Valmy cannonade

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Valmy cannonade
The Battle of Valmy painting by Horace Vernet from 1826
The Battle of Valmy
painting by Horace Vernet from 1826
date September 20, 1792
place Valmy , France
output Termination of the fight
consequences Withdrawal of the coalition army from France
Parties to the conflict

France 1804First French Republic France

Prussia KingdomKingdom of Prussia Prussia


Charles-François Dumouriez ,
François-Christophe Kellermann

Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand of Braunschweig

Troop strength
50,000 men,
56 guns
approx. 34,000 men,
40 guns

300 dead and wounded

184 dead and wounded

The Valmy cannonade of September 20, 1792 was an uncontested battle in the First Coalition War between the Prussian contingent of the anti-French coalition and the French revolutionary army. An artillery duel near the village of Valmy brought the interveners' campaign to Paris to a standstill. After ten days of hesitation, they retreated.

The success of the Revolutionary Army deeply impressed contemporaries and became a myth that continues to the present day.


In view of the French Revolution , the Roman-German Emperor Leopold II had the monarchs of Europe in support of King Louis XVI in 1791 . asked. In the Pillnitz Declaration of August 27, 1791, Leopold, King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia and Prince Karl von Artois , the brother of Louis XVI, threatened France with military intervention if the monarchy there was touched. Other German princes joined this coalition.

The threat led to radicalization in Paris by the Girondins . On April 20, 1792, France declared war on Austria and undertook an invasion of the Austrian Netherlands , which, however, immediately failed . Austria had about 30,000 men stationed there and 27,000 in Breisgau .

The background to this was the “just as tangible as imaginative territorial hopes” of Prussia at the expense of France, which Austrian compensation considerations accommodated. Regardless of this, Russian troops intervened in a civil war in Poland in May 1792 . As a precaution, neighboring Prussia kept the bulk of the army in its own country and deployed only about a quarter of its forces against France.

While tens of thousands of volunteers flocked to the revolutionary army in France from June 1792 after a call by the government, the coalition gathered an army of 46,000 Prussians, including 12,000 horsemen, with 220 guns and 6,000 Hessians in Koblenz in July . On July 8, France declared war on Prussia. In mid-August, the 82,000-strong French field army was distributed along the eastern border into four roughly equal armies around Dunkirk , Sedan , Metz and in Alsace .

On July 30, the Prussian-Hessian main army, under the command of General Field Marshal Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Braunschweig , marched from Koblenz through the Eifel to Trier , followed by a corps of around 4,500 men made up of French nobles who had found refuge in the empire as emigrants. King Friedrich Wilhelm II, who wanted to move into Paris as a liberator, accompanied the campaign in the company of his morganatic wife Sophie von Dönhoff and his sons Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm and Prince Louis .

The campaign

The 250-kilometer march to the French border lasted twenty days. In France the predictions of the emigrants, such as the mass defection of French soldiers to the interveners and an enthusiastic reception of the liberators by the population, turned out to be completely inaccurate. A presumptuous manifesto of the Duke of Braunschweig on July 25th, written in the spirit of the emigrants , had increased their hostile mood. In Paris, the Tuileries Tower followed on August 10 , the Louis XVI. brought into captivity by the radical revolutionaries around Robespierre .

Map of the Champagne by PF Tardieu , 1797. In the upper part of the theater of war between Longwy [Lonwy] and Valmy

Because their catering system failed, the coalition army made slow progress. The starving and freezing soldiers among whom the dysentery was rampant began to plunder. Coming from Namur , the Austrian General Clairfayt and 11,000 men joined the coalition army in front of the Longwy fortress . On August 23, Longwy surrendered after a short bombardment and the crew was allowed to withdraw. This was repeated on September 2nd when the Verdun Fortress was handed over . Braunschweig stayed there for eight days.

The way to Paris led over the Argonne , a densely forested mountain range with few mountain passes . The French commander, General Charles-François Dumouriez , who was at the head of an army gathered near Sedan, had enough time with his almost 30,000 men to cross the pass at La Croix-aux-Bois east of Vouziers , the strait of Grandpré and the Block pass from Les Islettes at Sainte-Menehould .

Braunschweig set out on September 11th to cross the Ardennes near Grandpré. Clerfayt's Corps, reinforced by 6,000 Prussians under Lieutenant General Kalckreuth , had marched from Longwy to Stenay as his right flank and captured the pass at La Croix-aux-Bois on the 12th. Then at Vouziers a corps that Dumouriez had sent to meet it put to flight. Dumouriez therefore vacated Grandpré on the night of September 15, but, contrary to Braunschweig's expectations, did not go west, but south. Braunschweig followed him there, turning between Dumouriez and Clairfayt. This left the Austrians a day's march behind the Prussians.

