Review Corner: “The Bayonets of the Republic: Motivation and Tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France, 1791-94”

29 Sep

The Bayonets of the Republic: Motivation and Tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France, 1791-94. John Lynn. Westview Press. Boulder, Colorado 1996. ISBN: 0-8133-2945-0. Appendix, Notes, Maps, Illustration, Bibliography, Index. Pp. xi. 356. $43.00.

Reviewed by Simon S. Sundaraj-Keun

John Lynn’sThe Bayonets of the Republic: Motivation and Tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France, 1791-94is a comprehensive and specific breakdown of the French Revolutionary Army combat effectiveness. Dr. Lynn, the author has published numerous books on Western and non-Western history, and currently serves as president of the United States Commission on Military History and vice-president of the Society for Military History.

            Lynn’s thesis is to investigate the combat effectiveness of French Revolutionary Army as a triumphant fighting force. This book analyzes and emphasizes on the core ideals such as nationalism, politics, and national prestige that personify individual Frenchmen during battle through motivation and basic training. It also explains the French commitment to the Revolution and liberty for victory which differs from the rest of Europe, which subjugate them to an aristocratic war.

            The book examines the combat motivation shown by Frenchmen during training and during battles. Lynn emphasizes that there is more to training a soldier that need to be studied in order to unravel the notion of combat effectiveness that continues to influence in today’s military doctrine. The author uses training manuals and sources from French generals to show superb insights into the whole course of French military tactical engagements. Lynn’s depiction on the physical and psychological challenges to the French Army prior to the actual combat was intuitive to the reader.

            This book also explores the importance of leadership, discipline, and ideology in boosting morale among troops, the close family and kinship within a combat unit, and the utilization and exploitation of French identity/nationalism. It also analyzes the genuine technicalities of French battle tactics that invest in “levee en masse” instead of professionalism. Lynn also discusses the importance of infantry replacing cavalry while emphasizing the cooperation with infantry on the battlefield by pointing out precession of tactics and importance of motivation in order to execute a battlefield operation.

            The author draws from an extraordinary range of primary and secondary sources such as French poetry, song books, and as well as historical records to describe what actually took place on the battlefield. This book contains cited materials with a supplementary bibliography for the reader’s references. It also contains an appendix and index section along with a good set of end notes. There is an illustration to go along with the text, but the descriptions itself are so in-depth that the author’s words paint a vivid picture worthy of a novel.

            Lynn’s book is a great contribution to the world of academia due to its unique analysis on the subject of combat motivation and tactics in the French Revolutionary Army. It is important for psychologist and sociologist to understand the history of combat motivation on troops in order to contrast it with today’s military. One could relate the tactics of a conscripted army differ from a professional due to the origin or background of combat troops. Effectiveness of combat troops on a tactical level was due in part to the training and motivation presented to its troops prior to combat. In the big picture one would suggest that the components of discipline, motivation, ideology, and training would galvanize an individual in becoming a good soldier.

            A couple of points that the reader would find lacking are the lack of information on the French Revolutionary adversaries which face-off on the battlefield during the time period. For instance the rest of Europe deployed professional soldiers against the French but failed to capitalize on their strengths. The other point would be the coordination of tactical intelligence and command within the French Revolutionary Army which was not given a deeper analysis or a closer examination. Aside from the few points above that would add extra substance it was an excellent book that incorporated the physical and psychological conditioning of a French soldier for combat.

            The strength of this book it is an easy read and Lynn’s ability in accurately portraying the Revolutionary French Army by scholarly examining its decisive training and tactics, which win battles and shape the French identity if not Europe as a whole. Lynn’s thesis successfully argued the effectiveness and influences of French motivational training and battle tactics which continues to hold relevance in today’s militaries. I firmly recommend Lynn’s The Bayonets of the Republic: Motivation and Tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France, 1791-94 to historians, students of history, and enthusiasts in general.


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