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Army of the Rhine and Moselle

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Army of the Rhine and Moselle
A French fusilier carries his long muzzled musket. He wears a blue jacket and white shirt and trousers; his cartridge belt is strapped across his chest and he wears a tri-cornered hat with a red revolutionary cockade.
Fusilier of a French Revolutionary Army
Active 20 April 1795 – 29 September 1797
Disbanded 29 September 1797 and units merged into Army of Germany
Country France
Allegiance First Republic
Jean-Charles Pichegru
Jean Victor Marie Moreau
Louis Desaix
Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr

The Army of the Rhine and Moselle (French: Armée de Rhin-et-Moselle) was one of the field units of the French Revolutionary Army. It was formed on 20 April 1795 by the merger of elements of the Army of the Rhine and the Army of the Moselle. On 29 September 1797, the Army of the Rhine and Moselle merged with the Army of the Sambre and Meuse to form the Army of Germany.

The Army figured in two principal campaigns in the War of the First Coalition. By this time, military planners in Paris formed armies based on specific strategic tasks, and the task of this Army was to, first, secure the French frontier at the Rhine river, and second, to penetrate into the German states, potentially threatening Vienna. The unsuccessful 1795 campaign concluded with the removal of General Jean-Charles Pichegru from command. In 1796, the army, under command of General Jean Victor Marie Moreau, proved itself more successful. After crushing the Reichsarmee's elements at Kehl, the Army advanced well into southwestern Germany. In late summer, the Habsburg commander, Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen, push the French back to France.

The Army of the Rhine and Moselle experienced excruciating command problems in its early operations, and these were especially problematic in campaign failures of 1795. In 1796, the jealousies between commanders complicated the efficient operations of the Army. After a summer of maneuver in which the Coalition force drew the French deeper and deeper into German territory, Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen, the Habsburg commander, drubbed the French at Wurzburg and second Wetzlar and then defeated Jean-Baptiste Jourdan's army at the Limburg-Altenkirchen, destroying any chance that Jourdan's force and Moreau's Army of the Rhine and Moselle could merge. Once Jourdan was eliminated from support and withdrew to the west bank of the Rhine, Charles could focus his attention on Moreau. By October, they were fighting on the western slope of the Black Forest and by December, Charles had the French forces under siege at the principal river crossings of Kehl and Hüningen. By early 1797, the French had relinquished control of the bridgeheads over the Rhine.

The Army of the Rhine and Moselle had served an important function, though. The campaigns in which the Army of the Rhine and Moselle participated also provided experience for a cadre of young officers. In his five volume analysis of the Revolutionary Armies, Ramsey Weston Phipps called the Army of the Rhine and Moselle a "school for marshals", to emphasize the importance of experience under these conditions in training the future leadership of Napoleon's army.

Purpose and formation[edit]

Military challenges[edit]

By 1792 the armies of the French Republic were in a state of disruption; experienced soldiers of the Ancien Régime fought side by side with raw volunteers. Troops experienced in military life knew how to stay alive; they knew how to march, deploy, take orders, give orders, all the necessities of military discipline. On the raw recruits, urged on by revolutionary fervor from the special representatives, agents of the legislature sent to insure cooperation among the military, lacked the discipline and training to function efficiently and cohesively; frequently insubordinate, they often refused direct orders and undermined unit cohesion. After a loss, they were capable of outright mutiny, as Théobald Dillon learned when his troops rebelled and lynched him in 1792.[1][2]

The problems of command and cohesion became more acute following the 1793 introduction of mass conscription, the so-called levée en masse. French commanders walked a fine line between the security of the frontier and the Parisian clamor for victory. Add to this the desperate condition of the Army—in training, supplies, and leadership—and the military leadership faced a disaster. They themselves were constantly under suspicion from the representatives of the new regime and sometimes from their own soldiers. Failure to achieve unrealistic expectations implied disloyalty and the price of disloyalty was the guillotine: the aged Nicolas Luckner, Jean Nicolas Houchard, Adam Philippe Custine, Arthur Dillon, and Antoine Nicolas Collier all fell under its blade. Francisco de Miranda's failure to take Maastricht landed him in La Force Prison for several years. Many of the old officer class already had emigrated, forming émigré armies; the cavalry in particular suffered from their departure and two entire regiments, the Hussards du Saxe and the 15éme Cavalerie (Royal Allemande) defected en masse to the Austrians. The artillery arm, considered by the old nobility to be an inferior assignment, was less affected by emigration, and survived intact.[2][2][3]

Diagram showing the evolution of the Army of the Moselle-depicting the different armies that were combined and separated as needed for the northern campaign
Evolution of the Army of the Moselle, War of the First Coalition


Military planners in Paris understood that the upper Rhine Valley, the south-western German territories, and Danube river basin were strategically important for the defense of the Republic. The Rhine offered a formidable barrier to what the French perceived as Austrian aggression, and the state that controlled its crossings controlled the river itself and, consequently, access into the territories on either side. Finally, ready access across the Rhine and along the Rhine bank between the German states and Switzerland, or through the Black Forest, gave access to the upper Danube river valley. For the French, control of the Upper Danube or any point in between, offered an immense strategic value and would give the French a reliable approach to Vienna.[4]

To achieve this goal, the armies were reorganized into task forces. The right flank of the Armies of the Center, later the called the Army of the Moselle, the entire Army of the North and the Army of the Ardennes were combined to form the Army of the Sambre and Meuse. The remaining units of the former Army of the Center and the Army of the Rhine were united, initially on 29 November 1794, and formally on 20 April 1795, under command of Jean-Charles Pichegru.[5]

