Napoleon's Guard Lighthorse (Lancers)
Chevaulegere-lanciers de la Garde Imperiale

"These people only know how to fight !"
... You are worthy of my Old Guard I proclaim you my bravest cavalry !"
- Napoleon, Emperor of France

The charge of "these gallant horsemen [at Somosierra]"
"can hardly be paralleled in the annals of war."
- William Napier, officer of the British Army

Officer Jozef Zaluski of the Old Guard lancers
was limitlessly confident in Napoleon's genius:
"We could have been asked to conquer the moon,
and we'd have responded with Forward, march !"

1. Introduction
2. Battle Record
3. Weapons, Horses and Uniforms
4. Battles and Campaigns:
1808: in Spain ~ 1809: in Austria ~ 1810-1811: in Netherlands
1812: in Russia ~ 1813: in Germany ~ 1814: in France ~ 1815: in Belgium

Napoleon's Polish Guard Lancers by Lucien Rousellot

The Poles reached Paris, having established
a considerable reputation for drunkenness ...

Napoleon gave French instructors to train the Poles
but during review 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.

NCO of Guard Lighthorse, by Gembarzewski In 1807 Napoleon authorized the raising of a guard regiment of Polish light horse. His main object in so doing was probably political, a first token of his promise to establish an independent Polish state. Whatever his motives,he obtained the services of some of the finest soldiers who ever served under him. Qualifications for enlistment were high. Applicants must be landowners or the sons of landowners. Some financial backing was certainly necessary, as those accepted had to provide their own uniforms, saddlery and horses. (The men came mainly from Murat's Polish 'Honor Guard' and volunteers. Majority of them were nobles and were better educated than rank and file of the French Guard who - in big part - could only read and write. This situation however was only in the beginning, later on their ranks were filled up with veterans selected from every Polish cavalry regiment.) These lads reached Paris, having established a considerable reputation for drunkenness and disorder on the way. Under General Lasalle they were given an intensive course in horsemanship and discipline. They soon proved their value in action.

In November 1808, Emperor Napoleon was advancing on Madrid. Across his road lay the Sierra de Guadarrama, crossed by the Somosierra pass defended by 12,000 Spaniards. Marshal Victor, commanding the advanced guard, set about forcing the pass by conventional means, sending infantry to the high ground on either side. Napoleon was impatient. He ordered light cavalry to storm the pass. When one of the French commanders raised not unreasonable difficulties, the Emperor turned to the Poles who were acting as his escort and told them to charge. One hundred and fifty horsemen charged uphill for a mile and a half, storming four successive batteries, two of them covered by earthworks. As they approached the crest the Spaniards fired their cannons and muskets and fled. Eighty-three of the Poles were casualties, including all seven officers. It was an incredible feat for light cavalry.

At that time they were armed only with light cavalry sabers and carbines. They were issued with lances in the following year (in the end of 1809). Their uniform was Polish from the start; the square-topped cap or czapka, jacket or kurtka was dark blue with crimson facing and white piping, the trousers were also dark blue with crimson stripes. Officers were distinguished by silver lace and piping. When lances were issued they had pennants in the Polish colors, red over white.

by Richard J. Lysiak


Battle Record.

14th July 1808 - Medina del Rio Seco
10th Oct 1808 - Burgos
30th Nov 1808 - Somosierra
22nd May 1809 - Essling
6th July 1809 - Wagram
28th June 1812 - Wilno
22nd July 1812 - Mohylów
16th Aug 1812 - Smolensk
7th Sep 1812 - Borodino
25th Oct 1812 - Malo-Yaroslawec
17th Nov 1812 - Krasnoje
28th Nov 1812 - Berezina
2nd May 1813 - Weissenfelds/Lützen
19th - 21st May 1813 - ßautzen
22nd May 1813 - Reichenbach
21st Aug 1813 - Görlitz
27th Aug 1813 - Drezno
16th Sep 1813 - Peterswalde
24th Sep 1813 - Hochkirchen, Altenburg
18th - 19th Oct 1813 - Leipzig
30th - 31st Oct 1813 - Hanau
30th Oct 1813 - Nieder - Isingheim
27th Jan 1814 - St. Dizier
29th Jan 1814 - Brienne
1st - 2nd Feb 1814 - La Rothiére
10th and 14th Feb 1814 - Chaumpaubert
11th Feb 1814 - Montmirail
12th Feb 1814 - Château - Thierry
14th Feb 1814 - Vauchamps
14th Feb 1814 - Villeneuve
18th Feb 1814 - Montereau
24th Feb 1814 - Troyes
3rd March 1814 - Rocourt
4th March 1814 - Braisne
5th March 1814 - Berry-sur-Aube
7th March 1814 - Craonne
8th March 1814 - Laon
13th March 1814 - Reims
18th March 1814 - Fere Champenoise
20th - 21st March 1814 - Arcis-sur-Aube
23rd March 1814 - Vitry
26th March 1814 - St. Dizier
29th March 1814 - Bourget
30th March 1814 - Paris
16th June 1815 - Quatre Bras
18th June 1815 - Waterloo


The Lighthorse became one of the most striking
cavalry units of the Napoleonic army.

Weapons, Horses and Uniforms.
Polish uniforms, French weapons, and German horses.

