Revue Historiques des Armées, 244 (2006), p. 112-123
Revolution, Empire and bad soldiers. Throughout the XIXth Century France was undoubtedly took the lead, of all the Powers, in the penal repression of its soldiers. The number, diversity, regulations, harshness of punishments provide evidence that underpins this conclusion. Everything really began with the Revolution and Revolutionary Wars, and the rising significance of conscription. Certain military offences then developed: desertion, self-mutilation and insubordination, among others. It was by means of a correspondence to each of these offences that punishment regimes were developed. The process that might be described as a rationalisation was by no means a simplification however. Indeed the situation that resulted possessed a rare degree of complexity considering that it obtained for a relatively short period of time, the twenty-five years from 1789-1814. Nevertheless certain main traits did emerge: the principle of the separation of offences into categories: desertion/disobedience/personal mutilation/insubordination etc.; the disciplinary regime became stricter – and a sub-division occurred in a category of units by the establishment in 1811 of the colonial battalions, and the formalising of two levels of punishment; the transportation of military offenders to islands off the coast, to naval bases and to overseas territories became the rule; the employment of men on varieties of military duty as their punishment: guard duties, working parties and so forth, as a guiding principle of policy. These arrangements were carefully codified. But this legal codification was fashioned according to circumstances and need. Moreover it was subject to officially-approved irregularities, such as the sending to the penal units of civilian malefactors on the orders of the prefects of police, and the inter-mixing of different categories of miscreants in the same punishment unit, for example. The colonial battalions, consisting of deserters, civilians ordered overseas by the prefects of police, and those who had volunteered for the colonies were the only units maintained after the Restoration.