French flag 1804, from warflag.com French flag 1812, from warflag.com
French Infantry
During the Napoleonic Wars

"It is well known with what gallantry the officers lead
and with what vehemence the [French] troops follow ..."
- William Napier

1. French Infantry Under Napoleon.
2. Differences Between Line and Light Infantry.
3. Generals: Duhesme, Saint-Hilaire, Vandamme, and Compans
4. Strength & Recruitment.
5. Weapons & Organization.
6. Drummers, Cornets and Sappers
7. Grenadiers, Carabiniers - Fusiliers, Chasseurs - Voltigeurs
8. Eagles and Flags.
9. The Best Regiments.

French infantryman during the Revolutionary war, picture by Myrbach.
"After several years of war many volunteers and levies
knew no other life than soldiering. They grew up very quickly
under fire, facing the armies of Prussia, Austria, Britain,
Spain, Russia and Turkey. They were in turn used as an
instrument of liberation, taking over the frontiers, and
of repression, savagely suppressing internal anti-government
dissent." - Terry Crowdy, English author and researcher

"Their movements compared with ours are as mail coaches
to dung carts. In all weathers and at all times they are
accustomed to march, when our men would fall sick by
hundreds ... Another peculiar excellence of the French
infantry is their steadiness in manoeuvering under fire."
- John Mills of British 'Coldstream Guard'

French Infantry Under Napoleon.
'Many of the victories from 1805 to 1807
were both easy and decisive.'

Bonaparte and French infantry at Rivoli. "The army's infantry is its most essential component. Even today, no army can take and hold any ground without the use of infantry." (Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia" p 13, 1998) The infantry was the basis of the Napoleonic army, which was the largest army in the World in that time. Such army was necessary as France had several powerfull enemies on land; Russia, Prussia and Austria all had large armies. In this situation accepting only volunteers (as it was in the small Swiss and British armies) was not enough. To meet the numbers conscription (ext.link) was at work. Conscription hustled to arms a lot of quivering creatures who would never have gone to war of their own free will. The process of weeding out the weak was under way in the first stages of every campaign. Under Napoleon the discipline of the troops greatly improved although now and then were problems. When the 69th Demi-Brigade mutined a general arrived to see what the trouble was. The infantrymen cheerfully explained that they had no complain except that they had nothing to do; they simply had 'bored themselves' and so kicked up a little excitement to make life interesting ! There was no corporal punishment in the French army. In contrast the Russians used gauntlet, and the Brits flogged the troublemakers.
Every infantryman was armed with musket, bayonet, and carried a knapsack, water bottle, and blanket or greatcoat, besides an ammunition pouch. According to Chandler "Training remained rudimentary. The new conscript might receive 2 or 3 weeks of basic instruction at the depot, but he would fire on average only two musket shots a year in practice. Much stress was placed upon the attack with cold steel ..." (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" pp 207-208) It was by no means an illiterate infantry. In 1812 the 33rd Line Infantry Regiment had 500 "privates worthy of NCO rank" and more than 700 who understood the decimal system, and the first three rules of arithmetic. Many of the officers were classically educated.

French line infantry 1807-1811, by Funcken In 1803-1807 France had probably the best infantry which had ever existed in Europe up until that time. It was the Camp of Boulogne that Napoleon's greatest military ideas were executed. The Napoleonic foot soldiers were known for agility, stubborn attacks, and the speed of their marches. Maneuverability and speed were the characterictics of Napoleon's lightning campaigns. The infantry performed some extraordinary marches, for example in 1805 and in 1808 during the pursuit of the fleeing British troops. Chlapowski writes: "The arrival of the first French infantry division [to Poland], belonging to Davout's Corps, made a strange impression on me. A dozen or so of us rode out to meet it, and about a mile outside the city we saw fields completely covered with individual soldiers, in greatcoats of every color, carrying their muskets with the butts in the air and picking dry paths through the fields to avoid the knee-deep mud on the road. Right outside the city [Posen], by the windmills, there was a beating of drums, and they all came running to form ranks and in the blinking of an eye they had taken off their greatcoats, straightened their bicornes on their heads and become the most regular armies. They then marched at a lively pace into the city with bands playing. They halted in the market square, stacked their weapons and took out little brushes to wipe the mud from their shoes and began fooling around as if they had only been marching for a mile, not the 150 miles they had just completed. I stared in amazement at these boisterous infantrymen, so far undefeated. They might as well have been going to a dance.
They were not like the Prussian infantry ... Those had seemed a full head taller, with broader shoulders and far stronger, but, at the same time stiff and wooden, and after a half-mile march, when their column had halted for some reason, they had straight away broken ranks to rest." (Chlapowski/Simmons - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" p 10)
Many of the victories from 1805 to 1807 were both easy and decisive. Many regiments won fame on the battlefield. The 57e Ligne (Le Terrible) enjoyed a great reputation and was the best of line regiments. On their flag was inscribed Bonaparte's remark about their bravery at Rivoli. In 1805 at Austerlitz the following line regiments captured Allies colors: 14e, 18e, 33e, 43e, 48e, 55e, 75e, and 108e. In 1809 at Aspern-Essling the line infantrymen fought like lions. In 1812 after the bloodbath at Borodino the 57e was awarded with a badge of Legion of Honor affixed to their Eagle. The 84e Ligne was another top drawer outfit. In 1809 Napoleon ordered to inscribe in gold lettering the words "1 against 10" (un contre dix) on their flags for their fight at Saint Leonhard.
Even in Spain many units performed gallantly. John Burgoyne wrote in "Life and correspondence of Burgoyne": "The French regiment came up the hill with a brisk and regular step, and their drums beating pas de charge: our men fired wildly and at random among them; the French never returned a shot, but continued their steady advance. The English fired again but still without return ... and when the French were close upon them, they wavered and gave way. In 1812 at Salamanca The French 25th Light and 27th Line attacked while the British line hesitated and stood firm for a moment. The Brits then broke and fled. An English officer described a fight between the elite British Fusiliers and the French: "The French regiment formed close column with the grenadiers in front and closed the battalions ... They then advanced up the hill in the most beautiful order without firing a shot ... when about 30 paces distant our men (British) began to waver, being still firing ... The ensigns advanced 2 paces in front and planted the colors on the edge of the hill and officers steped out to encourage the men to meet them. They (British) stopt with an apparent determination to stand firm, the enemy (French) continued to advance at a steady pace and when quite close the Fusiliers gave way: - the French followed down the hill on our side."
Colonel Waller, (British 2nd Division) witnessed a French attack against Picton's "Fighting Division" in 1810 at Bussaco: "At this moment were seen the heads of the several columns, three I think, in number and deploying into line with the most beautiful precision, celerity and gallantry. As they formed on the plateau, they were cannonaded from our position and the regiment of Portuguese... threw in some volleys of musketry into the enemy's columns in a flank direction, but the (Portugese) regiment was quickly driven into the position ... the (French) columns advanced in despite of a tremendous fire of grape and musketry from our troops in position in the rocks, and overcoming all opposition although repeatedly charged by Lightburne's Brigade, or rather the whole of Picton's Div., they advanced and fairly drove the British right wing from the rocky part of this position."

French infantry pursuing Wellington's army in 1812. 
By Motte On picture: "the French arrived [at Tordesillas], 60 ... headed by Cpt Guingret, a daring man, formed a small raft to hold their arms and clothes, and plunged into the water, holding their swords with their teeth, swimming and pushing their raft before them. Under protection of a cannonande they crossed this great river, though it was in full and strong water, and the weather very cold, and having reached the other side, naked as they were, stormed the tower: the Brunswick regiment then abandoned the wood, and the gallant Frenchmen remained masters of the bridge." (Napier - "History of the War ..." Vol IV, p 138)
In 1813 during the battle of Leipzig, a group of French infantry swam the Elster River near Mockern and began firing, the surprised Prussians were taken in crossfire and fled.