French field gun (12 pounder, Gribeauval system )

Dumouriez stopped at Sainte-Menehould . He was expecting François-Christophe Kellermann's corps , which was almost entirely made up of veteran soldiers, advancing from Metz . On September 19th, it united with him. Dumouriez now had a good 50,000 men who took up positions in the village of Valmy. His troops suffered from a shortage of officers because many former royal officers had deserted. Half of the teams consisted of old soldiers and only half-trained and poorly equipped volunteers. The latter were morally weak because of their previous failures.

In contrast, the highly professional French artillery was considered intact. Their cannons were manufactured according to the new Gribeauval system and were therefore superior to the Prussian ones.

September 20, 1792

The cannonade and the first Prussian attack

On the morning of September 20, 1792, in fog and heavy drizzle, around 35,000 Prussians under the Duke of Braunschweig reached the French under Dumouriez and Kellermann, who were still on the march. From the heights near Valmy, the French artillery fired at the Prussian columns marching to the southeast. The cavalry under Duke Karl August von Sachsen-Weimar turned back and for the rest of the day positioned themselves outside the range of the French artillery on the road from Châlons to Sainte-Menehould. The Prussian artillery took up position and returned fire.

While there was a fierce artillery duel in the morning, the opposing troops formed with the fronts upside down. The Prussians had the Champagne , which they had not yet occupied , behind them , the French the Aisne , behind them the Argonne and the Prussian-occupied fortress Verdun.

After the fog had lifted in the early afternoon, Braunschweig ordered its infantry to attack the revolutionary army, which had formed on the crest of a range of hills, head-on in a linear combat formation . After "a few hundred" paces, a halt was made to bring the battalion guns forward. The French ranks began to totter in the face of the mechanical precision of the march, accompanied by a sound game , and the explosions of several of their own ammunition wagons . Then Kellermann managed to arouse courage and confidence in the soldiers with a short, fiery patriotic speech. The unrest in the French battle line perceived by the Prussians subsided, battle chants and cheers for the revolution rang out to them.

Second attack and termination of the fight

Prussian fusiliers 1792. From the uniforms of Richard Knötel , 1890

Braunschweig hesitated for four hours while the cannonade went on. In the afternoon he ordered the Prussian battalions to advance. This time the French did not waver. At a distance of 1200 paces from them, Braunschweig stopped the attack with the consent of the king, who had initially insisted on a decisive battle, and the Prussians retreated. At 5 p.m., both sides ceased artillery fire after allegedly firing 40,000 cannonballs together.

The reasons for the termination of the fight by Braunschweig lay in his fear of failure. His attack was supposed to lead over softened, loamy soil to an opponent who was now clearly determined to fight and advantageously standing on a hill. The enemy was numerically stronger and equipped with superior artillery. Braunschweig and then Friedrich Wilhelm too, the success seemed too uncertain. If it had failed, the army would have had no rear to retreat to, which in the worst case would have meant its dissolution.

The losses of around 300 dead and wounded on the French and 184 on the Prussian side were unusually low, because the fired bullets got stuck in the softened ground after the first impact and could not develop the effect of the roller shot . Nowhere were soldiers within rifle range of the enemy. Of the 13 Prussian infantry regiments, seven recorded no casualties, two reported one wounded each and the other four a total of 109 dead and wounded. The approximately 5000 strong cavalry mourned one dead and 14 wounded. The slightly higher French losses resulted from the ammunition explosions.

When Clerfayt and his corps arrived in the Prussian camp in the evening after the end of the fighting, the numbers between the two sides evened out.

Negotiations and withdrawal

Infantry flag of the Revolutionary Army with the motto
"The King, the Nation, Freedom, the Law". On the day of Valmy, France was still a constitutional monarchy.

In the Prussian leadership, the idea that already existed at the beginning of the campaign gained the upper hand that with the relatively small invasion army, even if a battle was won, the conquest of Paris in triumphal procession, the rescue of the king and an overthrow of the revolutionary order in all of France could not be achieved were. After the French defeat at Vouziers, on September 14th, Friedrich Wilhelm had promised Dumouriez peace or a change to the coalition camp. He himself wanted to guarantee the continued existence of the monarchy under Louis XVI. content. Dumouriez had refused any negotiation.

Now, after the cannonade, Dumouriez offered Friedrich Wilhelm the exchange of the captured Prussian cabinet councilor Lombard for captured French. During an informal ceasefire , Lieutenant Colonel Manstein and Dumouriez, accompanied by François-Joseph Westermann, conducted negotiations under this pretext . It was about a departure of Prussia from the coalition with Austria against guarantees in the sense desired by Friedrich Wilhelm. As a result of the news from Paris, especially of the September murders and the proclamation of the republic on September 21, the negotiations remained fruitless. However, all prisoners were exchanged.

