Internal problems, 1793
The decree in March 1793, that demanded the provinces must conscript 300,000 soldiers required for the Republican cause, soon met with rebellion.
We saw earlier how Brittany and the region north of the Loire reacted, but also the area south of the Loire, the Vendée, also rejected the decree, their young men instead forming ‘The Catholic Army’. They were originally prepared to fight to restore their priests and churches to the pre-Revolutionary status quo. Then added restoration of the monarchy as a goal and renamed their force ‘The Royal and Catholic Army’.
They were poorly equipped and trained but could field a cavalry of two thousand and they also had some artillery; this army was ably supported by other rebels fighting a guerilla style of war. But the Republic amassed a 45,000-strong Republican force to respond to their rebellion.
The first set-piece battle took place near the river Lay at Pont-Charrault when 2,000 Republicans were engaged for six hours. The rebels called up reinforcements and prevailed. They advanced south towards Niort. They also defeated another Republican force near Chalonnes.
The Vendeans recorded more success to secure their area but there was no central command and control. They wasted time and resource in a long-term siege of Nantes.
In October 1793 the Vendeans crossed the Loire. Republican General Kléber managed to coordinate the Army of the West and the Army of Mainz constricting the Catholic and Royal Army of Anjou and Haut-Poitou into a tight area. In a bid to escape the rebels they engaged at Cholet and were soundly beaten, forced to retreat and forced into a bend in the Loire.
They crossed the river in an effort to link up with Chouannerie forces. Failing to do so it fell back to Saveany where it was completely destroyed by Kléber’s forces. This is considered to be the end of the first war of the Vendée.
In February 1794 the Committee of Public Safety launched its Vendée-Vengé (Vendée Revenged) and to add to the terror of their assault their twelve columns were called colonnes infernales (infernal columns). Their orders were simple – to exterminate the peoples south of the Loire. Its commander General Louis Marie Turreau demanded the decree if he was to put women and children to the sword – he got it.
Within a few months they had massacred up to 50,000 local civilians (depending on the source you accept). In Anjou they captured some 15,000 Vendeans, half were shot or guillotined, those who were imprisoned were perhaps less fortunate as many died from diseases.
This was a very bloody conflict, some sources suggest that the wars in the Vendée between 1793 and 1796 led to the deaths of 250,000 rebels and 200,000 Republicans, many in what could only be termed as atrocities. One historian called it a ‘Franco-French genocide’, certainly Vendée’s then population of 800,000 had been decimated.
In mid-1793, in the south of France there were many pockets of resistance to the Revolution. Following the arrest and execution of the Girondins faction a number of cities rebelled – Avignon, Lyon, Marseille and Nîmes.
General Jean François Carteaux was despatched at the head of an army that became known as the Carmagnoles. This derived from a Piedmontese short jacket that was worn by the more militant sans-culottes, named after the town of Carmagnola.
They soon annexed the County of Nice from the First Coalition forces but then withdrew to deal with a revolt in Lyon. Once that had been resolved they returned to drive the Piedmontese from Savoy.
Toulon had become the département capital of the Var. But its leaders were of a the royalist persuasion and, when they saw the reprisals that had occurred in Marseilles following its recapture by revolutionary forces, they looked for outside help. In August 1793 it permitted an Anglo- Spanish fleet to take control of its port as part of their overt support for the King.
This naval force was 13,000-strong made up from British, Neapolitan, Piedmontese and Spanish soldiers. The invited invader also seized seventy French ships, almost half of the then French navy. This would effectively stop any Revolutionary naval ambitions and so it soon came under siege by the Carmagnoles force.
Earlier, in July 1793, a young Corsican captain in the army, Napoleon Bonaparte, had published a pro-Republican pamphlet Le souper de Beaucaire (Supper at Beaucaire) and this had caught the eye of the young brother of Robespierre, Augustin. Bonaparte was appointed to lead the artillery in the siege of Toulon.
He volunteered to capture the dominant hill and fort that overlooked the port as he assessed that it could be used to force the Anglo-Spanish fleet to withdraw. He duly captured it, personally sustaining a wound to his thigh. This position allowed him to open fire on the fleet, which hastily departed, though not before it had burned two-thirds of the French ships and blowing up the arsenal. From the same position Napoleon was able to threaten the city itself; this ensured a prompt retaking of Toulon.
Toulon had its capital status removed and was for a short time renamed as Port-de-la-Montagne