Many napoleonic battles were very bloody and cost many lives. In 1812 after the battle of Valutina Gora "Gudin's division were drawn up on top of their companions' and Russian corpses, amidst half-broken trees, on ground ripped up by roundshot ... Gudin's battalions were no longer more than platoons. All around was the smell of powder. The Emperor couldn't pass along their front without having to avoid corpses, step over them or push them aside. He was lavish with rewards. The 12th, 21st and 127th Line and the 7th Light received 87 decorations and promotions." (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 214)

At Borodino the infantry have suffered even more. Sergeant Bertrand of 7th Light Regiment writes: "A roundshot took my captain's head off, killing or mortally wounding four men in the first rank. The lieutenant takes the captain's place; scarcely is he at his post than he's himself stricken by a piece of grape which shatters his thigh. In the same instant the sous-lieutenant's foot is shattered by another shell fragment. The officers hors de combat, the sergeant-major absent, I, as senior sergeant, take command of the company."
The Battle of Borodino was glory day for the French infantry. Captain Francois of 30th Line Regiment described attack on Death Redoubt (Raievski Redoubt): "Nothing could stop us... We hopped over the roundshots as it bounded through the grass. Whole files and half-platoons fell, leaving great gaps. General Bonamy ... made us halt in a hail of canister shot in order to rally us, and we then went forward at the pas de charge" A line of Russian troops tried to halt us, but we delivered a regimental volley at 30 paces and walked over them. We then hurled ourselves at the redoubt and climbed in by the embrasureds; I myself got in through an embrasure just after its cannon had fired. The Russian gunners tried to beat us back with ramrods and levering spikes. We fought hand-to-hand with them, and they were formidable adversaries."
Captain Bonnet describes how the Russian skirmishers arrived in good order a little to the left "... and a dense column to our right. I deploy my battalion and, without firing, march straight at the column. It recoils. When carrying out this movement we were so exposed to grapeshot from the guns in the village that I saw my battalion falling and being breached like a crenellated wall. But still we went on."

Crossing of Beresina River, in Russia In 1812 the majority of veterans was swallowed up in the bloody battles and the snows of Russia. The casualties were horrible and it required a heart of stone to look on those gallant men, mangled, frozen and torn, and heaped in thousands over the fields and roads. (ext.link).

The reconstruction of the infantry in 1813 was not a simple task. One cannot just strike the earth and expect legions, armed, clothed and trained. Napoleon used everything he had. In 1813 the young soldiers were called "infants of the Emperor." Thousands of the footsore men entered Dresden, wore their battle dress and marched into battle singing "Victory is Ours". Marshal Davout wrote: "in spite of their youth ... I cannot recall having found more ardor in our old troops." They have fought bravely at Dresden and Leipzig. At Leipzig the defense of Probstheida was incredible. Digby-Smith writes: "The courage and ferocity shown by both sides in the battle of Probstheida was truly unique, as were the losses they suffered. An attempt by the Old Guard to advance south, however, was stopped by the Allied artillery on the low hill about 500 m away. Generals Baillot, Montgenet and Rochambeau were all killed during the fighting here, while French regiments which especially distinguished themselves were the 2nd, 4th and 18th Line and the 11th Light. Even Prinz August von Preussen wrote most flatteringly of the enemy's valour ..."
Allies staff officer Maximilian von Thielen writes: "The French were holding out with unparalled stubborness ..."

In 1814 the French infantry found itself in heavily reduced size. A handful of heroes faced all of Europe to whom they themselves had taught the art of fighting over the past decade. In 1815 it was no more than a glorious memory. After the 100-Days Campaign the French King Louis XVIIIth decided that no reminder of the Republic or the Empire would be allowed to survive in the army. The organization of the army and the uniforms from the Empire were banned.

Napoleonic infantryman was easy everywhere, little or nothing worried him, neither the pyramids of Egypt nor the vast plains of snowy Russia. No matter where he found himself, he considered himself to be a representative of the French way of life. 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.
(Every soldier of Roman Empire could make a career in the army. The veterans could even aspire to become primus pilus. Retired centurions were even given membership in the equestrian class (the equivalent of a knighthood).
The French infantrymen were not angels and sometimes behaved badly. Chlapowski of Napoleon's Guard Lancers writes: "The Austrian defense of the town had been fierce. A great many French corpses lay in front of and on the bridge leading to the city gate. ... After a fierce struggle the French had broken into the town and ran amok among the Austrians, leaving many corpses around the streets. .... [they] having lost many men before taking the town, exacted a terrible revenge afterwards. The Emperor refused to enter the town until the following morning. I think even he was disturbed by the sight of this carnage."


"The physical ability and high inteligence of the common man
enables the French light infantryman to profit from all
advantages offered by the terrain and the general situation,
while the phlegmatic Germans, Bohemians and Dutch form on
open ground and do nothing but what their officers order them
to do." - Prussian general Scharnhorst

Differences Between Light and Line Infantry.

French Light Infantry by Funcken There were two types of infantry, line and light. Both were able to execute all maneuvers, incl. skirmishing. The light infantryman however was more intensively trained in marksmanship and in executing all maneuvers in higher speed. The light infantry formed advance guards and scouting parties. This kind of service had fostered the soldier's intelligence and independent judgement. No longer he was a mindless robot in a lock-step formation, moving and firing only upon order.
Each company of infantry was divided into 2 sections, but when skirmishing it was divided into 3 sections: left, right and center. The skirmishers of the left and right section had their bayonets removed when on the skirmish line. Only the center section had their bayonets fixed. Their primary target were enemy's officers, gunners, and skirmishers.

Napoleon's light infantry enjoyed a great reputation in Europe. In his "Basic Reason for the French Success" Prussian general Scharnhorst maintained that the individual French soldier, epitomized by the light infantryman, had decided most of the tactical engagements of the war. Scharnhorst wrote: "The physical ability and high inteligence of the common man enables the French light infantryman to profit from all advantages offered by the terrain and the general situation, while the phlegmatic Germans, Bohemians and Dutch form an open ground and do nothing but what their officers order them to do." Major K.F. von Knesebeck saw the French in six engagements, deploy "their entire infantry" in open order as skirmishers "with decided superiority." Knesebeck believed that the Prussians and Austrians could learn a great deal from the French light infantryman. According to author Gunther Rothenberg "Rigidly controlled and regimented, the Austrian skirmishers rarely were equal to the French."
(Not all French commanders used the light infantry the best way. In 1812 at Smolensk von Suckow sees "a French staff officer, without even reconnoitering the terrain, lead the Wuertemberg Light Infantry - in particular its superb Foot Chasseurs - straight up to the high wall, where they're simply mown down. Decimated and furious at being forced to carry out such an absurd mission, they're obliged to beat a retreat, after losing 5 officers within only a few minutes." (source: Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 195)

Light infantryman
strengths and weakneses

+ -
The light infantry often formed advance guards, therefore had more combat experience, higher esprit de corps. Being more often in combat resulted in heavier casualties, longer periods of extreme stress and physical challenge (more injuries).
They were better runners and were more agile than the rest of the infantry.
They were better marksmen Good marksmanship required longer training. It was in times difficult for the Napoleonic army that campaigned almost nonstop. Ammunition and powder were expensive in 18-19th Century.
In skirmish order, or in combat in a wood or village, the opponent could attack with bayonet from any side. In this situation physical fitness and boldness played greater role than height of man and length of his arms. (See below average height of infantrymen) They were shorter men than those from line infantry. Tall man had longer arms and in bayonet fight between compact bodies of troops (line or column) could outreach his opponent who was only to his front. For this reason the taller grenadiers or carabiniers formed the heads of attacking troops.