In the beginning they were armed with sabers, pistols and carbines with bayonets. The sabers and pistols were primarily drawn from captured Prussian stocks, generally being of indifferent quality. (Rousselot - "Napoleon's Elite Cavalry") The Prussian weapons were gradually replaced with excellent French weapons.
Friendly duel between a Pole armed with lance and 2 Guard Dragoons The Poles however were eager to show their skill with their traditional weapon, the lance. In 1809 in Vienna, NCO Jordan of the Guard Lighthorse, called upon dragoons of Napoleon's Guard, to "fight" him. Two battle-hardened veterans stepped out, he unhorsed both. This friendly duel was watched by Napoleon, Marshal Murat, and staff officers.
(see picture -->)
Since then on the primary weapon became lance. It was issued in the end of 1809 to troopers of both ranks. However soon it had become evident that the 2nd rank in a charge didn't need lances. Form then on they were armed in an "old Polish style", that means only part of the troopers of the 1st rank were armed with lances. For example a company of 125 men was armed as follow:
1st rank
2 marechaux-des-logis - saber, 2 pistols
4 brigadiers - saber, carbine, bayonet, pistol and lance
44 cavaliers - saber, pistol and lance
2nd rank
4 brigadiers - saber, carbine, bayonet, pistol
44 cavaliers - saber, carbine, bayonet, pistol
3 trumpeters - saber, 2 pistols
2 blacksmiths - saber, pistol
9 lanciers - saber, pistol, lance
9 carabiniers - saber, carbine, bayonet, pistol
1 marechal-des-logis-chef - saber, 2 pistols
2 marechaux-des-logis - saber, 2 pistols
1 fourrier - saber, 2 pistols


  • I Squadron rode on chestnuts
  • II Squadron on bays
  • III Squadron on blacks
  • IV Squadron on dark greys
    During wartime however they accepted whatever good horses they got, regardless of their color.
    In 1810 their mounts were between 14 1/4 and 14 1/2 hands tall in "uniform groups of chestnuts, bay, black and dark grey." In 1813 they rode on superb horses contributed by the German princes and 600 horses purchased in Hannover.

    Lighthorse in parade outfit Before parade the crimson lapels were opened, the headwear was uncovered and decorated with white plume, he would change his overalls into his service trousers and unhook the points of his schabraque. An unique feature of the jacket was the silver lace bordering the jacket's crimson lapels. Around the headwear was wound a double white cord, from which hung a tassel and two flounders. A toned down version of the parade uniform was worn also in some great
    During campaign the trooper has donned looser trousers, or overalls. These overalls (also called pantalon de voyage) were dark blue and were reinforced with leather on the inside of each leg and around their bottoms. He has turned under the crimson lapels of his jacket and covered his headwear (also called czapka) in its protective cover. The tall white plume is removed and lance pennon is protected by a cover. In this outfit he participated in skirmishes, pursuits, small engagements and scouting. He would also wear it in great battles if they were fought during poor weather or there was no time to change it into the Full Parade Dress. In 1809 were issued white capotes with sleeves and shoulder cape. They had red collars.

  • ~

    On the summit of Somosierra a Polish officer shouted:
    "I am dying, there are the captured guns ...
    Napoleon: "You are worthy of my Old Guard !
    I proclaim you my bravest cavalry !" and ordered
    his Guard to present arms to the Poles as they rode by.
    "From then on they were a legendary regiment."
    - John Elting "Swords Around a Throne"

    1808: in Spain
    "Polonais, prenez moi cez canons !" - Napoleon
    (Poles, take the cannons !)

    In 1807-08 the regiment had 60 officers and approx. 1,000 other ranks in four squadrons. (In the history of regiment were total of 195 officers of these 22 were Frenchmen.) Each squadron had two companies of 125 men each.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Staff:
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Colonel Wincenty Krasinski
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Major Pierre Dautancourt (Frenchman from Elite Gendarmes)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Major Antoine-Charles-Bernard Delaitre (Frenchman from Guard Mamelukes)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Adjutant-major Ignace-Louis Duvivier (Frenchman from Guard Horse Grenadiers)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Adjutant-Major Ladislas Poleretzky (Frenchman from Guard Chasseurs)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Quartermaster Antoine Raulet (Frenchmen from Guard Mamelukes)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Paymaster - ??? (Frenchman)

