorable. When there was fighting to be done, 
much time was consumed in forming the columns, approaching the enemy and 
opening fire. This factor weighed so heavily that when an encounter was to be 
expected, certain generals deployed their units long in advance, preferring the 
difficulties of marching across country to those involved in deploying in a hurry. 

However, once the commanders had put their men in their places and sited 
the artillery, providing always that they commanded the main action in person, 
the troops showed considerable dash in the early stages of the battle. At 
Coulmiers, the storming of La Renardiere by General Peytavin's division and 
the capture of the village itself by the 7th Battalion of Chasseurs, the 38th 
and the Mobiles of the Dordogne ; the capture, some days later, of Ville- 
pion by General Jaureguiberry's division, the charge on Loigny by the Pon- 
tificial Zouaves, the Mobiles of the C6tes-du-Nord and the Western Partisans, 
led by Sonis ; at Le Mans, the recapture of Auvours by General Gougeard's 
division ; the storming of the Arcey position at Villersexel ; the capture, near 
Paris, of Le Bourget by the Francs-Tireurs de la Presse ; the attack on Coeuilly 
and Villiers by the 1st and 2nd Corps and on Stains by the 13th Battalion 
of the Mobiles of the Seine — exploits such as these bear witness to the spirit 
of the young soldiers. Unfortunately they lacked co-ordination. 

As the battle progressed, so confusion became worse confounded. Units 
lost their sense of direction, became mixed up and finally disintegrated. A few 
groups, inspired by the example of their officers, continued here and there to 
perform prodigies of valour. But these unrelated episodes were no substitute for 
co-ordinated action, which, henceforward, was entirely lacking. If, over- 
whelmed by numbers or taken unawares by the first onslaught, the enemy 
abandoned the field of battle, as they did at Coulmiers, Bapaume, and Viller- 
sexel, the French troops managed to re-group, though they were incapable of 


taking up the pursuit. But if, as at Orleans, Le Mans or on the Lisaine, the 
battle continued for several days, these confused, fluctuating masses of men, 
helpless with exhaustion, fell into hopeless disorder. Whole units were seized 
with panic, the Breton Mobilises at Le Mans, for example. To avert disaster, 
orders had to be given for the retreat, an operation which was executed in the 
greatest disorder, without halts for food, over roads rendered impassable by the 
winter. When the government of Paris was obliged by famine to conclude an 
armistice, the Armies of the Loire, of the East and of the North were in such a 
state of discouragement and wretchedness that it was a long time before they 
could again be led into battle. 

For want of preparedness France found herself successively reduced, first to 
an army which, though of excellent quality, was inferior both in numbers and 
equipment, commanded by courageous leaders who were overwhelmed by 
adverse circumstances, and subsequently to great unco-ordinated masses, operat- 
ing in haste and disorder. 

In this war with no redeeming features France lacked neither men (for she 
raised 1,900,000 against the Germans' 1,300,000) nor arms (for the total number 
of rifles issued to the French troops exceeded that of the German Dreyse rifles, 
while the number of field-guns used by the French was 3,000 against 2,000 
employed by the enemy). The French army did not lack courage : there was 
abundant proof of its military qualities. Nor was France sparing of her 
sacrifices: whereas the enemy lost 165,000 men killed and wounded, France 
lost 280,000. In addition, she suffered grievous losses of territory, treasure, and 
prestige. Such were the bitter, bloody fruits of a misconceived ideology com- 
bined with neglect. 

The bolder one's plans, the greater must be one's strength ; neither chance 
nor ready-made formulae can be relied upon as substitutes for preparedness ; 
high stakes presuppose adequate resources. These inflexible rules apply to 
nations no less than to individuals, nor can the righteousness of one's cause or 
the nobility of one's principles make them any the less inexorable. But why is it 
only through the tears of the vanquished that this truth can be discerned ? 



compensating rewards, a state with no foundations, with no army save the rem- 
nants returning from the enemy's prison-camps, a crushing indemnity, a quarter 
of the country occupied by the enemy, bloody civil war raging in the capital, 
while Europe looked on coldly or disdainfully: such were the conditions in 
which a vanquished France began anew to work out her destiny. 

It might have been thought that these overwhelming misfortunes would have 
left France crushed for ever. Many there were who, hearing the crackle of 
rifles from the firing-squads in the Pere-Lachaise, seeing the Tuileries Palace in 
flames, and thinking of the twelve regimes which had been overthrown in one 
lifetime, predicted the end of France. But they failed to take into account 
that inward power which has always enabled France to emerge from the valley 
of the shadow. In fact, the country was to make a rapid recovery — not, how- 
ever, without paying the price of defeat. France was like the warrior returning 
to the fray, still bearing the arrow in his flesh. 

As soon as the Treaty of Frankfort had been signed and the Paris rising 
crushed, the National Assembly undertook the task of restoring the country's 


military power, even before dealing with the question of the Constitution. 
This great legislative task was performed in an atmosphere of national unity and 
determination. "In framing this law," declared Gambetta, "we must heed noth- 
ing save the national interest", while General Billot recognized the fact that "not 
one word of politics has been pronounced in the debates of our Commission". 
"Great disasters," declared the secretary amidst the emotion of the whole 
Assembly, "bring with them great lessons. Wisdom consists in understanding 
them, and courage in profiting by them." 
^/ The laws of 1872, 1873 and 1875, dealing respectively with recruiting, or- 
/ ganization and the constitution of cadres, endowed the army with foundations 
which were maintained up to the Great War : xmiversal military service, the 
responsibility for defence being that of the whole nation ; a regular army, con- 
stituting a permanent force ; a vast system of military instruction, and, finally, a 
cadre for reserves liable to be called up in case of emergency. For, on the 
morrow of a struggle in which France was first invaded for want of numbers to 
throw against a numerically stronger enemy, and then defeated for want of 
cohesion in her belated levies, no one denied the necessity of organizing the 
masses of the nation, or of providing them with a backbone of well-trained 
regulars. Besides, was this not the system to which Prussia owed her triumph ? 
The example of the victors was held to be a decisive argument. Though many 
found that Renan went too far in humility when he declared that "Germany's 
victory was a victory of knowledge and reason", the fact remains that, in the 
military as in other spheres, the French mind was to be influenced for many 
years by German thought. 

The legislators were not, however, so slavish in their imitation as to aboUsh 
with one stroke of the pen the system of long-term militar>^ service which had 
been in use for sixty years. If a few innovators would have willingly made a 
clean sweep of the past, the politicians were more cautious. Thiers, whose long 
experience as a statesman had given him a deep insight into military philosophy, 
was averse from anything revolutionary. He was well aware that the old army had 
great qualities and strength. He continued to put his trust in the veterans' 
sense of duty rather than in a people's army. In any case, on the morrow of the 
Commune, while the new regime was still in its infancy, the future seemed to him 
to be too uncertain for the nation to be deprived of a powerful regular army. 
Moreover, the Ministers of War, Le Flo, Cissey, du Barail, and the generals in the 
National Assembly, which looked to them for guidance in military affairs, were 
not capable of renouncing their long-standing convictions overnight. Thanks 
to a long career among professional soldiers, and to a rich store of memories of 
Africa, the Crimea, and Italy rendered still more precious and poignant by 
defeat, these men were anxious to preserve in its essentials a system which they 
had known and tested. Speaking for the Army Commission, the secretary 
claimed that the law on recruiting "carefully preserved whatever could be pre- 
served of existing legislation". Following the example of Kiel's Act of 1868, 
the period of service was fixed in theory at five years, and it was expressly stated 
that no one was exempt in principle from the obligation of military service. 

Democracy, however, had not yet permeated custom deeply enough to en- 
sure that the law applied in practice equally to all. Although since 1848 the 
bourgeoisie had lost its electoral privileges, it still retained its privileged position 
by virtue of wealth, education, and local influence. The Assembly was acutely 
aware of what it owed to the "notables" and the "professors". The result 
was that young men with university degrees did no more than one year in the 
army, while members of the teaching profession and the Church were exempted 
altogether. And finally, since it was accepted that France should have no more 
and no fewer soldiers than Germany, where three classes only had been called to 
the colours, France kept her effectives down to the same level by exempting men 
who had a family to support and by freeing after six months' service those 


conscripts who drew a lucky number. The net result was that the long-term 
period applied to half the total contingent at most. 

The legislators were again guided by the German example in the matter of the 
reserve. Up to the age of twenty-nine a man was considered as a reservist for 
the regular army. From twenty-nine to forty, he formed part of the territorial 
army and then of its reserve, bodies corresponding to the Landwehr and the 
Landsturm respectively. Eighteen and later nineteen army corps, each assigned 
to one particular region and established, even in peacetime, with their troops and 
supplies — the disorder caused in 1870 by the improvisation of big units was still 
remembered — were to be put on a war footing by incorporating in them 400,000 
reservists. These corps would form the army in the field. The task of the 
Territorials would be to garrison the fortified towns, guard communications, and 
to man posts and provide working-parties behind the lines and in the interior. 

The Act of 1889 brought no essential change in the system of defence. 
Although, following the general tendency of "lightening the burden", the theo- 
retical period of service was reduced from five years to three, in practice, owing 
partly to the glut of recruits and partly to budgetary considerations, men had 
been freed after a period of forty months' service. Then again, the democratic 
swing had resulted in the abolition of certain exemptions, so that the "fighting 
parson' ' became a reality. But a good third of each class, including the students, 
were required to do one year at most. "It is a question of maintaining a high 
standard of culture in art, science and industry," said Berthelot. Meanwhile, 
the age limit was raised to forty-five, and the increase in the number of reserves 
made it possible for Freycinet, as Minister of War, to organize supplementary 
units, "mixed" and, later, "A" regiments. Nevertheless, the backbone of the 
first-line troops continued to be provided by the regular army. 

With all that, the burden was heavy enough, especially for Frenchmen who, as 
individualists, take unkindly to military constraint. Every year 250,000 young 
men pass without transition from life in field, factory, or office to a mono- 
tonous existence in barracks . Somewhat intimidated on their arrival and anxious 
to do their best, they are astonished to find their older comrades helpful, their 
beds comfortable, and the food eatable. 

Soon they are entirely caught up in the military machine. Their course 
begins with its "parades" on foot or on horseback, exercises, firing, lectures, 
lessons in the gymnasium or the riding-school. In the autumn rain or the 
winter cold the recruits grimly learn to handle their weapons, carry their packs, 
or ride their horses. In spring their horizon begins to widen somewhat, with 
longer marches and exercises in more varied country. With summer come route 
marches, camp, manoeuvres which, though strenuous, are not without interest. 
In the intervals, there are everlasting reviews and inspections ; there are arms, 
equipment, and tools to be cleaned, horses to be fed and groomed, guards and a 
thousand-and-one fatigues to be done. Dressed (rather shabbily) in uniform, 
subjected to strict discipline, the soldier, a Jack of all sorts of unexciting trades, 
pays the penalty of being no more than an anonymous cog in a gigantic collective 
machine. He reacts to it all with his characteristic unconcern. True, there 
are compensations. He is admired by the public when he marches along the 
esplanade or saunters through the streets of the town, looking starched rather 
than martial in his ungainly attire : long greatcoat, heavy boots, kepi adorned 
with a tuft, and floss-silk gloves. True to his race, he appreciates the picturesque, 
unforeseen, exciting side of army life ; he sings on the march, is keen on the range, 
throws out his chest during the march past and charges with deafening shouts. 
Nevertheless, he counts the days, believing, in his innocence, that his discharge 
means liberty. 

These soldiers of the Third Republic, although somewhat independent, were 
full of goodwill and keen when the effort demanded of them was great, but care- 
less about detail. They were highly susceptible to the example of their leaders, 


whose value was that of their cadres. Thanks to the impetus of defeat, these 
officers showed exceptionally high qualities. Those who had taken part in the 
recent battles had kept, together with their sorrow, such a firm determination to 
wipe out their disgrace that they were able to imbue their successors with the 
same high resolve. This resulted in a spirit of self-sacrifice which, despite some 
backsliding, remained a living force in the army up to the first World War. 
The new generation of young men demanded the honour of serving their country. 
Candidates for Saint-Cyr increased in numbers and quality. The majority of 
Polytechnicians chose a military career. New schools, such as Saint Maixent, 
Saumur, Fontainebleau and Versailles, entrance to which was by competitive 
examination, raised the standard of subalterns from the ranks. In the Army 
List the greatest names in France rubbed shoulders with the humblest, a circum- 
stance which gave the army a higher average of ability and brilliance than was 
attained, perhaps, by any other social category. Under the prick of misfortune 
the army acquired a taste for work, which it had lacked for so long. Gradually 
the bad old traditions of the cafe, the contempt for books, the vacuous leisure, 
which had done so much to corrupt garrison life, gave way to something more 

The growing complexity of training and administration added considerably 
to the officer's work. Every day he had to spend hours on the parade ground, 
training recruits, n.c.o.s and specialists ; he had to lead his men on the march, 
ride, and concern himself with food, equipment and servicing of weapons and 
material. Then there were all the drills and special tasks inseparable from the 
community life of the army. But he loved his trade and enjoyed the privileges of 
action and authority which it comported. Though pay was low, the officer 
enjoyed a certain social distinction. He was respected in his garrison town. 
The tradesmen trusted him. He was the centre of attraction at social functions. 
His smartness was admired, and he was a favourite with women. He repre- 
sented a desirable son-in-law, being a man of honour "who had prospects", or, 
in any case, a regular salary, to be followed, later on, by a pension. 

