War in the Vendée

Summary

The Vendée War was a civil war that took place during the French Revolution in western France between 1793 and 1796 between the republicans (known as the “blues”) and the royalists (known as the “whites”), with final outbreaks in 1799, 1815 and 1832.

It was closely linked to the Chouannerie, which took place on the right bank of the Loire, to the north, while the Vendée uprising took place to the south, on the left bank. These two conflicts are sometimes referred to as the “Western Wars”.

As everywhere in France, the Vendée experienced peasant demonstrations at the beginning of the French Revolution, which was initially well received. If in 1791 the Civil Constitution of the Clergy provoked strong discontent, it was at the time of the mass uprising, in March 1793, that the Vendée rebellion was unleashed, at first as a classic peasant jacquerie, before taking the form of a counter-revolutionary movement.

While elsewhere in France revolts against the mass uprising were suppressed, an insurgent territory, called the “Military Vendée” by historians, formed in the south of the Loire-Inférieure (Brittany), in the southwest of the Maine-et-Loire (Anjou), in the north of the Vendée and in the northwest of the Deux-Sèvres (Poitou). Gradually referred to as “Vendéens,” the insurgents established a “Catholic and Royal Army” in April that won a succession of victories in the spring and summer of 1793. The cities of Fontenay-le-Comte, Thouars, Saumur and Angers were briefly invaded, but the Vendeans failed to capture Nantes.

In the autumn, the arrival of the reinforcing Army of Mainz gave the advantage back to the Republican camp, which in October captured Cholet, the most important city controlled by the Vendeans. After this defeat, the bulk of the Vendean forces crossed the Loire River to Normandy in a desperate attempt to take a port to obtain the help of the British and the emigrants. Repulsed at Granville, the Vendéen army was finally destroyed in December at Le Mans and Savenay.

From the winter of 1793 to the spring of 1794, in the middle of the Terror, a violent repression was put in place by the Republican forces. In the cities, and in particular in Nantes, about 15,000 people were shot, drowned or guillotined on the orders of the representatives on mission and the revolutionary military commissions, while in the countryside about 20,000 to 50,000 civilians were massacred by the infernal columns, which set fire to a number of towns and villages.

However, the repression provoked a resurgence of the rebellion and in December 1794, the republicans began negotiations which led to the signing of peace treaties with the various Vendée leaders between February and May 1795, thus ending the “First Vendée War.

A “second Vendée war” broke out soon after, in June 1795, after the beginning of the landing at Quiberon. However, the uprising quickly ran out of steam and the last Vendéen leaders either submitted or were executed between January and March 1796.

The Vendée still experienced final and brief insurrections with a “third war” in 1799, a “fourth” in 1815 and a “fifth” in 1832, but they were on a much smaller scale.

The evolution of historiography on the causes of the insurrection

The historical study of the Vendean War is marked by a long tradition of conflict, in which rivalries between historical schools and ideological currents are expressed, between university historians, scholars, men of letters and academics. The result of these quarrels is an immense bibliography, opposing two currents, that of the partisans of the Revolution, called the “Blues” and that of the partisans of the Vendeans, called the “Whites”.

The first texts published on this war are the memoirs of actors, royalists like Victoire de Donnissan de La Rochejaquelein, Antoinette-Charlotte Le Duc de La Bouëre, Marie Renée Marguerite de Scépeaux de Bonchamps, Jeanne Ambroise de Sapinaud de Boishuguet, Bertrand Poirier de Beauvais, Pierre-Suzanne Lucas de La Championnière, Renée Bordereau, Louis Monnier, Gibert, Puisaye, and republicans like Kléber, Turreau, Savary, Rossignol, Dumas, Westermann, Grouchy, Choudieu… The most famous is the Memoirs of Madame de la Rochejaquelein, widow of Lescure, who describes a spontaneous uprising of the peasants to defend their king and their Church.

During the 19th century, the question particularly opposed historians, who based their research exclusively on archives, and scholars, committed to the defense of the Vendée, who collected and passed on memorial traditions. The main figures in this struggle are :

Relying largely on oral testimonies, collected and transmitted by “white” authors, scholars focus on the violence of the repression of 1793-1794, while the predilection of the “Blues” for archives forbids any evocation of the feelings of the republicans and, for a long time, any evaluation of their suffering. The “white” reading is found among academics, in the writings of Pierre Gaxotte or Jean-François Chiappe.

For a century, historiography has largely renewed the question.

A history revisited

In the 20th century, historical research underwent profound changes, notably with the development of socio-economic analysis. Claude Petitfrère sees in this renewal the mark of a third category of authors, around Paul Bois, Marcel Faucheux and Charles Tilly, that he calls “scientific” history. However, the “white” authors classify Marcel Faucheux, Claude Tilly and Claude Petitfrère among the “Blues.”

As early as the 1920s, Albert Mathiez considered that the causes of the Vendée insurrection in the spring of 1793 were to be found in the economic and social conditions of the time.

In the early 1950s, Marcel Faucheux argued that the deep causes of the insurrection went far beyond the civil constitution of the clergy, the execution of Louis XVI, or the levée en masse, and that they should be linked to what he called “Vendéen pauperism. The Revolution had not been able to satisfy the hopes generated by the convocation of the Estates General in 1789: the tenant farmers, who were in the majority in the Vendée, did not benefit from the abolition of feudal rights, which were redeemable (until 1793), and the national property essentially benefited the bourgeoisie and the merchants. From then on, the disruption of traditional social structures, the authoritarian reform of the clergy and the mass levee were at most the spark that caused the explosion of an older discontent.

Based on a detailed analysis of the Sarthe region, Paul Bois explores the question in greater depth, highlighting the hatred that opposed the peasant to the bourgeoisie at the time and showing the existence of a deep social divide between urban and rural dwellers, which predated the Revolution and was one of the major causes of the uprising.

These conclusions are supported by the work of the American sociologist Charles Tilly, for whom the growth of French cities in the eighteenth century, their economic aggressiveness and their tendency to monopolize local political power gave rise to peasant resistance and hatred, of which the Vendean insurrection is but one exacerbated example.

For his part, Albert Soboul describes the peasant masses in a state of discomfort, predisposed “to rise up against the bourgeois, very often farmers general in this country of sharecropping, grain merchants and purchasers of national property”, departments of the West with a very lively faith since the catechization efforts of the Mulotins, congregation of missionaries established in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre since the end of the 17th century, and finally the assimilation, by the peasants, of the drawing of lots for the raising of 300,000 men to the militia, a particularly hated institution of the Ancien Régime. If he considers that “the simultaneous character of the uprising authorizes to think that it was concerted”, he explains that the peasants “were neither royalists, nor partisans of the Old Regime” and that the nobles were initially surprised by the uprising, before exploiting it to their ends.

More recently, Jean-Clément Martin has indicated that, if peasants went over to the Counter-Revolution, depending on the province, for very different reasons, including between the different areas of the Vendée, the religious and community defense watchwords are common to them. These watchwords were due to the continued burden of taxes and farms, to the worsening of the fate of sharecroppers, to the inability of small rural elites to buy national property, which had been taken over by urban elites, to the loss of autonomy of small rural communes in the face of the towns, where the political (the district) and economic powers had been installed, to the infringements of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and to the freedoms of the communities, which defended their priests and their religious ceremonies. Tensions rose until March 1793, without finding an outlet, when the levée en masse provided an opportunity for communities to unite against the agents of the State, in a movement that harked back to traditional jacqueries, and to form bands at the head of which the local elites were placed, more or less willingly.

In the Sarthe, it was the well-to-do farmers and their allies who rose up, while the rural people dependent on the towns and their weaver neighbors represented the spearhead of the insurrection in the Mauges. As for the Chouans of Ille-et-Vilaine, they were recruited essentially from among the tenant farmers and their relatives. In all cases, it was the defense of the community balance, undermined by the civil and religious laws of the Revolution, that pushed them towards revolt. The royalism seems to be shallow, as in the Midi in 1791-1792, and personal and local hatreds play an important role, with oppositions between neighboring communes; in the majority of cases, the uprisings begin with “settling of accounts, hunting of revolutionaries and looting.

Royalist activists, belonging to the rural elites, participated in the first insurrections, he points out, but they were few in number; the counter-revolutionary nobles became little involved, in March 1793, in an unorganized and badly armed movement.

“All were surprised by the brutality of the rebellion, most were reluctant to join the insurgents, some even like Charette had to be forced to do so.”

In addition to the thesis of the “clerical-nobility” conspiracy, Jean-Clément Martin, along with Roger Dupuy, questions the “city-country” antagonism (which predates the Revolution) and the difference in nature that would exist between the origins of the Chouannerie and the causes of the Vendée War.

For Roger Dupuy, who notes that the recent historiography “is released from the narrow optics which granted to the religious problem a primordial importance in the process of the uprising”, it is “on the side of the deep identity of the peasant communities” that it is necessary to seek the roots of it. The “uprising is all the more exasperated that violence plays a determining role in the constitution of this identity”: violence of misery, violence of young men attached to make respect their honor, collective violence against the bad lord who abuses his feudal privileges.

Applying the microhistorical approach to three parishes in the Mauges between 1750 and 1830, in the heart of the “Vendée-militaire”, Anne Rolland-Boulestreau offers a picture of local notability on the eve of the Revolution (large sharecroppers in Neuvy or in Le Pin-en-Mauges, members of the commercial world in Sainte-Christine), a notability based on public recognition: its members held public offices (the Cathelineau”s were sacristans from father to son), served as moral guarantors before notaries and were often chosen as witnesses at weddings.

Then, analyzing the reactions of the three communes to the Revolution, she notes that the notables of Neuvy and Le Pin are confirmed after 1789 at the head of the communes, while in Sainte-Christine, a commune open to commerce, with many craftsmen, new social categories mix with the old ones. In Neuvy and Le Pin, the communes closed around the traditional elites (who acquired little national property) in the face of reforms that threatened the community. In Sainte-Christine, on the other hand, where the local notables acquired some land, the reforms were seen as an opportunity to gain importance, notably by becoming the chief town of the canton. In 1792, the traditional elites did not stand for re-election, marking their refusal of the political evolution, and left the place to more modest notables, but belonging to the same networks and relatives. The following year, at the beginning of the insurrection, the 27 men who followed Cathelineau, in Le Pin, were integrated into the kinship groups and networks of the commune (two thirds were artisans, one third were peasants). In Sainte-Christine, the Vendean patriots were mostly modest artisans who had recently settled in the parish and were not well integrated into the community”s networks.

