The GRANDE ARMéE (French pronunciation: ; French for GREAT ARMY)
was the army commanded by Napoleon during the
It was renamed in 1805 from the army that Napoleon had assembled on
the French coast of the
The army grew as Napoleon spread his power across Europe. It reached
its largest size of 680,000 men at the start of the invasion of
Russia in 1812. The contingents were commanded by French generals,
except for the Polish corps and an Austrian one. The huge
multinational army marched slowly east, and the Russians fell back
with its approach. After the capture of
Napoleon led a new army to the Battle of the Nations at
* 1 History
* 1.1 1804–1806 * 1.2 1807–1809 * 1.3 1810–1812 * 1.4 1813–15
* 2 Staff system
* 2.1 Napoleon\'s Military Household
* 2.2 Army
* 3 Organization
* 4 Forces of the
* 4.1 Imperial Guard
* 4.2.1 Line
* 188.8.131.52 Grenadiers * 184.108.40.206 Voltigeurs of the Line * 220.127.116.11 Fusiliers
* 4.2.2 Light
* 18.104.22.168 Hussars (Hussards) * 22.214.171.124 Chasseurs-à-Cheval (Mounted Hunters) * 126.96.36.199 Lanciers (Lancers)
* 4.5 Marines of the Guard
* 4.6 Foreign troops in the
* 5 Support services
* 5.1 Engineers * 5.2 Logistics * 5.3 Medical Staff * 5.4 Communications
* 6 Formations and tactics
* 7 Ranks of the
For a history of the French army in the period 1792–1804 during the wars of the First and Second Coalitions see French Revolutionary Armies .
Napoleon distributing the Légion d\'honneur at the Boulogne camps, in August 1804 See also: Napoleon\'s invasion of England
The alarming increase of French power in Central
Napoleon now turned his attentions to Poland, where the remaining
Prussian armies were linking up with their Russian counterparts. A
difficult winter campaign produced nothing but a stalemate, made worse
Battle of Eylau
Meanwhile, a revived Austria was preparing to strike. The War Hawks
at the court of Emperor Francis I convinced him to take full advantage
of France's preoccupation with Spain. In April 1809, the Austrians
opened the campaign without a formal declaration of war and caught the
French by surprise. They were too slow to exploit their gains,
however, and Napoleon's arrival from Paris finally stabilized the
situation. The Austrians were defeated at the
Battle of Eckmühl ,
fled over the
Charles Joseph Minard 's famous graph showing the decreasing
size of the
With the exception of Spain, a three-year lull ensued. Diplomatic tensions with Russia, however, became so acute that they eventually led to war in 1812. Napoleon assembled the largest army he had ever commanded to deal with this menace.
The battle of Hanau (1813)
The catastrophe in Russia now emboldened anti-French sentiments
throughout Germany and Austria. The
"The Grand Empire is no more. It is France herself we must now
defend" were Napoleon's words to the Senate at the end of 1813. The
Emperor managed to raise new armies, but strategically he was in a
virtually hopeless position. Allied armies were invading from the
After returning from
Elba in February 1815, Napoleon busied himself
in making a renewed push to secure his Empire. For the first time
since 1812, the Army of the North he would be commanding for the
upcoming campaign was professional and competent. Napoleon hoped to
catch and defeat the Allied armies under Wellington and Blücher in
Belgium before the Russians and Austrians could arrive. The campaign,
beginning on June 15, 1815, was initially successful, leading to
victory over the Prussians at the
Battle of Ligny on June 16; however,
poor staff work, and bad commanders led to many problems for the
French army throughout the entire campaign. Grouchy 's delayed advance
against the Prussians allowed Blücher to rally his men after Ligny
and march on to Wellington's aid at the
Battle of Waterloo
Prior to the late 18th century, there was generally no organizational support for staff functions such as military intelligence , logistics , planning or personnel. Unit commanders handled such functions for their units, with informal help from subordinates who were usually not trained for or assigned to a specific task.