Campaign of 1795[edit]

Black and white print of an 18th-century battle. Austrian cavalry and infantry advancing from left to right are overwhelming French soldiers.
The Austrians routed the French at the Battle of Handschuhsheim

The Rhine Campaign of 1795 (April 1795 to January 1796) opened when two Habsburg Austrian armies under the overall command of François Sébastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt defeated an attempt by two Republican French armies to cross the Rhine River and capture the Fortress of Mainz. At the start of the campaign the French Army of the Sambre and Meuse led by Jean-Baptiste Jourdan confronted Clerfayt's Army of the Lower Rhine in the north, while the French Army of Rhine and Moselle under Pichegru lay opposite Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser's army in the south. In August Jourdan crossed and quickly seized Düsseldorf. The Army of the Sambre and Meuse advanced south to the Main River, completely isolating Mainz. Pichegru's army made a surprise capture of Mannheim so that both French armies held significant footholds on the east bank of the Rhine. The French fumbled away the promising start to their offensive. Pichegru bungled at least one opportunity to seize Clerfayt's supply base in the Battle of Handschuhsheim. With Pichegru unexpectedly inactive, Clerfayt massed against Jourdan, beat him at Höchst in October and forced most of the Army of the Sambre and Meuse to retreat to the west bank of the Rhine. About the same time, Wurmser sealed off the French bridgehead at Mannheim. With Jourdan temporarily out of the picture, the Austrians defeated the left wing of the Army of Rhine and Moselle at the Battle of Mainz and moved down the west bank. In November, Clerfayt gave Pichegru a drubbing at Pfeddersheim and successfully wrapped up the Siege of Mannheim. In January 1794, Clerfayt concluded an armistice with the French, allowing the Austrians to retain large portions of the west bank. During the campaign Pichegru had entered into negotiations with French Royalists. It is debatable whether Pichegru's treason or bad generalship was the actual cause of the French failure.[6]

Principal Conflicts of (French) Army of Rhine and Moselle
in southern German States
Rhine Campaign 1795
Date Location French Coalition Victor Operation
20 September 1795
30,000 9,200 French The Garrison included Bavarian Grenadiers, who negotiated secretly with the French to relinquish the fortress. The French then occupied the fortress and used Mannheim as a staging area for much of the 1795 campaign.[7]
24 September 1795
12,000 8,000 Coalition Pichegru sent two divisions to seize the Austrian supply base at Heidelberg, but his troops were bloodily repulsed at Handshuhsheim. Of particular note, the Austrian cavalry was placed in the hands of Johann von Klenau. The mounted arm consisted of six squadrons each of the Hohenzollern Cuirassier Regiment Nr. 4 and Szekler Hussar Regiment Nr. 44, four squadrons of the Allemand Dragoon Regiment, an Émigré unit, and three squadrons of the Kaiser Dragoon Regiment Nr. 3. As Dufour's troops moved through open country, they were charged by Klenau's horsemen. The Austrians first routed six squadrons of French chasseurs à cheval then turned against the foot soldiers. Dufour's division was cut to pieces.[7]
29 October 1795
33,000 27,000 Coalition A Coalition army led by Count of Clerfayt launch a surprise assault against four divisions of the French Army of the Rhine and Moselle directed by François Ignace Schaal. The French division at the farthest right flank fled the battlefield, compelling the other three divisions to retreat, with the loss of their siege artillery and many casualties.[7]
10 November 1795
37,000 75,000 Coalition Clerfayt advanced south along the west bank of the Rhine against Pichegru's defenses behind the Pfrimm River near Worms. At Frankenthal (13–14 November 1795) an Austrian victory forced Pichegru to abandon his last defensive position north of Mannheim and that led to the fall of the city.[8]
18 October – 22 November 1795
Mannheim siege
17,000 12,000 Austrian Initially, 17,000 Habsburg Austrian troops under Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser defeated 12,000 Republican French soldiers, commanded by Jean-Charles Pichegru, who were encamped outside the Mannheim fortress; French were driven from their camp and forced to retreat either into the city of Mannheim or to join other forces in the region. After winning battles at Mainz and Pfeddersheim, the Cout Clerfayt's Austrian army laid a month-long siege, after which the 10,000-strong French garrison of Anne Charles Basset Montaigu surrendered. This event brought the 1795 campaign in Germany to an end.[9]

Campaign in 1796[edit]

French soldiers throw stones on defending troops at Kehl
French soldiers overwhelmed the Swabian militia.

The armies of the First Coalition included imperial (Reichsarmee) contingents and the infantry and cavalry of the various states, amounting to about 125,000 (including the three autonomous corps), a sizable force by eighteenth century standards but a moderate force by the standards of the later Revolutionary wars. In total, though, Imperial and Habsburg troops stretched in a line from Switzerland to the North Sea and Wurmser’s troops stretched from the Swiss-Italian border to the Adriatic; furthermore, a portion of the troops in Fürstenberg’s corps were pulled in July to support Wurmser’s activities in Italy. Habsburg troops comprised the bulk of the army, but the thin white line of Habsburg infantry could not cover the territory from Basel to Frankfurt with sufficient depth to resist the pressure of the opposition. In spring 1796, drafts from the free imperial cities, and other imperial estates, augmented the Habsburg force with perhaps 20,000 men at the most. It was largely guesswork where they would be placed, and Archduke Charles, commander of the Reichsarmee and the Habsburg forces, did not like to use the militias, which were poorly trained and unseasoned. Compared to French coverage, Charles had only half the number of troops extended over a 211-mile front, stretching from Basel to Bingen. Furthermore, Charles had concentrated the bulk of his force, commanded by Count Baillet Latour, between Karlsruhe and Darmstadt, where the confluence of the Rhine and the Main river made an attack most likely, as it offered a gateway into eastern German states and ultimately to Vienna, with sturdy bridges crossing the relatively well-defined river bank. To the north, Wilhelm von Wartensleben’s autonomous corps stretched in a thin line between Mainz and Giessen.[10]

