Dream, picture by Eduard Detaille
The French Army
Royal ~ Revolutionary ~ Imperial
"The army will never forget that under Napoleon's eagles,
deserving men of courage and intelligence were raised
to the highest levels of society. Simple soldiers became
marshals, princes, dukes and kings. The French soldier
had become an equal citizen by right and by glory."

1. The Royal Army of King Louis XIV, The Sun King.
2. 1700-1790: The French Army in Wars in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
3. The Revolutionary Army.
4. The Imperial Army.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1803-1807 The Glory Years.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1808-11
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1812 The Turning Point.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1813 (Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, Leipzig)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1814 (La Rothiere, Craonne, Paris)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1815 (Ligny, Waterloo)
5. 1820-1900.

Heavy graphics, please be patient ...

"French military success provided a model of standardization
and professionalism followed by many European armies and leaders."
- www.wikipedia.org 2005


"Conceptions about French military prowess go back for centuries, but they first became prevalent during the reign of Louis XIV, when French military hegemony both inspired and angered many Europeans. A series of coalitions formed against France in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, but all failed in their stated objectives of rolling back the extensive French territorial conquests. French military success provided a model of standardization and professionalism followed by many European armies and leaders, who regarded the likes of Turenne and Vauban as the foremost military men of the age.

During the reign of Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, France reached the height of its power. By 1807, after spectacular triumphs at Austerlitz, jena and Friedland, many Europeans believed the French were invincible. The French Empire was eventually defeated, but memories about the Napoleonic Wars lingered. Until World War I, commanders and nations throughout the world hoped to reproduce Napoleon's lightning campaigns. Several military leaders in the American Civil War, like George McClellan, often styled themselves after the erstwhile French Emperor and hoped to emulate his triumphs.
French military expertise was often sought by other nations. In the 1730s, French delegates attempted to modernize and improve Ottoman artillery. In the 19th century, while undergoing modernization, Japan requested guidance from French military officers about how to best restructure its armed forces. In the Polish_Soviet War, the French were part of an interallied mission to Poland and even started a military mission in that nation which attempted to improve Polish organization, logistics, and planning." (www.wikipedia.org 2005)


"The Section historique of the French general staff,
... provides one measure of the military's interests;
it published 80 volumes on the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars
but only 6 specialized studies dealing with the reign of Louis XIV."
- John Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle"

The Royal Army of King Louis XIV, The Sun King.
Under Louis XIV France became World power.
France's cultural influence had never been so profound
and French language spread across Europe.

"The glare of Napoleonic brilliance outshone the radiance of the Sun King. The Napoleonic Wars have probably attracted more attention from 19th and 20th century readers than any other period of French military history. Library shelves groan under the weight of works on the campaigns of Napoleon, yet to my knowldge the only complete history of the campaigns of Louis XIV was written in the first half of the 18th Century ... The Section historique of the French general staff, which operated between 1899 and 1914, provides one measure of the military's interests; it published 80 volumes on the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars but only 6 specialized studies dealing with the reign of Louis XIV.
After all, the emperor had marched his armies across Europe, from Lisbon to Moscow, while Louis' forces ventured less far from home. Napoleon's wars were short and decisive, brought to a hea in climatic battles, at least until the debacle of 1812 (Invasion of Russia), while Louis' conflicts dragged on as long, indecisive, and costly wars of attrition. In short, there seemed to be more to be learned from a study of Napoleon's military genius. To this day, war colleges dissect the Ulm-Austerlitz and Jena-Auerstadt Campaigns, but they have little interest in the siege-dominated wars fought by Louis' great generals." (John Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle: The French Army")

On picture: Mousquetaires Noirs (Black Musketeers) in 1660
In 1600, King Henry IV formed Musketeers, an elite force to serve as his guard. They were known as "Gray Musketeers" because of the grays they rode, until the king gave them black stallions and changed their name to "Black Musketeers". The musketeers had a strict code of ethics and honor that they lived by and were held to be the noblest and most renown fighters of their day. Without Dumas' great tale of the 'Three Musketeers', this group of military men would have doubtless faded into history.

King Louis XIV, The Sun King Under King Louis XIV ("The Sun King" - ext.link) the French army had been the world's finest army. Military service represented a living of sorts for the French nobility and gentry, a source of prestige. The greycoats led by de Turenne won numerous battles until Eugene of Savoy and Duke of Marlborough broke their reputation but not their spirit. Louis XIV regarded himself a soldier. From the age of twelve he spent a great deal of time with his troops. Only advancing years forced him to forgo such activity. Louis never commanded a battle in the open field, though he came close to doing so at Heurtbise in 1676. He was excellent organizer and administrator.
Louis' wars were great conflicts, mobilizing huge armies for long periods of time. "The period 1661-1715 saw diminished violence within the borders of France because better-paid and better-disciplined soldiers didn't prey on Louis' own subjects, because the success of French arms meant that wars were fought primarily outside his realm, and because France was largely spared internal rebellions. ... The era 1610-1715 was an age of warfare throughout. Richelieu classed war as 'an inevitable evil' but 'absolutely necessary'; it was, in short, a fact of life. (In 1624, Louis XIII elevated ... Cardinal Richelieu to the powerful position of first minister. Richelieu harbored a strong and lasting desire to increase French prestige by toppling the Spanish. He saw France encircled on her land borders by Hapsburg holdings; Spain to the south, the Spanish Netherlands to the north, and a string of territories belonging to Spain and her Allies running from the Netherlands down through Italy, what was known at the time as the Spanish Road ...) (Lynn,- pp 13-14)
Louis XIII and Richelieu conducted a war against the Huguenots (French protestants). This conflict culminated in the siege of La Rochelle, which fell despite English aid.
The French army then marched south to settle affairs in Italy and humbled the Duke of Savoy in a short campaign. Despite these successes and fielding the largest armies to date, the next war went badly. A Spanish invasion in 1636 threatened Paris. Years of indecisive campaigns followed. Richelieu died in 1642, and Louis XIII died in the next year, passing the throne to his 4 years old son, Louis XIV. A few days later the French army won a victory of major proportions at Rocroi. At Rocroi the French led by Duke d'Enghien defeated the hated Spaniards.
Battle of Rocroi 1643 On picture: Battle of Rocroi 1643. It was the first major defeat of a Spanish army in a century, although historians have noted that German, Walloon, and Italian troops actually surrendered first, while the Spanish infantry cracked only after repeated cavalry charges. The French carried out a huge cavalry encirclement, sweeping behind the Spanish army and smashing their way through to attack the rear of the Spanish cavalry that was still in combat with the reserves. The Battle of Rocroi put an end to the supremacy of Spanish military doctrine and inaugurated a long period of French military predominance.
At the Battle of the Dunes the French army led by Turenne defeated an army under Don Juan of Austria, then viceroy of the Spanish Netherlands. The 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees ended the war in favour of France and confirmed the new reality brought about by Rocroi.