To have officers of quality, however, is not enough. The lessons of 1870 
showed that modem warfare demands of commanders both knowledge and 
method, for without these nothing is safe, not even honour. The old General 
Staff had contained a wealth of intelligence and experience. But, owing to its 
remoteness from the troops and to the fact that it was badly employed, its 
efficiency was mediocre in time of war. The army reformers took the course of 
disbanding it. Henceforth officers received their training in handling big for- 
mations not in the old school in the Rue de Grenelle, but in the Staff College, 
founded in 1875, and directed by Lewal. Its influence was to make itself felt 
throughout the army. It is true that it tended to the dogmatism which is in- 
herent in scholastic theories and is exaggerated by the authoritarian tendencies 
of the army. Its claim to base a ' 'doctrine' ' on the analysis of past events was to 
a great extent arbitrary, for the interpretation of history and the value of action 
are both dependent on non-recurring contingencies. Again, despite the 
obligation of Staff College graduates to return at intervals to their regiments, 
there was a considerable overcrowding of talent in the watertight compartments 
of the General Staff. Nevertheless, taken all in all, the Staff College was to 
endow the command with soundly trained officers, and to foster those high 
intellectual attainments without which the advanced principles of the art of war 
will remain a closed book to military leaders. 

Moreover, this passion for learning spread throughout the whole army. 
Gone were the days when Ardent du Picq had to abandon the publication of his 
Studies in War, when Trochu aroused the angry astonishment of the High 
Command by the publication of some observations on military institutions, or 
when MacMahon declared : "I shall remove from the promotion list any officer 
whose name I have read on the cover of a book." Thanks to the work of men 


like Cardot, Maillard, Gibert, Grouard, Bonnal, continued by Negrier, Lang- 
lois, Foch, Colin, Maud'huy, Montaigne, Mayer and countless others, the 
history of the campaigns of the Revolution and Empire, the events of recent 
wars, technical and tactical problems were enthusiastically studied and discussed 
by circles which went beyond the professional soldiers to include members of 
the general public. A host of reviews and papers specializing in military 
questions : Revue d'Histoire, Progris, Spectateur, etc., articles in newspapers and 
periodicals, all bear witness to the extent and quality of this intellectual move- 
ment and to the interest the subject aroused in the most varied quarters. 

The intellect reigned supreme. The French army, open to every intellectual 
movement, outdistanced all other armies in the realm of armament. Shortly 
after the war the chassepot was replaced by the Gras rifle, with percussion fire on 
the centre of a metallic cartridge-case. Despite this change, and despite the 
new expense involved, in 1886 the Gras was scrapped in favour of the Lebel, 
which, thanks to its magazine, had a high rate of fire. Shortly afterwards the 
mounted troops were equipped with the magazine^loading carbine, and the 
revolver was put into service. The artillery underwent the greatest transforma- 
tion of all. The excellent 80 and 90 mm. Bange field-pieces, the 120 and 155 mm. 
siege and fortress guns — robust, powerful, long-range weapons — marked the 
triumph of the removable breech invented by Reffye. With its sliding barrel, 
hydropneumatic brakes, and first-rate laying mechanism, this piece was unsur- 
passed in its day for regularity, rapidity, and precision of fire. Innovations and 
improvements were introduced in the whole range of engineering : for field- 
works, inter-communication, ballooning, bridging and demolitions. There was 
scarcely a tool, an ammunition wagon or boat for which a new model was not 
adopted between 1875 and 1900. At the same time Sere de Riviere undertook 
the tremendous task of organizing the defences of the country. On the northern 
and eastern frontiers, systems of fortifications — Dunkirk-Lille, Maubeuge- 
Mezieres, Verdun-Toul, Epinal-Belfort — completed by barrier forts and dupli- 
cated by two groups of second-line defences — La Fere-Laon-Reims and Langres- 
Dijon-Bes^anon — were designed to protect the territory outside the selected 
zones, purposely, in order to canalize the invasion. Paris was provided with a 
new ring of defensive works. In the Jura and the Alps enemy approach was 
barred by forts, Lyons serving as a redoubt in the defensive line of the mountains. 
And since the France of these days was in no mood for economies in the matter 
of precautionary measures, even her military ports were reorganized. 

So heavy had been the cost of negligence that preparations against a new sur- 
prise were now completed down to the minutest detail. Under the inspiration of 
Miribel, the Army General Staff, a new institution in France, set to work to 
regulate in advance and in detail all the operations involved in a general mobili- 
zation. An eiite of officers laboured in silence to organize its elements, to assign 
to each man his particular task, to amass, where they would be required, stocks 
of the arms, clothing, equipment, vehicles, supplies and munitions required by 
large masses of men, to work out their distribution and transport and to make 
provision for keeping them supplied. The whole scheme was worked out in 
tables, card-indexes and instructions which were distributed to everyone con- 
cerned, from the supreme commander down to the corporal of a squad, and kept 
constantly up to date. This was the Plan. It was a complicated document, 
concerning 4,000,000 men, 800,000 horses and 5,000,000 tons of supplies ; it laid 
down regulations for railways, roads and stores, fixed itineraries, halts, billets, 
and sites. So minutely was every part of the machine designed that, if the 
occasion should arise, every single man would have his allotted place within it 
and would form a cog in its smooth-working mechanism. 

But despite its exacting nature, this military activity had to function as it 
were in a vacuum, with a resulting sense of disillusion. Many a soldier with a 
very natural thirst for adventxire was destined to reach the retiring age without 


ever having used a rifle or fired a gun except on the range. However, the most 
impatient among them found an outlet for their energy in the colonies. The 
desire for distant adventure, as old as the race itself, reappeared to offset the dis- 
contents of army life. France, consenting or not, played a leading part in the 
scramble for distant territories. Almost immediately after the close of hostili- 
ties French troops were called upon to put down the Kabyle revolt and to push 
forward their garrisons as far as the Algerian oases. Tunisia was occupied in 
1881. The year 1885 saw the beginning of penetration into the interior of 
Senegal, the Niger and DahOmey. At the same time the Sahara was being 
opened up by a series of daring raids. By expeditions into the Congo basin 
and to the shores of Lake Chad, France achieved the conquest of immense new 
territories. This intense activity in Africa did not prevent her from marching 
into Tonkin in 1885 and wresting valuable concessions from China. Mada- 
gascar saw the arrival of French troops in 1895, and five years later a French 
corps occupied Pekin. Enterprising soldiers on the Moroccan frontier awaited 
the opportunity to invade the Sharef Empire. 

From a tactical point of view, it is true, these expeditions were in a special 
class. Neither the enemy, the country, nor the material were comparable to 
those of a European war. No wonder that the "Metropolitan" school hastened 
to point out that the African army and the Colonial Infantry were losing their 
sound principles. Nevertheless, life in lonely outposts and desert columns 
taught the leaders to adapt themselves to circumstances. Manning a block- 
house on the slope of an isolated mountain, in the heart of some sandy plain or 
on the bank of some remote river, is an excellent training in initiative and 
energy. On the fringe of rebel*territory one must learn to gather information, to 
fortify one's position, to keep watch and to fight. In the wilds of Nature one 
must wage a constant struggle for existence, endure the most exhausting cHmatic 
conditions and overcome the terrors of solitude. A man's character, his eye for 
reaUty, his power of winning obedience — these things are tested to the utmost. 
He must wrest uncertain victory by forced marches across the worst that Africa 
or Asia can do in the way of broken country that offers ideal ambushes to his 
enemy. Hill crests taken by storm, stockades forced by a frontal attack, am- 
bushes in deep ravines, gruelling climbs up rocky mountain sides, the anguish 
of desert solitude, death and suffering in the bush, the forest or the marsh, the 
biting cold of morning, the sweltering heat of noon and the terror that walks by 
night — these are some of the elements of which the Empire was built. 

But public opinion viewed the development of colonial conquest with a 
critical eye. It is true that this demonstration of their country's undimmed 
martial valour provided balm for the nation's grief and support for its hopes. 
This yearning for glory serves to explain much of the reputation of men like 
Voyron, Negrier, Briere de I'lsle, Courbet, Duchene and Archinard, and the 
popularity of others, like Riviere, Bobillot, Domine, Borgnis-Desbordes, Lamy, 
Dodds, Marchand and Gallieni. As a pendant to the engraving of "Reich- 
shoffen's Cuirassiers" every cottage had its coloured print representing the 
* 'Defence of Tuyen-Quan". Nevertheless, there was an element of reserve in 
the public's gratification. However cheaply these colonial expeditions were 
run, they were considered to be too costly. This accounted for the loss of life 
which later became another subject of popular dissatisfaction. 'Tn every part 
of the world," declared the Radical Party's manifesto of 1885, "the government 
is playing fast and loose with the nation's wealth and the blood of her soldiers." 
There were other and more sinister doubts : "The colonies," said Paschal Grous- 
set, "are a breeding-ground for pronunciamentos." But, above all, France 
turned her eyes towards the Vosges. Was it not an act of criminal folly to take 
troops away from the eastern frontier ? 

For, although desiring peace, the country indulged at the same time in hopes 
of revenge. It was more a question of dreams than of firm resolve ; but by a 


process of wishful thinking, people came to believe that Right must triumph in 
its turn. The feeling grew that the defeat had been due to unfavourable cir- 
cumstances. Those whose calling brought them into contact with the crowd — 
politicians, writers, professors, actors — had only to strike a certain chord to 
rouse their audiences. The verse of Deroulede, the songs of Paulus, and the 
novels of Erckmann-Chatrian enjoyed a tremendous vogue. Every school- 
child could recite the "Ballad of the Sword". There was hardly a public 
occasion, hardly a popular fete or a cabaret show at which there did not appear, 
amidst scenes of wild enthusiasm, the Alsatian girl with her big bow. The day 
when "the drums would beat" was awaited patiently but nevertheless ardently. 
No doubt remained that, sooner or later, "they" would give back Alsace and 
Lorraine. Any drawing-room or cafe pundit who prophesied that "war will 
break out in the spring of next year" was sure of an eager audience. 

Then there were incidents enough to keep the Frenchman's defensive in- 
stincts keyed up. In 1875 Bismarck threatened to reopen hostilities. In 1887 
the Schnoebele incident roused public opinion. In 1888 anxiety was felt by the 
accession of the young Wilhehn II. Rij^t up to 1 896 Crispi, feeling secure in his 
alliance with Berlin and Vienna, continued his provocations. The result was 
that the army became the object of a nation-wide cult. As a natural con- 
sequence, after the resignation of Thiers the Assembly elected a soldier as head 
of the executive. "Boulangism" was, at bottom, a manifestation of jingoism. 
People rushed out to see troops marching along the street; every head was 
bared, every eye was moist when the flag was carried past. The regimental band 
was always accompanied by a swarm of enthusiasts. On July 14 the whole 
population of every town turned out to cheer the garrison troops, while on the 
racecourse at Longchamps Paris gave a delirious welcome to 30,000 men 
marching behmd their tattered standards. 

However, as the years passed, the necessity for reconquering the lost prov- 
inces appeared less urgent. Circumstances in any case were unfavourable. 
Up to 1896 France was isolated in the presence of the Triple Alliance. By her 
subsequent treaty with Russia she undertook to respect the Treaty of Frankfort. 
But more important still was the fact that the relative power of France was 
steadily declining with the fall in her birth-rate. In 1871 there were as many 
Frenchmen as Germans. Twenty years later France had a population of 
thirty-eight millions compared with Germany's fifty millions. By the end of the 
next twenty years the population of France, which was more or less stationary, 
was less than two-thirds that of the Reich. A nation of "only sons" soon loses 
both the possibility and the desire for risky enterprises. Moreover, the country 
was divided by internal strife. The establishment of the Republic in a country 
in which great numbers remained attached to the past was not achieved without 
struggles which absorbed much precious energy and zeal. Public opinion in 
France was convulsed successively by the failure of the Restoration, the crisis of 
May 16, the Wilson scandal, the financial crash of V Union Generate, the Panama 
scandal, the Boulanger fever, the anti-clerical war, and the storm of anti-Semitism. 
A people, humiliated by defeat and unnerved by polemics, seemed to have lost 
faith in itself. What was best in French thought turned away from national 
sources of inspiration. At the Sorbonne it was the philosophy of Kant, Fichte, 
Hegel, and Nietzsche that held the field. The more active exponents of social 
reform turned their backs on Fourier, Proudhon, Le Play, and Blanqui and 
marched behind the banner of Marx. This general sense of disillusion was 
reflected in the literature of the time, which fell back on symbolism, morbidity 
and exaggerated subtlety, or else wallowed in the mire by an excess of realism. 