Average height of infantryman:
grenadiers - 170.25 cm
fusiliers - 164.66 cm
voltigeurs - 159.40 cm
(Average height taken from 3.503 recruits)
carabinier - 168.25 cm
chasseur - 162.98 cm
voltigeur - 158.1 cm
(Average height taken from 900 recruits)


"In 1805 Napoleon wanted only 120 generals of division
and 240 of brigade." - John Elting

"Other men - so many of them dead, worn out, shunted aside, or exiled - had shaped the French armies as much as those new marshals of 1804. There were the might-have-beens, the men who should have been marshals had they survived - high-hearted Dessaix, whom Napoleon thought the best-balanced of his lieutenants, and gallant young Marceau. Whether the sharp-mnded Hoche and resentful Kleber would have accepted a baton is an unswered question, but there were other first-rate generals who certainly would have. ... During 1800-1803 Napoleon gradually cleaned out the deadwood from among his officers, a task complicated by the general confusion in which the Directory had left the War Ministry's records. Approx. 170 general officers were retired; some were good men, but too old or too disabled to continue on active duty. .... Many however were incompetents ... In 1805 Napoleon wanted only 120 generals of division and 240 of brigade." (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" p 167)

Duhesme Philippe-Guillaume Duhesme (1766-1815).
According to Barbero he was "an old Jacobin fire-eater who, like many others, had grown rich in nebulous ways, and he had been involved in so many shady affairs ... that in 1810 the Emperor had dismissed him from service and exiled him from Paris, having been restored to his rank, was an extraordinary battlefield commander..." (Barbero - "The Battle" p 244) Chandler writes: "Until late 1807 he held various commands in Italy, but in early 1808 he was transferred to Spain. There he seized the citadel of Barcelona and as its Governor withstood a long if intermittent siege. In 1810 he was recalled to France in disgrace to face a multitude of charges of improper actions and malversation, and for a time lived in semiretirement." (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" p 128)
Duhesme was an expert of light infantry combat. In 1814 he wrote "Essai sur l’infanterie légère, ou Traité des petites operations de la guerre, à l’usage des jeunes officiers". ' Duhesme said that 'It is in this genre of combat that the French genius shines with the greatest brilliance,' He thought that in the 1791 Reglement were too many useless movements. In 1815 at Waterloo Duhesme commanded the Young Guard. He fought against the Prussians and was wounded. Duhesme refused to leave, he was held in saddle by devoted soldiers. After the battle Blücher provided him with his own room, and ordered his own surgeon to care for him. Duhesme died shortly after.

Louis-Charles Saint-Hilaire (1766-1809).
Jacques Garnier of napoleon.org writes: "At Austerlitz it was Saint-Hilaire who, with Vandamme's division, led the assault on the Pratzen Heights. ... He fought at Jena and at Eylau where his division performed remarkably well, including: the forward movement of his artillery (commanded by Séruzier, « le père aux boulets », who mentions this event in his memoirs) and the heroic resistance of the whole division, making it possible for Davout's 3e corps to arrive in time to ensure the victory. .... in 1809, he commanded a division in Lannes' 2e corps. At Essling (22 May, 1809), his fought was blown off by a cannon ball, and he was taken to Vienna where he died on 3 June. Speaking of Lannes and Saint-Hilaire, both of whom died at during this latter campaign, Napoleon was to say on Saint Helena: Those two would never have been unfaithful to the glory of the people of France."
Some thought he was like a knight without fear and reproach. Ellting writes: "St. Hilaire, for whom Bayard's epithet 'without fear and reproach' was revived, died of wounds in 1809. ... Napoleon, who first met him during the siege of Toulon in 1793, praised his chivalrous character and considered him both a personal friend and a hero."

Dominique-Joseph Vandamme (1770-1830).
Vandamme "He was a brutal and violent soldier, renowned for insubordination and looting. Napoleon once said to him, 'If I had two of you, the only solution would be to have one hang the other.' He also said that were he, Napoleon, to launch a campaign against Lucifer in Hell, then he would give Vandamme command of the vanguard." (wikipedia.org 2005)
"Vandamme ... was a knock-down, drag-out, whoop-it-up roughneck ... A Fleming with reddish hair and grey eyes ... His temper was instantaneous, his vocabulary sulphurous, his talent for insubordination stupendous. No marshal would willingly have him as a subordinate; only Davout could manage him. ... always ready to march and fight ... German troops liked serving under him; he treated his subordinates with iron rigor but took the best possible care of them." (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" pp 158-159)
Marbot writes: "General Vandamme was fine and courageous officer who, already well-known from the earliest wars of the revolution, had been almost continually in command of various Corps during those of the empire; so that it was surprising that he had not yet been awarded the baton of a marshal; withheld perhaps because of his brusque and abrupt manner. His detractors said, after his defeat, that his desire to obtain this coveted honour had driven him, with no more than 20,000 men, to stand rashly in the path of 200,000 of the enemy, with the aim of barring their passage ..."
[Vandamme was defeated in 1813 at Kulm (ext.link) and was taken prisoner by the Russians.]
After the restoration of King Louis XVIII of France Vandamme was exiled to America.
Jean-Claude Van Damme (nicknamed The Muscles from Brussels) known for rough action movies, has nothing to do with our General Vandamme :-) (of course)

Jean-Dominique Compans (1769-1845).
Compans Compans began his military career in 1791 in the volunteers of Haute-Garonne and became captain at the of 23. Compans met Bonaparte during the siege of Toulon. He was promoted to the rank of general of brigade in 1799. In 1806 Compans became general of division and served in Davout's corps for several years. In 1812 during the Invasion of Russia, Compans commanded 5th Infantry Division in Davout's I Army Corps. (In 5th Division was the famous 57th Line Regiment, nicknamed "The Terrible" for bravery in combat.)
Lejeune described Compans' vigorous attacks in the blood-bath at Borodino: "The first attack was repulsed [by the Russians], and Compans was himself wounded in the left arm. He had, however, scarcely had his wound dressed, before he ordered a second assault. This too was repulsed, and Compans, irritated at his second failure and determined to succeed, now ordered a vigorous onslaught to be made on the rear of the redoubt, whilst he and Colonel Charrière at the head of the 57th Regiment scaled the breach side by side. This time the redoubt was taken ..."
Compans had the honour of being the first to lead his infantry to exchange fire with the Russians. He was ordered to attack the enemy’s centre on the left of the Passavero wood, and to reach it he had to scale the heights and take the redoubts which barred his passage. The 57th Regiment led the way with a dash, carrying all before it, the battalions charging the first redoubt at the double, where a hand-to-hand conflict lasted for nearly an hour."
"In 1799, when his barefoot soldiers refused to move, Compans threw away his own worn boots and got them marching by sheer personal example. Napoleon ranked him as a first-class combat general, and Davout later prized him as his corps chief of staff ..." (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" p 159)


"The 43rd regiment of line infantry had ... became involved
in so many duels that the active enmity of the citizens [of Caen]
compelled its retirement." - Parquin: "Napoleon's Victories"

Strength and Recruitment of Infantry.

Voltigeur of Line Infantry, 1812
Musee de l'Armee, France On picture: Voltigeur of Line Infantry, 1812 Musee de l'Armee, France. Napoleonic infantryman was armed with 'Charleville' musket model 1777 (AN IX), with overall length 151.5 cm, (barrel length 114 cm) and a triangular bayonet 45.6 cm.

The strength of infantry varied. In the beginning of Napoleon's reign France had 90 line and 26 light regiments. In 1813-1814 it reached a massive 137 line (numbered 1er-157e) and 35 light (numbered 1er-37e) regiments. Only in 1815 the strength of infantry fell below even the initial numbers: 90 line and 15 light.