The first modern use of a
The Staff of the
NAPOLEON\'S MILITARY HOUSEHOLD
Napoleon snatches a moment's rest on the battlefield of Wagram , his staff and household working around him.
The Maison Militaire de l'Empereur (Military Household of the Emperor ) was Napoleon's personal military staff and included the department of aides-de-camp (ADCs), orderly officers (until 1809), the Emperor's Cabinet with the Secretariat, a department that collected intelligence about the enemy using spies and the topographical department. Attached was also the Emperor's Civil Cabinet that included the office of the Grand Marshal of the Palace and the Grand Écuyer .
The ADCs to the Emperor were mainly loyal, experienced generals or, at times, other senior officers whom he knew from his Italian or Egyptian campaigns. All were famous for their bravery and were experts in their own branches of service. Working directly under the supervision of the Emperor, these officers were sometimes assigned to temporary command of units or formations or entrusted with diplomatic missions. Most of the time, however, their tasks consisted of making detailed inspection tours and long-distance reconnaissances. When they had to carry orders from the Emperor to an army commander, these would be verbal rather than written. The appointment of ADC to the Emperor was so influential that they were considered to be "Napoleon's eyes and ears" and even marshals were wise to follow their advice and render them the respect due to their function.
On 29 April 1809, a decree organized their service. Every morning at 0700, the duty ADC and his staff were relieved and the new ADC for the next 24 hours had to present the Emperor with a list of names of the staff under his command. This would consist of two supplementary daytime general ADCs and one night ADC, one equerry and (through a rotation system) half the number of orderly officers, half the number of the petits aides de camp (two or three personal ADCs to the general ADCs, who might also be commanded directly by the Emperor) and half the number of pages. Their number differed from time to time, but only 37 officers were ever commissioned ADC to the Emperor and at normal times their number was restricted to 12. Each of these officers wore the normal general's uniform of his rank, but with gold aiguilettes as the symbol of his function. The appointment of ADC to the Emperor did not always last as long as the Emperor's reign; an ADC might be given another position such as a field command, a governorship, etc. and would be removed from his ADC status until recalled to that post.
The officiers d'ordonnance (orderly officers) may be considered as junior ADCs, with the rank of chef d\'escadron , captain or lieutenant . They, too, were used for special missions such as reconnaissance and inspections, but also to carry written orders. In 1806, when these posts were created, they were members of the Imperial Guard ; in 1809, while retaining their military status, they were taken under control of the Grand Écuyer in the Emperor's Civil Household. The decrees regulating their service were signed on 15, 19 and 24 September 1806 and finally on 19 September 1809.
ARMY GENERAL HEADQUARTERS
Alongside the Emperor's Military Household but functioning as a
totally independent organization was the Grand État-Major Général
The role of Chief of Staff in the
Lest one think this was a safe officejob of the modern staff
officers, a contemporary subordinate staff officer, Brossier, reports
that at the
Battle of Marengo
"The General-in-Chief Berthier gave his orders with the precision of a consummate warrior, and at Marengo maintained the reputation that he so rightly acquired in Italy and in Egypt under the orders of Bonaparte. He himself was hit by a bullet in the arm. Two of his aides-de-camp, Dutaillis and La Borde, had their horses killed."
Organization of the
One of the most important factors in the Grande Armée's success was
its superior and highly flexible organization. It was subdivided into
Napoleon placed great trust in his
The main tactical units of the
FORCES OF THE GRANDE ARMéE
Main article: Imperial Guard (Napoleon I)
France's Imperial Guard (Garde Impériale) was the elite military
force of its time and grew out of the Garde du Directoire and Garde
Consulaire. It was, quite literally, a
Size of the guard over time YEAR NUMBER OF SOLDIERS
1813 85,000 (mostly young guards)
There were three sections:
* OLD GUARD (VIEILLE GARDE): Composed of the longest serving veterans who had served three to five campaigns in Napoleon's army, the Old Guard was the elite of the elite guards regiments of the Grande Armée.