Finally, studying the emergence of a new sociability forged through the ordeal of the Vendée insurrection, she notes that participation in the Vendée insurrection was now a necessary condition for gaining the trust of local populations. In Sainte-Christine, where the war left the population very divided, the traditional merchant elites were ousted by men of the land and the nobility, who took on functions that they had previously disdained. The rootedness and the bonds of trust enjoyed by the small notables allowed them to be, in the 19th century, along with the nobles, the essential intermediaries between the community and the State.

The situation before the insurrection

At the end of the 18th century, the social composition of the Vendée (today”s department of Vendée and part of the neighbouring departments: south of Loire-Inférieure, west of Maine-et-Loire, north of Deux-Sèvres) was similar to that of many other provinces in France, very rural.

In 1789, the peasants of the West welcomed the beginning of the Revolution. The cahiers de doléances of Brittany, Maine, Anjou or the lower Poitou region testify to the hostility of the peasantry towards the survivals of the feudal system, as well as the election of patriotic deputies, which was confirmed by the anti-seigneurial violence of the Great Fear or the repeated violence against the aristocrats and their residences in 1790 and 1791. Moreover, the Vendée and the Maine-et-Loire were two of the twelve departments that sent the most Jacobin deputies to the Legislative Assembly. Many priests also seem to have followed the movement with enthusiasm: in the Vendée, some took on the new offices created by the Revolution, for example by becoming mayors. The Revolution, as elsewhere, thus represented a great hope. In November 1789, the Assembly voted the confiscation of ecclesiastical property, transformed into National Property, in order to guarantee the issuance of assignats. This decision deprived the Catholic clergy of the financial means to fulfill its traditional role of assistance to a poor population. These assets had been accumulated over the centuries through bequests from members of the community. Before the Revolution, they were managed by the clergy and served the rural communities. The sale of these goods, in reimbursement of the assignats, made them gradually pass into the hands of private individuals (bourgeois, peasants, aristocrats and even members of the clergy) who used them for their personal use. The communities thus felt robbed and held it against the politicians.

On July 12, 1790, the Constituent Assembly voted the civil constitution of the clergy. The decree of application, passed in November 1790 and signed by the king on December 26, 1790, provided that priests who had been put into the civil service, like all civil servants, should take an oath to the constitution; the civil constitution of the clergy and this oath were rejected by a whole section of the clergy, who considered swearing priests to be deviating from the Catholic way. Worried about their salvation, many peasants preferred to continue to turn to the refractory priests. This contributed to a deep division among the people of the Vendée between supporters and opponents of the measure and to a certain discontent among the peasant communities who, moreover, did not perceive any improvement in their situation since the Revolution. In the freshly and relatively converted countryside of the West, the majority of the clergy became refractory with the obligation of the constitutional oath, and after the pontifical writs condemning the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, in 1791. In May 1791, the Constituent Assembly issued a decree on the freedom of worship authorizing the refractory cult, but this tolerance did not satisfy either side, and positions hardened.

The application of the civil constitution of the clergy (July 1791) provoked a multitude of acts of resistance among the population, which resorted more and more to physical violence. In Poitou, libels saw the civil constitution as the work of Protestants and Jews. Fights broke out between “aristocrats” and “democrats”, between parishioners (in some parishes, the population joined forces to protect their priest and their way of life), especially during funerals. More seriously, in January 1791 in the commune of Saint-Christophe-du-Ligneron (south of Nantes, near Machecoul), conflicts developed around opposition to the civil constitution of the clergy, and the intervention of the national guards in charge of maintaining order caused the first deaths in the Vendée; but the conflict did not degenerate.

A sign that attachment to the Ancien Régime – and to royalty – was not the triggering factor for the first riots, no riots were observed during the emigration of the nobles, nor when Louis XVI was guillotined in January 1793.

Discontent was latent. As early as February 1793, the Charente-Inférieure was faced with an influx of refugees. The insurrection really broke out in March when the Convention, on February 23, ordered a levy of 300,000 men “to deal with the sudden drop in the strength of the armies of the Republic due to losses, desertions, but above all to the massive departures of volunteers, raised the previous year for the duration of a campaign and who, the enemy having been brought back to the frontiers and even beyond, felt they could return home. The Vendée (which was not very much affected by the small number of volunteers) was only one of the provinces that rose up in 1793, as was the Rhone Valley, where unrest had been endemic since 1790 and lasted until 1818. In June 1793, the cities of Bordeaux, Marseille, Toulouse, Nîmes and Lyon, as well as Normandy saw the development of federalist and royalist insurrections.

The republican camp was then divided between Girondins and Montagnards, who accused each other of favoring the Counter-Revolution. While the Breton insurgents were crushed by Canclaux in the extreme west, by General Jean-Michel Beysser between Rennes and Nantes (agitation did not resume until the end of 1793, in the form of the Chouannerie), the agitation suppressed in Alsace, south of the Loire, the Vendée insurgents managed not only to outflank the National Guard, which was too few in number, and to take several towns, but also beat a column of professional soldiers on March 19.

Sent to accompany the raising of 300,000 men, the envoys of the Convention were alarmed by the spectacle of the uprisings, which they dramatized, accusing the local authorities, often moderate, of complicity, and calling for energetic measures from Paris. Considering that the Counter-Revolution was at work everywhere, organizing plots, and that the uprisings formed an organized whole, the “military Vendée” became the symbol of this Counter-Revolution.

This conception was taken up both by royalist and Catholic writers, to “magnify” it, and by republican writers and historians, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This construction still has important effects on the elaboration of local and regional identities: thus, many Vendeans have internalized an identity strongly marked by religion, or even a nostalgia for a folkloric Ancien Régime – two aspects which, as we have seen, do not, however, correspond to the origins of the insurrection of 1793. In the same way, the identity of the city-dweller in Nantes was elaborated, among other things, in relation to the “belly” of the Vendée, the countryman, who was always suspected of being attached to royalty, and whom it was fashionable to mock.

In conclusion, the Vendée insurrection was not born of a single cause, but of multiple factors, all linked to a growing popular discontent. The origin of this insurrection does not lie, at least for the peasants and artisans who were at the origin, in any nostalgia for the Old Regime. Disappointments and frustrations, accumulated for several years; the arrival of a new administrative hierarchy, a bourgeoisie of the towns which monopolized political and economic power; the worsening of the situation of the peasants; the economic and social difficulties, with the forced exchange of the scrip; the calling into question of the peasant communities and their religious practices; all that constituted a whole of factors, of which the conscription was only the drop of water, which makes it possible to explain the gathering of the first bands of craftsmen and peasants.

Vendée wars and Chouannerie

Although they had some points in common, the Vendée wars must be distinguished from the actions of the Chouannerie. While north of the Loire, the insurrection against the levée en masse was put down as early as March 1793, south of the river the insurgents gained the upper hand over the Republican troops and organized themselves into a “Catholic and Royal Army” within the territory they controlled; these wars were between two framed armies. The resurgence of the conflict north of the Loire occurred at the end of 1793, after the Virée de Galerne, and saw the development of a multitude of local resistance movements organized as guerrilla warfare in Brittany, Maine, Anjou and Normandy. However, the same motives drove the revolt.

Insurrection against the mass levy in March 1793

In March 1793, a dozen departments in the northwest of France were shaken by a vast peasant insurrection against the mass levee: the Vendée, Loire-Atlantique (then Loire-Inférieure), Maine-et-Loire (then Mayenne-et-Loire), Morbihan, Deux-Sèvres and, more partially, Mayenne, Ille-et-Vilaine, Côtes-d”Armor (then Côtes-du-Nord), Finistère and Sarthe.

The first riots began in Cholet on Sunday, March 3, when 500 to 600 young people from the canton gathered by the district “to learn about the terms of recruitment of the local contingent for the levy of 300,000 men” demonstrated their refusal to leave. The next day, the situation degenerated: two grenadiers were wounded and the national guards responded by opening fire on the crowd, killing between three and ten people. The first blood of the Vendée war was shed.

On March 10 and 11, the insurrection became general. In Anjou, in the department of Maine-et-Loire, the insurgents took as their leaders former soldiers such as Jean-Nicolas Stofflet and Jean Perdriau, ex-officers of the royal army such as Charles de Bonchamps and Maurice d”Elbée, and Jacques Cathelineau, a simple pedlar. They seized Saint-Florent-le-Vieil on March 12, then Chemillé and Jallais on March 13, where they took prisoners and seized guns and cannons. On March 14, 15,000 peasants stormed the town of Cholet, defended by only 500 National Guardsmen, all of whom were killed or taken prisoner. More than 2,000 National Guardsmen then marched out of Saumur to retake the town, but were repulsed on March 16 at Coron by the insurgents, who then took Vihiers. On March 21, all the bands of Anjou gathered at Chemillé, forming at least 20,000 men, and marched on Chalonnes-sur-Loire. The 4,000 National Guardsmen assembled to defend it retreated to Angers without a fight, and the city was taken the next day by the insurgents, who then controlled all of the Mauges.

In the Pays de Retz, in the southern part of the Loire-Atlantique region, thousands of peasants seized Machecoul on March 11 after a battle with the National Guards. The insurgents then set up a royalist committee chaired by René Souchu, while a nobleman, Louis-Marie de La Roche Saint-André, was forced to lead the troops. On March 12, another band led by Danguy, La Cathelinière, and Guérin attacked Paimbœuf, but was repelled by the patriots. On March 23, the forces of La Roche Saint-André and La Cathelinière attacked the town of Pornic together. They took it after a brief battle, but the insurgents got drunk celebrating their victory and were surprised in the evening by a small Republican detachment that caused panic in their ranks and routed them. About 200 to 500 insurgents were killed in battle or executed after being captured. Accused by Souchu and other leaders of being responsible for the defeat, La Roche Saint-André fled and was replaced by another nobleman, François Athanase Charette de La Contrie. On March 27, the latter launched a counterattack with 8,000 peasants and regained control of Pornic. Meanwhile, in Machecoul, in retaliation for the defeat and executions at Pornic, the committee set up by Souchu had 150 to 200 patriot prisoners shot between March 27 and April 22.

