13 Vendémiaire

13 Vendémiaire

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13 Vendémiaire Year 4 is the name given to a battle between the French Revolutionary troops and Royalist forces in the streets of Paris. The battle was largely responsible for the rapid advancement of Republican General Napoleon Bonaparte's career.


While the social reforms of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 had been well received by the majority of the populace of France, the Revolution's strongly anti-Catholic stance had created anti-republican sympathies in many Roman Catholics. In March 1793, this sentiment boiled over into an armed insurrection
Rebellion, uprising or insurrection, is a refusal of obedience or order. It may, therefore, be seen as encompassing a range of behaviors aimed at destroying or replacing an established authority such as a government or a head of state...

 in the fiercely Catholic Vendée
The Vendée is a department in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west central France, on the Atlantic Ocean. The name Vendée is taken from the Vendée river which runs through the south-eastern part of the department.-History:...

 region of western France. Under leaders like François de Charette de la Contrie and Louis d'Elbée
Louis d'Elbée
Maurice-Joseph-Louis Gigot d'Elbée was a French Royalist military leader. He was the second commander in chief of the Royal and Catholic Army formed by Royalist forces of the Vendean insurrection against the Republic and the French Revolution.-Life:Born in Dresden, he moved to France in 1777,...

, a rebel army, titled Armée catholique et royale now proved to be a thorn in the side of the Revolutionary Government in Paris. The rebels were known as Chouans, a title which comes from early royalist leader Jean Cottereau
Jean Cottereau
Jean Cottereau was the royal treasurer to Louis XII of France. He rebuilt the ancient Château de Maintenon. Later the old château-fort was remade into a fashionable country house for Madame de Maintenon, the second wife of Louis XIV. Clément Marot's verse epitaphs, "De Messire Jean Cotereau,...

’s nickname Jean Chouan. He was known for his perfect imitation of an owl’s cry, a noise which had become the rallying cry of the insurgents of Vendée.

The Armée catholique et royale quickly garnered British support, and got off to a promising start, severely defeating several Revolutionary Armies
French Revolutionary Army
The French Revolutionary Army is the term used to refer to the military of France during the period between the fall of the ancien regime under Louis XVI in 1792 and the formation of the First French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804. These armies were characterised by their revolutionary...

. The Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety
Committee of Public Safety
The Committee of Public Safety , created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the de facto executive government in France during the Reign of Terror , a stage of the French Revolution...

 ordered General Jean-Baptiste Carrier
Jean-Baptiste Carrier
Jean-Baptiste Carrier was a French Revolutionary, known for his cruelty to his enemies, especially to clergy.-Biography:...

 to pacify the region, and over several months Carrier ruthlessly decimated the populace of the Vendée. The local population dubbed Carrier's forces the colonnes infernales (hellish columns). On 22 December 1793, the Chouan rebellion subsided following a major defeat at the Battle of Savenay
Battle of Savenay
The Battle of Savenay took place on 23 December 1793, and marks the end of the Virée de Galerne operational phase of the first war in the Vendée, where a Republican force of approximately 18,000 decisively defeated the armée catholique et royale force of 6,000 at Savenay.-Prelude:After a crushing...


Following the 9th Thermidor
Thermidorian Reaction
The Thermidorian Reaction was a revolt in the French Revolution against the excesses of the Reign of Terror. It was triggered by a vote of the Committee of Public Safety to execute Maximilien Robespierre, Antoine Louis Léon de Saint-Just de Richebourg and several other leading members of the Terror...

, those Chouans willing to lay down arms were granted amnesty by the reformed National Convention
National Convention
During the French Revolution, the National Convention or Convention, in France, comprised the constitutional and legislative assembly which sat from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795 . It held executive power in France during the first years of the French First Republic...

. The Chouans responded by attacking the Republican held town of Guémené on 29 January 1795. The Convention immediately ordered General Hoche to proceed to the Vendée and force the Chouans to agree to a cessation of hostilities. Hoche quickly defeated the Chouan army and on 17 February François de Charette de la Contrie signed a very generous peace settlement.

A small contingent of Royalists under the command of General Stofflet
Jean-Nicolas Stofflet
Jean-Nicolas Stofflet was a French leader of the Revolt in the Vendée against the First French Republic.Born in Bathelémont-lès-Bauzemont , the son of a miller, he was for long a private in the Swiss Guard, and afterwards gamekeeper to the comte de Colbert-Maulévrier, he joined the Vendéans when...

 and the fanatical Abbé Bernier
Étienne-Alexandre Bernier
Étienne-Alexandre Bernier or Abbé Bernier was a French religious figure and Royalist politician during the French Revolution....

 refused to accept the peace settlement, and continued to offer resistance to Hoche's Army. They were supported by the British, in the form of 4,000 émigré
Émigré is a French term that literally refers to a person who has "migrated out", but often carries a connotation of politico-social self-exile....

s, 80,000 musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

s, 80 cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

 along with food, clothing and even a large quantity of counterfeit assignats (to not only provide the Chouans with funding, but also to unbalance the French economy.

