Reports on rebels fighting in the Vendee uprising (1793)

The following extracts are from reports made by government officials, commenting on peasant rebels participating in the Vendee uprising:

“It is impossible to calculate the number of rebels; it is almost equal to the population of the region, for they are forcing everyone to march. Their armies consist of about twenty to twenty-five thousand men. For the greater part they are armed with pitchforks, spikes, cudgels, etc. They have about a hundred cannon, though no assault guns. They often lack gunpowder, and you will be angry to learn that our very own volunteers have been selling cartridges to them so as to be able to buy butter and eggs and other campaign supplies…

THE rebel army never stayed together for more than three or four days. Once the battle was won or lost, nothing would keep the peasants together and they went off back home. Only the leaders remained, together with a few hundred deserters or foreigners who had no families to return to; but as soon as another venture was planned the army quickly took shape again.

Messages were sent round all the parishes, the tocsin was rung; all the peasants flocked in. Each soldier brought his own bread, and in addition the generals took care to have a supply baked. Meat was distributed to the troops. Corn and cattle necessary for supplies were requisitioned by the generals, and care was taken to have this expense borne by the nobles, great landowners and emigres’ estates; but it was not always necessary to make requisitions; people were anxious to contribute voluntarily; villages subscribed to the cost of sending wagons of bread to meet the army as it passed; peasant women knelt saying the rosary along the route, offering supplies to the soldiers.

No one ever said to the soldiers: Right turn, left turn.’ They were told, ‘Go towards that house, towards that big tree,’ and then the attack began. The peasants hardly ever failed to say their prayers before launching an attack, and they almost all crossed themselves each time they were about to fire.”