Line Infantry
The number of line regiments was almost identical with the number of departements in France. In 1790 France had been reorganized into 83 Departments of similar size and each was subdivided into 4-5 parts. Each Department had to furnish 4-5 battalions of line infantry to the Revolutionary Armies.
In 1792-1793, from conquered territories were formed new 4 Departments (main cities: Avignon, Chambery, Nice and Bale). In 1796 were added further departments with Belgian cities: Bruges, Ghent, Mons, Antwerp, Brussels, Maastricht, Liege, Namur, Luxembourg. These 9 new departments had to furnish Belgians into the French army. At least half of the Belgians spoke French (Wallons). In 1798 further 4 Departments on the right bank of Rhine River and 1 in Switzerland were added to the Empire reaching grand total of 96 Departments. In 1812 were 134, among them the department of Leman, with Geneva as capital, the department of Rome, the department of the Zuyder-Zee, capital Amsterdam, and the department of the Lower Elbe, capital Hamburg. It was truly a Grand Empire. After the defeat in 1814 this number decreased and France had only 86 Departments.

In 1803 the French army had 89 regiments of line infantry, numbered 1er-112e. Twenty three numbers were vacant: 31, 38, 41, 49, 68, 71, 73, 74, 77, 78, 80, 83, 87, 89, 90, 91, 97, 98, 99, 104, 107, 109, 110. The majority of vacant regiments were due to yellow fever and casualties suffered on San Domingo.
List of disbanded or/and reraised regiments:
31e - disbanded in 1803-4
38e, 41e, 49e, 68e, 71e - vacant
73e, 74e, 77e, 78e, 80e - disbanded in 1803
83e, 87e - vacant
89e - in 1803 part was merged with 84e and part was sent to West Indies. Upon return the 89e was disbanded.
90e - vacant
91e, 97e, 98e, 99e, 109e, 110e - disbanded in 1803.
104e - disbanded in 1803, reraised either in Dec 1813 or Jan 1814.
107e - disbanded in 1803, reraised in 1814.
113e - formed in May 1808 from troops of Tuscany.
114e, 115e, 116e, 117e, 118e, 119e and 120e - formed in 1808 from the provisional regiments of Army of Spain (formed in 1807).
121e - formed in Jan 1809 from the 1st and 2nd Reserve Legions.
122e - formed in Jan 1809 from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Reserve Legions.
123e, 124e, 125e - formed in Sept 1810 from Dutch, disbanded in 1813.
126e - formed in 1810 from Dutch, disbanded in 1813 and amalgamated to 123e.
127e - formed in 1811 from Garde de Hambourg and Garde de Lubeck.
128e - formed in 1811 from Garde de Breme.
129e - formed in 1811 from Reg. d'Oldenbourg, detachments Garde de Westphaliens and French troops. Disbanded in 1813.
130e - formed in 1811 from 1st, 3rd, and 6th Auxilliary Btns. of the Army of Spain.
131e - formed in 1811 from Walcheren Regiment (or French conscripts).
132e - formed in 1811 from the foreign Regiment l'Ile-de-Re (or French conscripts).
133e - formed in 1811 (or 1812 ?) from the 2nd Meditarranean Regiment (Italians).
134e - formed in Jan 1813 from the 1er Regiment Garde de Paris.
135e - formed in Jan 1813 from the Cohorts of National Guard.
136e - formed in 1813 from the Cohorts of National Guard**.
137e, 138e, 139e, 140e, 141e, 142e, 143e, 144e, 145e, 146e, 147e, 148e, 149e, 150e, 151e, 152e, 153e, 154e, 155e, and 156e - were formed in 1813 from Cohorts of National Guard.
** - The formed in March 1812 88 cohorts sent in 1813 numerous pleas to Napoleon asking permission to take the field. Their uniforms were identical to troops of the line. The cohorts were composed of 78.000 able-bodied men ages 20 to 26 and were formed by department [in few cases 2 weaker departments formed 1 cohort]. The cohorts were something between the National Guard and the army and had to serve only within the limits of the Empire. Approx. 70.000 were infantrymen and 8.000 artillerymen. The officers and NCOs were selected from retired veterans or from National Guard who already had seen service in the field army. They were of low quality and drilled the cohorts in company and battalion evolutions without much succe from the army. Napoleon accepted the pleas from cohorts joyfully, each cohort became battalion of 6 companies. In this way the Emperor was able to form 22 new regiments of the line, the cohorts gave 70.000 infantrymen.

By the way, 2e and 93e fought as marines at the naval battle at Trafalgar.

Light Infantry
The regiments of light infantry were given mountainous departments from which they would draw conscripts and recruits. In 1803 the French army had 26 regiments of light infantry, numbered 1er-30e. Four numbers were vacant: 11e, 19e, 20e, 30e. In 1813-1814 there were 35 units numbered 1e-37e, two numbers were vacant. Below is a list of disbanded and raised regiments:
11e - disbanded in 1803 and reraised in 1811
(from the following btns: Tirailleurs Corses, Tirailleurs du Po, Tirailleurs de la Legion de Midi and Valaison)
19e - disbanded in 1803 and reraised in 1814
20e - disbanded in 1803
30e - disbanded in 1803
31e - raised in 1804
32e - raised in 1808 from Italians (Grand Duchy of Toscany)
33e - raised in 1808 from provisional regiment, in 1809 disbanded and reraised in 1810 from Dutch
34e - raised in 1811
35e - raised in 1812 from 1er Regiment de la Mediterrane (formed in 1810)
36e - raised in 1812 from Regiment de Belle-Ile (formed in 1811)
37e - raised in 1812

In 1815 there were only 15 regiments of light infantry.


"This terrible Napoleon and his infantry,
we expected them to appear anywhere."
- Russian general Langeron, 1814

Weapons and Organization.
Regiments, Battalions and Companies
Muskets, Bayonets, Sabers.

French musket On picture: French musket 'Charleville' used by Napoleonic infantry.

The French infantry was armed with musket, cartridge box, bayonet and some with short saber. One white leather belt went over the left shoulder to support the cartridge box on the right hip. Other belt supported the short saber and bayonet. When the saber was taken from some troops, the bayonet was transferred to the other belt. The natural color of the leather belts was buff, but they were whitened with pipeclay. The infantryman's cross belts were characteristic of the Napoleonic period. (Officers wore no cross belts).

Musket and Bayonet.
These smoothbore muskets were named after the armory in Charleville, France. It was also distributed to the Americans, and later became the basis for the pattern of the Springfield Musket of 1795. Some of the unique elements of the 1777 Charleville model are the finger ridges on the trigger guard, the brass frizzen, and the cheek piece carved in the stock's butt with a straighten frizzen cover and slightly different front band. The 1777 Charleville was considered by most Europeans as the best musket in the world.
Ammunition was carried in cartridge box. It was called giberne and was carried by all infantry and cavalry. For campaign the cartridge box (or rather the large outside flap) was covered by 'white' fabric covers made of undyed linen. On the cover was painted regimental and battalion number.

Short Saber.
Officiallty the short sabersbriquetes were issued only to the elite companies of battalions and the Imperial Guard. Unoficially also the voltigeurs and chasseurs carried them. The sabers were of very little value in combat and a burden during skirmishing but the soldiers liked them. Maybe it was a question of status, the 'noble' cavalryman carried sabers so why not we infantrymen, right ? These sabers were mostly used in the camp although they were kept during combat. Sometimes the troops left their sabers in depots before marched into the field.
(For example before Fuentes de Onoro the French infantrymen left their sabers in depots. The 2nd Conscript Regiment of Young Guard in Spain left them behind while being on campaign of pursuing the Spanish guerillas across rough terrain.)
The Decree of 27th October 1807 forbade the voltigeurs to be armed with the sabers. Of course none of the guys took it very seriously and they kept their mini-weapons until 1815. Also the center companies (chasseurs) of light infantry regiments had to give up their sabers in 1807. But in some regiments it brought little result so the order was repeated in 1815. Only NCOs, grenadiers (carabiniers) and musicians were officially allowed to be armed with short sabers.

Regiment [1.000-4.000 men]
The organization of Napoleonic infantry was standart; two infantry regiments formed brigade, two brigades formed division, two-six divisions formed corps. Small troop of light artillery was attached to each division. Each corps had heavy artillery and engineers.