In the department of Vendée, in Poitou, the insurgents took Tiffauges on March 12. On March 13, they took Challans, Les Herbiers, Mortagne-sur-Sèvre without a fight, and then captured Montaigu after a brief confrontation. On March 14, La Roche-sur-Yon was abandoned by the patriots and Palluau fell to the insurgents. On March 15, Chantonnay and Clisson were taken in turn. Meanwhile, on March 12, 3,000 insurgents from the south of the Vendée, led by Charles de Royrand, Sapinaud de La Verrie and Sapinaud de La Rairie, took up positions at Quatre-Chemins, L”Oie, at the crossroads of the roads from Nantes to La Rochelle and from Les Sables-d”Olonne to Saumur. Two days later, the national guard of Fontenay-le-Comte, the capital of the department, was surprised in an ambush and fled without fighting.

On March 15, a column of 2,400 national guards commanded by General Louis de Marcé left La Rochelle to suppress the insurrection in the Vendée. On March 18, it took Chantonnay from the insurgents, then advanced towards Saint-Fulgent. But on March 19, the column was surprised at the Gravereau bridge, near Saint-Vincent-Sterlanges, and was routed by the forces of Royrand and Sapinaud de La Verrie. The Republicans fled back to La Rochelle, where Marcé was deposed, placed under arrest, and replaced by Henri de Boulard. Accused of “treason”, he was guillotined six months later in Paris. The battle, known as the “Pont-Charrault”, had a huge psychological impact that reached as far as Paris. The rout having taken place in the heart of the Vendée department, all the insurgents of the West were from then on qualified as “Vendéens”.

On March 19, the insurgents easily seized the island of Noirmoutier. On March 24 and 29, several thousand peasants led by Jean-Baptiste Joly carried out two attacks against Les Sables-d”Olonne. However, the Republican artillery routed the insurgents who fled leaving hundreds of dead and a hundred prisoners, 45 of whom were later executed.

During this time, fighting also took place north of the Loire River, but it turned to the advantage of the patriots. At the end of March, the insurrection was put down in Brittany by the columns of generals Canclaux and Beysser.

Organization and forces in presence

At the end of March, the “military Vendée” was largely defined: the insurgent territory included the south of the department of Loire-Inférieure (former province of Brittany), the southwest of the department of Maine-et-Loire (former province of Anjou), the north of the department of Vendée and the northwest of the department of Deux-Sèvres (former province of Poitou).

The insurgent army was poorly centralized, ill-equipped – most of the arms and ammunition came from the war taken from the Republicans – and not permanent, with peasants returning to their lands as soon as they could after the fighting. However, professional soldiers, deserters from the Republican army, joined it, bringing their experience. In search of militarily competent leaders, the insurgents appealed to local nobles, often former officers of the royal army, but most showed little enthusiasm for the insurgency and were forcibly trained.

Gradually, military structures were put in place. On April 4, an “Army of Anjou” and an “Army of Poitou and the Center” were established. On April 30, they joined together to form the Catholic and Royal Army, but without a unified command. On May 30, the insurgents structured themselves further by forming a Conseil supérieur de la Vendée in Châtillon-sur-Sèvre, charged with administering the conquered territories, and by reorganizing the army into three branches:

A “popular” army, it found support both logistically and militarily among the little people of the countryside. The famous “Vendée mills”, whose wings were used to warn of government troops” movements, are an illustration of this.

The fighting strategy, based on harassment operations, was organized around the assets provided by the bocage, which was everywhere present: made up of hedges and sunken paths, it facilitated ambush operations and hindered the maneuver of the large units of the revolutionary army.

The republican defenses relied on several cities located around the military Vendée: the main ones were Nantes and Angers to the north, Saumur, Thouars and Parthenay to the east, and Les Sables-d”Olonne, Luçon and Fontenay-le-Comte to the south. Except for Nantes, which was under the command of the Army of the Brest coasts led by General Canclaux, all the other garrisons were attached to the Army of the La Rochelle coasts whose command was successively exercised by Generals Berruyer, Beaufranchet d”Ayat and Biron.

At the beginning of the conflict, the Republican forces were made up of local national guards and line troops positioned along the coast to counter possible British incursions. Several waves of reinforcements followed, including 15 Parisian battalions and the Germanic Legion in April, the Army of Mainz in August and two columns of the Armée du Nord in November. The number of republican troops is not exactly known, but it is estimated to be between 9,000 and 17,000 men in the spring of 1793, between 20,000 and 30,000 men on August 15, 1793, between 40,000 and 70,000 men on October 30, 1793 and between 55,000 and 98,000 men on January 30, 1794. In total, the cumulative theoretical strength of the Republican forces in the West would have reached 130,000 to 150,000 men between 1793 and 1796.

Failure of the Republican offensive in April

On March 17 in Paris, the National Convention is informed of the uprisings which agitate Brittany, Anjou, Bas-Maine and Poitou. Immediately, the Convention decreed the death penalty for any insurgent caught with arms in hand or wearing a white cockade. By a coincidence of the calendar, the deputy Lasource gives a report the following day on the Breton Association of Armand Tuffin de La Rouërie. The deputies made the link between the two affairs and deduced, wrongly, a plot hatched by the nobles and the clergy.

On March 23, the Executive Council and the Committee of General Safety gave the command of the troops in charge of the repression in the Vendée to General Jean-François Berruyer. He was supported by the representative Goupilleau de Montaigu and 15,000 men were sent as reinforcements. Arriving in Angers at the beginning of April, Berruyer divided his troops into three corps. The first, with 4,000 men, was commanded by Gauvilliers, the second with the same number of men was led by Berruyer himself, while the third, with 8,000 soldiers, was in Vihiers under the command of Leigonyer. In addition, General Quétineau occupied Bressuire further south with 3,000 national guards.

At the beginning of April, the columns set off with the objective of pushing the rebels towards the sea. On April 11, Berruyer, who had left Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay, arrived at Chemillé where he met d”Elbée”s forces. The Republicans were first repulsed, but the Vendéens abandoned the town and retreated to Mortagne. In the north, Bonchamps retreated before Gauvilliers” forces and fell back on the same town. For his part, Stofflet confronted Leigonyer at Coron, but he in turn had to retreat to Mortagne after three days of fighting.

Berruyer”s offensive seemed to succeed, but the peasants of the Gâtine, in the Deux-Sèvres, also revolted at this time and took Henri de La Rochejaquelein as their leader. The latter, at the head of 3,000 men, attacked and defeated Quétineau”s troops at Les Aubiers on April 13. The Republican general withdrew to Bressuire while La Rochejaquelein left to reinforce the insurgent troops at Mortagne. However, Berruyer hesitated to launch a general offensive, too worried about the poor state of his troops, he was unaware that the situation of the Vendéens was much more alarming than his own. Also the royalist leaders took advantage of this respite to attack the republican columns one after the other. On April 19, they threw themselves on Leigonyer at Vezins and routed his troops. Informed, Berruyer ordered a general retreat to Les Ponts-de-Cé, but left Gauvilliers isolated at Beaupréau. Gauvilliers found himself surrounded by the Vendeans and was crushed on April 22, leaving more than 1,000 prisoners. The Republican offensive in Anjou was a failure and all of Berruyer”s forces retreated to Angers.

However, in the Bas-Poitou and the Pays de Retz, the republicans achieved some successes. On April 7, General Henri de Boulard left Les Sables d”Olonne with 4,280 men. On the 8th, he took La Mothe-Achard, Joly”s headquarters, and then entered Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie on the 9th without meeting any resistance. The Republicans then repelled a counter-attack by Joly”s troops in front of Saint-Gilles on the 10th, then took Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez on the 11th and entered Challans, abandoned by the insurgents, on the 12th. The next day, the combined forces of Charette and Joly counterattacked to retake the town but were repulsed. On April 14, the Republicans reached the town of Saint-Gervais and repelled a new attack by Charette and Joly”s forces the next day. However, Boulard”s army, judged too isolated and far from its bases, was then ordered to retreat. The Republican general was thus forced to abandon the conquered localities and retreated to La Mothe-Achard between April 20 and 22.

Further north, General Beysser left Nantes on April 20 with 3,200 soldiers. He immediately seized Port-Saint-Père, the headquarters of La Cathelinière. On the 22nd, he arrived in front of Machecoul where Charette”s army, demoralized by its defeats at Challans and Saint-Gervais, retreated almost without a fight and abandoned the city to the Republicans. René Souchu was captured and decapitated with an axe. On April 23, a detachment reoccupied Challans. On April 25, the insurgents of the island of Noirmoutier submitted after a landing of marine troops from the Villaret-Joyeuse squadron and a summons from General Beysser. On April 26, Pornic, now isolated, was abandoned by the insurgents. The entire coastline was then controlled by the Republicans.

The Vendée victories of May and June

The month of May 1793 began with a great offensive of the Vendéens of the army of Anjou and Haut-Poitou, known as the “Grande Armée” led by Cathelineau, Bonchamps, D”Elbée, Stofflet and La Rochejaquelein. On May 3, General Quétineau had to abandon Bressuire, leaving behind a rich ammunition depot and prisoners, including Louis de Lescure and Bernard de Marigny who joined the army. General Quétineau entrenched himself with more than 5,000 men in the town of Thouars, but the place was attacked two days later by nearly 30,000 Vendéens. After a bloody battle, Quétineau surrendered and was sentenced to death in December by the Revolutionary Court. He was released with his men in exchange for an oath not to fight again in the Vendée. The victory of the Vendée had a great impact; the rebels took thousands of rifles, ammunition, 12 cannons and a treasure of 500 000 pounds.

The Vendée army left Thouars on May 9 and continued south: on May 11 it captured Parthenay and on May 13 La Châtaigneraie was taken and pillaged after a battle against the 3,000 men of General Chalbos. But many peasant-soldiers chose to return home and the Catholic and Royal Army disintegrated as it advanced away from the bocage. On May 16, in front of Fontenay-le-Comte, the Vendéens were less than 8,000 strong against the forces of Chalbos, Sandoz and Nouvion. Accustomed to fighting in the bocage and not on the plain, the Vendeans were pushed back by the Republicans, leaving behind them about a hundred dead.

