Professor Emeritus Robert S. Quimby examines the strategic and tactical revolution that swept through the French military hierarchy in the Eighteenth Century and forged the superb instrument that became lethal in the hands of Napoleon and his generals.
“The period from the opening of the War of the Spanish Succession to the meeting of the Estates-General is generally looked upon as a period of decadence in the history of the French Army. Compared with the great days of Louis XIV or with those of the Revolution and Napoleon this estimate seems correct enough. It was a period of many humiliations. The disasters inflicted upon France by Marlborough and Prince Eugene were followed by the much more humiliating failures of the Seven Years’ War. Yet the record is not without its glorious moments. During the War of the Austrian Succession, a series of brilliant successes was won under the leadership of the great Saxe.
If the combat record of the French Army was, to say the least, uneven during the eighteenth century, such was not the case with its intellectual achievements. The French Army stood foremost among all those of Europe in this respect. Throughout most of the years of the century, there was a great intellectual ferment within the Army leading to major developments in ideas and in material improvement.
Within a few years after the War of the Spanish Succession, books began to appear, pointing out defects in the tactics then in use and proposing changes. After the Seven Years’ War, the number of such books greatly increased. The result was to stimulate an ardent and at times acrimonious debate. Book countered book; pamphlets and memorials multiplied. Gradually, through the abandonment of more extreme ideas, a compromise was worked out. Embodied in the Ordinance of 1791, this became the basis for the tactics of the Wars of the French Revolution and of Napoleon.”-Introduction.