“Use the American and French revolutions as case studies to discuss the dilemmas involved with democratizing military forces—both with respect to allowing individual soldiers more respect and initiative than in previous centuries and with making armies more responsive to the needs of societies with increasingly representative political systems in the modern era.As your initial post, identify and analyze the role that one or more of the following play in building a successful military force:• Ideological motivations• Administrative aims• Technical expertise”Overview
Limited War in the 18th Century
European warfare during most of the 18th century is commonly described as “limited.” Not only
does this contrast with the “total” wars associated with the modern era, it speaks to the many
constraints faced by the era’s commanders. On the battlefield, infantry were armed with bayonets
and muzzle-loading muskets capable of firing three shots per minute in trained hands. They lined
up in long, thin formations to maximize their volume of fire, but because the barrels of their
muskets were smoothbore to allow for faster loading and reloading, their gunfire remained quite
inaccurate, with an effective range rarely exceeding a hundred yards. Artillery, more mobile than
in earlier centuries, gave armies added firepower, but because cannon barrels, like musket
barrels, were smoothbore, effective range remained limited here as well. Cavalry, having fully
shed the armor worn by medieval and Renaissance knights, wielded sabers and sometimes
lances. Cavalry troops provided mobility and maneuverability, and their charges could deliver
offensive shock power where needed, but their numbers relative to infantry steadily dwindled
during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Straightforward battlefield action, however, proved relatively rare during the 1700s and, when it
did take place, seldom delivered strategically decisive results. Much of this was due to
technological and logistical difficulties: without industrial-era modes of transport at their
disposal, gunpowder armies found it near-impossible to move rapidly and keep themselves
properly supplied, particularly because ammunition for muskets and artillery weighed so much
and because horses—both cavalry mounts and draft horses hauling cannon and supply wagons—
consumed an enormous amount of fodder. This ponderousness made it extremely difficult for
offensive-minded commanders to force battle upon an enemy who did not wish to fight, reducing
most 18th-century conflicts to wars of maneuver, in which armies tried to bottle each other into
positions where they could not keep themselves supplied and would therefore have to surrender.
Also, the proliferation of earth-and-brick, geometrically complex gunpowder fortresses meant
that siegecraft, rather than battle, consumed the energies and attention of most generals in 17thand 18th-century Europe.
Equally important reasons for this impasse, albeit abstract ones, can be found in the social and
political spheres. Comprised of mercenaries and even more of conscripts drafted against their
will, 18th-century armies were highly proficient at a certain set of skills, but on the whole
motivated only by pay or by discipline, drill, and fear of their own officers. Armies were used as
much to police and repress their own populations as they were to ward off foreign threats. These
facts restricted commanders’ options as much as, if not more than, technological and logistical
shortcomings. Rank-and-file soldiers mastered musket drill and standard maneuvers, but could
not be counted on to learn advanced tactics. And because desertion was so prevalent among 18thcentury armies, soldiers required constant supervision, rendering infeasible any techniques or
practices that required officers to trust their troops or allow them any initiative. Sending
sharpshooters to skirmish independently with slow-loading but highly accurate rifled muskets
was not possible, and nor was turning soldiers loose to forage for provisions while on the
march—a measure that would have freed armies from the encumbrance of huge supply trains,
making them quicker and more nimble. Perhaps worst of all, when a general did achieve
battlefield victory, he could rarely take full advantage of it by pursuing—and thereby possibly
inflicting fatal damage on—the enemy army, because the uncontrolled circumstances of pursuit
presented soldiers with too great, and too tempting, an opportunity for desertion.
