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

By Samuel F. Scott | Go to book overview

9

DISINTEGRATION AND PARTIAL RECOVERY IN 1791

DURING 1791 THE DISINTEGRATION of the Royal Army reached its peak: Mass insubordination by the soldiers resumed in the spring following a relatively calm hiatus in the wake of the Nancy mutiny; the politicization of conflicts between officers and men intensified, as counterrevolutionary émigrés pressured noble officers and radical clubs propagandized their military subordinates; and thousands of officers left their posts in reaction to the attempted flight of Louis XVI and his subsequent arrest and suspension. The gravity of the situation was exacerbated by the increasing likelihood of war and growing domestic unrest. In the course of the same year, however, and in response to these dangers the French army began a process of recovery that eventually enabled it to surmount these difficulties and that definitively changed its character. 1

Some of the regiments that had served in America from 1780 to 1783 continued to display remarkable discipline and cohesion in the midst of mounting tensions; others reflected the general turmoil in the army. The infantry regiments of Bourbonnais and Saintonge and the Auxonne Artillery suffered only half as many desertions as the average of all regiments in the same branch during 1791; and although desertions in the Lauzun Hussars increased, they were still proportionately fewer than in the cavalry as a whole. On the other hand, the desertion rate in the Regiment of Royal Deux-Ponts was nearly double that of the infantry and the rate in the Regiment of Soissonnais nearly two and a half times the average. 2 Even in units in which the soldiers maintained discipline, as in the Saintonge Infantry, the political consequences of the king's flight included the large-scale defection of

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