Victorious, Chalbos retook La Châtaigneraie, but abandoned it on May 24 when the Catholic and Royal Army, reformed in the bocage and now more than 30,000 strong, returned to Fontenay-le-Comte on May 25 to avenge its defeat. Too few in number, the Republican army was routed after a short battle and 3,000 soldiers were taken prisoner. As in Thouars, the latter were released against the oath not to take up arms again. The Vendeans occupied Fontenay-le-Comte, but abandoned the city between May 28 and 30.

The following week, the staff of the Grande Armée decided to attack the city of Saumur. On June 6, a vanguard of 1500 republicans was defeated at Vihiers, on June 7 Doué-la-Fontaine was invaded and on June 8 republican reinforcements from Thouars were dispersed at Montreuil-Bellay. On June 9, the Vendéens arrived in front of Saumur, which was stormed. About 1,500 Republicans and 500 insurgents were killed or wounded. The Vendeans also took 11,000 prisoners and seized a huge amount of booty: 15,000 rifles, 60 cannons and 50,000 pounds of gunpowder. The Republican prisoners were released after taking an oath not to fight against the Catholic and Royal Army. They were also shorn so that they could be recognized if they were to betray their promise. The rout of the blues was such that royalist detachments briefly seized Chinon and Loudun without fighting, and four cavalrymen alone managed to hold La Flèche for a few hours.

At Saumur, the royalist staff hesitated between marching on Nantes, Paris or Niort in order to destroy the army of Biron, the new general-in-chief of the army of the coasts of La Rochelle. To ensure the cohesion of the whole, the chiefs – coming from the small nobility – elected on June 12 a commoner, Cathelineau, “generalissimo” of the Catholic and Royal Army. But on June 12, 20,000 of the 30,000 peasants who had gathered returned home, and on June 25, the garrison left under the command of La Rochejaquelein numbered only eight men. The latter then evacuated Saumur, which was reoccupied on June 26 by the Republicans.

At the other end of the Vendée, in the Bas-Poitou and the Pays de Retz, the fighting also turned against the Republicans despite some initial successes. On April 29, the republican general Henri de Boulard left La Mothe-Achard with more than 1,600 men and scattered Joly”s forces at Beaulieu-sous-la-Roche. He then reached Palluau during the night of April 30 to May 1. For his part, the Vendéen leader Charette established himself in Legé after his debacle at Machecoul. He was attacked there on April 30 by a detachment from Nantes, but he repelled the assault. General Jean-Baptiste-Camille de Canclaux, commander-in-chief of the army of the Brest coast, planned a new offensive to be launched from Machecoul, Palluau, Challans and Saint-Colombin, by four columns commanded respectively by Beysser, Boulard, Baudry d”Asson and Laborie. On May 5, the republicans entered Legé, which they found empty of Vendéen fighters. They left a small garrison in place and returned to their original billets, but on May 7, Laborie”s column was attacked by surprise and routed by Charette”s troops at Saint-Colombin. On Canclaux”s orders, Legé was then evacuated on May 9 and reinvested the same evening by Charette. On May 12, Port-Saint-Père was attacked by La Cathelinière, but Canclaux arrived as reinforcements from Nantes and repelled the assault. On May 15, Charette and Joly attacked Palluau, but they were also repulsed by Boulard”s forces, although they were greatly outnumbered. Weakened by desertions among his troops, Boulard abandoned the town on May 17 and withdrew once again to La Mothe-Achard. His second in command, Baudry d”Asson, evacuated Challans and Saint-Gilles-sur-Vie on May 29 and returned to Les Sables-d”Olonne. No longer threatened by the army of Les Sables, the Vendée forces of Charette, La Cathelinière and Vrignault gathered 12,000 to 15,000 men at Legé and left to attack Machecoul on June 10. With only 1,300 men, the Republican garrison fled to Nantes, leaving behind all its cannons, at least 100 dead and 500 prisoners. The republicans also abandoned Port-Saint-Père and thus opened the road to Nantes.

The failure of the assault against Nantes

The “Grande Armée”, which had left Saumur, went down the Loire and entered Angers on June 18, abandoned by the 5,000 men of the garrison. Charette then wrote to him proposing to take Nantes, its port and its riches with him. Without waiting, he advanced with his own forces.

In Nantes, despite the division between the people (Montagnard) and the bourgeoisie of the trade and the bar (Girondine), the inhabitants refused to evacuate the city, as ordered by the envoys. They organized the resistance, gathering all the available cannons and boats, building redoubts and ditches. Alongside Mayor Baco de la Chapelle, General Canclaux, head of the army of the Brest coast, gathered 3,000 men of the line and cavalry, to which were added 2,000 volunteers, 5,000 National Guardsmen and 2,000 workers employed in the repair of weapons, for a total of 12,000 men, against the 15,000 men of the army of Bas-Poitou and Pays de Retz commanded by Charette on the left bank of the Loire and the 18,000 men of the “Grande Armée” on the right bank, led by Cathelineau. Faced with this resistance and the lack of coordination of the royalists, the attack against Nantes, on June 28 and 29, failed. Cathelineau was mortally wounded and the demoralized peasants withdrew.

At the same time, Biron, general in chief of the coastal army of La Rochelle, ordered Westermann to lead a diversionary raid into the heart of the “military Vendée. At the head of a small army, Westermann attacked Parthenay on June 25, then captured Châtillon, the capital of the insurgents, on July 3. He freed 2,000 Republican prisoners, looted the insurgents” stores, and seized the archives of the Conseil supérieur des Blancs.

Gathered at Cholet after its defeat at Nantes, the “Grande Armée” counterattacked with 25,000 men. The Vendeans annihilated Westermann”s forces, who escaped with only a few hundred men, and recaptured Châtillon on July 5. Although poorly conducted, the Republican raid prevented the Whites from attempting a second assault on Nantes. To protect their territory, the insurgents moved en masse to the left bank of the Loire. Angers, Saumur, Thouars and Fontenay-le-Comte were gradually abandoned and taken over without a fight by the patriots.

Undecided battles in July and August

During the months of July and August, the fighting was indecisive and the offensives of both sides were contained. After leaving Saumur, the republicans were successful at Martigné-Briand and took Vihiers on July 15. But they were crushed three days later by a Vendée counter-attack, and hundreds of soldiers were taken prisoner.

For its part, the Vendéen general staff was divided as to the conduct of operations. Bonchamps recommended an offensive towards the north to provoke the insurrection in Brittany and Maine, while D”Elbée, the new generalissimo, was in favor of an attack on the southern cities, considered more vulnerable, to seize the port of La Rochelle.

While Bonchamps” troops fought without result around Angers, the rest of the army led by d”Elbée attempted an attack south on Luçon to repel an incursion by General Tuncq”s Republicans who had burned Chantonnay. But on July 30, the Vendean offensive was repulsed in front of the city. Two weeks later, this time reinforced by Charette”s forces, the 35,000-strong Catholic and royal army launched a new attack on Luçon. But the 6,000 men of General Tuncq routed the Vendéens, who were used to fighting in the bocage but were vulnerable on the plain. The latter left 1,500 to 2,000 dead on the battlefield, as opposed to a hundred or so killed for the Republicans, who suffered one of their heaviest defeats that day. The Republicans then retook Chantonnay, but were driven out on September 5 by a new attack of d”Elbée.

Intervention of the Mainz Army and Republican offensive of September and October

Faced with the success of the counter-revolutionaries and for fear of contagion, Biron was dismissed and in the weeks that followed the noble generals (Canclaux, Grouchy, Aubert-Dubayet) were gradually replaced, at the initiative of the Minister of War Bouchotte, by sans-culottes (Rossignol, Ronsin, Léchelle, former military men, but also the actor of the Théâtre-Français Grammont or the brewer Santerre). All of them turn out to be mediocre generals, at the head of a “composite, poorly equipped army, condemned to plunder to survive and hated by the people”.

The Mayençais, named after the garrison of Mayence, which capitulated with honors at the siege of Mayence by the coalised on July 23 after 4 months of blockade and 32 days of open trench, were sent as reinforcements on August 1. Arriving in Nantes on September 6, 7 and 8, this disciplined and courageous troop, led by generals Aubert-Dubayet, Kléber, Vimeux, Beaupuy and Haxo, was first placed in the army of the coasts of La Rochelle, and then under the orders of Canclaux, chief of the army of the coasts of Brest until October 1, 1793. The committee of public salvation also sent Jean-Baptiste Carrier to the army of the West, to complete the restoration of order.

For their part, the sans-culotte generals of Saumur and Angers attempted to raise the inhabitants of non-insurgent territories en masse against the rebels. Thus, operations could occasionally mix civilians with regular troops, as on September 13 in Doué-la-Fontaine, where the tocsin gathered 30,000 men against the “brigands,” or on September 25 in La Châtaigneraie.

On September 8, the Mayençais entered the Vendée, and Kléber, at the head of the vanguard, repulsed all the troops he encountered on his way: La Cathelinière”s troop was chased out of Port-Saint-Père, then the towns of Machecoul and Legé were taken without a fight. In the latter town, 1,200 Republican prisoners, soldiers and civilians, were freed by the Mayençais. Charette withdrew and left the Breton Marsh to join the army of Anjou. However, he was joined at Montaigu and routed. Following the orders of destruction, the republicans set fire to the towns and cities they crossed. But on September 18, Kléber”s 2,000 men found themselves facing the army of Anjou led by d”Elbée, Lescure and Bonchamps. At the end of the battle of Torfou, the Mayençais suffered their first defeat and were forced to retreat to Clisson. Shortly thereafter, on September 19 and 20, two setbacks of the Army of the Coasts of La Rochelle under the command of General Rossignol in the villages of Coron and Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay completed the ruin of Canclaux”s plan who was forced to give up a counter-attack and to withdraw all his troops to Clisson.

Following these failures, Canclaux gave the order for a general retreat to Nantes, Clisson was evacuated and burned. The Vendeans tried to cut off the Republican retreat, but Lescure and Charette violated the plan and preferred to attack Montaigu and Saint-Fulgent. The Republican troops of Beysser and Mieszkowski occupying these two towns were routed. But deprived of support, the forces of d”Elbée and Bonchamps could not hope to prevent the retreat of the republicans to Nantes and were repulsed. The republicans, however, left 400 wounded who were massacred.

