13 Vendémiaire (5 October 1795) is the name given to a battle between the French Revolutionary troops and Royalist forces in the streets of Paris. The battle was largely responsible for the rapid advancement of Republican General Napoleon Bonaparte's career.
While the social reforms of the French Revolution had been well received by the majority of the populace of France, the Revolution's strongly anti-Catholic stance had created anti-republican sympathies in many Roman Catholics. In March 1793, this sentiment boiled over into an armed insurrection in the fiercely Catholic Vendée region of western France. Under leaders like François de Charette de la Contrie and Louis d'Elbée, a rebel army, titled Armée catholique et royale now proved to be a thorn in the side of the Revolutionary Government in Paris. The rebels were known as Chouans, a title which comes from early royalist leader Jean Cottereau’s nickname Jean Chouan. He was known for his perfect imitation of an owl’s cry, a noise which had become the rallying cry of the insurgents of Vendée.
The Armée catholique et royale quickly garnered British support, and got off to a promising start, severely defeating several Revolutionary Armies. The Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety ordered General Jean-Baptiste Carrier to pacify the region, and over several months Carrier ruthlessly decimated the populace of the Vendée. The local population dubbed Carrier's forces the colonnes infernales (hellish columns). On 22 December 1793, the Chouan rebellion subsided following a major defeat at the Battle of Savenay.
Following the 9th Thermidor, those Chouans willing to lay down arms were granted amnesty by the reformed National Convention. The Chouans responded by attacking the Republican held town of Guémené on 29 January 1795. The Convention immediately ordered General Hoche to proceed to the Vendée and force the Chouans to agree to a cessation of hostilities. Hoche quickly defeated the Chouan army and on 17 February François de Charette de la Contrie signed a very generous peace settlement.
A small contingent of Royalists under the command of General Stofflet and the fanatical Abbé Bernier refused to accept the peace settlement, and continued to offer resistance to Hoche's Army. They were supported by the British, in the form of 4,000 émigrés, 80,000 muskets, 80 cannon along with food, clothing and even a large quantity of counterfeit assignats (to not only provide the Chouans with funding, but also to unbalance the French economy.
This large force was placed under the command of émigré Générals Puisaye and Hermilly. Hearing of this, de Charette de la Contrie broke the peace agreement and reopened hostilities. On 26 June, the émigré force landed at Carnac. Hermilly quickly advanced on Auray before engaging and being defeated by Hoche at Vannes. By early July, Hemilly had been forced out of Auray and was besieged in the Fortress of Penthièvre. This meant that the entire insurgent army was now trapped on the Quiberon peninsula. On 15 July, an additional émigré division under the command of Général Sombreuil arrived to boulster the defense, but on 16 July Hermilly was killed in action. By the 20th, the fortress had fallen and Hoche swiftly advanced down the peninsula, defeating the hopelessly trapped émigré army. Only Général Puisaye and a small force were able to escape with the British fleet; the remainder were either killed in action, taken prisoner or executed.
Despite the failure of the émigré army, de Charette de la Contrie continued to offer resistance. In early September, a popular revolt broke out in the area around Dreux, but was defeated in battle at Nonancourt. De Charette de la Contrie himself suffered a major defeat at Saint-Cyr on 25 September. Despite this, the Comte d'Artois landed at Île d'Yeu with 1,000 émigrés and 2,000 British troops. Bolstered by this force, the Royalist troops began marching on Paris in early October, 1795. The arrival of the Comte d'Artois excited the jeunesse dorée royalist supporters in the Le Pelletier section of the capital, and they began demonstrations in the form of felling trees of liberty and trampling tricolour cockades. Perhaps more disturbing, rumours regarding the likely defection of the entire Paris National Guard began to circulate.
The Convention quickly realised that it was in severe danger, and that not only was an enemy force on French soil, but the uprising in Paris meant that there was also now an enemy force within the capital itself. The Convention declared its intention to remain in their meeting rooms until the crisis was resolved. It called for the formation of three battalions of patriots, to be raised from the Jacobin military staff dismissed after 9 Thermidore. Général baron de Menou was given command of the defence of the capital, but was severely outnumbered with only 5,000 troops on hand to resist the 30,000 man Royalist Army.
On 12 vendémaire (4 October), The National Guard arrived in Le Pellitier in an attempt to put down the unrest. The Military Committee of the Sections of the Capital, under the command of Richer de Sévigny, announced that the decrees of the Convention were no longer recognised. Général Danican took command of the National Guard in the La Pellitier section. The Convention ordered Menou to advance into Le Pellitier, to disarm the entire area and to close Danican's headquarters. Generals Despierres and Verdière were sent to Menou to assist him. Menou divided his force into three columns, and planned an advance into Le Pellitier on the evening of 12 vendémaire. When the advance is set to begin, Despierres reports that he is unwell and unable to proceed, and Verdière refuses to advance. Menou timidly advances towards the Royalist force, inviting the rebels to discuss terms of their dispersal. He withdraws after receiving the insurgent's promise to disarm.
The Le Pelliter section, seeing this as a sign of weakness on the part of the Convention, called upon the other sections of Paris to rise up. Menou realised his mistake, and launched a cavalry attack down the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, temporarily clearing the area of royalists. The Convention dismissed Menou from the command, and ordered Paul Barras to take over the defence of the Convention.
At 1am on 13 vendémaire (5 October), Bonaparte overrode Barras, who was content to let him do as he wished. Bonaparte ordered Joachim Murat, a sous-lieutenant in the 21ére Regiment d'Chasseurs â Cheval, to ride to the plain of Sablons and to return with the 40 cannon which Menou had indicated were located there. Murat's squadron retrieved the cannon before the Royalists arrived and Bonaparte organised their arrangement, placing them in commanding areas, with effective fields of fire.
At 5am, a probing attack by the royalist forces was repulsed. 5 hours later, the major Royalist assault began. Despite being outnumbered by approximately 6 to 1, the Republican forces held their perimeter, the cannons firing grapeshot into the massed royalist forces. The 'patriot battalions', supporting the artillery, also cut down the advancing Royalist ranks. Bonaparte commanded throughout the two-hour engagement, and survived unscathed despite having his horse shot from under him. The effect of the grapeshot and the volleys from the patriot forces caused the Royalist attack to waver. Bonaparte ordered a counterattack led by Murat's squadron of Chasseurs. At the close of the battle, around three-hundred royalists lay dead on the streets of Paris. It was not Napoleon who made the "whiff of grapeshot," comment but rather Thomas Carlyle in describing the events of 13 vendémaire.
The defeat of the Royalist insurrection extinguished the threat to the Convention. Bonaparte became a national hero, and was quickly promoted to Général de Division. Within six months, he was given command of the Armée d'Italie. The defeated royalists, in an effort to portray the Republican defense as a massacre, nicknamed Bonaparte Général Vendémiaire, a title which he later claimed would be his first title of glory.