The Battle of Valmy was the first major victory by the army of France during the Revolutionary Wars that followed the French Revolution. The action took place on 20 September 1792 as Prussian troops commanded by the Duke of Brunswick attempted to march on Paris, generals François Kellermann and Charles Dumouriez stopped the advance near the northern village of Valmy in Champagne-Ardenne. The outcome was unexpected by contemporary observers – a vindication for the French revolutionaries. The victory emboldened the newly assembled National Convention to formally declare the end of monarchy in France, Valmy permitted the development of the Revolution and all its resultant ripple-effects, and for that it is regarded by historians as one of the most significant battles in history. As the French Revolution continued, the monarchies of Europe became concerned that revolutionary fervor would spread to their countries, the War of the First Coalition was an effort to stop the revolution, or at least contain it to France. King Frederick William II of Prussia had the support of Great Britain, the French commander Charles Dumouriez, meanwhile, had been marching his army northeast to attack the Austrian Netherlands, but this plan was abandoned because of the more immediate threat to Paris. A second army under General François Kellermann was ordered to link up with him in a mutual defense and these veterans provided a professional core to steady the enthusiastic volunteer battalions. Combined, Dumouriez Army of the North and Kellermanns Army of the Centre totalled approximately 54,000 troops. Heading towards them was Brunswicks coalition army of about 84,000, all veteran Prussian and Austrian troops augmented by large complements of Hessians and the French royalist Army of Condé. The invading army handily captured Longwy on 23 August and Verdun on 2 September, in response, Dumouriez halted his advance to the Netherlands and reversed course, approaching the enemy army from its rear. From Metz, Kellermann moved to his assistance, joining him at the village of Sainte-Menehould on 19 September, the French forces were now east of the Prussians, behind their lines. The unfavorable situation was compounded by bad weather and an increase in sickness among the troops. With few other options available, Brunswick turned back and prepared to do battle, the troops trudged laboriously through a heavy downpour – rain as of the days of Noah, in the words of Thomas Carlyle. Brunswick headed through the northern woods believing he could cut off Dumouriez, at the moment when the Prussian manœuvre was nearly completed, Kellermann advanced his left wing and took up a position on the slopes between Sainte-Menehould and Valmy. His command centered around an old windmill, and his veteran artillerists were well-placed upon its accommodating rise to begin the so-called Cannonade of Valmy, Brunswick moved toward them with about 34,000 of his troops. As they emerged from the woods, a gunnery duel ensued. The Prussian infantry made a cautious, and fruitless, effort to advance under fire across the open ground, as the Prussians wavered, a pivotal moment was reached when Kellermann raised his hat and made his famous cry of Vive la Nation. The cry was repeated again and again by all the French army, the French troops sang La Marseillaise and Ça Ira, and a cheer went up from the French line
Image: Valmy Battle painting
Valmy obelisk with statue of Kellermann
A modern replica of the windmill at Valmy stands amid a memorial site.