But these intellectual disturbances were accompanied by great material well- 
being. Like the Infanta weeping in the palace gardens, France in the nineties 
revelled in melancholy while enjoying the good things of life. 

This contraction of the nation's ambitions was bound to have its effect on the 
military situation, and to make the obligation to serve in the army appear more 
onerous than ever. For one thing, military service had been extended in 1 889 
to include both the intellectual classes and the sons of wealthy families. Both 
these groups were keenly sensitive to the inevitable hardships of army life. As 
a consequence, a section of the intellectuals adopted towards the army an 
attitude of hostility, or, at least, of irony, which expressed itself in novels, 
pamphlets, songs and music-hall sketches. Not all, it is true, were as bitter in 
tone as Sousoffs or Cavalier Miserey, or as biting as Colonel Ramollet. But it 
became fashionable to hold up the army as a somewhat ridiculous institution 
in which Pitou, Lidoire, Dumanet, Bidouille or Chapuzot led their bewildered 
existence. A more serious tendency which revealed itself after the Boulanger 
episode was the distrust of the politicians for the "General Staff"'. Besides, 
armaments were costly, accounting for a third of the annual budget. In the 
end public opinion became exasperated at such lavish expenditure for a hypo- 
thetical situation which never materialized. The working-classes, who had 
increased both in numbers and cohesion with the development of industry, 
renounced the warlike sentimentality with which the Revolution had been tinged 
up to the Commune. A considerable section of the working-class adhered to 
the International, and recognized the existence of no enemies save those of the 
proletariat. In short, under many different forms France was witnessing the 
rise of anti-militarism. 

Yet this criticism was for the most part superficial and showed no deep 
division of opinion. But then came the Dreyfus case. By some evil fate it 
happened that just as public sympathy was becoming estranged from the army 
a crisis arose which offered an ideal opportunity for uniting against it every shade 
of ill-will. Everything was present in this lamentable trial to poison public 
life and fan political passion : the plausibility of a miscarriage of justice, coupled 
with forgeries, manoeuvres and abuses committed by the prosecution but in- 
dignantly rejected by those who, either by conviction or policy, wished to absolve 
from all blame the hierarchy whose lives were devoted to the defence of the 
country ; an exasperating tangle of evidence with a thousand-and-one compli- 
cated incidents, intrigues, confessions, retractions, duels, suicides and subsidiary 
lawsuits in which the rival packs became befogged and infuriated ; slanderous 
controversies exploited to the full by the press,by pamphlets and public speeches ; 
an unhealthy frenzy engulfing, together with mutual forbearance, sincerity and 
friendship, every shred of elementary respect for the symbol of the nation's 
power around which Frenchmen had hitherto found it possible to unite. From 
that moment the generally accepted tendency towards strengthening the 
country's defences was reversed in favour of their reduction. Under the pres- 
sure of the illusions of pacifism and of the newly awakened distrust of the military 
mind, the army began to lose strength and cohesion. In July 1914 the Minister 
of War recognized the fact in these words : "At the beginning of the twentieth 
century the country allowed itself to be led astray by myths. It is an irrefutable 
fact that there has been a falling-off" in its eff'ort." 

In the first place, effectives suffered a serious reduction. Whereas between 
1875 and 1900, following increases in the German army, they had been raised 
from 450,000 men to 615,000, by the Act of 1905, which reduced the period of 
service in the regular army to two years, they dropped to 540,000, of whom 40,000 
were non-combatant "auxiliaries". Against this must be set the abolition of 
exemptions and the resulting improvement in training. Another attempt to 
offset the reduction in the size of the nucleus of first-line troops was made by a 
better use of the reserve. Instead of ten classes as previously, thirteen classes of 


recruits were now attached to the active army. Each army corps would put 
into the field, besides its own formations, one supplementary division and two 
supplementary brigades. Every peacetime regiment was to have a supple- 
mentary cadre of officers on the active list who were assigned to their units in 
advance. Other measures, however, undid the good work of these arrange- 
ments. The two training periods of 28 days were reduced to 23 and 17 days 
respectively. In the same way, the territorials were to do 9 days instead of 13. 
Even then the call-out was subject to a series of crippling exceptions. Training 
periods were constantly reduced, postponed or cancelled altogether, to fit in 
with agricultural work, elections or personal convenience. In 1 907, for example, 
thirty-six per cent of the total number of men nominally due failed to report. 
Moreover, the reserve, being composed of relatively old and less active men, 
should have been officered by exceptionally keen leaders. But in fact the supple- 
mentary cadres contained mostly elderly officers or men whose civilian employ- 
ment kept them out of touch with their soldiers. And finally, there should have 
been a large number of camps in order to make the best use of the short periods 
available for training. This, however, was not the case. Up to 191 2 there were 
only four big camps — at Chalons, Mailly, Coetquidan and La Courtine — where- 
as three times the number were needed. 

This reduction in the number of first-line troops would have been relatively 
unimportant if armaments had been correspondingly increased. The scientific 
progress of the early twentieth century not only transformed industry but per- 
fected the means of destruction. By exploiting to the full this increased in- 
dustrial potential it would have been possible to counteract the disadvantages 
of inferior numbers. The period was marked by technical advances of all 
kinds : colloidal gunpowder gave increased explosive power to shells ; a terrible 
weapon made its appearance in the new and simplified machine-gun ; new pro- 
cesses of steel production made it possible to increase the calibre and range of 
field-guns without adding unduly to their weight ; the telephone revolutionized 
intercommunications, the motor-car was becoming general, and the aeroplane 
was in the experimental stage. During the ten or fifteen years before the Great 
War, France, with her industrious population and her wealth of inventive genius 
and money, had the opportunity of recovering in the technical field the superiority 
which she was losing in numbers. But for that she would have had to make a 
decision in the political sphere. For it was only the government that, by 
providing credits, overcoming opposition to innovations and stimulating per- 
sonnel, could create the necessary conditions for the reform of the army. In 
reality the government did little to encourage progress, and seemed at times ready 
to impede it. 

In the first place, expenditure on armaments was severely limited. Between 
the years 1900 and 1912, out of a total war budget of twelve milliards of francs, 
nine hundred and fifty millions only were earmarked for new production, while 
Germany was spending approximately double this amount. There was the 
same unfortunate disproportion in the credits for military training. Year by 
year the services saw their allotments successively reduced, first by the Minister 
of War, who feared the criticism of his colleagues, then by the Treasury, and 
finally by the com^missions of one parliamentary assembly or the other. And 
since it was considered impossible to reduce expenditure for personnel or main- 
tenance, the economies were made at the expense of armaments. Three months 
before the mobilization, the War Budget was introduced to the Chamber of 
Deputies in these words : "In 1902 the services asked for 98,000,000 for the 
manufacture of new material; they received 49,000,000. In 1903 they asked 
for 59,000,000 and received 36. In 1906 they received 27,000,000 of the 
44,000,000 asked." What is more, the services themselves, frightened by the 
opposition aroused by the so-called "death budgets", refrained from claiming 
the full amount of what they required, let alone from proposing the v^st 


expansion which would have been necessary to ensure France's equality with, 
if not her superiority over, the armaments of her powerful neighbour. 

Meanwhile the army itself showed little enthusiasm for the thoroughgoing 
reforms which the times demanded. This attitude was the more unfortunate in 
that it coincided with the adoption of tactical and strategical theories which 
postulated a superiority of material. The military authorities of the day, having 
had time during a prolonged period of peace to lose touch with the realities of 
war and to slip back into the academic habits of thought so dear to the French 
mind, "accepted no other theory of operations save that of the offensive", to 
quote the words used in Army Regulations of 1 9 1 3 . But since facts — and, above 
all, the fact of the enemy's fire — might conflict with the accepted theory, the 
authorities saw fit to admit the existence of moral factors, such as the will to win, 
which might after all be decisive. From this state of mind arose the tendency to 
neglect, or even to mistrust, weight of material, on the ground that the difficulties 
and delays occasioned by its deployment might hold up the speed of the attack 
on which alone, in accordance with the accepted theory, success depended. Petain, 
who maintained that fire-power, since it is the factor that kills, should form the 
basis of every movement, was prevented from rising to the ranks of the higher 
command. Whereas Germany was equipping her army with a powerful heavy 
artillery, most of the French experts rejected outright any iimovation of thekind. 
In 1909 the General Staff representative on the budget commission of the Cham- 
ber of Deputies expressed himself in these words: "You talk to us of heavy 
artillery. Thank God, we have none. The strength of the French army is in 
the lightness of its guns." To which the Minister of War added : "Quite useless. 
With a sufficient number of 75s we can smash any obstacle." This did not 
prevent the stock of shells, which experts, basing themselves on the experience of 
the Russo-Japanese war, advised should be 3,000 per 75 gun, from falling to 
500 in 1906. When the decision was made, in 1910, to put the machine-gun into 
service, it was taken half-heartedly and unwillingly. "We have had some 
manufactured," said the Inspector-General of Infantry, "to satisfy public opinion. 
But this new weapon will not make the slightest difference to anything." It 
followed naturally that fortified places, being contrary to the offensive spirit, 
should be neglected. They were to be tolerated, as "maintenance depots", or 
as "pivots for manoeuvre". Almost all the forts along the northern frontier, 
as well as the second-line forts built by Sere de Riviere, were either left as they 
were or abolished. Many officers were sceptical even of the possibilities of 
aviation, then in its infancy. On his return from a demonstration of military 
aircraft in 1910 the Commandant of the Staff College exclaimed : "The aeroplaiie 
is all very well as a sport. For the army it is useless" ! 

Nor did government policy tend to cultivate in the military leaders that 
optimism and self-confidence which would have favoured enterprise and 
initiative among them. After the Dreyfus case the authorities, on the pretext 
of ensuring the loyalty of the army, created trouble in its ranks. The spirit of 
self-sacrifice was undermined by a series of degradations, acts of favouritism, 
unjust denunciations or ridiculous exaggerations. The signs of the distress 
thus caused, however discreetly expressed among a body of men vowed to silence, 
were none the less revealing. The number of incidents into which the Minister 
of War was obliged to enquire— leaders with whom no one would shake hands, 
oflScers cold-shouldered, complaints, resignations, duels — was twelve times as 
great in 1904 as before. Between 1900 and 1911 the number of candidates for 
Saint-Cyr fell from 1,895 to 871, and for Saint-Maixent from 842 to 380, while 
the figures for re-enlisted n.c.o.s fell from 72,000 to 41,000. Every time- 
honoured guarantee for the promotion of officers and the choice of the com- 
manders was violated. It is true that every peacetime period could provide 
examples of appointments which were nothing but a compromise between the 
claims pf merit and of influence ; but during the years preceding the Great War 


the abuse reached such proportions that on the outbreak of war half the generals 
had to be dismissed. 

As was to be expected, the discipline and training of the troops suffered from 
the decline in the efficiency of their officers. In 1 907, at Beziers, a whole regiment 
which had been called out to restore order in the streets threw down their arms 
and joined the rioters. Later on, the enforcement of the Three Years' MiUtary 
Service Act gave rise to mutinies in several garrisons. The official report on the 
big 1913 manoeuvres concluded with these words : "The troops are neither well 
trained nor disciplined. . . . The commissioned ranks showed a lack of 
experience which in a real campaign would have had disastrous consequences. 
. . . The commanders do not carry out the missions with which they are en- 
trusted with the vigour or the energy indispensable to success. ..." Con- 
ditions were such that the Commander-in-Chief, Brugere, gave up his post in 
1901 ; one of his successors, Hagron, resigned in 1907, and his successor, Michel, 
followed suit on the same day. General Langlois, a capable and level-headed 
commander and a semi-official military expert, wrote on this occasion : "We owe 
the country the truth : the army is in a state of disorganization." 


This slackening of effort in the French army meant a proportionate pre- 
ponderance in German strength. For some time the Reich had shown no desire 
to crush France again, though it is true that the Iron Chancellor was so im- 
pressed by her rapid recovery that he contemplated launching an attack against 
her in 1875. But the crisis passed quickly. The pacific tendencies of the 
Republic, the Triple Alliance, and the understanding between Berlin on the one 
hand and the Tsar and England on the other made any French attempt at revenge 
less and less likely. Germany, moreover, was absorbed in a tremendous internal 
transformation. She had to get used to the idea of national unity and to the 
subordination of her age-old centrifugal tendencies to Prussian supremacy. At 
the same time, the development of her heavy industries caused an upheaval 
which shook up populations and interests^ transferring part of the power of the 
Junkers to the progressive and liberal-minded business classes and driving the 
working-classes towards social democracy. And finally, the leaders of the 
Empire, William I, Bismarck, and Moltke, having grown old at their posts, 
were anxious to maintain unaltered the structure which they had built, rather 
than to run the risks inherent in new adventures. "I fear," said Bismarck, 
"that the German, that landlubber, will one day try to launch out on the 
water." In fact, up to the end of the nineteenth century, Germany was content 
to maintain the continental status quo and to keep her military forces on a level 
with those of France. 