The French citizen’s army, created by mass conscription of young men and systematically divested of old men who might have tempered the rash impulses of teenagers and young adults, had already made itself onerous throughout France. One solution to the lack of discipline was to create demi-brigades, which included one brigade of veterans and one brigade of conscripts. Furthermore, it was an army entirely dependent for support upon the countryside it occupied. After April 1796, pay was made in metallic value, but pay was still in arrears. Throughout the spring and early summer, the unpaid French army was in almost constant mutiny: in May 1796, in the border town of Zweibrücken, a demi-brigade revolted. In June, pay for two demi-brigades were in arrears and two companies rebelled. Parisian revolutionaries and military commanders alike believed an assault into the German states was essential, not only in terms of war aims, but also in practical terms: the French Directory believed that war should pay for itself, and did not budget for the payment or feeding of its troops.[11]

The opening of the Rhine Campaign of 1796 began with Jean-Baptiste Kléber's attack south of his bridgehead at Düsseldorf. After Kléber won sufficient maneuver room on the east bank of the Rhine River, Jean Baptiste Jourdan was supposed to join him with the remainder of the Army of the Sambre and Meuse. At the first battles of Altenkirchen (4 June 1796) and Wetzlar, two Republican French divisions commanded by Kléber attacked a wing of the Habsburg army led by Duke Ferdinand Frederick Augustus of Württemberg. A frontal attack combined with a flanking maneuver forced the Austrians to retreat. Three future Marshals of France played significant roles in the engagement at Altenkirchen: François Joseph Lefebvre as a division commander, Jean-de-Dieu Soult, as a brigadier and Michel Ney, as leader of a flanking column. Altenkirchen is located in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate about 50 km (31 mi) east of Bonn. Wetzlar was located in the former Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel, a distance of 66 kilometers (41 mi) north of Frankfurt.[12] Altenkirchen was only a distraction to entice the Austrian commander to move troops from the south to strengthen his force in the middle Rhine; Moreau lent credence to this distraction by seeming to move part of his army north from Strasburg. When Archduke Charles moved troops north to oppose what looked to be a crossing in force, Moreau would scurry back to Kehl and cross with the Army of Rhine and Moselle.[13]

Kléber carried out his part of the scheme to perfection. Jourdan to cross the Rhine at Neuwied on 10 June. While Charles directed his forces against Jourdan, on 22 June, the Army of the Rhine and Moselle executed simultaneous crossings at Kehl and Hüningen.[14] At Kehl, Moreau’s advance guard, 10,000 men, preceded the main force of 27,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry directed at a mere several hundred Swabian pickets on the bridge. The Swabian militia consisted of recruits provided by the members of the Swabian Circle and most of them were literally raw recruits, field hands and day laborers drafted for service in the spring of that year for the Reichsarmee. The Swabians were hopelessly outnumbered and could not be reinforced. Most of the Imperial Army of the Rhine was stationed further north, by Mannheim, where the river was easier to cross, but too far away to support the smaller force at Kehl. Neither Louis Joseph, Prince of Condé's Army of Condé in Freiburg nor Karl Aloys zu Fürstenberg's force in Rastatt could reach Kehl in time to relieve the Swabian troops.[15][16] Consequently, within a day, Moreau had four divisions across the river. Unceremoniously thrust out of Kehl, the Swabian contingent reformed at Rastatt by 5 July. There they managed to hold the city until reinforcements arrived, although Charles could not move much of his army away from Mannheim or Karlsruhe, where the French had also formed across the river.[17] At Hüningen, near Basel, Ferino executed a full crossing, and advanced east along the German shore of the Rhine with the 16th and 50th Demi-brigades, the 68th, 50th and 68th line infantry, and six squadrons of cavalry that included the 3rd and 7th Hussars and the 10th Dragoons. The Habsburg and Imperial armies were in danger of encirclement: the French pressed hard at Rastatt and Ferino moved quickly east along the shore of the Rhine via which they could encircle the Coalition army from the east.[18]

With Ferino's quick movements to encircle him, Charles executed an orderly withdrawal in four columns through the Black Forest, across the Upper Danube valley, and toward Bavaria, trying to maintain consistent contact with all flanks. By mid-July, the column encamped near Stuttgart. The third column, which included the Condé’s Corps, retreated through Waldsee to Stockach, and eventually Ravensburg. The fourth Austrian column, the smallest (three battalions and four squadrons), under General Wolff, marched the length of the Bodensee’s northern shore, via Überlingen, Meersburg, Buchhorn, and the Austrian city of Bregenz.[19]

Army of the Rhine and Moselle is located in Germany
Location map shows the battles and sieges of the 1796 Rhine Campaign. Borders reflect boundaries of present-day Germany.

