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Conquering the Natural Frontier: French Expansion to the Rhine River During the War of the First Coalition, 1792-1797

Description: After conquering Belgium and the Rhineland in 1794, the French Army of the Sambre and Meuse faced severe logistical, disciplinary, and morale problems that signaled the erosion of its capabilities. The army’s degeneration resulted from a revolution in French foreign policy designed to conquer the natural frontiers, a policy often falsely portrayed as a diplomatic tradition of the French monarchy. In fact, the natural frontiers policy – expansion to the Rhine, the Pyrenees, and the Alps – emerged only after the start of the War of the First Coalition in 1792. Moreover, the pursuit of natural frontiers caused more controversy than previously understood. No less a figure than Lazare Carnot – the Organizer of Victory – viewed French expansion to the Rhine as impractical and likely to perpetuate war. While the war of conquest provided the French state with the resources to survive, it entailed numerous unforeseen consequences. Most notably, the Revolutionary armies became isolated from the nation and displayed more loyalty to their commanders than to the civilian authorities. In 1797, the Sambre and Meuse Army became a political tool of General Lazare Hoche, who sought control over the Rhineland by supporting the creation of a Cisrhenan Republic. Ultimately, troops from Hoche’s army removed Carnot from the French Directory in the coup d’état of 18 fructidor, a crucial benchmark in the militarization of French politics two years before Napoleon Bonaparte’s seizure of power. Accordingly, the conquest of the Rhine frontier contributed to the erosion of democratic governance in Revolutionary France.
Date: December 2015
Creator: Hayworth, Jordan R.

Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte, Comte De Guibert: Father of the Grande Armée

Description: Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte, comte de Guibert (1743-1790) dedicated his life and career to creating a new doctrine for the French army. Little about this doctrine was revolutionary. Indeed, Guibert openly decried the anarchy of popular participation in government and looked askance at the early days of the Revolution. Rather, Guibert’s doctrine marked the culmination of an evolutionary process that commenced decades before his time and reached fruition in the Réglement of 1791, which remained in force until the 1830s. Not content with military reform, Guibert demanded a political and social constitution to match. His reforms required these changes, demanding a disciplined, service-oriented society and a functional, rational government to assist his reformed military. He delved deeply, like no other contemporary writer, into the linkages between society, politics, and the military throughout his career and his writings. Guibert exerted an overwhelming influence on military thought across Europe for the next fifty years. His military theories provided the foundation for military reform during the twilight of the Old Regime. The Revolution, which adopted most of Guibert’s doctrine in 1791, continued his work. A new army and way of war based on Guibert’s reforms emerged to defeat France’s major enemies. In Napoleon’s hands, Guibert’s army all but conquered Europe by 1807. As other nations adopted French methods, Guibert’s influence spread across the Continent, reigning supreme until the 1830s. This dissertation adopts a biographical approach to examine Guibert’s life and influence on the creation of the French military system that led to Napoleon’s conquest of Europe. As no such biography exists in Anglophone literature, such a work will fill a crucial gap in understanding French military success to 1807. It examines the period of French military reform from 1760 to the creation and use of Napoleon’s Grande Armée from 1803 to 1807, illustrating the importance of ...
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Date: August 2014
Creator: Abel, Jonathan, 1985-