Administrative and tactical
units of Napoleonic army.

regiment regiment
It was the basic tactical unit
company platoon

Prior to the Revolution, the French Army was composed of three-battalion regiments. In 1792 before the Battle of Valmy, it was decided to form demi-brigades instead of regiments. Each demi-brigade was made up of one regular battalion from a pre-revolutionary regiment combined with two battalions of volunteers. The demi-brigades were adopted by the entire French army two years later. In 1803 Napoleon was re-instated the term "regiment", the "demi-brigade" being applied henceforth only to provisional troops.
Each line and light regiment had: staff, 2-6 war battalions and 1 depot battalion. In 1811 Napoleon ordered that majors-in-second be named for all regiments with 4-6 war battalions.
The regimental staff for regiment of 3 battalions consisted of:
- 1 Colonel (mounted)
Administrative ability, and a knack for dealing with differing personalities were all essental ingredients for colonel. In battle he had to display a fearless leadership. The unsurpassed valor of French troops was due in large degree to the self-sacrificing gallantry ot the heroic colonels and senior officers.
- 3 Chefs d'bataillon
- 1 Adjudant-Chef - in the rank of captain (mounted)
- 1 Officer-Paymaster - he went with troops overseeing pay and financial records
- 1 Drum-major
- 1 Eagle-bearer with 2 escorts
- Non-combatants: surgeon + aides, shoemaker, gaitermaker, gunsmith, tailor
- Musicians

War Battalion Before 1808
[600-1.200 men]

In the beginning of Napoleon's reign the war battalion [Bataillon de Guerre] had 1 grenadier (carabinier) and 8 fusilier (chasseur) companies. In 1805 one of the fusilier companies became a voltigeur company. In Sep 1806 before the hostilities with Prussia, the 3rd war battalions were dissolved to replenish the 1st and 2nd battalions and sent cadres to France to collect conscripts. Between 1805 and 1808 the line battalion had:

  • 1 grenadier company (80-90 men)
  • 1 voltigeur company (120 men)
  • 7 fusilier companies (120 men each)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Chef d'bataillon (mounted)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Adjudant-Major - in the rank of captain
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Sous-Adjudant-Major - in the rank of lieutenant
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Adjudant Sous-officer - in the rank of senior NCO
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Drum-corporal
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . Grenadier Company (Carabinier Company in light infantry)

    . . Fusilier Company - Fusilier Company (Chasseur Company in light infantry)

    . . Fusilier Company - Fusilier Company (Chasseur Company in light infantry)

    . . Fusilier Company - Fusilier Company (Chasseur Company in light infantry)

    . . Fusilier Company - Voltigeur Company

    In this formation the French won the most and the greatest battles. The battalions had a very high ratio of battle-hardened veterans. The time between 1804 and 1807 is called The Glory Years. For comparison, in 2005 US Army battalion has between 300 to 1000 Soldiers or Marines, and consists of several companies. It is commanded by a lieutenant-colonel.

    War Battalion After 1808
    [420-840 men]

    In 1808 Napoleon ordered the organization of war battalion [Bataillon de Guerre] being changed from 9 to 6 (stronger) companies. These changes were implemented in troops on primary theater of war while those on secondary theaters (Spain and Italy) would keep their 9-companies battalions for some time. Between 1808 and 1815 the battalion was 840 men strong. (Davout's opinion, in a letter dated 10 Sept 1811, was that a battalion of 960 men was too large to be managed properly.)
    In reality tye strength of battalion was between 400 and 600 men. For example in 1809 at Wagram were 255 btns. with an average of 556 men each. Many line regiments formed their 4th field battalions. In 1811 Napoleon ordered that majors-in-second be named for all regiments with 4-6 war battalions. Between 1808 and 1815 the line battalion had:

  • 1 grenadier company (140 men)
  • 1 voltigeur company (140 men)
  • 4 fusilier companies (140 men each)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Chef d'bataillon (mounted)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Adjudant-Major - in the rank of captain
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Sous-Adjudant-Major - in the rank of lieutenant
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Adjudant Sous-officer - in the rank of senior NCO
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Drum-corporal

    . . . . Voltigeur Company - Grenadier Company (Carabinier Company in light infantry)

    . . . . Fusilier Company - Fusilier Company (Chasseur Company in light infantry)

    . . . . Fusilier Company - Fusilier Company (Chasseur Company in light infantry)

    Depot Battalion
    The depot battalion was commanded by the senior captain, with a major in command of the depot itself. In the depot the new soldiers were clothed and trained. (The annual drawings took place and a numbered ballot for each man who had reached the required age was placed in an urn. There was a quick physical examination. The best age for recruits was between 20 and 25, the younger than that were weaker physically and lacked stamina.) Once trained and dressed the new soldiers were sent to the front and joined one of the three field battalions of their parent regiment. Below is organization of depot battalion:
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Major (mounted)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Capitaine d'habillement One of depot's captains with duty of regiment's clothing.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Quartier-maitre-tresorier

    . . . . Fusilier Company - Fusilier Company (Chasseur Company in light infantry)

    . . . . Fusilier Company - Fusilier Company (Chasseur Company in light infantry)

    "Each company [of depot battalion] had different specific duties. The 4th Company of the battalion rarely if ever left the depot. It was charged with training recruits and included in its ranks the regiments's artisans, the enfants de troupe (soldiers' sons carried on the battalion payroll), and any veteran soldiers awaiting retirement, discharge, or pensioning. The 1st and 3rd Companies were responsible for transporting newly trained recruits to the field battalions. ... The 2nd Company of the battalion was generally assigned to act as guards for naval vessels as well as for the garrisons to man them." (Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia" p 14)

    [70-140 men]

    The company was an administrative unit, the tactical unit was the platoon (peloton). The French company consisted of one platoon. The war battalion had 9 (before 1808) or 6 (after 1808) companies. Until 1808 the grenadier company had 80-90 men and the center companies were 120 men each. In 1808-1815 each company consisted of 140 men:
    - 1 captain
    - 2 leutenants
    - 1 sergeant-major
    - 4 sergeants (They were gritty, hard-bitten lads who kept the troop well under control.)
    - 1 furrier
    - 8 corporals
    - 2-3 drummers
    - 121 privates
    This is interesting that prior to going into battle, a battalion would have all companies equalized by the Chef. If the grenadier or voltigeur company was short on men, then selected fusiliers were accpted to help fill out their ranks. It was important to maintain the frontage of the troops not only by the above described process but also by taking the men of the third rank. Sometimes the 3rd rank would dissolve as the men were drawn to fill out the files in the 1st and 2nd rank.
    Sometimes the grenadier companies were detached from their parent battalions and formed so-called grenadier battalions and even entire divisions. Already in 1796 Bonaparte formed a special advance guard by detaching the grenadier and carabinier companies from most of his demi-brigades and forming them into a provisional division (4,000 men) under General Dallemagne. It consisted of two brigades commanded by Lannes and Lanusse, horse battery and light cavalry.

    French company (platoon) formed on 3 ranks and battalion (of 6 companies) formed in line.
    When the Chef of Battalion gives order "Forward !":
    the left and right battalion guide ("guide generaux") and the first rank of fanion's (or flag's) guard
    place themselves 6 paces ahead of the line of battalion. They set up the alignement of the battalion.
    Then the Chef of Battalion gives second order: "March !" and the entire battalion starts marching
    If there are several battalions advancing side by side the intervals between them are 15,6 m.
    Space between 1st, 2nd and 3rd rank:
    French infantry - 0.325 m
    Russian infantry - 0.35 m
    British infantry - 0.63 m
    Prussian infantry - 0.66 m
    Austrian infantry - 1.25 m (!)

    On diagram below are shown two battalions (each of 6 companies) formed in columns.
    Both columns have the same width: 2 companies (platoons), but different depth.
    The column on the left has 'full intervals', the one on the right is compact with no intervals.