But with the German people, bursting with so many unfulfilled ambitions, 
moderation is never of long duration. With her birth-rate increasing by nearly 
a million per annum, her volume of industrial production quadrupled, that of her 
foreign trade tripled and her national wealth doubled between the years 1875 
and 1905, with ten times the tonnage of shipping in her ports, and flourishing 
affairs in every part of the world, supported by capital investments and an in- 
defatigable army of commercial travellers ; with her spirit of discipline and gift 
for organization always and everywhere at work — Germany felt the balance of 
power tilt heavily to her advantage. Conscious of her progress and pressed by 
new needs, the Empire found her living-space too small, llie "old gentlemen" 
who held the movement in check were disappearing one by one. William I 
and Frederick III died in 1888, soon to be followed by the nonagenarian Moltke. 
In 1890 the young Emperor, William II, dismissed Bismarck, and the way was 
clear for the Weltpolitik of a dynamic, expansionist, and conquering Germany. 


But she had entered the race too late. Wherever German imperialism wished 
to expand it found the place occupied by others. A few colonies here and there 
in the Dark Continent, a base in China, one or two small Polynesian islands, 
facilities for building a railway in" Asia Minor — these concessions seemed to her 
ridiculously inadequate compared with the advantages which England, France, 
Russia, and Belgium had secured for themselves \vhile there was yet time. Nor 
was it easy to get the better of rivals who hampered her economic expansion by 
adapting their own production and adjusting tariffs so as to keep out goods 
"made in Germany". But this was not all. European states which had shown 
themselves on the whole quite favourable to the policy of Berlin so long as it 
consisted in maintaining the European system established by the defeat of 
France now began to feel alarm at Germany's ever-growing ambitions ; hence 
a series of diplomatic understandings designed to redress the balance. The 
settlement, in 1904, of Franco-British disputes, the rapprochement in 1905 between 
Rome and Paris and the fact that Russia, after her defeat in Manchuria, was 
turning her attention to the Balkans and the Dardanelles, were so many obstacles 
to Germany's expansion. 

Germany viewed these developments with irritation and alarm. Once more 
she vented her ill-humour on France. There were, it is true, counsellors who 
advised her to pick a quarrel vdth England, since "the future is on the sea", or to 
expand in the direction of Russia, whose Baltic, Polish, and Ukrainian marches 
offered tempting baits to the Prussian colonists, industrialists and bankers, just 
as formerly they had tempted the Teutonic Knights. Others favoured the 
Drang nach Osten, profiting by the dissensions between the peoples of the 
Balkans and the Danube basin and by the prostration of the Turks. But it 
would seem as though the path of history always leads the Teutons back to their 
"hereditary enemies", the Gauls. The French conquest of Morocco offered 
pretext enough, and although subsequently it was to be Austro-Russian hostility 
which came to the fore, it remained true that, in every crisis, France was the 
target at which Berlin was aiming. 

This new phase of German policy demanded vast military preparations. The 
existence of the Franco-Russian alliance meant that the Empire had to be pre- 
pared to fight on two fronts and to ensure that her enemies were powerless to 
strike their main blows simultaneously. Everything else, therefore, had to be 
subordinated to the necessity of crushing France in the shortest possible time. 
In 1905, SchliefFen, rejecting the ideas of Moltke, perfected his plan for an 
offensive which aimed at dealing France the knock-out blow by a vast outflank- 
in movement through Belgium. An undertaking of this scope, however, en- 
tailed the immediate engagement of numerically strong formations, capable of 
moving swiftly — ("Strengthen that right flank !" cried Schlieffen on his death- 
bed) — as well as the employment of material heavy enough to smash the obstacle 
formed by the Belgian and French forts at the very outset of the campaign. At 
the same time his theory of warfare, like that put forward by Bemhardi in The 
Next War, was that strategy, sparing neither persons nor property, should set 
out to shorten resistance by deliberately making the coming war as terrible and 
as ruthless as possible. 

Ever since 1892 Germany had the the system of two years' military service, 
except in the cavalry, where the period was three years. But the contingents 
were so strong numerically that only half the available number of men was in- 
corporated. It was possible, therefore, to swell the permanent establishment by 
merely abolishing certain categories of exemptions. This was the intention 
■underlying the Acts of 1912 and 1913 by which the German army was increased 
to 850,000 men. It was equally simple, thanks to the wealth of man-power, to 
form reserves of young, picked soldiers. The whole body was provided with a 
strong cadre of 150,000 regular n.c.o.s As for armaments, the expenditure 
earmarked for new material, which, up to 1904, did not exceed an average of 


100,000,000 marks per annum, increased to 160,000,000 for the years 1905-6-7, 
reaching an annual total of 200,000,000 up to 1912, and, finally, of 430,000,000 
in each of the Budgets of 1913 and 1914. As a consequence, the army waS 
equipped with the most powerful and modem material. 

There was a certain amount of opposition to the increased expenditure. 
In the Reichstag, the veteran deputy Bebel protested on behalf of the Social 
Democrats. Tirpitz and the advocates of a big navy policy considered that such 
lavish expenditure on land forces would have been better directed to building 
battleships. Even in the army the "quality before quantity" school of thought, 
backing the shade of Frederick the Great against that of Schamhorst, main- 
tained through their mouthpiece Von der Goltz that it would be preferable to 
provide the Reich with a smaller army, but one superior in quality, armaments, 
and training. But all these discordant voices were drowned in the shouts of 
approval from the enthusiastic majority. In the spring of 1914 Germany could 
put into the field twenty-five regular army corps, in addition to eleven cavalry 
divisions, and was able to organize twenty-eight reserve divisions of first-Une 
quality. The whole formed an army such as the world had never seen before. 
It was accepted by everybody as a matter of course that in the next war, whatever 
the pretext might be, the mighty torrent would sweep, in the first place, towards 

Meanwhile the tumult gradually awakened France from her slumbers. A 
succession of incidents from 1905 onwards convinced her that the chances of 
continued peace were small indeed. William II's visit to Tangiers, the Alge- 
ciras Conference, the Casablanca incident of the deserters from the Foreign 
Legion, the appearance of the "Panther" at Agadir, the sharp negotiations on the 
question of the Congo-Cameroons frontier, the defeat of the Turks by the 
Balkan States, followed by that of Bulgaria by her former allies — all these suc- 
cessive events made public opinion aware of a complex of obscure tendencies 
which the ancients would have called Fate, Bossuet the finger of God, and 
Darwin the law of the species, the result of which was to drag Europe into the 
abyss of war. True, there were highly placed individuals who, appealing to 
reason or allowing themselves to be swayed by sentiment, refused to beUeve in 
the imminence of danger. "There will be no war !" declared General Brun, the 
Minister of War in 1910. In 1912, when Driant, in the Chamber of Deputies, 
exposed German preparations for war, he was met with a cry from Marcel 
Sembat of "No, no ! Not that !" On July 31, 1914, Briand declared, with a 
shrug of his shoulders : "I know the Germans, and they are not mad. They 
won't go to war." But even those who were responsible for these sallies were 
nevertheless anxious. Brun made an increase of one third in the artillery. In 
his book entitled Make a King or Else Make Peace, Sembat described the loom- 
ing threat. As Prime Minister, Briand sponsored the bill for three-years' 
military service. Beneath all the doctrines and attitudes and prejudices lay an 
instinctive realization of the facts. There was the political evolution of leaders 
like Millerand and Viviani, and the rise in the popularity of Poincare, the trustee 
of France's watchfulness. There was the diplomatic activity of ambassadors 
like the brothers Cambon, Delcasse, Barrere, and Paleologue. In the realm of 
the mind, men like Boutroux and Bergson gave new life to the spiritual side of 
French thought, while Peguy and Barres appealed to the precocious maturity of 
a young generation who sensed the presence of the Gleaner. And so there 
arose among an i^lite a consciousness of their imperishable national inheritance, 
a renaissance which a contemporary can only sketch in its rough outlines, but 
which History will limn in every detail. 

This change in public opinion had its effect on the relationship between the 
politicians and the military. The indifference, if not the ill-will, shown hitherto 
by the Government in its dealings with the army soon gave way to solicitude. 
In 1910, 1911, and 1912 reforms in cadres and promotions were incorporated 



successively in acts affecting the artillery, the infantry and the cavalry. Another 
Act of Parliament put an end to the decline in the corps of professional n.c.o.s 
by introducing radical reforms in their living conditions, pensions and prospects 
of employment in state services. In 1913 pay increases were introduced for all 
ranks. At the same time it began to be part of official policy to show the troops, 
who for some years had been hidden from the public eye. There were brilliant 
parades everywhere. In 1912, on the parade-ground at Vincennes, Paris in- 
augurated its short-lived series of spring reviews. Every garrison town had its 
Saturday night torchlight tattoo when the public could indulge its enthusiasm 
for stirring military marches. The penetration of Morocco, begun in 1908, 
received a new impetus, and it was to Lyautey, a soldier, that full powers for the 
administration of the conquered territory were entrusted. Finally, in 191 1, the 
Commander-in-Chief in the person of General Joffre, who, up to that time had 
been pushed aside, became responsible in great part for the preparation of the 
army which he would have to lead. Henceforward, no action was taken in the 
matter of organization, armament and training save on his recommendation. 
From that moment, despite the fact that France had, up to the war, six ministers 
in three years, the army enjoyed the benefits of continuity in the controlling 

But in order to attain parity with the German forces, France had at all costs 
to increase the numerical strength of her army. Thanks to the Acts of 1 9 1 2 and 
1913, the army of the Reich outnumbered that of France by over 30 per cent. 
With two classes called to the colours France would have had 540,000 men and 
Germany 850,000. Thus, after 60 years of a seriously declining birth-rate, a 
nation which formerly had been so prolific as to be prodigal with the lives of her 
soldiers saw herself faced with the agonizing problem of numbers. There were 
schemes for palliatives which, given a long-term policy, might have achieved 
some measure of success, but as a consequence of a lack of forethought the 
country had to fall back on emergency measures, that is, the most costly of all. 
As early as 1901 Messimy had pointed out the advantages, especially for the 
provision of covering troops, of forming specialized imits which would be used 
with the masses of conscripts. But it was too late to introduce a reform of this 
nature. Moreover, the technical reasons for the formation of such special 
formations in order to obtain the maximum efiiciency in the use of certain 
modem weapons were not conclusive at a time when each separate element of 
the army was identical and interchangeable, and armed with one single pattern 
of rifle and a single type of cannon. Mangin published his views on the con- 
tribution to the defence of the home country which could be made by "the black 
force". However, the peculiar diflSculties inherent in the recruitment and use 
of black troops involved a delay which precluded any early results from their in- 
corporation. Jaures, in his New Army, published in 1910, maintained that the 
mihtia, bringing to bear the strength of the whole nation at one and the same 
time, would, in the long run, prove invincible. But, even admitting that the 
system of the nation in arms would have produced the required number of 
soldiers, it remained true that, faced with a skilful enemy, intent on Blitzkrieg 
methods, these large masses of men would have to be sufficiently trained and 
organized to be thrown into battle immediately. In short, the only possble 
solution capable of being immediately applied was, in 1913, the system of three 
years' military service. This drastic measure raised the establishment of the 
regular army to 750,000, put the corps of four frontier provinces on a per- 
manent war footing, and only reduced by one-third the proportion of reservists 
necessary to mobilize all the first-fine troops. But it was an emergency measure, 
laying an almost unbearable burden on the youth of the country, with the risk 
of impeding seriously the education of the student class ; a measure which could 
not possibly have been maintained for any length of time. In fact, scarcely had 
the law been promulgated than it was violently attacked. Nevertheless, it 


achieved its object; when the Austrian Archduke fell to the assassin's bullet, 
France had three classes under arms. 

But although it is possible to mobilize troops by what amountis to make- 
shift measures, it is quite another story when it comes to providing them with the 
necessary equipment. Progress was impeded by the enormous expense in- 
volved, by the inherent difficulties of planning and manufacture, and by the 
dilatory procedure usual in the technical services. After the 1905 scare, it is 
true, 200,000,000 francs had been earmarked for the purpose, over and above 
the expenditure provided in the Budget ; but this sum had only barely sufficed 
to make good the deficiencies in military stocks. And although the annual 
credits for armaments and equipment rose from 92,000,000 for the period 1905 
to 1910 to 240,000,000 for the period 1911 to 1914, the Germans were spending 
double that amount. In 1913 the government asked for an exceptional credit 
of 1,410,000,000 francs in order to make up the leeway ; but the bill, after a long 
series of amendments, was only finally passed by the Senate on July 14, 1914. 