Louis XIV enjoyed a great military inheritance as he began his personal reign. Even after demobilization, his army remained large and skilled, in Turenne and Conde, now back in Frencgh service, he probably had the best field commanders in Europe. "A young king with a lust for glory would not let such a fine military instrument grow dull from disuse. ... Louis plotted to chastise the Dutch and continue his acquisitions of Spanish lands. He carefully isolated the Dutch from their allies and struck in 1672. This Dutch War, 1672-8, began with an invasion, masterfully supported and supplied by Louvois ... Louis intended to defeat and humble the Dutch so as to force them to give him a free hand in the Spanish Netherlands, but he failed." (Lynn, - pp 16-17)
"The War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-14, proved to be the longest and most exhausting war of Louis' personal reign. The Duke of Marlborough, perhaps England's greatest general, led British forces, while Prince Eugene of Savoy, an excellent general in his own right, commanded the main Imperial armies. For years, the French could not find a winning commander, and disaster followed didaster. At the Battle of Blenheim, 1704, the allied team of generals so devastated the French army before them that the French would not again venture deep into Germany. At the battle of Turin in 1706, Eugene essentially drove the French out of Italy, while Marlborough and Eugene won battles at Ramilles, 1706, and Oudenarde, 1708, that secured the Spanish Netherlands for the Allies. ... Louis finally found a commander who could hold the field against his enemies, Marshal Claude Louis Hector, duke de Villars. In September of that year [1709] at the battle of Malplaquet, Villars confronted Marlborough and Eugene. Although the French lost that battle, they retired in good order and inflicted such great casualties that Marlborough would not again face the French in the open field." (Lynn, - p 19)
Villars then defeated the Allies at Denain in 1712 and captured number of cities and fortresses along the Rhine River.

Strength of the Army.
According to John A. Lynn in the end of XVII century, European warfare pitted collosal armies against one another - armies that dwarfed those of the past. France boasted the greatest of these Goliaths, a force that totaled as many as 420,000 soldiers, at least on paper. The Dutch War high attained 279,610 men. This combined 219,000 infantry with 60,360 cavalry, while 116,000 of the total served in garrisons. A financial etat dating from the 1690s gives a detailed accounting of 343,300 infantry and 67,300 cavalry, not including officers. After war the strength of the army sharply decreased and numerous regiments had been disbanded.
The size of individual French armies in the field varied. During the Dutch War the average size of army in battle rose to 24,500 men. At Neerwinden in 1693, Marshal Luxembourg led 77,000 men in victory over William III of England's 50,000 men protected by field fortifications. Casualties were heavy: 9,000 French and 19,000 British and Allies were killed, wounded and taken prisoner. Luxembourg captured so many flags that he could make a "tapestry" with them inside the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. For this reason he was nicknamed le Tapissier de Notre-Dame. Several flag trophies of the colonial period are still displayed in the St. Louis-des-Invalides' church. Map of battle. (ext.link)

The growth of the French army 1600-1760
Time period or war
peace high
war high
war high
(1610-15) 10,000 55,000 ?
Thirty Years' War (1635-1648) ? 200,000 125,000
War of Devolution (1667-8) ? 134,000 ?
Dutch War (1672-8) ? 279,600 253,000
Nine Years' War (1688-1697) ? 420,000 340,000
War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) 145,000 380,000 255,000
War of the Austrian Succession (1740-8) 145,000 390,000 ?

King Louis XIV achieved greater regularity; early in his reign, French infantry battalions usually included 12 companies, 50 men each. The German mercenary companies claimed 100 men each. Before long, grenadier companies were added to French battalions. The number of companies in battalion increased to 16 by the close of the Dutch War.
Regiments varied in size, majority included 3 battalions. The regiments of the Guard had 6 battalions each. In 1710 one infantry regiment had 5 battalions, one had 4, and eleven had 3, the rest had only 2 battalions or a single battalion.

Uniforms and Weapons.
The dress of the soldiers was standardized. Musketeers were more likely to wear simply a loose coat and broad brimmed hat. The infantrymen and officers wore stocking and shoes rather than boots, unless the officers were mounted. Durign the reign of Louis XIV the most prominent piece of military clothing became the justaucorps, a coat reaching to the knees, decorated with a row of buttons down the front. Cavalry wore heavy tall bots and spurs, while dragoons wore shoes and gaiters to allow them to move more freely on foot. Cavalry were likely to adorn themselves more elegantly than infantry. Instead of regimental and national uniforms, regiments and entire armies declared their allegiance by wearing emblems or tokens stuck in the hatband or some other convenient place.
In 1685 was issued order prescribing particular colors for regiments, blue for the Guard and the royal regiments, red for the Swiss regiments and gray-white for regular French infantry. In 1690 was prescribed color for each regiment; for eighty eight regiments it was gray with red reverses and for fourteen royal and princely regiments it was blue. Although the army would seem to have adopted uniforms for regular regimens during the Nine Years' War, the first regulation detailing the fabric, color, and cut of uniforms in detail appeared
in 1704.
The infantry was armed with muskets, fusils and pikes. Musket was the basic weapon, while fusil became the standard firearm by 1700. There was no shortage of weapons, the army may have been bootles, shoeless and very hungry but they had firearms and gunpowder.

The Men.
"The most common method of recruitment in wartime, recolage, relied neither upon personal contacts of officers in their home provinces not upon compulsion organized by royal officials, but upon the labor and lure of recruiting parties dispatched to the towns and cities of France. When a recruiting party arrived in a town, the officer in charge had first to secure permission from the local authorities, who might be highly reluctant to grant it. Once given the right to proceed, recruiters advertised their presence. Recruiters' drums must have been a common sound in the larger towns ... After a dramatic drum roll, the recruiter addressed those attracted by the racket, urging the young men to sign up ... Recolage was open to many abuses, and military authorities did little to stop them, save for issuing pious words. Liquor played more of a role than simply solemnizing a contract. Many a recruiter got his prey drunk, before springing the trap." (Lynn, -p 358-9) Recruiters not only grabbed men off the streets, they sometimes invded private homes and churches to kidnap male inhabitants !
On average, the French soldiers enlisted during the Thirty Years' War at the age of 24. Approx. 55 % of Louis' soldiers were between the ages of 20 and 30. The king did not set height requirements, except for the Guard. The average height of French soldier was 5'3" (English 5'7") and was in that time an average height. In comparison, the average American soldier during the Civil War was only 5'8" tall.

Composition of the French army in 1716
urban (%)
rural (%)
infantry corporals
dragoons corporals
cavalry corporals

The officers led from the front, braving the same dangers that their men faced. There was honor to be won on the battlefield - honor to be won at any price. Like Louis XIV, his officer corps pursued gloire. According to John A. Lynn the quest to attain glory by publicly fulfilling the demands of honor explains the undeniable taste for war on the part of the French aristocracy. A 1601 Guide des courtesans noted: 'I hear our young nobility murmur against the peace which limits them from displaying what they have of good in their souls. They can appease their warrior ardors by taking themselves, with the leave of their prince, to some just war outside their country.' Louis XIV noted the enthusiasm of nobles to raise units to serve him.
A young man intent on an officer's career could serve an apprenticeship as a cadet or a volunteer.The ensign ranked as the lowest commissioned officer with command responsibility in the infantry, a position paralleled by the cornet in the cavalry. Captains led companies. They bought their commands and thus owned venal charges. Grenadier companies stood outside the purchase system, therefore their commissions belonged to the king. It opened the door to men promoted from the ranks. Colonels commanded, and almost always, owned regiments.
According to John A.Lynn the French repeatedly claimed a suppossedly rare and special fighting spirit for their nobility. Vauban considered that French officers were 'the best in the world' and that 'all the nation loves war and takes up the profession of war every time that it finds in it some promise of elevation and of the ability to subsist with honor.
Lisola, a Spaniard (and enemy of France), described France as 'always filled with an idle and seething [aristocratic] youth, ready to undertake anything, and who seek to exercise their valor regardless of the expense.' But the aristocracy's code of honor assumed a strictly hierachical society and disregarded the lower classes as unworthy. Officers seemed to expect deferences and turned to violance to punish those who refused to grant it. For example, several subaltern officers of artillery ran amok in Grenoble in 1694 and attacked passerby, eventually, a crowd cornered them and killed two in the final fray.
The soldiers were expected to embrace obedience and display courage out of desire to avoid coercion if they could not be inspired by higher appeals. Troops that had behaved disgracefully were punished by executing soldiers drawn by lot from the offending unit. The army was better paid than under Louis XIII. The consequences of lack of pay went beyond the privations of individual soldiers and officers. Pushed to its extreme, lack of pay inspired mutiny. In 1635 the French army mutined and sacked Tirlemont, massacring its inhabitants. The war with Spain was filled with countless acts of mutiny on a small scale in which troops simply went on rampage.

