General Turreau’s tactics in the Vendee (1794)

Louis Marie Turreau was a French revolutionary general, best known for commanding the Colonnes Infernales who crushed the Vendee uprising in 1793-94. Here Turreau, writing to the Convention’s minister for war in January 1794, describes the tactics he wants to employ there:

“My purpose is to burn everything, to leave nothing but what is essential to establish the necessary quarters for exterminating the rebels.

This great measure is one which you should prescribe. You should also make an advance statement as to the fate of the women and children we will come across in this rebellious countryside. If they are all to be put to the sword, I cannot undertake such action without authorization. All brigands caught bearing arms, or convicted of having taken up arms to revolt against their country, will be bayoneted. The same will apply to girls, women and children in the same circumstances. Those who are merely under suspicion will not be spared either, but no execution may be carried out except by previous order of the general.

All villages, farms, woods, heathlands, generally anything which will burn, will be set on fire, although not until any perishable supplies found there have been removed. But, it must be repeated, these executions must not take place until so ordered by the general.

I hasten to describe to you the measures which I have just put in hand for the extermination of all remaining rebels scattered about the interior of the Vendee. I was convinced that the only way to do this was by deploying a sufficient number of columns, to spread right across the countryside and effect a general sweep, which would completely purge the districts as they passed. Tomorrow these 12 columns will set out simultaneously, moving from east to west. Each column commander has orders to search and burn forests, villages, market towns and farms, omitting those places which I consider important posts or essential for establishing communications.”