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Battle of Valmy, 20th September 1792

Listed under Battlefields in Champagne, France.

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On top of a hill in northeast France stands a simple, yet elegant monument marking the spot under which the heart of one of France’s first generals of the republic is buried. The heart in question wasn’t stilled in battle but by old age, and the general, Francois-Christoph Kellermann, requested that his heart be buried under the hill in Valmy with the remains of his fallen comrades from the Battle of Valmy. The battle this monument remembers is significant because of it’s aftermath, which cemented the survival of the French Revolution, and though the battlefield and surrounds are not the most exciting you can visit and the battle itself lacked the drama of many that have been selected for this list, it should still be included for it’s historical importance.

The story of the Battle of Valmy: French forces from the central, Armee de Centre and the north, Armee du Nord, who were protecting the revolutionary forces and the new democracy in Paris met the invading Prussian army, bent on crushing the fledgling democracy, on the road between Verdun and Paris. Brunswick lead the Prussian army who were recruited in the traditional way while the French forces were the first made up of citizen soldiers. The Prussians took Longwy easily and though Valmy was considered harder to defend than Longwy, the French armies moved into position to block the march on Paris. Brunswick had almost flanked the French when, under Kellermann’s leadership, the 45,000 men of the French infantry held their forward position in the line while the French artillery bombarded the Prussian army on the lower ground. The Prussian infantry of 35,000 men lost only about 200, but were unable to mobilise to continue their manoeuvres, while the French lost around 300 men but felt victorious and the Prussians retired. The following day the new democracy in Paris voted to abolish the monarchy. Brunswick turned tail nine days later without firing another shot.

The engagement was predominantly artillery, casualties minimal and the outcome was tactically inconclusive, but the confidence the new kind of army won from the battle shaped the attitude of the republic and would see Kellermann name it as his greatest contribution and tie his memory and heart to it for all time.

Written by  Anthony Harrison.

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