    . . . . . I Squadron - Tomasz Lubienski

    . . . . . II Squadron - Jan Leon Hipolit Kozietulski

    . . . . . III Squadron - Ignacy Ferdinand Stokowski

    . . . . . IV Squadron - Henryk Ignacy Kamienski

    In 1808 the regiment was moved from Poland, through France and to Spain. Officer Chlapowski writes: "I spent 3 days in Bayonne, just at the time when the old Spanish king, Charles IV, his queen, and the Prince of Peace [Godoy] were leaving for Valencay, where the Emperor was to imprison them. ... The Emperor also invited Ferdinand to Bayonne, but refused to recognize him as king and packed him off to Valencay as well. ... The Emperor and Empress lived in the palace of Marac a quarter of a mile from the city on the road to Pamplona. ... A battalion of Old Guard Grenadiers were camped in tents by the chateau, so close that only a carriage could pass between them and the wall. Right beside them were 200 Basques from the Pyrenees, who had formed a guard of honor for the Emperor. Their costume was a short blue jacket, short black breeches ... They were fine looking, lively people, and reputedly good shots. Five hundred paces further on along the Pamplona road was a squadron of our Polish Guard Lighthorse under Cpt. Dziewanowski." (Chlapowski/Simmons - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" p 33)
    Count de Sentf Pisach, former Ministry of Saxony wrote about Chlapowski: " ... a young Polish officer d'ordonnance called Chlapowski, to whom the Emperor had taken a fancy, and who at the time enjoyed a charmed life at court."
    Chlapowski continues: "There can be no frontier in Europe which so starkly divides two such markedly different countries. ... On one side of the Bidassoa the people are short, cheerful and lively, and on the other side [Spanish] tall, serious and dreary. On the French side, little houses ... are scattered here and there, over more or less flat countryside, while on the far side stands the town of Irun, hewn from the local stone, with high mountains behind it into which the road climbs immediately on leaving the town, twisting and turning upwards from peak to peak until it reaches Vittoria ... There wass a post rider, a Spaniard in his great cape, galloping along in front of me. His horse's bridle was covered with bells, so at night, although I could not see him, I could always hear him. Spanish post horses are marvellous mounts ... " (- p 35)
    Chlapowski and his troop went on to Vittoria, Miranda and reached the battlefield at Somosierra, about which they had been told on the way. There were still several bodies of Polish lighthorsemen in the snow, which continued to cover the summit of Somosierra. Chlapowski found some severely wounded men who had not yet been transported ! They told him about the charge, claiming all the officers and over half the men had been killed and wounded. The ambulances soon arrived and took the wounded to Madrid. "The action fought at the pass of Somosierra on 30 Nov 1808 marked the culmination of a dramatic campaign that had seen the French army more than avenge Bailen. The Spanish armies had been swept aside, whilst the emperor had reached the very gates of Madrid. At the heart of this situation, it has often been argued, was the influence of Bailen. " (Esdaile - "The Peninsular War" p 109)
    Emperor salutes the Poles after their charge. By Wojciech Kossak. On picture: awed Emperor salutes the wounded Poles after their charge at Somosiera 1808. Picture by Wojciech Kossak.

    According to napoleon-series.org the Battle of Somosierra or Battle of Madrid, in itself would be forgotten by most, except for the valor of the troops involved. The main participant of the charge was the III Squadron of Polish Guard lighthorsemen. The Spaniards refused to flee, they stubbornly defended their guns to the very last and inflicted heavy casualties on the attackers. The charge took between 7 and 25 minutes (Marian Kukiel gave 8-10 min., Kossak 7-8 min., and Niegolewski simply "several minutes'). The Poles took 16 guns in frontal assault and broke through enemy's lines. The battle was won.
    De Segur gave a fascinating description of the charge: "We charged at full speed, I was about 10 paces in front with my head bent down, uttering our war cry by way of distracting my attention from the din of the enemy's fire which was all breaking out at once and the infernal hiss of their bullets and grape shot. ... Our warlike cries were becoming lost in the cries of pain of the unfortunate Poles; I did not dare to turn my head, fearing that the sad spectacle would cause me to give up. ... One officer alone was following me, Rudowski, I believe, a colossus, like most of these picked men. He was still on horseback, but wounded to death, staggering, and on the point of falling off with his face to the enemy. ... Nearly the whole of the squadron was laid low ... twenty alone had escaped this massacre safe and sound. These had assisted their wounded to retire, so that, over the whole of the remaining ground covered by our charge. I only saw one trumpeter left standing, motionless in the midst of the firing which was still going on. The poor child was weeping for his squadron..."

    Battle of Somosierra, 1808


    "It was at Wagram that the Polish lighthorsemen
    ... had a bloody encounter with an enemy regiment
    of lancers. With their sabers they overwhelmed
    their opponents and then seized their lances,
    for the lance was the favorite weapon of the Poles."
    - Charles Parquin

    1809: in Austria.
    The Lighthorse defeated Austrian uhlans.

    In 1809 the regiment was present at the battle of Wagram. Chlapowski writes: "Then he [Napoleon] gave the following orders: the Polish Guard Lighthorse supported by the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval were to advance at the gallop in front of the left wing of the Army of Italy; the Guard Horse Artillery were to follow them, deploy on their left and fire into the flank of the Austrians attacking Massena ... It was clear that there was no stopping Macdonald, who was making good progress with the cuirassiers advancing behind. The Emperor called me to him and told me to deliver orders, first to the Polish Lighthorse to charge the enemy facing them, and second, to the Guard Chaseeurs-a-Cheval to support the charge. When he had finished speaking and raised my hat in salute, as was our custom on receiving orders from the Emperor, a cannon ball hit my headwear and hurled it through the air. The Emperor roared with laughter and said to me: ' It's a good job you're not taller !'" (Chlapowski, - p 84)

    Poles vs Austrians Chlapowski delivered the orders to the Polish Guard Lighthorse and French Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval to attack the Austrian Schwarzenberg Uhlans and Latour Dragoons. The two front squadrons of the Poles were commanded by Delaitre (a Frenchman) and the other two by Kozietulski (The Hero of Somosierra). Delaitre was senior to Kozietulski but he was short-sighted and wore spectacles. Seeing the uhlans preparing to charge, and overestimating their strength, he decided that the regiment should retire on the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval who were in support to the rear. Being the senior officer he ordered the entire regiment to turn right about face. Kozietulski saw the danger that the uhlans would catch the regiment from behind, and so immediately gave the same order again. So having twice turned about face, the Lighthorse again found themselves facing the Austrian uhlans.
    Kozietulski ordered: "Advance at the trot !" The Poles fought well, they captured 150 prisoners including several officers and the Duke of Auersberg. Majority of the prisoners were Poles who no longer wanted to serve in the Austrian army. It was the greatest 'catch' the regiment enjoyed.
    The majority of the uhlans (also Poles) however were loyal to the Austrian monarch and gave a very hard time for the Lighthorse. The regiment suffered 26 killed and wounded, making it the most costly cavalry-vs-cavalry combat in the history of the regiment. Even the Prussian Guard Cavalry and the Russian Cossacks, dragoons and uhlans in 1813 were unable to inflict heavier casualties.
    When the battle of Wagram was over, Napoleon rode over the battlefield. There were lots of dead and wounded soldiers. The Emperor stoped several times by the wounded, and ordered to give them some wine or brandy. Ambulances were picking up the wounded.