This large force was placed under the command of émigré Générals Puisaye and Hermilly. Hearing of this, de Charette de la Contrie broke the peace agreement and reopened hostilities. On 26 June, the émigré force landed at Carnac
Carnac is a commune beside the Gulf of Morbihan on the south coast of Brittany in the Morbihan department in north-western France.Its inhabitants are called Carnacois...

. Hermilly quickly advanced on Auray
Auray is a commune located in the Morbihan department of Brittany in France. Inhabitants of Auray are called Alréens.-Geography:The city is surrounded by the communes of Crac'h to the south and west, Brech to the north and Pluneret to the east. It is crossed by the Loch, a small coastal river...

 before engaging and being defeated by Hoche at Vannes
Vannes is a commune in the Morbihan department in Brittany in north-western France. It was founded over 2000 years ago.-Geography:Vannes is located on the Gulf of Morbihan at the mouth of two rivers, the Marle and the Vincin. It is around 100 km northwest of Nantes and 450 km south west...

. By early July, Hemilly had been forced out of Auray and was besieged in the Fortress of Penthièvre. This meant that the entire insurgent army was now trapped on the Quiberon
Quiberon is a commune in the Morbihan department in Brittany in north-western France.It is situated on the southern part of the Quiberon peninsula, the northern part being the commune of Saint-Pierre-Quiberon...

 peninsula. On 15 July, an additional émigré division under the command of Général Sombreuil
Charles François de Virot de Sombreuil
Charles François de Virot marquis de Sombreuil was a French Royalist general of the Ancien Regime and French Revolutionary Wars...

 arrived to boulster the defense, but on 16 July Hermilly was killed in action. By the 20th, the fortress had fallen and Hoche swiftly advanced down the peninsula, defeating the hopelessly trapped émigré army. Only Général Puisaye and a small force were able to escape with the British fleet; the remainder were either killed in action, taken prisoner or executed.

Despite the failure of the émigré army, de Charette de la Contrie continued to offer resistance. In early September, a popular revolt broke out in the area around Dreux
Dreux is a commune in the Eure-et-Loir department in northern France.-History:Dreux was known in ancient times as Durocassium, the capital of the Durocasses Celtic tribe. Despite the legend, its name was not related with Druids. The Romans established here a fortified camp known as Castrum...

, but was defeated in battle at Nonancourt
Nonancourt is a commune in the Eure department in Haute-Normandie in northern France.-Population:-References:*...

. De Charette de la Contrie himself suffered a major defeat at Saint-Cyr
The toponym Saint-Cyr refers to the popular child-saint Saint Quiricus , whose following was strong in France because relics were brought back from Antioch by the 4th-century Bishop Saint Amator of Auxerre...

on 25 September. Despite this, the Comte d'Artois
Charles X of France
Charles X was known for most of his life as the Comte d'Artois before he reigned as King of France and of Navarre from 16 September 1824 until 2 August 1830. A younger brother to Kings Louis XVI and Louis XVIII, he supported the latter in exile and eventually succeeded him...

 landed at Île d'Yeu
Île d'Yeu
Île d'Yeu is an island and commune just off the Vendée coast of western France.The island's two harbours, Port-Joinville in the north and Port de la Meule, located in a rocky inlet of the southern granite coast, are famous for the fishing of tuna and lobster....

 with 1,000 émigrés and 2,000 British troops. Bolstered by this force, the Royalist troops began marching on Paris in early October 1795. The arrival of the Comte d'Artois excited the jeunesse dorée royalist supporters in the Le Peletier
Le Peletier
*Louis-Michel le Peletier, marquis de Saint-Fargeau , French politician*Amédée Louis Michel le Peletier, comte de Saint-Fargeau , French entomologist...

 section of the capital (named for the Rue Le Peletier in what is now the Second Arrondissement), and they began demonstrations in the form of felling Liberty Trees and trampling tricolour cockade
A cockade is a knot of ribbons, or other circular- or oval-shaped symbol of distinctive colors which is usually worn on a hat.-Eighteenth century:...

s. Perhaps more disturbing, rumours regarding the likely defection of the entire Paris National Guard
National Guard (France)
The National Guard was the name given at the time of the French Revolution to the militias formed in each city, in imitation of the National Guard created in Paris. It was a military force separate from the regular army...

 began to circulate.


