Organization of French Revolutionary Armies 1791 - 1801



As the Revolution in France began to gain momentum, France found herself at odds with most of the powers of Europe. After war was declared in 1792, Europe experienced an almost continual state of warfare for the next ten years until the Peace of Amiens was signed in 1802. Throughout this period the French military experienced significant changes, most notably:

All of this turmoil led to a frequent reorganization of the French armies, sometimes confounding a military historian's ability to make sense of all the different armies of the Revolution. The section that follows lays out the various states and transitions of the French armies during the Revolution. Dates should be considered as approximate since reorganizing an army cannot usually be completed in a single day and some sources cite different dates.


1791

  • December 14: A decree from the king establishes three armies to defend France: the Army of the Center (Armée du Centre), the Army of the North (Armée du Nord), and the Army of the Rhine (Armée du Rhin).

1792

  • April 13: A decree from the king establishes the Army of the South (Armée du Midi).
  • April 20: France declares war on Austria.
  • May 21: Prussia declares war on France.
  • July 25: The Brunswick Manifesto is issued and threatens the destruction of Paris.
  • August 19: The Duke of Brunswick's army invades France.
  • September 4: The Army of the Interior (Armée de l'Intérieur) is created to protect Paris.
  • September 20: The victory at Valmy turns back Brunswick's army.
  • September 21: The National Convention is established as the government of France.
  • October 1. A decree from the National Convention reorganizes the army structures:
    • The Army of the North is split into two armies:
      • Left wing: Army of the North
      • Right wing: Army of the Ardennes (Armée des Ardennes). The left wing of the Army of the Ardennes is sometimes referred to as the Army of Belgium (Armée de Belgique).
    • A portion of the Army of the Rhine is split off as the Army of the Vosges (Armée des Vosges).
    • The Army of the South is split into two armies:
      • Left wing: Army of the Alps (Armée des Alpes)
      • Right wing: Army of the Pyrenees (Armée des Pyrénées)
    • The Army of the Center is renamed the Army of the Moselle (Armée de la Moselle).
  • November 1: 1792: A decree from the Executive Council splits the Army of the Alps into two armies:
    • Left wing: Army of Savoy (Armée de Savoie)
    • Right wing: Army of Italy (Armée d'Italie). Prior to this, the right wing of the Army of the Alps had unofficially been referred to as the Army of the Var (Armée du Var).
  • November 29: After Savoy joins the French Republic as the département of Mont-Blanc, the Army of Savoy is renamed the Army of the Alps.

1793

  • January 1: A decree from the Executive Council creates the Army of the Coasts (Armée des Côtes).
  • January 21: King Louis XVI is executed, uniting Austria, Prussia, England, Holland, Spain, Portugal, and Naples against France.
  • February 1: France declares war on England and Holland.
  • February 24: A decree of the lévee en masse in issued by the National Convention, authorizing a draft of 300,000 men.
  • March 1: A decree from the Executive Council reorganizes some of the armies:
    • The left wing of the Army of the Ardennes rejoins the Army of the North.
    • The Army of the Vosges rejoins the Army of the Rhine.
    • The Army of the Interior is renamed the Army of the Reserve (Armée de Reserve).
  • March 7: France declares war on Spain.
  • March 11: A rebellion begins in the Vendée due to royalist and religious ideologies and a resistance to participate in the lévee en masse.
  • April 5: General Dumouriez defects to the Austrians.
  • April 6: The National Convention creates the Committee of Public Safety to stop counter revolutionaries, leading to the Reign of Terror.
  • April 30: A decree from the Executive Council reorganizes some of the armies:
    • The Army of the Pyrenees is split into two armies:
      • Left wing: Army of the Eastern Pyrenees (Armée des Pyrénées-Orientales)
      • Right wing: Army of the Western Pyrenees (Armée des Pyrénées-Occidentales)
    • The Army of the Coasts is split into two armies:
      • Left wing: Army of the Coasts of Brest (Armée des Côtes de Brest)
      • Right wing: Army of the Coasts of Cherbourg (Armée des Côtes de Cherbourg)
    • The Army of the Reserve is renamed the Army of the Coasts of La Rochelle (Armée des Côtes de La Rochelle).
  • July 23: The French forces holding Mainz surrender, agreeing to not fight the Coalition forces for one year. Therefore, the majority of the troops from Mainz are sent west to fight counter-revolutionaries in the Vendée.
  • August 8: Due to the revolt of Lyon, a portion of the Army of the Alps is split off to lay siege to Lyon.
  • August 23: A decree of the lévee en masse in issued, calling to arms all unmarried men aged 18 to 25 without children.
  • September 4: Due to the revolt of Toulon, a portion of the Army of Italy is split off to lay siege to Toulon.
  • October 2: A decree from the National Convention merges the Army of the Coasts of La Rochelle and a portion of the Army of the Coasts of Brest into the Army of the West (Armée de l'Ouest).
  • October 29: Having retaken Lyon, the Revolutionary troops there rejoin the Army of the Alps.
  • December 28: Having retaken Toulon, the Revolutionary troops there are either put in garrison, sent back to the Army of Italy, or sent to the Army of the Eastern Pyrenees.
  • Unchanged in organization but still active throughout the year:
    • Army of the Moselle