This combination of routine in the technical sphere and short-sightedness in 
the political had as its result a serious inferiority in material. Despite the fact 
that the number of machine-guns allotted to the infantry had been doubled in 
three years, France at the beginning of the war could put only 2,500 automatic 
weapons into the line against the enemy's 4,500 ; and although, as compared 
with the year 1909, the artillery had been increased by 33 per cent, yet against 
the French army's 3,800 75 mm. guns, capable of firing 1,300 rounds, the enemy 
could put 6,000 77 mm. cannon firing 2,000 shells each. More important still, 
each German army corps had 52 howitzers, 36 of 150 mm. and 16 of 150 mm., 
whereas the French army corps possessed none at all. Moreover, the German 
artillery comprised in addition 210 mm. howitzers and long-barrelled field-pieces 
of 100 and 130 mm., all modem, and with a range of 4, 7 and 9 miles respectively, 
whereas, apart from a few 155 mm. "Rimailhos", the French had nothing but 
the old 120 mm. *'Baquets", made 30 years earlier for use in the forts. These 
were slow-firing, short-ranged gims, extremely difficult to move. On January 
6, 1914, the Inspector-General wrote: "As for siege and garrison artillery, 
nothing has been done for the last 40 years" ; and, in point of fact, France could 
boast of nothing more modem in this category than the 270 mm. mortar, dating 
back to 1875, which could hurl a 150 kilo, shell over a distance of 3 miles, 
while on the other side of the Rhine they had brand-new mortars of 280 mm. 
calibre firing 340 kilo, shells over a distance of 6 miles, and were secretly pre- 
paring the famous 420 mm. As far as aviation was concemed, France since 
1910 had made great strides in a field where her national inventiveness, sup- 
ported by public opinion, gave her a considerable initial advantage. Despite 
this, in July 1914 France possessed no more than 136 aeroplanes to Germany's 
220. With lighter-than-air machines the relative situation was still more im- 
favourable for France ; without mentioning the Zeppelin, vastly superior to the 
old-fashioned dirigible still in use in the French army, the German "Drachen" 
were better than anything the French possessed in spherical balloons. The 
commissions entrusted with settling these multifarious details — unimportant in 
themselves, but important, when added together, in influencing the outcome of a 
battle — deliberated endlessly without coming to any conclusions. And where- 
as her potential enemy adopted the field-grey uniform and practical equipment, 
made use of field-kitchens, and provided his troops with up-to-date material for 
intercommunications and observation, the French troops kept to their red 
trousers and knapsack dating from the Second Empire, cooked their rations in 
mess-tins and used primitive telephones and an insufficient number of second- 
rate field-glasses. In brief, when the hour of battle struck, the German army 
was prepared to fire, at a greater distance and with greater ease, twice the 
amoimt of lead as its opponent. 

Nevertheless, when France was compelled to unsheathe the sword, her enemy 


discovered that it was not in vain that, during forty-three years of peace, she 
had claimed thirty million years out of the lives of her sons, spent eighty milliards 
of gold francs on armaments, and preserved among her officers sufficient of the 
military virtues to enable them to lead a nation to v/ar. It is true that the first 
battle was to demonstrate that lack of material, mistakes in strategy and tactics, 
are paid for in soldiers' lives, in ruin and destruction ; but it became clear at the 
same time that all the preparations made during the long truce had their meaning 
and their value. Those useless regiments, those silent guns and sleeping forts, 
those commanders turned office-workers, those long years of inglorious frus- 
tration, those conventional exercises, fatigues and lectures became overnight the 
only arguments that mattered in the court of War, that heartless, though by no 
means unjust judge. 



the mobilization order appeared on the walls before 4,000,000 men, a quarter of 
the active population, left their farms, their factories or their offices. A further 
4,000,000 were to follow. Another 5,000,000 men and women were absorbed 
by industry and public services. War laid hold not only on individuals but on 
the nation's business life. Half the national wealth — a hundred milliards of 
gold francs — was swallowed up in its maw. By this fact alone the system on 
which world economy reposed was turned upside down. Liberty of pro- 
duction and distribution were things of the past ; so were stability, social classes, 
and personal fortunes. Elections were suspended, opinion was watched, the 
press censored. All men's thoughts, desires, and interests became focused upon 
the same grim, haunting drama. 

Like others before it, this revolution was but the culmination of long years of 
change, suddenly brought to a head by the cataclysm. For generations universal 
suffrage, compulsory education, the equality of rights and obligations had com- 
bined to mould the nation into a single whole. Local characteristics had been 
blurred by industrialization and city life. The mechanical age provided every- 
one with mass-produced goods. People's minds had been directed by the press 
to the same topics. Men's interests had extended to wherever their property 
might be. Political parties, trade unions, and sport all fostered the collective 
spirit. Transportation, travel, and public hygiene accustomed people to a host 
of communal controls. In short, the uniformity, the bustle, the mass movements 
and mechanization to which men and women were subjected by modem life 
had preconditioned them for mass mobilization and for the brutal, sudden 
shocks which characterized the war of peoples. 

France then, had only to draw her sword to unite all her children in a com- 
mon fervour, animating not only the mass but also the individual. Inspired by 
patriotism, religious faith, hope, or hatred of the foe, he was both ready and 
willing to be torn from home and family. Theories, on the other hand, which 
had been considered to be potential obstacles to the war effort, vanished into thin 
air. Not one organized group raised its voice to condemn mobilization. Not 
one trade union thought for a moment of hindering it by strikes. In Parliament, 
not one vote was cast against the war estimates. The number of deserters, 
which had been officially estimated beforehand at 13 per cent, proved in the 
event to be less than 1.5 per cent of those called to the colours, while the recruit- 
ing offices were besieged by 350,000 volunteers. Frenchmen living abroad 
flocked back by train and ship to the mother country. The suspects, whose 


names appeared on "List B", begged to be sent to the front. Three thousand 
peacetime deserters returned from abroad to crave the honour of being allowed 
to fight. 

Surrounded as he was by an atmosphere of general consent, the conscript 
joined up willingly. The last thing in the world that he wanted was to appear 
lacking in courage. Recruiting, moreover, was by districts. This had the 
advantage of fostering a man's self-respect, of making it possible for him to 
travel with lads from his own village and to find friends among the crowd. In 
any case, this mass mobilization was carried out in perfect order. The recall 
of men on leave, the call-up of reservists of covering units, the taking over of the 
railways by the military authorities, the placing of guards along lines of com- 
munication, the general mobilization of men, horses, vehicles and the requisition- 
ing of supplies, presented a vast and spectacular operation which inspired wide- 
spread optimism and obedience. Out of 25,000 trains set in motion during 
the first few days of mobilization, only 19 were late. 

Scarcely had he reached his depot before each man was absorbed in a host 
of preparations. Signed-on, dressed, armed, equipped, inspected, he became a 
cog in the machine. When the day of departure arrived, surrounded by his 
pals in the ranks, under the eye of the officers who were to lead him, he derived 
satisfaction in maintaining the silence imposed on him, in falling-in correctly and 
standing smartly to attention. A little foot-and-arms drill gave the men the 
feeling of their collective power. At last everything was ready. The time had 
come. There were peremptory orders. Then, sustained by the salutary rigour 
of military discipline, the soldier marched off with a confident step to meet his 

The first encounter with the enemy was a tremendous surprise. The whole 
French strategic plan was upset by the enemy's vast enveloping movement and 
by his use of his reserves. On the tactical plane, the revelation of the enemy's 
fire-power made nonsense of the accepted theories. Morally, the illusions 
behind which the soldiers had taken refuge were swept away in a trice. 

The whole army was taken unawares. Between August 20 and 23, 1914, 
it passed without transition from a sense of absolute security to the realization of 
its dire peril. Some units, it is true, cavalry or covering troops, had been under 
fire before, but only in isolated incidents. Suddenly, at one blow, from the 
Upper Rhine to the Sambre, 1,200,000 Frenchmen went into battle. 

From that moment the French commander's initial conception had to under- 
go radical changes. Whereas the original intention had been to seize the initia- 
tive by moving across from west to east at least four of his armies, three of them 
had had to be sent north in haste. The decision was to be fought out, not in 
Lorraine, as had been anticipated, but in Belgium. Moreover, in order to 
operate as a single unit, the French had deliberately allowed the Belgian army to 
be neutralized. Seventy-four French divisions of cavalry and infantry had gone 
forward on the same day. Irrespective of whether they were to be engaged in 
the Vosges mountains, the Lorraine plateau, the Meuse district, the Ardennes 
forest or the Charleroi plain, every one had received the same order, namely, 
"To advance and press back the enemy wherever he is encountered." 

The large units were in column formation. At first the troops might easily 
have been under the impression that they were engaged in an already familiar 
operation ; there was the same order in ranks and files, the same picturesque 
appearance, the same minor discomforts of the march : the sun, the dust, the 
weight of the pack. Suddenly the distant growl of cannon produced an uneasy 
feeling that things were about to happen. Physical fatigue was accompanied by 
a gnawing anxiety as the unknown goal drew nearer. This feeling, however, was 
soon replaced by one of confidence, the result of willingness to do one's bit, 
combined with a certain curiosity. 

Contact with the enemy came with brutal suddenness. The Germans, having 


been the first, strategically, to take the offensive, adopted defensive tactics for 
the first clash. They were already deployed before they advanced. The French 
spear-point met their "rake". Neither charges with fixed bayonets made to the 
sound of bugle-calls by a few tenacious sections nor heroic individual exploits 
were of any avail. It became evident from one moment to another that all the 
valour in the world is helpless against fire-power. 

While the infantry was dashing forward to the attack, the artillery took up 
its position. With the best will in the world, the commanders needed time to 
choose their gun positions, to set up observation-points and organize liaisons. 
At what were they to fire, anyhow, when all that could be seen of the enemy was a 
few faint gleams of well-aligned cannon ? If the infantry could indicate the 
targets which impeded their progress, the artillery would have been able to inter- 
vene with good effect. But how could these men, caught up in a hell of enemy 
fire three miles ahead of the batteries, send back the precise indications with 
sufficient speed ? In many cases the artillery had not finished its preparations 
before the attack was broken. The bursts of gunfire from the French side could 
be no more than reprisals, too late and too little to change accomplished facts. 

From his improvised observation-point the commander of the large imit 
observed the setback suffered by the first echelons. He still had his reserves, 
ready to be thrown in to force a decision. But so complete was the failure of his 
first attack that it gave him no indication of the best way to employ them. More 
often than not he used his available troops to "support the attack". It might, 
after all, be possible, it was argued on the principle of "mass multiplied by 
speed", to renew the forward movement. 

While the fight raged in the forward areas, the reserves, waiting under some 
sort of cover, were a prey to the gloomiest forebodings. The punishment which 
they had to take without the possibility of retaliation, the gruesome tales of those 
returning from the front line, the sight of the wounded streaming back with 
bleeding bodies — these things depressed them all the more because they had to 
remain inactive. Morale was already low when the order came to advance, and 
was further shaken as the danger zone was reached. In many cases the troops 
were incapable of holding on under the hurricane of fire ; they stopped and 
scattered at random until they became entangled with the first echelons which 
they were supposed to lead. There were even cases when, imder the impact of 
some unexpected incident, the strain proved too great for their tightly stretched 
nerves. Panic swept through the ranks, which broke and fled. The collapse 
was of short duration and its effects rapidly localized. In any case, these in- 
cidents provided ample demonstration that to throw in more troops under the 
fire of an enemy force which has remained intact is merely to increase the total 
of killed. 

Soon the exhausted troops, lacking any hold on the ground they occupied, 
had to be withdrawn. Along the whole line, whether pressed by the enemy or 
not, the men began their melancholy retreat. Subsequent reports and records 
might give to these chaotic movements some semblance of a logical raison 
d'itre ; but in the opinion of the soldiers who took part in them at the time, the 
whole operation was senseless and absurd. 

This unfortunate beginning was immediately followed by a hasty retreat. 
A withdrawal in the northern sector exposed the country's vital industrial 
centres. In nine days France lost Lille, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Valenciennes, 
Cambrai, Arras, Saint-Quentin, Amiens, Charleville, Mezieres, Rheims, Laon, 
and Soissons. Maubeuge capitulated, the Channel ports were threatened, coal 
mines, iron deposits, factories, wheat- and sugar beet-growing districts were 
abandoned. A sixth part of the population passed under the control of the 
enemy, the capital was endangered and the government displaced. If one large 
unit had collapsed, if one commander had lost his head or his men their nerve, 
disaster would have followed. Resistance would have been impossible north 


of the Loire, the British would have fallen back to their bases, the Belgians would 
have capitulated, and the German Emperor would have ridden as a conqueror 
under the Arc de Triomphe. Such is the weakness of France's northern 
frontier that one defeat there imperils the whole country. 

Joffre saw the collapse of all his plans, the refutation of all his information 
and the invalidation of all his orders. On his staff maps at Vitry-le-Francois, 
at Bar-sur-Aube, at Romilly, the ever descending circles and arrows bore witness 
to the heavy blows to which his forces were subjected. He learned in quick 
succession of the setback in Alsace, the extension of the enemy's outflanking 
movement to the north of the Meuse, the presence in the front line of the 
German reserve corps, the failure of the offensives in Lorraine and the Ardennes 
and the withdrawal of Lanrezac and French, whose forces were outflanked after 
Charleroi. Every despatch-rider, every telephone message, every officer's 
report added to the dismal catalogue of reverses ; the reserve units engaged on 
the Somme were incapable of carrying out the movements required of them ; 
the government was demanding the despatch of three army corps for the de- 
fence of Paris ; the battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes had put an 
end to Russian incursions into East Prussia; there was delay in the concen- 
tration of Maunoury's army; Maubeuge had capitulated; the British were 
accelerating their retreat; the attempt to regain positions on the Meuse had 
failed. A stand on the Aisne was impossible. Could one be made on the 
Mame ? The censorship might conceal part of the truth from the public, the 
soldiers might be unaware of what was happening outside their own sector, 
opinion among the General Staff might adopt an attitude of professional optimism ; 
but the Commander-in-Chief could harbour no illusions. 

