Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Tenue des Sapeurs

Dress of Imperial Guard Sapeurs, 1813-1815

For his famous series of plates of the French Army of the Napoleonic period, Martinet of Paris produced many of prints based on sketches taken from life. However, many commentators have often, and eroneously, assumed his print of "Sapeur de la Garde" or "Sapeur ex-Garde" was perhaps not in fact Imperial Guard at all, or perhaps Young Guard.  In fact, as analysis of the regimental archives of the Grenadiers and Chasseurs a Pied of the Imperial Guard show, Martinet's plate was probably drawn from life and confirms iconographically the data drawn from the regimental archives.

Upon the dissolution of the Grenadiers a Pied de la Garde in July 1814 the following articles relating to the Sapeurs were issued:

1e Regiment.
Tabliers = 22
Gants a Crispins = 22 pairs (2 pairs need mending)
Porte-hache avec etui du Hache = 22
Ceinturons = 22

2e Regiment
No Sapeur equipment listed

Regiment des Grenadiers-Fusiliers

Bonnets d'Ourson = 5 (2 needed mending)
Porte-Hache = 5
Tabliers = 5
Gants a Cripsin = 5
Ceinturons = 4

In the magazine:
 25 Haches des Sapeur
25 Ceinturons
6 prs of "Haches brodee en Or" (axes embroidered in gold)

The Chasseurs a Pied de la Garde, at the same date possessed:

1e Chasseurs a Pied
Tabliers = 9
Porte Hache avec etui = 9
Gants a Crispin (pairs) = 9
Ceinturons = 9

2e Chasseurs a Pied
Tabliers = 6
Porte-Haches = 6
Gants a Crispin = 6
Ceinturons = 6


Bonnets d'Oursin = 2
Tabliers = 2
Porte-hache = 2
Ceinturon = 2

In the magazine
24 Haches de sapeur

17 pairs tetes de meduse

No special bearskins (other than for the Fusiliers), epaulettes or uniform coats for the sapeurs are listed either on issue or in the magazine suggesting that they did not exist. Furthermore, upon the final winding-up of the Imperial Guard in 1818 - when the accounts were finally settled! - whilst habits for musicians as well as stocks of Imperial Blue and Crimson cloth for the musicians were in stores, along with tassells for boots, cocked hats and various widths of gold lace for musicians, there were no special  dress habits for the sapeurs. Nor was there any special lace  listed.

The stores and magazines of the Chasseurs a Pied  on 1 December 1818 included:

Tetes de Meduse = 15
Plaques Jaune a l'Aigle pour Sapeurs = 60
Ceinturons de Sapeurs en bouffle = 54
Bretelles de Carabines des Sapeurs = 36
Gants a Crispins = 40 pairs 

Porte-Haches avec leurs Banderoles, garni de leurs petit gibernes a escusson a aigle = 12
Haches de Sapeur en Fer = 6

Magazine returns from 1814, 1815 and 1818 make it clear that the Banderole porte-hache  was decorated with a simple tete de meduse: no other devices are listed in the stores or magazines. The banderole decorated with multiple brass devices is not supported from primary archival evidence: either from stores/issue returns or from magazine returns. Furthermore, stores returns indicate that the banderole porte-hache with its tete de meduse remained in the magazines on campaign, along with the tablier, ceinturon and gants a crispin. In other words, the distinctive elements of a sapeurs' dress were parade items only. It is also clear that the port-hache had on the giberne flap a small brass eagle. The "plaques Jaune a l'Aigle" for the sapeurs is listed separately to the petit giberne on the porte-hache whicih raises the interesting possibility that sapeurs had plates on their bearskins. Again, no special lace, epaulettes or habits are listed for sapeurs.

Embroidery listed for the sapeurs included "haches brodee en jaune" (ie axes embroidered in yellow wool); "haches decoupe simple" (cut out cloth axes) and "garnitures pour sapeurs brodee en or" (devices for sapeurs embroidered in gold). We know that the Corps Royal des Grenadiers/Chasseurs de France had white, latterly silver, embroidered arm badges and that the re-established Imperial Guard of 1815 initially had yellow badges utntil ones in gold could be produced. Therefore, the "aches brodee en jaune" listed in 1818 may relate to 1815.  The only epaulettes for NCOs listed are two pairs for the Adjutant Sous-Officer who also had red and gold bearskin chords. No distinctive epaulettes,  or bearskin chords for Sergeants and Sergeant-Majors are listed suggesting that that they were not made and not issued. None remained in the magazines. Listed in the magazines are gold embroidered grenades and cors de chasse on white cloth for NCO  - and presumably also sapeur turn back ornaments. It is also worth nothing, no special epaulettes,  bearskin chords or uniforms with lace for the drummres (Tambours) is listed either!

Also  listed was an oil-cloth "etui" for the axe-head (to stop it rusting) as well as an "etui" for the porte-hache.

Initial anylsis of regimental paperwork for the period 1811-1814 suggests that no new equipment or uniform items for the sapeurs was purchased after 1811, suggesting those items in listed in returns 1814-1818 were probably made and issued before 1811.

From this data we can tentatively reconstruct the appearance of a sapeur in Grande Tenue 1813-1815

Bearskin (bonnet a poil), with white chords, plume and potentially a plate.
A simple  habit with red epaulettes and gold-embroidered axes on the sleeves; gold embroidered grenades/grenades and cors de chasse on the turnbacks.
Banderole porte-hache decorated with a large brass buckle and a single tete de meduse; the petit giberne decorated with a brass eagle.
Porte-sabre, potentially decorated with a tete de meduse in brass, carrying a tete de coq sabre.
White buff leather "gants a crispins"
White buff leather apron fastening with a brass plate. 

... in other words, the uniform exactly as depicted by Pierre Martinet.

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