War of the First Coalition
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The key figure in initial foreign reaction to the revolution was Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, brother of Louis XVI's Queen Marie Antoinette. Leopold had initially looked on the Revolution with equanimity, but became more and more disturbed as the Revolution became more radical, although he still hoped to avoid war. On 27 August, Leopold and King Frederick William II of Prussia, in consultation with emigrant French nobles, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which declared the interest of the monarchs of Europe in 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 non-committal gesture to placate the sentiments of French monarchists and nobles, it was seen in France as a serious threat and was denounced by the revolutionary leaders.
France eventually issued an ultimatum demanding that the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria under Leopold II, who also was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, renounce any hostile alliances and withdraw its troops from the French border. The reply was evasive, and the Assembly voted for war on 20 April 1792 against Francis II (who succeeded Leopold II), after a long list of grievances presented by foreign minister Charles François Dumouriez. Dumouriez prepared an immediate invasion of the Austrian Netherlands, where he expected the local population to rise against Austrian rule as they had earlier in 1790. However, the revolution had thoroughly disorganized the army, and the forces raised were insufficient for the invasion. Following the declaration of war, French soldiers deserted en masse and in one case murdered their general, Théobald Dillon.
Anonymous caricature depicting the treatment given to the Brunswick Manifesto
by the French population
While the revolutionary government frantically raised fresh troops and reorganized its armies, a mostly Prussian Allied army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick assembled at Koblenz on the Rhine. The duke then issued a proclamation called the Brunswick Manifesto (July 1792), written by the French king's cousin, Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, the leader of an émigré corps within the Allied army, which declared the Allies' intent to restore the king to his full powers and to treat any person or town who opposed them as rebels to be condemned to death by martial law. This, however, had the effect of strengthening the resolve of the revolutionary army and government to oppose them by any means necessary.
On 10 August, a crowd stormed the Tuileries Palace, seizing the king and his family. On 19 August 1792, the invasion by Brunswick's army commenced, with Brunswick's army easily taking the fortresses of Longwy and Verdun. The invasion continued, but at Valmy on 20 September, the invaders 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 gave a great boost to French morale. Further, the Prussians, finding that the campaign had been longer and more costly than predicted, decided that the cost and risk of continued fighting was too great and, with winter approaching, they decided to retreat from France to preserve their army. The next day, the monarchy was formally abolished as the First Republic was declared (21 September 1792).
Meanwhile, the French had been successful on several other fronts, occupying Savoy and Nice, which were parts of the Kingdom of Sardinia, while General Custine invaded Germany, occupying several German towns 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 the Battle of Jemappes on 6 November and occupying the entire country by the beginning of winter.
Spain and Portugal entered the anti-French coalition in January 1793. Britain began military preparations in late 1792 and declared that war was inevitable unless France gave up its conquests, notwithstanding French assurances they would not attack Holland or annex the Low Countries. Britain expelled the French ambassador following the execution of Louis XVI and on 1 February France responded by declaring war on Great Britain and the Dutch Republic.
France drafted hundreds of thousands of men, beginning a policy of using mass conscription to deploy more of its manpower than the autocratic states could manage to do (first stage, with a decree of 24 February 1793 ordering the draft of 300,000 men, followed by the general mobilization of all the young men able to be drafted, through the famous decree of 23 August 1793). Nonetheless, the Coalition allies launched a determined drive to invade France during the Flanders Campaign.
France suffered severe reverses at first. They were driven out of the Austrian Netherlands, and serious revolts flared in the west and south of France. One of these, at Toulon, was the first serious taste of action for an unknown young artillery officer Napoleon Bonaparte. He contributed to the siege of the city and its harbor by planning an effective assault with well-placed artillery batteries raining projectiles down on rebel positions. This performance helped make his reputation as a capable tactician, and it fueled his meteoric rise to military and political power. Once the city was occupied, he participated in pacifying the rebelling citizens of Toulon with the same artillery that he first used to conquer the city.
By the end of the year, large new armies had turned back foreign invaders, and the Reign of Terror, a fierce policy of repression, had suppressed internal revolts. The French military was in the ascendant. Lazare Carnot, a scientist and prominent member of the Committee of Public Safety, organized the fourteen armies of the Republic, and was then nicknamed the Organizer of the Victory.
The year 1794 brought increased success to the French armies. On the Alpine frontier, there was little change, with the French invasion of Piedmont failing. On the Spanish border, the French under General Dugommier rallied from their defensive positions at Bayonne and Perpignan, driving the Spanish out of Roussillon and invading Catalonia. Dugommier was killed in the Battle of the Black Mountain in November.
On the northern front in the Flanders Campaign, the Austrians and French both prepared offensives in Belgium, with the Austrians besieging Landrecies and advancing towards Mons and Maubeuge. The French prepared an offensive on multiple fronts, with two armies in Flanders under Pichegru and Moreau, and Jourdan attacking from the German border. The French withstood several damaging but inconclusive actions before regaining the initiative at the battles of Tourcoing and Fleurus in June. The French armies drove the Austrians, British, and Dutch beyond the Rhine, occupying Belgium, the Rhineland, and the south of the Netherlands.
