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War of the First Coalition

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War of the First Coalition
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars and the Coalition Wars
War of the first coalitionBattle of ValmySiege of Toulon (1793)Battle of Fleurus (1794)Invasion of France (1795)Battle of ArcoleSiege of Mantua (1796–1797)
War of the first coalition

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Left to right, top to bottom:
Battles of Valmy, Toulon, Fleurus, Quiberon, Arcole and Mantua
Date20 April 1792 – 17 October 1797
(5 years, 5 months and 4 weeks)
France, Central Europe, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, West Indies

French victory; Treaty of The Hague, Treaty of Paris, Peaces of Basel, Treaty of Tolentino, Treaty of Campo Formio

  • French annexation of the Austrian Netherlands, the Left Bank of the Rhine, Savoy and other smaller territories
  • Santo Domingo to France
  • Several French "sister republics" established
  • End of millennial Venetian independence
  • Belligerents

    First Coalition:
    Dutch Republic Dutch Republic
    (until 1795)[1]
    Kingdom of France French Royalists[2]
     Great Britain[3]
     Holy Roman Empire (until 1797)[4]

    Papal States Papal States (until 1797)[7]
     Parma (until 1796)
     Prussia (until 1795)[5]
    Sardinia (until 1796)[8]
    Spain Spain (until 1795)[5]
     Naples (until 1796)
    Other Italian states[9]

    Constitutional Cabinet of Louis XVI Kingdom of France (until 1792)
    French First Republic French Republic (from 1792)

    French satellites:[10]

    French naval allies:

    Commanders and leaders

    French First Republic 1794:

    Casualties and losses
    Habsburg monarchy 94,000 soldiers killed in combat[16]
    ~282,000 died of disease
    220,000 captured
    100,000 wounded[17]
    French First Republic 100,000 soldiers killed in combat
    ~300,000 died of disease
    150,000 captured[18][16]
    About OpenStreetMaps
    Maps: terms of use
    Seventh Coalition: Belgium 1815:...Waterloo...
    Sixth Coalition: France 1814:...Paris...
    Sixth Coalition: Germany 1813:...Leipzig...
    Fifth Coalition: Austria 1809:...Wagram...
    Fourth Coalition: Prussia 1806:...Jena...
    Third Coalition: Germany 1803:...Austerlitz...
    Second Coalition: Italy 1799:...Marengo...
    Second Coalition: Egypt 1798:...Pyramids...
    First Coalition: France 1792:...Toulon...
    First Coalition: France 1792:...Toulon...
    Second Coalition: Egypt 1798:...Pyramids...
    Second Coalition: Italy 1799:...Marengo...
    Third Coalition: Germany 1803:...Austerlitz...
    Fourth Coalition: Prussia 1806:...Jena...
    Fifth Coalition: Austria 1809:...Wagram...
    Sixth Coalition: Germany 1813:...Leipzig...
    Sixth Coalition: France 1814:...Paris...
    Seventh Coalition: Belgium 1815:...Waterloo...

    The War of the First Coalition (French: Guerre de la Première Coalition) was a set of wars that several European powers fought between 1792 and 1797, initially against the constitutional Kingdom of France and then the French Republic that succeeded it.[19] They were only loosely allied and fought without much apparent coordination or agreement; each power had its eye on a different part of France it wanted to appropriate after a French defeat, which never occurred.[20]

    Relations between the French revolutionaries and neighbouring monarchies had deteriorated following the Declaration of Pillnitz in August 1791. Eight months later, following a vote of the revolutionary-led Legislative Assembly, France declared war on Austria on 20 April 1792; Prussia, having allied with Austria in February, declared war on France in June 1792. In July 1792, an army under the Duke of Brunswick and composed mostly of Prussians joined the Austrian side and invaded France. The capture of Verdun (2 September 1792) triggered the September massacres in Paris. France counterattacked with victory at Valmy (20 September) and two days later the Legislative Assembly proclaimed the French Republic.

    Subsequently, these powers made several invasions of France by land and sea, in association with Prussia and Austria attacking from the Austrian Netherlands and the Rhine, and Great Britain supporting revolts in provincial France and laying siege to Toulon in October 1793. France suffered reverses (Battle of Neerwinden, 18 March 1793) and internal strife (War in the Vendée) and responded with draconian measures. The Committee of Public Safety was formed (6 April 1793) and the levée en masse drafted all potential soldiers aged 18 to 25 (August 1793). The new French armies counterattacked, repelled the invaders, and advanced beyond France.

    The French established the Batavian Republic as a sister republic (May 1795) and gained Prussian recognition of French control of the Left Bank of the Rhine by the first Peace of Basel. With the Treaty of Campo Formio, Austria ceded the Austrian Netherlands to France and Northern Italy was turned into several French sister republics. Spain made a separate peace accord with France (Second Treaty of Basel) and the French Directory annexed more of the Holy Roman Empire.