Infantry of Louis XIV
Infantry of King Louis XIV (The Sun King), by Paul Armont (flats-zinnfiguren.com)
from left to right: drummer, musketeers, color-bearers, grenadier, NCO, senior officer.


"Another problem was the drastic differences between French and American attitudes toward,
and treatment of British POWs. For the French, the current conflict was but the latest
in a long series of conventional wars against a traditional enemy ...
The officers of the French and English armies shared a comparable social background
a cosmopolitan culture, and the same professional values. Consequently, the French
socialized with, entertained, and even loaned funds to their unfortunate brothers in arms
from Cornwallis' forces. This treatment, however, appalled Americans, who for 6 and half
long years had been engaged in a revolutionary and civil war marked by atrocities and
reprisals against bitterly hated opponents. The conduct of British forces in the South
had been especially vicious." - Scott "From Yorktown to Valmy"
published by the University Press of Colorado, USA 1998

1700-1790: The French Army in Wars in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

The 18th century saw France remain the dominant power in Europe, but begin to falter largely because of internal problems. The country engaged in a long series of wars, such as the War of the Quadruple Alliance, the War of the Polish Succession, and the War of the Austrian Succession. The Royal Army was a typical 18th century force. The ranks were filled with mercenaries, volunteers, adventurers and others. The discipline was harsh (a soldier who struck an officer had his offending hand chopped off before he was hanged) and the morale low. The Royal Army used linear tactics, copied from Prussian system.


The Seven Years' War (1756–1763)
"The inglorious performance of French arms in the wars of the mid 18th century - particularly in the disastrous Seven Years' war - sent shockwaves through French society. Nowhere was the humiliation of defeat felt more sharply than in the army. There, the perception of military decline prompted reformers to enact a series of profesionalizing measures which transformed the French army." (Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820" p 12)


The Lost War in Canada.
Under the careless and profoundly timid King Louis XV (The king who lost Canada) the army slumped into slow decay. The skilled generals were replaced with those whose major ability was that of pleasing the Marquise de Pompadour and Madame du Barry. They were king's mistresses and ruled France and its armies with a pout and smile. The army was hungry and in miserable shape. Officers came from nobility and many didn't even know the names of their men. They were more concerned with hair powder, dances, women and this sort of things.

The Won War in America.
General Rochambeau Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau was a French aristocrat and general. He was originally destined for the a career in the Roman Catholic Church. However, after the death of his elder brother, he entered a cavalry regiment, and served in Bohemia and Bavaria. In 1780, Rochambeau was given the command of French troops sent to join the American colonists under George Washington fighting the Kingdom of Great Britain. He had four infantry regiments for his expedition to America:
- Soissonnais (40th Line in 1790s)
- Bourbonnais (13th Line in 1790s)
- Saintonge (82nd Line in 1790s)
- Royal Deux-Ponts (German unit in the service of France) (99th Line in 1790s)
Each regiment was allowed to take 1,000 men "chosen among the most robust." He also had a small mixed unit consisting of infantry, hussars and gunners called Lauzun's Legion, and part of the Regiment of Auxonne Artillery. The total strength of Rochambeau's corps was approx. 5,000 men ready for combat.
In the Bourbonnais Regiment served sublieutenant Louis-Alexandre-Andrault Langeron. Few years later he emigrated from France and served in the Russian army, eventually becoming a famous general. Langeron led one of the Allies' armies fighting at Leipzig in 1813 and participated in the storming of Paris in 1814.
None of the 5,000 men had volunteered to fight for American Independence; indeed, they were at sea for weeks before being informed of their destination. They cheered as they were happy that they were not bound for the West Indies, whose inhospitable climate had been deadly to tens of thousands of their comrades

Rochambeau's corps (8 battalions, and few squadrons) was somehow neglected by the French government from military point of view. In comparison in March 1781 a powerful French fleet departed from Brest, it was composed of 190 warships, transports and merchantmen, whose destinations included West Indies, South America, Africa and Indian Ocean. Even in the New World, North America ranked behind the Caribbean in French priorities. For example, to Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Santo Dominque (ext.link) were sent 29 battalions to join the 19 battalions already garrisoning those islands. The French military activities beyond United States forced Britain to extend her own military efforts considerably, thereby contributing to the American cause - a contribution only few Americans appreciated, however.

"The American rebellion became a global war, and the French monarchy entered the last phase of its ancient rivalry with England. ... In their conception - and consequently their strategy - of the war against Britain, French and American authorities had entirely different approaches. In contrast to the Americans, the French did not conceive of this conflict as a war waged solely for US independence; for them, the stakes involved the balance of power in Europe and in the European-dominated world. As far as Americans were concerned, the struggle was confined to North America. For the French, the scene of operations stretched from India - where Pierre Andre, bailli de Suffren, won some of the most impressive victories of the war near the end of hostilities - to Africa, where a French expedition succeeded in recovering Senegal (ext.link) from the English in late January 1779; from the Caribbean, the most crucial region for French interests at that period, to Nova Scotia, which throughout the war remained a potential area for French operations; and from North America, where the French hoped to alternate the employment of West Indian garrisons during appropriate seasons, to Europe, where a cross-channel operation against England continued to attract continental strategists. The last of the Old regime's projects for an invasion of Britain (anticipating Napoleon's plans by a quarter of a century) was a Franco-Spanish project that antedated Spain's entry into the war against England in July 1779. Typically, the extensive preparations for this attack were frustrated by Spanish slowness, disease, and weather." (Scott - "From Yorktown to Valmy" pp 5-6)

Battle of Yorktown 1781 1781 Battle of Yorktown: It was a victory by a combined American and French force led by Washington and Marquis de Lafayette, (ext.link) and the French under Rochambeau over the British army. A formal surrender ceremony took place on the morning following the battle. Cornwallis refused to attend out of pure embarrassment, claiming illness. According to legend, the British forces marched to the fife tune of "The World Turned Upside Down," though no real evidence of this exists.
News of Yorktown was greeted with joyous celebration throughout the United States and France. In Boston were demonstrations and fireworks. King Louis XVI ordered all bishops of his kingdom to have Te Deum celebrations in the churches. American Congress thanked Rochambeau. British Prime Minister Lord North resigned after receiving news of the surrender at Yorktown. His successors decided that it was no longer in Britain's best interest to continue the war, and negotiations were undertaken. The British signed the Treaty of Paris, recognizing the United States and promising to remove all her troops from the country.


The Revolutionary French Army.
1789 - 1799

Crossing the Alps, by Christa Hook. The Revolution erupted in France. In 1792, every able-bodied Frenchman was declared liable for military service, and National Guard was formed. Revolutionary France had been the first to adopt the principle of universal conscription, according to which all young men of draft age were subject to being called up; in fact, however, a system of drawing names was in place, and as a result, only the minority of those eligible were enrolled every year. Even though entering the draft lottery was theoretically required of all male citizens, malfunction exemptions, favors and bribes - together with every man's perfectly legal right to buy a replacement if he could afford one - guaranteed that the burden of conscription fell principally upon the country and town folks. Nevertheless, the army considered itself as representative of the entire society.