1794

  • June 29: A decree from the National Convention combines the Army of the Ardennes with the right wing of the Army of the North and left wing of the Army of the Moselle to form the Army of the Sambre and Meuse (Armée de Sambre-et-Meuse).
  • July 27: The Thermidorian Reaction overthrows Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon, and their supporters, leading to the end of the Reign of Terror.
  • November 29: The left wing of the Army of the Rhine and the right wing of the Army of the Moselle join together to form the Army of Mainz (Armée de Mayence).
  • Unchanged in organization but still active throughout the year:
    • Army of the Alps
    • Army of Italy
    • Army of the Eastern Pyrenees
    • Army of the Western Pyrenees
    • Army of the West
    • Army of the Coasts of Brest
    • Army of the Coasts of Cherbourg

1795

  • February 17: The Revolutionary government and the Vendéens sign the accords of La Jaunaye, pacifying some of the rebels in that region.
  • March 3: A decree from the National Convention combines the Army of the Rhine and Army of the Moselle into the Army of the Rhine and Moselle (Armée de Rhin-et-Moselle).
  • April 5: France and Prussia sign the Peace of Basel, ending hostilities and allowing Prussia to focus its ambitions on Poland.
  • June 23: England sends an expedition comprised of English troops and French royalist émigrés to invade France at Quiberon.
  • July 12: The Army of the Interior is formed to defend Paris from royalist uprisings.
  • July 22: France and Spain sign a peace treaty, ending hostilities between them.
  • October 5: General Bonaparte defends the National Convention from a royalist mob on 13 Vendémiaire.
  • October 12: After peace is achieved with Spain, the armies fighting the Spanish are disbanded:
    • The Army of the Eastern Pyrenees is disbanded and its troops are either put in garrison or sent to the Army of Italy.
    • The Army of the Western Pyrenees is disbanded and its troops are either put in garrison or sent to the Army of the West.
  • November 2: The Directory takes power in France.
  • December 26: A decree from the Directory combines the Army of the West, the Army of the Coasts of Brest, and the Army of the Coasts of Cherbourg into the Army of the Coasts of the Ocean (Armée des Côtes de l'Océan).
  • Unchanged in organization but still active throughout the year:
    • Army of the North
    • Army of the Sambre and Meuse
    • Army of Mainz
    • Army of the Alps

1796

  • September 21: The Army of the Interior is disbanded.
  • September 26: The Army of the Coasts of the Ocean is disbanded with the troops sent to the Army of the Alps, the Army of Italy, the Army of the Rhine and Moselle, and a new force preparing for an expedition to Ireland.
  • November 1: The expedition to Ireland is formed at Brest.
  • Unchanged in organization but still active throughout the year:
    • Army of the North
    • Army of the Sambre and Meuse

