Battle of Valmy

Battle of Valmy

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=The Battle of Valmy
partof=the French Revolutionary Wars

caption=The Battle of Valmy
date=20 September 1792
place=Between Sainte-Menehould and Valmy
result=Decisive strategic French victory
combatant1=flagicon|France France
combatant2=flagicon|Prussia|1750 Kingdom of Prussia
commander1=Dumouriez, Kellermann
commander2=Duke of Brunswick

The Battle of Valmy, also known as the Cannonade of Valmy, was a tactically indecisive artillery engagement, but strategically it ensured the survival of the French Revolution. As such, and despite its minor size, it appears as one of the most decisive battles in history, as well as one of the first times a mix of old soldiers and raw volunteers were able to successfully oppose the highly respected professional Prussian and Austrian armies.

It was fought near the village of Valmy in northern France on 20 September, 1792, during the War of the First Coalition (part of the French Revolutionary Wars). Forces of the French Army of the North, commanded by Charles François Dumouriez, and the French Army of the Centre, commanded by François Christophe Kellermann, stopped the advance towards Paris of a Prussian army, commanded by the Duke of Brunswick.

Despite the minimal casualties (less than 500 total) and the inconclusive tactical results, Valmy has been considered one of the most significant battles of the French Revolutionary Wars, as it allowed the survival of France's new armies (facing a highly professional Prussian army) and launched a period of renewed military strength that was to last nearly a quarter of a century.


After France declared war on Austria on 20 April 1792 and following early encounters in which French arms did not distinguish themselves, anti-revolutionary forces advanced into France (19 August). The combined invading force comprised Prussians, Austrians, Hessians and "émigrés" under the Duke of Brunswick, representing the supreme command of King Frederick William II of Prussia. The commanders-in-chief of the armies that had formed became one after another "suspects"; and before a serious action had been fought, the three French Revolutionary Armies commanded by Rochambeau, Lafayette and Luckner had resolved themselves into two commanded by Dumouriez and Kellermann.

The invading allies readily captured Longwy on 23 August and slowly marched on to Verdun, which was even less defensible than Longwy. The French commander, Colonel Beaurepaire, shot himself in despair, and the place surrendered on 2 September. Duke of Brunswick now began his march on Paris and approached the defiles of the Argonne. But Dumouriez, who had been training his raw troops at Valenciennes in constant small engagements, with the purpose of invading the Austrian Netherlands, now threw himself into the Argonne by a rapid and daring flank march, almost under the eyes of the Prussian advanced guard, and barred the Paris road, summoning Kellermann to his assistance from Metz. Kellermann moved slowly, and before he arrived the northern part of the line of defence had been forced. Dumouriez, undaunted, changed front so as to face north, with his right wing on the Argonne and his left stretching towards Châlons, and in this position Kellermann joined him at Sainte-Menehould on 19 September.


Brunswick meanwhile had passed the northern defiles and had then swung round to cut off Dumouriez from Châlons. At the moment when the Prussian manoeuvre was nearly completed, Kellermann, commanding in Dumouriez’s momentary absence, advanced his left wing and took up a position between Sainte-Menehould and the mill of Valmy.

The result was the "Cannonade of Valmy". Kellermann's 47,000 infantry, nearly all regulars, stood steady. The French artillery justified its reputation as the best in Europe, and eventually, with no more than a half-hearted infantry attack, Brunswick's 35,000 strong broke off the action and retired. The French suffered 300 casualties and their opponents 184.


The French army benefited from its new artillery (using the Gribeauval system), allowing it to pound attacking columns with unheard of accuracy.

What is really important is that everybody on the Allied side expected the French to lose as their morale should have been broken by such a demonstration of power. Kellerman understood the danger and spent most of the day strengthening men's morale by parading on his horse on the front line and preparing his army for a massed bayonet attack of battalions in column, a highly surprising move in front of an advancing and more powerful army.

The pivotal moment was reached when Kellerman raised his famous cry "Vive la Nation", repeated again and again by all the army, hats on bayonets. Effect on the Prussian army and its commanders was very depressing, maybe explaining the stoppage of a first and then a second infantry attack.

The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was present at the battle, understood the change and told some of his Prussian comrades that "From this place, and from this day forth begins a new era in the history of the world, and you can all say that you were present at its birth,". [ [ The Nation] ]


This engagement was the turning point of the campaign. Ten days later, without firing another shot, the invading army began its retreat. Dumouriez's pursuit was not seriously pressed; he occupied himself chiefly with a series of subtle and curious negotiations which, with the general advance of the French troops, brought about the complete withdrawal of the allied invaders from the soil of France.

The day after this first victory of the French revolutionary troops, on 21 September, in Paris, the French monarchy was abolished and the First French Republic proclaimed. The battle of Valmy was really the first victory of an army inspired by citizenship and nationalism and the death knell of the absolute monarchies.


External links

* [ The Battle of Valmy] from Edward Shepherd Creasy's The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World.
* [ Illustrated article on the Battle of Valmy at 'Battlefields Europe']

Further reading

* Arthur Chuquet, "Les Guerres de la Révolution : 2. Valmy", 1887
* "Campagne du Duc de Brunswick contre les Français en 1792", publiée en allemand par un officier prussien témoin oculaire et traduite en français sur la quatrième édition à Paris chez A.Cl.FORGET rue du Four-Honoré No 487 An III de la République.

ee also

*The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World


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