Conscripts and Deserters: The Army and French Society During by Alan Forrest

By Alan Forrest

Among the outbreak of battle with Austria in 1792 and Napoleon's ultimate debacle in 1814, France remained virtually continously at struggle, recruiting within the strategy a few to 3 million frenchmen--a point of recruitment unknown to prior generations and largely resented as an assault at the liberties of rural groups. Forrest demanding situations the suggestion of a kingdom heroically speeding to fingers through analyzing the big premiums of desertion and avoidance of provider in addition to their effects on French society--on army campaigns and the morale of armies, on political opinion at domestic, at the social cloth of neighborhood villages, and at the Napoleonic dream of bringing a few coherent and centralized country.

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Extra resources for Conscripts and Deserters: The Army and French Society During the Revolution and Empire

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They were often very raw recruits especially in rural France where they were generally lacking in the most basic education or literacy. At Cayrols in the Massif, not a single one of the new volunteers could sign his name, the communal register sporting only the crude crosses of the illiterate (18). Many were there for the signing-on bounties that were frequently held out as bait. Sums of 80 livres for infantrymen and 120 livres for the cavalry were quite customary as towns and villages encourgaed their young men to fill the local quotas.

Were conscripted for active service from Year IX and placed at the disposal of the navy. Infloreal X further legislation placed reservists in the army in a state of readiness should the minister wish to avail himself of their services. From 1806 gardes nationales in turn found themselves drafted into the army, first on coastguard duty, later to defend France's frontiers against invasion. Each successive measure played its part in the government's campaign to organize manpower in such a way that it could at short notice send as many men as possible to fight a war that was extending into an increasing number of fresh theaters.

How could local administrators get men into uniform when commissaires were turning them away from their battalions and chirurgiens were failing to turn up for medical examinations (39)? Just as serious was the widespread suspicion that the levee was inequitable and that others were escaping scot-free. Rural France was only too prone to believe that the entire burden of recruitment was falling on the peasantry while the inhabitants of towns and gros bourgs stood back from the recruitment proceedings and watched the countrymen march off to die.

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