It was fortunate for France that Joffre, having begun badly, did not lose his 
head. At first he had put enough faith in certain preconceived doctrines to 
base his plan of campaign on them. But, having realized that the remedy 
depended upon himself alone, he threw over his theories and pitted the whole of 
his powerful personality against the course of events. Thanks to his common 
sense, his obstinacy, and his iron constitution, he was able to rise above dis- 
aster. On the very evening of Charleroi, his plan was made ; he would strengthen 
his left flank at the expense of his right, avoiding battle until the operation was 
complete, and then launch an all-out attack along the whole line. He was 
determined, whatever the cost, to see the plan through. He sacrificed Mul- 
house, withdrew troops from the forces in Lorraine, and risked the loss of Ver- 
dun. He was deaf to the apprehensions of the ministers and the fears of Paris. 
By plugging up gaps, eschewing local successes, and imposing his will, he main- 
tained enough cohesion to enable his armies to turn round and strike all at the 
same time when the order was given. 

The armies bent, but did not break. After leaving a third of their effectives 
on the battlefields of the frontier, retreating for ten nights and days, during 
which certain units covered two hundred and fifty miles, living amid the con- 
fusion of columns mixed up with civilian populations fleeing from their burning 
villages, they had remained both morally and physically sound. There were, 
it is true, shadows in the picture, the Commander-in-Chief was * 'informed that 
bands of retreating soldiers were committing acts of pillage and violence". He 
saw himself obliged to order that "the fugitives be pursued and shot". Most of 
the divisions of reserves showed a lack of cohesion. The Governor of Paris 
wrote to Joffre as follows : "Unless you send me first-line troops it is impossible 
for Paris to hold out." The commander of a group of territorial divisions 
considered them to be "poorly officered and of mediocre quality". Neverthe- 
less, not a single column could be named which, from the Sambre to the Seine, 
failed to follow its prescribed itinerary. Despite the exhausting march with its 
fierce rearguard actions, and the counter-thrust at Guise, less than ten thousand 
unwounded prisoners — apart from captured garrisons and forts — fell into enemy 


hands. Nowhere was heard the cry of "Every man for himself", or "We are 
betrayed" — symptoms of a disorderly rout. In fact, the army pulled itself to- 
gether quickly, conscious that it deserved something better than its present fate. 

The German defeat was determined less by the development of the engage- 
ments themselves than by the surprise occasioned among the enemy by the 
French offensive. The outflanking of their wing on the River Ourcq by Mau- 
noury, the advance of Franchet d'Esperey, followed by that of French, into the 
gap between the two German armies on the right, the resistance of Foch and 
Langle in Champagne, Sarrail's counter-attack in the direction of Verdun, and 
the recovery of Castelnau and Dubail at either end of the Charmes gap cer- 
tainly put the Germans in an awkward strategical situation. But the cracks 
were repairable. In fact, they were made good before the withdrawal. Al- 
though in September, thanks to the experience they had gained, the French 
troops were fighting incomparably better than in August, they had nowhere 
gained tactical successes capable of breaking the enemy's resistance and putting 
him to flight. Again, the balance of forces had tipped in the Allies' favour 
since the Germans had sent two army corps and one cavalry division from the 
west to fight on the Russian front. However, the Germans still retained numeri- 
cal superiority. On September 8 eighty French and British divisions faced 
eighty-one better-armed enemy divisions. On material grounds, therefore, 
there was no impelling reason for the enemy's retreat. 

But the fact remains that he was taken by surprise. Whereas the French- 
man, once he has paid for his negligence, unexpectedly recovers from the blow, 
the German, unsurpassed in careful preparations, loses his wits when faced by an 
unforeseen situation. Such was the psychological aspect of the first phase of 
the war. Moreover, by a strange accident, while their troops showed themselves 
superbly disciplined, the generals of the Imperial Army were at loggerheads. 
A vicious system of command resulted in von Kluck's disobedience, Btilow's 
isolation, and the fact that the Crown Prince's forces were inordinately stretched. 
Remembering the victories of 1866 and 1870, when generals acted on their own 
initiative, each one of them claimed to act as he thought best. What is more, 
these disciples of Nietzsche admitted no restraints on their own powers. It 
might be thought that unity would have been imposed from above by a firm 
hand. Not at all. For, thanks to the superstitious belief in a great name — quite 
usual in victorious armies — the supreme authority had been vested in von Moltke, 
a man of refined and delicate mind but afllicted by a malignant disease and lack- 
ing the firmness by which a leader imposes his faith on others. 

The spell was broken. For the first time for over a hundred years France had 
beaten Germany in a big-scale battle. Psychologically the game was won. From 
the moment the Imperial Armies had been forced to turn back, the poison of 
doubt began to circulate in their veins. Conversely, the confidence in their 
national might, which formerly had been second nature to Frenchmen, suddenly 
returned to them. Accepted cahnly and without bombast, the victory united 
in a common pride a people long disunited by humiliation. 

For over three years each of the opposing armies endeavoured to deal the 
other a mortal blow. But thanks to their approximate equality in numbers, 
material and valour, they remained rooted to the same positions. Every con- 
ceivable type of defences — trenches, dug-outs and pill-boxes — gave both sides a 
high capacity for resistance. In order to launch an attack it was necessary to 
amass a tremendous amount of material, to prepare to set in motion a vast and 
complicated mechanism, and subsequently to limit the offensive to a narrow 


In the sector chosen for the attack the enemy positions were carefully 
studied, photographed and observed from the air, and reconnoitred by patrols. 
Thanks to these preliminary measures the commander was enabled to make his 
appreciation of the nature and weight of the material he required and to decide 
how it should be used. Then came the siting of the artillery. The batteries 
were placed at night and grouped according to their particular mission. Targets 
were indicated, zones of fire-action defined, and the necessary adjustments 
made. Stocks of ammunition began to pile up near the guns or in dumps. 

During this time the infantry and sappers were busy with preparations for the 
attack, digging parallel and communication trenches, making roads and tracks, 
laying down narrow-gauge railways, preparing parks, dressing-stations and 
commanders' posts. Supplies were being brought up and distributed by large 
numbers of trains, lorries and trucks. The troops brought forward for the 
operation poured into their bivouacs. All this traffic had to be controlled and 
policed. A feverish but orderly activity involved every one and everything. 

Suddenly the artillery opens up. Every type of instrument plays its part in 
this orchestra. Light and medium guns pound the trenches and blast gaps in 
the network. Short-barrelled, high-trajectory pieces of great calibre are given 
the task of destroying flanking defences, penetrating dug-outs and bombarding 
strong-points. Long-range artillep^ endeavours to neutralize the enemy 
batteries, to paralyse communications by keeping roads, bridges and cross- 
roads under fire, and by shelling cantonments, bivouacs and railheads. 

While the artillery is doing its work, the infantry is putting the finishing 
touches to its preparations for the attack, and receiving the last items of equip- 
ment — cartridges, grenades, rations, tools and explosives. The officers go out 
on reconnaissance and return with serious, drawn faces. The private soldier 
scribbles a few awkward lines to the people at home — often the last he will 

At nightfall the troops move off", heavily loaded and heavy-hearted, but 
resigned to go through with the job, thanks to the discipline of their long 
training. The road along which they march, with its stream of convoys, the 
newly made track into which they branch, the narrow-gauge railway which they 
cross and the artillery lines which they can see on their way — all bear witness to 
the existence of an ever- watchful and ever-present authority. 

Before reaching the danger-zone the troops are split up, and enter the de- 
parture trenches in small groups. Progress becomes more difficult at every 
step, for the much-trodden trench is getting sticky. If any rain has fallen the 
ground becomes a quagmire into which men sink up to their knees at every step. 
And then, despite instructions, runners, fatigue details, wounded, stretcher- 
bearers, isolated and lost, block the passage, already cluttered up with abandoned 
packs, caved-in walls and pitiful corpses. Every crossing is subjected to enemy 
artillery fire, either in intermittent gusts, killing by surprise, or by a sustained 
bombardment which stops all movement. 

By this time the infantry has reached its starting-point. The men have taken 
up the positions from which they will shortly launch the assault. Each man 
checks his arms, wipes the mud off* his rifle, stows away his trenching-tool, 
examines his hand-grenades and divides up his rations. The scaling-ladders are 
placed against the side of the trench and the machine-guns sited. The officers 
say a few encouraging words and check their roll. 

So long as these material preoccupations remain, nerves are easily dominated. 
But then comes the wait for zero hour. The wags try a few forced jokes. Wise 
men try to snatch an hour's sleep. The majority remain silent, absorbed in 
themselves. Day breaks and anxiety increases. The men know that many of 
them will never see another dawn. They are tired and shiver in the morning 
mist. Then, gradually, their torpor disappears with the growing light. Pro- 
tected by the bombardment and stimulated by the noise and by their own 


excitement, the infantry risk a glance over the parapet. Anxiously they try to 
estimate the effectiveness of their artillery fire, for every well-placed shell 
increases their chances of survival. 

The hour ofattack is near. Nerves are strained to breaking-point. Watches 
come out of pockets at every moment. The officers feel that all eyes are upon 
them. Forcing themselves to remain calm, they make their way along the line, 
indicating the objective and explaining how to get there. Every man is in the 
grip of the bonds of discipline. 

A few more minutes to go. The men are on their feet. The artillery fire 
redoubles in intensity. The machine-guns open up to cover the first rush. Zero 
hour. The officers give the signal. Behind them, with parched throats and 
throbbing temples, the soldiers go over the top like part of a well-regulated 

The attack has been minutely prepared in advance. Every detail concemmg 
the objective, the timing, the troop formations, artillery action and mutual 
support has been laid down. Nevertheless, almost as soon as it has begun, the 
carefully organized movement is disrupted by a multitude of causes. The 
ground is pitted with shell-holes, strewn with wreckage, criss-crossed with 
trenches and bristling with defensive obstacles of all kinds. The enemy artillery 
barrage grows from a few intermittent shots to a well-placed deluge of fire. 
Resistance is weak here, strong there. Sometimes it has been crushed in 
advance by the artillery preparation, so that the troops occupy their objectives 
without striking a blow. Sometimes, on the other hand, the infantry comes up 
against intact firing-points from the very first moment. In most cases, small 
formations make rapid progress through gaps where the defenders, having been 
badly cut up, are easily overrun, whilst others are held up by unscathed flanking 
positions. In any case, the unforeseen eventualities of battle — success to be 
exploited here, setbacks to be repaired there — demand the intervention of the 
commander. Reserves have to be brought up and the artillery engaged. 

For this purpose a detailed system of liaisons has been elaborated. Field- 
glasses scour the ground from the observation-points. 'Planes and balloons 
watch from above. Detachments of artillerymen go forward with the infantry, 
so as to be able to keep their batteries informed of what is happening. The in- 
fantry, for its part, endeavours to send back information by telephone, signals 
and relays of runners. A complete network of intercommunications joins up 
commanders' posts, observation-points and intelligence centres. Every de- 
partment has its maps and plans upon which the information received is plotted. 
And yet, despite every precaution, communications remain precarious. The 
O.P.s cannot cover the whole ground, while in the chaos of the attack a thousand 
details escape their notice. 'Planes and observation balloons are subjected to 
enemy action. Rain, fog and smoke hamper observation to a greater or lesser 
degree. Telephone wires are cut, runners killed or wounded. Signals are 
missed. Allowances have to be made for the unexpected, for delays and 

It is therefore impossible for the Commander to keep his information up to 
date or to make decisions in the light of the situation prevailing at the moment. 
Reserves arrive too late, or else lose their way. Concentrations of artillery-fire 
miss their target. The troops are a prey to hesitation and doubt. Small units 
which, by luck or daring, have pushed on far ahead, now find themselves in a 
perilous position. After suffering heavy losses from counter-attacks, they must 
either withdraw or be captured. Elsewhere small groups cling on tenaciously. 
The battle is split up into a series of local actions ; the infantry loses its officers 
and its best men, tactical contact is lost, and the Commander loses control of the 

Night brings the welcome opportunity for counting effectives, for reducing 
the captured ground to some sort of order, for renewing contact with the front, 


the rear and with both flanks, for moving artillery, replenishing supplies of 
munitions, food and water and for evacuating wounded and prisoners. The 
enemy, too, uses the respite for putting his own defences in order. When the 
second day dawns the attacker is no longer in a position to throw in the same 
forces as on the previous day. He needs time ; time to re-form his exhausted in- 
fantry, to reorganize his system of fire, re-establish communications and supply 
all and sundry. If he resigns himself to these preparations, his enemy's strength 
will have increased in proportion to the delay involved. If, on the other hand, 
he resumes the attack there and then, he runs the risk of a costly reverse. Such 
was the dramatic dilemma which overshadowed every offensive operation of the 

For, however stringent one's security precautions, it is impossible to keep so 
many preparations for the attack from the enemy's knowlsdge. A score of 
details rouse the vigilance of the defenders ; reports from agents, new lines of 
communication, batteries and trenches revealed by aerial photography ; trains, 
trucks, and troop movements spotted by observers ; signs of unusual activity 
noticed in the front line by units in contact. Raiding parties have brought in 
prisoners whose interrogation completes the available information. 