    North of the Alps, Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen redressed the situation in 1796, but Napoleon Bonaparte carried all before him against Sardinia and Austria in northern Italy (1796–1797) near the Po Valley, culminating in the Peace of Leoben and the Treaty of Campo Formio (October 1797). The First Coalition collapsed, leaving only Britain in the field fighting against France.


    Revolution in France[edit]

    As early as 1791, other monarchies in Europe were watching the developments in France with alarm, and considered intervening, either in support of Louis XVI or to take advantage of the chaos in France. The key figure, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, brother of the French Queen Marie Antoinette, had initially looked on the Revolution calmly. He became increasingly concerned as the Revolution grew more radical, although he still hoped to avoid war.

    On 27 August 1791, Leopold and King Frederick William II of Prussia, in consultation with émigré French nobles, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which declared the concern of the monarchs of Europe for the well-being of Louis and his family, and threatened vague but severe consequences if anything should befall them. Although Leopold saw the Pillnitz Declaration as a way of taking action that would enable him to avoid actually doing anything about France, at least for the moment, Paris saw the Declaration as a serious threat and the revolutionary leaders denounced it.[21]

    In addition to the ideological differences between France and the monarchical powers of Europe, disputes continued over the status of Imperial estates in Alsace,[21] and the French authorities became concerned about the agitation of émigré nobles abroad, especially in the Austrian Netherlands and in the minor states of Germany. In the end, France declared war on Austria first, with the Assembly voting for war on 20 April 1792, after the presentation of a long list of grievances by the newly appointed foreign minister Charles François Dumouriez, who sought a war which might restore some popularity and authority to the King.[22]


    Invasion of the Austrian Netherlands[edit]

    Dumouriez prepared an invasion of the Austrian Netherlands, where he expected the local population to rise against Austrian rule. However, the revolution had thoroughly disorganized the French army, which had insufficient forces for the invasion. Its soldiers fled at the first sign of battle, deserting en masse, in one case murdering General Théobald Dillon.[22] The French soldiers were insulted, hissed, even assaulted. The situation of "Flanders Campaign" was alarming.[23]

    While the revolutionary government frantically raised fresh troops and reorganized its armies, an allied army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick assembled at Koblenz on the Rhine. The invasion commenced in July 1792. The Duke then issued a declaration on 25 July 1792, which had been written by the brothers of Louis XVI, that declared his [Brunswick's] intent to restore the King of France to his full powers, and to treat any person or town who opposed him as rebels to be condemned to death by martial law.[22] This motivated the revolutionary army and government to oppose the Prussian invaders by any means necessary,[22] and led almost immediately to the overthrow of the King by a crowd which stormed the Tuileries Palace.[24]

    Prussian progress[edit]

    Brunswick's army, composed mostly of Prussian veterans, crossed into French territory on 19 August and easily took the fortresses of Longwy and Verdun.[25] But at the Battle of Valmy on 20 September 1792 they came to a stalemate against Dumouriez and Kellermann in which the highly professional French artillery distinguished itself. Although the battle was a tactical draw, it bought time for the revolutionaries and gave a great boost to French morale. Furthermore, the Prussians, facing a campaign longer and more costly than predicted, decided against the cost and risk of continued fighting and determined to retreat from France to preserve their army.[19]

    Fronts in Italy and Germany[edit]

    Meanwhile, the French had been successful on several other fronts, occupying the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice until the Massif de l'Authion, while General Custine invaded Germany, capturing Speyer, Worms and Mainz along the Rhine, and reaching as far as Frankfurt. Dumouriez went on the offensive in the Austrian Netherlands once again, winning a great victory over the Austrians at Jemappes on 6 November 1792, and occupying the entire country by the beginning of winter.[19]


    The British evacuation of Toulon in December 1793

    On 21 January the revolutionary government executed Louis XVI after a trial.[26] This united all European governments, including Spain, Naples & Sicily, and the Netherlands against the Revolution. France declared war against Britain and the Netherlands on 1 February 1793 and soon afterwards against Spain. In the course of the year 1793 the Holy Roman Empire (on 23 March), the kings of Portugal and Naples, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany declared war against France. Thus the First Coalition was formed.[19]

    Introduction of conscription[edit]

    France introduced a new levy of hundreds of thousands of men, beginning a French policy of using levée en masse (mass conscription) to deploy more of its manpower than the other states could,[19] and remaining on the offensive so that these mass armies could commandeer war material from the territory of their enemies. The Girondin faction of the French government sent Citizen Genet to the United States to encourage them to enter the war on France's side. The newly formed nation refused, and the Washington administration's 1793 Proclamation of Neutrality threatened legal action against any citizen providing assistance to any side in the conflict.