* GRENADIERS à PIED DE LA GARDE IMPéRIALE (IMPERIAL GUARD FOOT
GRENADIERS): The Grenadiers of the Guard was the most senior
regiment in La Grande Armée. During the 1807 campaign in
* MIDDLE GUARD (MOYENNE GARDE): Consisted of veteran soldiers of at least 3 campaigns.
* FUSILIERS-CHASSEURS: In 1806, the Fusiliers-
Chasseurs was formed
as a regiment of middle guard infantry. All members of the Middle
guard were veterans of 2–3 campaigns, and were commissioned as NCOs
in the Line regiments. Arguably the best infantry of the entire Guard,
Chasseurs most often operated together with its sister
formation, the Fusiliers-Grenadiers, as part of a Guard
Fusilier-Brigade. The Fusilier-
Chasseurs saw extensive action, proving
their worth time and time again, until they were disbanded in 1814
following Napoleon's abdication. The Fusiliers-
Chasseurs were not
reformed in 1815 for the
Waterloo campaign . Fusiliers-
a dark blue habit (or coat) with green epaulettes fringed red, red
turnbacks and white lapels. Under this they wore a white waistcoat and
either blue or brown trousers. The Fusiliers-
Chasseurs shako had white
cords and a tall red over green plume. The Fusiliers-
armed with a Charleville modele 1777 musket , bayonet and a short
* FUSILIERS-GRENADIERS: Formed in 1807, the Fusiliers-Grenadiers
was a regiment of middle guard infantry. The Fusiliers-Grenadiers was
organised in the same way as the Fusiliers-Chasseurs, being a slightly
larger formation. The Fusiliers-Grenadiers most often operated
together with its sister formation, the Fusiliers-Chasseurs, as a part
of a Guard Fusilier-Brigade. The Fusilier-Grenadiers saw extensive
action, proving their worth time and time again, until they were
disbanded in 1814 following Napoleon's abdication. The
Fusiliers-Grenadiers were not reformed in 1815. Fusiliers-Grenadiers
wore a dark blue habit (or coat) with red epaulettes, red turnbacks
and white lapels. Under this they wore a white waistcoat and white
trousers. The Fusiliers-Grenadiers shako had white cords and a tall
red plume. The Fusiliers-Grenadiers were armed with a Charleville
modele 1777 musket, bayonet and a short sabre.
* MARINS DE LA GARDE (MARINES OF THE GUARD): Sometimes translated as
The Seamen of the Guard, were formed in 1803, with their initial
purpose being to man the vessel transporting the Emperor during the
expected crossing of the
* YOUNG GUARD (JEUNE GARDE): Initially was made up of veterans with at least one campaign under their belts, together with bright young officers and the best of the annual intake of conscripts . Later its ranks would be filled almost entirely by select conscripts and volunteers.
* TIRAILLEURS-GRENADIERS: In 1808, Napoleon ordered the most
intelligent and strongest recruits to be formed into the first
regiments of the Young Guard. The taller of the recruits were inducted
into the Tirailleurs-
Grognard of the Old Guard in 1813 *
Tirailleur of the 1e
Fusilier-Grenadiers and Fusilier- Chasseurs of the Middle Guard, 1806–1814.
In 1804, the
* IMPERIAL GUARD HORSE GRENADIERS (GRENADIERS à CHEVAL DE LA GARDE
IMPéRIALE) : Known as the Gods or the Giants, these troopers were the
elite of Napoleon's guard cavalry and the mounted counterparts of the
Le Chasseur de la Garde (Chasseur of the guard, often mistranslated as The Charging Chasseur), 1812 by Géricault .
