Army of the Rhine (France)

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This article is about the French Army during the War of the First Coalition. For the 20th century British Army force of that name, see British Army of the Rhine. For the military unit of the Franco Prussian War (1870), see Franco-Prussian War order of battle.
Army of the Rhine
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 tricorn hat with a red revolutionary cockade.
Fusilier of a French Revolutionary Army
Active April 1791 – 1795
Country France
Allegiance First Republic
March Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin
Disbanded 20 April 1795
Nicolas Luckner
Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine

The Army of the Rhine (Armée du Rhin) was formed in December 1791, for the purpose of bringing the French Revolution to the German states along the Rhine River. During its first year in action (1792), under command of Adam Philippe Custine, the Army of the Rhine participated in several victories, including Mainz, Frankfurt and Speyer. Subsequently, the army underwent several reorganizations and merged with the Army of the Moselle to form the Army of the Rhine and Moselle on 20 April 1795.

Organization of French Armies, 1791–1793

Revolutionary Wars[edit]

The Army of the Rhine (Armée du Rhin) was one of the main French Revolutionary armies operated in the Rhineland theater, principally in the Rhine River valley, from 1791 to 1795. At its creation, the Army of the Rhine had 88,390 men. It was formed on 14 December 1791, to defend France's eastern frontier in conjunction with two other armies, the Army of the North and the Army of the Center (name changed in October 1792 to Army of the Moselle). These armies were subdivided, fresh forces were raised and gradually grew until, by 30 April 1793, eleven armies encircled France on its coastal and the land frontiers. In October 1792, a portion of the army was used to form the Army of the Vosges but these units rejoined the Army of the Rhine on 15 March 1793.[1]

Song of Glory[edit]

In the first months of fighting, victories for France were few. Although Custine had succeeded in driving the ecclesiastical authorities from the Swiss village of Porrentruy by 27 April 1792, this singular victory was accomplished largely through the enterprises of a local uprising assisted by some advanced guard and it was the last French victory for several weeks: subsequently, the borders of France had been assaulted by the Habsburgs and their allies. At Mons (18–29 April 1792), Tournay (29 April 1792), Bavay (17 May 1792), Rumégies (19 May 1792), Florennes 28 May 1792, and La Glisuelle, a village 5 kilometers (3 mi) north of Maubeuge (11 June 1792), Austrian skirmishers repeatedly defeated French forces.[2]

Although much of the spring and summer of 1792 action continued throughout in the border regions with Belgium,[3] the cities along the Upper Rhine, especially the city of Strasbourg, felt under threat of invasion by the Habsburg armies massing on the east side of the Rhine River. On 25 April 1792, Philippe Friedrich Dietrich, mayor of Strasbourg, asked a guest, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, to compose a song to rally against the Habsburg threat.[4] That evening, Rouget de Lisle wrote "Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin"[5] (English: "War Song for the Army of the Rhine"), and dedicated the song to Marshal Nicolas Luckner, a Bavarian in French service.[6] The melody soon became the rallying call to the Revolution: Allons enfants de la Patrie (Arise, children of the Fatherland)/Le jour de gloire est arrivé! (The day of glory has arrived!). It was renamed "La Marseillaise."[5]

Successes under Custine's command[edit]

The French government ordered Luckner to take command of the Army of the North, and Custine replaced him as overall commander of the Army of the Rhine in Spring 1793. Under his experienced command, the Army took several important positions on the Rhine, including at Speyer, Mainz, Limburg and Frankfurt (see chart of battles below).[7]

Final reorganization[edit]

On 29 December 1794, the left wing of the Army and the right wing of the Army of the Moselle combined to form the Army besieging Mainz. The rest of the Army of the Moselle united with the Army of the Rhine on 20 April, to form the Army of the Rhine and Moselle. This army united with the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse to form the Army of Germany on 29 September 1797.[8]

Principal battles[edit]

Battles of the Army of the Rhine.[9]
Date Battle Victor Commander
28 April 1792 Battle of Porrentruy France Adam Philippe Custine[10]
21 October 1792 1st Mainz French Custine
30 September 1792 Capture of Speyer French Custine
21 October 1792 Capture of Frankfurt French Custine
10 November 1792 Limburg French Custine, Houchard commanding the advanced guard.
2 December 1792 Frankfurt am Main Coalition Custine, GdB van Helden commanding the garrison force
14 April–23 July 1793 2nd Mainz Coalition Alexandre de Beauharnais
13 October 1793 1st Wissembourg Coalition Jean Pascal Carlenc
20 August–23 December 1793 Landau French Louis Lazare Hoche (Army of the Moselle)
Jean-Charles Pichegru (Army of the Rhine)
28–30 November 1793 1st Kaiserslautern Prussian Hoche
18 November–22 December 1793 Haguenau French Pichegru
18–22 December 1793 Fröschwiller French Hoche
26–29 December 1793 2nd Wissembourg French Hoche and Pichegru
23 May 1794 2nd Kaiserslautern Prussian-Saxon Claude Ignace François Michaud
23 May 1794 Battle of Schifferstadt French Michaud
12–13 July 1794 Schänzel French Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr
17–20 September 1794 3rd Kaiserslautern Prussian-Saxon François Ignace Schaal
25 December 1794 Battle of Mannheim bridge French Martial Vachot