  • ~

    "The crash of drums, beating with the harsh unity
    that stamped them as the voices of veterans in war
    woke me from my reverie and made my heart throb
    with their stony rattle. Never did I hear such
    drums and never shall again; there were years of
    battle and blood in every sound."
    -Benjamin R. Haydon

    Drummers and Cornets.

    French drummer, by Funcken Just as modern company commander relies on his radio operator, his Napoleonic counterpart depended on his drummers and cornets. During a battle it was very noisy and not everyone could hear a officer's voice. For this reason every company had drummers and cornets. They also performed a service that went beyond supplying a rhythmic musical accompaniment to the marching infantry. The musicians carried wounded officers out of danger zone and after battle stacking their drums, they would await the grim task of carrying their stricken comrades to field hospitals.
    The musiacians occupied a central place in the life of the troop during peacetime for they signalled the routine of the day, the posts, reveille, reviews etc.

    Each company had 2-3 drummers. But the drum was an unhandy, heavy instrument and for this reason the "brave little drummer boy" of tradition was not much use on napoleonic battlefield. Training of drummers was largely oral, mouth-to-ear. Occasionally, with a slow learner, the technique could be hand-to-ear ;=) The drummers had to master an often bewildering litany of commands and especially the beginners had difficulties with holding the drumstick properly without hitting the rim of the drum as often as the drum-head, which would bring down upon them a reprimand from the instructor, or in some cases a rap across the knuckles for some persistently awkward boy.
    Picture of drummer (ext.link)
    Generally the drummers were not necessarily boys. For example at Waterloo the average age of the drummers in the British II/73rd Foot was 23, and had an average of 8 years service each. When 13-year-old Parisian street urchin, by name Victor, wanted to join the 5th Regiment of Tirailleurs (Young Guard) as a drummer-boy, he was turned down because of his tender age and puny physique.

    According to Colonel John Elting (USA) during 1804-5 first the light infantry regiments and then the voltigeur companies of the line regiments had them replaced by cornets. Those were "hunting horns" with circular tubing and a flaring bell. The cornets were "immediately and immensely unpopular" ; their tone squeaky and "far more productive of laughter than martial fury." Nothing seems to have been done officially, but all light regiments gradually recovered their drums. The cornets remained, at least for show.

    Musicians (Regimental Band)
    Officially there were also 8 musicians per infantry regiment but colonels often increased their numbers to 20-30. During a bigger battle the regimental bands were often grouped to form massed big bands. The infantry sang the songs refrain. The band played when troops waited for action or marched behind the advancing battalions. In 1812 the bands were playing and marching in front of their parent regiments. The army was crossing the Niemen River and border of Russia and it was a very important moment. In 1813 at the city of Dresden the sounds of regimental bands came out of the suburbs. It was the Imperial Guard advancing out of the city and against the Russians and Prussians. In 1815 at Ligny the band of 23rd Line Regiment played when battalions marched in columns proceded by skirmishers. But most often the band was left behind the attacking troops once they got into the fire zone. The musicians didn't participate in all the actions. At Borodino the bands played before battle. "Before dawn on 7 Sept the bands on the right flank began playing the reveillle to wake up the infantry, and it was gradually picked up all along the line. They pleyed the most rousing pieces. Music does a great deal to prepare the spirit for battle. ..." (Chlapowski, - p 116)

    Sappers (Combat Engineers).
    The Bearded Warriors With Axes

    Each battalion had 1 corporal sapper and 4 privates sappers. These strong men with facial hair marched together with regimental band and near the Eagle/flag. Sappers were picked men from grenadier (carabinier) company. They were equipped with axes. Sappers wore grenadier uniform with crossed axes and grenade badges on the sleeves. Their fur cap was without front plate. Beards were mandatory.

    During combat they broke in gates, chopped gaps in palisades, built small bridges or destroyed them, broke garden walls or loopholed them to provide protected firing positions for the infantry. Before Waterloo Napoleon have ordered the sapper companies of I Army Corps (d'Erlon's) to be ready to construct barricades around the conquered buildings of La Haye Sainte and prevent the enemy from reoccupying them.

    Grenadiers & Carabiniers.
    The Elite Assault Troops.

    Carabinier, reenactor at Borodino 2006 Each field battalion had only one grenadier company (carabinier in light infantry). They were the elite shock troop often used as spearhead of attacking force. They were also granted a higher pay. The Prussian King Frederick the Great, required from his grenadiers to be brave, good marchers, with black hair and moustaches, not appear too amiable or laugh too easily and not have an effeminate aspects. He formed them in battalions and used as crack troops on battlefield.

    Napoleon's grenadiers (and carabiniers in light infantry) were also elite troops, selected for their stature and war experience. The Imperial Decree of February 18th 1808 stated in Article 9th: "The Grenadier Company (...) shall be taken from the totality of the corps, from among the men most appropriate by their height (...) and shall be accepted only if they have 4 years of service and have participated in at least 2 of the following campaigns: Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena or Friedland." Newly formed regiments and battalions didn't have grenadiers as they not had been in enough combat.

    As for their appearance it was stipulated that they must present a formidable sight, with moustaches, red epaulettes and tall fur caps. The epaulettes broadened their shoulders and the tall headwears made them look even taller. Of course not everytime and everywhere were such strict rules: Coignet went from his auxiliary battalion straight into grenadier company basically he was taller than average and strong. The grenadiers were also trained how to operate guns.

    According to the Regulations of Internal Economy and of Infantry [Section IX, Article 1] issued in 1791:
    Grenadiers are supposed to set an example of good conduct and of subordination. They are always to be selected from the soldiers of the most distinguished and approved merit. Every year, on the 9th September, a list of privates to complete the grenadier company is to be formed. Each of the several captains in a battalion will select the 3 most eligible men from his fusilier company to become grenadiers. These selected men must have been serving for at least for 2 years and be at least 173.5 cm tall (French 5'4"). These selected men were assemled, talked about, and examined by the captain, officers, NCOs and two senior troopers of the grenadier company. The captain of grenadier company listens to the reports and remarks made, note down such as appear to him founded and then decides whom of the selected men put on the list to propose to the commander of demi-brigade. The commander of the demi-brigade judging from the reports which have been given to him by the captain will accept only those of the earlier selected by the captain men who "deem worthy of a decided preference."

    Fusiliers & Chasseurs.
    The Centre Companies.

    Fusilier, by Keith Rocco Each field battalion had only 1 grenadier and 1 voltigeur company, the remaining 4-8 companies were made of fusiliers (chasseurs in light infantry). Until 1805 there were 8 fusilier companies per battalion, between 1805 and 1807 were seven and in 1808-1815 only four per battalion. The fusiliers (chasseurs in light infantry) occupied the center of battalion line.

    The fusiliers (chasseurs) were without prestige and priviledges. But those of them who served at least 2 campaigns, and were brave, tall and strong were admitted into the elite grenadier company.

    Until 1806-1807 the fusiliers wore bicorn hats. By 1807 it was replaced with shako. The fusilier also wore white trousers, dark blue coat with white lapels, red collar and red cuffs. In cold weather they wore beige or grey greatcoats. Oficially the epaulettes were worn only by the grenadiers and carabiniers. But already since the beginning the chasseurs (centre companies of many light infantry regiments) wore them until 1812-1813.

    The Skirmishers.

    The voltigeurs were a new branch of infantry and were introduced by Napoleon in 1803. The Decree issued in March 1803 ordered raising a 10th Company in the regiments of light infantry. These were voltigeurs and were formed by taking the 6 smallest men from every chasseur company in the battalion. In December was decided that the voltigeurs won't be taller than 4'11' (French) and their officers not exceed 5'.
    In regiments of line infantry the 3rd Fusilier Company became Voltigeur Company. In 1805-1806 was introduced requirement of 2 years of excellent service for being admitted into voltigeurs. In 1808 the voltigeurs were officially assigned to the left of battalion line (on the right flank stood the robust grenadiers). In 1809-1810 they were granted a higher pay. The voltigeurs distinguished themselves by wearing yellow-red or yellow-green epaulettes.