In the beginning the new French armies, composed of demoralized regulars and untrained volunteers, refused to face the disciplined Austrian troops and were more dangerous to their own officers than to the enemy. The victory at Valmy (ext.links) stimulated the French morale, then the Jacobin fanatics infused the French soldiers with something of their own demonic energy. Untrained but enthusistic volunteers (ext.link) filled the ranks. In the spirit of liberty and equality, the volunteers elected their officers, and discipline all but disappeared. "In the summer of 1790, the army was rocked by a wave of troop mutinies that shattered the officers' authority and set in motion a series of events that would ultimately destroy the National Assembly's carefully constructed military constitution. Ironically, it was the officers themselves who had given the first examples of insubordination in mid-1788 during the royal government's attempt to dissolve the parlaments. ... In the spring of 1790, insubordination returned to the army with a vengeance. This new burst of disturbances was characterized by increasingly direct confrontations between soldiers and officers. Most incidents were provoked by disputes over pay which, the soldiers claimed, had been illegaly withheld from them." (Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820" pp 75-77)

On the night of 20-21 June 1791, King Louis XVI made an unsuccessful attempt to flee from France. This provoked a crisis in the army. "Interpreting their sovereign's action as a repudiation of the Revolution, the officers began to abandon their posts, some resigning from military service and others crossing the frontier to swell the ranks of the emigre armies. Emigration confirmed the soldiers' doubts about the officers' patriotism and provoked a new wave of mutinies. ... Emigration and indiscipline fed each other as the army descended into a state of chaos." (Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820" p 85) Perhaps 2/3 of the officers of the Royal army had fled the country to escape guillotine. The replacement of emigre officers began in 1791 when the Assembly authorized generals to make emergency nominations.

French line infantry. Battalions of National Guard volunteers were formed in three successive levies between 1791 and 1793. The first battalions were raised in response to King's flight. In 1791 the National Assembly called upon the departments to raise battalions to maintain internal order and defend the frontiers from expected invasion. "Two structural differences - the organization of the battalions along territorial lines and the designation of their officers by election - distinguished the volunteers from the regular army and lent their cadres particular characteristics. ... Officials who tried to shuffle volunteers between the companies could face stiff resistance." (Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820" p 101)
During 1793-1796, the infantry was reorganized into demi-brigades, each with 1 battalion of old soldiers and 2 battalions of volunteers, in the hope of combining regular steadiness with volunteer enthusiasm. Initially, the result was that each element qcquired the other's bad habits. There was no time to drill the disorerly recruits into the robot steadiness and precision demanded by linear system. (Esposito, Elting - "A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars") The rapid conversion of these masses of recruits into efficient fighting units was a problem.
The reign of Terror left a bitter legacy of fratricidal hatred which swept across France in the weeks following Robespierre's demise. Armed with the law of 1795, which authorized the officials to dismiss personnel who had participated "in the horrors committed under the Tyranny" the Thermidorean representatives-on-mission began to purge the army of its most pronounced "terrorists." In troops hard-hit by campaign losses and political actions, it was not uncommon to find large groups of officers promoted two steps in the hierarchy - from sergeant to lieutenant in a single day ! Some claimed that this process would only "increase the number of idiots" and give the Republic officers "unworthy of commanding free men."

Battle of Lodi "It had been obvious for some time that firm action was needed to give the army a cost-efficient and militarily sound organization. Sonsequently, as its last act, the Thermidorean Committee of Public Safety approved a drastic consolidation of under-strength units and a corresponding reduction of officer strength. ... The 952 existing battalions were to be consolidated into 140 new demi-brigades of 3 battalions each. As a result 532 battalions were to be dissolved ... A similar consolidation of the cavalry was to eliminate 145 squadrons, reducing their number from 323 to 178. ... The impact on the officer corps was profound. ... The climate of professional insecurity created by the second amalgame would dominate the mentality of the officer corps for the duration of the Republic." (Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820" pp 142-3)





Emperor Napoleon
Emperor Napoleon.

The Imperial infantry.

"During the reign of Napoleon ... France reached the height of its power.
By 1807, after spectacular triumphs at Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland,
many Europeans believed the French were invincible.
The French Empire was eventually defeated, but memories
about the Napoleonic Wars lingered. Until World War I,
commanders and nations throughout the world hoped to
reproduce Napoleon's lightning campaigns."
- www.wikipedia.org 2005

The Imperial French Army.
1800 - 1815

Charge ! On picture: charging Napoleonic hussar. Maughan - "Napoleon's Cavalry Recreated in Color Photographs".

France had been aggressive neighbor, and other nations (especially Austria and England), were willing enough to see her weakened. The European powers formed alliance and France was forced to dramatically strengthen her army. Conscription was the solution. Generally speaking, under the empire 100.000 conscripts were called annually, which meant that about 1 name in 7 was drawn. The last conscripts to join their units en masse were those of 1814, whose call-up had been advanced to the preceding year. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 20, 26) Conscription allowed the French to form the Grande Armee, what Napoleon called "the nation in arms", which successfully battled European professional armies.

Under Napoleon many new regiments were formed, the discipline and morale greatly improved. All the troopers were dressed, fed, armed to teeth and very eager to fight. In 1805 the French army was the largest and the most powerful in Europe and in the World. The Napoleonic period (1805-1813) saw France's influence and power reach immense heights.
But gone were the republican days "when any officer under the rank of major had had to hoof it with his men. For the top brass alone the famous Parisian coachbuilder Gros-Jean has built no fewer than 300 carriages ... Colonel Count Francois Roguet of the 1st Grenadiers ... has brought with him 6 servants, 12 horses and two wagons filled with his personal effects, among them books and a great many maps." (Austin - "1812: The March on Moscow" p 49)

The Glory Years 1803-1807.
Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland

grand parade in Boulogne Camp On picture: Grand parade at Boulogne Camp.

During the early period of Empire (1803-1807) Napoleon's army reached its peak. According to reseracher Robert Goetz following the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens Napoleon took the opportunity to assemble an Army of the Ocean Coasts along the English Channel in preparation for an invasion of Great Britain. Approx. 100,000-150,00 troops (of total 450,000) gathered in training camps for 18 months and went through intensive training and maneuvers on large scale.
(The remaining 300,000 were spread along the long borders, busy with occupying Hanover, Italy etc. They were also good soldiers, they fought in some small engagements like Maida etc. but they were not equal to those of Boulogne Camps under the Emperor himself.)
'Even though a large part of the troops there were veterans, they began with a month of "refresher" training in the schools of the soldier and of the company. Then came 2 days of battalion and 3 days of division drill every week; on Sunday the entire corps drilled - infantry, cavalry, and artillery together. That training well absorbed, there were large-scale maneuvers twice a month. (In contrast the Austrians, Brits, Russians and Prussians did it only few times a year) There was also much target practice; artillerymen were sometimes able to use British warships as moving targets. Davout added practice in night fighting and firing. (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" p 534) Napoleon also cleaned out the 'deadwood from among his officers', approx. 170 generals (too old, or simply incompetent) were retired. It left him with such talented generals like Massena, Davout, Lannes, St. Cyr or Suchet.

Boulogne, map (ext.link)
Napoleon at Boulogne Camp, picture (ext.link)
Boulogne Camp, photo of French and Polish reenactors (ext.link)

The troops from Boulogne Camps and those occupying Hannover were put together and formed a new army that would soon become legendary - the Grand Army (Grande Armee). These troops had had close to 3 years of training and drill. Approx. 1/3 were veterans of at least 6 years' service. According to de Segur the old-timers could easily be recognized "by their martial air. Nothing could shake them. They had no other memories, no other future, except warfare. They never spoke of anything else. Their officers were either worthy of them or became it. For to exert one's rank over such men one had to be able to show them one's wounds and cite oneself as an example." They stimulated the new recruits with their warlike tales, so that the conscripts brightened up. By so often exaggerating their own feats of arms, the veterans obliged themselves to authenticate by their conduct what they've led others to believe of them.