1797

  • February 9: The expedition to Ireland is disbanded with the troops sent to the Army of the Sambre and Meuse.
  • April 17: France and Austria sign the Peace of Leoben, ending hostilities.
  • September 4: The coup of 18 Fructidor expels royalists and enemies of the Directory from the French government.
  • September 13: The Army of the Alps is disbanded.
  • September 29: A decree from the Directory combines the Army of the Sambre and Meuse and the Army of the Rhine and Moselle into the Army of Germany (Armée d'Allemagne).
  • October 18: The Peace of Campo Formio confirms the peace between France and Austria.
  • October 26: A decree from the Directory establishes the Army of England (Armée d'Angleterre).
  • November 8: The Army of the North is disbanded. Two divisions had been detached to the Army of the Sambre and Meuse the previous year. The troops that remain in Holland are now designated as French troops stationed in the Batavian Republic though unofficially they are sometimes referred to as the Army of Belgium.
  • December 9: A decree from the Directory splits the Army of Germany into the Army of Mainz and the Army of the Rhine.
  • Unchanged in organization but still active throughout the year:
    • Army of Italy

1798

  • January 29: A decree from the Directory disbands the Army of the Rhine but concentrates the troops in the département of Mont-Terrible.
  • February 3: A portion of the Army of Italy is split off as the Army of Rome (Armée de Rome).
  • March 5: A decree establishes the Army of the Orient (Armée d'Orient) initially under the name of the Army of England.
  • March 8: The troops formerly of the Army of the Rhine and now stationed in Mont-Terrible are formed into the Army of Switzerland (Armée d'Helvétie).
  • April 8: A second expedition to Ireland is prepared with troops from the Army of England.
  • May 19: The expedition to Egypt sets sail to challenge English control in the east.
  • November 5: A decree renames the French troops stationed in the Batavian Republic to the Army in the Dutch Republic (Armée dans la République Batave).
  • Unchanged in organization but still active throughout the year:
    • Army of Mainz

1799

  • January 24: The Army of Rome is renamed the Army of Naples (Armée de Naples).
  • February 9: The Army of Mainz is renamed the Army of Observation (Armée d'Observation).
  • March 1: French troops cross the Rhine, beginning the War of the Second Coalition.
  • March 2: The Army of Observation is renamed the Army of the Danube (Armée du Danube).
  • April 29: The Army of Switzerland joins the Army of the Danube.
  • July 20: The Army of the Danube is split into the Army of the Danube and the Army of the Rhine.
  • July 21: The Army of Italy is split into the Army of Italy and the Army of the Alps.
  • August 4: The Army of Naples rejoins the Army of Italy.
  • September 1: The Army of the Alps and the Army of Italy are recombined into the Army of Italy.
  • September 23: The Army in the Dutch Republic is renamed the Army of Holland (Armée de la Batavie).
  • November 9: Napoleon seizes power in the coup of 18 Brumaire and establishes the Consulate.
  • November 24: The Army of the Danube and the Army of the Rhine are recombined into the Army of the Rhine.
  • Unchanged in organization but still active throughout the year:
    • Army of the Orient
    • Army of England

1800

  • January 17: The Army of England is renamed the Army of the West.
  • March 8: The Army of the Reserve is formed from troops stationed in Paris, the Army of the West, and the depots of the Army of the Orient.
  • June 4: The second Army of the Reserve (Armée de Reserve de Deuxième Ligne) is established.
  • June 23: After the victory at Marengo, the Army of the Reserve and Army of Italy are combined into the Army of Italy.
  • October 17: The second Army of the Reserve is renamed the Army of Grisons (Armée des Grisons).
  • November 24: The Army of Holland is renamed the French-Dutch Army (Armée Gallo-Batave).
  • Unchanged in organization but still active throughout the year:
    • Army of the Orient
    • Army of the Rhine

1801

  • February 9: France and Austria sign the Treaty of Lunéville, leaving England as the sole nation still at war with France.
  • April 10: The French-Dutch Army is renamed the Army of Holland.
  • May 5: The Army of the Rhine is disbanded.
  • May 21: The Army of Grisons is disbanded.
  • June 20: The Army of Italy is disbanded.
  • September 2: The Army of the Orient surrenders to the English in Egypt.
  • October 14: The Army of the Orient leaves Egypt and is disbanded upon arrival back in France.
  • October 23: The Army of Holland is disbanded.
  • Unchanged in organization but still active throughout the year:
    • Army of the West



Bibliography

Updated June 2017

© Nathan D. Jensen