The horse grenadier (photo from Musee l'Armée):
"... steadiness that distinguished it among all
the other riders of the army. He was of tall stature ...
The general expression of his figure was the coldness."
The elite gendarme:
"... could be confused with the horse grenadier;
... it was he who ensured respect ..."
"...a man, small in size and slightly squat;
...His legs are singularly arched,
...an enormous moustache decks his upper lip;
in his ears silver rings are hanging ... intrepid ... "
"... more slender in his physical form [than horse grenadier]. He was
studied to reconcile the severity of behavior with elegance in manners."
The Polish lancer:
"... Just the name of Polish lancer awakes the ideas of bravery
and of military fidelity ! ... all made him at first taken for German;
but with the quickness of his movements, with his instinctive exuberance,
one recognized that which one so precisely called the 'French of North'. ...
The Polish lancer, as well as the French lancer [Red Lancer] distinguished
himself by his elegant appearance; but the looks of this last were softer
and the colors of his origin moderated, in respect to the military roughness
of the first figure."
The Red Lancer:
"... as brave as the Polish lancer, the French lancer had a lively mood;
he was more sober especially in his way of living,
while the intemperance of Polish had become proverbial in the army."
The Cavalry of Imperial Guard.
In 1796 the Guard of the Directory was formed to escort the Directors in public ceremonies and parades. These guardsmen were 5'10" tall, literate, with perfect conduct and participated in at least 2 campaigns. These men were the elite of the army and formed 2 companies of foot grenadiers and one squadron of horse grenadiers. The horse grenadiers wore aiguillette on the right shoulder. It was the distinctive insignia of Guard cavalry. The Guard drew extra pay and allowances, additionally they got better housing and enjoyed the highest prestige. The guardsmen were forbidden, under pain of dismissal, to tend an officer's horse, or even hold it by the bridle.
In 1802 Napoleon submitted a permanent schedule of recruitment: 2 men from each cavalry
regiment, tall, robust, of exemplary conduct, able to read and write and who participated
in at least 3 campaigns. In 1806 each cavalry regiment was ordered to send 6 best men to the
In September 1805 was issued decreee:
Each squadron had 2 companies. Each company had: 1 Capitaine, 2 Lieutenant en premier, 2 Lieutenant en second, 1 Marechal-des-logis-chef, 6 Marechaux-logis, 1 Fourrier, 10 Brigadiers, 3 Trompettes, 1 Marechal-ferrant (blacksmith), 96 Privates. (In 1813 each company had 4 Marechaux-logis instead of 6, and 8 Brigadiers instead of ten.)
In 1806 was formed third regiment, the Guard Dragoons -->
In 1807 fourth unit was raised, the Polish Guard Lighthorse
In 1807 it was ordered that all cavalry regiments will send approx. 700 bravest soldiers who had distinguished in battles regardless of their length of service.
In 1810 fifth regiment was formed, the Dutch lancers.
In December 1811 Napoleon wrote to his Chief-of-Staff Marshal Bessieres:
"I see that thanks to your efforts the cavalry strength
of Guard amounts to 6.450, or 400 men short of establishement. I have decreed that the following regiments shall each provide 10 men of the
required quality, to wit the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 10th Hussars, and the 10th, 13th, 14th,
15th, 22nd, 26th, 27th, 29th and 30th Chasseurs, totalling 140 men.
Picture: Guard Dragoons and Napoleon in burning Moscow, 1812.
Some time before the campaign in 1812 in Russia the Guard was ranked into three categories: Old, Middle and Young Guard. The Old Guard enjoyed the highest prestige, in 1811 Napoleon made it clear to Berthier (chief-of-staff) "I wish it clearly understood that this priviledge doesn't apply to the 2nd Grenadiers and 2nd Chasseurs, nor to the Fusiliers (Middle Guard), voltigeurs and tirailleurs (Young Guard) nor the 2nd Lighthorse-lancers ("Red Lancers"). ... Keep this decision for your guidance alone."
In 1813 Napoleon ordered that every cavalry regiment in Spain will send 20 best veterans into the Old Guard. The squadrons of Young Guard were made up of true volunteers from the towns and departments near Paris. These volunteers were not those who went into the Honor Guards. (Bowden - "Napoleon's Grande Armee 1813" p 39)
Not always the best soldiers were sent to the Guard by the colonels of the Line. And this is easy to understand why. In July 1811 Napoleon wrote: "Communicate my displeasure to the colonel of the 9th Cuirassiers. He has sent the Guard a bad character who has spent 3 months in jail. Order him to place the responsible parties under 24-hour arrest and publish the fact in his orders. ... The inspectors will select the men for the Guard hereafter."
A common criticism of the guard was that it drew off the best men from the line and from the conscripts, thereby robbing them of potential sergeants and corporals. But it must be remembered that Napoleon intended that the guard serves as a training ground for the NCOs from the army so the guard functioned as a military school. For example sergeants of the Old Guard were commisioned as the second lieutenants in the line.
On Dec 15 1813, 60-100 Elite Gendarmes were routed by Colomb's Hussars and Cossacks.
The Guard Dragoons were defeated in 1807 by the Russians. After battle of Friedland Napoleon sent Guard Dragoons and Saxon cavalry in pursuit of the Russians. They met with a strong force of Russian light cavalry from the rear-guard, were defeated and prsued all the way to the main French army, creating confusion in the ranks of the infantry and artillery. (Elting, Esposito - "A Military History and Atlas ...")
The dragoons were again defeated on 24th September 1812 by two squadrons of Russian Lifeguard Dragoons. According to Caulaincourt the loss of 150-250 Guard Dragoons caused more consternation in Napoleon's headquarters than "the loss of 50 generals." (Curtis Cate - "The War of The Two Emperors"). Lachoque writes from his pro-French perspectice: "On the 23rd St.Sulpice was sent to Bezovka, halfway to Mozhaisk, with the Guard Dragoons, two horse batteries, and an infantry regiment to guard the line of communications. Two days later a patrol of 200 dragoons fell into an ambush set up by 4,000 Cossacks ... More than 80 dragoons were killed, wounded, or captured."
