Saturday, 28 December 2013

Sapeurs de la Garde

The uniform worn by the Sapeurs of the Grenadiers a Pied is supposedly well known, but from primary archival sources the uniform may not be what we expect to see...


The well-known heavily lace Habit de Grande Tenue is depicted only twice in contemporary iconography, in both instances associated with the Coronation of Napoleon I. The print-maker Hoffmann shows a Sapeur wearing the familiar habit with lavish gold lace to the collar; lapels and button holes; cuffs and cuff flaps and their button holes; turn backs and presumably the turnbacks, long pockets and their button holes.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Drums and Fifes at Waterloo

Perhaps one of the enduring myths - and certainly images - of the Napoleonic army is the 'brave little drummer boy', perhaps best summed up in the somewhat saccharine painting by Lady Butler 'Steady the drums and fifes' depicting golden-haired innocent youths caught up in the hell of war. The historical reality, however, is that drummers were most definately not boys: they were grown men.
 No. 3040 Henry Wattel. Born in Lille 10 November 1794 (aged  21 at Waterloo) was 1m 70 tall and volunteered into the 3e Regiment des Grenadiers 1 May 1815. He served as Tambour (Drummer) in 2e Co., 1e Battn., 3e Regiment at Waterloo where he was taken prisoner.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Whitening leather - Napoleonic style

From the Manuel Complete de Sous-Officier

"It is boiled in water, so as to make it white after having finely seived it, it dilutes the ground up pipeclay .
You do not make this mixture too thick or clear top, it extends on the cold leather equipment
that is bleached white. If the leather equipment is new, he must scrape the sides that do not require whitening, and there is a solution of white pipe clay of spain, you put on as many layers that are required for them to be fully white."
Manuel des Gardes Nationale 1830
"The same can dissolve one ounce of white lead, two ounces of hide glue with one ounce of white soap flakes in two litres of water and boil the mixture, taking care to stir, to avoid
the lightest parts floating to the top, which would prevent the mixture blending, then there mingl a slight amount of powder blue."
"The following method also with advantage: it is to boil a pinch of starch, after, having diluted in a quantity of water is sufficient to whiten a leather equipment, add six times as much powdered pipeclay, and Stir this mixture on the fire until perfectly boiling,[then] we add a few drops of azure blue to the whitening... Care must be taken when you want to bleach the leather, soak it in clear water to remove all remaining white and loose under the new layers, and
damage to their effect. When the leather equipment is stitched, we mark the line with a pencil."
A British recipe, c.1820
Take 6 pounds of the finest pipe-clay, pound it very small, put it in a tub, and put to it about 5
gallons of cold water. Let it remain for two or three days, stirring it now and then. Then take 6
ounces of gum dragon, and put it into 4 quarts of boiling water, and cover it up close for two or
three days. When the gum is well dissolved, take a fine hair sieve, and strain it into the pipe-clay, and keep stirring the pipe-clay well all the time you are doing this. Then take half an ounce of stone blue, and dissolve it well amongst your colouring (this gives a clear gloss to the belts). Let it allremain one day longer, and it will be fit for use, putting it on lightly and evenly with a sponge."

Thursday, 18 April 2013

French Infantry in 1815

The French Army probably did not look as we expect it to - films such as "Waterloo", reenactments and monumental paintings show the Infantry in particular wearing Imperial uniforms conforming to the 1812 reglement. But, the army during the "Hundred Days" was not the army of Napoleon, but the army of Louis.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Uniforms of the Garde Royale

The Garde Royale was formed 1 September 1815 and it's familar uniform was adopted a month later.

The Infantry was organised as a single Division of three Brigades, each Brigade having its own distinctive colour:

                    Regiments      Colour      Location
1e Brigade   1e Regiment   Crimson    Cuffs. Turnbacks
                    4e Regiment   Crimson    Cuff flaps. Turnbacks

2e Brigade  2e Regiment   Scarlet      Cuffs. Turnbacks
                   5e Regiment   Scarlet      Cuff flaps. Turnbacks

3e Brigade   3e Regiment   Jonquille  Cuffs. Turnbacks
                   6e Regiment   Jonquille   Cuff flaps. Turnbacks

Within each regiment,the 1st and 2nd Battalions each had one Grenadier Company, one company of Voltigeurs and six companies of Fusiliers.
The 3rd Battalion had one company of Carabiniers (who wore bearskins without a plate), six companies of Chasseurs and one of Voltigeurs.

Officiers a la Suite

   One of the most enduring and pernicious myths surrounding the Imperial Guard during the Bourbon Restoration is that the Parisian Cafes were filled with former Guard officers and half-pay men, who had been ejected from the new Royal Corps of Grenadiers or Chasseurs, grumbling into their coffee. Yet such an image does not stand up to rigorous scrutiny.