    Colonel Wincenty Krasinski
    Major Pierre Dautancourt
    Major Antoine-Charles-Bernard Delaitre
    Adjutant-Major Ignace-Louis Duvivier
    Adjutant-Major Ladislas Poleretzky
    Quartermaster Antoine Raulet
    Paymaster - ???

    I Squadron - Tomasz Lubienski

    II Squadron - Jan Leon Hipolit Kozietulski

    III Squadron - Ignacy Ferdinand Stokowski

    IV Squadron - Henryk Ignacy Kamienski


    "But that time we had got the Emperor back on to dry land,
    for as soon as the [British] frigate appeared,
    our vice-admiral had ordered us to return to port."
    - Dezydery Chlapowski

    1810-11: in Netherlands.
    Napoleon visited the Boulogne Camp.

    British warships in battle In 1810 and 1811 the regiment rested and enjoyed good time in France. Many lighthorsemen were awarded, for example Kozietulski received Legion d'Honneur and the title of baron of Empire. Wincenty Krasinski was promoted to the rank of general.
    The Poles also escorted Emperor and his wife on their trip to Belgium. Chlapowski writes: "In Spring 1811 I was ordered to take 150 of our lancers and 150 Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval to Boulogne, where the Emperor was to make a visit. He arrived soon after us. There was one division there, in the same camp which the whole army had occupied in 1804 preparing for the invasion of England, and from which it had set off for Ulm, Austerlitz, and later, Jena in 1806. There were also a few hundred barges still in Boulogne, which had been collected to transport the army to England. The Emperor had the division put though its paces, then went on board one of the boats. I was detailed to bring along 50 chasseurs, and the whole flotilla put to sea. The weather was quite calm all morning, and our oarsmen had an easy job of it. But around noon a west wind sprang up and 3 English ships appeared: a frigate and two brigs. They were in full sail and made such a good speed for Boulgne that they got there before the last boats and captured two of them, with 40 occupants apiece. But that time we had got the Emperor back on to dry land, for as soon as the frigate appeared, our vice-admiral had ordered us to return to port.

    From Boulogne only 25 horsemen escorted the Emperor to Flushing. There were 14 ships of the line and 4 frigates in the port. The Emperor spent the night in one of the ships, the City of Warsaw. The next day he inspected all the vessels, and after lunch went on to Antwerp. .... Kozietulski then arrived with his detachment, which I joined up with at Utrecht. As senior officer, he took over command of the escort. From Amsterdam, the Emperor went with a squadron each of lancers and chasseurs to explore the coastline as far as Texel and Helder, then returned to Amsterdam.
    I spent the winter of 1811-1812 much as I had the previous year. There was a lot of talk about war with Russia, but it was only in May that any decision was made and we marched off by way of Rheims, Verdun, Mainz, Dresden, and Glogau, to Poznan (Posen)." (Chlapowski, - pp 100-101)


    In 1812 one of the Polish lancers lost his headwear.
    Jerzmanowski ordered him to go back and retrieve it
    to prevent the enemy from claiming any trophy
    taken from this regiment. It was unusual since many
    French troops panicked before Cossacks and left
    behind their wounded, weapons, not to mention

    1812: in Russia.
    "As soon as a raport arrived that there were Cossacks about
    the order would come down: 'Polonais, allez vous ! [Poles, off you go !]
    It was a rare night indeed that we slept undisturbed."
    - Officer Dezedery Chlapowski

    The regiment spent the winter of 1811-1812 very happily in Paris. Chlapowski: "... the Emperor decided on his return from Holland to provide entertainment for his much younger bride, and so every day there was a reception or ball, sometimes in the Tuileries, sometimes at the house of one of his sisters ... Finally, in April, war with Russia seemed certain. We left our barracks in Chantilly in early May and marched to Theims, then Verdun. There our Polish officers became very friendly with some Englishmen who were on a private tour of the continent, and these men said they wanted France to defeat Russia so that our country could be recreated. I met there a Lord Blanchy, a Lord Bogle, and some of their company. From Verdun we made for Longwy and the Luxembourg, which is a very strong fortress with a large garrison. ... We then passed through some beautiful country. The views around Trier in particular were fabulous. ... In Vilnius (Wilno) we were idle for two weeks." (Chlapowski, - pp 103-105)

    The regiment was very strong and formed entire brigae. The organization was as follow:

    4th Guard Cavalry Brigade - GdB Wincenty Krasinski
    Colonel - GdB Jan Konopka
    First Grosmajor - Pierre Dautancourt
    Second Grosmajor - Dominik Radziwill

    . . . . . I Squadron - Jan Leon Hipolit Kozietulski

    . . . . . II Squadron - Dezydery Chlapowski

    . . . . . III Squadron - Jan Pawel Jerzmanowski

    . . . . . IV Squadron - Piotr Krasinski

    . . . . . V Squadron - Seweryn Fredro

    . . . . . VI Squadron - Stanislaw Rostworowski

    Some sources mention only five squadrons (total of 10 companies).
    One company of Vistula uhlans was attached to this regiment
    and numbered 11th Company.

