Saturday, March 19, 2011

Imperial Guard Infantry

The French Imperial Guard originated from the units of the Consular Guard, established shortly after the Consulate itself (1800), and the subsequent maneuvering that lead to General Bonaparte becoming First Consul of the French Republic. The Consular Guard itself derived from several sources, including the respective Guards of the Directory and the Legislative Corps. It was transformed into the Imperial Guard by decree in May, 1804. Although the nomenclature wouldn't be fully established and codified until 1812,  the senior units in all branches were referred to as the "Old Guard" as the Imperial Guard expanded over time.

 Certainly when we think of the Old Guard, this is the unit that comes first to mind - the Grenadiers a Pied, 1st Regiment (there were  as many as 3 regiments by 1811, the second being raised from Frenchmen, and the third, wearing a distinctive white uniform faced crimson, from the former Dutch Royal Guards). In 1809, however, there was but the single regiment of two battalions, each of eight companies of 102 men and officers.

Note the gold  cords on the bearskin as well as the gold embroidered red leather bandoleer of the the Eagle bearer, who was usually a Lieutenant. This differed from the line where the Eagle bearer was usually a senior NCO.  The NCO drummer  has mixed red and gold cords on the bearskin, as well as mixed red and gold epaulets. These particular NCO distinctions were common to Sergeants of all of the infantry units of the "grenadier" branch of the foot guards.

This rear view of the Grenadiers a Pied is somewhat blurry, but it shows the solid red turnbacks ornamented with grenade emblems, which were aurore on a similarly shaped white patch. The infantry units of the Guard also generally had solid dark blue collars in contrast to the red collars of the line and leger regiments, and solid white lapels without piping. The cuffs of the Grenadiers were red with a white three pointed cuff flap. All buttons were yellow metal/gold for officers. These are Foundry figures. 

Here is the other unit (aside from the Marins or "sailors") of the Old Guard Infantry, the Chassuers a Pied. The regiment had two battalions, similar in organization to the Grenadiers. A 2nd was regiment raised in 1811. The red over green plumes, and green epaulets with red crescents are emblematic of the Chasseur corps of the Guard. The Chasseurs also had red pointed cuffs piped white, which was different in several details from the cuffs of the Grenadiers. All buttons were brass/gold.

This rear view of the Chasseurs a Pied demonstrates that, unlike their Grenadier counterparts, their bearskins lacked a cloth patch on the back. The French soldier's slang for this, by the way, was cul de singe, or literally "monkey's butt".  The French certainly deserve an award for original slang, LOL.  The bearskin cap of the Chasseurs also lacked the brass/gold plate on the front which was found on that of the Grenadiers. The turn backs of the Chasseurs were ornamented with grenades alternating with hunting horns, with coloration as for the Grenadiers. 

The NCO drummer wears cords of mixed red, green,and gold, and epaulets of the same threads. Once again, this was common to Sergeants of all infantry units from the Chasseur branch of the infantry of the Guard. Drummers of Guard infantry units generally had gold lace around their lapels, collars, cuffs, and turnbacks, (or mixed red/gold or green/gold for the Old Guard Grenadiers and Chasseurs, respectively). Note also the gold cords on the Eagle Bearer's bearskin (once again a Lieutenant in the Guard regiments), as well as the green bandoleer ornamented with gold.  These Foundry figures are standing in Reserve, the usual station of the Old Guard infantry. Required to be veterans of at least 10 years service with outstanding records, or promoted from the Fusiliers after 4 years service there (but only by Imperial decree!), the Old Guard were "almost too precious" be committed to battle.

The Fusilier-Grenadiers were raised originally as the Velites of the Guard (1804), attached to the Grenadiers a Pied. They were organized as a regiment in their own right in 1806, and formed what would become the Middle Guard Infantry, along with their Chasseur counterparts.

The Fusilier Grenadiers were unique in having white epaulets with 2 red stripes on the straps, and red crescents. Their turnbacks bore white eagles. These distinctions, and their shakos (substituted for the bearskins of the Grenadiers a Pied) aside, their uniform was otherwise identical to that of the Grenadiers a Pied.

The Fusilier-Grenadiers, like all the Guard infantry aside from the Old Guard, were not given Eagles or standards, but rather carried fanions of various designs and colors. The most important requirement was they bear no inscription that identified them as belonging to the Imperial Guard. These are Foundy Line Voltigeurs painted as Middle Guard.  Flags are by GMB.

The Fusilier-Chasseurs were analogous to the Fusilier Grenadiers, forming the Chasseur branch of the Middle Guard. There was never more than a single regiment.

The red-over green plumes and green epaulets with red crescents of the Fusilier-Chasseurs, along with the rest of their uniform is exactly identical to that of the Chaseurs a Pied, save only for the shako and the substitution of white eagles as the ornamentation on the turnbacks.  Note the mixed red, gold, and green cords on the shako of the NCO/Sergeant.

The Fusilier-Chasseurs, marching off into history!  By the later part of the Napoleonic Wars, it is arguable that the Fusiliers were perhaps better fighters than the Old Guard themselves, by virtue of their considerably younger average ages.

One final view of the Fusilier-Chasseurs, showing detail of the officer's dress. Both Fusilier units were frequently used as a source of cadre for the Young Guard regiments to come, as well as replacements for losses from the Old Guard. Officer uniforms from Captain and above were identical across the infantry branches (Grenadiers vs. Chasseurs), which helped avoid massive expenses for uniform changes each time an officer was transferred from one regiment to another.