The Guard Chasseurs (Chasseurs-a-Cheval de la Garde) were defeated in December 1808 at Benavente by British and German cavalry (3rd King's German Legion Dragoons, and British 10th Hussars and 18th Light Dragoons). The chasseurs lost 127 men, and their commander, Lefebvre-Desnouettes, was captured by a German named Bergmann, who gave up his prize to British hussar Grisdale.
In 1812 the 2nd Guard Lancers (Middle Guard, Dutch 'Red Lancers') were harrased mercilessly by Ataman Platov's Cossacks and suffered heavy losses. The Cossacks and their methods of combat were unknown to the Dutch. Only very few survived this campaign.
In 1812 the 3rd Guard Lancers (Young Guard, Polish) was defeated in 1812 at Slonim by a large number of Chaplitz's Cossacks and Russian Pavlograd Hussars. General Konopka, 13 officers, and 253 men were captured.
The squadrons of Young Guard were routed in Leipzig in 1813 by Chaplitz's Russian uhlans and dragoons.
Commander of Guard Cavalry - Marshal Bessiers
The cavalry of the Imperial Guard was commanded by Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessieres
(1766-1813). He was a tall man, always impeccably uniformed and rigorous in discipline.
Bessieres was one of the Good Marshals, like by soldiers. "He alone kept the old-fashioned
military style of both powdering his hair and wearing it in a long queue."
Bessiers was wounded at the battle of Wagram. Henri Lachoque writes: "At this moment Bessieres was needed to charge Liechtenstein's cavalry - but the Marshal had just been hit. ... Bessieres was borne unconscious from the field on a litter. His guardsmen thought he was dead and some were sobbing. All swore to avenge him. 'That was a fine shot, Bessieres' the Emperor told him later. "It made my Guard cry...'"
Georges Blond described how Bessieres was killed: " .... staff surrounded him [Bessieres] and this ciolorful party was spotted by the gunners of an enemy battery. The first round decapitated a sergeant of the Polish light cavalry of the escort. Bessieres, saddened, galloped toward the enemy to inspect their position more closely, then returned: 'I want this young man buried.' Hardly had he spoken, when a round from the same battery struck him fully in the body. Napoleon, learning shortly afterwards of his death, appeared distressed." ... When walking away, he murmured: 'Death is coming near to us."
In Spain Bessieres ordered a reign of terror, seizing hostages and arresting magistrates and priests.
Napoleon's Escort and Duty Squadrons.
The Emperor was guarded by a squadron of Guard cavalry, usually of the Chasseurs-a-Cheval (Horse Chasseurs). Only on rare ocassions other troops enjoyed this priviledge. In 1806 when the Guard couldn't catch up with the Emperor, the 1st Hussars escorted him. The Guard was so exhausted on arrival that the hussars continued to escort Napoleon. In the battle of Eckmuhl in 1809 the 1st Chasseurs-a-Cheval (this was line regiment, not guard) escorted the Emperor. Shortly, also in 1809, the 1st Horse Carabiniers enjoyed this priviledge. In 1813 after the battle of Dresden, Napoleon was escorted by the Elite Gendarmes.
In most campaigns Napoleon had in his disposal 4 squadrons drawn from the four regiments of Guard cavalry: grenadiers, chasseurs, Polish lancers and dragoons. These squadrons were called "the duty squadrons". In the beginning the duty squadrons were one each from the chasseurs and grenadiers, later augmented by the dragoons and Poles, when they became "Old Guard".
In Leipzig in 1813 the situation was critical and Napoleon was forced to unleash the four duty squadrons (grenadiers, Polish lancers, dragoons and chasseurs). These 800 superb cavalrymen led by Letort "scored a brilliant victory against the Austrian horse, including the capture of 190 officers and men of the famous Vincent [Latour] Chevaulegers." (Parquin - "Napoleon's Victories")
Among the four duty squadrons the Guard Chasseurs had a special task: a group of 20-30 men rode
in front and behind the Emperor, while a corporal and 4 chasseurs cleared a way for him.
One of the four carried his despatch case and another his field glass.
If the Emperor dismounted these men would immediately do likewise.
In 1812 the Cossacks attacked Napoleon's headquarters at Gorodnia [Horodnia]. The only troops with the Emperor was the Duty Squadron of the Polsih Guard Lancers under Kozietulski. Kozietulski's men threw themselves at the swarm of Cossacks, Kozietulski was pierced by lance "which entered his shoulder as far as the bone." It was a dramatic fight. There then appeared the Old Guard Horse Grenadiers in line formation and the Cossacks disappeared into the forest. (In Museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw is exhibited his uniform with the visible hole in the sleeve and stained in blood). The Cossacks returned in large numbers and surrounded the Red Lancers on three sides. The Dutch lost more than 100 men and the Poles lost approx. 20 killed and wounded.
Chlapowski of Guard Lancers writes: "He [Napoleon] liked to ride downhill at a rapid gallop, regardless of the risk of a broken neck to those following him. He never used spurs nor did he use leg pressure to put the horse into a gallop - he started it with a blow of his whip."
According to J.F. Lozier, Napoleon owned approx. 150 horses during the course of his life.
Napoleon preferred Arab horses though he often had to make do with other mounts.
His horses were schooled by Jardin, who accustomed them to every kind of object.
"He even went so far as to drive pigs and dogs between their legs."
(Georges Blond - "La Grande Armee" publ. in 1995)
Napoleon was never the best of horsemen, and most often travelled by coach. It was painted in green, drawn by 6 large grey horses (three ex-drivers of Guard Horse Artillery rode on them), and had 2 coachmen on top and a servant on the box. The coach contained pull-out bed, hand-operated printing press, his mobile treasury, and small library. The escort of the coach was as follow: four Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval rode in pairs before the coach, and twelve pairs were behind it. At night 5 lamps illuminated the coach, which gave extraordinary appearance as it raced through villages.
