Firing Squads of Nantes
Besides drowning men, women, and children in the Loire River in mass executions, Jean-Baptiste Carrier established a unit of Republican troops which he called the Legion of Marat. These troops reported directly to him in Nantes, and their mission was to ensure that any anti-Republican sentiment of any kind was quashed by arresting those expressing it, or even hinting at such belief. The men of the Legion of Marat had the authority to enter any building, including private homes, without warrants or higher authority of any kind. They could break down doors and enter any building whenever they wished.
Carrier in the meanwhile had set up the tribunals which condemned some to execution by drowning in the Loire, but this was by no means the only form of execution he used. Executions by drowning were done secretly, at night, and thus lacked the same effect on morale and civic obedience to be attained from public executions. The prisoners simply vanished from their cells, and though there were whispers, there was less shock value to help ensure compliance with Republican thought. Execution by firing squad occurred as well to supplement the drownings and demonstrate authority.
Firing squads were assembled from the local Republican troops, the same garrison which had defeated the Royalists at the Battle of Nantes. It was Carrier’s belief that the use of firing squads for executions both enhanced his authority over the populace through the element of fear and hardened the troops ordered to carry out the execution. Thus in both the civilian and military community disciplined was enhanced. Despite shortages of some supplies, including gunpowder, then plaguing France, he ordered certain prisoners to be taken directly from the tribunal which condemned them to a quarry for execution.
He preferred not to shoot male adult prisoners unless they were priests. About 300 priests were summarily executed by Carrier’s firing squads near Nantes, in addition to the several hundred drowned. Five hundred children were executed by being shot, a child then being someone under the age of 14 or so. He also had shot 264 women, many of them the mothers of the children being executed. In some instances he had them shot together, in others children were forced to watch their mother die before being shot themselves.
Jean-Baptiste Carrier was called to Paris to give evidence at the trial of Robespierre in 1794. Upon arrival denunciations were directed at him from both Paris and Nantes. He shrugged off his role in the executions, claiming that it was the tribunals which ordered them, and that he had little to do with the performance of their duties. He was executed on the guillotine after the jury at his trial voted unanimously of his guilt of the crimes committed in the name of the Republic at Nantes.