Eventually, both technological-tactical changes and socio-political ones contributed to the shift
from limited war to total war, but the latter changes certainly preceded the former and were
arguably more decisive. The commander most commonly considered to have brought the combat
of the limited-war era to its peak of perfection is Frederick the Great of Prussia, whose battlefield
victories during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748) and the Seven Years’ War
(1756–1763) combined masterful precision with an offense-minded boldness that belonged more
to the next century and on which circumstances did not always permit him to act. When
Napoleon, less than a generation later, succeeded in putting this kind of boldness consistently
into practice, it was not because of new technology—Napoleon’s soldiers used fundamentally
the same weapons and gear that Frederick’s had used—but because the social and political
changes wrought by the American Revolution (1775–1783) and the French Revolution (1789–
1799) allowed officers in the 1780s and beyond to avail themselves of tactical options that had
not been practicable in the pre-revolutionary era. Already during the limited-war era, Europe’s
most foresighted military thinkers were predicting the epochal military changes that would result
when armies became infused with true patriotic will. Particularly insightful on this count was
Jacques de Guibert, whose 1772 A General Essay on Tactics anticipated many of the trends
which became evident during the American and French revolutions—and during the subsequent
rise of total war.
A final note about Western war during this era pertains to its global reach. Uniquely among the
world’s advanced civilizations, Europe by the mid-18th century had developed large fleets of
sailing gunships, capable of projecting force far overseas and of sustaining a colonial presence in
Asia, coastal Africa, and the Americas. This ranks high among the causes of the “West-vs.-therest” gap which gradually gave Europe technological, military, and geopolitical advantages over
other advanced civilizations—such as China, Mughal India, and Ottoman Turkey—that as
recently as the 16th and 17th centuries had wielded global might equal to or surpassing that of
Europe. The most telling sign of this was the recurring interaction between war in 18th-century
Europe and the related overseas conflicts that inevitably broke out between the colonies owned
by the powers fighting each other in Europe. The Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), for example,
can be thought of in a real sense as the first “world war,” in that the European conflict—
Frederick the Great’s struggle against Austria, France, and Russia—gave rise to naval and
colonial clashes around the world and decisively determined the long-term fate of Canada
(seized from France by Britain) and India (where Britain secured the foothold that guaranteed its
future hegemony over the subcontinent). In the decades to come, Europe’s imperial influence
over other parts of the world would increase many times over.
The American War of Independence
America’s War of Independence (1775–1783) was the first in a half-century wave of uprisings
and upheavals that transformed the Western world, collectively known as the “Atlantic
Revolutions.” Its importance as an exercise in applied political philosophy, therefore, ranks
equally with its importance as a combat experience. In terms of military progress, the paramount
development of the American Revolution was the creation of a national army that combined
professional expertise with patriotic motivation.
During the first two and a half years of the war, advantages and disadvantages seemed
fundamentally balanced between the colonial rebels and their British occupiers. Colonial forces
fought on familiar territory against an enemy whose numbers remained relatively small and
whose supplies and reinforcements had to be conveyed from far overseas. They were adept at
irregular warfare and sharpshooting and enjoyed widespread, though not universal, support from
the civilian populace. Perhaps most important was the political and ideological zeal they felt as
citizen-soldiers fighting not just on behalf of their homeland, but for the abstract, Enlightenmentbased ideals enshrined in the 1776 Declaration of Independence. This Minuteman-style approach
allowed the colonists to make credible stands in early battles like Lexington, Concord, and
Bunker Hill; to seize key points like Fort Ticonderoga; and to force the British withdrawal from
Boston. Unfortunately for the Americans, these initial successes were countervailed by British
military professionalism. The colonists had no way to oppose British naval power, and despite
American stereotyping of British redcoats—with their rigid firing lines and bright, easilytargeted uniforms—as prissy bumblers unsuited to frontier warfare, the skill and discipline of
British infantry regularly prevailed over the colonists’ enthusiastic but rough-edged fighting
technique. The degree to which the British outclassed the Americans became evident in late 1776
and throughout 1777, as George Washington and the Continental Army struggled with their foes
in New Jersey and around Philadelphia.