In 1814 the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian armies entered France and after several battles reached the gates of Paris. Napoleon abdicated on April 6. However, occasional military actions continued in Italy, Spain, and Holland throughout the spring of 1814. On April 7th Napoleon called for volunteers from his Old Guard to serve in his guard on Elba Island. The Allies allowed for 500 infantrymen, 120 cavalrymen and 120 artillerymen. Generals Petit and Pelet were soon swamped with requests. Many officers asked to serve as simple privates. Out of the French and Polish cavalry only 100 Polish lancers were chosen. There were additionally several hundred volunteers from infantry, 300 grenadiers and 300 chasseurs of Old Guard. These men were his escort, his protectors in thisvery difficult and sad time.
Charles Parquin writes: "General Krasinski who commanded the Polish lancers ... came forward with his officers. As he took his leave of the Emperor he uttered these words, which do the greatest credit to his nation: "Sire, if you had mounted the throne of Poland, you would have been killed upon it; but the Poles would have died at your feet to a man."
Krasinki wearing his parade uniform announced to his lancers that "God has visited misfortune upon the Emperor" and all began to weep. They regreted they had not all been killed before hearing that anyone had dared demand Napoleon's abdication. Loud cries for vengeance were heard along with "Vive l"Empereur!" Sabers and lances were brandished and the cavalry moved toward Fontainebleau. They passed through Nainville before Sebastiani's ADC halted them.
Troops on Elba Island:
"A squadron of Polish lancers under Chef d'Escadron Jerzmanowski and Major Roul -
125 men divided into a mounted company of 22 under Capitaine Schultz (a giant over 2.13
metres who was present at Waterloo); a dismounted company of 96 under Capitaine Balinski...
There was also a group of 7 chasseurs and Mamelukes commanded by Lieutenant Seraphin
(a Mameluke...) The lancers had a white standard emblazoned in crimson with the words,
'Polish Light-Horse, Napoleon Squadron' with a crowned 'N' on the reverse."
(Mark Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 14)
Regiment of Horse Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard
Picture: Eagle-Bearer of Horse Grenadiers [Grenadiers-a-cheval de la Garde] in parade uniforms, by Rousellot. For parade their horses were decorated with red, braided forelocks and crupper rosettes.
The Horse Grenadiers were the senior regiment in the Guard and the Army. Their priviledged position the whole army - and even the Guard - had envied. Below is a short history of this splendid unit.
In 1796 the Guard of Directory (Garde du Directoire) was organized and one squadron of Horse Grenadiers was raised. Soon Napoleon enlarged the troop to two and then to four squadrons. The privates wore dark blue coats and collars, white lapels and tall boots. In 1797 they received tall fur caps.
In 1804 the Consular Guard became Imperial Guard. The troopers were quartered at the barracks in the Ecole Militaire where they slept in solid oak beds 6'8" by 4' with a shelf at the head. The food was good and the wine even better.
The regiment usually had four large squadrons and 1-2 squadrons of so-called velites.
In 1813 (Leipzig Campaign) the regiment consisted of 6 squadrons and enlarged staff. See below:
The Horse Grenadiers participated in several battles and many small combats.
Below is a list of their most known exploits.
In November 1815 the regiment was disbanded. On 25 November for the last time their trumpeters
sounded the Ban. The standard-bearer advanced to the Inspector and presented the
standard. It was the last unit of the whole Imperial Guard (infantry, cavalry, and artillery)
disbanded by the Bourbons.
The Big Men Mounted on Black Horses.
When it came to muscle and physique, the grenadiers, man for man, could have thrown the chasseurs, Mamelukes, and the Young Guard, all outdoors and walked on them. The horse grenadiers were strong, tall and handsome, and their colonel forbade "any woman under 40 to come in and make soup for them." :-)
For new candidates there were strict requirements: 176 cm tall, 10 years' service, minimum 4 campaigns and citation for bravery. The legionaires were exempted from all requirements.
Most candidates came from the regiments of heavy cavalry (carabinier and cuirassier regiments.) In 1809 just few days after the battle of Wagram, "The 3rd Cuirassier Division passed in review at the Schonbrunn. As was his custom when honoring gallant units, Napoleon stood before the 8th Cuirassier Regiment and asked who was the unit's bravest trooper. The colonel replied that the entire regiment was brave. The emperor directed his question to the troopers, and they answered 'Millot.' When that worthy stepped forward, Napoleon, exhibiting his formidable memory that so delighted his grognards, inquired if they had not already met. 'Yes', replied Millot, 'at Heilsberg'. Napoleon awarded him with the cherished Cross and would later promote him into the Imperial Guard Horse Grenadiers." (James Arnold - "Napoleon Conquers Austria")
There were also candidates from the dragoons, chasseurs and even some hussars. For example the scarface Guindey, NCO of the 10e Hussars, who killed Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia in 1806. (He was killed in 1813 at Hanau by the Bavarians.)
Among the officers Majors Venieres, Pernet, and Delaporte had fought in 23 or more campaigns ! Colonel, then General, Ordener has achieved fame by receiving 7 saber wounds, 3 bullet wounds and 1 wound from a cannonball !
In May 1815, few weeks before Waterloo, 243 men of the Young Guard squadrons asked to return to the regiment. Guyot wrote: "Perhaps they are not as perfect as the old horse grenadiers, but they hope to be, and take pride in the regiment ..."
The Horse Grenadiers were very devoted to the Emperor. In March 1814 a major of grenadiers was wounded at Craonne. He had his foot carried away by a cannon-ball and the surgeon had to amputate his leg. During the extremely painful operation "which he bore with great courage, the man called out "Vive l'Empereur!" and lost consciousness.
The Horse Grenadiers rode on big black horses, with full manes and tails, bought in Caen for 680 francs apiece.
Their daily ration was 10 pounds of hay, 15 of straw, and 2/3 bushel of oats or 1/3 of bran.
Uniforms and Weapons of Horse Grenadiers.
They were armed with straight sabers, pistols and carbines.
Their wardrobe was made by Bosquet, the master tailor, a celebrated artist in his craft.
Their bearskins were made by Maillard of the Rue Saint-Honore, and their tall black boots
by Fabritzius. The trumpeter's hat was of the same quality as a general's.
Left: parade uniform in 1800-1807. It was also called the First Full Dress and consisted of dark blue jacket, white lapels and red cuffs.
Right: during campaign they wore surtout.
It was fastened with 6-10 buttons and was without white lapels and red cuffs.