* IMPERIAL GUARD HORSE CHASSEURS (CHASSEURS à CHEVAL DE LA GARDE
IMPéRIALE) : Known as the "Favoured Children" (connotations of
Spoiled Brats), the
Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard were the light
cavalry of the Guard, Napoleon's favourites and one of the most
recognisable units in La Grande Armée. In 1796, during the Italian
Campaign , Napoleon ordered the formation of a bodyguard unit after he
narrowly escaped an attack by Austrian light cavalry at Borghetto
while at lunch. This 200-man unit of Guides was the forerunner of the
Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard, and their close affiliation with the
Emperor was shown by the fact that he often wore the uniform of a
Colonel of their regiment. In their flamboyant green, red and gold
hussar style uniforms, the chasseurs were known to exploit their
position as the emperor's favourites, showing poor discipline and even
insubordination on some occasions. They first saw combat during the
battle of Austerlitz, where they played a role in defeating the
Russian Guard cavalry. During the
Peninsular War the
ambushed by a large British cavalry force at Benavente in 1808 and
defeated. They regained their reputation by showing extreme bravery
during the Battle of Waterloo.
* ELITE GENDARMES (GENDARMERIE D\'ELITE): Nicknamed The Immortals
because they rarely saw combat, the Gendarmes nonetheless performed a
vital role. Gendarmes were the military police of La Grande Armée.
Along with maintaining security and order near the headquarters, the
Gendarmes would provide honour guards for high-ranking visitors,
interrogate prisoners and protect the Emperor's personal baggage. The
Gendarmes wore dark blue coats with red lapels and tall boots, along
with a bearskin slightly smaller than that of the
* LANCERS OF THE GUARD (CHEVAU-LéGERS-LANCIERS DE LA GARDE IMPéRIALE):
* 1st Light
* EMPRESS DRAGOONS (DRAGONS DE L\'IMPéRATICE): Formed in 1806 as
the Imperial Guard
* SCOUTS OF THE IMPERIAL GUARD (ECLAIREURS DE LA GARDE IMPéRIALE) : During the terrible retreat from Moscow, Napoleon was very impressed by the skills of many regiments of cossacks . He used them as a model to create a new cavalry brigade, the Scouts, which were formed during the Imperial Guard reorganization in December 1813. 3 regiments of a thousand men each were created and their squadrons attached to existing regiments:
* 1st Rgt: scouts-grenadiers under Colonel-Major Claude Testot-Ferry 's command (wounded and titled Baron of the Empire by Napoleon himself on the battlefield of Craonne on 7 March 1814) * 2nd Rgt: scouts-dragoons under Colonel Hoffmayer's command * 3rd Rgt: scouts-lanciers under Jean Kozietulski's command
The scouts had only the time to distinguish themselves during the
French Campaign in 1814 and were dissolved by
While the infantry was perhaps not the most glamorous arm of service
in the Grand Armée, they bore the brunt of most of the fighting, and
their performance resulted in victory or defeat. The
The Régiments de Ligne varied in size throughout the Napoleonic Wars, but the basic building block of the Infanterie of the Line was the battalion . A line infantry battalion was numbered at about 840 men; however, this was the battalion's 'full strength' and few units ever reached this. A more typical strength for a battalion would be 400–600 men. From 1800 to 1803 a line infantry battalion had eight fusilier companies, and one grenadier company. From 1804 to 1807 a line infantry battalion had seven fusilier companies, one grenadier company, and one voltigeur company. From 1808 to 1815 a line infantry battalion had four companies of fusiliers, one company of grenadiers, and one company of voltigeurs. According to the rules, every company was to have:
* 120 privates,
* 1 Corporal-fourrier (Clerk),
* 8 Corporals,
* 4 Sergeants,
Grenadiers were the elite of the line infantry and the veteran shock
troops of the Napoleonic infantry. Newly formed battalions did not
Regulations required that Grenadiers recruits were to be the tallest, most fearsome men in the regiments, and all were to have moustaches . To add to this, Grenadiers were initially equipped with a bonnet à poil or bearskin , as well as red epaulettes on their coat. After 1807 regulations stipulated that line Grenadiers were to replace their bearskin with a shako lined red with a red plume; however, many chose to retain their bearskins. In addition to the standard Charleville model 1777 and bayonet, Grenadiers were also equipped with a short sabre . This was to be used for close combat, but most often ended up serving as a tool to cut wood for campfires.
