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conduct of the sovereign was followed in the army by repeated acts of insubordination, and the most ignoble conduct possible.
On the march, in the camp, and even on the battle-field, all was confusion and disorder. When marching, the generals allowed profligate women to follow the army in their carriages, while in the camps there were orgies and banquets, at which the most brilliant luxury was displayed. No less than twelve thousand waggons, belonging to merchants or sutlers, followed the army, commanded by the Prince de Soubise. The newspapers of the period tell us, that after the defeat of Gotha, where Seydlitz's hussars put to flight nine thousand of Soubise's grenadiers, very few soldiers were made prisoners; but, to make up for it, a great number of women, regimental chaplains, valets, cooks, and even comedians, were captured. In the baggage-train of the generals might be seen entire chests of pommade, essences, any quantity of hair powder, parasols, dressing-gowns, and parrots. In the camps balls were given daily; and it was not rare, even on the eve of a battle, for a general to leave his post and go and dance a minuet in a neighbouring village. In Clermont's army, the Comte de St. Germain, afterwards minister of war, who commanded a corps of ten thousand men, abandoned his post, merely writing to tell his chief where he had left his troops. Such cowardly desertion, which would in our day be punished by death, was then called “handing in one's resignation," and no one paid any attention to it.
As for the soldiers, they remained as they had ever been, brave, patient, and devoted. The army of Hanover, an author tells us, reached the banks of the Rhine in a deplorable state, covered with rags, and exhausted with fatigue and hunger, but their good humour did not desert the troops; on the contrary, they sang, and seemed to feel much more deeply the want of gunpowder than of food. Well commanded, the French soldier has ever effected prodigies; when badly commanded, and without confidence in the military merit of his chiefs, he disgracefully took to flight.
During the Seven Years' War, and especially after the peace, numerous reforms were instituted, but unfortunately they were restricted to details, and did not attack the root of the evil. For instance, on January 1, 1757, the royal artillery was augmented by a battalion, and to each battalion of infantry a company of picked men was attached, under the name of Chasseurs à pied. All these were discharged at the end of the war. On May 5, 1758, the engineers were separated from the artillery, and the battalions of the latter corps received the name of brigades. Another decree soon after laid down that the different ranks of officers should be distinguished by epaulets. This novelty was very badly greeted, and the epaulet, which men have since been so proud of wearing, was called Choiseul's rag. Finally, at the peace, the army, whose generals had been beaten, was fearfully cut up. Still, these reforms, though they might be bitter to those who were the victims, were excellent.
A decree of November 25, 1792, disbanded six French and a similar number of foreign regiments. The French corps handed over their picked men to the regiment of the Grenadiers of France, while the others were sent to reinforce the colonial troops. After the loss of Canada, the necessity was felt of keeping the other foreign possessions, and for this
purpose the last twenty-three French regiments were told off for colonial service; while three new brigades of artillery were created and sent out. By a decree of December 10, 1762, the composition of the French army was thus regulated: 100 regiments of infantry, of which 65 were French; and 55 of cavalry.
The regiments of the gentlemen took the titles of the provinces, and all the corps bore on their buttons the number, indicating their rank according to seniority. The price of the regiments was equalised, and shameful abuses thus prevented. The oldest French regiments, excepting those of the princes, which were not sold, were valued at 40,000 livres; and the colonial regiments at only 20,000. The internal administration of the regiments was taken from the captains, and given to paymasters; this was a wise measure, and put a stop to many abuses, especially that of bearing fictitious men on the regimental strength and appropriating their pay. The rank of ensign was suppressed, and each regiment received the requisite number of sub-lieutenants. Lastly, a decree of August 13, 1765, transformed the seven brigades of artillery into so many regiments, which took the names of the seven schools where these regiments were garrisoned at the time. These regiments were placed under the orders of a permanent inspector-general.
These improvements, which do honour to the ministry of M. de Choiseul, were continued in the following years. The corps of Grenadiers of France, in spite of the services it had rendered, was suppressed on August 4, 1771. It was noticed that the reuniting of this corps exhausted the regiments; and the chevron and high rate of pay for veterans were instituted as a compensation. Considerations of the same nature, and besides the trouble in maintaining the troops detached to the colonies, caused the twenty-three colonial regiments to be recalled in 1772. Their place was taken by eight special regiments, and, at the same time, a royal corps of marines was instituted. This corps also consisted of eight regiments, which were consolidated into one on December 26, 1774.
The disasters of the Seven Years' War, which French generals attributed to the superior instruction of the Prussian troops, and not to their own faults, produced the notion of assembling annually a portion of the army in a camp of instruction. From the year 1765, the camp of Compiègne received most of the regiments in turn, but, unfortunately, the main thing was forgotten for the sake of accessories: the commanders seriously imagined that Frederick's armies owed their victories solely to their mode of marching and the cut of their coats. The result was that this expensive system was a failure, for the German pedantry was most unsuitable for the genius of Frenchmen.
A few reforms were also effected during the fifteen years separating us from the Revolution. Under the short ministry of Maréchal du Muy, another step was taken towards uniformity. A decree of April 26, 1775, doubled eight regiments, formed of four battalions, and suppressed at the same time five French junior, and three Irish regiments. The number of regiments thus remained the same as before. The same decree created lieutenant-colonels and chefs de bataillon in all the corps. The Comte de St. Germain, who succeeded Maréchal du Muy, disbanded the provincial troops in 1775, and by a decree, bearing date March 25,
1776, completed the work of his predecessor. The old corps were doubled and each formed two regiments of two battalions each. The legions of light troops were at the same time dissolved, and their squadrons distributed, under the name of chasseurs à cheval, among the dragoon regiments, while the companies of chasseurs à pied were divided among the infantry battalions. The regiments formed permanent brigades and divisions, after the Prussian system.
On January 30, 1778, when the American war broke out, the provincial troops were called under arms again, and received a new organisation. Of the hundred and six united battalions, eighty formed what were called garrison battalions, while the other twenty-six were converted into thirteen new regiments. Lastly, the grenadiers of the eighty garrison battalions also composed thirteen regiments of royal grenadiers. These important modifications, of which the infantry were mainly the object, were completed in 1788, by the definitive formation of the light infantry, who were formed into twelve battalions of chasseurs à pied. This general organisation of the army left but little to be desired: those abuses which sprang from early prejudices had disappeared, and equality prevailed throughout all the regiments. Strict regulations fixed the armament, equipment, and dress of the various corps, and all the requisite documents were collected to draw up a definitive treatise on the exercises, evolutions, and service of the army. The Comte de St. Germain, and after him Maréchal de Segur, the minister of war, established promotion by seniority, and put a stop to the scandal of commissions obtained by purchase. The Comte de St. Germain, during his ministry, tried to remove many abuses, and even manifested an admission to bestow commissions on a certain number of sous-officiers. Unable to conquer the obstacles he met on his path, he retired from office, saying, "I cannot be present at the funeral of the army." Still, his memory has remained unpopular, for he introduced into the French army those corporal punishments customary in Germany. The minister, who had served a long time in Germany, and who yielded to the general mania of the age, was mistaken on this point, for he misunderstood the proud and susceptible temper of the French soldier.
We have reached a great epoch in the history of the French army, which will occupy a following paper.
END OF VOL. CXXIII.
C. WHITING, BEAUFORT HOUSE, STRAND.