It was worn during battles in 1806-1809.
Left: in 1809 the surtout was replaced by so-called Second Full Dress (or "undress habit"). It was made of cheaper clothes than the First Full Dress. The Second Uniform had the plain round cuffs of the surtout and white lapels of the First Uniform. This outfit was very popular and was worn at Borodino, Leipzig, etc. The First Full Dress was for parade only and the Second Full Dress for campaign.
Right: after Napoleon's abdication in 1814 the grenadiers had been given the new, short tailed habit-veste in anticipation of their receiving armor, like cuirassiers and horse carabiniers. The new dark blue jackets were piped in red along the front opening. This coat was worn only at Ligny and Waterloo.
In 1801 Bonaparte organized an elite legion of gendarmes. It consisted of a large staff, 2 squadrons of horse gendarmes and 2 companies of foot gendarmes. In 1807 there were 2 squadrons of Elite Gendarmes. (There was also one battalion of foot gendarmes in the Guard).
The Elite Gendarmes were recruited from the departamental gendarmes and also drew men from
regiments of heavy cavalry. The candidates were expected to be literate, between 25 and
40 years old, veterans of 4 campaigns and at least 5'9" tall.
Most often they acted in samll detachments. They were highly disciplined, ruthless - men to be feared by draft-dodgers or villians. The army nicknamed them "The Immortals" because in the early period they didn't participate in any combat.
The Elite Gendarmes rode on big black horses, and were armed with straight sabers, pistols and carbines/muskets. They wore dark blue coats with red lapels, tall boots and bearskins. Their bearskins were slightly lower than Horse Grenadiers'.
The duties of Elite Gendarmes were:
and during battle they forbade passage for any but the wounded.
Regiment of Guard Dragoons
The Regiment of Guard Dragoons was established in April 1806. In each of the 30 dragoon regiments was made a list of 6 NCOs and privates as candidates to the Guard.
“Art. XVII - A regiment of Guard dragoons is formed. It will be organized like the Guard horse grenadiers and the Guard horse chasseurs.”
Officers of Guard Dragoons in the early period, in 1806:
General Ornano described the Guard Dragoons: "The men are very handsome, the horses fine, strong, and well cared for.
The officers, NCOs, and soldiers are animated by an excellent spirit, perfect discipline, and have a splendid appearance."
The Guard Dragoons (or Empress Dragoons) were present in numerous battles: Friedland, Wagram, Borodino, Leipzig, Hanau, La Rothiere, to name just few.
In 1813 there was a friction between the famous Saxon cuirassiers and the Guard Dragoons. "At about midday the Saxon cuirassiers brigade .... was transferred from east of Wachau to the west, from where they witnessed (with no small pleasure) the defeat of Letort's Dragoons of the Imperial Guard. This friction between the allies had been generated by the sustained brutality and licentiousness of the French regiment towards the unfortunate local Saxon population, and there had been several fights between the regiments in bivouac." (Digby-Smith - "1813: Leipzig" p 91)
Letort was one of the commanders of Guard Dragoons. He was a daredevil of Lasalle's ilk.
In 1814 at Rheims he "led his Guard Dragoons as though they were the winged knights."
(Henri Lachoque - "The Anatomy of Glory")
Weapons, Uniforms and Horses.
Alert, vigilant, and mounted on good horseflesh, the Guard dragoon reinforced his self-reliance with firepower. The dragoons were armed with slightly curved sabers a la Montmorency, pistols, and dragoon-type muskets.
The Guard dragoons wore dark green coats with white lapels, aiguilettes, and fine helmets with long black horsehair. The fur band around the helmet's
base was of simulated panther skin. The helmets were slightly modified in 1810 by shifting
towards the rear of the crest the point at which the horsehair emerged. The dragoons were
never issued the stiff boots worn in parade by the Grenadiers. Consequently, their officers
wore the semi-rigid type with stiff knee section only.
Napoleon intended to mount the dragoons on black horses but Bessieres, commander of Guard cavalry, pointed out that blacks were designated only for the Horse Grenadiers and for the Elite Gendarmes. He instructed the commander of dragoons to procure chestnuts. Originally the first two squadrons rode on catured Prussian Gendarmes' horses, the other two squadrons were still on foot. Later on all dragoons were mounted on French, Prussian and Austrian chestnuts (there were also some bays).
1st Regiment of Horse Chasseurs of the Imperial Guard
As commander of the army in Italy, Bonaparte took over the guides he found at Albenga in 1796. Though they fought with distinction at Mondovi and Lodi, they guarded Bonaparte poorly. In 1796 at Borghetto, Bonaparte was lunching with general Massena and Murat when the Austrian light cavalry (Hungarian hussars ?) surprised them. Bonaparte fled by climbing over a wall and lost his boot in the process. Murat and Massena followed him.
This episode resulted in Bonaparte forming his escort.
Lannes was put in charge of guarding the headquarters with 2 battalions of
Guard Grenadiers and 100 horse and foot guides. A week later Captain Bessiers, a friend of
Murat, was given command of the Company of Guides of the Commander-in-Chief.
Bonaparte described his Guides as "200 daredevils, well-mounted and brave."
The Guides captured 2 Austrian guns at Roveredo, and at Arcole, one of their officers, black
Domingo, nicknamed Hercules, distinguished himself with extraordinary bravery.
The Guides were the ancestors of the Guard Chasseurs.
These dashing and swaggering men were Napoleon's escort and for this reason
they became the most known troop in the entire French army. Napoleon wore the green undress
uniform of colonel of this regiment (green was Napoleon's favorite color).
In this regiment served quite many foreigners, especially Germans from Rhineland. But there were also Italians and few Swiss. (In 1814 after Napoleon's first abdication 240 foreigners were retired. Senior officer Van Merlen had returned to his native Holland. In 1815 he was killed leading a brigade of Dutch-Belgian cavalry against the French at Waterloo.)
When in 1815 Napoleon returned from Elba, the Chasseurs met him and cheered. They "swore on their naked sabers to defend him."
One or two English authors call them "The Invincibles after their battle-winning charge at
Austerlitz". (Summerville - "March of Death" p 51) This is an error, their charge at
Austerlitz was not battle-winning. At Austerlitz they have fought against Tsar's Guard
cavalry with mixed results. They suffered heavy losses against the Lifeguard Horse and the infantry.