Two turning points for the Americans came in late 1777 and 1778. First, the colonists’ autumn
victory in the Saratoga campaign convinced France, Britain’s arch-enemy, to aid the American
cause. French funds were exceptionally welcome, and France’s support at sea disrupted the
Royal Navy’s efforts to blockade American ports and to supply the British war effort. Also
helpful were French volunteers, the most famous of whom was the Marquis de Lafayette, a
young aristocrat who befriended Washington, embraced the revolution’s liberal ideals, and went
on to play a leading role in the early stages of his own country’s revolution a decade later. The
second turning point involved the professionalization of the Continental Army—one of
Washington’s chief priorities, and a process accomplished while he and his troops endured the
grueling winter encampment at Valley Forge in late 1777 and early 1778. The French presence
facilitated this, as did the arrival of other European volunteers with military experience, such as
Casimir Pulaski. The crucial transformation, however, was effected by the Prussian officer
Friedrich von Steuben, who incessantly drilled and disciplined American forces at Valley Forge
and quickly earned the rank of inspector general of the Continental Army.
Assisted by the French and better able to fight on equal terms with the British, the Americans,
from 1778 onward, stabilized the combat situation in the north. Fighting in the south intensified
until the main British force under Charles Cornwallis found itself trapped in Yorktown, Virginia.
Although treaty negotiations dragged on until January 1783, Cornwallis’s surrender in October
1781 effectively ended the war. Not only had a fledgling world power been born, the political
and military example set by this new power—a nation-state governed at least in theory by
abstract ideals and not royal privilege, and where military service was the duty and privilege of
citizen volunteers—proved immensely influential.
The Wars of the French Revolution
The most momentous of the “Atlantic Revolutions,” both in its political and geostrategic impact,
was the French Revolution, which began in 1789 and continued for a full decade before the rise
of Napoleon brought it to its conclusion. Inspired largely by the American example and
involving many figures who participated in America’s War of Independence, the French
Revolution likewise advanced the all-important trend of building armies that were at once
professionally skilled and patriotically motivated. In many ways, though, the military dilemmas
faced by the French were far more acute than the ones that arose during the American
Between 1789 and 1792, the architects of the French Revolution attempted to create a
constitutional monarchy that expanded rights and representation without causing complete
upheaval. The king would no longer enjoy absolute rule, but would share power with an elected
legislature which would govern according to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the
Citizen—a foundational document directly inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Politically speaking, the guiding forces during this phase of the revolution were France’s middle
classes, in conjunction with liberal nobles and military officers like the Marquis de Lafayette.
Militarily, the revolution was supported by the inexpert, albeit politically enthusiastic, National
Guard: a militia-style force that consisted partly of volunteers and partly of soldiers deserting
from the regular army. Lafayette took command of the National Guard and set about the task of
professionalizing it while preserving its revolutionary fervor.

The key obstacle facing Lafayette was the deep military traditionalism that governed armies
throughout pre-revolutionary Europe. Ever since the Middle Ages, both in France and elsewhere,
military officership had been overwhelmingly monopolized by Europe’s aristocracy. In 1789,
roughly 85 percent of France’s officers were of noble birth—a proportion similar to that found in
other European armies—and their commissions were purchased or awarded according to social
status, not earned by merit (This, too, was common practice throughout Europe). With most
aristocrats in France actively hostile to the revolution, or at least unwilling to support it, the new
army taking shape under Lafayette’s wing found itself sorely lacking effective leadership.
This deficit became all too apparent in the spring of 1792, when revolutionary France was
plunged into the War of the First Coalition (1792–1797) against Austria, Prussia, and a growing
number of other enemies, including England. From this point until Napoleon’s final defeat in
1815, France would remain in an almost constant state of armed conflict. And although better
days lay ahead, the first three years of fighting proved near-disastrous for the revolutionary
regime. Revolutionary forces managed to score an early victory at Valmy in September 1792, but
only because they vastly outnumbered their Prussian foes, who also happened to be crippled by
an outbreak of dysentery.