After the failure of his first plan, Canclaux decided to form two important columns, which, leaving from Nantes and Niort, were to join at Cholet. However, Canclaux was dismissed by the Comité de salut public, which also decreed the merger of the Armée des côtes de La Rochelle, the Armée de Mayence and the Nantes part of the Armée des côtes de Brest to form the Armée de l”Ouest, under the command of General Léchelle. The latter quickly proved to be an incompetent general, and some of the representatives on mission unofficially left the direction of the Nantes column to General Kléber.

At the beginning of October, despite the dismissal of its author, the second plan of Canclaux was successfully carried out. Leaving Nantes, the column of the army of Mayence and Brest recaptured Montaigu, Clisson and Saint-Fulgent without encountering any resistance, and then defeated the Vendéens of d”Elbée and Bonchamps at Treize-Septiers on October 6. From the south, the 11,000 men of the Niort column, commanded by Chalbos and Westermann, defeated the forces of Lescure, La Rochejaquelein and Stofflet on October 9 and took Châtillon. The Vendeans counterattacked two days later and succeeded in driving the Republicans from their “capital”, but the city, almost totally destroyed by the fighting, was then abandoned. For its part, General Bard”s small column from Luçon put Royrand”s army to flight and it retreated to Anjou.

The Vendean armies of Anjou, Haut-Poitou and Centre gathered at Cholet. On October 15, the Mayençais attacked the city. General Lescure was seriously wounded, and the defeated Vendeans evacuated the place and retreated to Beaupréau. The two republican columns joined in Cholet in the evening, and the forces gathered in the city reached 26 000 men.

The next day, the Vendéen generals decided to retake Cholet. Only the Prince of Talmont crossed the Loire with 4,000 men to seize Varades and ensure the army”s retreat to Brittany in case of defeat.

On October 17, 40,000 Vendeans launched an attack on Cholet. The battle was indecisive for a long time, but after several assaults that ended in hand-to-hand combat, the Vendeans were repulsed. Both sides left thousands of dead and wounded on the battlefield. The Vendéen generals d”Elbée and Bonchamps were seriously wounded.

The crossing of the Loire and the march to Granville

Defeated at Cholet, the Vendeans retreated to Beaupréau, then to Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, leaving behind them 400 wounded who were killed by Westermann”s men. The Vendéens then decided to cross the Loire River with the hope of insurrecting Brittany and Maine and obtaining a landing of British troops by seizing a port on the English Channel coast.

In one night, on October 18, La Rochejaquelein, the new generalissimo, made all his troops cross the Loire River: 20,000 to 30,000 combatants accompanied by 15,000 to 60,000 non-combatants (wounded, old people, women and children…), that is to say between 60,000 and 100,000 people in total. It was the beginning of the “Virée de Galerne” (French for “Galerne”s Flight”, the name of the north wind in Breton).

During the crossing, the dying General Bonchamps managed to prevent the massacre of 5,000 Republican prisoners that his men wanted to shoot. Unable to cross the river, the prisoners were released while General Bonchamps died a few hours later from his wounds.

Having arrived north of the river, the Vendéens moved on Laval, easily pushing back the local garrisons and the national guards hastily assembled by the authorities. Laval was taken on October 22. In the following days, about 6,000 to 10,000 Bretons and Mainiots joined the Catholic and Royal Army, within which they were referred to as the “Petite Vendée. The army of the West launched itself in pursuit of the rebels, with the exception of General Haxo”s division, which remained in the Vendée to fight Charette”s forces. On October 25, without waiting for reinforcements, the vanguard commanded by Westermann attacked Laval, but was routed at the battle of Croix-Bataille. The next day, the bulk of the Republican army, with 20,000 soldiers, went on the offensive. However, the incompetence of General-in-Chief Léchelle caused a new disaster against La Rochejacquelein”s 25,000 men. The republicans lost 4 000 men killed or wounded and fled in the direction of Angers.

The Vendeans then continued northward. On November 1, they took Mayenne without fighting. On November 2, a Republican column was crushed at Ernée. On November 3, they stormed Fougères. General Lescure died that day as a result of a wound he received in Cholet.

After having received in Fougères two emigrant emissaries carrying dispatches from the British government, the Vendéen general staff decided to attack the port of Granville. The Vendeans then moved towards Normandy via Dol-de-Bretagne, Pontorson and Avranches. On November 14, they were in front of Granville. However, no British ship was waiting for the royalists, the city defended itself and the assault was a complete failure. On November 15, the discouraged Vendéens retreated. In spite of a failed attempt on Villedieu-les-Poêles, the soldiers refused to obey their leaders and decided on their own to return to the Vendée. They left Normandy, leaving behind 800 stragglers who were shot by the Republicans.

The return to the Vendée and the annihilation of the Catholic and royal army

After their rout at Entrammes, the Republicans reorganized their forces at Rennes. Troops from the Armée de l”Ouest and the Armée des côtes de Brest joined forces to form a force of more than 25,000 men under the command of General Rossignol, the successor to the deposed Léchelle. On November 17, the republicans deployed in Antrain and Pontorson to block the road to the Vendéens who had returned from Granville. But on November 18, the latter crushed in Pontorson the 4,000 men of General Tribout, who had gone too far forward, and then reoccupied Dol-de-Bretagne. On November 20, the Republican army launched a general attack on Dol. But the Vendeans held on, counter-attacked, and took Antrain during the night of November 21-22. The republicans retreated to Rennes.

But the Vendée troops, half of whom were wounded, old men, women and children, morally exhausted and weakened, were ravaged by famine and disease that claimed thousands of victims, while the army was unable to replace its losses, unlike the Republicans, who received 6,000 men from the Cherbourg Coastal Army and 10,000 men from the Northern Army as reinforcements.

The Catholic and Royal Army reoccupied Fougères on November 23, then Laval on November 25. It then marched on Angers, the last stronghold before the Vendée. The royalists were in front of the city on December 3, but they could not overcome its 4,000 defenders. On December 4, the arrival of reinforcements caused a panic in the ranks of the Vendéens, who lifted the siege. La Rochejacquelein then led his troops to La Flèche, which he captured on the 8th before repelling Westermann”s counter-attack. The army then moved on Le Mans.

On December 10, the city was taken after a short battle. Exhausted, the Vendeans refused to leave the place and took a rest, but on December 12 they were attacked by the Republican army, 20 000 to 30 000 men strong, commanded by Marceau and Kléber. The battle lasted until the next day and degenerated into a massacre of the wounded, women and children. At Le Mans and on the road to Laval, the Vendeans left behind 10,000 to 15,000 dead and thousands of prisoners. The survivors fled to Laval, which they crossed for the third time, devoured by typhus and dysentery, insulted by the exasperated population.

On December 16, the Vendeans reached the banks of the Loire at Ancenis. La Rochejaquelein and Stofflet managed to cross the river with a handful of men, but they were immediately dispersed by a few Republican detachments. Lacking boats, the Vendeans nevertheless continued the crossing until the next day when Republican gunboats from Nantes sank the boats. During this time, the Republican forces took position in Châteaubriant and Nort-sur-Erdre where Westermann massacred 300 to 400 stragglers.

The Vendéens were reduced to 10,000 to 15,000, including 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers, and had to flee westward. On December 22, they took Savenay. The next day, the Republicans attacked the city. It was a new massacre: 3,000 to 7,000 Vendeans were killed in battle or summarily executed, the Republicans had only 30 dead and 200 wounded. The women and children were sent to the prisons of Nantes. After the battle, between 661 and 2,000 prisoners were shot in Savenay by the Bignon Commission.

At the end of the “Virée de Galerne”, the Republican victory was now achieved, out of the 60 000 to 100 000 Vendéens who had crossed the river, only 4 000 succeeded in crossing the Loire again, 50 000 were dead and 20 000 were taken prisoner. The survivors, scattered in small bands, hid in the woods of Maine, Upper Brittany or Morbihan, supported by part of the local population.

This victory did not reassure the generals and envoys; the long wandering of this column of Vendeans, when the insurrection was thought to be almost crushed, terrified the country. For them, the whole region was dominated by the Counter-Revolution or Federalism. This helps to explain the repression against the insurgents. As for the intensity of this repression, it refers to an exacerbation of violence that renders the usual rules of war obsolete “for a certain number of political and military leaders as well as for soldiers and militants”, but contrary to the decrees of the Convention (women, children, old men and even unarmed men must, for example, be preserved), to whom military leaders and representatives on mission regularly lie.

The battles of Noirmoutier

Throughout the duration of the Galerne voyage, fighting continued in the Vendée between the Republican forces and the Royalist forces of Bas-Poitou and the Pays de Retz led by Charette, Joly, Savin and La Cathelinière. In the fall of 1793, despite d”Elbée”s calls for help in the days leading up to the battle of Cholet, Charette turned his forces toward the island of Noirmoutier. A first attempt failed on September 30, but on October 12 the Vendeans crossed the submerged causeway of the Gois and obtained the surrender of the small Republican garrison. Charette formed a royalist administration in Noirmoutier and left some of his troops there before leaving after three days. The Republican prisoners were locked up in Bouin where the local leader, François Pajot, had several hundred of them massacred on October 17 and 18. The former generalissimo Maurice d”Elbée, seriously wounded at the battle of Cholet, also came to Noirmoutier at the beginning of November.

In Paris, the news of the capture of Noirmoutier aroused the concern of the Comité de salut public, which feared that it would allow the Vendéens to receive help from the British. The latter then ordered the executive council and the representatives on mission to take back the island as soon as possible. However, Charette did not attempt to send a schooner to Great Britain until December to make contact with the British government.