Given the size of the attacking force, Charles had to withdraw far enough into Bavaria to align his northern flank in a perpendicular line with Wartensleben's autonomous corps. As he withdrew, his own line compressed, making his army stronger. His own front would prevent Moreau from flanking Wartensleben from the south and together they could resist the French onslaught.[20] In the course of this withdrawal, most of the Swabian Circle was abandoned to the French, which enforced an armistice and extracted sizeable reparations; in addition, the French occupied several principal towns in southwestern Germany, including Stockach, Meersburg, Constance, Überlingen am Bodensee, Ulm, and Augsburg. Before the militias from these cities could return home, eight thousand of Charles' men executed a dawn attack on the camp of the remaining three thousand Swabian and French immigrant troops, disarmed them, and impounded their weapons.[21] As Charles withdrew further east, the neutral zone expanded, eventually encompassing most of southern German states and the Ernestine Duchies.[22]

Summer of 1796[edit]

The summer and fall included various conflicts throughout the southern territories of the German states as the armies of the Coalition and the armies of the Directory sought to flank each other. By mid-summer, the situation looked grim for the Coalition: Wartensleben continued to withdraw to the east-northeast despite Charles' orders to unite with him. It appeared probable that Jourdan or Moreau would succeed in flanking Charles or driving a wedge between his force and that of Wartensleben. At Neresheim on 11 August, Moreau crushed Charles' force, forcing him to withdraw further east. At last, however, Wartensleben recognized the danger and changed direction, moving his corps to join at Charles' northern flank. At Amberg on 24 August, Charles inflicted a defeat on the French; that same day, his commanders lost a battle to the French at Friedberg. Regardless, the tide had turned in the Coalition's favor. Both Jourdan and Moreau had overstretched their lines, moving far into the German states, and were separated too far from each other for one to offer the other aid or security. The Coalition's concentration of troops forced a wider wedge between the two armies of Jourdan and Moreau, similar to what the French had tried to do to Charles and Wartensleben. As the French withdrew toward the Rhine, Charles and Wartensleben pressed forward. On 3 September at Würzburg, Jourdan attempted unsuccessfully to halt the retreat; subsequently at the Battle of Limburg, Charles pushed him back to the Rhine.[23] Once Moreau received word of this defeat, he had to withdraw from southern Germany. He pulled his troops back through the Black Forest, with Ferino supervising the rear guard. The Austrian corps commanded by Latour drew too close to Moreau at Biberach and lost 4,000 prisoners, some standards and artillery, and Latour followed at a more sensible distance. The two armies clashed again at Emmendingen, where Wartensleben was mortally wounded in the Coalition victory. After Emmendingen, the French withdrew to the south and west, and formed for battle by Schliengen.[24]