Voltigeurs Of The Line
Voltigeurs (literally, Vaulters or Leapers) were élite light
infantry of the line regiments. In 1805, Napoleon ordered that the
smallest, most agile men of the line battalions be chosen to form a
Voltigeurs were equipped with large yellow and green or yellow and red plumes for their bicornes. After 1807, their shakos were lined with yellow and carried similar plumes. They also had yellow epaulettes lined green and a yellow collar on their coats.
Voltigeurs were to be equipped with the short dragoon
musket, however in practice they were equipped with the Charleville
model 1777 and bayonet. Like Grenadiers,
Voltigeurs were equipped with
a short sabre for close combat, and like Grenadiers this was rarely
The Fusiliers made up the majority of a line infantry battalion, and
may be considered the typical infantryman of the Grande Armée. The
In 1805, one of the
Training for Légère units placed a strong emphasis on marksmanship and fast movement. As a result, the general Légère soldier was able to shoot more accurately and move faster than his Ligne counterpart. Légère regiments tended to see more action and were often used to screen large manoeuvres. Naturally, because commanders turned to the Légère for more missions than the Ligne, the Légère troopers enjoyed a higher esprit de corps and were known for their flamboyant uniforms and attitude. Also, Légère troops were required to be shorter than line troops, which helped them to move quickly through forests as well as to hide behind obstacles when skirmishing. The formation of a Légère battalion exactly mirrored that of a battalion of line infantry, but different troop types were substituted for the Grenadiers, Fusiliers and Voltigeurs.
The Carabiniers were the grenadiers of the Légère battalions. After two campaigns, the tallest and bravest chasseurs were chosen to join the Carabinier company. They performed as élite shock troops for the battalion. As with the grenadiers, Carabiniers were required to wear moustaches. They were armed with the Charleville model 1777, a bayonet and a short sabre. The Carabinier uniform consisted of a tall bearskin cap (superseded in 1807 by a red trimmed shako with a red plume). They wore the same uniform as the chasseurs, but with red epaulettes. Carabinier companies could be detached to form larger all Carabinier formations for assaults or other operations requiring assault troops.
Voltigeurs performed exactly the same mission in the Légère battalion as they did in the line battalions, only they were more nimble and better marksmen. The Légère voltigeurs were dressed as chasseurs, but with Yellow and green epaulettes and before 1806, a colpack (or busby ) replaced the shako. The colpack had a large yellow over red plume and green cords. After 1807, a shako replaced the colpack, with a large yellow plume and yellow lining. As with the line voltigeurs, légère voltigeurs could be detached and used to form larger formations as needed.
Chasseurs (Hunters) were the fusiliers of the Légère battalions. They made up the majority of the formation. They were armed with the Charleville model 1777 musket and a bayonet, and also with a short sabre for close combat. As was common in the Napoleonic army, this weapon was quickly blunted by being used to chop wood for fires.
From 1803, each battalion comprised eight chasseur companies. Each
company numbered around 120 men. In 1808, Napoleon reorganised the
The chasseurs had far more ornate uniforms than their contemporaries the fusiliers. Until 1806, they were equipped with a cylindrical shako with a large dark green plume and decorated with white cords. Their uniform was a darker blue than that of the line regiments, to aid with camouflage while skirmishing. Their coat was similar to that of the line troops, but their lapels and cuffs were also dark blue, and it featured dark green and red epaulettes. They also wore dark blue trousers and high imitation hussar boots. After 1807, the cylindrical shako was replaced with the standard shako, but was still embellished by white cords. As with the line fusiliers, chasseur companies were distinguished by coloured pom-poms, but the colours for the different companies changed from regiment to regiment.
Officers of Infanterie Légère, 1803–1815. *
Chasseurs of Infanterie Légère 1806.