    After a victory in the Battle of Neerwinden in March, the Austrians suffered twin defeats at the battles of Wattignies and Wissembourg.[27] British land forces were defeated at the Battle of Hondschoote in September.[27]


    Lord Howe's action or The Glorious First of June. Oil painting by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1795), National Maritime Museum.

    Battle of Fleurus[edit]

    1794 brought increased success to the revolutionary armies. A major victory against combined coalition forces at the Battle of Fleurus gained all of the Austrian Netherlands and the Rhineland for France.[27] Although the British navy maintained its supremacy at sea, it was unable to support effectively any land operations after the fall of the Belgian provinces.[28] The Prussians were slowly driven out of the eastern provinces[27] and by the end of the year they had retired from any active part in the war.[28] Against Spain, the French made successful incursions into both Catalonia and Navarre[28] in the War of the Pyrenees.

    Actions in the West Indies[edit]

    Action extended into the French colonies in the West Indies. A British fleet occupied Martinique, St. Lucia, and Guadeloupe, although a French fleet arrived later in the year and recovered the latter by ousting the invaders.[29]


    French capture of the Low Countries[edit]

    After seizing the Low Countries in a surprise winter attack, France established the Batavian Republic as a puppet state. Even before the close of 1794 Prussia retired from any active part in the war, and on 5 April 1795 King Frederick William II concluded with France the Peace of Basel, which recognized France's occupation of the left bank of the Rhine. The new French-dominated Dutch government bought peace by surrendering Dutch territory to the south of that river. A treaty of peace between France and Spain followed in July. The grand duke of Tuscany had been admitted to terms in February. The coalition thus fell into ruin and France proper would be free from invasion for many years.[30]

    Battle of Quiberon[edit]

    Britain attempted to reinforce the rebels in the Vendée by landing French Royalist troops at Quiberon, but failed,[31] and attempts to overthrow the government at Paris by force were foiled by the military garrison led by Napoleon Bonaparte, leading to the establishment of the Directory.[32][33]

    Battle of Mainz[edit]

    On the Rhine frontier, General Pichegru, negotiating with the exiled Royalists, betrayed his army and forced the evacuation of Mannheim and the failure of the siege of Mainz by Jourdan.[34]


    Strategic situation in Europe in 1796

    The French prepared a great advance on three fronts, with Jourdan and Jean Victor Marie Moreau on the Rhine and the newly promoted Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy. The three armies were to link up in Tyrol and march on Vienna.

    Rhine campaign[edit]

    In the Rhine campaign of 1796, Jourdan and Moreau crossed the Rhine river and advanced into Germany. Jourdan advanced as far as Amberg in late August while Moreau reached Bavaria and the edge of Tyrol by September. However Jourdan was defeated by Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen and both armies were forced to retreat back across the Rhine.[34][35]

    Invasion of Italy[edit]

    Napoleon, on the other hand, was successful in a daring invasion of Italy. In the Montenotte Campaign, he separated the armies of Sardinia and Austria, defeating each one in turn, and then forced a peace on Sardinia. Following this, his army captured Milan and started the Siege of Mantua. Bonaparte defeated successive Austrian armies sent against him under Johann Peter Beaulieu, Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser and József Alvinczi while continuing the siege.[35][34]

    End of the War of the Vendée[edit]

    The rebellion in the Vendée was also crushed in 1796 by Louis Lazare Hoche.[35] Hoche's subsequent attempt to land a large invasion force in Munster to aid the United Irishmen was unsuccessful.[29]


    Battle of Mantua[edit]

    Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli, 14 January 1797. Oil painting by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1844), Palace of Versailles.

    On 2 February Napoleon finally captured Mantua,[36] with the Austrians surrendering 18,000 men. Archduke Charles of Austria was unable to stop Napoleon from invading the Tyrol, and the Austrian government sued for peace in April. At the same time, there was a new French invasion of Germany under Moreau and Hoche.[36]

    Invasion of Great Britain[edit]

    On 22 February, a French invasion force consisting of 1,400 troops from the La Legion Noire (The Black Legion) under the command of Irish American Colonel William Tate landed near Fishguard in Wales. They were met by a quickly assembled group of around 500 British reservists, militia and sailors under the command of John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor. After brief clashes with the local civilian population and Lord Cawdor's forces on 23 February, Tate was forced into an unconditional surrender by 24 February. This would be the only battle fought on British soil during the Revolutionary Wars.

    Austrian peace[edit]

    Austria signed the Treaty of Campo Formio in October,[36] ceding Belgium to France and recognizing French control of the Rhineland and much of Italy.[35] The ancient Republic of Venice was partitioned between Austria and France. This ended the War of the First Coalition, although Great Britain and France remained at war.

