Almost all of the ancien regime officer class had been drawn from the aristocracy, and most of these had either been imprisoned or killed during the Reign of Terror, or had fled the country to join the émigré army of Louis Joseph, Prince of Condé. The small remaining cadre of officers were promoted swiftly; this meant that the majority of the Revolutionary officers were far younger than their Monarchist counterparts. Those high ranking aristocratic officers who remained, among them Marquis de la Fayette, Comte de Rochambeau and Comte Nicolas Luckner, were soon accused of having monarchist sympathies and either killed or forced into exile.
Revolutionary fervour, along with calls to save the new regime, resulted in a large influx of enthusiastic yet untrained and undisciplined volunteers (the first sans-culottes, so called because they wore peasants trousers rather than the knee-breeches used by the other armies of the time). The desperate situation meant that these men were quickly inducted into the army, where the ranks were seasoned by a number of veteran soldiers who had remained.
Realizing that the army was not capable of conforming with the 1791 Reglement, commanders began experimenting with formations which required less training to perform. Many eminent French military thinkers had been clamoring for change decades before. In the period following the humiliating performance of the French Army during the Seven Years' War, they began to experiment with new ideas. Guibert wrote his epic Essai général de Tactique, Bourcet focused on staff procedures and mountain warfare, and Mesnil-Durand spent his time advocating l'ordre profond, tactics of maneuvering and fighting in heavy columnar formations, placing emphasis on the shock of cold steel over firepower.
In the 1770s, some commanders, among them the brilliant duc de Broglie performed exercises testing these tactics. It was finally decided to launch a series of experiments to try out the new tactics, and comparing them to the standard Fredrickian linear formation known as l'ordre mince which was universally popular throughout Europe. De Broglie decided that l'ordre profond worked best when it was supported by artillery and large numbers of skirmishers. Despite these exercises, l'ordre mince had strong and powerful supporters in the Royal Armée Française, and it was this formation which went into the 1791 Reglement as the standard.
In August 1792, a large Austro-Prussian army commanded by the Duke of Brunswick crossed the frontier and began its march on Paris with the declared intention of restoring full power to Louis XVI. Several Revolutionary armies were easily defeated by the professional Austrian, Hessian, Brunswick and Prussian troops. The immediate result of this was the storming of the Tuileries Palace and the overthrow of the king. Successive Revolutionary forces failed to halt Brunswick's advance, and by mid September it appeared that Paris would fall to the monarchists. The Convention ordered the remaining armies to be combined under the command of Dumouriez and François Christophe Kellermann. At the Battle of Valmy on 20 September 1792, the Revolutionary forces defeated Brunswick's advance guard, causing the invading army to begin retreating to the border. Much of the credit to the victory must go to the French artillery, widely viewed as the best in Europe thanks to the technical improvements of Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval.
The Battle of Valmy ensured that the Revolutionary armies were respected by their enemies, and for the next ten years they not only defended the fledgling First French Republic, but under the command of Generals such as Moreau, Jourdan, Kléber, Desaix and Bonaparte expanded the borders of the French republic.
In early 1793, the First Coalition was formed, not only from Prussia and Austria, but also Sardinia, Naples, Spain and Great Britain. The Republic was under attack on several fronts, and in the fiercely Catholic region of La Vendée an armed revolt had broken out. The Revolutionary army was greatly overstretched, and it seemed that the fall of the republic was imminent.
In early 1793 Lazare Carnot, a prominent mathematician, physicist, and delegate to the Convention, was promoted to the Committee of Public Safety. Displaying an exceptional talent for organization and for enforcing discipline, Carnot set about rearranging the disheveled Revolutionary Armies. Realizing that no amount of reforming and discipline was going to offset the massive numerical superiority enjoyed by France's enemies, Carnot ordered each département to provide a quota of new recruits, a number totaling around 300,000. By mid 1793, the Revolutionary Army had increased around 645,000 men.