In the days preceding the battle there is feverish activity ; the forward troops, 
having received reinforcements, improve their positions ; the artillery sites its 
batteries and lays in stocks of ammunition ; the engineers repair roads, inter- 
communications and observation-posts ; the air force keeps watch on the enemy. 
Meanwhile the Commander gives his officers detailed instructions of the tasks 
which they have to perform, decides how his reserves are to be used and provides 
everybody with the requisite material. 

Suddenly the enemy artillery, which, so far, has been ominously silent, begins 
its bombardment. First of all it sends over a few isolated shells to get the range. 
Soon the fire becomes heavier. Guns of every calibre blaze away all at the same 
time. The deluge of projectiles covers the whole area, leaving no person or place 
a moment's peace or respite. Stunned and dazed by the deafening barrage, the 
infantry goes to ground. Heavy shells are crashing into crowded dug-outs. 
The living and the dead lie inextricably mixed in the shattered trenches. Men 
are cut off from each other by dust and smoke. All communication between 
them is made impossible by the din. Leaderless and helpless, suspended 
between life and death, the troops can do nothing but wait passively for the 
annihilating blow. 

One thing alone might bring some comfort to the stricken infantry — their 
own artillery. But its voice remains silent, for, subjected to the same pitiless 
barrage, choked and blinded by the poisonous fumes, the gunners cannot get 
near their guns. Enemy 'planes fly over the emplacements, and any gun that 
opens fire is spotted and put out of action. The deluge of shells, which tears 
up the roads and blocks them with shattered vehicles, blasted trees and dead 
horses, makes all movement along them impossible. Depots and casualty 
clearing-stations are unapproachable. No trains can use the railheads in the 
sector. Working-parties and guards are incapable of carrying out their orders. 

The Commander finds himself cut off from his troops, without news or means 
of action. With telephone wires broken, signals impossible, runners hope- 
lessly lost, he can receive neither reports nor orders. Pounded by high-explosive 
and blinded by smoke-bombs, observation-posts are useless, while any 'plane or 
observation-balloon is shot out of the air by swarms of enemy fighters. 

For hours, sometimes for days, the artillery barrage pounds positions and 
breaks spirits. The survivors are depressed and apathetic. Without sleep, food 
or water, feeling themselves abandoned by God and man, the soldiers have one 
hope — that their ordeal should end quickly, no matter how. 

Now the enemy has gone over to the offensive. But thanks to the curtain 
of fire which has preceded the attack, the defenders become aware of the situation 



only when the opposing infantry is upon them. Shells arc still falling on their 
trenches, when a shout of "Here they come !" brings the survivors to their feet. 
A few yards in front of them, through the dust and smoke, the enemy appears. 
But the men take some time to pull themselves together, to grab their rifles and 
fire them, to prime and throw their hand-grenades or get their machine-guns 
firing. What is more, some of the weapons are so covered with earth that they 
misfire. The commanders have been killed and gun-teams and firing-parties 
wiped out. Resistance is sometimes overwhelmed by the first wave of the 
attack before the defenders have been able to organize themselves. 

At certain points, however, either because their defences were stronger or 
because the nature of the ground gave protection against artillery fire, the 
defenders have had time to put themselves in readiness. The example has been 
given by a resolute commander who sees that his orders are carried out. They 
open fire, somewhat scattered at first, but more sustained at every moment. 
Automatics rattle. The oncoming enemy crumples up. The defence need fear 
no attack from the front. 

But their flanks are in danger. The pivotal garrison are horrified to see that 
they are outflanked and then cut off". Now the enemy rakes the ground with 
concentrated machine-gun fire. There is a murderous close-range battle of 
hand-grenades. The last defences are wiped out by mortar fire. Flame- 
throwers sear and bum the occupants. The artillery begins to batter them 
again with a crescendo of fire. One after another men are being killed. Am- 
munition runs out. The survivors are parched with thirst. Without orders or 
news, they lose hope at last. The enemy is upon them. Resistance weakens" 
and dies. 

But they have done theu- job, which was to gain time. The Commander 
has been able to pick up the threads of the battle, to take the most urgent 
measures and place his immediate reserves. Reinforcements, taken from neigh- 
bouring sectors, have begun to arrive. The artillery, which has now a little 
information to work on, puts down a heavy barrage, giving new life to the 
flagging spirits of the troops. The aviation makes good use of the tiredness of 
the enemy squadrons to risk some reconnaissance flights. Observation-points 
begin to function again. The network of communications has been restored. 
Behind the lines, every man gets back to his interrupted job. Convoys are re- 
formed. It becomes possible once more to send up supplies and to evacuate 
the wounded. Discipline and good order return. In no time a subtle wave of 
confidence spreads throughout the army. The word goes round : "They won't 
get through !" 

Pitiless, monotonous, and ruinous for defence and attack, such was the war 
of attrition ; huge armies of brave men locked in deadly combat, prodigies of 
courage, action and skill on both sides; gigantic undertakings completed, 
destroyed and rebuilt ; battles lasting several months, fought on a narrow front 
with tremendous wastage of life and material ; ten million casualties in France 
alone ; a thousand milHon shells fired. Despite all, the front remained obsti- 
nately motionless. No offensive brought a decision, no sacrifices brought 
victory. The task remained undiminished, and its end as far off" as ever. Hope 
was a matter of faith. 


For a struggle of this kind France was prepared neither morally nor materially. 
She had been assured by her economists, her politicians and her soldiers that the 
war would be short. Nor would the High Command resign itself to the stabi- 
lization of the front. The fact that French territory was invaded made patience 
impossible — "The Germans are still in Noyon." And finally, we had to keep 
the main part of the enemy's forces on our front in order to save our Russian 


and Serbian allies and to encourage Italy, Rumania, and Greece to enter the 
war on our side. The result was that no sooner had the long front line been 
established before a series of bloody assaults was launched against the enemy's 
positions. For two years the Allies attacked incessantly without the necessary 

Nor was this material immediately forthcoming. When, on September 20, 
1914, the Minister of War, Millerand, met the leaders of the metallurigcal in- 
dustry in Bordeaux and called upon them to go all out in the production of vast 
quantities of munitions, supplies of shells amounted to 900,000 and the State 
arsenals were turning out only 8,000 a day. A year later, in the offensives in 
Champagne and Artois, a million 75 mm. shells were fired — that is, thirty per yard 
of front. In 1916, on the Somme, three times as many were used. But the 
75 mm. gun was not adequate for every purpose. Not only were large areas 
of ground out of its effective range, but it was not powerful enough to destroy 
well-protected positions. Large numbers of hastily manufacturfed shells burst 
prematurely, putting more than six hundred guns out of action in six months. 
Every type of heavy gun that could be raised from arsenals, forts, or coastal 
batteries was brought up to the front : 80, 90 and 120 mm. long-barrel Bange 
pieces, 95 mm. Lahitolles, 120 mm. short-barrel Baquets, antiquated mortars 
of 220 and 270 mm. calibre. But this out-of-date artillery had neither the 
necessary range nor rate of fire and the shells were of poor quality. Some of the 
naval guns, however, proved quite useful weapons. Although the High Com- 
mand decided in 1915 to demand the manufacture of modern artillery, the guns 
were not ready for service until the beginning of 1917. Meanwhile the French 
launched a series of useless and sometimes criminally fooHsh attacks which 
resulted in fearful loss of life. In 1915 they lost in France alone 1,350,000 men 
killed, wounded, and prisoners as against German losses of 550,000 men. 

France, with her low birth-rate, paid in human lives for her mistakes and her 
lack of preparedness, and made a greater blood-sacrifice than any other belli- 
gerent. She had more men under arms, in proportion to population, than any 
other country. At the outset, 3,780,000 men were mobihsed, 1,900,000 as 
front-line troops. Their losses in killed, wounded, and prisoners amounted 
in 1914 to 955,000 men; in 1915, 1,430,000; in 1916, 900,000; in 1917, 546,000 
and in 1918, 1,095,000, making a total of close on 5,000,000. This despite the 
ever-growing needs of munitions and agriculture which absorbed 1,500,000 
servicemen, without counting the others. Yet from the end of 1915 France 
found the means of bringing the number of front-line troops to the total of 
3,000,000 and of maintaining the numbers at that level. To do this it was 
necessary to call up six new classes, to use over-aged troops in the fighting line, 
to send men back to the front almost before their wounds were healed, to throw 
in every man capable of serving, and progressively to lower the physical standard 
required for recruits. By the end of the war, without counting her native troops, 
France had incorporated 7,800,000 men, or 20 per cent of the population, in the 
armed forces. No other nation had done so much. The respective percentages 
for other countries are : Germany, 18 ; Italy, 15 ; Austria-Hungary, 14 ; Britain, 
1 3 ; Russia, 10. The number of French soldiers killed amounted to 3.5 per cent 
of the total population ; for Germany the percentage was 2.9 ; for Britain, 2.2 ; 
for Italy, 1.7; for Austria, 0.9; for Russia, 0.7. The sacrifice was especially 
cruel for France, since it was paid with the lives of her youth, a treasure in which 
she was poorer than any other European country. 

It may seem incredible that a slaughter on such a scale did not have as its 
consequences the disintegration of the army. Every single French division was 
engaged on the average ten times. Some of them took part in as many as 
seventeen actions, without counting long periods during which they occupied a 
sector. It was an almost invariable rule that no division was relieved until it 
had lost a third of its effectives. When one considers that the infantry alone 


suffered more than three-quarters of the total losses, an idea can be formed of 
the punishment taken by some of its regiments. Certain of them which, thanks 
to their high quality, had to bear the brunt, incorporated as many as twelve 
times their normal complement of men. The 19th Battalion of Chasseurs, with 
an average establishment of 800 men, held the grim and glorious record of losing 
12,570 officers, n.c.o.s and men, 3,133 of whom were killed. 

As a consequence of these tremendous losses the troops consisted of a hetero- 
geneous collection of men of all ages and origins. Entirely new infantry divisions 
had to be formed. As against 64 infantry divisions at the beginning of the war, 
the number rose to 110, while the numbers of the general reserves were multi- 
plied five times. The constantly decimated cadres were unable to cope with 
these fluctuating masses of new entrants. By the end of 1915 50 per cent of 
the regular officers had been killed or incapacitated. As time went on, 
platoons, companies, and even battalions were commanded by officers of the 
reserve, many* of whom learned the art of commanding men, while others 
never acquired the necessary degree of authority. Almost all of them, unless 
they were killed or discharged unfit, went through the normal gamut several 
times — "over the top", hospital, base, and back to the front to reinforce a 
different corps — so that they never had the time to make that personal contact 
with their own men which is essential if there is to be cohesion. In this con- 
tinual reshuffling there could be none of that moving ceremonial which formerly 
gave a soul to a regiment; no flags were unfurled, no trumpets blared, no forests 
of bayonets glinted in the sun. Everywhere and always, nothing but mud, 
dug-outs, and packs. 

Yet belief in victory remained long undimmed among the rank and file. 
"We'll get 'em !" they said. If success had not materialized, it was because they 
lacked some particular weapon with which they would soon be provided. And 
they prepared to make yet another effort, which they hoped would be 
the last. 

Yet months and years passed. Resignation gradually gave way under the 
long anguish of ever- threatening death and unrelieved misery. Then the burden 
was not fairly distributed, and the soldier became irritated at the differences. He 
groused or joked about members of the General Staff or others whose duties 
kept them well behind the front line. A certain unhealthy atmosphere of pro- 
fiteering, cynicism and excess among the civilians made him more envious of 
those who could enjoy the things of which he was deprived — comfort, freedom, 
women. Even the fatuous optimism displayed in the newspapers and in official 
speeches added to his depression. 

Little by little discontent degenerated into lack of discipline. Cases of 
serious crime punished by courts-martial rose from 3,000 in 1914 to 14,000 in 
1915, 25,000 in 1916, reaching the figure of 26,000 for the first four months of 
1917. There were many signs — the tone of conversation and letters, the shouts 
and songs of men on leave, the disorderly conduct of men in camp, the increase in 
drunkenness — which showed that morale was cracking. The despondency 
caused by the failure of the April offensive on the Chemin des Dames gave rise 
to a widespread crisis. During the months of May, June, and July 1917, a 
large number of units refused to obey orders. In some cases the mutiny was 
restricted to a kind of sit-down strike : "We're not doing any more attacking", 
"We're not going into the line again". But in many instances there were open 
demonstrations. Some indulged in armed rebellion and prepared to march on 
Paris. In 10 weeks mutinies of this kind affected units in 80 infantry regiments, 
21 battalions of chasseurs, and 9 artillery regiments. The mutinous troops 
belonged to 54 different divisions. 