Principal Conflicts of (French) Army of Rhine and Moselle
in southern German States
Rhine Campaign 1796
Date Location French Coalition Victor Operation
23–24 June
10,000 7,000 French After feinting to the north, Moreau’s advance guard, 10,000 strong, preceded the main force of 27,0000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry directed at the 6,500–7,000 Swabian pickets on the bridge.[25] Most of the Imperial Army of the Rhine was stationed further north, by Mannheim, where the river was easier to cross, but too far to support the smaller force at Kehl. The Condé’s troops were at Freiburg, but still too long a march to relieve them. Karl Aloys zu Fürstenberg's force in Rastatt could also not reach Kehl in time.[15] The Swabians were hopelessly outnumbered and could not be reinforced. Within a day, Moreau had four divisions across the river at Kehl. Unceremoniously thrust out of Kehl—there was a rumor they actually had fled at the approach of the French—the Swabian contingent reformed at Rastatt by 5 July. There they managed to hold the city until reinforcements arrived, although Charles could not move much of his army away from Mannheim or Karlsruhe, where the French had also formed across the river.[26]
28 June
20,000 6,000 French Moreau' troops clashed with elements of a Habsburg Austrian army under Maximilian Anton Karl, Count Baillet de Latour which were defending the line of the Murg River. Leading a wing of Moreau's army, Louis Desaix attacked the Austrians and drove them back to the Alb River.[27]
9 July
36,000 32,000 French Moreau accompanied Desaix's Left Wing with the divisions of infantry, cavalry and horse artillery.[28] The village of Malsch was captured twice by the French and recaptured each time by the Austrians.[29] Latour tried to force his way around the French left with cavalry but was checked by the mounted troops of the Reserve.[30] Finding his horsemen outnumbered near Ötigheim, Latour used his artillery to keep the French cavalry at bay.[29] In the Rhine plain the combat raged until 10 PM.[30] The French wing commander ordered the troops not to press home their assault, but to retreat every time they came against strong resistance. Each attack was pushed farther up the ridge before receding into the valley. When the fifth assault in regimental strength gave way, the defenders finally reacted, sweeping down the slope to cut off the French. Massed grenadier companies to attack one Austrian flank, other reserves bored in on the other flank and the center counterattacked.[31] The French troops that struck the Austrian right were hidden in the nearby town of Herrenalb.[30] As the Austrians gave way, the French followed them up the ridge right into their positions. Nevertheless, Kaim's men laid down such a heavy fire that Lecourbe's grenadiers were thrown into disorder and their leader nearly captured.[31]
11 August
47,000 43,000 French At Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Charles brushed aside one of Jourdan's divisions under Major General Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte.[32] This placed the Archduke squarely on the French right rear. The total forces available were 48,000 Austrians and 45,000 French. On 24 August, Charles struck the French right flank while Wartensleben attacked frontally. The French Army of the Sambre and Meuse was overcome by weight of numbers and Jourdan retired northwest. The Austrians lost only 400 casualties of the 40,000 men they brought onto the field. French losses were 1,200 killed and wounded, plus 800 captured out of 34,000 engaged. After the battle, Charles withdrew his troops further east, pulling Moreau further away from Jourdan's flank and weakening the French front.[33]
24 August
40,000 2,500 Coalition After enticing Moreau away possible support of Jourdan's Army of the Sambre and Meuse, Archduke Charles marched north with 27,000 troops to join with Wartensleben; their combined force defeated Jourdan at Amberg and further split the French fronts, Jourdan to the north and Moreau to the south. Charles, with his more compact line, remained in a strategic and tactically superior position.[33]
24 August
59,000 35,500 French On the same day as the battle at Amberg, the French army, which was advancing eastward on the south side of the Danube, managed to catch an isolated Austrian infantry unit, Schröder Infantry Regiment Nr. 7, and the French Army of Condé. In the ensuing clash, the Austrians and Royalists were cut to pieces. Despite Charles' instructions to withdraw northward toward Ingolstadt, Maximilian Anton Karl, Count Baillet de Latour retreated eastward to protect the borders of Austria. This gave Moreau a chance to place his army between the two Austrian forces (Wartensleben's and Charles'), but he did not seize this chance.[34]
3 September
30,000 30,000 Coalition Unfortunately for Moreau, Jourdan's drubbing at Amberg followed by a second defeat at Würzburg ruined the French offensive; the French lost any chance of reuniting their front, and both Moreau and Jourdan had to withdraw to the west.[35]
2 October
35,000 15,000 French At Biberach an der Riss, 35 kilometers (22 mi) southwest of Ulm, the French army, now in retreat, paused to savage the pursuing Coalition force, who were following too closely. As the outnumbered Latour doggedly followed the French retreat, Moreau lashed out at him at Biberach. For a loss of 500 soldiers killed and wounded, Moreau's troops inflicted 300 killed and wounded and captured 4,000 prisoners, 18 artillery pieces, and two colors. After the engagement, Latour followed the French at a more respectful distance.[36]
19 October
32,000 28,000 Coalition Both sides had been hampered by heavy rains; the ground was soft and slippery, and the Rhine and Elz rivers had flooded. This increased the hazards of mounted attack, because the horses could not get a good footing. Archduke's force pursued the French, although carefully. The French attempted to slow their pursuers by destroying bridges, but the Austrians managed to repair them and to cross the swollen rivers despite the high waters. Upon reaching a few miles east of Emmendingen, the Archduke split his force into four columns. Friedrich Joseph, Count of Nauendorf's column, in the upper Elz, had eight battalions and 14 squadrons, advancing southwest to Waldkirch; Wartensleben had 12 battalions and 23 squadrons advancing south to capture the Elz bridge at Emmendingen. Latour, with 6,000 men, was to cross the foothills via Heimbach and Malterdingen, and capture the bridge of Köndringen, between Riegel and Emmendingen, and Karl Aloys zu Fürstenberg's column held Kinzingen, about 3.2 kilometers (2 mi) north of Riegel. Frölich and Condé (part of Nauendorf's column) were to pin down Ferino and the French right wing in the Stieg valley. Nauendorf's men were able to ambush St.-Cyr's advance; Latour's columns attacked Beaupuy at Matterdingen, killing the general and throwing his column into confusion. Wartensleben, in the center, was held up by French riflemen until his third (reserve) detachment arrived to outflank them; the French retreated across the rivers, destroying all the bridges.[37]
24 October
32,000 24,000 Coalition After retreating from Freiburg im Breisgau, Moreau established his army along a ridge of hills, in a 11-kilometer (7 mi) semi-circle on heights that commanded the terrain below. Given the severe condition of the roads at the end of October, Archduke Charles could not flank the right French wing. The French left wing lay too close to the Rhine, and the French center was unassailable. Instead, he attacked the French flanks directly, and in force, which increased casualties for both sides. The Duc d'Enghien led a spirited (but unauthorized) attack on the French left, cutting their access to a withdrawal through Kehl.[38] Nauendorf's column marched all night and half of the day, and attacked the French right, pushing them further back. In the night, while Charles planned his next day's attack, Moreau began the withdrawal of his troops toward Hüningen.[39] Although the French and the Austrians both claimed victory at the time, military historians generally agree that the Austrians achieved a strategic advantage. However, the French withdrew from the battlefield in good order and several days later crossed the Rhine River at Hüningen.[40]
24 October – 9 January 1797
20,000[41] 40,000 Coalition The French defenders under Louis Desaix and the overall commander of the French force, Jean Victor Marie Moreau, almost upset the siege when they executed a sortie that nearly captured the Austrian artillery park; the French managed to capture 1,000 Austrian troops in the melee. On 9 January the French general Desaix proposed the evacuation to General Latour and they agreed that the Austrians would enter Kehl the next day, on 10 January at 16:00. The French immediately repaired the bridge, rendered passable by 14:00, which gave them 24 hours to evacuate everything of value and to raze everything else. By the time Latour took possession of the fortress, nothing remained of any use: all palisades, ammunition, even the carriages of the bombs and howitzers, had been evacuated. The French insured that nothing remained behind that could be used by the Austrian/Imperial army; even the fortress itself was but earth and ruins. The siege concluded 115 days after its investment, following 50 days of open trenches, the point at which active fighting began.[42]
27 November – 1 February 1797
25,000 9,000 Coalition Karl Aloys zu Fürstenberg's force initiated the siege within days of the Austrian victory at the Battle of Schliengen. Most of the siege ran concurrently with the siege at Kehl, which concluded on 9 January 1797. Troops engaged at Kehl marched to Hüningen in preparation for a major assault, but the French defenders capitulated on 1 February 1797. The French commander, Jean Charles Abbatucci, was killed in the early days of the fighting, and replaced by Georges Joseph Dufour. The trenches, opened originally in November, had refilled with winter rain and snow in the intervening weeks. Fürstenberg ordered them opened again, and the water drained out on 25 January. The Coalition force secured the earthworks surrounding the trenches. On 31 January the French failed to push the Austrians out.[43] Archduke Charles arrived that day and met with Fürstenberg at nearby Lörrach. The night of 31 January to 1 February was relatively tranquil, marred only by ordinary artillery fire and shelling.[44] At mid-day 1 February 1797, as the Austrians prepared to storm the bridgehead, General of Division Dufour pre-empted what would have been a costly attack for both sides, offering to surrender the position. On 5 February, Fürstenberg finally took possession of the bridgehead.[45]
All troop counts, unless otherwise noted, from Digby Smith, Napoleonic Wars Data Book, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1996, pp. 111–132.
Black Forest Terrain complicated maneuvers for the conclusion of the 1796 campaign. By early October, wet and cold weather had made roads and pathways treacherous. Combatants at Schliengen in late October endured driving rain and sleet throughout the battle; as the fighting concluded for the day, a thunderstorm unleashed rain and hail.