On the middle Rhine front in July, General Michaud's Army of the Rhine attempted two offensives in July in the Vosges, the second of which was successful but not followed up, allowing for a Prussian counter-attack in September. Otherwise this sector of the front was largely quiet over the course of the year.
At sea, the French Atlantic Fleet succeeded in holding off a British attempt to interdict a vital cereal convoy from the United States on the Glorious First of June, though at the cost of one quarter of its strength. In the Caribbean, the British fleet landed in Martinique in February, taking the whole island by 24 March and holding it until the Treaty of Amiens, and in Guadeloupe in April, where they captured the island briefly but were driven out by Victor Hugues later in the year. In the Mediterranean, following the British evacuation of Toulon, the Corsican leader Pasquale Paoli agreed with admiral Samuel Hood to place Corsica under British protection in return for assistance capturing French garrisons at Saint-Florent, Bastia, and Calvi, creating the short-lived Anglo-Corsican Kingdom.
By the end of the year French armies had won victories on all fronts, and as the year closed they began advancing into the Netherlands.
The year opened with French forces in the process of attacking the Dutch Republic in the middle of winter. The Dutch people rallied to the French call and started the Batavian Revolution. City after city was occupied by the French. The Dutch fleet was captured, and the stadtholder William V fled to be replaced by a popular Batavian Republic, a sister republic which supported the revolutionary cause and signed a treaty with the French, ceding the territories of North Brabant and Maastricht to France on 16 May.
With the Netherlands falling, Prussia also decided to leave the coalition, signing the Peace of Basel on 6 April, ceding the west bank of the Rhine to France. This freed Prussia to finish the occupation of Poland.
The French army in Spain advanced in Catalonia while taking Bilbao and Vitoria and marching toward Castile. By 10 July, Spain also decided to make peace, recognizing the revolutionary government and ceding the territory of Santo Domingo, but returning to the pre-war borders in Europe. This left the armies on the Pyrenees free to march east and reinforce the armies on the Alps, and the combined army overran Piedmont.
Meanwhile, Britain's attempt to reinforce the rebels in the Vendée by landing troops at Quiberon failed, and a conspiracy to overthrow the republican government from within ended when Napoleon Bonaparte's garrison used cannon to fire grapeshot into the attacking mob (which led to the establishment of the Directory).
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. This was a moderate setback to the position of the French.
In northern Italy, victory at the Battle of Loano in November gave France access to the Italian peninsula.
The French prepared a great advance on three fronts, with Jourdan and Moreau on the Rhine, and Bonaparte in Italy. The three armies were to link up in Tyrol and march on Vienna. Jourdan and Moreau advanced rapidly into Germany, and Moreau had reached Bavaria and the edge of Tyrol by September, but Jourdan was defeated by Archduke Charles, and both armies were forced to retreat back across the Rhine.
Napoleon, on the other hand, was completely successful in a daring invasion of Italy. He left Paris on 11 March for Nice to take over the weak and poorly supplied Army of Italy, arriving on 26 March. The army was already being reorganised and supplied when he arrived, and he found that the situation was rapidly improving. He was soon able to carry out the plan for the invasion of Italy that he had been advocating for years, which provided for an advance over the Apennines near Altare to attack the enemy position of Ceva.
The Montenotte Campaign opened after Johann Beaulieu's Austrian forces attacked the extreme French eastern flank near Genoa on 10 April. Bonaparte countered by attacking and crushing the isolated right wing of the allied armies at the Battle of Montenotte on 12 April. The next day he defeated an Austro-Sardinian force at the Battle of Millesimo. He then won a victory at the Second Battle of Dego, driving the Austrians northeast, away from their Piedmontese allies. Satisfied that the Austrians were temporarily inert, Bonaparte harried Michelangelo Colli's Piedmontese at Ceva and San Michele Mondovi before whipping them at the Battle of Mondovì. A week later, on 28 April, the Piedmontese signed an armistice at Cherasco, withdrawing from the hostilities. On 18 May they signed a peace treaty at Paris, ceding Savoy and Nice and allowing the French bases to be used against Austria.
After a short pause, Napoleon carried out a brilliant flanking manoeuvre, and crossed the Po at Piacenza, nearly cutting the Austrian line of retreat. The Austrians escaped after the Battle of Fombio, but had their rear-guard mauled at Lodi on 10 May, after which the French took Milan. Bonaparte then advanced eastwards again, drove off the Austrians in the Battle of Borghetto and in June began the Siege of Mantua. Mantua was the strongest Austrian base in Italy. Meanwhile, the Austrians retreated north into the foothills of the Tyrol.