The disease was simply a symptom of overstrain. Petain did not content 
himself with repression alone. He endeavoured to find a remedy for the ills 
which beset the soldier. He lengthened his periods of rest, increased his pay. 


provided more straw in his quarters. To foster his self-respect he invented 
stripes and shoulder-cords and made a fairer distribution of medals and citations 
which, formerly, had been given in inverse proportion to the danger incurred. 
He strove to bring officers into closer contact with their troops, and encouraged 
the private soldier to give his opinion. He made a point of explaining the why 
and wherefore of the decisions which had to be made. In short, the treatment 
consisted in rest and restoration. For a whole year the only battles fought con- 
sisted in three minor offensives which were called off as soon as the first onslaught 
had gained its objective. The front became a workshop in which the army was 
forged anew. 

For one thing, it had to absorb the equipment produced by an industrial 
machine which was now working to capacity. The increase in the numbers of 
machine-guns and the adoption of the automatic rifie brought about the re- 
organization of the infantry in small gun teams instead of in rifle sections. The 
artillery, too, had to be transformed in the light of its new material. Each 
division and each army corps received 24 heavy guns. Batteries of every calibre, 
75 and 105 mm. lorry-borne guns, 155, 220 and 270 mm. motor-drawn guns, and 
240, 305, 370, and 400 mm. pieces transported by rail formed a mobile reserve 
which made it possible for the commander to concentrate an enormous weight of 
fire-power wherever it was needed. The cavalry provided cadres for the in- 
fantry as well as contingents of foot-soldiers. Regiments of Schneider, Saint- 
Chamond, and Renault tanks were constituted to operate in massed formation, 
thus marking the beginning of the revolution in warfare brought about by the 
combination of the petrol motor and armour. After a long succession of dis- 
appointments the air force now had some excellent machines — Moranes, Spads, 
and Potez for reconnaissance; Spads and Salmsons as fighters; Breguets, 
Voisins, and Farmans as bombers; Nieuports, Letord-Lorraines for home 
defence — with a total power forty times greater than at the beginning of the 
war. Numerous schools, centres, and training establishments instructed the 
troops in the use of their new weapons. After the fourth war winter the army 
had found its feet again. 

In a war of material moral is a consequence of the value of one's equipment, 
and in this all-important sphere France had succeeded in making good her handi- 
cap. Although her pre-war plans envisaged the use of only the number of guns 
already in existence at the time of the mobilization, 36,000 new cannon were 
manufactured. In place of the calculated daily production of 14,000 shells, 
the total actually manufactured was 300,000 a day, and 400 tons of gunpowder 
instead of the 24 tons which had previously been judged sufficient. During the 
first fortnight of the Battle of the Somme 3,000 kilos of projectiles were fired for 
every metre of ground in the fighting zone, while in seven days at La Malmaison 
the weight of shells fired exceeded 6,000 kilos. As compared with 3,000 auto- 
matics in service at the beginning of the war, the total number put into use was in 
the neighbourhood of 300,000; telephones increased from 2,000 to 35,000; 
batteries from 2,000 to 3,000,000 ; cables from 600 to 2,000,000 kilometres ; 
wireless sets from 50 to 30,000 with 300,000 accumulators At the time of the 
armistice the French army had several thousands of continuous wave radio sets 
in use, while the Germans were still in the experimental stage with theirs. 
Whereas on August 2, 1914, the French had 136 aeroplanes with 500 spare 
engines, 35,000 machines and 180,000 engines were produced during the war. 
They invented the tank, and 5,000 models were manufactured. Although taken by 
surprise by the illegal use of poison gas, the French were able to make no mean 
reply with the new weapon. In addition, they equipped themselves lavishly 
with field-glasses, range-finders, automatic sights and sound-detectors. Wearing 
steel helmets and grey-blue or khaki uniforms, well equipped and well fed, the 
troops at last shook off the irritation and depression caused by the authorities* 
neglect of detail. 


These results are all the more deserving of praise seeing that the invasion of 
Northern and Eastern France had cost the country 50 per cent of the coal, 64 
per cent of the iron, and 62 per cent of the steel normally produced in her mines 
and works. In addition to these large quantities of fuel and iron, France en- 
tirely lacked the copper, zinc and manganese indispensable for the manufacture 
of munitions. She had none of the cotton or nitrates needed for the pro- 
duction of explosives, nor enough petrol, wool, oil, leather or chemical products. 
It is true that thanks to her alliance with Britain she was able to import all these 
raw materials, but they had to be paid for, and the means of obtaining the 
necessary credits for financing these transactions had to be discovered as 
and when the need arose. 

Moreover, despite the lack of so many necessities, and despite the invasion of 
her soil, France struck mighty blows outside her own territory. As early as 
191 5 she had provided two-thirds of the Allied forces landed on Gallipoli. The 
Balkan expsdition was undertaken on French initiative. In September 1918 
there were nine French divisions in action on the Vardar. British, Serbian, 
Italian and Greek troops were under the command of General Franchet 
d'Esperey, who led them to victory at a pace that was achieved nowhere else. 
Between Caporetto and the end of the campaign France lent the Italians 
40,000 men and powerful forces of artillery. For more than a year the 
French navy kept the Austrian fleet bottled up in the Adriatic and played an 
important part in the attempt to force the Dardanelles. French cruisers, tor- 
pedo-boats, trawlers and minelayers subsequently accounted for over one-third 
of the number of German submarines sent to the bottom. In the meantime 
France had maintained order in her Empire, kept watch on Morocco, expelled 
the Senussi from Southern Tunisia, and Conquered the Congo and the Cameroons. 
She helped by land and sea to safeguard the Suez Canal, to conquer Jerusalem 
from the Turks, to liberate Arabia, Syria, the Lebanon, and Cilicia. The 
Belgian forces were armed entirely by the French, who also received the Serbian 
army and kept it equipped until the end of the war, expelled King Constantine 
from Athens and provided the Venezelist troops with arms and equipment. 
The Rumanians, distant though they were, received French advisers and special- 
ists. In 1916 and 1917 a French miUtary mission sent munitions and supplies 
to the Russians through Archangel and Kola. The American troops were 
trained by French instructors; they used French artiUery and flew French 
'planes. At the time of the armistice a Polish army and a Czechoslovak corps, 
armed and organized by the French, had recently gone into action on the Western 
Front. In every corner of the world French prestige and power roused and 
galvanized the war effort. 

But to sustain this prestige and to make use of this power France needed, 
and found, leaders. It is true that the political game made leadership unstable 
and stormy. In the space of four years five Premiers formed seven cabinets, 
while seven different men held office as Minister of War. But while Viviani, 
Briand, Ribot and Painleve all pulled in different directions, Poincare, as head 
of the State, assured continuity in the country's plans. Steadfast in his 
aim and firmly seated in the saddle, familiar with every problem and every 
part of the machine, he was both leader and counsellor. Though his caution 
led him to disapprove of the war, he saw its approach with a kind of 
secret hope and toiled ceaselessly to keep his country bent upon her traditional 

If Poincare was the wisdom of France, Clemenceau was her anger. Not until 
the eleventh hour did France call upon this fierce warrior. He was equal to the 
worst catastrophes. "War — nothing but war !" How well it suited him ! He 
hurled himself upon traitors, whether actual or potential, upon Germany and 
the House of Austria and rent them tooth and nail. He struck passion- 
ately, sometimes blindly — and France paid for his excesses. But, at the time, 


this impulsive, fierce old man gave her the luihiess tenacity which she needed for 
her final struggle. 

The military side too was now well in hand. The distinguished leaders who 
had borne the burden during the experimental stage — Dubail, Castelnau, 
Ruffey, Langle de Gary, Lanrezac, Maunoury, d'Amade — ^were gradually 
joined or replaced by men like Franchet d'Esperey, Sarrail, FayoUe, Guillaumat, 
Nivelle, Maistre, Gouraud, Mangin, Humbert, Debeney, Degoutte, past-masters 
in the harsh tactics of cannon versus well protected machine-guns. The generals 
were supported by staff officers experienced in every table and every computation 
designed to aid the judgment in using the enormous mass of material to best 
advantage. Most important of all, there had emerged a leader who taught his 
army to distinguish the real from the imaginary and the possible from the im- 
possible. On the day when a choice had to be made between ruin and reason, 
Petain received promotion. With an unerring flair for essentials and practic- 
abilities, not only did he dominate his task by the power of his intellect, but he 
impressed upon it the mark of his character. This clear-minded personality 
seemed appointed by Nature to provide that sober judgment in action which the 
struggle and its participants demanded. A man who had disdained to climb 
by the favour of others inspired confidence in his subordinates. His acute 
critical sense had preserved him from easy success. His independence and in- 
tegrity, while allowing him to take orders and receive advice, made him immune 
from influence. His studied reserve of maimer, accompanied by an observant 
irony and a proud dignity, preserved the secret of his power from the gaze of the 

Yet tactics which consisted in an alternation of methodical attack with well- 
conceived defence, though gaining successes, were unable to bring victory. 
Victory could be achieved only by a combination of a number of all-out efforts. 
What was needed was a synthesis of every separate operation in one, an obstinate 
readiness to double the stakes and to take risks — these are the essentials of 

When Foch arrived. Fate dealt him a handful of trumps. It is difficult to 
see what his daring planning could have achieved had it not been for Petain's 
well-constructed machine, Haig's army and Pershing's effectives. Nevertheless, 
to Foch belongs the honour of having imposed his will, the merit of playing the 
last high stakes, the glory of seeing the business through, if not to triumph, at 
least to victory. He was, moreover, an accomplished strategist, and not one of 
the lines and arrows on his map of operations lends itself to criticism. 

As soon as the situation had been restored, he began a cautious offensive, 
restricted at first to a limited operation in the neighbourhood of Villers-Cotterets. 
Soon the offensive reached the Ancre, then the Somme, moving towards Saint- 
Mihiel. Once this movement was under way it spread to wider sectors of the 
front. One after another, Picardy, Champagne, the Argonne and Flanders, all 
became involved in it. The whole front was on the move, from Verdun to the 
North Sea. As the enemy gave way, our hammer-blows struck harder and 
faster. In this battle which, in three months, forced the enemy to capitulate, 
the French army gave undisputed proof of its superiority. During the months 
of August, September, and October 1918 the French fired an average of 600,000 
shells a day, and the Germans 500,000, a third of which were directed against 
France's aUies. The French had 3,000 'planes in the air against 2,600 of the 
enemy's. The attack was supported by 3 ,000 tanks while the Germans possessed 
less than 60. We had 80,0<)() lorries as compared with 40,000 at most on the 
other side. As for the skill displayed by the High Command, the General 
Staff and the Services, and the quality of the troops, the results speak for them- 
selves. Without respite or setback they captured every position in which the 
enemy attempted to make a stand. Though opposed almost to the last day by 
divisions equal in number to their own, in twelve weeks the French killed or 


wounded more than 500,000 Germans, took 140,000 prisoners, and captured 
5,000 guns and 28,000 machine-guns, for the loss of 260,000 men. When the 
Germans begged for an armistice, Castelnau was about to launch from 
Lorraine an attack on the enemy's communications which would have cornered 
his armies in some gigantic Sedan. 

Although caught unprepared for the first onslaught, France had recovered 
herself on the very edge of the abyss. Still staggering from her wounds she had 
plunged into a gruelling series of battles, from which, armed at last for victory, 
she emerged victorious. She had paid dearly for her omissions in preparing 
for the struggle. Numerically inferior for the first time in history, she had lost 
the advantage enjoyed by the big battalions. Yet among the armies united 
against the Central Powers, her army played the leading part from the beginning 
to the end. More cruelly tried by the suffering of war and invasion than any 
other nation, by the sacrifice of the best of her sons, by the grievous wounds 
inflicted on her soil, by devastated homes and shattered families, she had forged 
for herself a fighting machine which finally surpassed that of any other belli- 
gerent. In the final reckoning, two out of every three Germans killed met their 
death at the hands of French soldiers. French guns, 'planes, and tanks were 
second to none. French generalship showed itself to be unsurpassed. The 
victorious powers drew inspiration from the undaunted effort of French valour. 

Throughout the centuries the French people have enjoyed the sad privilege of 
bearing with unflinching courage the heaviest load of sorrows. If neither age 
nor experience has rid this people of its shortcomings, disaster has been un- 
availing against its inextinguishable vitality and faith in its destiny. ^ Though at 
times forgetful of its strength in the pursuit of phantoms, it has shown itself 
invincible once it has turned its back upon them. A great people, fit to show 
others the way, fit for enterprise and combat, for ever playing the leading role 
in the drama of history, whether as tyrant, as victim, or as champion of the 
oppressed ; a people whose genius, whether in eclipse or in glory, has always 
found its faithful reflection in the mirror of its army. 



UA Gaulle, Charles de, Pres. 

702 France 

G383 France and her army