Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: 'Napoleon's Mercenaries"

I picked this book up almost 2 years ago, coming across it by chance (and at a very reasonable price - $25, about half the cover price IIRC) at a bookseller at Battlegroup Boston's annual HAVOC convention held outside Worchester, MA. Authored by Guy C. Dempsey, and published by Stackpole books in 2002, this 300 plus page hardcover volume is a treasure trove of information about the foreign troops in French service under the Consulate and Empire, from 1799 - 1814.

This ambitious work covers more than fifty various "foreign military formations that a)were integral units of the French army during Napoleon's political reign from 1799 to 1814, b)were intentionally and exclusively recruited from populations that were not politically a part of France when the unit was formed, c) were paid by the French Treasury, and d) fought under a French flag or standard (if the unit had one at all)." (quoted from the author's Introduction).

Each unit has an entry, some very brief (for transient or very obscure units), and others quite lengthy (the Irish Legion, for example gets 19 pages). All follow the same format:

Date of Creation
Circumstances of Creation
Operational History
Final Transformation

The book also contains 16 glossy pages of black and white paintings and uniform illustrations, all taken from existing sources. The front cover of the book  (shown above) depicts Vistula Legion Infantry and Lancers in color, and the front and end papers have color illustrations of another 20 or so uniforms by Noirmont and Marbot. If one were to have everything that once could possibly wish for form a book like this, the only thing lacking would be more color illustrations of the units covered, where sufficient information is available. Still, between the black and white images and those cited above, there is certainly sufficient information for the wargamer to paint up many of these intriguing units.

In all this book seems very comprehensive and  thoroughly researched from a wide variety of primary and secondary sources. It also incorporates many interesting anecdotes related to the formations in question. It is not at all dry to read! Perhaps the most impressive thing is the full listing of all the units described, which is as follows:

Artillerie Septinsulaire
Artillery Suisse

Battailion Allemand
Battaillions de Deserteurs Allemands
Battalions des Deserteurs Autrichiens
Battaillion de Patriotes Piemontais
Battaillion de Piombo
Battaillion du Prince de Neufchatel
Battalion Expeditionaire Pemontaise
Battaillion Italique
Battaillion Polonais
Battaillion Septinsulaire
Battalion Valison
Battaillions de Deserteurs Etrangers (Nos 1-3)
Battaillions Etrangers (Nos 1-4)
Battaillions Franc de l' Ile d' Elbe
Battaillions Liguriens

Chasseurs a Cjheval Aragonais
Chasseurs a Xheval Helvetique
Chasseurs a Cheval Ioniens
Chasseurs a Pied Grecs
Chasseurs Catalans
Chasseurs Croates
Chasseurs de L' Ampurdan
Chasseurs d' Orient
Chassuers Illryiens ((Nos 1-6)
Chevau-lagers Belges du Duc d'Arenberg
Chevau-Legers Lanciers de la Garde (no 1)
Chevau-Legers Lanciers de la Garde (no 3)
Chevau-legers Polonais de la Garde
Compagnies de Deserteurs Etrangers
Compagnies Franches Cantabres

Demi-Brigades Helvetiques (Nos 1-6)
Demi Brigades Polonais (Nos 1-3)

Eclaireurs de la Garde Imperial (No 3)

Fusiliers Aragonais

Gardes d'Honneur de Turin et de Florence
Gardes d'Honneur Polonais
Gendarmerie de Prusse
Gendarmes Aragonais
Gendarmes Catalans
Gendarmes Septinsulaires
Guides Catalans

Hussards Craotes
Hussards Polonaises

Jannisaries Syriennes


Lanciers de la Legion de la Vistula
Lanciers Poloniases (1st Formation)
Lanciers Polonaises (2nd Formation)
Legion Copte
Legion de la Vistula
Legion du Danube
Legion du Midi
Legion du Nord
Legion Franco-Hessoise
Legion Grecque
Legfion Hanovrienne
Legion Helvetique
Legion Irlandiase
Legion Italique
Legion Maltaise
Legion Polacco-Italienne
Legion Polonaise d'Italie
Legion PortugaisLegion Syrienne
Legion des Francs du Nord
Legions Piemontaises

Mamelouks (1st Formation)
Mamelouks (2nd Formation)
Miqueletes Catalans

Pandours Albanais
Pandours de Dalmatie
Pionniers Blancs
Pionniers Espagnols
Pionniers Etrangers
Pionniers Noirs
Pionners Volontaires Etrangers

Regiment Albanais
Regiment de Catalogne
Regiment de la Tour d'Auvergne
Regiment de Prusse
Regiment de Westphalie
Regiment d' Illryie
Regiment d'Issembourg
Regiment Jospeh-Napoleon
Regiments Provisoires Croates

Sappeurs Espagnols
Sappeurs Ioniens

Tartares Lithiuaniens
Tirralleurs du Po

Velites de Turin et de Florence
Veterans Espagnols
Veterans Ioniens

There are also notes regarding the Organization of Piedmontese troops, 1799 - 1801, Organization of Lithuanian forces in 1812, as well as a brief listing of Foreign units in 1815. Phew!

In summary, if you have any interest in these colorful and unique units, whether singularly or collectively, this book would be a most welcome addition to your Napoleonic Library. Fascinating, and highly recommended.



  1. Looks like an interesting book. I'd much rather you paint each of these units and post them on your blog; easier on me and they would be a stunning set of posts.

  2. Good one, Mike, LOL!

    The Vistula Legion Infantry is nearing completion, perhaps by the end of the month (4units of 18 each).I plan to do the Neufchatel battalion eventually, and probably the Irish Legion. The Issembourg regiment has great uniforms but its record was chiefly one of murder, mayhem, and insubordination! The Tirralleurs du Po was a fine unit that saw a lot of action, until they were finally absorbed into a French Legere unit. The Regt Joseph Napoleon and the Portuguese Legion both appear at Borodino, so who knows, I might paint them if I have time before July, (and a few spare figures)!

    Now look what you've made me get started thinking about. "The Black Hole of Wargaming", indeed! :-)

  3. I believe I might get that book.



  4. John,
    A disproportionate number of these units fought in the Peninsula, if that's any help. Look around a bit - I did a brief search and found copies at anywhere between $24 and $100+ with a brief search.

  5. Wow! That looks like a very interesting book!!!