All unmarried able bodied men aged between 18 and 25 were to report immediately for military service. Those married, as well as the remaining men, women and children, were to focus their efforts on arming and supplying the army.
This increased the size of the Revolutionary Armies dramatically, providing the armies in the field with the manpower to hold off the enemy attacks. Carnot was hailed by the government as the Organizer of Victory. By September 1794, the Revolutionary Army had 1,500,000 men under arms. Carnot's levée en masse had provided so much manpower that it was not necessary to repeat it again until 1797.
Seeing the failure of the 1791 Reglement, several early Revolutionary commanders followed de Broglie's example and experimented with the pre-Revolutionary ideas, gradually adapting them until they discovered a system that worked. The final standard used by the early Revolutionary armies consisted of the following.
Those troops with exceptional morale or skill became skirmishers, and were deployed in a screen in front of the Army. Both mounted and on foot, the large swarm of skirmishers peppered the enemy formations with fire. Unable to retaliate on the scattered skirmishers, the morale and unit cohesion of the better trained and equipped émigré and monarchist armies was gradually worn down. The incessant harassing fire usually resulted in a section of the enemy line wavering, and then the 'regular' formations of the Revolutionary army would be sent into the attack. Their main fighting tactics were Guerrilla Warfare. They would hide from enemies and ambush.
The skirmish screen also provided protection for those troops with less skill and of more dubious quality. These troops, making up the 'regular' part of the army, were formed into battalion columns. The battalion column required little training to perfect, and provided commanders with potent battering ram style formations with which to hit the enemy lines after the skirmishers had done their work.
After the initial dismal performance of the federe volunteer battalions, Carnot ordered that each demi-brigade was to consist of one regular and two federe battalions. These new formations were proven successful at Valmy in September 1792. In 1794, the new demi-brigade was universally adopted.
The Revolutionary army had been formed from a hodgepodge of different units, and as such did not have a uniform appearance. Veterans in their white uniforms and tarleton helments from the ancien regime period served alongside national guardsmen in their blue jackets with white turnbacks piped red and federes dressed in civilian clothes with only the red phrygian cap and the tricolour cockade to identify them as soldiers. Poor supplies meant that uniforms which had worn out were replaced with civilian clothes, and so the Revolutionary army lacked any semblance of uniformity, with the exception of the tricolour cockade which was worn by all soldiers. As the war progressed, several demi-brigades were issued specific coloured uniform jackets, and the Revolutionary Armée d'Orient which arrived in Egypt in 1798 was uniformed in purple, pink, green, red, orange and blue jackets.
Along with the problem of uniforms, many men of the Revolutionary army lacked weapons and ammunition. Any weapons captured from the enemy were immediately absorbed into the ranks. After the Battle of Montenotte in 1796, 1,000 French soldiers who had been sent into battle unarmed were afterwards equipped with captured Austrian muskets. As a result, uniformity was also lacking in weapons.
Besides the regular demi-brigades, light infantry demi-brigades also existed. These formations were formed from soldiers who had shown skill in marksmanship, and were used for skirmishing in front of the main force. As with the line demi-brigades, the light demi-brigades lacked uniformity in either weapons or equipment.
The Cavalry was the most seriously affected by the Revolution. The majority of officers and men had been aristocratic and had fled France to avoid the terror. Many French Cavalry soldiers joined the émigré army of the Prince du Conde. Two entire regiments, the Hussards du Saxe and the 15éme Cavalerie (Royal Allemande) defected to the Austrians.
Lacking not only trained officers and men, but also mounts and equipment, the Revolutionary cavalry had to be formed from nothing, and continued to be the worst equipped arm of the Revolutionary Army. By Mid 1793, the paper organisation of the Revolutionary Army included twenty six heavy cavalry regiments, two regiments of carabiniers, twenty dragoon regiments, eighteen regiments of chasseurs à cheval and ten hussar regiments. In reality, it was seldom that any of these regiments reached even half strength.
On 1st October, the Armée de la Rochelle was redesignated as the armée de l'Ouest.Armies Formed for Specific Tasks