Many difficulties hampered the revolutionary war effort, including the weakness of the
homefront economy, the collapse of the constitutional monarchy in the late summer of 1792
(which led to the execution of the royal family in 1793), and the steady radicalization of the
government, which formed the dictatorial Committee of Public Safety and executed thousands of
victims during the infamous Reign of Terror (1793–1794). Worst of all, however, was the French
army’s lack of skilled leadership: With most officers leaving France or falling under arrest, and
with a few serving in the Revolutionary Army but secretly plotting against the regime,
commanders like Lafayette, who combined professional qualifications with political reliability,
were rare commodities. Austrian and Prussian forces crossed the French border at a number of
points, threatening Paris and other key centers. Moreover, the regime’s escalating harshness
provoked counter-revolutionary rebellion in several parts of France, including the rural Vendée
district, placing the regime in even greater peril.
The revolution saved itself with a set of responses that blended innovation, desperation, and a
draconian touch that at times proved counterproductive. The most controversial measures
involved the handling of officers, especially those of aristocratic birth. Because it was known
that at least some commanders, while professing loyalty to the revolution, were seeking to
sabotage its war effort, all officers fell under suspicion and were punished severely if they lost
battles or suffered any failure, whether or not it was their fault. Political appointees, called
représentants en mission, watched over military officers and had the authority to countermand
their orders or place them under arrest. Demotions and executions became increasingly common,
and even loyal generals like Lafayette began to abandon the war effort and emigrate from
France. In less than half a decade, the proportion of officers who came from an aristocratic
background fell from 85 percent to less than 5 percent. This brought to the forefront a cadre of
officers like Napoleon Bonaparte, who possessed talent but would have had little chance of
advancement prior to the revolution. On the other hand, such rough treatment sowed fear and
disruption among French officers and subjected many of them to rampant injustice.
Other policies proved an unqualified success. Politicians such as Lazare Carnot, the so-called
“organizer of victory,” carried out the modern era’s first full-scale military mobilization of a
national economy, driving France’s munitions and textile industries to heroic levels of
production. Exploiting the power of slogans like “The Fatherland Is in Danger!” and
inspirational songs such as La Marseillaise, the government effectively harnessed popular
enthusiasm and created a widespread sense that the revolutionary cause was worth fighting for
and that every citizen was obligated to support it, either through labor or military service. Thanks
to three huge recruitment campaigns—the volunteer drives of 1791 and 1792 and the levée en
masse, or nationwide conscription, of 1793—the revolutionary government managed to draft an
army numbering more than a million men, a quantity not seen in Europe since the days of ancient
Rome. What these new soldiers lacked in terms of traditional skills, they made up for with their
general level of motivation, and a rising generation of French officers devised new techniques to
train them quickly. For example, freshly-recruited troops were “amalgamated” with more
experienced soldiers and non-commissioned officers. Also, because it took months for flintlockand-bayonet infantry to learn how to form long, thin lines and to fire at the standard rate of three
shots per minute, the French had to alter their battlefield tactics if they wished to speed up the
pace at which they turned out large numbers of battle-ready soldiers. The French now came to
rely on deep columnar formations, which were easier to learn and provided a greater sense of
camaraderie, and bayonet charges, which suited the raw, unskilled enthusiasm of revolutionary
troops better than disciplined volley fire did. Also, French officers began to deploy more of their
soldiers as sharpshooting skirmishers, a role that required more trust and initiative than
eighteenth-century commanders had traditionally been willing to allow.
By the summer of 1794, the revolutionary government’s military policies began to pay off.
French generals inflicted numerous defeats on the Austrians and Prussians, and France passed
out of immediate danger by the end of the year. The Reign of Terror, whose viciousness had
owed much to military-related panic and hysteria, came to an end, and political authority was
transferred to the Directory—a more moderate regime that presided over the last half-decade of
the revolution. France’s wars continued, but to the country’s delight, they were no longer wars of
survival. Now and for the next two decades, France was in the position to export war, initially to
spread the ideals of the French Revolution, and then to slake the ambitions of Napoleon, the
revolution’s most skilled general.

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