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Military society

Military society

The military population

Although more than two-thirds of its officers had risen from the ranks, military society remained a closed affair. General Bach counted some 300 active generals, nearly 800 colonels and lieutenant colonels, and more than 7,000 captains. Although their troops were from the working class, officers came from the bourgeoisie, although the aristocracy was socially over-represented in the army.

Even if they had graduated from top military schools like Saint-Cyr or the Ecole Polytechnique, officers' wages were fairly modest, with captains earning a mere 5,000 francs a year. Their career files thus listed the financial situations of both officers and their spouses. Indeed, it was advisable that they serve in the garrison towns that were listed in the mandatory authorizations from their commanding officers, which were cited in the marriage license.

According to the law of 27 July 1872, men in active military service were deprived of the right to vote, and military service became mandatory, exception for clergymen, teachers and those supporting a family-the French army had more than 400,000 men under the colors. Infantry continued to be the army's mainstay, with 163 regiments of front-line infantry supported by 91 regiments of cavalry of 5 squadrons each, and backed by another 40 infantry regiments.

The army's motto

A number of officers were wary of the Republic's motto, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, because they thought it ran counter to military discipline. They glorified the soldier's motto, Honor and Country, which could be seen on the tri-colored flag: "when it unfurls high and proud, France is great (…) It should be the soldier's pride and glory, who must swear to defend it with the last drop of his blood."

Politically, there were many royalists in the army, in every rank, by 59% of the officers accepted a republican government. A total of 82% of the artillerymen were affiliated with republicanism, and the staff of their officer's training school at Fontainebleau claimed that 89% of their number were republicans. Patriotism remained a shared value.


Residents of Montmartre watch the cavalry passing by

Group of officers at the second Dreyfus trial

"Mourir pour la Patrie" (Song of the Girondists)