‘It Still Makes Me Shudder’
Memories of Massacres and Atrocities during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars
Philip G. Dwyer
This article looks at a number of French testimonies of massacres during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars committed by combatants, for the most part against civilians. Much of what we know about massacres is based on personal testimonies that are invariably from the perspective of the perpetrator, in this case, troops of the Grande Armée. Just as important as understanding why massacres occurred is to understand how they were rep- resented, recalled and remembered by those who witnessed them. In this, memoirs become an indispensable tool for what they tell us about how the killings were justified, either from the individual or the state’s point of view, and for the insights one can glean into the minds of those that either com- mitted or witnessed the atrocities taking place. Descriptions of massacres are commonly used to highlight the horror of war rather than the horror of the event itself. Massacre was also a means of underlining the difficulties encountered by the French in conquering, that is, in ‘civilizing’, Europe. Massacre, the article concludes, was an accepted if not an acceptable part of eighteenth-century European warfare. This, however, did not attenuate the horror; it was something that many veterans had difficulty recalling, even decades after the events described.