1793 Order of Battle[edit]

In its five-year history, the Army had several Orders of Battle. This is the OOB at the beginning of the 1793 campaign.[11]


Stability of command of the Army of the Rhine reflected the overall chaos of the French Revolutionary governments, especially in the years 1791–1794. Four of the generals serving in those years were guillotined (see chart below).

Commanders-in-Chief of the Army of the Rhine
Italics indicates general was guillotined during Reign of Terror
Date Name
14 December 1791 – 6 May 1792 Nicolas Luckner[12]
7 May – 20 July 1792 Alexis Magallon de la Morlière (intérim)[12]
21 July – 25 December 1792 Armand Louis de Gontaut (also called "Biron") *[12]
26 December 1792 –14 March 1793, Étienne Deprez-Crassier, interim and subordinate to Adam Philippe Custine, who commanded this and the Army of the Moselle[12]
15 March – 17 May 1793 Custine, also commander of the Army of the Moselle until l9 April; he was removed from command of both armies on 29 July 1793, tried and executed in August.[12]
18 May – 29 May 1793 Dominique Diettmann, interim and subordinate to Jean Nicolas Houchard* [12]
30 May – 17 August 1793 Alexandre de Beauharnais, provisionally and subordinate to Houchard.[12]
18 August – 29 September 1793 Charles Hyacinthe Leclerc de Landremont, interim to 23 August, then provisionally[12]
30 September – 1 October 1793 Louis Dominique Munnier (interim)[12]
2 October – 26 October 1793 Jean Pascal Raymond Carlenc (provisional)[12]
27 October 1793 – 13 January 1794 Jean-Charles Pichegru, subordinate to Lazare Hoche[12]
14 January 1794 – 10 April 1795 Claude Ignace François Michaud, during his absences, Jean Philippe Raymond Dorsner
4 December 1794 – 13 February 1795 Jean-Baptiste Kléber, subordinate to the Army of Mainz
14 February – 29 April 1795 François Ignace Schaal, subordinate to Army of Mainz
11–16 April 1795, Jean-Baptiste Kléber (interim)
17–19 April 1795 Jean-Charles Pichegru, during assembly of the Armies of the Rhine and Moselle

Other incarnations[edit]

An army of the Bourbon Restoration bore this name. This name was also used for the French military forces posted to Germany during the Occupation of the Rhineland (1919–1930), following the First World War.

Related people[edit]

People known to have served in this Armée include:


  1. ^ Ramsey Weston Phipps, Armies of the First French Republic, Volume I, pp. 2–3.
  2. ^ Digby Smith, Napoleonic Wars Data Book, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1996, pp. 21–22.
  3. ^ Smith, pp. 22–27.
  4. ^ James H. Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith, Transaction Publishers, 2011, pp. 58–59.
  5. ^ a b Weber, Eugen (1 June 1976). Peasants Into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914. Stanford University Press. p. 439. ISBN 978-0-8047-1013-8. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  6. ^ Stevens, Benjamin F. (January 1896). "Story of La Marseillaise". The Musical Record. Boston, Massachusetts: Oliver Ditson Company (408): 2. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  7. ^ Smith, p. 21–26.
  8. ^ Smith, p. 111, p. 131. Orders of Battle show the same troops, under the amalgamation, reformed into these armies.
  9. ^ Unless otherwise noted, all information in the chart comes from Smith, pp. 28–96
  10. ^ (French) Arthur Chuquet, L'expédition de Custine, France, L. Cert, 1892 , p. 43 See also (French) Louis Vautrey, Histoire de Porrentruy. J. Gürtler, 1878, pp. 225–227.
  11. ^ Smith, p. 41.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k (French) Arthur Chuquet, L'expédition de Custine, L. Cert, 1892, pp. 5–6.


  • C. Clerget: Tableaux des armées françaises pendant les guerres de la Révolution (Librairie militaire 1905).