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Infanterie de la Garde Royale

In 1814 there had been considerable discussion as to what to do with the former Imperial Guard; The Provisional Government had wished to disband the organisation entirely but it took the support of the Duc de Berri (youngest son of Louis XVIII ) and the Duc de Reggio (Marechal Oudinot) in the Legislature to save it. The young Duc argued for the retention of the  ex-Guard as means of drawing the army to the new regime and of keeping a well-trained elite reserve. The Duc de Dalmatie (Marechal Soult) had argued against the breaking-up  of the Guard as it would rob the army of it's reserve but also "distribute malcontents" throughout other units in the army or the civil populace.Keeping the Guard together meant it was easier to control any malcontents.

 Following Napoleon's second abdication of 1815 the question of what to do with the Guard was again a major issue. As in 1814 there was much debate, but again it was decided to disband the Young Guard and maintain the Old Guard regiments as the 'Garde Royale' as the elite reserve of the French army. Unlike in 1814 when the change from 'Garde Imperiale' to 'Corps Royale' was perhaps little more than a re-branding exercise - in 1815 there was a deliberate attempt to break with what had gone before.


Monday, 8 April 2013

Corps Royale des Grenadiers de France

  The 11-month history of the Corps Royale des Grenadiers de France is invariably over-looked (as is much during the Restoration of 1814) as a mere hiccough or mistake on the inexeroable road to Waterloo. But it would be a mistake to overlook the history of the Corps Royale when trying to understand the Imperial Guard (Garde Imperiale) during the disastrous Hundred Days campaign.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Sapeurs de la Garde

Although those men picked to perform 'the qaulity of a sapeur' were meant to be chosen on rotation, for the duration of a campaign, it becomes clear from reading their Livrets that the appointment of sapeur was to reward long-service, meritorious soldiers who probably stood little chance of being promoted above corporal. Furthermore, it is abundantly clear these men were career soldiers, serving Revolutionary, Imperial and Royal governments: most of their careers followed a similar - if not the same - trajectory.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Sapeurs d'Infanterie - Part 2

Part 2: Equipment

 Apron (Tablier)

The Journal Militiare for 1813 states that the Tablier du Sapeur was:

'Made from white thin buffalo leather [En buffle blanc legere],  with a loop of the same piece as the apron, is fastened around the neck of the garment by means of a belt and rolls of a button, to the right, and around the waist over the undergarment by means of two large thongs.'

The Tablier was 1m 150 overall and was to reach to 330mm from the ground. The loop which went around the neck and fastened with a leather button was 210mm long and the two lanieres were each 950mm in length. It was 550mm wide at the mid point and 850 at the bottom edge.

Sapeurs d'Infanterie

Part 1: Origins and Organisation

Despite being amongst the most iconic soldiers of the French Empires – the infantry sapeur - very little is actually known about them.

The term sapeur can be traced back in the French Army into the mid to late seventeenth century, where it referred to an engineer who dug trenches and built field fortifications. Indeed, the very word sapeur literally means a “man who digs trenches”. In the Napoleonic Army, infantry sapeurs should not be confused with the sapeurs of the Engineer Corps.

 Sapeurs have existed in the French army since the late 17th century. Originally they were the senior mess in a company whose duty it was to guard a camp at night. They were equipped with tools to carry out engineering works. But it is appropriate of establishing here a summary distinction between these soldiers equipped of an axe; indeed, the sappers of artillery or the genie must be considered like specialist soldiers who fortified buildings and created earthworks. Of these tools, the axe carried by the sapeurs is the sole remainder.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Extracts from "Manual for the Sub-Officers of the Regiments of the Royal Guard", c.1820


"The men are expected to wash and shave daily using the hot water which is provided in the large basin.
The Sub-Officers of all regiments and the Sub-Officers and Soldats of the 1st and 2nd Regiment are allowed to grow the moustache. The moustache is to be no longer than the depth of the upper lip. The Sub-Officers and Soldats are forbidden from using wax.
The Sidebeards are to be worn to the depth of the earlobe.
The Hair to be cropped short" - if the Sergent-Major was able to "take hold" of the hair on the back of the head it was too long!
"The feet of the men are to be inspected every week."

Monday, 11 February 2013

5th Squadron during the Hundred Days

On the 30th May 1815, Napoléon wrote to General Drouot, authorising the formation of second, Young Guard, regiment of Grenadiers a Cheval. It was to be organised in accordance with the decree of 8th April 1815 with an establishment of 46 officers and 829 men.[1]

Friday, 8 February 2013

Grenadier et Cuirassier

An interesting sketch in the A S K Brown Collection, dated 1806 purporting to show a Grenadier a Cheval and a Cuirassier at rest.