On the tenth day after the cannonade, the Prussians, discouraged and weakened by disease, hunger and rain, retreated. Dumouriez, who by constant influx now had about 80,000 men, refrained from any pursuit. Clerfayt's corps also marched undisturbed to the Austrian Netherlands. Prussia gave up the occupied French territory including the fortresses Longwy and Verdun. Hundreds of sick Prussian soldiers remained in the hospitals. France had promised to return home unmolested after her recovery.

In the meantime a French army under Adam-Philippe de Custine had invaded Germany near Landau , while the Austrian Breisgau corps under Prince Esterházy remained inactive, Electoral Palatinate Bavaria declared itself neutral and the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt also refrained from hostilities. On October 21, the Electoral Mainz residence and fortress city of Mainz, manned by small contingents from the Imperial Army , surrendered to Custine without a fight.

On the day of Custine's entry into Mainz, the Prussian army crossed the imperial border into Luxembourg . The campaign in France was over. While still on French soil, King Friedrich Wilhelm had encouraged his soldiers to throw away their cartridges in order to facilitate the march.


Valmy myth

Kellermann's obelisk. In the background the chapel of his great-granddaughter, Princess Henriette Ginetti, and the Valmy mill, which was rebuilt in 2005.
Éloi Firmin Féron : The Duke of Chartres at Valmy . History painting from 1848.
The Valmy , here in 1867 as a training ship Borda

On September 21, 1792, the day after the cannonade, the king was declared deposed in Paris and the republic was proclaimed. The news of the “Victory at Valmy” acquired historical significance because the Prussians' standstill appeared to be a success of the Convention and thus of the Republic. The Revolutionary Army, which consisted of a mixture of veteran soldiers and inexperienced volunteers, had proven at Valmy that they could successfully resist the much more highly valued Prussian army. Thus the news of Valmy consolidated the rule of the convent in Paris. The exaggeration of the myth of the turning point, of victory, as Crane Brinton wrote in 1934, “contributed significantly to the production of victories that were not myths”.

Napoleon Bonaparte declared the day of Valmy as the beginning of the French triumphant march in Europe and placed it in the tradition of his empire. In 1804 he awarded Kellermann the title "Duke of Valmy". The successors continued. Under the government of Louis XVIII. Kellermann's heart was buried in an obelisk erected on the battlefield in 1820.

The "citizen king" Louis-Philippe I , who was an officer of the Revolutionary Army as Duke of Chartres, had the cannonade (1835) and his visit to the battlefield as a painting by Jean Baptiste Mauzaisse (1784–1844) for the National Museum in the Palace of Versailles King in 1831 and 1848 by Éloi Firmin Féron immortalized his presence at the cannonade.

The French navy named warships after Valmy, including the largest in the world in 1847.

According to the memory of Otto von Bismarck , the withdrawal from Champagne was forced by the Ruhr, i.e. by a diarrhea epidemic.

France's military leader in World War I, Ferdinand Foch , commented on “Valmy” with the words: “The wars of kings had ended and the wars of peoples began.”


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , who accompanied Duke Karl August von Sachsen-Weimar during the campaign , gave the cannonade a place in world history . Thirty years later, in his autobiographical report Campaign in France , he announced that on the evening after the Valmy cannonade he had made the following statement with a few officers:

"A new epoch in world history is starting from here and now, and you can say that you were there."

- Goethe

Recent literary studies deny that Goethe made this statement to the soldiers of the coalition on the evening of September 1792. Nobody except Goethe himself passed this sentence on. Arno Borst believes that the strategically rather insignificant, unplanned and undecided battle only acquired the status of a historical event through the Goethe words written down in 1820/1821, without having been one: “This is the purest example of a history of the impact of works of art that thinks. ”Goethe's words became popular after 1822, from then on they were hardly missing in any publication on the cannonade.

Goethe had put the German dead at "only twelve hundred men". The number is apparently fictitious or goes back to a printing or copying error. Nevertheless, it is occasionally passed on, for example by the Australian Prussian historian Christopher Clark , or embellished as by Dieter Hildebrandt , who describes Valmy as a “terrible bloodbath” in which “Prussians and Austrians” are “literally crushed by the French's“ huge cannonade ” “Were.


The two Kellermann monuments: the statue on the left, the obelisk on the right
The Kellermann statue

Since 1892 there has also been a Kellermann statue on the battlefield near the obelisk, showing the general at the moment of his rousing speech. Goethe's famous words are carved into the monument.

The site is now also adorned with a statue of the South American freedom hero Francisco de Miranda , a participant who was appointed General of the Revolutionary Army after the Valmy Day, and a bust of his pupil Simón Bolívar .

The battlefield is on the Voie de la Liberté , which is reminiscent of an American tank.