    The voltigeurs were the best suited troopers for skirmishing, ladder climbing, urban combat, and for scouting. The voltigeurs were trained in firing rapidly and accurately and were expected to be able to march at the trot. Napoleon also wanted them to vault up behind cavalrymen on horses but in real combat this happened only very few times.

    Sometimes the voltigeur companies were taken from their parent battalions and formed in large formations for specific tasks. Chlapowski writes: "... the Emperor himself arrived there and sent Talhouet with 200 voltigeurs across the Danube River on boats to the crossroads of Pratern. From there, Pourtales, who was Berthier's ADC, then swam with a dozen or so voltigeurs across the stretch of the Danube separating Pratern from Vienna. This all happened as night was falling." (Chlapowski, - p 65)
    On May 18th 1809 groups of voltigeurs rowed across the Danube River carrying a cable that would support the bridge to the Island of Lobau (this bridge would lead to the Austrian-held shore). These voltigeurs cleared the island and construction of the bridge began. To protect the pontonniers, Major Sainte-Croix (ADC to Massena) took 200 voltigeurs across Danube River to the right bank. Meanwhile the pontonniers were able to complete the bridge.
    According to Austrian historian Rothenberg at Wagram Col. Sainte-Croix with 2,500 voltigeurs (!) and 10 guns were ordered to cross the Danube River and establish a small bridgehead. The voltigeurs were carried in specially constructed barges also with bulletproof shielding. The surprised Austrians offered little opposition with only their jagers operating in small clumps in the woods had fought well. (Rothenberg - "The Emperor's Last Victory" pp 158-159)
    In 1812 before the three bridges were thrown over the Niemen River 3 companies of voltigeurs of 13th Light Regiment crossed silently in skiffs and landed on the Russian bank. They took cover behind a little escarpment formed by the river and looked for the enemy's scouts and light artillery.

    Theoreteically voltigeurs were armed with 141.7 cm long dragoon muskets (it was a shorter version of musket, easier to load and carry for a small guy). But it was rare and voltigeurs were armed as the rest of infantry, with long muskets. They also carried a bayonet and short saber. The voltigeurs wore yellow epaulettes and yellow collars. Wearing epaulettes by voltigeurs was never oficially allowed - actually it was prohibited. The Ministry of War even complained that voltigeurs were "entitled to no other dress distinctions than yellow collar." Order issued in September 1808 prohibited the use of regimental funds for the purchase of epaulettes for voltigeurs. Between 1804 and 1809 some voltigeurs wore the unofficial colpacks, sort of fur cap replaced by 1809 with shakos.

    Uniforms of French line infantry worn during campaigns between 1800 and 1807.
    The uniforms detailed on this picture should not be regarded as the only ones in existence.
    The grenadiers and voltigeurs were distinguished with:
    1 - red and yellow/green eppaulettes
    2 - red and yellow/green plumes
    3 - short sabers
    4 - bearskins

    Napoleonic French shakos 1807-1815
    After 1807 shakos replaced the bicorn hats.


    After Napoleon's abdication the Bourbons
    did their best to see that all the napoleonic
    standards and eagles were destroyed.
    In some regiments the officers burned
    the standards before mixing the ashes
    with wine and drinking them down.

    Eagles and Flags.

    "A month after being proclaimed Emperor in May 1804, Napoleon decided on the emblem of Empire. He considered the cock and the lion but rejected both in favour of an eagle with wings spread. It became the design of the Great Seal of State and the emblem of the army and navy. In the army the Eagle would be carried on top of a pole with a standard underneath. The Eagle was the supreme importance. When writing on the subject to Marechal Berthier he stressed that it was the priceless symbol of France and the Empire, while the standard below it was of lesser importance and could be replaced if necessary. ... Because the Consular Guard, and then the Imperial Grenadier and Chasseur Guard regiments, were normally in barracks in Paris or on palace duties, their Eagles were kept in a room next to the throne room in the Tuileries." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 200)

    1804 flag, from warflag.com With the establishment of the Empire in 1804, the regiments were presented with a new flag (drapeau) for every battalion. The 1804 pattern of the flag was lavishly braided, bearing the regimental number within a laurel wreath, the diamond inscribed in gold lettering. During campaign the flag was removed. In 1808-1815 the Eagle-bearer (Porte-Aigle) was accompanied by 2 escorts (2eme & 3eme Porte-Aigle) in the rank of NCOs and carried halberds. Triangular pennons (61cm x 20cm) were attached to the halberds, red for that to the right and white to the left of the Eagle-bearer. The Eagle would be carried with the 2nd Company of I Battalion in every regiment.
    In September 1806 it was ordered that regiments of light infantry should hand in all their Eagles at the beginning of a campaign. The Eagles should be kept in depots. But several regiments carried their Eagles until 1814 and even one regiment lost its Eagle in battle in that year. In 1808 was issued order that only one Eagle was to be carried by the regiment (newly formed regiments were given only one Eagle). The Eagles and flags of other battalions and squadrons were to be returned to regimental depots. It took several years before the order was implemented. In 1811 some 2nd and 3rd battalions still had their colors in the field.
    The rank of Eagle-bearer (Porte-Aigle) was oficially introduced. He was an officer of proven valour and at least 10 years service or 4 campaigns of Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland. The guards, 2nd and 3rd Eagle-bearers, were sergeants who were paid as sergeant majors - this was a way of rewarding brave and seasoned NCOs who could not aspire to the rank of officer (or simply saying they were too stupid). The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Eagle-bearer were armed with a short saber and pistols.

    1812 flag, from warflag.com In April 1812 was ordered that each regiment of light and line infantry will receive a new tricolor pattern flag, which bore on the reverse the battle honors of the regiment. {The battle honors were restricted to battles at which Napoleon had commanded in person.}
    In 1812 every infantry regiment had only one Eagle. It was carried by an eagle-bearer (officer) and guarded by 2 guards (sergeants, brave but usually too stupid for commission) and 6 furiers (drawn from companies). The 2 guards (sergeants) were not the jalonneurs of the battalion. The Eagle was with the 2nd Company of 1st Battalion. The 2nd Battalion carried white fanion, the 3rd red fanion, the 4th blue, the 5th green and the 6th Battalion carried yellow fanion. Some regiments however left their Eagles in depots and went to Russia with fanions only. The Old Guard regiments, however, kept its 1804 pattern standards until 1813.

    In 1814 Napoleon reissued Eagles to regiments who had had them confiscated or/and destroyed by the Bourbons. The eagles and tricolor flags were bigger but much simpler. All the regiments of Young Guard carried simple fanions.

    1815 flag, from warflag.com The flag of 1815 was also a tri-color pattern but it lacked almost all the magnificent embroidery of 1804 pattern. After Waterloo the Bourbons did their best to see that all the napoleonic standards and eagles were destroyed. In some regiments the officers burned the standards before mixing the ashes with wine and drinking them down. The officers of the 2nd Swiss Regiment in napoleonic army, tore their standard into strips with each officer keeping a piece.

    During the Civil War in USA, the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry carried into battle a wooden perch to which a bald eagle (named Old Abe) was tethered. The bearers caried their macot in the front rank of the color guard. On Oct 3 1863, a bullet severed the cord that held the eagle to his perch, and Old Abe flew along the flaming battle line, losing several of his feathers to enemy fire. (- Don Triani "Civil War" p 76)


    "If the campaigns are studied,
    the French certainly owes most of
    their victories to her light infantry"
    - Prussian general Schanhorst

    The Best Regiments of Light Infantry.
    War Record and Battle Honors (1804-1815).

