Army of the Rhine (1791–1795)

The Army of the Rhine (Armée du Rhin) was formed in December 1791, for the purpose of bringing the French Revolution to the German states along the Rhine River. During its first year in action (1792), under command of Adam Philippe Custine, the Army of the Rhine participated in several victories, including Mainz, Frankfurt and Speyer. Subsequently, the army underwent several reorganizations and merged with the Army of the Moselle to form the Army of the Rhine and Moselle on 20 April 1795.

Army of the Rhine
Fusilier of a French Revolutionary Army
Active1791–95, 1797–98, 1799–1801
Disbanded20 April 1795
AllegianceFirst Republic
MarchChant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin
Nicolas Luckner
Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine

Revolutionary Wars

The Army of the Rhine (Armée du Rhin) was one of the main French Revolutionary armies operated in the Rhineland theater, principally in the Rhine River valley, from 1791 to 1795. At its creation, the Army of the Rhine had 88,390 men. It was formed on 14 December 1791, to defend France's eastern frontier in conjunction with two other armies, the Army of the North and the Army of the Center (name changed in October 1792 to Army of the Moselle). These armies were subdivided, fresh forces were raised and gradually grew until, by 30 April 1793, eleven armies encircled France on its coastal and the land frontiers. In October 1792, a portion of the army was used to form the Army of the Vosges but these units rejoined the Army of the Rhine on 15 March 1793.[1]

Song of Glory

In the first months of fighting, victories for France were few. Although Custine had succeeded in driving the ecclesiastical authorities from the Swiss village of Porrentruy by 27 April 1792, this singular victory was accomplished largely through the enterprises of a local uprising assisted by some advanced guard and it was the last French victory for several weeks: subsequently, the borders of France had been assaulted by the Habsburgs and their allies. At Mons (1829 April 1792), Tournay (29 April 1792), Bavay (17 May 1792), Rumégies (19 May 1792), Florennes 28 May 1792, and La Glisuelle, a village 5 kilometers (3 mi) north of Maubeuge (11 June 1792), Austrian skirmishers repeatedly defeated French forces.[2]

Although much of the spring and summer of 1792 action continued throughout in the border regions with Belgium,[3] the cities along the Upper Rhine, especially the city of Strasbourg, felt under threat of invasion by the Habsburg armies massing on the east side of the Rhine River. On 25 April 1792, Philippe Friedrich Dietrich, mayor of Strasbourg, asked a guest, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, to compose a song to rally against the Habsburg threat.[4] That evening, Rouget de Lisle wrote "Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin" (English: "War Song for the Army of the Rhine"),[5] and dedicated the song to Marshal Nicolas Luckner, a Bavarian in French service.[6] The melody soon became the rallying call to the Revolution: Allons enfants de la Patrie (Arise, children of the Fatherland)/Le jour de gloire est arrivé! (The day of glory has arrived!). It was renamed "La Marseillaise".[5]

Successes under Custine's command

The French government ordered Luckner to take command of the Army of the North, and Custine replaced him as overall commander of the Army of the Rhine in Spring 1793. Under his experienced command, the Army took several important positions on the Rhine, including at Speyer, Mainz, Limburg and Frankfurt (see chart of battles below).[7]

Final reorganization

On 29 December 1794, the left wing of the Army and the right wing of the Army of the Moselle combined to form the Army besieging Mainz. The rest of the Army of the Moselle united with the Army of the Rhine on 20 April, to form the Army of the Rhine and Moselle. This army united with the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse to form the Army of Germany on 29 September 1797.[8]

Principal battles

Battles of the Army of the Rhine.[9]
Date Battle Victor Commander
28 April 1792Battle of PorrentruyFranceAdam Philippe Custine[10]
21 October 17921st MainzFrenchCustine
30 September 1792Capture of SpeyerFrenchCustine
21 October 1792Capture of FrankfurtFrenchCustine
10 November 1792LimburgFrenchCustine, Houchard commanding the advanced guard.
2 December 1792Frankfurt am MainCoalitionCustine, GdB van Helden commanding the garrison force
14 April–23 July 17932nd MainzCoalitionAlexandre de Beauharnais
13 October 17931st WissembourgCoalitionJean Pascal Carlenc
20 August–23 December 1793LandauFrenchLouis Lazare Hoche (Army of the Moselle)
Jean-Charles Pichegru (Army of the Rhine)
18 November–22 December 1793HaguenauFrenchPichegru
18–22 December 1793FröschwillerFrenchHoche
26–29 December 17932nd WissembourgFrenchHoche and Pichegru
23 May 17942nd KaiserslauternPrussian-SaxonClaude Ignace François Michaud
23 May 1794Battle of SchifferstadtFrenchMichaud
12–13 July 1794SchänzelFrenchLaurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr
17–20 September 17943rd KaiserslauternPrussian-SaxonFrançois Ignace Schaal
25 December 1794Battle of Mannheim bridgeFrenchMartial Vachot

1793 Order of Battle

In its five-year history, the Army had several Orders of Battle. This is the OOB at the beginning of the 1793 campaign.[11]


Stability of command of the Army of the Rhine reflected the overall chaos of the French Revolutionary governments, especially in the years 1791–1794. Four of the generals serving in those years were guillotined (see chart below).