But they also routed the Chevaliers Garde and the Lifeguard Hussars.
Horses, Weapons and Uniforms.
The Guard Chasseurs rode on 15 hands tall (149-153 cm) pictoresque bays. They were mostly dark bays. Some sources, for example L. Rousselot, mention bays and chestnuts. One author gives chestnuts for the squadrons of Young Guard.
The chasseurs were armed with slightly curved sabers, pistols and carbines. The chasseurs' saber had a curved blade 84 cm long (Horse Grenadiers' 97,5 cm !) with a single-branch brass hilt and a similar grip and scabbard.
The chasseurs wore expensive hussar-style outfits. Their gaudy red and green regalia made
them one of the most colorful regiments in Europe.
The pelisse was trimmed with curled black lamb's wool and lined with white flannel.
The dolmans were dark green and were worn under the pelisses. Their short Hungarian boots
were fitted by the master bootmaker. These boots were pleated at the instep for comfort and
trimmed with orange braids and tassels.
However the parade uniform was worn rarely, mostly on special occassions.
During campaign the chasseurs wore dark green overalls. In 1808 the overalls were modified by eliminating the buttons on the outside of each leg,
the seams being covered by two stripes of aurore braid.
In 1812-14 the overalls were grey with aurore stripes and with leather reinforcing between the legs and around the bottom. (See picture -->)
During long marches the scarlet flammes on their fur caps have disappeared beneath black waxed and varnished covers atop the caps, and their sabretaches were covered with a black, waxed case without ornament. The trumpeters' white fur caps were left in regimental depot, black fur caps "always being worn on campaign." (- L. Rousselot)
In 1815 the Chasseurs' uniforms, once so brilliant, were varied. A few left for Belgium in dark green undress coats like the Emperor's with scarlet collars and orange shoulder knots and aiguillettes, red waistcoats - either braided in orange or plain - green breeches with Hungarian boots or overalls, and colpacks with red and green cords and plumes. About 500 wore dolmans and pelisses with riding trousers and boots.
In 1804-15 in good weather the Guard Chasseurs of the picket were dressed in their habits of their service uniforms, the long ornamented tails of which fall down on each side of their saddles. Their fur caps would display their corded and tasselled flammes and red-green plumes.
2nd Regiment of Horse Chasseurs of the Imperial Guard
In May 1815 Napoleon formed the 2nd Regiment of Horse Chasseurs of the Guard (2e Regiment de Chasseurs-à-Cheval de la Garde) from the Regiment of Eclaireurs. They were ranked as Young Guard and nicknamed "The Hussars of the Guard." They were commanded by Antoine Francois Eugene Merlin de Douai.
Many elements of their uniforms were identical to those of the Old Guard but they were made of poorer quality materials. There were also differences, instead of the fur cap was the red shako trimmed with orange braid.
Squadron of Guard Mamelukes
In 1802, after reading general Rapp's report, Bonaparte decided to form a squadron of Mameluks
organized like hussars. Napoleon decided that the valiant cavaliers with dark skins would
help to reinforce his own prestige. The sons of the desert or "authentic head-hunters"
received a hot welcome in Paris. The officers were Frenchmen, the commander was Jean Rapp,
a daredevil with 22 wounds.
"The Mamelukes did present special problems. The burial of one of their retired officers caused a local disturbance, his Christian neighbours objecting to having the grave of an 'infidel' near their sainted ancestors. There also is the sad tale of a homesick Arab rug dealer who was overjoyed to spot a Mameluke in a German town and tried to engage him in conversation. Unfortunately, he was only a Second Mameluk whose command of Arabic began and ended with 'Allah'. After countless repetitions of that holy name, the merchant concluded that he had met a man too pious to discuss worldly matters." (Elting - 'SWords Around a Throne" p 189)
The Mamelukes were hated by the Spaniards. During the revolt in Madrid the "popular fury was loosed upon the Mameluks. These 'pagan sons of dogs' were assailed by women who jumped onto the cruppers of their horses ... Before a house in the Carrera de San Jeronimo two Mameluks fell to the pavement, shot from the window above. Furious their comrades entered the house, killed all the occupants - both men and women - and threw their heads into the street. ... Towards two in the afternoon the canaille was finally subdued; but then the reprisals began. Tied in pairs to the strirrups of the Mameluks and Guard Chasseurs, the condemned were dragged to the Pardo, the Retiro, and the Convent del Jesus were firing-parties awaited them." (Lachoque - "The Anatomy of Glory" pp 121-122)
In Austerlitz (1805) the Allies had gained a healthy respect for the colorfully clad
Mamelukes, and their proud reputation within the army was assured.
In 1804 the company of Mamelukes had: 9 officers (6 of whom are Arabs), 10 NCO (6 of whom are Arabs), 10 brigadiers (8 of whom are Arabs), 2 trumpeters and 92 privates. (source: histofig.com)
In 1813 the Mameluks were reinforced with Frenchmen who were designated as '2nd Mameluks'. There were 2 companies of Mameluks, the 1st was ranked as Old Guard and the 2nd as Young Guard. The Squadron of Mameluks was attached to the Regiment of Guard Chasseurs.
In 1815 (Waterloo Campaign) Duke of Orleans asked them if there were any Egyptians among them, but was told that they were all French. They still wore crescents on their turbans. An Imperial Decree of 24 April announced: "The Regiment of Chasseurs-a-Cheval of our Guard will be augmented by a Mameluk squadron of 2 companies." But since its personnel was listed indiscriminately on the rolls of the Chasseurs, and even the Red Lancers, it is not known whether the squadron marched as a full unit.
1st Regiment of Lighthorse-Lancers (Polish) of the Imperial Guard
"The Guard's first foreign regiment was the chevau-legers Polonais, activated in
March 1807 from picked volunteers, mostly small landowners or their sons, who had some
education and were expert riders. They paid for their own clothing and equipment and provided their own horses.
Nevertheless, the regiment was recruited up to strength in 10 days.