    French line infantry The French army contained many regiments of line (on picture) and light infantry whose soldierly skills and deeds of daring reflected the unsurpassed devotion of the soldiers to their cause. The 9th, 10th, 13th, 15th, 16th, 24th, 25th, 26th amd 27th - all won immortal fame in those ten terrible years of strife.

  • 9e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère
    4 Battle Honors : 1805 - Ulm, 1807 - Friedland, 1809 - Essling and Wagram.
    29 Battles: 1805 - Ulm, Durrenstein, Vienne, Halle, Lubeck, 1806 - Waren, 1807 - Mohrengen, Eylau, Braunsberg, and Friedland, 1808 - Madrid, 1809 - Medellin and Talevera, 1809 - Essling and Wagram, 1811 - Chiclana and Fuentes-de-Onoro, 1812 - Badajoz and Bornos, 1813 - Vittoria, 1813 - Lutzen, Bautzen, Kulm, Peterswald, and Leipzig, 1814 - Toulouse and Santa-Maria de la Nieva, 1814 - Montmirail, 1815 - Ligny
    Colonels: 1803 - Meunier, 1811 - Dauture, 1814 - Deslom, 1814 - Baume

  • 10e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère
    7 Battle Honors : 1805 - Ulm and Austerlitz, 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Eylau, 1809 - Eckmuhl, Essling and Wagram.
    29 Battles: 1805 - Ulm and Austerlitz, 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Eylau, Heilsberg, and Friedland, 1809 - Thann, Landshut, Eckmuhl, Essling, and Wagram, 1812 - Alba, Carascal, and Estella, 1812 - Smoliany and Borisow, 1813 - Pampelune and Roncal, Lutzen, Kulm, Buntzlau, Naumbourg, Dresden, Leipzig, and Hanau, 1814 - Vauchamps, Bar-sur-Aube, and Arcis-sur-Aube, 1815 - Strasbourg
    Colonels: 1803 - Pouzet, 1807 - Berthezene, 1811 - Luneau, 1815 - Creste

  • 13e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère
    5 Battle Honors 1805 - Austerlitz, 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Eylau, 1809 - Eckmuhl and Wagram 1809
    17 Battles: 1805 - Austerlitz, 1806 - Auerstadt, 1807 - Landsberg and Eylau, 1809 - Rohr, Landshut, Ratisbonne, Dunaberg, and Wagram, 1812 - Smolensk, Borodino, Viasma, Krasnoe, and Beresina, 1813 - Dresden and Kulm, 1815 - Waterloo
    Colonels: 1803 - Castex, 1805 - Guyardet, 1810 - Argence, 1812 - Quandalle, 1814 - Gougeon

  • 15e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère
    3 Battle Honors 1805 - Austerlitz, 1809 - Eckhmul and Wagram
    27 Battles: 1805 - Amstetten and Austerlitz, 1807 - Koenigsberg, 1808 - Evora and Vimeiro 1809 - La Corogne and Misarella, 1809 - Donawerth, Thann, Landshut, Ratisbonne, Eckmuhl, and Wagram, 1810 - Cuidad Rodrigo, 1812 - Smolensk, Borodino, Mozhaisk, and Krasnoe, 1813 - Lauenbourg, Grosmulseau, and Hambourg, 1814 - Anvers, La Rothiere, and Monterau, 1815 - Ligny, Wavre, and Namur
    Colonels: 1799 - Desailly, 1809 - Noos, 1813 - Brice

  • 16e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère
    5 Battle Honors: 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Eylau and Friedland, 1809 - Essling and Wagram
    30 Battles: 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Eylau and Friedland, 1808 - Espinosa, Burgos, and Madrid, 1809 - Talevera, Essling and Wagram, 1810 - Ubrique, 1811 - Cadiz, Seguenza, Chiclana, Fuentes-d'Onoro, Albuhera, Bornos, and Tarifa, 1812 - Tarifa, 1813 - Col-de-Maya, Bidassoa, and Nive, 1813 - Lutzen, Wurschen, Dresden, Leipzig, and Dantzig, 1814 - Champaubert, Vauchamps, Reims, and Paris
    Colonels: 1802 - Harispe, 1807 - Dellard, 1810 - Morio de l'Isle, 1813 - Cornebise

  • 24e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère
    6 Battle Honors: 1805 - Austerlitz, 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Eylau, 1809 - Eckmuhl, Essling and Wagram
    23 Battles: 1805 - Austerlitz, 1807 - Bergfied, Eylau, Lomitten, Heilsberg, and Friedland, 1808 - Andujar, 1809 - Essling, Wagram, and Znaim, 1812 - Krasnoe, Smolensk, Valoutina and Borodino, 1813 - Bautzen, Dresden, and Leipzig, 1814 - Commercy, Brienne, La Rothiere, Monterau, Bar-sur-Aube, and Arcis-sur-Aube
    Colonels: 1803 - Marion, 1810 - Pourailly, 1810 - Julienne de Belair, 1813 - Plazanet

  • 25e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère
    6 Battle Honors: 1805 - Ulm, 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Eylau and Friedland, 1809 - Essling and Wagram
    24 Battles: 1805 - Gunzberg and Scharnitz, 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Allenstein, Guttstadt, and Friedland, 1808 - Saragosse and Cascantes, 1809 - Tamammes, 1809 - Essling and Wagram, 1810 - Cuidad Rodrigo and Alcoba, 1811 - Redhina, Foz-do-Aronce, and Miranda-del-Corvo, 1812 - Arapiles, 1813 - Lerin and Muz, 1813 - Lutzen, Wurschen, Buntzlau, and Leipzig, 1814 - Toulouse
    Colonels: 1804 - Morel, 1807 - Anselme, 1810 - De Conchy, 1813 - Creste

  • 26e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère
    7 Battle Honors: 1805 - Ulm and Austerlitz, 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Eylau, 1809 - Eckmuhl, Essling and Wagram
    27 Battles: 1805 - Ulm and Austerlitz, 1807 - Hoff, Eylau, Heilsberg, and Konigsberg 1808 - Saragosse, Andujar, and Baylen (there they SURRENDERED to the Spaniards), 1809 - Eckmuhl, Ebersberg, Essling, Wagram, Hollabrun, and Znaim, 1812 - Oboiardszino, Polotsk, Torezacew, Borisow, and Beresina, 1813 - Hambourg, Dresden, Leipzig, Freibourg, and Hanau, 1814 - Ligny and Brienne
    Colonels: 1802 - Baciocchi, 1805 - Pouget (he was one of THE BEST and was killed at Wagram), 1809 - Campi, 1810 - Gueheneuc, 1813 - Mosnier, 1813 - Crepy, 1813 - Dornier, 1814 - Limonzin

  • 27e Regiment d'Infanterie Légère
    5 Battle Honors: 1805 - Austerlitz, 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Friedland, 1809 - Essling and Wagram
    34 Battles: 1805 - Ulm and Austerlitz, 1806 - Scheltz, Halle, and Lubeck, 1807 - Mohrungen and Friedland, 1808 - Madrid, Durango, Valmesada, Sandupe, and Espinosa, 1809 - Essling and Wagram, 1809 - Talevera, 1810 - Medina-Sidona and Celerico, 1811 - Chiclana and Fuentes-d'Onoro, 1813 - Wurschen, Gieshubel, Dresden, Grieffenberg, Elsen, Dohna, Bautzen, and Dantzig, 1813 - Col de Maya, Pampelune, Bidassoa, Spelleto, and Bayonne, 1814 - Lille and Courtrai
    Colonels: 1804 - Charnotet, 1807 - Lacoste, 1813 - Deschamps

  • Links and Sources.

    Elting - "Swords Around a Throne"
    Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow"
    Susane - "Histoire de l'Infanterie Francaise"
    Barres - "Memoirs of a Napoleonic Officer"
    Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion"
    Mageraud - "Armement et Equiement de l'Infanterie Francaise"
    Napier - "History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814"
    Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" (transl. by Tim Simmons)

    The Battle of the Nations.

    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies