Rochambeau’s army order book, unpublished, transcribed in full and put into context by the author, brings us into daily life of french army. No, the French army was not idle! This source is the last proof of the daily decision-making by the general staff in order to build a coherent structure and military confidence in an operational framework in foreign territory from July 1780 to August 1781. It reveals the instruments of the secret of success and of cooperation. This first volume covers the initial period in Newport from July 1780 to April 1781.
The popular heroes Washington and La Fayette during the War of Independence knew how to cultivate an image linking the New and the Old world, the wize and the idealist. They embody all of these anonymous people who have allowed them to go down in history. However, this war of independence is far from having revealed all its secrets. These anonymous French civilians, soldiers and officers who made up Rochambeau’s expeditionary corps, projected at the world’s end, serving the French curial and diplomatic “great design” suddenly emerge in this book.
How does this army, which has become the most formidable European martial instrument, act in close combination with the navy to take its revenge against England? This order book was not the result of chance, but of the meeting of the most serious and brilliant staff minds whose rigor makes it possible to trace this life devoid of judgment from the late rewriting of other sources. It anticipates and responds to every hassle of everyday life. If it transcribes few emotions, it gives them a chronological structure in order to cross the priorities of the staff and those of the individuals.
This text, associated with numerous testimonies, makes it possible to give a structure to the doubts, uncertainties, behaviors and logics of these characters in a complex society that has now passed. This original adventure, mixed with feelings and professionalism of soldiers and warriors, echoes the search for modernity and economy of blood during a war that unleashed violence to the detriment of tacit conventions and ideals. The motivations testify to the penetration acquired or under construction, even rejections, in transatlantic relations and cultural transfers in the taming between Americans and French from their first meetings.
Personal relations, fights with iron, ink, powder, money, and family honor were this daily life that Rochambeau’s Army Order Book allows us to trace up to the final confrontation in using all the games of war, including within its own allies. Operational planning or the art of command are not defined in this sense at that time, but of networks, circles, castes, tracing that of a family.
At a time when tensions are growing, diversifying and intensifying in an international context, questions around Defense also join the cultural fields of the commemorations planned by the United States from 2026 to celebrate the anniversary of their war of independence. It is in this current and in order to reactivate with enthusiasts of military gesture that a curious public appreciating the social sciences, another approach of this way of living during a conflict. The decisive place occupied by the French must fully invest the historiographical field. It was during this period when France contributed by blood and money to a distant conflict that it felt immediate and delayed repercussions in the depths of its territories and its population.
About the Author
Arnaud Blondet, a graduate of the IHRF of Paris I Sorbonne, is a professor certified, teaching History Geography in state school. Passionate about 18th-century history, this book is the result of ten years of research on the movement of military Enlightenment and the Comte de Rochambeau and the de Broglie
Enthusiast of re-enactment, by reproducing the uniforms and objects of this era, in particular the character of the Count of Rochambeau, he is president of the association Les Chasseurs de Rochambeau whose goal is to promote the history of this entry into the modernity of the French soldier as a professional and expert during different events.
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