The Grand Army demolished the armies of the established great powers of Europe. They won with easy in such epic battles like Ulm, Austerliz, Jena, Auerstadt and Friedland. (ext.links)
(After Austerlitz, Tsar of Russia Alexander was extremely depressed. He dismounted "and sat on the damp ground beneath a tree, where he covered his face with a cloth and burst into tears." Source: Duffy - 'Austerlitz')

1805 & 1806
Easy victories

The soldiers of Boulogne Camps outmarched and outfought every opponent. In November at Mariazell 4 battalions of these warriors routed 8 Austrian battalions. The French took large numbers of prisoners. General Friant wrote that at Austerlitz "No sooner had the 15e Legere and 33e Ligne arrived and deployed than they marched on the enemy, nothing could resist their attack, the 15e was directed at the bridge and chased a corps 10 times more numerous than they, penetrated Sokolnitz, intermingled with the Russians, slaughtering with the bayonet all that dared oppose them."
General Thiebault described how the infantry manoeuvered at the Battle of Austerlitz (on the Goldbach Heights): "The two corps [of Lannes and Soult] executed their rearward movement in squares, chequer-wise... For my own part I was no less struck by the novelty than by the magnificence of the spectacle. Nothing could be finer or more imposing than the 30 moving masses, which after two hours' march extended over a distance of five miles, while their arms sparkled in the sun." The Russians and Austrians noted that the French regiments maneuvered calmly and with precision "as if on parade ground."
The musket fire of French infantry was very effective due to the considerable musketry practice with live ammunition that the French had received at Boulogne Camps.
According to Robert Goetz "the French infantry was indisputably the finest in Europe in 1805, and perhaps even the finest infantry fielded throughout the wars of 1792-1815." (Goetz - "1805: Austerlitz" p 45) Austrian General Stutterheim wrote: "The French infanatry manoeuvered with coolness and precision, fought with courage, and executed its bold movements with admirable concert."
This is not surprising that Napoleon was very proud of his army. In 1805 after the victory at Austerlitz he wrote: "Soldiers ! I am pleased with you. On the day of Austerlitz you have justified what I had expected of your intrepidity. You have decorated your Eagles with an immortal glory ...in two months the Third Coalition is conquered and dissolved."

In 1806 the campaign against Prussia was a brilliant one. The enemy was outmaneuvered and defeated at jena and Auerstadt. The Prussian forces were scatterred all across Prussia and the remainder of the campaign was basically a mopping-up operation.

Battle of Austerlitz, large map. (ext.link)
Napoleon at Austerlitz, picture. (ext.link)
Napoleon at Austerlitz, postcard. (ext.link)
Battle of Jena, map. (ext.link)
Battle of Jena, picture. (ext.link)
Infantry at Jena, picture. (ext.link)
Battle of Friedland, map. (ext.link)
French artillery at Friedland, picture. (ext.link)

Harsh winter
Bloodbath at Eylau

In the following years there was not enough peace-time to train the troops to the same high level. Already the winter campaign of 1806-1807 in eastern Prussia and Poland exhausted the French troops mentally and physically. Napoleonic troops became known for swift movements and rapid marches, but in 1806 in Eastren Prussia (wooded area and with few inhabitants, virtually wilderness) and in Poland the thick mud and abysmal roads made it impossible. It was with extreme difficulty that the artillery could be moved along.
The battles of Eylau and Heilsberg were a very bloody and inconclusive contest between the French and a mostly Russian army under Benigssen. At Heilsberg the French lost 12,000 killed and wounded. At Eylau they have suffered 15,000-25,000 killed and wounded, this is about 1/3 of their forces. Riding over the battlefield one of the French commanders said: "Quel massacre ! Et sans resultat" (What a massacre! And for no outcome.) The French soldiers cried out for peace after Eylau. Eylau was the first serious check to the French Grand Armee, which in the previous two campaigning seasons had carried all before it.

In spring 1807 though the weather was still severe, so Napoleon rousted his troops out of their winter quarters for drills and frequent field exercises. The army was weakened as many veterans were killed, wounded or sick and in hospitals. Meanwhile in France thousands of young men were called to arms. Napoleon caused these to be despatched to the front as soon as possible and they were drilled en route.

Napoleon at Eylau, large picture by Gros (ext.link)
Murat and his 10,000 cavalrymen at Eylau, picture. (ext.link)
French Guard cavalry at Eylau, picture. (ext.link)
Infantry combat at Eylau, picture. (ext.link)
French cavalry vs Russian infantry at Eylau, picture by Flameng. (ext.link)

"After 1808 fewer French soldiers
received extensive training."
- Colonel J. Elting

Captured British infantryman On picture: French light cavalrymen captured British infantryman, by Woodville.

In this period the army was still in good shape, although not as good as few years ago. Much of the revolutionary ardour that had fired the French troops of the 1790s and early 1800s had been quenched by 1808. Napoleon himself sensed a lack of enthusiiasm for the forthcoming campaigns. In 1808-09, for the new war with Austria tens of thousands of new recruits joined the field armies. They were hastily trained. "After 1808 fewer French soldiers received extensive training." (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" p 534) Napoleon increased their effectiveness in the field and bolstered their morale by forming regimental artillery and attaching 2-3 light guns to every infantry regiment.
The influx of conscprits diluted the old ideals of austerity, self-respect and duty. After 1809 drunkenness and indiscipline increased, especially in the cavalry. Among the French troops occupying Spain looting was rampant, discipline was poor. The veterans were demoralized by plunder and waste and by the cruel war with Spanish guerillas. They had got out of the habit of being inspected. Training had fallen off during the years.

The first provisional regiments, squadrons and battalions appeared already in October 1807. Napoleon, when he needed, took one or two squadrons/battalions from one regiment and one or two from another regiment, named a field officer and thereby formed a provisional regiment. Rarely these troops returned to their parent regiments. The temporary regiments had no Colors, no Eagles, no esprit de corps and no tradition. They served mainly in Peninsula against the Spaniards and the British.

Between 1808 and 1811 the French enjoyed several victories, including the costly victory at Wagram (ext.link) where Napoleon suffered more than 30,000 killed and wounded (!) Austria was again brought on her knees. The war in Spain was not a bloody affair, there were few battles and apart, but the troops were demoralized by lack of discipline, looting, and fighting the elusive Spanish guerillas and British troops. Several hundred of veterans were selected from the troops in Spain and sent to join the Middle Guard. Although they looked good with tanned faces, some of them went around and stole things in Paris. General Michel arrested them and sent to prisons.