Following the losses in 1796 and early 1797, the French regrouped their forces on the other side of the Rhine. On 29 September 1797, the Army of the Rhine and Moselle merged with the Army of the Sambre and Meuse to form the Army of Germany.[46]

Organizational and command problems[edit]

The Army of the Rhine and Moselle experienced excruciating command problems in its early operations. The campaign of 1795 had been entirely a French failure and the difficulties the army faced, especially in 1795, had much to do with Pichegru's own situation: his competition with both Moreau and Jourdan and his disaffection with the direction in which the revolution was headed.[47] Originally a dedicated Jacobin, by 1794, his own intrigues had placed him in command after he had undermined Lazare Hoche the previous year, insuring his own appointment as commander of this army. As the revolution waxed and waned in its ardency, so did Pichegru: by late 1794, he was leaning heavily toward the royalist cause.[48] The Directory replaced him with Desaix, and later Moreau.[49] Undeniably a capable, possibly brilliant, and popular commander, Pichegru began his second campaign by crossing the Meuse on 18 October, and, after taking Nijmegen, drove the Austrians back across the Rhine. Then, instead of going into winter quarters, he prepared his army for a winter campaign, always a difficult proposition in the eighteenth century. Several brilliant actions in the winter established Pichegru's position.[50] Pichegru's actions sometimes seemed inexplicable: although an associate, even a friend, of the recently executed Saint-Just, Pichegru offered his services to the Thermidorian Reaction, and, after having received the title of Sauveur de la Patrie ("Saviour of the Motherland") from the National Convention, subdued the sans-culottes of Paris, when they rose in insurrection against the Convention on the bread riots of 1 April 1795.[51] When he crossed the Rhine in force in May 1795, he held the enviable position as hero of the Revolution. He took Mannheim, but inexplicably he allowed his colleague Jourdan to be defeated; throughout 1796, his machinations in Paris complicated the conduct of operations in Germany by undermining the senior command confidence.[52]

School for marshals[edit]

The campaigns in which the Army of the Rhine and Moselle participated also provided exceptional experience for a cadre of extraordinary young officers. In his five volume analysis of the Revolutionary Armies, Ramsey Weston Phipps emphasized the importance of experience under these trying conditions of manpower shortage, poor training, equipment and supply shortage, and tactical and strategic confusion and interference. Phipps's objective was to show how the training received in the early years of the war varied not only with the theater in which they served but also with the character of the army to which they belonged.[53] The experience of young officers under the tutelage of such experienced men as Pichegru, Moreau, Lazar Hoche, Lefebvre, Jourdan, provided young officers–some, like Ney, only captains at the time–with valuable experience. Furthermore, they had been tested against first class enemy commanders: Wurmser, Clerfayt, Archduke Charles, Wartensleben, for example.[48]

Phipps' analysis is not singular, although his lengthy volumes address in detail the value of this "school for marshals." In 1895, Richard Phillipson Dunn-Pattison had also singled out the French Revolutionary army as "the finest school the world has yet seen for an apprenticeship in the trade of arms."[54] The resurrection of the ancien regime civil dignity of the marchalate allowed Emperor Napoleon I to strengthen his newly created power. He could reward the most valuable of the generals or soldiers who had held significant commands during the French Revolutionary Wars.[55] The Army of the Rhine and Moselle (and its subsequent incarnations) included five future Marshals of France: Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, its commander-in-chief, Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, and Édouard Adolphe Casimir Joseph Mortier.[56] François Joseph Lefebvre, by 1804 an old man, was named an honorary marshal, but not awarded a field position. Michel Ney, in the 1795–1799 campaigns an intrepid cavalry commander, came into his own command under the tutelage of Moreau and Massena in the south German and Swiss campaigns. Jean de Dieu Soult had served under Moreau and Massena, becoming the latter's right-hand man during the Swiss campaign of 1799–1800. Jean Baptiste Bessieres, like Ney, had been a competent and sometimes inspired regimental commander in 1796. MacDonald, Oudinot and Saint-Cyr, participants in the 1796 campaign, all received honors in the third, fourth and fifth promotions (1809, 1811, 1812).[55]


