In this short essay I will attempt to chronicle the transformation of the French Republican Army from a volunteer army made up of professional soldiers and willing citizen-soldiers in a large mass of military serfs in the 1789-1794 period.
I know this topic will be highly controversial but I personally believe it provides a useful discussion and reflection topic in the defense debate. Any criticism, as long as it’s constructive, is highly welcome.
The armies of the Ancien Regime were, essentially, volunteer in nature. France had traditionally three sources of recruits.
The first, and most important, were the great cities like Paris, Lyon and Toulouse. Recruiters particularly targeted paupers, easily attracted by a steady, if meager, paycheck and the promise of food and lodge, and the younger sons of artisans and shopkeepers, who could not hope to take over the family business and were usually doomed to a lifetime of perpetual misery.
The second were the country estates of certain noble military families. Members of these families, serving as military officers, were regularly given six-month leaves (semestres) to recruit troops for the army. Military life, as hard as it was, was usually seen as an attractive alternative for the younger sons of peasant families. Moreover these men usually ended up serving under the same noblemen who had recruited them, often in highly regarded cavalry and artillery unit.
The third were the many foreign (Swiss, Bavarian, Irish etc) regiments serving France. These were of very varied quality and each had its own way of finding recruits.