  • Arno Borst : Valmy 1792 - a historic event? In: Der Deutschunterricht , Volume 26, Issue 6, December 1974, pp. 88-104
  • Georg Eckert: From Valmy to Leipzig, sources and documents on the Prussian army reform . North German publishing house O. Goedel, Hanover / Frankfurt 1955
  • Karl Fritzsche (Ed.): General and Jacobin. Memoirs of General Dumouriez (with explanations by the editor and translator). Voigtländer, Leipzig 1912
  • Curt Jany : History of the Prussian Army from the 15th Century to 1914. Third Volume 1763–1807. Second supplemented edition, edited by Eberhard Jany . Biblio, Osnabrück 1967, pp. 236-259
  • Edith Zehm: The French Campaign of 1792. Forms of its literarization in Johann Conrad Wagner's diary and in Goethe's “Campagne in France” . Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1985 (= Europäische Hochschulschriften. Series 1, German Language and Literature, Volume 835), ISBN 3-8204-8711-5 .

Web links

Commons : Cannonade of Valmy  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. For the numbers see Albert Soboul : The great French Revolution. An outline of their history (1789–1799) . Athenaeum, Frankfurt am Main 1988, ISBN 3-610-08518-5 , pp. 235f.
  2. The figures for the campaign, including the following, are based on Jany (literature). They can also be found in recent publications.
  3. ^ Gerd Heinrich : History of Prussia. State and Dynasty , Ullstein, Berlin 1984, ISBN 3-548-34216-7 , pp. 258-261
  4. Wolfgang Neugebauer: The Hohenzollern: The Hohenzollern. Volume 2: Dynasty in Secular Change. From 1740 to the 20th century , Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 978-3-17-012097-6 , pp. 63–66, on Poland p. 66
  5. The following description is based on Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann: King in Prussia's great time. Friedrich Wilhelm III. the melancholic on the throne . Siedler, Berlin 1992 ISBN 3-88680-327-9 , pp. 73-81, who critically appreciates the diary-like notes of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm. He commanded an infantry brigade under General Courbière and was in the second meeting of the order of battle with his battalions.
  6. ^ Dictionary of German Military History , Volume 2 Mi-Z, Military Publishing House of the German Democratic Republic, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-327-00239-8 , p. 1016
  7. ^ Presentation of the negotiation process at Ludwig Häusser: German history from the death of Frederick the Great to the establishment of the German Confederation. First volume. FW Hendel Verlag, Meersburg, Naunhof, Leipzig 1933, pp. 343-361
  8. ^ The promise was kept, Jany, p. 256
  9. Jany, p. 257, with references
  10. ^ Keyword "Valmy" in Bernd Jeschonnek: Revolution in France 1789–1799. A lexicon. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-05-000801-6 , pp. 232-233
  11. Crane Brinton: Europe in the Age of the French Revolution German edition by Peter Richard Rohden . Seidel, Vienna 1939, p. 194
  12. This painting by Mauzaisse (296 × 678 cm)
    Mauzaisses painting of the cannonade in the National Museum in Versailles
    shows a greatly enlarged section of the above painting by Horace Vernet (174.6 × 287 cm) with a truncated sky zone.
  13. ^ Bismarck, Otto von: thoughts and memories, vol. II 1864-1888, Munich and Berlin 1920, p. 50f.
  14. ^ Quote from Uwe A. Oster: Prussia. Story of a kingdom . Piper, Munich, Zurich 2010, ISBN 978-3-492-05191-0 , p. 185
  15. ↑ On this: Edith Zehm (list of literature), pp. 305–309, older: G [ustav]. Roethe : Goethe's Campagne in France 1792. A philological investigation from the world wars. Weidmann, Berlin 1919, pp. 167 and 218
  16. ^ Karl Otto Conrady: Goethe. Life and work. Artemis & Winkler, Zurich 1994, p. 565 .
  17. Arno Borst (literature), p. 101
  18. Arno Borst (list of literature) takes a critical look at various loss information, p. 88f.
  19. It can be found in older and more recent Goethe editions, such as here in Goethe's works. Complete edition last hand. Volume 30, JG Cotta'sche Buchhandlung, Stuttgart and Tübingen 1829, p. 73, while in the text rendering in the Gutenberg project, see “September 19 at night” at the point “only two hundred men” can be read
  20. ^ In: Prussia. Rise and fall 1600–1947 Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-421-05392-3 , p. 338 (without reference)
  21. In a polemic against the reconstruction of the Berlin City Palace , see Dieter Hildebrandt: Das Berliner Schloss. Germany's empty center. Hanser, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-446-23768-1 , p. 128, with Goethe's campaign in France as evidence.

Coordinates: 49 ° 4 ′ 46 "  N , 4 ° 45 ′ 56"  E