John Arnold wrote on French failure in Peninsula: "A young French conscript, Phillipe Gille, provides a detailed account of the inadequate manner in which French soldiers were rushed to the front. Mobilized in France in 1808, Gille apparently did not even receive his musket until arriving at the Spanish border. There he joined a provisional unit composed of fellow conscripts, crossed the border, and soon engaged in combats with guerilla. Eventually his unit merged with similar ad-hoc formations to make up Dupont's ill-fated army. Near the Spanish town of Jaen they faced their first formed opposition from Spanish regulars. In spite of their inexperience, the conscripts formed line, advanced with trailed arms, received a close range volley, charged at the bayonet, and routed the Spanish. While such intrepid shock action worked against poorly trained Spanish infantry, it was ill-suited for more professional opponents such as the British. ...
During the Peninsula years, how large a numerical contribution to the French armed forces were conscripts such as Gille? For the decisive years 1808 to 1812, French annual conscript calls ranged from 181,000 to 217,000. During 1810 and 1811, when France was at peace in the rest of Europe, the majority of these conscripts went to the Peninsula and substantially diluted the quality of the French forces serving there.
Simultaneously, troop quality declined further as veterans suffered some of the nearly 100,000 casualties sustained in the Peninsula in 1810-1811. The impact of this dilution is clearly stated by General Anne Savary. Savary's report on the 1809 Battle of Essling, where he fought with troops substantially better than the average Peninsula soldier, observes, "if instead of troops consisting of war levies [raw conscripts], we had opposed to them such soldiers as those of the camp of Boulogne [the Grande Armée], which we might easily have moved in any direction and made to deploy under the enemy's fire without any danger their being thrown into disorder". Innumerable Peninsular battlefields demonstrated this need....
The last cartridge - by K. Rocco The problem worsened as the Peninsula became a secondary front. A typical Peninsula regiment of 2,500 men would send 120 to 200 men back to France as a depot unit, 50 to the artillery, 10 to the gendarmes, and 12 of the best men to the Imperial Guard. These subtractions, coupled with the unprecedented guerilla-inflicted losses experienced in the never secure rear areas, seriously eroded the staying power of the infantry regiment. It got worse in 1811 and thereafter when Napoleon withdrew the best troops from the Peninsula to prepare for the Russian invasion." (James Arnold - "A Reappraisal of Column Versus Line in the Peninsular War")

"The very morning after our arrival,
we were uniformed and armed, and,
giving us time to breathe, the NCOs
set about inculcating is us the
principles of our new trade.
They were in a hurry ..."
- Recruit of 17e Legere Regiment

Invasion of Russia.
Disastrous Retreat.

Crossing of Beresina River, Russia In 1811, except the guerilla war in Spain, Europe was in peace. Napoleon had time to train the young soldiers. They were clothed and well armed. The cavalry was supplied with thousands of German, Polish and French horses. The artillery and engineers were well equipped and trained. The Grand Army of 1812 was almost as good as the Grand Army of 1805. But in 1812 there were less veterans in the ranks but the troops were better suplied and armed (far more guns). "The veteran troops were sadly diluted by the influx of recent recruits and the demands of the Spanish campaign. A similar expansion had occurred in 1809 when the French army was largely composed of new recruits. In both instances the recruits lacked the discipline and savoir faire to be able to sustain themselves in a foraging situation, but as the 1809 campaign was fought in Austria, the impact of this indiscipline on supplies was minimal compared to what it was to be in 1812." (Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia" p 88)
Before the campaign began General Dejean wrote to the Emperor that up to a third of the horses in cavalry were too weak to carry their burden, while nearly half of the men were too puny to wield a saber. Colonel Saint-Chamans wrote: "I was not happy with the way the cavalry was being organised. Young recruits who had been sent from depots in France before they had learnt to ride a horse or any of the duties of a horseman on the march or on campaign, were mounted on arrival in Hanover on very fine horses which they were not capable of managing." The result was that by the time they reached Berlin, the majority of the horses were suffering from lameness or saddle sores induced by the riders' bad posture or their failure to take care in saddling up. More than one officer noted that recruits were not taught about checking whether their saddle was rubbing or how to detect the early signs of saddle sores.
Napoleon however liked the big numbers of soldiers, even if they were young recruits mounted on weaker horses. He wrote: "When I put 40,000 men on horseback I know very well that I cannot hope for that number of good horsemen, but I am playing on the morale of the enemy, who learns through his spies, by rumour or through newspapers that I have 40,000 cavalry... I am preceded by a psychological force..."

Most military experts agree that the Grand Army of 1812 was the most carefully and completely organized force Napoleon had ever commanded. It had the most thoroughly prepared supply system (The baggage was hauled by 18,000 heavy draft horses). The army was also bigger than any other army Napoleon had before. One of the conscripts wrote: "Oh Father !, this is some army ! Our old soldiers say they never saw anything like it." But only half of the troops were French, the rest were made up of Poles, Italians, Germans, Swiss, and Austrians. Napoleon passed the Imperial Guard in review at Dresden, before a throng of vassal rulers, including many princes, five kings and one emperor (of Austria).
William Napier writes: "... the 200,000 French soldiers arrived on the Niemen in company with 200,000 allies. ... assembled by this wonderful man, all disciplined warriors, and notwithstanding their different national feelings, all proud of the unmatched genius of their leader." (Napier - "History of the War in the Peninsula" Vol III, p 447)

The problems.
In the beginning of the campaign there were not many stragglers and the discipline was strict, at least in some units. Three or four days out of Vilna, von Roos saw: "a division of cuirassiers formed up in square. In the middle four soldiers were digging up the earth. We were told a court-martial had condemned them to death for flouting orders. They were going to be shot; but first had to dig their own graves." Even for the officers and generals it was a very difficult time. The food and quarters were very poor. Britten-Austin writes: "... a general appears on horseback in the open doorway ... not even bothering to dismount, he begins cursing and swearing and complaining that his lodgings aren't worthy of a lieutenant-general attached to General Headquarters. 'I demand you instantly find me something else !' Polite as ever, the commandant [governor] points out that, what with lodgings beeing needed for the Emperor and all the staff, there is very little choice. "The man doesn't accept this sensible reply, but starts insulting the governor ... Suddenly the tall man gets up from his writing table, pushes the governor aside, and in a voice of thunder roars up at the raging general: 'If you are not satisfied, you can f--k off ! D'you think we've nothing better to do than listen to your f---ing complaints ?" The man on horseback only had to set eyes on the tall man to whip off his hat, bend his back in equestrian bow, and stammer out an apology. But the tall man just tells him to go to the devil and returns to his writing table.' Muraldt, who has 'watched this scene open-mouthed,' asks another officer who the tall man is. It's Caulaincourt." (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 129)
Russia was a remote giant land with poor road system and once the campaign began there were numerous problems with supplies. "As supplies became scarce in 1812, discipline broke down and the control over the troops diminished. They plundered indiscriminately instead of carefully requisitioning the supplies they found. Surprisingly, the officers refused to take part in the excesses and often suffered to a greater degree than the men they led. This lack of discipline forced the inhabitants of the region to flee and hide those supplies that might have assisted the French army." (Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia" p 88, 1998)
The discipline of the troops decreased while the amount of stragglers and sick rapidly increased. At Niemen River Davout's I Corps had 79,000, but at Smolensk only 60,000. The situation in other troops was even worse. Ney's III Corps had 44,000 at Niemen and only 22,000 at Smolensk. Murat's Reserve Cavalry numbered 42,000 at Niemen and 18,000 at Smolensk. Before the army reached Moscow it lost half of its strength. At the battle of Borodino (ext.link) more than 30,000 were killed and wounded. It was THE bloodiest battle of Napoleonic wars. But hunger, Cossacks and weather decimated the troops more than the regular Russian army. After Napoleon left Moscow the situation changed from bad to worse. The debris of the Grand Army which in June 1812 had crossed the Niemen River was now chased back by Cossacks and armed peasants. The Russians captured thousands of POWs.