    The regiment on the march would be to walk for the first hour, then stop for 10 minutes to dismount, give our horses water, and tighten all their saddle straps. After an hour's march every horse loses weight off its stomach and the straps loosen, so it is a good idea to tighten them. The men then remounted and walked on for a few hundred paces, then break into a trot if the ground allowed and continue for 2 hours. When they reached destination the quartermaster would distribute billeting cards.
    One squadron of the Poles served as escort to Marshal Davout, another squadron to the Emperor. The regiment reached Wilia River and Napoleon ordered Kozietulski's troop to chase off some Cossacks who had collected on the far bank. One of the Polish officers wrote: "Our boys jumped into the water and some were drowned, but the Cossacks disappeared." De Segur writes that "Napoleon ordered a squadron of Poles to throw themselves into the river. Unhesitatingly these elite troops do so. At first they ride in good order, and when they can no longer touch bottom they redouble their efforts. Swimming, they soon reach midstream. But the current, which is at its swiftest there, scatters them. Their horses panic. Their loss is certain, but it;s their own country that lies ahead, their devotion is to the liberator ! About to be engulfed, they renounce their efforts, and turning their heads towards Napoleon, shout as they drown." But Marbot saw only one man drown "I took the man's name. It was Tzsinski." Gougard, too, pours scorn on de Segur's description.

    Skirmishes with the Cossacks
    at Ostrovno and Smolensk.

    A deputation came from Polish parliament in Warsaw to ask the Emperor to announce the union of Lithuania and the Duchy of Warsaw, but the Emperor gave an ambiguous reply which saddneded many lancers. Napoleon wanted to appease Russia, but the Tsar refused to make peace. Chlapowski writes: "The Emperor would then find himslef at war at both ends of Europe, in Spain and in Poland. That way he could never bring England to heel. ... From Vilnius we eventually marched off with the Emperor to Glebokie on the Vitebsk Road.
    Marshal Murat, King of Naples Lifeguard Cossacks A few miles short of this city there was a bloody skirmish at Ostrowno ... One of our squadrons, which was escorting Murat in person, lost heavily on this occasion as the King of Naples cared as little for his own safety as for that of anybody else. ... we came several times upon Russian rearguard of Cossacks and Lifeguard Hussars, but they never once stood to fight. All they did each time was sent out flankers to harry us, while the main body retired. We caught a few red cossacks (Lifeguard Cossacks). They are a very tall and powerful race."
    "News reached the headquarters at Dabrowna that a Russian force had crossed the Dnieper River ... The Emperor sent four squadrons [from the total of six] of Polish Guards under Kozietulski to investigate. We set off after midnight, and ... arrived at a spot half mile from Katane. There we encountered our first Cossacks. Our main body halted by some building and one squadron went out to meet them. The Cossacks retreated off to our left, towards the Dnieper. At about this time the sun rose and we were able to see the country round about. To our front stood a line of cavalry on the crest of a hill, screened by a few hundred Cossacks. Kozietulski now recalled the first platoon, which had already come to grips with the Cossacks, and he formed the leading squadron into line. The regular cavalry must have been able to see our other three squadrons in support, as they did not move from their position.
    Cossacks But the Cossacks approached with increasing boldness, firing with their ancient pistols. As we sent nobody out to skirmish with them, they came closer and closer, shouting; 'Lachy !' (slang for Poles) when they discovered we were Polish. A Cossack officer on a fine grey horse came as close as a 100 paces, perhaps less, and in good Polish challenged us to meet him in single combat. Kozietulski forbade any of us to move. The Cossack jumped from his horse and cried; 'Now you can catch me !' He then took off his cap and waved it in the air, then having concluded that he would not provoke us, he leapt on his horse and rejoined his men. The Cossacks must have fired a hundred shots at us, but not one hit its target. Cossack will not charge even a lone squadron if is in good order. They like best to rackle individuals, whom they taunt in order to lure them out of the way, entrap them, and take them prisoner. For that reason you should never let impetous, bold, or excitable troopers go out and skirmish with Cossacks." (Chlapowski - pp 111-112)
    Smolensk is on the left bank of Dnieper River. Chlapowski writes: "From the Emperor's tent we could see all of Smolensk ... There were masses of Cossacks circling in front of the city. Between the French line and the city walls was a massive gully into which the Cossacks had spilled. As I was on duty that day, I was ordered by the Emperor to take a squadron and force the Cossacks wiwthdrew. Coming up out of the ditch on the far side, I deployed the squadron in a single line, as I expected the enemy to shoot at us from the walls. Sure enough, they fired a number of howitzer shells, one of which exploded in the middle of the squadron. A few men were wounded, and some horses broke ranks in fright, so the Cossacks seized the moment to charge us. They were upon us very quickly, and I had to parry one of their lances with my saber. I damaged the lance but did not cut right through it, and it struck my horse's head, wounding it from its ears to the nostrils. Captain Skarzynski accounted for 2 or 3 Cossacks. Cossack lances are longer than ours, and in a close fight they handled less well. Our squadron repulsed this attack and sent the Cossacks back to the shelter of their walls."

    Battle of Borodino.
    The entire regiment spent the whole time in a hollow, and only once moved to higher ground, and that was when the French, Polish and Saxon cuirassiers charged the Russian infantry in Raievski Redoubt. The regiment moved in support and charge in turn if the heavies were repulsed. The cuirassiers captued the earthwork and cut the infantry to pieces. The day after battle the Poles and the Red Lancers set off to the south of the great Moscow Road.

