Sunday, November 11, 2012

French Infanterie Légère (Light Infantry), part 2

   The old Royalist army had a sort of hodge-podge approach to Light Infantry, but by 1788 there were 12 battalions of green coated Light Infantry. These were renamed and reorganized in 1791, then adopting a battalion organization similar to that of the Line units of the time, effectively having 8 companies of Chasseurs (center companies) and one of Carabiniers (the equivalent of the Grenadiers in the Line infantry)  per battalion. The strength of the Light Infantry Chasseurs a Pied increased to 14 battalions in 1792. In 1793, as part of the Amalgame introduced throughout the army, each existing battalion was combined with 2 battalions of provincial Light Infantry and/or volunteers/conscripts to form 14 Demi-Brigades of three battalion each. Also in 1793, the uniforms changed from green to the familiar all dark blue uniform already described in Part 1. By the following year, there were 22,  then 24 by 1798, and by 1799 there were 26 Demi Brigades , with the strength of each then increasing to four battalions. By late 1800, the number of Light Demi-Brigades had risen to 30, but their strength was reduced to 2-3 battalions. A 31st unit was added in 1801. The Revolutionary  Demi-Brigade terminology was eliminated as of September 1803, the units returning to the more traditional designation as "Regiments".

  At the beginning of the Empire in 1804, there were nominally 31 Regiments d'Infanterie Légère, each generally of three battalions. However, numbers 11 (later raised anew in 1811 from several formations including the Tiralleurs Corses), 19 (later raised anew in 1814), 20, 29 (later raised anew in 1811) and 30 were vacant. The 32e and 33e Léger were raised in 1808, the 34e in 1811, and the 35e, 36e, and 37e in 1812.  Thus there were roughly four times as many Line infantry Regiments as there were Light Regiments in the French army throughout the Napoleonic Wars.

   One of the eight Chasseur companies was converted into a company of the new Voltigeurs in 1804. In 1808, the familiar six company organization was adopted (see part 1), and the number of battalions per Regiment was increased to four. By 1812, some Regiments had as many as seven field battalions, so the strength of the Light (and Line) Infantry was increased at least as much by adding battalions to existing Regiments as it was by adding new units. .

My two newer units of Infanterie Légère are both Old Glory. As usual, the pictures tend to make the hue of the blue look lighter than it actually is - the uniform of the Light Infantry was definitely a dark blue... at least until the natural dies used started to fade with time, sun, etc. See the earlier article on this blog for more Light Infantry uniform details. This "regiment", deployed in Skirmish Order, is the 3e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère. I made these two regiments up from one bag of OG Léger soldiers of 30 figures, and one bag of Léger command of 20, so there are a few left over, but a relative surplus of command figures - hence the officer on the Carabinier stand and the hornist on the Voltigeur stand!

Somewhat blurry photo; flag is GMB. An ongoing discussion among wargamers concerns how different the French Light Infantry regiments really were from those of the Line. I suppose I'm more of a "splitter" than a "lumper" when it comes to wargaming, especially in the Napoleonic era. After all, if they had fancier uniforms  they had to be better, right?  :-)

Anyway, the men of the Leger regiments certainly felt they were a cut above those of the line, and they clung to the trappings of eliteness, with the Chasseur companies often wearing epaulets in green, with or without red "crescents", and green or red over green plumes for the Chasseurs being common as well, at least through 1809. The Light infantry regiments originally wore their plumes at the side of their shakos, rather than in the front (the Line regiments wearing the bicorne during the same era),  but this had pretty much changed to all in the front by circa 1807. Similarly, 'hanging" or drooping plumes were sometimes seen in the earlier years, but once again, by circa 1807, these had pretty much disappeared as well. In late 1810, the wearing of cords and plumes was abolished, even the Carabiniers and Voiltigeurs being reduced to their epaulets and a red or yellow pom-pom respectively. Not surprisingly, this new regulation was widely ignored, although the debacle of 1812 probably encouraged their disappearance far more than any official directives!

Also, it seems that, when given a choice, the Légère regiments were usually given more light infantry appropriate tasks, such as fighting in woods or villages, although all French infantry of this era seemed to have a talent for this kind of fighting. Most, but certainly not all, Infantry divisions usually included a regiment of Légère, but very seldom did they have two of them. IMHO, this is further evidence that Napoleon himself perceived some differences between them as well. Anyway, as I said, I'm a splitter!

The second unit is the 13e  Léger. Note the officer wearing the "fore and aft" style bicorne; this headwear seems to have been more popular with the officers of the Light regiments. Also note the drummer; although we tend to associate the Light Infantry with hornists, in fact all of the companies in a French Light regiment had drummers, with half of them being replaced by cornets (hornists) in the Voltigeur companies only. Thus, there were almost 12 times as many drummers as hornists in a Regiment d'Infanterie Légère!

This unit of Old Glory certainly conveys more enthusiasm for their job than one might expect from the average conscript, eh? It seems that some effort was made to assign the smaller, more nimble, and/or more independent types of recruits to the Light Infantry regiments as well.

More trappings of eliteness - the edging and tassels on the top of the gaiters, in company appropriate colors - white, yellow, or red!

This picture shows the turnbacks well - dark blue, like the coat and the pants, with white piping. These were often ornamented, as with the line, with various devices, typically grenades for the Carabiniers, Hunting horns for the Voltigeurs, and a variety of devices for the Chasseur companies, including crowned "N"'s, diamonds, hearts, etc .

En Avant!



  1. Very nice figures, and thanks for the rundown on the legere!

    1. Thanks Scott, and glad you found it of interest.

  2. Replies
    1. You're very welcome; thanks for reading!

  3. Very nice work on "infanterie légère"! En avant, marche!

  4. Just discovered this post, Peter. Fabulous!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Jon, even 4 years later! As you can doubtless tell, I have a certain fondness for the Legere regiments!