During July and August, Austria sent a fresh army into Italy under Dagobert Wurmser. Wurmser attacked toward Mantua along the east side of Lake Garda, sending Peter Quasdanovich down the west side in an effort to envelop Bonaparte. Bonaparte exploited the Austrian mistake of dividing their forces to defeat them in detail, but in so doing, he abandoned the siege of Mantua, which held out for another six months (Carl von Clauswitz mentioned in On War that the siege might have been able to be kept up if Bonaparte had circumvallated the city). Quasdanovich was overcome at Lonato on 3 August and Wurmser at Castiglione on 5 August. Wurmser retreated to the Tyrol, and Bonaparte resumed the siege.
In September, Bonaparte marched north against Trento in Tyrol, but Wurmser had already marched toward Mantua by the Brenta valley, leaving Paul Davidovich's force to hold off the French. Bonaparte overran the holding force at the Battle of Rovereto. Then he followed Wurmser down the Brenta valley, to fall upon and defeat the Austrians at the Battle of Bassano on 8 September. Wurmser elected to march for Mantua with a large portion of his surviving troops. The Austrians evaded Bonaparte's attempts to intercept them but were driven into the city after a pitched battle on 15 September. This left nearly 30,000 Austrians trapped in the fortress. This number rapidly diminished due to disease, combat losses, and hunger.
The Austrians sent yet another army under József Alvinczi against Bonaparte in November. Again the Austrians divided their effort, sending Davidovich's corps from the north while Alvinczi's main body attacked from the east. At first they proved victorious over the French at Bassano, Calliano, and Caldiero. But Bonaparte ultimately defeated Alvinczi in the Battle of Arcole southeast of Verona. The French then turned on Davidovich in great strength and chased him into the Tyrol. Wurmser's only sortie was late and ineffectual.
The rebellion in the Vendée was also finally crushed in 1796 by Hoche, but Hoche's attempt to land a large invasion force in Ireland was unsuccessful.
Soldiers killed in battle in 1797
On 14 February, British admiral Jervis met and defeated a Spanish fleet off Portugal at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. This prevented the Spanish fleet from rendezvousing with the French, removing a threat of invasion to Britain. However, the British fleet was weakened over the rest of the year by the Spithead and Nore mutinies, which kept many ships in port through the summer.
On 22 February 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 (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.
In Italy, Napoleon's armies were laying siege to Mantua at the beginning of the year, and a second attempt by Austrians under Joseph Alvinczy to raise the siege was driven off at the Battle of Rivoli, where the French scored a decisive victory. Finally, on 2 February, Wurmser surrendered Mantua and 18,000 troops. The Papal forces sued for peace, which was granted at Tolentino on 19 February. Napoleon was now free to attack the Austrian heartland. He advanced directly toward Austria over the Julian Alps, sending Barthélemy Joubert to invade the Tyrol.
Archduke Charles of Austria hurried from the German front to defend Austria, but he was defeated at the Tagliamento on 16 March, and Napoleon proceeded into Austria, occupying Klagenfurt and preparing for a rendezvous with Joubert in front of Vienna. In Germany, the armies of Hoche and Moreau crossed the Rhine again in April after the previous year's failure. The victories of Napoleon had frightened the Austrians into making peace, and they concluded the Peace of Leoben in April, ending hostilities. However, his absence from Italy had allowed the outbreak of the revolt known as the Veronese Easters on 17 April, which was put down eight days later.
Although Britain remained at war with France, this effectively ended the First Coalition. Austria later signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, ceding the Austrian Netherlands to France and recognizing the French border at the Rhine. Austria and France also partitioned Venice between them.
In July 1798, French forces under Napoleon annihilated an Egyptian army at the Battle of the Pyramids
. The victory facilitated the conquest of Egypt and remains one of the most important battles of the era.
With only Britain left to fight and not enough of a navy to fight a direct war, Napoleon conceived of an invasion of Egypt in 1798, which satisfied his personal desire for glory and the Directory's desire to have him far from Paris. The military objective of the expedition is not entirely clear, but may have been to threaten British dominance in India.
Napoleon sailed from Toulon to Alexandria, taking Malta on the way, and landing in June. Marching to Cairo, he won a great victory at the Battle of the Pyramids; however, his fleet was sunk by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile, stranding him in Egypt. Napoleon spent the remainder of the year consolidating his position in Egypt.
The French government also took advantage of internal strife in Switzerland to invade, establishing the Helvetian Republic and annexing Geneva. French troops also deposed Pope Pius VI, establishing a republic in Rome.
An expeditionary force was sent to County Mayo, in Ireland, to assist in the rebellion against Britain in the summer of 1798. It had some success against British forces, most notably at Castlebar, but was ultimately routed while trying to reach Dublin. French ships sent to assist them were captured by the Royal Navy off County Donegal.
The French were also under pressure in the Southern Netherlands and Luxembourg where the local people revolted against conscription and anti-religious violence (Peasants' War). The French had taken this territory in 1794, but it was officially theirs in 1797 due to a treaty with Austria. The French forces easily handled the Peasants' rebellion in the Southern Netherlands, and were able to put down the revolting forces in under 2 months.
The French in 1798 fought an undeclared war at sea against the United States, that was known variously as the "Quasi-War", the "Half War" and the "Pirate Wars". It was resolved peaceably with the Convention of 1800.