    The (Dutch) Red Lancers.
    General Colbert In the Polish Guard Lancer Regiment served men from eastern parts of Poland who spoke some Russian language. These were used as translators or put into the advance guard. They would speak Russian to anybody they came across and pass themselves off as Russian troops. Some of the locals knew that the Russian army had uhlan regiments, so they mistook the Polish Guard for one of those units. The Dutch 'Red Lancers' had no knowldge of Russian language, so General Colbert added 1 or 2 Poles to each Dutch outpost.
    At Famonskoie the Cossacks ambushed and captured a whole Dutch detachment ! General Colbert mounted his horse and set off with 2 squadrons in pursuit, but the Cossacks made off with their prisoners so quickly that all that could be seen were their hoof prints in the mud. The Poles moved on the Moscow-Kaluga Road and captured a post chaise, in it was Minister Guriev. General Colbert sent him to the Emperor under escort.

    In Moscow.
    In Moscow Chlapowski was ordered to leave 1 officer and 25 lancers in the Kremlin where Napoleon was. Chlapowski was given quarters in the palace of Prince Lubanov, Colonel Krasinski in the palace of Baryshnikov, the great banker. To Chlapowski's disgust, numerous soldiers tried to sell their comrades goods they had looted for free. There were stockpiles of fur coats and hats. He writes: "Before leaving we equipped our entire regiment with fur hats." The French officers found few French actors in Moscow and arranged daily performances. The audience consisted exclusively of soldiers. In late October the regiment left Moscow and after several days was in Mozajsk.

    To the rescue of the Emperor !
    Kozietulski Near Malo-Yaroslavetz the Cossacks attacked Napoleon's headquarters at Gorodnia [Horodnia]. The only troops with the Emperor was the Duty Squadron of the 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.
    Guard Lancer in winter, by Gembarzewski Chlapowski writes: "This was the fault of General Colbert, (ext.link) who over-reacted to the threat to an isolated squadron by hurling everything he had at the enemy. We could have avoided suffering losses if he had charged with only a few squadrons and followed up with the rest of the brigade at a slow and orderly pace. You should never engage your whole strength at once, especially when dealing with Cossacks. This was the worst loss we suffered during the entire Russian campaign. The Dutchmen were less experienced than our men and did not know how to handle Cossacks. Every time they were in the rearguard they would lose a few men, and the Cossacks were becoming increasingly bold in attacking them. So one day Colbert ordered a squadron of our boys to swap their white greatcoats for the Dutch ones." (to confuse the enemy) The Dutchmen were brave men, no doubt about it, but not well suited for this campaign. The Poles, whose homeland habitually suffered bitter winters and cold winds from the east, will have been better prepared for the hardships, mentally and perhaps physically.

    Retreat from Russia.
    Polish Guard lancers escorting Napoleon in 
Russia, 1812 After the battle of Krasne Napoleon moved toward Smolensk. Murat ordered the regiment to follow him at the trot and then ordered to charge right in to the village occupied by Russian jagers. The Poles suffered 10 killed and wounded before they reached the center of the village. The cavalry was unable to gallop in deep snow, they lost several horses to close range fire, came out the other side and formed up again. Napoleon was furious at Murat and sent a single infantry company (of Old Guard Foot Grenadiers) who took the village without a single shot. The Foot Grenadiers also freed several Poles who had been unhorsed and taken prisoner by the jagers. Chlapowski was greatly impressed with the Foot Grenadiers, saying that they "stood as solid as a wall."
    During retreat from Russia the Polish Guard Lancers and the French Guard Chasseurs formed Napoleon's escort. The 7th Company of the Guard Lancers and the French Guard chasseurs-a-cheval formed Napoleon's escort and accompanied the Emperor through Lithuania. The rest of the Guard Lancer Regiment escorted Emperor's money and baggage.
    They also guarded their regimental cook Garlinski "like hawks". He busy himself cooking whatever the lancers collected, flour, beef and horse meat. Every morning before setting off, every lancer would receive a round of bread and a piece of meat. They crossed the Niemen River at Kovno, left the hostile territory behind and entered Lithuania. They no longer slept in the open.


    Only very few regiments attained the perfection
    of changing formation at gallop without losing
    its order. At Reichenbach despite the fact
    they were under heavy artillery fire, they made
    half-turn and crushed enemy's cavalry without
    losing its alignment.

    1813: in Germany.
    "I instructed both squadrons to go hell for leather
    as soon as I sounded the charge."
    - Officer Chlapowski at Reichenbach

    Napoleon's lighthorseman vs Prussian 
hussar. By W. Kossak On picture: Guard lighthorseman versus Prussian Death's Head's hussar, by Wojciech Kossak. This picture is not authentic in its details but is evidence of the enduring interest in the regiment.

    After the retreat from Russia and massive losses the regiment was forced to accept many young soldiers without battle experience. In the beginning of April 1813 the regiment had 531 men in 3 squadrons and was part of 1st Guard Cavalry Division. In mid August 1813 they still were part of 1st Guard Cavalry Division, their strength however was increased to 7 squadrons (1.380 men)
    At Dresden the Guard Lancers suffered from artillery fire. Officer Julian Krasinski had his head taken off by cannonball in front of the regiment. Officer Kruszewski was mortally wounded. But the Guard Lancers had no reason to complain, at Dresden Napoleon defeated Russia, Prussia and Austria, all three participants of the partitions of Kingdom of Poland.