Image Name Dates
portrait of a man in army uniform and white powdered hair Jean-Charles Pichegru 20 April 1795 – 4 March 1796[57]
Side portrait of a man in white coat, with unpowdered hair. Louis Desaix 5 March – 20 April 1796[57] Temporary command
portrait of man with short hair, high collared military coat. Jean Victor Marie Moreau 21 April 1796 – 30 January 1797[58]

also had overall command of the Army of the Sambre and Meuse

Louis Desaix 31 January – 9 March 1797[58]

temporary command/armistice in effect

Jean Victor Marie Moreau 10 March – 27 March 1797[58]

temporary command/armistice in effect

Louis Desaix 27 March – 19 April 1797[58]

temporary command/armistice in effect

portrait of a man with short hair, military awards and a sash Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr 20  April – 9 Sept 1797[58]

subordinate to Lazare Hoche

Order of Battle in 1796[edit]

The Army included 66 battalions and 79 squadrons, totaling 65,103 men, including 56,756 infantry, 6,536 cavalry and 1,811 artillery on 1 June 1796:[59]

Commander in Chief (1796) Jean Victor Marie Moreau

Chief of Staff: Jean Louis Ebénézer Reynier
Commander of Artillery : Jean-Baptiste Eblé
Commander of Engineers: Dominique-André de Chambarlhac
1796 Order of Battle
Left Center and Reserve Right
Commander of the Left Wing Louis Desaix
Commander of the Center Gouvion Saint Cyr
Commander of the Reserve François Antoine Louis Bourcier
Commander of the Right Wing Pierre Marie Barthélemy Ferino
Division Commander Antoine Guillaume Delmas
  • 16th Demi-brigade Infantry de légère (three battalions)[Note 1]
  • 50th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 7th Regiment Hussars (four squadrons)
  • 97th Demi-brigade of Infantry de ligne (three balloons)
  • 10th Regiment Dragoons (four squadrons)
  • 17th Regiment Dragoons (four squadrons)
  • 10th Demi-brigade Infantry de légère (three battalions)
  • 10th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 4th Regiment Chasseurs à cheval (four squadrons)
  • 8th Regiment Chasseurs à cheval (four squadrons)
  • 62nd Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 103rd Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 6th Regiment Dragoons (four squadrons)
  • Artillery – 556 men
  • 89th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 36th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 18th Cavalry Regiment (four squadrons, unknown type)
  • unknown demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 1st Regiment Carabiniers (four squadrons)
  • 92nd Regiment Carabiniers (four squadrons)
  • 17th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 100th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 20th Regiment Chasseurs à cheval (four squadrons)
  • 11th Regiment Hussars (one squadron)
  • 21st Demi-brigade Infantry légère (three battalions)
  • 31st Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 9th Regiment Hussars (one squadron)
  • 84th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 106th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 2nd Regiment Chasseurs à cheval (four squadrons)
  • Artillery (unknown count)

Reserve Commander François Antoine Louis Bourcier

  • 109th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 2nd Regiment cavalry (four squadrons)
  • 15th Regiment cavalry (four squadrons)
  • 3rd Regiment cavalry (four squadrons)
*Division: Henri François Delaborde
  • 3rd Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 38th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 21st Cavalry Regiment (1 squadron)
  • 3rd Demi-brigade Infantry de légère (three battalions)
  • 79th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 12th Cavalry Regiment (4 squadrons)
  • 74th Demi-brigade Infantry de ligne (three battalions)
  • 4th Regiment Dragoons (four squadrons)
  • 7th Regiment Hussars (four squadrons)
  • Artillery (artillery unit of 822 men)

Notes, citations and references[edit]


  1. ^ The French Army designated two kinds of infantry: d'infanterie légère, or light infantry, to provide skirmishing cover for the troops that followed, principally d’infanterie de ligne, which fought in tight formations. Smith, p. 15.
  2. ^ These brigades probably included the 16th and 50th Demi-brigades, the 68th, 50th and 68th Regiments de ligne, and six squadrons of cavalry that included the 3rd and 7th Hussars and the 10th Dragoons. See Graham, pp. 18–22.