    See also[edit]


    1. ^ Left the war after signing the Treaty of The Hague (1795) with France.
    2. ^ https://www.britannica.com/event/Wars-of-the-Vendee Archived 2024-01-19 at the Wayback Machine
    3. ^ Including the Army of Condé
    4. ^ Nominally the Holy Roman Empire, under Austrian rule, also encompassed many other Italian states, such as the Duchy of Modena and the Duchy of Massa. Left the war after signing the Treaty of Campo Formio with France.
    5. ^ a b c Left the war after signing the Peace of Basel with France.
    6. ^ a b Left the war after signing the Peace of Paris with France.
    7. ^ Left the war after signing the Treaty of Tolentino with France.
    8. ^ Left the war after signing the Treaty of Paris with France.
    9. ^ Virtually all of the Italian states, including the neutral Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Venice, as well the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, were conquered following Napoleon's invasion in 1796 and became French satellite states. The Principality of Monaco had been annexed in 1793. Even Switzerland began to be involved into the conflict through its associated Three Leagues that lost the Val Telline.
    10. ^ Including the Polish Legions formed in French-allied Italy in 1797, following the abolition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth after the Third Partition in 1795.
    11. ^ The French Revolutionary Army and Dutch revolutionaries overthrew the Dutch Republic and established the Batavian Republic as a puppet state in its place.
    12. ^ Various conquered Italian states, including the Cisalpine Republic from 1797
    13. ^ Re-entered the war against Britain as an ally of France after signing the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso.
    14. ^ The coalition was prepared by Emperor Leopold II: "The French Revolution, 1789–1799". Archived from the original on 2024-05-27. Retrieved 2023-02-20.; "Austria's Leopold II on the French Revolution (1791)". 30 March 2015. Archived from the original on 27 May 2024. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
    15. ^ Lynn, John A. (1994). Recalculating French Army Growth during the Grand Siecle, 1610–1715. French Historical Studies 18, no. 4: 881–906, p. 904. Only counting frontline army troops, not naval personnel, militiamen, or reserves; the National Guard alone was supposed to provide a reserve of 1,200,000 men in 1789.
    16. ^ a b "Victimario Histórico Militar Capítulo IV Guerras de la Revolución Francesa (1789 a 1815)". Archived from the original on 2015-04-30. Retrieved 2020-04-02.
    17. ^ Clodfelter, Micheal (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492–2015, 4th edition, MacFarland. p. 100.
    18. ^ Clodfelter, p. 100.
    19. ^ a b c d e Holland 1911, Battle of Valmy.
    20. ^ (in Dutch) Shusterman, Noah (2015). De Franse Revolutie (The French Revolution). Veen Media, Amsterdam. (Translation of: The French Revolution. Faith, Desire, and Politics. Routledge, London/New York, 2014.) Chapter 7, pp. 271–312: The federalist revolts, the Vendée and the beginning of the Terror (summer–fall 1793).
    21. ^ a b Holland 1911, The king and the nonjurors.
    22. ^ a b c d Holland 1911, War declared against Austria.
    23. ^ Howe, P.C. (2008). Endgame, March–December 1793, p. 159, 172. In: Foreign Policy and the French Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230616882_11 Archived 30 December 2023 at the Wayback Machine
    24. ^ Holland 1911, Rising of the 10th of August.
    25. ^ Holland 1911, The revolutionary Commune of Paris.
    26. ^ Holland 1911, Trial and execution of Louis XVI.
    27. ^ a b c d Holland 1911, The Revolutionary War. Republican successes..
    28. ^ a b c Holland 1911, Progress of the war..
    29. ^ a b Hannay 1911, p. 204.
    30. ^ One of more of the preceding sentences text from a publication now in the public domain: Holland 1911, Progress of the war
    31. ^ Holland 1911, Progress of the war.
    32. ^ Holland 1911, Insurrection of 13 Vendémiaire.
    33. ^ Holland 1911, Character of the Directory.
    34. ^ a b c Hannay 1911, p. 182.
    35. ^ a b c d Holland 1911, Military triumphs under the Directory. Bonaparte.
    36. ^ a b c Hannay 1911, p. 193.


    Further reading[edit]

    • Clausewitz, Carl von (2018). Napoleon's 1796 Italian Campaign. Trans and ed. Nicholas Murray and Christopher Pringle. This also includes the notes from J. Colin's French translation as well as extensive commentary on Clausewitz's history and theory. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-2676-2
    • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory (2013). The French Revolutionary Wars
    • Gardiner, Robert (2006). Fleet Battle And Blockade: The French Revolutionary War 1793–1797
    • Lefebvre, Georges (1964). The French Revolution Volume II: from 1793 to 1799
    • Ross, Steven T. (1973). Quest for Victory; French Military Strategy, 1792–1799

    External links[edit]

    Preceded by
    Siege of Namur (1792)
    French Revolution: Revolutionary campaigns
    War of the First Coalition
    Succeeded by
    War in the Vendée