From Yorktown to Valmy: The Transformation of the French Army in an Age of Revolution

From Yorktown to Valmy: The Transformation of the French Army in an Age of Revolution

From Yorktown to Valmy: The Transformation of the French Army in an Age of Revolution

From Yorktown to Valmy: The Transformation of the French Army in an Age of Revolution


Based upon exhaustive research in archives in the United States and France, From Yorktown to Valmy provides a detailed study of some sixty-five hundred officers and soldiers of the French expeditionary corps that served under Rochambeau in the American Revolution. It traces their experiences in this country after their departure from France in the spring of 1780, their role in the victory over Cornwallis, their return to France and resumption of peacetime duties from 1783 to 1789, and their reactions to revolution in their own country and the war that followed.

The author's focus on these men and their regiments, the only substantial force of foreign allies ever to serve on American soil for an extended period of time, affords the opportunity to assess the impact of these momentous events upon the lives of rather ordinary people. In turn, their experiences also provide a remarkable means of evaluating -- in personal, concrete terms -- connections between the two great revolutions of the eighteenth century. Furthermore, since these soldiers constituted a representative cross-section of the French army during this critical period, their fate and the service of their units exemplify and elucidate the development of the entire French army during the most dramatic transformation in its history.


This book is the result of many—perhaps too many—years of research and writing. It has suffered from numerous postponements for various professional and personal reasons. Ideally, it should have been published a decade or two ago, during the bicentennial celebrations of the American and French Revolutions; however, it was not ready then. I hope it is ready now.

I consistently derived pleasure from working on this project. No matter what the causes or duration of the interruptions, I always enjoyed returning to it and savoring the human dramas that emerged from the research. I still do. Some readers might object to the number of examples I use to elucidate certain points in this study. I am unwilling to let these human beings fade into historical generalizations or statistics. I feel this all the more strongly because the great majority of the examples are drawn from the lives of ordinary people—that is, obscure individuals who otherwise seldom or never emerge from historical records. At the same time, I believe that it is ahistorical or excessively ideological to treat the officers and soldiers whose experiences I describe and analyze as either idiosyncratic anecdotes or the passive victims of great historical movements. These men played a direct and immediate—albeit limited—role in the most important developments of their time. For those who still find my examples excessive, I offer one optimistic note: They could have been multiplied many times over!

The primary goal of this work is to improve understanding of the closely related phenomena of revolution and war in the late eighteenth century. Both activities were conducted in the name of the highest principles. Both entailed extensive violence and suffering. And both involved the mass participation of . . .

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