    Cavalry combat at Petersvalde On Sept 16th 1813 at Peterswalde the Guard Lancers put to rout the Prussian Life Hussars. NCO Mierzejewski wounded Colonel Friedrich von Blucher, a relative of the well-known General Blucher, and took him prisoner. Officer Jankowski was awarded with a star of the Légion d'honneur [Legion of Honor] and the whole regiment won fame.
    The campaign in Saxony was a very busy time for the Guard Lancers. They participated in numerous skirmishes and several battles. The Polish Guard Lancers, the Dutch-French Red Lancers and the Berg Lancers formed brigade under General Charles comte Lefebvre-Desnouettes (1773 - 1822) He was a very brave and loyal commander. At Benavente Lefebvre-Desnouettes and his Guard Chasseurs were ambushed. The defeat was entirely of his own making, he ought to have had scouts ahead of his force to avoid just that eventuality. Lefebvre-Desnouettes was "taken prisoner by a German dragoon named Bergman who is stated to have then given up his prize to a trooper Grisdale of the British 10th Hussars." (napoleon-series.org) Lefebvre-Desnouettes broke his parole and escaped from England back to France. He participated in every major campaign. After the Napoleonic Wars he escaped to the United States, and spent the next few years farming in Louisiana.

    Russian dragoons and uhlans
    at Reichenbach.

    Guard Polish Lancers at Reichenbach In May near Zgorzelec (Gorlitz) General Walther was ordered to take all regiments of the cavalry of Imperial Guard and move to the right. Walther's force met Russian rearguard at Reichenbach. Chlapowski describes the actions of his regiment: "We marched off by platoons, and crossing the fields at a trot we covered about 0.5 mile until we came to a deep ditch full of trees. There we had to halt and cross slowly in pairs. As soon as my 2 squadrons had crossed, General Lefebvre-Desnouettes ... ordered me to see off a mass of Cossacks that had appeared to our front. I formed line with my two squadrons and advanced toward the enemy. The Cossacks retired before us firing their side arms. We followed them for 300 paces, while the next two squadrons under Jerzmanowski (in 1815 Elba Squadron) crossed the ditch behind us. We came upon a second ditch ... The Cossacks halted on the far side, and kept up a lively fire from behind the trees. They began moving against us again, but as soon as we begun to cross this ditch in a couple of places, they resumed their retreat. When we had crossed the second ditch, we saw a line of regular cavalry beyond the Cossacks. After we had advanced 500 paces I could make out four squadrons: two of dragoons in the center, with one of lancer on either side. Once my squadrons had crossed the ditch and reformed into line, we began slowly to advance.
    General Lefebvre-Desnouettes General Lefebvre-Desnouettes arrived in a rush (ext.link) and said I should charge. But he did not say this as an order, and he added that he trusted my judgement. ... We were still about 500 paces from the enemy, so I said to the general, who was riding beside me: 'If you permit me to advance at a walk for another 150 paces, and then to move straight into a charge, I vow I can shatter the enemy's center.' He agreed and returned to the squadrons that were crossing the ditch behind us.
    We continued at a walk for another 300 paces, and I instructed both squadrons to go hell for leather as soon as I sounded the charge. They were not lower their lances, however, but should point them at the enemy's faces. ... We were perhaps 200 paces away when I ordered, 'Charge !' and in the blinking of an eye we were upon them. ... The melee lasted but a few seconds. From the moment we struck, the enemy fell into confusion and began to retreat, even including the uhlans who had no foe to their front. I did not see how many men fell because I had passed through their line so quickly. My squadrons had themselves become disordered and individuals were chasing after those of the enemy whose horses were weakest, and ordering them to dismount."
    "But shortly I saw a second enemy line approaching, all of them uhlans. I stopped my horse, and had only begun to restore order to the ranks when this line began a charge. I was obliged to reform as best I could, 'Forward ! March !' otherwise they would have caught us stationary, which you should never let the enemy do. ... As they charged, the Russian uhlans lost some of their dressing, but they still came on and broke into our line. They outnumbered us, and we should certainly have been beaten if Jerzmanowski had not come up with his two squadrons. He was the very best field officer in the regiment ... and with a fine, cool judgement. At just the right moment he struck the enemy from our left flank, having come up close at a walk to save energy for his charge. The uhlans retreated almost faster than they had charged. A dozen or so fell into our hands. ... The uhlans had disappeared, and our four squadrons reformed into line. We had advanced quite a way ahead of the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval ... and so General Lefebvre-Desnouettes ordered us to halt."
    "Then another regiment regiment of Russian uhlans appeared ... and advanced toward us in line. But when it was still 500 paces away it broke into a gallop. Lefebvre-Desnouettes ... again wanted us to counter-charge. (ext.link) Jerzmanowski, who knew the general very well, told him there was no point in charging, as the enemy had begun to gallop far too soon; they would soon lose formation and would never reach us. Sure enough, their line shortly broke up, a few dozen pulled ahead and the majority began to slow down. Nobody came any closer to us than 100 paces. ... General ordered two platoons to form skirmish order and go out to meet them. They brought back half a dozen or more of the slowest horsemen. We discovered they weren't lances, but regular Ukrainian Cossacks. ... The Cossacks had retreated and were reforming a very long way away from us. This proved them to be very young recruits, whose officers were probably no better. ... Now General Walther appeared, and after complimenting us on our charge he ordered us to march off by platoons to the left and advance up the slope ... "
    There was unwritten law to not maneuver in front of enemy's cavalry - too often it ended up in a disaster. Only very few regiments attained the perfection of changing the formation at gallop without losing its order and in front of the enemy. At Reichenbach the Guard lancers got under artillery fire, made half-turn and crushed enemy's cavalry without losing its alignment. Chlapowski writes: "When we were about 60 paces from the hussars they turned and fled, and did not stop until they had passed through a regiment of cuirassiers, behind which they began to reform. ... Shortly after we had charged the hussars, the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval came over to support us.
    General Fredric-Henri Walther, commander of cavalry of the Imperial Guard General Walther (on picture) must have seen the line of enemy cuirassiers. First came the Mamelukes ... and launched a charge straight into the cuirassiers. The enemy commander could not have believed that a single squadron would attack his brigade. ... It's true that our four squadrons were also advancing toward the cuirassiers, but they gave us no chance to attack as they retreated in a rabble upon their second line. We were promptly ordered back to our original position, facing Miloradoich's guns. ... a hail of balls and shells came in our direction ... One shell exploded between me and Cpt Jankowski. A fragment struck his lip ... and another hit me with more force on the right shoulder. But I was able to stay on my horse, and only dismounted when the fighting was over. ... Generals Walther, (ext.link) Lefebvre-Desnouettes and Letort all congratulated me on my successful charges. I was delighted when one of them said: "If anyone is braver or fights better than us, it's you Poles !"