This unit is the 1st Tirailleur-Grenadiers, formed in January, 2009. This unit marked the inauguration of what would become the Young Guard. Drawn from the cream of the conscript class, they were all supposed to be able to read and write. They wear a simpler uniform with a shorter dark blue coat bearing red shoulder straps piped in white in place of epaulets, but with distinctive red over white plumes. The collars, pointed cuffs and turnbacks were red, with white piping on the cuffs, pockets, and the dark blue lapels, and white eagles on the turnbacks. The Fanion, like all shown in this post, is by GMB flags. These were to be white for the Tirailleurs by a decree of 1812. These figures are by Old Glory - actually Sailors (Marins) of the Guard painted as Young Guard.

The Young Guard infantry regiments covered here generally had 2 battalions per regiment, each of 4 companies, and totaling about 800 men per battalion at full strength. Unlike the senior formations, the Young Guard were more often understrength due to battlefield losses, illness, straggling and the usual attrition of active campaigning, which generally effected them far more than their senior comrades.

A different view of the Tirailleur-Grenadiers. A second Young Guard grenadier regiment, termed Conscript-Grenadiers, was raised later, in March 1809. This was rapidly followed, in April 1809, by first a second regiment of Conscrit-Grenadiers, and then a second regiment of Tirailleur-Grenadiers. The 1st Tirailleur-Grenadiers  and the 1st Tiraileur-Chasseurs (only) joined the main army in time to see action at Aspern-Essling and  Wagram, but the Conscrit-Grenadiers and other Young Guard units did not. The uniform of the Conscrit-Grenadiers (not shown) was a dark blue short tailed coat with dark blue lapels and shoulder straps; the lapels piped white (another source says no piping) and the straps piped red. The round cuffs were red with white three-pointed cuff flaps. Turnbacks were white piped red, with red eagle ornaments. Pockets were piped in white (another source says red), and all buttons, were brass/gold, same as for the Tirailleurs. Red plumes and cords were worn on the shako for full dress, otherwise a red pom-pom.

Later, in December, 1810  the 1st and 2nd regiments of Tirailleur-Grenadiers were redesignated as just plain  Tirailleurs, the 1st and 2nd regiments. Their uniforms, aside from differing plumes and/or pom-poms by regiment, were unchanged from their original ones. In February, 1811, the 1st and 2nd Conscrit-Grenadiers were redesignated the 3rd and 4th Tirailleurs and adopted the uniform of the Tirailleurs. When Napoleon learned that it was actually considerably cheaper to raise and maintain a Young Guard regiment than a new Line regiment, he ordered more regiments formed, including a 5th and 6th regiment by later 1811, ultimately reaching as many as 19 regiments of Tirailleurs by 1814! It would seem there was probably very little elite about the later regiments, especially those formed in 1813 and 1814.

The Tirailleur-Chasseurs, shown above, were the Chasseur branch equivalent of the Tiralleur-Grenadiers, and the first regiment was raised in March 1809. In place of epaulets, they had green shoulder tabs piped in white (or red) on their short dark blue coats. Collars, cuffs, and turnbacks were red, with white piping on the pointed cuffs, and alternating green grenades and hunting horns on the turnbacks. The dark blue lapels and pockets were piped in white, and all buttons were brass/gold.

A second Young Guard Chasseur regiment was raised in early April 1809, termed Conscrit-Chasseurs. As with the Grenadier branch, second regiments of each followed by the end of April 1809.  All of these units were an attempt to shed a more glamorous light on the practice of conscription,which was becoming increasingly unpopular as the wars of the Empire dragged on. The Conscrit-Chasseurs (not shown) wore the same short dark blue coats as the Tirailleur-Chassseurs, but with dark blue turnbacks piped red, and bearing white (or green according to another source) turnback ornaments, alternating eagles and hunting horns once again. Dark blue pants were worn.

Another view of the Tirailleur-Chasseurs; they carry a red fanion (as per the later 1812 decree for the Voltigeurs). Subsequently, the Tirailleur-Chasseurs and Conscrit-Chasseurs were combined into new units of Young Guard infantry termed Voltigeurs (December 1810 for the Tirailleur-Chasseurs, and February 1811 for the Conscrit-Chasseurs). Like the Tirailleurs, the Voltigeurs of the Guard underwent rapid and extensive expansion reaching 19 regiments at their peak. The uniform of the Voltigeurs of the Guard was the same as that of the Tirailleur-Chasseurs, except that the collar became yellow (or buff) piped in dark blue, and green epaulets with yellow crescents were adopted. The plume was red over green with a yellow pom-pom at the base for full dress, otherwise a green pom-pom.

The regiments of the Young Guard fought bravely, but never attained the status or quality of the more senior formations of the Imperial Guard. Never the less, they became all but ubiquitous on the battlefields of 1812, 1813, and 1814, as well as service in Spain starting in late 1809. Napoleon commented that in war, he profited more from his Young Guard than the Middle and Old Guard. Similarly, the wargamer, while doubtless wanting some units of the Old Guard for their own collection, will probably find that the Young Guard units will find themselves on the tabletop far more often than their exhalted seniors!

As they originated after 1809, I have deliberately not covered some of the later Guard Infantry formations, i.e., the Pupilles (cadets, drawn from orphans of soldiers), The Flanquer-Grenadiers and Flanquer-Chasseurs, and the Gardes-National of the Guard. Similarly, I have also omitted the Velites of Turin and Florence, formed in 1809, but playing more of a ceremonial role in the courts of Napoleon's sister and brother-in-law.

I'll be covering the Battle of Aspern-Essling in my next post, and then perhaps we'll return to the Austrian side of the aisle!

Good gaming,


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