"I have no army any more!"
Many regiments ceased to exist. For example the 5th Regiment of Cuirassiers had 958 men present for duty on June 15th, 1812. On Feb 1st 1813 had only 19 ! The French cavalry never recovered from the massive loss of horses. Nine out of ten cavalrymen who survived walked much of the way home; most of those who rode did so on tiny, but tough, Russian and Polish ponies, their boots scuffing the ground. (large picture, ext.link) Napoleon wrote: "I have no army any more! For many days I have been marching in the midst of a mob of disbanded, disorganized men, who wander all over the countryside in search of food."
George Nafziger writes: ""Of the 680,500 men that Napoleon had organized for his invasion of Russia, barely 93,000 remained. The main army had suffered the harshest casualties and had dwindled from 450,000 to 25,000 men. The flanking and rearguard forces under Schwarzenberg, Reynier, MacDonald, and Augereau had returned with a total of 68,000 men, but many of these men had not ventured very far into Russia, and those of Schwarzenberg, Reynier, and MacDonald had not been as heavily engages as the main army.
"Records suggest that 370,000 French and allied soldiers died either from battle or other causes, while 200,000 were taken prisoner by the Russians. Of those taken prisoner, nearly half died in captivity.
"Napoleon had taken 176,850 horses with him into Russia, and barely any of them survived the campaign. The Russians reported burning the corpses of 123,382 horses as they cleaned up their countryside of the debris of war. So heavy were the horse losses that one of Napoleon's most serious handicaps in the 1813 campaign was his inability to reconstitute his once-powerful cavalry.
"Of the 1,800 cannon taken into Russia, the Russians reported capturing 929 of them, and only 250 were brought out. The remainder were lost or thrown into swamps and lakes so that they might not be captured. Though the loss of cannons was serious, the loss of horses was more devastating to Napoleon. France's arsenals and industrial facilities would soon replace the lost weaponry.
"Of the 66,345 men that had belonged to Davout's corps in June 1812, there remained only 2,281. The 50,000-man Imperial Guard had been reduced to 500 men under arms and a further 800 sick, of whom 200 would never return to arms. Similar casualties were suffered by the II, III, and IV Corps ..."

"Evidently, some of the new troops looked so bad
in drill while still at the training centers that the
populace referred to the army as the 'infants of the
Emperor' - April 1813, Savory to Berthier

Campaign in Germany

On picture: Napoleon, his staff and army, from movie 'War and Peace' by Bondarchuk

French military was in crisis and scrambling to raise men as quickly as possible. Despite such horrendous losses suffered in 1812 Napoleon decided to continue his fight. He turned to every possible resource at his disposal that could produce manpower, and do this quickly. It required not only time and energy but also money. The expense of organizing only the Guard amounted to 18,000,000 frans !

The new army was huge but the 18- and 19-years old soldiers lacked stamina and the rapid marches and hunger weakened them physically. The high stress (they were put into action without full training) exhausted many of them. They fell sick by hundreds, there were also deserters and stragglers. Special detachments were formed to catch the stragglers and find the weak and 'make them walk'. In Paris alone 320 soldiers of Young Guard were arrested for desertion and sent to prisons. During Emperor's journey from Dresden (ext.link), through Gorlitz to Bautzen, he saw the German roads and villages choked with thousands of stragglers. Napoleon was outraged and issued the following order: "Every soldier who deserts his flag betrays the first of his duties. As a consequence, His Majesty orders: Article 1. Evry soldier who deserts his flag without legitimate cause will be subject to decimation. To this effect, as soon as 10 deserters are returned the generals commanding the army corps will have them draw lots, and have one shot." Bautzen. 6 Septeber 1813 Napoleon." (Bowden - "Napoleon's Grande Armee of 1813" p 160)
Digby-Smith writes: "The strength and physical stamina of the young conscripts, and consequently the quality of their regiments, left much to be desired; they could not march like the veterans, fell easy prey to sickness, and the standard of their training when they left the depots in the spring 1813 was frighteningly low. The ability of battalions to manoeuvre was poor, and many recruits could not even load their muskets. When the reinforcements drafts marched to the front, carts had to follow them to pick up the footsore and the exhausted." (Digby-Smith, - p 29)

"The levy, calling upon the adolescents of France one full year before they normally would have been eligible for military service clearly illustrates Napoleon's desperate need for numbers of troops. " (Bowden p 31) The new units were thrown together quickly and their men had not had the necessary time to form the interpersonal bonds within their companies that gave them the morale strength necessary to wage war successfully. Despite these problems, the army's morale was generally high. Many of the young troops who stayed in the ranks, were filled with boundless confidence in their leader whom they loved with unflagging devotion. The few veterans had regained their faith in Napoleon. The artillery and engineers were as usual excellent. When led by Napoleon in person the young soldiers won every battle (Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden etc.) Without Him they were routed at Kulm, Dennewitz and Katzbach. (ext.link)

Many of Napoleon's marshals were either weary
or downright prophets of doom. In the end
of campaign some defected to the Allies.

The Campaign of France.

Napoleon in 1814 by Meissonier "A decree ordering a levy of 300,000 soldiers was made, and another augmenting the Guard to 112,500 men... The levy, however, was not successful. France was exhausted not only of her men, but even of her youth, and boys were now in his greatest need to form his battalions. To add to his trouble, as fortune always seems to delight in pushing down a falling favorite, the Typhus fever broke out among his troops along the Rhine." (Headley - "The Imperial Guard of Napoleon")
The recruits were poorly clothed and armed boys. A handful of heroes faced all of Europe to whom they themselves had taught the art of fighting over the past decade. Napoleon had mixed feelings about his troops in 1814. He wrote: "The Old Guard alone stood firm - the rest melted like snow." The lack of weapons and uniforms was one of the characteristics of the French troops during this war. Napoleon wrote that the peasants had picked up on the battlefields thousands of muskets abandoned by the enemy and that commissioners should be sent to collect them. In default of muskets there were 6.000 pikes manufactured.

By 1814 allied armies were advancing into France from every direction. Napoleon put up an impressive performance, fighting on average a battle or skirmish every day, and winning many of them. The battles of this campaign included Brienne, Craonne, Laon, Montmirail and La Rothiere, Napoleon's first defeat on French soil. Many of Napoleon's marshals were either weary or downright prophets of doom. In the end of campaign some defected to the Allies. Paris was taken by storm by the Russian and Prussian troops.

"There was a prodigious gap between them (soldiers of 1815)
and our old soldiers from the Camp the Boulogne."
- Desales, officer of artillery of Erlon's I Corps

The Hundred Days Campaign.

French infantrymen in campaign dress, by Funcken Some of the English authors claim that the French army of 1815 was made up of veterans and was Napoleon's best. The fact is the majority of the army that Napoleon rebuilt after returning from Elba, was composed of soldiers who had at least one campaign behind them, although in the eyes of veterans of Austerlitz and Egypt, the recruits of 1814 still seemed like little boys. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 20) A call for volunteers produced only some laughable 15,000 men. There were French eyewitnesses who stated that many regiments included a high percentage of young soldiers who had never been under fire. Several battalions of Young Guard were in Vendee. General Lamarque complained that they were filled with recruits and deserters who neither knew how to maneuver nor shoot. (Lasserre - "Les Cent jours en Vendée: le général Lamarque et l'insurrection royaliste, d'après les papiers inédits du général Lamarque." published in 1906.)

In 1815 Napoleon's army was not as good as their predecessors in 1804-1812 who felt invincible after the glorious victories at Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland. The soldiers who marched to Waterloo knew well the taste of defeat, some survived the horrors of retreat from Russia, flights before Cossacks, defeats at Viazma, Berezina, Leipzig, Kulm, Dennewitz, La Rothiere and Paris. They also witnessed Allies' entry to Paris, capitulation and abdication of Napoleon. Thousands of ex-POWs who spent years in Russian, British or Spanish captivity now were accepted to the army. Some could be angry men but without the air of invincibility. According to Lachouque ("Anathomy of Glory") "notwithstanding the initial enthusiasm, not all the discharged veterans returned. Some had been spoiled by civil life." Captain Duthilt thought the soldiers who had suffered the defeats of the emperor's recent campaigns and the returned prisoners of war from Russia had lost a great deal of their enthusiasm.