By decree of the Emperor himself, cavalry typically comprised between
a fifth and a sixth of the Grande Armée.
The elite among all French heavy cavalry line formations, the two
regiments of Mounted Carabiniers had a very similar appearance with
the Mounted Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard; bearskins, long blue
coats, etc. and were mounted exclusively on big black horse prior to
1813. They were largely used in identical manner to the Cuirassiers,
however, being(initially) unarmored, they were less suited for
close-quarters, melee combat compared to their armored brethren. It
should be noted though that unarmored heavy cavalry was the norm in
The heavy (Grosse) cavalry, equipped and armed almost like the
knights of old with a heavy cuirass (breastplate) and helmets of brass
and iron and armed with straight long sabers, pistols and later
carbines . As with the knights, they served as the shock troops of the
cavalry. Because of the weight of their armour and weapons, both
trooper and horse had to be big and strong, and could consequently put
a lot of force behind their charge. Though the cuirass could not
protect against flintlock musket fire, it could deflect shots from
long range, offered some protection from pistol fire and could protect
the wearer from ricochets. More importantly, in an age which saw
cavalry used in large numbers, the breastplates provided protection
against the swords and lances of opposing cavalry. Napoleon usually
combined together all of his cuirassiers and carabiniers into a
cavalry reserve, to be used at the decisive moment of the battle. In
this manner they proved to be an extremely potent force on the
battlefield, leaving their opponents impressed if not awestruck. The
British, in particular, who mistakenly believed the cuirassiers were
Napoleon's bodyguard, and would later come to adapt their distinctive
helmets and breastplates for their own Household
The medium-weight mainstays of the French cavalry, although
considered heavy cavalry, who were used for battle, skirmishing and
scouting. They were highly versatile being armed not only with
traditional sabres (the finest with three edges made of Toledo steel
), but also muskets with bayonets (which were kept in a saddleboot
when riding), enabling them to fight on foot as infantry as well as
mounted. Part of the price for this versatility was their horsemanship
and swordsmanship were often not up to the same standards as that of
the other cavalry troops, which made them the subjects of some mockery
and derision. Finding enough of the right kinds of horses for these
part-time cavalrymen also proved a challenge. Some infantry officers
were even required to give up their mounts for the dragoons, creating
resentment towards them from this branch as well. There were 25, later
30, dragoon regiments. In 1815, only 15 could be raised and mounted in
time for the
These fast, light cavalrymen were the eyes, ears and egos of
Napoleonic armies. They regarded themselves as the best horsemen and
swordsmen (beau sabreurs) in the entire Armée. This opinion was not
entirely unjustified and their flamboyant uniforms reflected their
panache. Tactically, they were used for reconnaissance , skirmishing
and screening for the army to keep their commanders informed of enemy
movements while denying the foe the same information and to pursue
fleeing enemy troops. Armed only with curved sabres and pistols, they
had reputations for reckless bravery to the point of being almost
suicidal. It was said by their most famous commander Antoine Lasalle
Chasseurs -à-Cheval (Mounted Hunters)
These were light cavalry identical to Hussars in arms and role. But, unlike the chasseurs of the Imperial guard discussed previously and their infantry counterparts discussed below, they were considered less prestigious or elite. Their uniforms were less colourful as well, consisting of infantry-style shakos (in contrast to the fur busby worn by some French hussars), green coats, green breeches and short boots. They were, however, the most numerous of the light cavalry, with 31 regiments in 1811, 6 of which comprised Flemish, Swiss, Italians and Germans.
Some of the most feared cavalry in Napoleon's armies were the Polish lancers of the Vistula Uhlans . Nicknamed Hell's Picadors or Los Diablos Polacos (The Polish Devils) by the Spanish, these medium and light horse (Chevau-Légers Lanciers) cavalry had speed nearly equal to the Hussars, shock power almost as great as the Cuirassiers and were nearly as versatile as the Dragoons. They were armed with, as their name indicates, lances along with sabres and pistols. Initially French ministers of war insisted on arming all lancers identically, real battlefield experience however proved that the Polish way of arming only the first line with lance while the second rank carried carbine instead was much more practical and thus was adopted. Lancers were the best cavalry for charging against infantry in square, where their lances could outreach the infantry's bayonets , (as happened to Colborne's British brigade at Albuera in 1811) and also in hunting down a routed enemy. Their ability to scour and finish off the wounded without ever stepping off their saddle created perfect scenes of horror for the enemy. They could be deadly against other types of cavalry as well, most famously demonstrated by the fate of Sir William Ponsonby and his Scots Greys at Waterloo. Excluding those of the guard, there were 9 lancer regiments. After the wars, the British were impressed enough to create their own lancer regiments.
A French Carabiniers-à-Cheval . *
The Emperor was a former artillery officer, and reportedly said "God fights on the side with the best artillery." As may therefore be expected, French cannons were the backbone of the Grande Armée's forces, possessing the greatest firepower of the three arms and hence the ability to inflict the most casualties in the least amount of time. The French guns were often used in massed batteries (or grandes batteries ) to soften up enemy formations before being subjected to the closer attention of the infantry or cavalry. Superb gun-crew training allowed Napoleon to move the weapons at great speed to either bolster a weakening defensive position, or else hammer a potential break in enemy lines.
Besides superior training, Napoleon's artillery was also greatly
aided by the numerous technical improvements to French cannons by Jean
As the name indicates, these gunners marched alongside their guns, which were, of course, pulled by horses when limbered (undeployed). Hence they travelled at the Infantry's pace or slower. In 1805 there were 8, later 10, regiments of foot artillery in the Armée plus 2 more in the Imperial guard, but unlike cavalry and infantry regiments, these were administrative organizations. The main operational and tactical units were the batteries (or companies) of 120 men each which were formed into brigades and assigned to the divisions and corps.
* Divisional artillery: Every division had a brigade of 3 or 4
batteries of 8 guns (6 cannons and 2 howitzers) each.
Battery personnel included not only gun crews, NCOs and officers but drummers, trumpeters, metal workers, woodworkers, ouvriers, furriers and artificers. They would be responsible for fashioning spare parts, maintaining and repairing the guns, carriages, caissons and wagons, as well as tending the horses and storing munitions.
Gunner from the horse artillery of the Imperial Guard
The cavalry were supported by the fast moving, fast firing light guns
of the horse artillery . This arm was a hybrid of cavalry and
artillery with their crews riding either on the horses or on the
carriages into battle. Because they operated much closer to the front
lines, the officers and crews were better armed and trained for close
quarters combat, mounted or dismounted much as were the dragoons. Once
in position they were trained to quickly dismount, unlimber (deploy)
and sight their guns, then fire rapid barrages at the enemy. They
could then quickly limber (undeploy) the guns, remount, and move on to
a new position. To accomplish this, they had to be the best trained
and most elite of all artillerymen. The horse batteries of the
Imperial guard could go from riding at full gallop to firing their
first shot in just under a minute. After witnessing such a
performance, an astounded Duke of Wellington remarked, "They move
their cannon as if it were a pistol!" There were 6 administrative
regiments of horse artillery plus one in the guard. In addition to the
batteries assigned to the cavalry units, Napoleon would also assign at
least one battery to each infantry corps or, if available, to each
division. Their abilities came at a price, however, horse batteries
were very expensive to raise and maintain. Consequently, they were far
fewer in number than their foot counterparts, typically comprising
only 1/5 of the artillery's strength. It was a boastful joke among
their ranks that the Emperor knew every horse gunner by name. Besides
better training, horses, weapons and equipment, they used far more
Of all the types of ammunition used in the
Round shot were undeniably inaccurate. This was because, despite their name, round shot were never perfectly spherical, nor did they fit their gun barrels exactly. Air acted on the irregular surface of the projectile. These irregularities invariably threw them off target to some degree. It is often also a matter of confusion as to why a 12pdr shot was so much more effective than a 6pdr shot. This is because the impact of a shot was not only related to its weight but also to its velocity , which, with a heavier projectile, was much greater at the end of the trajectory.