Commanders-in-Chief of the Army of the Rhine
Italics indicates general was guillotined during Reign of Terror
Date Name
14 December 1791 – 6 May 1792Nicolas Luckner[12]
7 May – 20 July 1792Alexis Magallon de la Morlière (intérim)[12]
21 July – 25 December 1792Armand Louis de Gontaut (also called "Biron") *[12]
26 December 1792 –14 March 1793,Étienne Deprez-Crassier, interim and subordinate to Adam Philippe Custine, who commanded this and the Army of the Moselle[12]
15 March – 17 May 1793Custine, also commander of the Army of the Moselle until l9 April; he was removed from command of both armies on 29 July 1793, tried and executed in August.[12]
18–29 May 1793Dominique Diettmann, interim and subordinate to Jean Nicolas Houchard* [12]
30 May – 17 August 1793Alexandre de Beauharnais, provisionally and subordinate to Houchard.[12]
18 August – 29 September 1793Charles Hyacinthe Leclerc de Landremont, interim to 23 August, then provisionally[12]
30 September – 1 October 1793Louis Dominique Munnier (interim)[12]
2–26 October 1793Jean Pascal Raymond Carlenc (provisional)[12]
27 October 1793 – 13 January 1794Jean-Charles Pichegru, subordinate to Lazare Hoche[12]
14 January 1794 – 10 April 1795Claude Ignace François Michaud, during his absences, Jean Philippe Raymond Dorsner
4 December 1794 – 13 February 1795Jean-Baptiste Kléber, subordinate to the Army of Mainz
14 February – 29 April 1795François Ignace Schaal, subordinate to Army of Mainz
11–16 April 1795,Jean-Baptiste Kléber (interim)
17–19 April 1795Jean-Charles Pichegru, during assembly of the Armies of the Rhine and Moselle

Other incarnations

An army of the Bourbon Restoration bore this name. In 1815 during the Hundred Days the V Corps – Armée du Rhin[13] under the command of General Jean Rapp, was cantoned near Strassburg, and fought holding actions against contingents of Russians and Austrians, the largest of which was the Battle of La Suffel on fought on 28 June 1815.[14]

This name was also used for the French military forces posted to Germany during the Occupation of the Rhineland (1919–1930), following the First World War.

People known to have served in this Armée include:


  1. Phipps, Ramsey Weston (2011), Armies of the First French Republic, I, Pickle Partners Publishing, pp. 2–3
  2. Smith 1996, pp. 21–22.
  3. Smith 1996, pp. 22–27.
  4. Billington 2011, pp. 58–59.
  5. Weber 1976, p. 439.
  6. Stevens 1896, p. 2.
  7. Smith 1996, pp. 21–26.
  8. Orders of Battle show the same troops, under the amalgamation, reformed into these armies (Smith 1996, pp. 111, 131).
  9. Unless otherwise noted, all information in the chart comes from Smith 1996, pp. 28–96
  10. Chuquet1892, p. 43; and Vautrey 1878, pp. 225–227
  11. Smith 1996, p. 41.
  12. Chuquet 1892, pp. 5–6.
  13. Chandler 1981, p. 180.
  14. Siborne 1895, p. 772.


  • Billington, James H. (2011), Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith, Transaction Publishers, pp. 58–59, ISBN 978-1-4128-1401-0
  • Chandler, David (1981) [1980], Waterloo: The Hundred Days, Osprey Publishing
  • Chuquet, Arthur (1892), L'expédition de Custine (in French), L. Cert, pp. [ 5–6, 43
  • Phipps, Ramsey Weston (2011) [1933], The Armies of the First French Republic: Volume II The Armées du Moselle, du Rhin, de Sambre-et-Meuse, de Rhin-et-Moselle, Pickle Partners Publishing
  • Siborne, William (1895), "Supplement section", The Waterloo Campaign 1815 (4th ed.), Birmingham, 34 Wheeleys Road, pp. 767–780
  • Smith, Digby (1996), Napoleonic Wars Data Book, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books
  • Stevens, Benjamin F. (January 1896), "Story of La Marseillaise", The Musical Record, Boston, Massachusetts: Oliver Ditson Company (408): 2
  • Vautrey, Louis (1878), Histoire de Porrentruy (in French), J. Gürtler, pp. 225–227
  • Weber, Eugen (1976), Peasants Into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914, Stanford University Press, p. 439, ISBN 978-0-8047-1013-8

Further reading

  • Clerget, C. (1905), Tableaux des armées françaises pendant les guerres de la Révolution (in French), Librairie militaire

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