In 1815 the discipline was poor, the old timers were annoyed and complained that the young men went out with girls or got drunk. Sergeant Mauduit of Imperial Guard described his comrades during march toward Waterloo. The guardsmen had broken into houses and had stopped and plundered army supply wagons, laughing in the faces of the gendarmes assigned to maintain order along the road. General Radet, commander of the military police, was so disturbed by this behavior that he tendered his resignation that very evening.

The army was hastily assembled, lacked uniforms and shoes. At Ligny the Prussians took the poorly clothed Old Guard for second rate militia. (For comparison, eight years earlier at Friedland, the Guard entered battle in their parade outfits; including white gloves ! At Borodino, Guard's uniforms catched the eye of many troops around. Read memoirs of Heinrich von Brandt and you will know what I mean. In 1815 not 20 men in the Guard could be found wearing the same uniform in any company in these regiments. The supplies were scarce and everything was performed in haste and confusion. Many soldiers wore civilian clothes under their greatcoats and forage caps instead of shakos. In some infantry regiments only the grenadiers were issued bayonets. Some cuirassiers had no armor. "The 11th Cuirassiers fought without them at Waterloo ... Shoes, twenty regiments had none." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 24)
"For lack of shakos the 14th Light Regiment would fight the Waterloo campaign in fatigue caps." (Austin - "1815 the return of Napoleon" p 295)

In 1815 several French top rank commanders defected to the Allies. On June 15 General Comte Louis Bourmount rode directly over to the Prussians and surrendered with five of his staff. According to Colonel Elting "Wellington should have been thoroughly informed as to Ney's strength, the chief-of-staff of one of d'Erlon's divisions having deserted to the English during the morning" (before the Battle of Quatre-Bras). It all had a great impact on morale of the soldiers and junior officers. The old camaraderie of the troops was replaced by suspicion. "The soldiers were upset at the excessive number of senior officers who had betrayed, or who were suspected of being ready to betray the emperor... The troops had neither confidence in their commanders nor the ability to accept discipline." (Barbero - "The Battle" pp 277-278) At Waterloo an officer of horse carabiniers defected - in the middle of battle - to the British and Germans and informed the enemy about Napoleon's plans.

"The soldiers doubted the loyalty and competence of many senior officers. They resented officers being promoted merely for going over to the Emperor while they received nothing for doing the same. Six officers of the 1st Cuirassiers who had been rewarded in this way were greeted with groans and shouts on parade. The 12th Dragoons petitioned the Emperor requesting, "... the dismissal of our colonel, whose ardour in the cause of Your Majesty is by no means equal to our own." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 78)
But not only officers and generals defected to the enemy. There were deserters even from the Old Guard. These traitors were ready to fight for King Louis and formed so-called "Bourbon Cavalry Corps". With them served deserters of cuirassier and dragoon regiments. This unit was under Wellington's command but not participated at Waterloo.
"Digby Smith is of the opinion that it's impossible to know the number of Guard survivors from Russia still present in its ranks in 1815, but points out that of the 400-600 officers and other ranks who'd got back, many must have succumbed in Germany. The Grenadiers' and Chasseurs' composition in 1815 is perhaps relevant to the fiasco of the last fatal charge at Waterloo." (Austin - "1815: the return of Napoleon" p 314)
At Waterloo a battalion of Old Guard was defeated by battalion of German militia, another battalion of Middle Guard was routed by Dutch infantry of Chasse's division. Two battalions were defeated by the British and Germans.

Quality of Napoleon's army.


"After 1893, the relative strength of forces once more turned in favor of Germany.
Since the German population was growing much more rapidly than the French,
the contingent mobilized every year was much more numerous, and the reserves
at the disposition of the regular army were far larger than those the French
high command could count on."
- La Gorce - "The French Army; a military-political history"

"The English fleet can't protect Paris."
- Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany


Battle of Gravelotte-St.Privat The Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat, was the largest battle during the Franco-Prussian War. The combined German forces (188,000 men), under von Moltke the Elder defeated French Army of the Rhine (113,000 men), commanded by Marshal Bazaine. While most of the Germans fell under the French Chassepot rifles, (ext.link) most French fell under the Prussian Krupp shells. The Prussian Guard Division losses were staggering with 8,000 casualties out of 18,000 men ! On the French side, the troops holding St. Privat lost more then 50 % of their number. General Bourbaki refused to commit the reserves of the French Old Guard to the battle because he considered it a 'defeat'. (source: wikipedia.org 2005)

Battle of Sedan 1870 The Battle of Sedan was fought during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. It resulted in the capture of Emperor Napoleon III (ext.link) along with his army and practically decided the war in favour of Prussia, though fighting continued under a new French government. The French lost over 38,000 men killed, wounded and captured. The Prussians reported their losses at 9,000 killed, wounded and captured or missing. Napoleon III surrendered himself to Moltke and the Prussian King With the Second Empire overthrown, Napoleon III was permitted to leave Prussian custody for exile in England, while, within a fortnight, the Prussian Army went on to besiege Paris.

"Relations with the German Empire dominated France's whole foreign policy up to 1914. Every French government reached a decision on the basis of the intentions attributed to Germany, and on the danger that German political initiatives represented for France. Franco-German relations were themselves dominated by the question of Alsace-Lorraine. The territorial annexation carried out under the Treaty of Frankfort (1871) had inflicted such a wound on France that nothing could exceed in urgency the desire to avoid a repetition of the German Invasion. The lost provonces had belonged to France since the days of Louis XIV and Louis XV, and the question of national sovereignity had not been raised even after the collapse of Napoleon.
... Yet the relative strength of the armed forces of France and Germany was such that no French government, during the last quarter of the century, could have envisaged the notion of any aggression directed against Germany. ... From 1875 on, when the French General Staff elaborated its first plans for mobilization in the event of war, the ruling idea was entirely defensive. ... After 1893, the relative strength of forces once more turned in favor of Germany. Since the German population was growing much more rapidly than the French, the contingent mobilized every year was much more numerous, and the reserves at the disposition of the regular army were far larger than those the French high command could count on. ...
The successive French governments knew that English diplomacy was becoming increasingly alarmed at German hegemony in Europe. They maintained an attitude of utmost prudence vis-a-vis Great Britain, avoiding any challenge to its essential interests in order to obtain its support in the event of a diplomatic crisis involving the German Empire, and perhaps a military alliance if war should break out. 'The English fleet can't protect Paris', Kaiser Wilhelm II said. Only the Russian alliance was both politically feasible and militarily useful." (La Gorce - "The French Army; a military-political history" pp 11-13)

Promotion in the army was determined by a law that had been passed in 1832. Approx. 66 % of the officers were promoted on the basis of seniority, up to the rank of commandant. According to Major Simon the soldiers "spent whole weeks adjusting the straps or revolver holsters and the straps around canteens, seeing to it that the former should run between the 2nd and 3rd tunic buttons ... On the range, what mattered was not to hit the target frequently but to adopt the precise posture that regulations called for, even if the marksman's physique made this uncomfortbale for him. To allow the lefthand soldier to put a rifle against his left shoulder would have seemed a grave infringement of discipline."

Sources and Links.

Crowdy - "French Revolutionary Infantryman 1791-1802"
Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820"
Elting - "Swords Around a Throne"
Chandler- "The Campaigns of Napoleon"
Bowden - "Napoleon's Grande Armee of 1813"
La Gorce - "The French Army; a military-political history"
Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle: The French Army"
Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia"
Britten-Austin - "1812: The March on Moscow"
Petre - "Napoleon's Conquest of Prussia, 1806"
Blond - "La Grande Armee"
Digby-Smith - "1813:Leipzig"
Bielecki, Tyszka - "Dal Nam Przyklad Bonaparte"

Napoleon, His Army and Enemies.