  1. ^ Relation de l'assassinat de M. Théobald Dillon, Maréchal-de-Camp, Commis à Lille, le 29 avril 1792. Imprimerie de Mignaret (May 4, 1792).
  2. ^ a b c Jean Paul Bertaud, R.R. Palmer (trans). The Army of the French Revolution: From Citizen-Soldiers to Instrument of Power, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  3. ^ (in French) Charles Clerget, Tableaux des armées françaises: pendant les guerres de la Révolution, R. Chapelot, 1905, pp. 55, 62.
  4. ^ Gunther E. Rothenberg, Napoleon’s great adversaries: Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army, 1792–1914, Stroud, (Gloucester): Spellmount, 2007, pp. 70–74.
  5. ^ (in French) Clerget, pp. 55, 62.
  6. ^ Ramsay Weston Phipps, The Armies of the First French Republic: Volume II The Armées du Moselle, du Rhin, de Sambre-et-Meuse, de Rhin-et-Moselle, US, Pickle Partners Publishing, 2011 (1923–1933), p. 212.
  7. ^ a b c Digby Smith. Napoleonic Wars Data Book, NY: Greenhill Press, 1996, p. 105.
  8. ^ Smith, p. 108.
  9. ^ J. Rickard, Combat of Heidelberg, 23–25 September 1795, Mannheim and Heidelberg. 10 February 2009 version, accessed 6 March 2015. Smith, p. 105.
  10. ^ Gunther E. Rothenberg, "The Habsburg Army in the Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815)". Military Affairs, 37:1 (Feb 1973), 1–5, 1–2 cited.
  11. ^ Bertaud, pp. 283–290.
  12. ^ J. Rickard First Battle of Altenkirchen, 4 June 1796,, 2009 version. Accessed 4 May 2014.
  13. ^ J. Rickard, Siegburg, 1 June 1796,, 2009 version. Accessed 4 May 2014. and Smith, p. 115.
  14. ^ Smith, p. 115.
  15. ^ a b (in German) Charles, Archduke of Austria. Ausgewӓhlte Schriften weiland seiner Kaiserlichen Hoheit des Erzherzogs Carl von Österreich, Vienna: Braumüller, 1893–94, v. 2, pp. 72, 153–154.
  16. ^ (in German) Jens-Florian Ebert, "Feldmarschall-Leutnant Fürst zu Fürstenberg," Die Österreichischen Generäle 1792–1815. Napoleon Online: Portal zu Epoch. Markus Stein, editor. Mannheim, Germany. 14 February 2010 version. Accessed 28 February 2010.
  17. ^ Charles, pp. 153–154 and Thomas Graham, 1st Baron Lynedoch. The History of the Campaign of 1796 in Germany and Italy. London, (np) 1797, 18–22.
  18. ^ Graham, pp. 18–22.
  19. ^ Charles, pp. 153–154 and Graham, pp. 18–22.
  20. ^ Charles, pp. 153–154.
  21. ^ Peter Hamish Wilson, German Armies: War and German Politics 1648–1806. London: UCL Press, 1997, 324. Charles, pp. 153–54.
  22. ^ Graham, pp. 84–88.
  23. ^ Phipps, v II, p. 278.
  24. ^ Smith, pp. 111–125.
  25. ^ Smith, p.114
  26. ^ Charles, pp. 153–154 and Graham, pp 18–22.
  27. ^ Smith, p. 120.
  28. ^ Phipps, p. 292.
  29. ^ a b Theodore Ayrault Dodge, Warfare in the Age of Napoleon: The Revolutionary Wars Against the First Coalition in Northern Europe and the Italian Campaign, 1789–1797. USA: Leonaur Ltd. 2011, p. 290.
  30. ^ a b c J Rickard Battle of Ettlingen, 9 July 1796,, 2009. Accessed 20 October 2014.
  31. ^ a b Phipps, p. 293
  32. ^ Smith, p 120.
  33. ^ a b Smith, pp. 120–121
  34. ^ Smith, p. 121.
  35. ^ Smith, pp. 121–122.
  36. ^ Smith, p. 125.
  37. ^ (in German) Johann Samuel Ersch, Allgemeine encyclopädie der wissenschaften und künste in alphabetischer folge von genannten schrifts bearbeitet und herausgegeben. Leipzig, J. F. Gleditsch, 1889, pp. 64–66 and Smith, p. 125.
  38. ^ The Annual Register, p. 208.
  39. ^ Graham, pp. 124–25.
  40. ^ Phillip Cuccia, Napoleon in Italy: the Sieges of Mantua, 1796–1799, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014, pp. 87–93. Smith, pp. 125, 131–133.
  41. ^ John Philippart, Memoires etc. of General Moreau, London, A.J. Valpy, 1814, p. 279.
  42. ^ Philippart, p. 127; Smith, p. 131.
  43. ^ Sir Archibald Alison, 1st Baronet. History of Europe from the Commencement of the French Revolution to the Restoration of the Bourbons, Volume 3. Edinburgh, W. Blackwood, 1847, p. 88.
  44. ^ (in French) Christian von Mechel, Tableaux historiques et topographiques ou relation exacte.... Basel, 1798, pp. 64–72.
  45. ^ Philippart, p. 127. and Alison, pp. 88–89. Smith, p. 132.
  46. ^ Smith, p. 132.
  47. ^ (in German) Pichegru. Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon, Band 3. Leipzig 1839., pp. 495–496.
  48. ^ a b Frank McLynn, Napoleon: A Biography. nl, Skyhorse Publishing In, 2011, Chapter VIII.
  49. ^ Clerget, pp. 55, 62.
  50. ^ Simon Schama, Patriots and Liberators. Revolution in the Netherlands 1780–1813, New York, Vintage Books, 1998, pp. 175–192.
  51. ^ Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Napoleon, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1975, p. 83.
  52. ^ Charles Angélique François Huchet La Bédoyère (comte de), Memoirs of the public and private life of Napoleon Bonaparte. nl, G. Virtue, 1828, pp. 59–60.
  53. ^ Phipps, vol. 2, p. iii.
  54. ^ Richard Phillipson Dunn-Pattison, Napoleon's marshals,, Wakefield, EP Pub., 1977 (reprint of 1895 edition), pp. viii–xix, xvii quoted.
  55. ^ a b Dunn-Pattison, pp. xviii–xix.
  56. ^ Phipps, pp. 90–94.
  57. ^ a b Clerget, p. 55.
  58. ^ a b c d e Clerget, p.62.
  59. ^ Smith, p. 111.