The Convention quickly realised that it was in severe danger, and that not only was an enemy force on French soil, but the uprising in Paris meant that there was also now an enemy force within the capital itself. The Convention declared its intention to remain in their meeting rooms until the crisis was resolved. It called for the formation of three battalions of patriots, to be raised from the Jacobin military staff dismissed after 9 Thermidore. Général baron de Menou was given command of the defence of the capital, but was severely outnumbered with only 5,000 troops on hand to resist the 30,000 man Royalist Army.

On 12 vendémiaire (4 October), The National Guard arrived in Le Peletier in an attempt to put down the unrest. The Military Committee of the Sections of the Capital, under the command of Richer de Sévigny, announced that the decrees of the Convention were no longer recognised. Général Danican took command of the National Guard in the La Peletier section. The Convention ordered Menou to advance into Le Peletier, to disarm the entire area and to close Danican's headquarters. Generals Despierres and Verdière were sent to Menou to assist him. Menou divided his force into three columns, and planned an advance into Le Peletier on the evening of 12 vendémiaire. When the advance was set to begin, Despierres reported that he was unwell and unable to proceed, and Verdière refused to advance. Menou timidly advanced towards the Royalist force, inviting the rebels to discuss terms of their dispersal. He withdrew after receiving the insurgents' promise to disarm.

The Le Peletier section, seeing this as a sign of weakness on the part of the Convention, called upon the other sections of Paris to rise up. Menou realised his mistake, and launched a cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 attack down the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, temporarily clearing the area of royalists. The Convention dismissed Menou from the command, and ordered Paul Barras to take over the defence of the Convention.

A whiff of grapeshot

At around this time, the young Général Napoleon Bonaparte, aware of the commotion, arrived at the Convention to find out what was happening. He was quickly ordered to join Barras' forces mustering for the defence of the Republic. Bonaparte accepted, but only on the condition that he was granted complete freedom of movement.

At 1 am on 13 vendémiaire (5 October), Bonaparte overrode Barras, who was content to let him do as he wished. Bonaparte ordered Joachim Murat
Joachim Murat
Joachim-Napoléon Murat , Marshal of France and Grand Admiral or Admiral of France, 1st Prince Murat, was Grand Duke of Berg from 1806 to 1808 and then King of Naples from 1808 to 1815...

, a sous-lieutenant in the 21ème Régiment de Chasseurs à Cheval, to ride to the plain of Sablons
Sablons may refer to the following communes in France:*Sablons, Gironde, in the Gironde département*Sablons, Isère, in the Isère département...

 and to return with the 40 cannon which Menou had indicated were located there. Murat's squadron retrieved the cannon before the Royalists arrived and Bonaparte organised their arrangement, placing them in commanding areas, with effective fields of fire.

At 5 am, a probing attack by the royalist forces was repulsed. 5 hours later, the major Royalist assault began. Despite being outnumbered by approximately 6 to 1, the Republican forces held their perimeter, the cannons firing grapeshot
In artillery, a grapeshot is a type of shot that is not a one solid element, but a mass of small metal balls or slugs packed tightly into a canvas bag. It was used both in land and naval warfare. When assembled, the balls resembled a cluster of grapes, hence the name...

 into the massed royalist forces. The 'patriot battalions', supporting the artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

, also cut down the advancing Royalist ranks. Bonaparte commanded throughout the two-hour engagement, and survived unscathed despite having his horse shot from under him. The effect of the grapeshot
In artillery, a grapeshot is a type of shot that is not a one solid element, but a mass of small metal balls or slugs packed tightly into a canvas bag. It was used both in land and naval warfare. When assembled, the balls resembled a cluster of grapes, hence the name...

 and the volleys from the patriot forces caused the Royalist attack to waver. Bonaparte ordered a counterattack led by Murat's squadron of Chasseurs. At the close of the battle, around three-hundred royalists lay dead on the streets of Paris. It was not Napoleon who made the "whiff of grapeshot" comment, but rather Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher during the Victorian era.He called economics "the dismal science", wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and became a controversial social commentator.Coming from a strict Calvinist family, Carlyle was...

 in describing the events of 13 vendémiaire.


The defeat of the Royalist insurrection extinguished the threat to the Convention. Bonaparte became a national hero, and was quickly promoted to Général de Division
Général is the French word for General.In France, Army generals are named after the type of unit they command. In ascending order there are two ranks :* Général de brigade : Brigade General.* Général de division : Divisional General....

. Within five months, he was given command of the Armée d'Italie
French Revolutionary Army
The French Revolutionary Army is the term used to refer to the military of France during the period between the fall of the ancien regime under Louis XVI in 1792 and the formation of the First French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804. These armies were characterised by their revolutionary...

. The defeated royalists, in an effort to portray the Republican defense as a massacre, nicknamed Bonaparte Général Vendémiaire, a title which he later claimed would be his first title of glory.