    Prussian Guard Cavalry.
    Trumpeter of Polish Guard Lancers The Guard Lancer Regiment then marched to Haynau and camped there until Napoleon arrived. Napoleon ordered the Cavalry of the Imperial Guard circle the town of Lignica (?) in order to catch any enemy that might still be retreating. Chlapowski: "As soon as my two squadrons had crossed, I led them rapidly out of the village ... When we arrived in the open again I saw four squadrons standing in line. So I turned my line to face them and just as we did so, they began to advance and their trumpeters sounded the charge. I advanced to meet them. ... They stopped, turned right around, and began to retreat just as we fell upon them. As might be expected, they routed.
    Their slowest troopers fell into our hands and we'd have captured more if their infantry had not been in column close by. ... We camped that night at the spot where we had captured these troopers. They turned out to be from the Prussian Guard Cavalry Regiment, and included hussars, dragoons, and a few Berlin cossacks, whose beards were longer than those of the Don Cossacks. ... On May 30 we went with Flahaut (Napoleon's ADC), on a reconnaissance toward Jaworz ... Flahaut climbed to the top of a windmill, from which he could see several Cossack regiments ..."
    The routed Prussian unit was not the Garde du Corps [Garde zu Pferde] but the Guard Cavalry Regiment.


    When their colonel was asked for 100 volunteers
    to accompany Napoleon to Elba,
    600 men stepped forward.

    1814: in France.
    The Guard Lancers regreted they had not all been killed
    before hearing that anyone had dared demand Napoleon's abdication.

    Polish lancer of Napoleon's Guard, by Andrea In 1814 as the Emperor struggled to thwart the advance of the Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies on Paris, his tactics put the Polish lancers to the most gruelling of physical and psychological tests. They distinguished themselves in every engagement they fought: Brienne, Montmirail, Vauchamps, Montereau, Craonne, Rheims and Paris.

    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.
    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!" Lances were raised and the cavalry spontaneously moved toward Fontainebleau. They passed through Nainville before Sebastiani's ADC halted them. Krasinski galloped off to headquarters to protest that his duty and honor called him to Napoleon's side, since it was not to France but to Napoleon that his lancers had pledged their lives.


    Only one squadron was present at Waterloo.
    They were under Jerzmanowski
    and Schultz, a giant over 2.13 metres.

    1815: in Belgium.

    When Napoleon was forced to abdicate, Jerzmanowski was chosen as the commander of cavalry volunteers who were allowed to accompany the Emperor to Elba Island. (Jerzmanowski didn't like one thing about Napoleon: the Emperor was unable to correctly pronounce his name ;=)
    These men were carefully selected and served as guard of Napoleon:

  • infantry battalion (607 veteran grenadiers and chasseurs of Old Guard)
  • cavalry squadron (125 Polish lancers of Old Guard, and 7 chasseurs of Old Guard)
  • artillery battery (100 gunners of Old Guard)
    "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." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 14)

    On Napoleon's return from the Elba Island, Jerzmanowski's squadron formed a supernumerary but senior squadron to the 2nd Regiment of Guard Lancers during the Waterloo campaign.

    The war was over and the veterans returned home. "... Lieutenant Markiewicz of the Polish Lancers lived in 3 centuries. He was born in Cracow in 1794 fought in Russia, charged at Waterloo and was still alive in 1902." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 207)

  • Sources and Links.

    Bielecki - "Somosierra 1808"
    Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer"
    Kukiel - "Dzieje Oreza Polskiego w Epoce Napoleonskiej, 1795-1815"
    Gembarzewski - "Wojsko Polskie. Ksiestwo Warszawskie 1807-1814"
    Rousselot - 'Napoleon's Guard Cavalry"
    Bielecki - "Szwolezerowie Gwardii"
    Bukhari - "Napoleon's Guard Cavalry"
    Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" (translated by Tim Simmons, USA)
    (Tim Simmons writes: "Chapowski certainly admired the French army, but he did not write his memoirs in order to glorify Napoleon or to puff up the reputation of the French military machine. He was a foreigner of junior rank who at the same time had priviledged access to the Emperor's Court. As such, he betrays neither the implausible boasting of Marbot, nor self-justification of Marshal Macdonald. He is able to say that the fighting at Aspern in 1809 convinced him that the French infantry was the best in the world, yet he makes no bones about the rout of Ney's conscripts at Lutzen ...")
    Battle of Somosierra, 1808

    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies