Belgians in the French Army.
Every year approx. 10.000 Belgians,
were conscripted to serve under the French colours.

Arrival of Napoleon in Antwerp in 1803.
(source: Kroniek van Belgie)

"The Belgians are good fellows, but they lack patriotism on the battlefield
because they have no true homeland to fight for ... but France will take care of that !"
- Napoleon to Count of Ursel in 1810

The Austrian Netherlands were one of the first areas that had been invaded by the French during the French Revolution. This territory compromised the country that we know as Belgium today, but without the provinces of Liege and Limbourg and the greatest part of the province of Namur. After the Prussian defeat at Valmy 1792, the French succeeded in driving back the allied armies out of France and little by little the Austrians were pushed back into the Netherlands. After the Battle of Fleurus the Austrian Netherlands were occupied by the French before being annexed to the French Republic as the "Départements Belges". After the signing of the Peace of Campo-Formio in 1797, Belgium officially became part of the French Republic. Every year approx. 10.000 Belgians, out of a population of 3 million, were conscripted to serve under the French colours. Between the years of 1796 and 1799, the French government demanded 30.000 Belgian recruits per year, but the measure was so unpopular, that the Belgians rose in rebellion in the year 1798. This revolt known as the "Boerenkrijg" or "Peasant revolt" was subdued in a matter of months.

Execution The painting depicts the drastic measures taken by the French in order to crush the Belgian peasant revolt in 1798. As a gesture to France's northern neighbours and to restore order and peace, Napoleon decreased the number of conscripts asked for when he was made First Consul. French became the official language although the half of the country spoke Flemish (a Dutch dialect).



Painting: Armed peasants receiving their blessing prior to the Battle of Hasselt in 1798 during the Boerenkrijg. (source: Voor Outer en Heerd)
The Battle of Hasselt on the 5th of december 1798, was the "last stand" of the Belgian peasants.The rebels were poorly armed - illustrations show farmers with pitchforks. There, the French troops ("sanskulotten") managed to crush the rebellion. The total losses in the war, on the rebels side, are estimated at 15,000. The rebellion failed in its object and the rebels were treated harshly by the French force of occupation.
See gallery "Boerenkrijg 1798-1998 gedenkplaat." (

This is a recruting leaflet that was hung up in Brussels in 1811. It calls young Belgians to enlist in the cuirrassier regiment: "Make haste young Belgians that feel inspired to serve the homeland ! The moment has come to obtain a quick promotion. Remember that the Cuirassiers are the élite of all the armies in Europe and you can be certain to find officers there that are true patriots, as well as experienced chefs who will put all their means to your disposal to ensure that your noble career in this arm will be as pleasant as it is glorious."

Belgians in the French army.
More then 14.000 Belgian veterans of the French army
were nominated to wear the Medal of St. Helène.

The Belgians who had fought in the ranks of the French prior to it's annexation in 1795, were mostly Belgians from from the French speaking areas or patriots from the Flemish regions from the middle or higher classes who had fled to France after the unsuccessful Revolution against the Austrians 1787-1790 (properly known as the Révolutions Brabanconne et Liégeoise). No less than 5.500 Belgians, divided among the Légion Liegoise, de Légion Belgique, de Chevau-légers de West-Flandre and les Dragons de Bruxelles fought alongside the French in the years 1792-1794. The Belgians distinguished themselves at Jemappes (1792). They took by storm the Quaregnon redoubt, thereby breaking through the central Austrian position.
Approx. 112.000 Belgians, Walloons and Flemish, served in the French Revolutionary and Imperial Army. In 1815 after Waterloo, in Napoleon's coach that was captured, the Allies found a pre-written proclamation to the Belgians. In it, the Emperor had written that he welcomed them back into his Empire and that they were "digne", or worthy, of being called Frenchmen ! More then 14.000 Belgian veterans of the French army were nominated to wear the Medal of St. Helène. This was a medal of honor that was distributed by Napoleon III in 1857 in accordance to the testament of his great uncle. (source: Albert A. Nofi "The Battle of Waterloo")

Many Belgians served in the following French units:
- 12th Light Infantry Regiment
- 45th Line Infantry Regiment
- 56th Line Infantry Regiment
- 86th Line Infantry Regiment
- 112th Line Infantry Regiment
- 16th Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment
- 27th Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment
- 20th Dragoon Regiment
- 14th Cuirassier Regiment
Some were also found amongst the ouvriers and the armuriers of the French artillery as well as the artillery trains.

112th Line Infantry Regiment.
"The Victors of Raab."

Picture: Napoleon adressing the 112th Line on Lobau Island before the Battle of Wagram in 1809. (source: Histoire Militaires des Belges)
In 1794 was formed 112th Demi-Brigade from the following troops: battalion of the 56th Infantry, battalion of the Volontaires du Doubs, and battalion of Volontaires des Deux-Sevres. In 1796 the 112th Demi-Brigade was incorporated into 88th Demi-Brigade before being reraised in 1801 as the 112th Demi-Brigade. In 1803 this unit was disbanded and reraised again from Belgian troops. It was named the 112th Line Infantry Regiment.
The 112th Line distinguished itself during the campaign against Austria in 1809. The 112th supposedly had their depot in Alessandria, in Northern Italy. Therefore they mostly saw service in Italy, Tirol and Austria. The regiment fought at Volano in Tirol, and at Raab made a valiant attack against the Austrian centre. After the battle, in which the regiment had lost 76 dead and 375 wounded, Prince Eugène of Beauharnais congratulated the commander and announced that from now on the 112th would be allowed to carry the Legion of Honor affixed on their standard. They would be saluted as the "Victors of Raab".
In the morning before the battle of Wagram Napoleon, inspecting the troops on the Island of Lobau, stopped before the 112th and said: "My braves of the 112th , today will be a day of glory for you, the Victors of the Raab" Twenty one men of the regiment were mentioned as candidates for the Legion of Honour. Captain Charles Goethals was decorated on the field of battle for having captured 12 prisoners!

  • 1794 Pierre-Andre Miquel
  • 1801 Rossignol
  • 1802 Trepied
  • 1803 Jean-Baptiste-Joseph L'Olivier (1749-1819)
  • 1807 Raymond-Pierre Penne. His name is on the Arc de Triomphe.
  • 1811 Jean-Joseph Benuzan. Seriously wounded at Katzbach in 1813.
  • 1813 Charles-Angelique-Franscois Huchet de la Bedoyère
    Battle Record
  • 1793 Nerwinden, Hondschoote, and Wattignies
  • 1794 Maubeuge, Le Quesnoy, Valenciennes, Conde, Sprimont, and Aldenhoven
  • 1807 Volona and Col de Tarvis
  • 1808 La Fluvia, Cardedeu, and Molins-del-Rey
  • 1809 Valls, Raab, and Wagram
  • 1813 Mersebourg, Lutzen, Bautzen, Loewenberg, Goldberg, Katzbach, Leipzig, and Hanau
  • 1814 Fère-Champenoise
    Personally, I have my doubts about the dates of the battles of Volona and Col de Tarvis. From what I have read in the "Histoire MIlitaire des Belges" and "A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars" by Esposito and Elting, these battles took place in 1809, prior to the Battle of Raab and Wagram Col de Tarvis and Volona are locations between northern Italy and southern Austria and I can't see why battles would'nt have taken place there in the year 1807 when all the action was against the Prussians and Russians up north. Of course I could be wrong, but it just doesn't seem logical. I do not believe that the 112th saw any major action in 1807.

    27th Chasseurs and 20th Dragoons.
    Picture: 20th Dragoons and 27th Chasseurs. (Source: Kroniek van Belgie).
    The 27th Chasseurs was originally raised in September 1806 as the "Chevau-légers du Duc d'Arenberg". It was made up of Belgians and given to the duke Prosper of Arenberg to command. In the spring of 1807 this regiment was sent out with the 3rd Dutch Hussars for service in Swedish Pommeria under Marshal Brune. It saw its first action against the Swedish dragoons in August near Anclam. After the fall of Stralsund, the Belgians served under Bernadotte in northern Germany. Their tasks there were mainly rearguard actions. In the next summer, the Spanish troops in Denmark and Northern Germany mutinied. The young Belgians were then sent there in order to fight the rebellious Spaniards who did not succeed in following their leader Romana back to Spain on British vessels.
    In May 1808, the regiment became 27th Chasseurs a Cheval and in the autumn received order to move into Spain together with the troops of Nassau. The chasseurs saw action in 1809 at Guadalaxara, in 1810 at Moron and Los Carwalos, in 1811 at Badajoz and Albuera. After a successful encounter against the Spanish cavalry on the 15th May 1810 they succeeded in relieving the Spanish siege of Huelva. In September 1811 they were succesful in taking both banks of the River Taag in order to follow up the fleeing remnants of Castanos' Spanish army. In October of the same year, the 27th Chasseurs were less lucky. At Arroyo del Molino they were driven back by the Spanish and British cavalry, leaving their beloved commander, the Duke of Arenberg behind to be captured by the British. In 1813 the 27th Chasseurs saw action at Dresden, Naunburg, Leipzig and Hanau, in 1814 at La Rothiere, Nogent, Monterau, Bar-sur-Aube and finally at St. Dizier.

  • 1811 Prosper-Louis d'Arenberg
  • 1813 Francois-Xavier Strub
  • 1813 Charles-Gaudens-Aloise-Marie Bruno de Saint-Georges

    Belgian officers and generals.
    Many Belgians would also attain high posts for their military and civil contributions during the French Empire: André Boussard from Binche, Jean-Antoine de Collaert from Liege, Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau from Brussels, Jean-Baptiste van Merlen from Antwerp, Michel Terhove from Tongeren and Charles Goethals (born in Maubeuge). Also a certain Marie-Jeanne Schellinckx from Ghent deserves a special mention here, for she would become famous for being one of the few women who fought actively as a soldier in the Grande Armée! She even became lieutenant and received the "Légion d'Honneur" for her heroic contribution during the battle of Jena in 1806.

    Marie-Jeanne Schellinckx .
    The Xena of the Napoleonic Wars.

    Marie-Jeanne Schellinckx was born in Ghent in 1757 and died in Menen in 1840. She worked as waitress/inn-keeper, together with her husband, and in 1792 together they enlisted in the "Legion des Belges et Liegeois". Marie-Jeanne fought at Jemappes where she receiving several saber cuts. She was also present at Arcole and Austerlitz where she was hit by a musketball in her thigh. Military surgeon then discovered that the wounded brave soldier actually was a woman ! Marie-Jeanne remained in the French army and fought at Jena. She was promoted to lieutenant and (some sources say in 1806, others in 1808) received Legion of Honor. In 1808 she left the army and Napoleon granted her yearly pension of 700 Francs.

    André-Joseph Boussart.
    Le Brave Wallon

Histoire Militaires des Belges André Boussart was a different type of commander than his colleage J.B. Dumonceau: always in the thick of the battle, a natural born warrior. He was born in Binche in 1758. In the age of 17 he enlisted in the the Austrian army. Like many Belgian revolutionaries, he was obliged to flee to France after the revolution had failed. In 1792, at the outbreak of the war against Republican France, he was appointed as captain of the "Dragons d'Hainaut", regiment of Belgian patriots serving in the French Armée du Nord. Boussart distinguished himself at Jemappes and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel on the field of battle by General Dumouriez.
    During the French retreat from Netherlands in 1793, Boussart participated in rear-guard actions and in the Valley of the Ourthe halted the Austrian troops for almost 8 hours. After the fall of Robespierre, he was reappointed to his dragoon regiment by the Directory, which has now been rebaptized the 20th Dragoon Regiment. At their head, Boussart followed the young Bonaparte to Italy in 1796-1797. He was wounded at Mondovi during a charge against the Piedmontese cavalry and distinguished himself at Lodi and Rivoli. Bonaparte named him chef de brigade.
    Together with his 20th Dragoon Regiment, Boussart followed Bonaparte to Egypt where he saw action at the Pyramids. Then participated in the campaign in Syria. Boussart remained in Egypt with his dragoons when Bonaparte left for France. He was promoted to general of brigade by General Menou and was present at the battle of Heliopolis and at the battle of Alexandria. The small French force capitulated and all the reamining troops in Egypt, including Boussart, were sent back to France.
    Boussart saw action once again in 1806 at Jena, Prenzlau and during the ensuing campaing in Poland. At Pultusk his horse was wounded and during the pursuit of the Russian rear-guard near Ostroleka he was almost captured. Boussart was also at Eylau and Friedland.
    In 1808 Boussart was knighted as count and shortly afterwards, received a portion of land in Westphalia. In the summer, he was sent to Spain where he served in the cavalry division of Latour-Mauborg. Boussart was taken prisoner at Bailen, but had the luck to be sent to France with several other officers instead of a slow death on the Spanish prisonships off Cadiz or on the Island of Cabrera.
    He was back in the Peninsula already in November, commanding the cavalry of Marshal Moncey's III Corps. Boussart saw action at Tudela and the siege of Saragossa. In the middle of 1809, Boussart was appointed as commander of the cavalry of "l'Armée d'Aragone" under Marshal Suchet. He distinguished himself at Ocana and Lerida where he destroyed British/Spanish force that was sent to relieve the city.
    During the siege of Tarragona in 1811, Boussart ordered his cavalrymen to dismount in order to climb the Alcova Hill and managed to chase the Spanish force from their positions.
    For this and other actions, Boussart was promoted to the rank of general of division. Boussart became friends with Marshal Suchet. In October 1811, Boussart saw action against Blake's British/Spanish forces at Sagunto. He was seriously wounded during a skirmish at Torrente, near Valencia. After the fall of Valencia, Boussart became civil administrator of the city in order for him to recover from his wound. There he was nicknamed " le Brave Wallon" by the Spanish population. From the summer of 1812 onwards, his health deteriotes. After 30 years of military service and 23 wounds, this warrior died in southern France in 1813.
    Supposedly his last words to his brother on his deathbed were: "Ah my dear Isaac, let the Emperor know that the only thing I have to regret as I die, is that I will not have the chance to do more in his service and for my country."

    Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau, the Unblemished General.
    His name is inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

    Dumonceau Dumonceau was born in Brussels in 1760. He was an architect at the outbreak of the Revolution Brabanconne in 1787. At this point, he showed himself a true patriot and enlisted in the Belgian army against the Austrians. He served as commander of the well-known "Canaries" (for their yellow outfits). This was a corps of volunteers from the region of Namur. The "Canaries" were made of men not really meeting the army requirements (age, height, etc.) but full of patriotic zeal. Dumonceau turned them into crack troops. After the revolution failed Dumonceau fled to France. There, he became chef of the I Batallion of the "Legion des Belges et Liegeois". He fought at the battle of Jemappes where he captured the Quaregnon Redoubt, thereby breaking through the central Austrian position. After the battle of Neerwinden in 1793 he was promoted to the rank of general of brigade and as such played an important role in the victories at Tourcoing and Fleurus.
    Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau became a close associate and advisor to General Pichégru during his conquest of Holland, and by 1799 he has been promoted to General of the Batavian Army (Army of Holland). As commander of the Batavians under General Brune, he succeeds in containing the advance of the British-Russian army at Den Helder and in destroying their plans of invasion in northern Holland at Bergen-op-Zoom.
    During the campaign against Austria in 1805, he is commander of the Batavian troops in Marmont's II Corps. After the capitulation of Mack at Ulm, Dumonceau was in Mortier's VIII Corps and present at the battle of Durrenstein.
    When the Batavian Republic was rebaptized into the Kingdom of Holland in 1806, Dumonceau became member of King Louis Bonaparte's Conseil d'Etat and ambassador in Paris. During this period, Dumonceau was knighted by king Louis as "Count of Bergendal". In the summer of 1809, he briefly became commander in chief of the "l'Armee d'Anvers" at Walcheren during the British invasion. In 1810 Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau was elevated to the rank of marshal (of Holland) by King Louis Bonaparte. However, Napoleon never officially recognized this promotion. On the contrary, at the end of the year, Dumonceau is demoted to divisional general and appointed as governor of a department in northern Holland. Only after the disasterous campaign against Russia, Dumonceau was recalled into the army. In 1813, he was appointed as commander of the 2nd division in Vandamme's I Corps. He saw action at the battle of Dresden where he was wounded. Few days after at the battle of Kulm Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau was captured by the Allies.
    Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau, Count of Bergendal, has received the honor of being inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In the French militairy history of the First Empire, he is widely known as "the Unblemished General" for his outspokeness, honesty and loyalty. His son, Francois Dumonceau, also served in the French army. He became officer in the 2nd Guard Lancers (commonly known as the "Red Lancers") nd would write his memoires which are well worth the read !

    Author: Jason Seigers

  • Sources and Links.
    Recommended Reading.

    Standaard Uitgeverij - "Kroniek van Belgie" (Chronicle of Belgium) 1987
    Jacques Legrand - "Chronique de la Revolution" 1988
    Uitgeverij Brepols - "Voor Outer en Heerd" 1998
    Vicomte Charles Terlinden - "Histoire MIlitaire des Belges"
    Letters of Flemish and French soldiers written home while serving in the French Army
    information on the Boerenkrijg (in Flemish)
    André-Joseph Boussart
    Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau
    History of Belgium, Primary Documents

    The Saxon Army: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery ~ The Polish Army: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery

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