On November 2, 1793, the council of war of the Army of the West charged Brigadier General Nicolas Haxo with the task of forming a corps of 5,000 to 6,000 men to retake the island of Noirmoutier. After setting up his campaign plan, Haxo left Nantes on November 21 and 22 with two columns commanded by himself and Adjutant General Jordy. At the same time, another column commanded by General Dutruy set off from Les Sables-d”Olonne. On November 26, Haxo took Machecoul and Jordy captured Port-Saint-Père after five days of fighting and cannonades against the forces of La Cathelinière. Jordy then took Sainte-Pazanne and Bourgneuf-en-Retz, and joined forces with Haxo at Legé on November 28. Dutruy occupied La Roche-sur-Yon, Aizenay, Le Poiré-sur-Vie and Palluau.

For his part, Charette left his refuge at Touvois and joined forces with Joly and Savin. On November 27, they set out to attack Machecoul, but were surprised near La Garnache by a column of Dutruy. Joly and Savin returned to the bocage, while Charette retreated to Beauvoir-sur-Mer with the intention of taking refuge in Noirmoutier, but he found the passage of the Gois blocked by the high tide and was forced to lock himself up on the island of Bouin, where he was soon surrounded. On December 6, the troops of Haxo and Dutruy launched the assault on Bouin and broke through the Vendée defenses in a few hours. The town of Bouin was taken and several hundred patriot prisoners were freed. Charette narrowly escaped annihilation by managing to flee through the marshes with about a thousand men. Between Châteauneuf and Bois-de-Céné, he conveniently came across a small Republican convoy that allowed him to replenish his ammunition supplies.

Charette then joined Joly and Savin. On December 8, the Vendéens were repulsed at Legé, but on the 11th they crushed the garrison of the camp of L”Oie. On December 12, they reached Les Herbiers, where the officers elected Charette general-in-chief of the “Catholic and Royal Army of Bas-Poitou”. Charette then decided to go to Anjou and Haut-Poitou to revive the insurrection. In a few days, he crossed Le Boupère, Pouzauges, Cerizay and Châtillon, then reached Maulévrier. However, the expedition was without result because Henri de La Rochejaquelein returned to the Vendée on December 16 and the insurgent regions of Anjou and Haut-Poitou came back under his authority. The two leaders met at Maulévrier on December 22. After having considered attacking Cholet, Charette turned back and returned to Les Herbiers.

For their part, the Republicans began to plan the attack on Noirmoutier. On December 30 and 31, cannonades opposed the Vendée artillery batteries and the Republican ships. Charette attempted a diversion and seized Machecoul on December 31. However, the Republicans retook the city on January 2, 1794, and the next day they repelled a counter-attack by the Vendéens.

On the morning of January 3, 1794, 3,000 Republicans commanded by Turreau, Haxo and Jordy landed on the island of Noirmoutier. After battles in Barbâtre and at the Pointe de la Fosse, they progressed towards the town of Noirmoutier-en-l”Île, without meeting any resistance. Discouraged, the Vendeans surrendered to General Haxo in exchange for the promise of their lives. However, the capitulation was not respected by the representatives in mission Prieur de la Marne, Turreau and Bourbotte, who had the 1,200 to 1,500 prisoners shot in the following days. General d”Elbée, still seriously wounded, was executed in an armchair.

The Terror north of the Loire

After the Virée de Galerne, the representatives in mission Prieur de la Marne, Turreau, Bourbotte, Thirion, Bissy, Pocholle, Tréhouart and Le Carpentier established revolutionary military commissions to judge the Vendean and Chouan prisoners, as well as the inhabitants suspected of complicity with the rebels, or soldiers accused of flight or desertion. Other prisoners were judged by the criminal courts.

In Normandy, at least 43 death sentences were pronounced in Granville by a military commission, 13 people were condemned in Coutances, while in Alençon the criminal court condemned 189 people to death, including 172 Vendéen prisoners.

In the Sarthe, military commissions and the criminal court sat in Sablé-sur-Sarthe, where 42 people were executed, and Le Mans, where 185 people were guillotined or shot. In Mayenne, 243 men and 82 women were executed in Laval and 116 men and 21 women in Mayenne, Ernée, Lassay-les-Châteaux, Craon and Château-Gontier. In total, 1,325 people were tried in this department by the Revolutionary Commission and 454 were condemned and guillotined. 40 other death sentences were pronounced by the Proust and Félix commissions, which came from Anjou.

Three military commissions were set up in Ille-et-Vilaine. The Brutus Magnier commission judged 744 people (including 258 soldiers) in Rennes, Fougères and Antrain between November 21, 1793 and June 5, 1794, and pronounced 267 or 268 death sentences, including 19 women. Out of all the soldiers, 169 were acquitted, 2 were sentenced to death, 41 were sentenced to irons and 46 to prison. The Vaugeois commission sat in Rennes and Vitré, and pronounced 84 death sentences, 33 in irons, 31 in detention and 391 acquittals. In particular, it sentenced to death the Prince of Talmont, general of the Vendée cavalry, who was guillotined in Laval. In Saint-Malo, the figures of the military commission of Port-Malo or O”Brien commission are less known, at least 88 condemned to death are identified although there were more than 200 executions according to the representative Laplanche. In addition, in Rennes, the criminal court sentenced 76 men and 11 women to death, 80 people received various sentences, and 331 were acquitted. A significant number of prisoners also died of typhus or from their wounds in the prisons.

The Nantes Terror

The end of the Virée de Galerne marked the beginning of a policy of bloody reprisals. Sent on a mission to the five Breton departments by a decree of August 14, 1793, Jean-Baptiste Carrier was installed in Nantes by a decree of the Committee of Public Safety of September 29 (where he remained despite a new decree of October 13, assigning him to the army of the West with Bourbotte, Francastel and Turreau, the cousin of the general). When he arrived on October 8, he found a city deeply divided between its popular elements and its notables. At the end of September and beginning of October, his predecessor, Philippeaux, had dismissed the administrations elected in December 1792 and created a revolutionary committee and tribunal; this tribunal formed the Marat Company, a small revolutionary army of about 60 men recruited from the port.

Having at his disposal the instruments of a policy of terror, Carrier used the wheat requisitioned from the Vendée to feed the army and the little people of Nantes, created a secret police force that competed with the Marat Company, and simplified the procedure of the Revolutionary Tribunal, which led to the guillotine of 144 people suspected of complicity with the Vendéens in November and December 1793.

In December 1793, the city of Nantes, led by the representative Jean-Baptiste Carrier, saw an influx of Vendean prisoners, captured during the Virée de Galerne, arrive within its walls. The latter, numbering 8,000 to 9,000 men, women and children, were crammed into the prison of the Entrepôt des Cafés. The sanitary conditions were appalling; the doctor Pariset described the prisoners as “pale, emaciated spectres, lying down, staggering on the floors as if in drunkenness or plague.” Soon, a typhus epidemic broke out in the prisons of Nantes, it killed 3,000 inmates, including 2,000 in the warehouse, as well as guards and doctors, and threatened to spread to the city. The representative Carrier then resorted to mass drowning and shooting to empty the warehouse and the pontoons. From December 16, 1793 to February 27, 1794, the drownings in Nantes caused 1,800 to 4,860 deaths. The shootings in Nantes caused 2,600 deaths. In total, of the 12,000 to 13,000 prisoners, men, women and children, in the city, 8,000 to 11,000 perished, almost all of whom were prisoners of the warehouse. The great majority of the victims were Vendeans, but there were also Chouans, suspects from Nantes, generally Girondins or Federalists, refractory priests, prostitutes, common law people, as well as English and Dutch prisoners of war.

Similarly, 132 notables from Nantes were arrested as federalists and sent to Paris to be judged by the revolutionary tribunal; 12 died during the trip, 24 in prison. The exactions of Carrier were denounced by Jullien de Paris, agent of the committee of public salvation in mission on the Atlantic coast, and he was obliged to ask for his recall on 9 pluviôse year II (8 February 1794).

The Angevin Terror

In Angers, the representatives in mission Hentz and Francastel were confronted, like Carrier in Nantes, with the arrival of thousands of Vendéen prisoners captured during the Virée de Galerne. Some of them were executed without trial, others were sentenced to death by the revolutionary military commission Félix-Parein, named after its two successive presidents.

In Angers itself, 290 prisoners were shot or guillotined and 1,020 died in prison from epidemics. Most of the executions, however, took place in localities on the outskirts of the city. In Sainte-Gemmes-sur-Loire, four shootings are said to have resulted in 1,500 to 1,800 victims between December 27, 1793 and January 12, 1794. In Avrillé, nine shootings took place between January 12, 1794 and April 16, 1794, resulting in 900 to 3,000 deaths. In Ponts-de-Cé, 1,500 to 1,600 people were executed in twelve shootings between the end of November 1793 and mid-January 1794. There were also a few drownings in this town, which caused between 12 and several dozen victims, and the establishment of a human skin tannery by Péquel, surgeon-major of the 4th battalion of Ardennes volunteers, who skinned 32 corpses and had their skins tanned by one or more soldiers in the workshop of a man named Langlais. The use of these skins is unknown and the operation remains marginal, raising criticism from the revolutionaries of Anjou a year later.

Near Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, the shootings at Le Marillais are said to have killed about 2,000 people. In Saumur, 1,700 to 1,800 people were imprisoned, 950 were executed by shooting or guillotine, 500 to 600 died in prison or from exhaustion. In Doué-la-Fontaine, from November 30, 1793 to January 22, 1794, 1,200 people were imprisoned, 350 to 370 were executed and 184 died in prison. In addition, 800 women were imprisoned in Montreuil-Bellay: 200 of them died of disease and 300 were transferred to Blois or Chartes where most of them disappeared. About 600 to 700 Vendéens captured during the Virée de Galerne were evacuated to Bourges where only about 100 of them survived.

According to Jacques Hussenet, out of a total of 11,000 to 15,000 people imprisoned in Maine-et-Loire, 8,500 to 9,000 died, including 2,000 to 2,200 in the prisons or during prisoner transfers. Jean-Clément Martin reported that at least 5,000 to 6,000 people were shot.

Devastation of the Vendée

At the end of December 1793, General Turreau, close to the Hebertists and disliked by the Mayençais, took command of the army of the West.

On December 19, he proposed an amnesty plan to the Comité de salut public on the advice of General Jean-François Moulin. Since he had no answer, he prepared a new plan, in strict application of the decrees of the Convention.

On January 7, 1794, Kléber submitted a plan to General Turreau. According to him, the Vendée forces were no longer dangerous and he estimated their strength at 6,200 men in all, while the Republicans had 28,000 operational soldiers. He proposed to protect the coasts from the English, to encircle and grid the insurgent territory by using fortified camps as support points, to gain the confidence of the inhabitants and finally to attack only the rebel gatherings. But this plan was rejected by Turreau, no doubt because of personal opposition. Kléber obtained the approval of the representatives Carrier and Gilet, but they refused to act. Kléber was finally transferred on January 9 to the army of the coast of Brest.

On January 19, 1794, he sent his generals instructions to follow. The order was to bayonet all rebels “found with their arms in their hands, or convinced that they had taken them”, as well as “the girls, women and children who were in this case”. He added that “persons who were only suspected would not be spared, but no execution could be carried out without the general having previously ordered it. On the other hand, men, women and children “in whom the general recognizes civic sentiments” must be respected and evacuated to the rear of the army. On January 23, the representative Laignelot denounced to the Convention the massacres committed in the vicinity of Challans by the troops of General Haxo, but his letter did not provoke any reaction.

The Committee of Public Safety seemed at first to approve the plan, and on February 8, 1794, Carnot wrote to Turreau that “his measures seem good and his intentions pure.” But four days later, he intervened again following the stupefaction caused by the capture of Cholet by the Vendeans on the 8th of that month. On the 12th, before the Convention, Barère denounced a “barbaric and exaggerated execution of the decrees”, he reproached the general for having burned peaceful and patriotic villages instead of hunting down insurgents. On the 13th, Carnot summoned Turreau to “repair his faults”, to put an end to his tactics of spreading the troops, to attack en masse and to finally exterminate the rebels: “It is necessary to kill the brigands and not to burn the farms”. Not feeling supported, Turreau presented his resignation twice, on January 31 and February 18, and each time it was refused despite the denunciations of the departmental administrators. The Comité de salut public then delegated its powers in the West to the representatives on mission, Francastel, Hentz and Garrau, judging them to be in the best position to assess the measures to be taken on the spot. The latter gave their approval to Turreau”s plan, believing, they said, that “there would be no way to restore calm to this country except by getting out everything that was not guilty and stubborn, exterminating the rest and repopulating it as soon as possible with Republicans.

Turreau”s plan concerns the territory of the military Vendée, which includes 735 communes, populated at the beginning of the war by 755 000 inhabitants.

From January to May 1794, the plan was put into effect. In the east, Turreau personally took command of six divisions divided into eleven columns, while in the west, General Haxo, who had been pursuing Charette along the coast, was charged with forming eight smaller columns, each a few hundred men strong, and moving eastward to meet the other twelve. Other troops were sent to form the garrisons of the towns to be preserved. The generals interpreted freely the orders received and acted in very diverse ways. Some officers, such as Haxo, did not apply the orders for systematic destruction and killing and respected the orders to evacuate the populations deemed to be republican. Thus, General Moulin scrupulously evacuated the inhabitants who were considered patriotic.

On the other hand, the troops commanded by Cordellier, Grignon, Huché and Amey distinguished themselves by their violence and atrocities, to the point of exterminating entire populations, indiscriminately massacring royalists and patriots. These troops engaged in looting, massacring the civilian population, raping and torturing, killing women and children, often with knives to avoid wasting gunpowder, burning entire villages, seizing or destroying crops and livestock. Pregnant women were crushed under presses, newborns were impaled at the end of bayonets. According to testimonies of soldiers or republican agents, women and children were cut alive into pieces or thrown alive into lit bread ovens. Sometimes, the members of the Civil and Administrative Commission created in Nantes to recover food and livestock for the benefit of the Blues, accompanied the armies, which allowed them to spare lives and localities.

Turreau”s position was weakened by his inability to destroy the last insurgent troops. His plan, far from ending the war, actually pushed more and more peasants to join the insurgents. The representatives on mission were divided as to his strategy. While some supported him, such as Francastel, Hentz, and Garrau, others, such as Lequinio, Laignelot, Jullien, Guezno, and Topsent, demanded his departure. On April 1, Lequinio presented a memorandum to the Committee of Public Safety, and shortly afterwards a delegation of Vendean Republicans was received in Paris in order to demand a distinction between the loyal country and the insurgent country.

Renaissance of the Vendean armies

At the beginning of 1794, the situation of the Vendean armies was extremely critical. Charette, Joly, Savin and La Cathelinière in the Bas-Poitou and the Pays de Retz, La Rochejaquelein, Stofflet, Pierre Cathelineau and La Bouëre in Anjou each had only a few hundred men under their command.

Having survived the Virée de Galerne, La Rochejaquelein and Stofflet gathered their forces, but on January 3 they were dispersed by General Grignon. A new gathering was made on the 15th, but despite the reinforcement of Cathelineau and La Bouëre”s forces, La Rochejaquelein had only 1,200 men to oppose the infernal columns. Nevertheless, he achieved some successes, and on January 26 Chemillé and Vezins, weakly defended, were taken. But two days later, during the attack of a group of looters in Nuaillé, La Rochejaquelein was shot by a sniper.

Stofflet took the lead of the army, whose numbers were reinforced day by day by the peasants fleeing Turreau”s columns. On February 1, he defeated General Crouzat at Gesté. Then he seized Beaupréau and retook Chemillé. On February 8, now at the head of 4,000 to 7,000 Vendéens, he attacked Cholet. Although defended by 3,000 men, the city was taken, General Caffin was wounded and General Moulin committed suicide. However, General Cordellier arrived as a reinforcement with his column and retook the city. Cholet remained only two hours in the hands of the Vendeans, nevertheless, the event resounded all the way to Paris and provoked the anger of the Committee of Public Safety which threatened Turreau. Stofflet insisted: on February 14, he attacked Cordellier at Beaupréau, but he was beaten again. He then moved south, joined the Haut-Poitevin chief Richard and stormed Bressuire. He then moved on Cholet, but Turreau had the population evacuated and the town burned; the Vendeans found only ruins.

For his part, Charette left his refuge at Touvois in early February, and easily took Aizenay. Sapinaud, who had returned from the north of the Loire, also attempted to reform the army of the Center. On February 2, the two chiefs met at Chauché, where they repelled the columns of Grignon, Lachenay and Prévignaud. On the 6th, they attacked and crushed the garrison of Legé. Charette and Sapinaud then marched on Machecoul, but on February 10, at Saint-Colombin, they ran into Duquesnoy”s column, which routed them. The Vendeans then retreated to Saligny where the forces of Charette and Sapinaud separated.

In the Pays de Retz, Haxo dislodged La Cathelinière”s troops from the Princé forest on January 12. Wounded, La Cathelinière was captured at Frossay on February 28 and taken to Nantes, where he was guillotined on March 2. Louis Guérin succeeded him at the head of the Paydrets and joined Charette.

Another survivor of the Virée de Galerne, Gaspard de Bernard de Marigny formed a new army in the Gâtine. On March 25, the combined forces of Stofflet, Sapinaud and Marigny took Mortagne-sur-Sèvre. On April 22, 1794, Charette, Stofflet, Sapinaud and Marigny met at the castle of La Boulaye, in Châtillon-sur-Sèvre. Unable to choose a new generalissimo, the four chiefs swore an oath, sword high, to assist each other. The Vendeans then marched on Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, but on the way they came up against Adjutant-General Dusirat, and withdrew after an indecisive fight. Marigny was dismissed for having arrived too late, and he returned to the Haut-Poitou in anger. Condemned to death by a council of war on April 29, Marigny, who was ill, was shot at Combrand on July 10 by men of Stofflet.

Lull in the summer and fall of 1794

The dismissal of Turreau on May 13, 1794, marked the end of the infernal columns, but the decrease in violence was only gradual. In April, the Comité de salut public withdrew many troops from the Vendée to redeploy them to the borders. In June, the strength of the Army of the West was only 50,000 men, compared to 100,000 in January. Turreau, as well as his successor, Vimeux, had to limit themselves to a defensive strategy: they put an end to the mobile columns and set up entrenched camps to protect the return of the harvests to the cities. On June 7, the Republicans abandoned Saint-Florent-le-Vieil.

In September, Charette went on the offensive again. He stormed the camp of La Roullière on the 8th, then that of Fréligné on the 15th, and finally that of Moutiers-les-Mauxfaits on the 24th, killing hundreds of Republican soldiers. Then, a new period of relative calm began in the fall. A Vendée attack was carried out on December 14 at La Grève, near Sables-d”Olonne, without success.

General Alexandre Dumas, appointed commander-in-chief of the Army of the West on August 16, 1794, arrived in the Vendée on September 7, but he resigned on October 23 after denouncing the indiscipline and abuses committed by his troops. Dumas then moved to the Army of the Brest coast and Canclaux was recalled to the head of the Army of the West.

For its part, the Thermidorian Convention decided to move towards a policy of clemency. On December 1, 1794, several deputies from Maine-et-Loire, Deux-Sèvres and Vendée presented a statement in which they denounced the massacres of the civilian population and advocated a prior amnesty for insurgents and their leaders. These recommendations were followed by the Committee of Public Safety and on December 2 the National Convention adopted a decree promising amnesty to the insurgents of the Vendée and Chouans who had laid down their arms within a month. The representatives Menuau, Delaunay, Lofficial, Morisson, Gaudin, Chaillon, Auger, Dornier, Guyardin, Ruelle, Bézard, Guezno and Guermeur were charged with forming a permanent commission to enforce these new measures. However, the discussions were not without violent altercations: thus Auger, Bézard and Guyardin were marginalized after having opposed the amnesty. In the first six weeks of 1795, the last Vendéen prisoners were released.

Canclaux then went on the offensive against Stofflet with 28,000 men. On the other side, the army of Anjou could only muster 3,000 soldiers. It attacked a Republican column at Chalonnes-sur-Loire on March 18, then another at Saint-Florent-le-Vieil on March 22, but each time without success. Stofflet then retreated to Maulévrier with Canclaux”s columns at his heels. In the following days Cholet, Cerizay, Bressuire, Châtillon, Maulévrier and Chemillé fell back into Republican hands. On March 26, Stofflet signed a cease-fire in Cerizay. On April 6, he met Canclaux and nine representatives on a mission near Mortagne-sur-Sèvre. Stofflet procrastinated for several weeks and awaited the results of the Mabilais negotiations with the Chouans. Finally, he signed the peace at Saint-Florent-le-Vieil on May 2, on the same terms as at La Jaunaye.

However, insecurity remained. The return of the “refugees from the Vendée” caused many clashes. The local administrations, back from exile, had no power in the countryside. The republicans were victims of vexations and brutalities, robbed, and even murdered during settlements of account where political issues, personal vengeance and simple criminality were mixed. In many rural municipalities, in the hands of royalists, the “patriots” who had taken refuge in the cities were forbidden to return, even by force.

Re-arming and the Quiberon expedition

The pacification turned out to be only ephemeral. Between February and June 1795, assassinations and various incidents poisoned relations between royalists and republicans. Despite a new conciliation meeting at La Jaunaye on June 8, mistrust prevailed and both sides prepared for renewed fighting. Convinced that the Vendean generals were only trying to gain time, the representatives in mission considered launching a vast operation to arrest them, but they had to give up due to a lack of troops.

On June 25, a British fleet arrived in sight of the Quiberon peninsula in Brittany, and two days later landed at Carnac with an army of emigrants who were welcomed by several thousand Chouans.

On August 22, a fleet of 123 ships under the command of Commodore Warren left Portsmouth with 5,000 British soldiers and 800 emigrants on board. After stopping at the islands of Houat and Hœdic, it arrived on September 23 in sight of the island of Noirmoutier, where it was thinking of landing. Charette was informed of the expedition, but he let it be known that Challans, Bouin, Beauvoir-sur-Mer and Machecoul were held by the Republicans and that he could not launch an assault on the island from the land. On September 29, after a few exchanges of artillery with the garrison of Noirmoutier, the British fleet gave up and moved to the Île-d”Yeu, which was more weakly defended and further from the coast, and surrendered on September 30. The island was immediately occupied by nearly 6,000 soldiers and the Count of Artois disembarked there on October 2.

Charette, at the head of nearly 10,000 men, attempted to approach the coast by attacking Saint-Cyr-en-Talmondais on September 25. However, the weak garrison of the town and some reinforcements from Luçon repelled him, inflicting heavy losses, including that of Louis Guérin, one of his best officers. On his side, the republican general Grouchy left Sainte-Hermine on September 29 with 4,000 men and entered Belleville the next day without meeting any resistance.

On October 3, the British fleet made another attempt on Noirmoutier, but without more success. The island”s garrison had meanwhile been reinforced, increasing from 1,000 to more than 6,000 men, and the British were running out of water. On October 8, the expedition was abandoned and the bulk of the fleet headed back to Great Britain, leaving only 13 ships at L”Île d”Yeu. On October 16, the English made a small landing at Saint-Jean-de-Monts to make contact with Charette, but the Count of Artois gave up on joining him. The latter left L”Île-d”Yeu on November 18 to return to Great Britain. On December 17, the last English and emigrant troops evacuated the island. The project of landing of the count d”Artois in the Vendée ended in a complete failure that affected the morale of the Vendée fighters.

On August 29, 1795, the Comité de salut public appointed Lazare Hoche to lead the Army of the West, replacing General Canclaux, who had relinquished his command due to illness. Emboldened by his victory at Quiberon, Hoche received full powers from the Comité de salut public on September 14, which forbade any intervention by the representatives on mission there. On December 26, the Directory gave him command of the Army of the West, the Army of the Brest coast and the Army of the Cherbourg coast, which merged to form the Army of the Ocean coast. The signing of the Treaty of Basle with Spain also allowed him to receive reinforcements from the Army of the Pyrenees. On December 28, the Directory proclaimed a state of siege in all the major communes of the insurgent departments.

Hoche adopted a pragmatic policy. He dissociated the insurgent leaders, who had to be captured, from the simple combatants and peasants who remained free if they surrendered their weapons and submitted. If communities resisted, their livestock was confiscated and only returned in exchange for the surrender of their weapons. He worked to re-establish discipline and to repress looting, sometimes preventing the return of patriotic refugees to the pacified areas and conciliating the refractory priests who were no longer prosecuted and who could worship freely. These measures, the extended powers of the general-in-chief and the state of siege were opposed by local patriots who accused Hoche of exercising a “military dictatorship. However, his policy bore fruit. Exhausted by a devastating conflict, the inhabitants of the Vendée, as well as the combatants and the insurgent officers, were now inclined to peace. From October on, entire cantons surrendered their weapons and made their submission to the Republic.

The weakened Vendeans generally tried to avoid fighting. In mid-November, several Vendean officers wrote a memorandum and gave it to Charette to suggest that he cease hostilities, but he refused. On November 27, Delaage defeated Charette at Saint-Denis-la-Chevasse. On December 5, the Vendean general stormed the Quatre-Chemins camp at L”Oie, but Watrin”s counterattack put him to flight a few hours later. The next day, the Vendeans missed an ambush at the Bois du Détroit and lost all the booty taken at Quatre-Chemins. During this period, several of Charette”s officers were killed, including Couëtus, his second-in-command, Prudent Hervouët de La Robrie, the head of his cavalry, and the division commander François Pajot.

For his part, Sapinaud attacked Landes-Genusson without success on November 25. Abandoned by his troops, he found refuge with Stofflet in December. In January, he signed a peace agreement with General Willot, but the agreement, considered too conciliatory, was denounced by Hoche.

At the beginning of 1796, Charette attempted an expedition to Anjou in order to push Stofflet to join him in the war, but he was surprised at La Bruffière and Tiffauges on January 3 and 4 and his troops were completely routed. This rout completed the demoralization of the Vendeans: Charette was abandoned by most of his men and could only muster a few hundred fighters. Hunted by the mobile Republican columns, he remained constantly on the move in the vicinity of Belleville, Saligny, Dompierre and Le Poiré. On January 15, Adjutant-General Travot inflicted a new defeat on him at La Créancière, near Dompierre.

On March 23, Charette, at the head of only about fifty men, was surprised near Les Lucs, at La Guyonnière, by the column of Adjutant-General Valentin and thrown back to Travot”s column, who captured him in the woods of La Chabotterie, near Saint-Sulpice-le-Verdon. Charette was taken to Angers, then to Nantes where he was condemned to death and shot on March 29.

The death of Charette marked the end of the Vendée War, even if a few groups of insubordinate fighters still remained. Richard, a leader in the vicinity of Cerizay, was killed on March 23. In Poitou, Jean Savin was captured on April 28. In the army of the Center, Vasselot, Sapinaud”s successor, was captured and shot on May 4. In Anjou, Charles d”Autichamp, Stofflet”s successor, and Henri Forestier laid down their arms in May. Lazare Hoche then obtained the submission of the Chouans of Brittany, Maine and Normandy. On July 13, he announced that “the troubles in the West are over. The region still experienced some insurrections in 1799, 1815 and 1832, but they were of a much lower intensity than the conflict of 1793-1796.

In 1799, the military defeats of the Republic led to new manpower mobilizations and to the vote of the hostage law. These measures encouraged the Chouan leaders to revive the insurrection. On September 14, 1799, 200 Chouan and Vendean leaders met at the Château de la Jonchère, near Pouancé, defended by 1,200 men, and set a general taking up arms for October 15. The command was reorganized: Suzannet succeeded Charette at the head of the army of Bas-Poitou and Pays de Retz in the west of the Vendée and in the south of the Loire-Inférieure, Sapinaud resumed his command of the army of the Center, while Charles d”Autichamp succeeded Stofflet at the head of the army of Anjou.

The “martyrs” of 1793 occupied the forefront of Vendée”s memory for most of the 19th century, before being overshadowed by the deaths of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the First World War, two conflicts during which national unity was achieved.

The question of refugees has long been neglected in the historiography of the Vendée. The first outline of a synthesis on this subject was produced by Émile Gabory in 1924. This gap was filled in 2001 by Guy-Marie Lenne”s doctoral thesis. His study covers both the chronological and sociological aspects, but also the attitude of the authorities regarding their reception.

Finally, from January 1794 onwards, a third wave, mixing Blues and Whites, fled from the infernal columns. It was very numerous and systematically distant from the theater of operations. More than a third of the French departments took in refugees.

The first human toll of the Vendée War was given on December 1, 1794, before the Committee of Public Safety by nine members of the Convention representing three of the departments involved in the revolt, who stated that a population of 400,000 people had been wiped out. It is possible that this assessment was derived from the memorandum written a few weeks earlier by the conventionnel Lequinio.

In his text, the “system of depopulation” concerns the whole of France, and not only the population of the Vendée. In his book, Babeuf, taking up the criticisms of the Enragés who defended the immediate application of the constitution of the year I, denounced the Terror, which he judged responsible for the massacres committed in 1793-1794, and attacked (with the moderates, the muscadins and the neo-Hébertists) the Montagnards and the Jacobins. This indictment is supported by the exposure, after Thermidor, of the executions, massacres and destruction of the civil war and the Terror. With other pamphleteers, Babeuf takes up the accusations of the newspaper La Feuille nantaise which, in its issue of 5 brumaire year III, accuses the Incorruptible of having wanted “to depopulate” the country. According to its assertions, the members of the committee of public salvation, around Robespierre, aiming at the establishment of the greatest possible equality in France (project of which he declares himself in solidarity), would have planned the death of a great number of Frenchmen. Their analysis would have been based, according to him, on the reflections of the political philosophers of the XVIIIth century (such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau), who considered that the establishment of equality required a smaller population than that of France at that time (in fact, for these philosophers, a democratic government, based on a certain equality of wealth, following the example of the city-states of Antiquity, Geneva or Venice, required not only a reduced number of citizens, but a small territory). According to this theory, the civil war in the West (with the death in battle of the Whites and the Blues) and the repression of federalist and royalist insurrections would have been the tool of this program of depopulation of France, of which Carrier, in Nantes, would have been only a local agent. The defeats of the republican troops against the royalist insurgents would have been organized by the committee of public salvation in order to send thousands of republican soldiers to their deaths, then he would have set up a plan of annihilation of the Vendeans, which Babeuf puts in parallel with the repression of the insurrection in Lyon, attributed to Collot d”Herbois alone.

Sources

  1. Guerre de Vendée
  2. War in the Vendée
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