Their two majors, captain-instructor, two adjutant-majors, quartermaster-treasurer,
surgeon, and all their trumpeters were French.
In 1807 Napoleon authorized the raising of a guard regiment of Polish Light Horse. Napoleon gave French instructors to train the young Poles but during following reviews conducted before Napoleon, its squadrons became so entagled with one another that the Emperor made a comment "These people only know how to fight !" Two French instructors were dismissed on the spot. Soon the regiment became as good as any other unit of the Guard. In Reichenbach in 1813 they charged, got under artillery fire, made half-turn and crushed enemy's cavalry without losing its alignment. Only very few regiments in Europe attained the perfection of changing the formation under fire and at gallop without losing its order.
"The Polish lighthorse ... had become lancers to satisfy the demand of their chief Count Krasinski. Their training in the new weapon began in earnest when Major Fredro returned from leave in Poland bringing back manuals and exhibiting amazing skill in handling the lance. ... Dautancourt proposed permitting only the front rank of a squadron to carry lances for fear that in charging those in the 2nd rank might injure the horses and men in front. Furthermore, a lighthorseman armed with a lance, carbine, bayonet, saber, and 2 pistols would hardly continue to be a lighthorseman ! But Dautancourt was voted down. All troopers of the regiment were armed with lances ... Experience proved Dautancourt correct." ( - Henri Lachoque)
In 1812 when during the pursuit of Cossacks one of the lancers lost his headwear, officer Jerzmanowski ordered him to go back and retrieve it to prevent the enemy from claiming any trophy taken from this regiment. It was quite unusual since many troops panicked before Cossacks and abandoned not only their baggage and weapons but also even
their wounded comrades. The Cossacks were evrywhere. At Katyn the Poles had great difficulty
getting rid of several hundred scouting in front of a mass of Russian cavalry. Lahy ! Lahy ! (Poles in old Russian)
the Russians cried, firing off their carbines at some distance from the leading squadron to provoke the
Guard Lancers. 'Never get into a skirmish with Cossacks' was the Poles' advice. However a
formal charge sent them flying.
In 1814 "Major Skarzynski performed prodigies of valor. Snatching a lance from a Cossack, he created a void around him by knocking over the fugitives in his path and running the rest through with his lance. The other officers followed suit, sweeping Dautancourt's lancers along with them in their dash to Corbeny. Kalmukcks, Bashkirs, and Cossacks fled across the plain, crisscrossed with ditches, leaving behind 2 guns, 200 men and their baggage. That night at Corbeny the Poles drank to victory and the Emperor." (- Henri Lachoque)
On April 7th Napoleon called for volunteers from his Old Guard to serve in his
guard on Elba Island. The Allies allowed for 500 infantrymen, 120 cavalrymen and 120
artillerymen. Generals Petit and Pelet were soon swamped with requests. Many officers
asked to serve as simple privates.
Only a single squadron of the Lancers was at Waterloo.
The famous French General Lasalle wrote a poem for this regiment about French-Polish comradeship. The Polish Guard Lancers and the French Horse Grenadiers were the only cavalry units of the Guard which were never defeated by Allies cavalry.
2nd Regiment of Lighthorse-Lancers (Dutch) of the Imperial Guard
The Regiment of Red Lancers was formed in 1810 from three Dutch troops:
The German members of the Guard Hussars were given the choice of joining the Berg Lancers or the four Dutch regiments. "No officer may remain in the corps who is not Dutch by birth." (- Decree of 13 September 1810)
However, in October the Emperor realized that the unit was 143 short of establishment. In order to fill the ranks, Napoleon signed a new decree and accepted many Germans.
Article 1: All officers, NCOs and soldiers of the former Dutch Guard who were born in the territory of the Hanseatic cities, in Oldenburg, Osnabruck (Duchy of Berg) and in Westphalia will be considered as Dutch."
Article 2: All Germans who have served without interruption since at least 1800 in the former Dutch Guard, either on foot or mounted, who have never deserted and who enlisted of their own will in the Dutch forces, will be considered as Dutch."
Part of Article 4: "Our Minister of War will make a special register of those who are Prussian."
On 23 September 1810 the French Imperial Guard and the Dutch Guard were present at the Sunday parade at the Tuileries. Napoleon approached the Red Lancers and asked about the recent disorders, which had taken place in their garrison. The colonel apologised and attributed the episode to the effects of hospitality lavished on them by their new brothers in arms. Napoleon replied: "Well, if your men can't withstand the effects of wine they will have to be satisfied with drinking beer in the future." In late 1811, two squadrons of Red Lancers escorted Napoleon through the new Belgian and Dutch departments.
Pierre Eduard Colbert was the colonel of the Red Lancers. Marshal Ney described Colbert as "consummate officer of the greatest distinction." Colbert earned the nickname "Iron Man" on many battlefields. Some found him domineering and tactless. In 1814, in a report presented to the Burbons he was described as "skilled and distinguished in all disciplines." Colbert earned the nickname "Iron Man" on many battlefields. Bullet wound to arm (Egypt), bullet wound to thigh (Austerlitz) three lance wounds (Eastern Prussia 1807), bullet wound to head (Wagram), bullet wound to arm (Quatre-Bras). - Ronald Pawly
The Decree of 11 March 1812 stated:
The Red Lancers wore one of the most striking uniforms in Napoleonic cavalry.
Initially it had been intended to dress the Red Lancers in uniforms similar to those worn by
the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval. Some Dutch officers quickly complied.
Henri Lachoque writes that Baron Colbert "was concerned about their uniform, believing
that the 2nd Lancers should be dressed like the 1st [Poles], although the czapka and
kurtka were essentially Polish garments."
In April 1812 the King of Prussia on learning that the Imperial Guard was passing through Potsdam, asked about the Red Lancers. The king admired their uniform.
In 1813 the five squadrons of Young Guard wore blue jackets faced with red.
Weapons and Horses.
Their primary weapon was lance and they received instructors from the (Polish) 1st
Lighthorse-Lancers. Ronald Pawly writes: "One of the instructors was Ltn. Fallot, who
had detached with 8 regimental NCOs to the Polish Guard Lancers at Chantilly in 27
November 1810 to learn the handling of the lance. ... In recent years Napoleon was
unpleasantly impressed by the effectivenness of this weapon - then a novelty in Western
Europe - in the hands of Austrian and Russian uhlans and
Cossacks, and in 1811 would see
his final decision to form a new lancer branch within the French cavalry.
That May, at Albuera in Spain, the Vistula Uhlans in French service took part in one of the most bloodily
successful cavalry charges of the Napoleonic Wars: together with the French 2nd Hussars
theyr rode right over a British infantry brigade ..."
The Red Lancer also carried carbine (An XIII model flintlock light cavalry musketoon) and light cavalry curved saber.
The Dutch lancers rode on chestnuts and bays, measuring between 14 and 14.75 hands (146-150 cm). Each cost approx. 460 francs. The horses came mostly from Ardennes, Manche, Orne and Calvados regions.
Red Lancers in Russia, 1812.
By March 1812 the regiment in the field numbered 41 officers and 649 other ranks. As they passed through Holland some officers took the opportunity which offered to see their families. On 22 March the Red Lancers entered Hanover. After several weeks on the march many of the horses were in poor shape. The reinforcements were soon ready to start their march eastwards. In April in Potsdam the Red Lancers met the King of Prussia. In May they were ordered to head for Danzig (today Gdansk. On 24 June the Red Lancers crossed the Niemen River over the bridge and entered Russia. Two days later they were used as outposts and scouts.
Deprived of good wine and food, and comfortable quarters, and constantly harrased by Cossacks the lancers lost their good spirit. General Colbert wrote to Bessieres (commander of the Imperial Guard): "A bad mood reigns among the officers, and it could spread to the soldiers if one should be indulgent."
On 27 July the Cossacks and the elite Russian Lifeguard Uhlans surprised detachments of Red Lancers at Babinovitz and took approx. 50 prisoners. Only an NCO and 3 lancers escaped. Colbert launched a pursuit but "the enemy had made off." The regiment then marched to Vitebsk where Napoleon was assembling his Imperial Guard. From there they moved to Smolensk and crossed the Dieper River.
From 14 August onwards the Red Lancers would form with the Polish Guard Lancers a brigade under Colbert. The mood in the regiment improved and on Napoleon's birthday the Dutch decorated trees with inscriptions and lanterns bearing the monograms of Napoleon. These ornaments were made by Sergeant Skalski of Polish Guard Lancers. Then the Dutch, French, Germans and the Poles shared their stores of spirits.
"The Red Lancers were dogged by ill luck with the Cossacks, who seemed insultingly eager to come to blows (perhaps as a result of their easy victory in the fight at Babinovitz). Sometimes when Cossacks saw a patrol of the Regiment they would make a rush at them shouting "A red one ! Catch him !", and often forced them to flee. It is said that, on occassion, the more experienced Polish Lancers would exchange their sombre blue and crimson uniform for the Dutch scarlet, causing considerable surprise to overconfident Cossacks and encouraging a warier approach in future." (Pawly - "The Red Lancers" p 35)
Paul Britten-Austin writes that the Dutchmen are "too phlegmatic" for the little warfare. Austin writes: "Approaching stealthily, Cossacks nevertheless (again) carry off the Dutch regiment's outpost picket. And again 'only one man escaped flat out at a gallop and brought the news to our camp. Even an hour and a half's pursuit couldn't catch up with the Cossacks.' Mortified by this second surprise of the campaign, Colbert doubles the 2nd Regiment's outposts; and, to make assurance doubly sure, mingles the Dutchmen with the warier, more experienced Poles." (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 333)
During the battles of Smolensk and Borodino the Red Lancers were held in reserve. On 22 September they passed under the walls of Kremlin, Moscow. "We found Moscow absolutely deserted ... We have been detached from the Guard and are involved daily with the Cossacks." - wrote Captain Calkoen.
"Nearing Bouikhovo after nearly 3 hours' ride, Calkoen's squadron were advancing a few hundred yards ahead of the Poles when Ltn. Doyen led his point troop up a hillock. They were immediately attacked from all sides by the Cossacks. Ltn. van Omphal's troops were at once sent to help them disengage, but were outflanked in their turn. The Red Lancers fell back towards the Polish squadron, who had halted and taken up battle formation. Under this cover the Dutch Lancers regrouped and charged the Cossacks again ..." (- Ronald Pawly)
In the end of the campaign the Polish Guard Lancers had their horses rough shod and saved
200 horses. But the Red Lancers didn't follow the Poles' habit and were able to save only
few officers' horses.
Red Lancers in Saxon Campaign, 1813.
In 1813 this regiment was rebuilt with volunteers and King Joseph's (Napoleon's brother) guard. Many of these men were veterans. Some sources give the first 5 squadrons as Old Guard and majority Dutch. The other 5 squadrons were ranked as Young Guard and were recruited in part from the municipal cavalry of the Guard of Paris. Other sources give 4 squadrons of Old Guard and 6 of Young Guard. Henri Lachoque writes: "Later the Emperor added 5 Young Guard squadrons, ranking the 5 veteran squadrons as Old Guard without increasing their pay and allowances." (Lachoque - "The Anatomy of Glory" p 433)
"General Colbert's brigade of Guard Lancers performed with distinction on the 20th, and on
the 21st when fighting continued at Wurschen. ... [At Reichenbach] Russian artillery was
emplaced and protected by other troops. Very soon the Cossacks were being supported by
Russian dragoons, and the position of Colbert's brigade became untenable.
With hardly 6 squadrons at his disposal the general ordered his Red Lancers to attack the
Russian cavalry while the other squadrons of the brigade formed a second line.
Counterattacked by much greater numbers, the first squadrons were forced to withdraw;
the intervention of the second line bought them time to rally."
(Pawly - "The Red Lancers")
At Dresden the Red Lancers successfully charged against Giulay's Austrians. Then they have fought at Nollendorf and Toplitz. On 14 October the Red Lancers captured a large convoy escorted by Cossacks. They were present at Leipzig. One squadron was trapped in the city by the destruction of the bridge.
Red Lancers in France, 1814.
In 1814 it was still a very strong regiment and participated in numerous combats. At Hoogstraten a detachment of Red Lancers under de Brack dealt with the Prussian uhlans. Several squadrons retired to Brussels. De Brack's detachment occupied Waterloo and the junction of the roads to Nivelles and Namur.
The regiment charged at Brienne and at La Rothiere. At La Rothiere the Red Lancers and Polish Guard Lancers attacked Vasilchikov's Russian hussars and dragoons. The Red Lancers made another charge and recaptured the guns lost by Duhesme's infantry.
At Montmirail the Red Lancers covered a 20-gun battery and suffered heavy losses from Allies' artillery.
At Antwerp 100 lancers made a well-timed charge against Allies skirmishers.
At Laon the Red Lancers successfully charged into Russians' right flank. But they failed to break infantry square and suffered heavy casualties. (The square was protected by a wide ditch.)
At St.Dizier they fought with great bravery, overrun 18 Russian guns and captured 6 guns and 400 Russian dragoons. General Sebastiani reported that in 20 years he had never seen a more brilliant charge !
After Napoleon's first abdication, many Dutch officers and NCOs asked to go home. Some hoped to be admitted to the new army of the Netherlands.
Red Lancers in Waterloo, 1815.
In 1815, just few weeks before Waterloo, Napoleon wrote: "As soon as possible the Red Lancers must be increased to 3 regiments..." This however didn't happen, the time was too short. It was only one regiment as they lacked horse and men, and even accepted cavalrymen from different sources: Royal Corps, retirement, Young Guard and even some horse grenadiers.
In Quatre Bras the Red Lancers fought with the Nassau infantry and Dutch troops. In Ligny they covered the withdrawal of the cuirassiers after their admirable charge. In Waterloo the Red Lancers charged Allies squares without artillery support and without success. During the retreat after the battle they routed several squadrons of British cavalry and escorted Napoleon to the Sambre River and on to Philippeville..
3rd Regiment of Lighthorse-Lancers (Polish) of the Imperial Guard
This regiment was formed in 1812 and was ranked as Young Guard (the 1st was Old Guard,
the 2nd 'Red Lancers' was Middle Guard). Napoleon took advantage of the Poles' good
will to create this unit.
In 1812 at Slonim the 3rd Guard Lancers were attacked by superior number of Cossacks and Pavlograd hussars. After a prolonged and dramatic fight (numerous charges and countercharges) the regiment was destroyed.
1st, 2nd and 3rd Regiment of Scouts of the Imperial Guard
In December 1813 Napoleon formed three new regiments of Guard cavalry. In the beginning these were eclaireurs, scouts. The scouts had neither cloaks nor breeches, they were issued undress coats, pantaloons, gray capes and stable jackets. Kozietulski, the Hero of Somosierra, was organizing the 3rd at Givet without farriers or trumpeters, and without pay. Hoffmnayer was obliged to appeal to the Berg Lancers for their mounts.
The three eclaireur or scout regiments, were attached to the Horse Grenadiers, Dragoons and Polish Guard Lancers respectively. "Napoleon had in mind a French counterpart to the Cossacks that had harrassed so effectively the French in 1812.
"Napoleon had repeatedly considered forming units of very light cavalry. Now three regiments - eclaireurs-grenadiers, eclaireurs-dragoons,
and eclaireurs-lanciers - were hastily scraped together. Their horses were small, hardy beasts
from the Pyrenees, the Ardennes, and the Rhone delta; their eqipment was very light.
Each regiment of eclaireurs had 4 squadrons of 250 men each (theoretically). In the 1st and 2nd Eclaireurs the privates of squadrons of Old Guard wore uniform of hussar pattern, green dolman with white laces and braid. Those of Young Guard wore a simple green a la Kinski coat. In the 3rd Eclaireurs they wore Polish style outfit.
These scouts were armed with lances and sabers (in first rank) and carbine and saber (in second rank).
In Arcis-sur-Aube in 1814 the eclaireurs advanced and were promptly met by a volley of shot
and shell from the crest of the plateau east of the town. Charged simultaneously by yelling
and Austrian cavalry,
the eclaireurs were thrown into panic and turned tail, colliding with Exelmans' cavalry which
promptly headed back to Arcis, pursued full tilt by the Russians.
The three regiments of eclaireurs were disbanded in June 1814.
1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Regiment of Honor Guard
In 1813 there were 15.000 volunteers with 20.000 horses, mounted and equipped at their own
expense. These 20-26 years old men came mainly from noble and wealthy families but were
hardly enthusiastic for military service and soon many deserted. They formed new regiments
named Life Guard but because of the desertions it was changed to Honor Guard.
The privates wore uniform of hussar pattern, green dolman and pelisse with white braid, edging and laces. The collar and cuffs were scarlet collar with white edging. Crimson sash with green sliding loops and cord. Silver buttons. The breeches were scarlet breeches with white lace. Short black hussar boots. The shako was scarlet with silver eagle, white top band, cords and flounders. Green plume with blue top over a pompon in squadron color inserted in a tricolour cockade. The chinstrap were silver. Green portemanteau with white edge and regimental number.
The privates were armed with light cavalry sabers and carbines.
Sources and Links.
Elting - "Swords around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée"
Houssaye - "La Vieille Garde Imperiale" (Ilustrations de Job)
Lachouque (Anne S. K. Brown) - "The Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and his Guard"
Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" transl. by Tim Simmons
Rousselot, text by Edward Ryan - "Napoleon's Elite Cavalry"
Mansel - "The Eagle in Splendour: Napoleon I and His Court"
Six - "Dictionaire biographique des generaux et amiraux..."
Pawly - "The Red Lancers"
Pictures of Honor Guard - Steven Palatka
Musée de l'Armée .
Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessieres.
General Étienne-Marie-Antoine-Champion de Nansouty.
Grenadiers a Cheval de la Garde.
Jean-Baptiste Guindey - Un héros pyrénéen sous l'Empire.
Chasseurs à cheval de la Garde impériale 1805.
Album photo estampes chasseurs à cheval.
Xème Escadron des Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde.
Pictures of Szwolezerowie Gwardii.
Pictures of Red Lancers.
La Gendarmerie d'élite de la Garde Impériale.
Napoleon, His Army and Enemies