Forging Napoleon's Grande Armée: Motivation, Military Culture, and Masculinity in the French Army, 1800-1808

Forging Napoleon's Grande Armée: Motivation, Military Culture, and Masculinity in the French Army, 1800-1808

Forging Napoleon's Grande Armée: Motivation, Military Culture, and Masculinity in the French Army, 1800-1808

Forging Napoleon's Grande Armée: Motivation, Military Culture, and Masculinity in the French Army, 1800-1808

Synopsis

The men who fought in Napoleon's Grande Armée built a new empire that changed the world. Remarkably, the same men raised arms during the French Revolution for liberté, égalité, and fraternité. In just over a decade, these freedom fighters, who had once struggled to overthrow tyrants, rallied to the side of a man who wanted to dominate Europe. What was behind this drastic change of heart?

In this ground-breaking study, Michael J. Hughes shows how Napoleonic military culture shaped the motivation of Napoleon's soldiers. Relying on extensive archival research and blending cultural and military history, Hughes demonstrates that the Napoleonic regime incorporated elements from both the Old Regime and French Revolutionary military culture to craft a new military culture, characterized by loyalty to both Napoleon and the preservation of French hegemony in Europe. Underscoring this new, hybrid military culture were five sources of motivation: honor, patriotism, a martial and virile masculinity, devotion to Napoleon, and coercion. Forging Napoleon's Grande Armée vividly illustrates how this many-pronged culture gave Napoleon's soldiers reasons to fight.

Excerpt

François-Joseph Zickel served as a cavalry officer in the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte, and his long military career spanned the entire period of the Napoleonic wars. Zickel was born the son of a soldier, and from a young age he eagerly desired to follow in his father’s footsteps. In the heady days of 1791, as Revolutionary France prepared its defenses, he enlisted in one of the new local guard units that were formed to supplement the regiments of the former Royal army. With popular support for the Revolution still in the ascendant, men from all over France volunteered for military service. Zickel, however, was unusual because he was only twelve years old. Two years later, he went a step further and joined a battalion headed to the front lines. Upon his arrival at the Armée du Nord, the military authorities discovered his age and promptly sent him home. Despite this setback, Zickel maintained his enthusiasm for the profession of arms. When he was finally old enough, he entered the 10 regiment of chasseurs à cheval, a unit of light cavalry. He was then nineteen, and the year was 1798.

For the next fifteen years, Zickel had a remarkable military career. After several years as a noncommissioned officer (NCO), he was promoted to second lieutenant, a commissioned rank, in 1807. He fought under General André Masséna at the second battle of Zurich in 1799, participated in the capture of Ulm in 1805, charged with French cavalry at Jena in 1806, served in Spain during the disastrous Peninsular War, and took part in the defense of France in 1814. Although he fought in several major engagements, he miraculously managed to survive the Napoleonic wars. Yet while he dreamed of rising through the ranks like countless others, possessed years of experience, and was devoted to Napoleon, he never rose above the rank of second lieutenant.

It is possible to reconstruct Zickel’s career through a series of letters that he wrote to his father. These letters reveal the officer’s feelings about war . . .

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