There were two forms of close-range weapon, which were extremely
useful at up to 270 m (300 yards ).
For longer-range anti-personnel work the common shell was also used. This was normally only fired from a mortar or howitzer and was a hollow sphere filled with gunpowder charge. The top of the shell had thinner walls than the bottom and had an orifice into which was forced a wooden fuse normally made of beechwood . The fuse was designed to be ignited by the discharge of the gun and had a central channel drilled through it filled with a burning compound. Before firing, the fuse was cut to a certain length corresponding to the desired time of burning and hammered into the top of the shell by a mallet . When it arrived over the target the fuse, if correctly prepared, exploded the main charge, breaking open the metal outer casing and forcing flying fragments in all directions. Although favoured for siege work, the common shell was not always effective against infantry .
The final type of projectile for the field artillery used by the French was the incendiary or carcass (a name for an incendiary projectile). Initially this device was composed of a metal frame, which was covered with a canvas cover and filled with a special recipe, typically saltpetre 50 parts, sulfur 25 parts, rosin 8 parts, antimony 5 parts, and pitch 5 parts. However, during the early 19th century, another form of carcass became common and this took the form of a common shell with two or three apertures in its exterior into which a similar composition was put. Carcass rounds were normally only issued to howitzers or mortars, the suggestion being they were intended to attack towns. This does not preclude them from being used on the field but quite what their purpose would have been there is not clear.
It is important to know that not all nations shared the same types of artillery projectiles. For example, the Congreve rocket , inspired from the Mysorean rocket artillery , or the Shrapnel shell , which combined the killing effect of grape shot with the ranges achieved by round shot, were used only by the British Army .
The Train d'artillerie, was established by Bonaparte in January 1800. Its function was to provide the teamsters and drivers which handled the horses that hauled the artillery's vehicles. Prior to this, the French, like all other period armies, had employed contracted, civilian teamsters who would sometimes abandon the guns under fire, rendering them immobile, rather than risk their lives or their valuable teams of horses. Its personnel, unlike their civilian predecessors, were armed, trained and uniformed as soldiers. Apart from making them look better on parade, this made them subject to military discipline and capable of fighting back if attacked. The drivers were armed with a carbine, a short sword of the same type used by the infantry and a pistol. They needed little encouragement to use these weapons, earning surly reputations for gambling, brawling and various forms of mischief. Their uniforms and coats of grey helped enhance their tough appearance. But their combativeness could prove useful as they often found themselves attacked by cossacks, Spanish and Tyrolian guerillas.
Each train d'artillerie battalion was originally composed of 5 companies. The first company was considered elite and was assigned to a horse artillery battery; the three "centre" companies were assigned to the foot artillery batteries and "parks" (spare caissons, field forges, supply wagons, etc.); and one became the depot company for training recruits and remounts. Following the campaigns of 1800, the train was re-organized into eight battalions of six companies each. As Napoleon enlarged his artillery, additional battalions were created, rising to a total of fourteen in 1810. In 1809, 1812 and 1813 the first thirteen battalions were "doubled" to create 13 additional battalions. Additionally, after 1809 some battalions raised extra companies to handle the regimental guns attached to the infantry.
The Imperial Guard had its own train, which expanded as La Garde's artillery park was increased, albeit organized as regiments rather than battalions. At their zenith, in 1813–14, the Old Guard artillery was supported by a 12-company regiment while the Young Guard had a 16-company regiment, one for each of their component artillery batteries.
MARINES OF THE GUARD
A Marine of the Guard
The four regiments of the marines of the
The "Marins de la Garde" (transliterated as "Sailors of the Guard", but more accurately "Marines of the Guard") were organised into five equipages (ship's company), each with five escouades, with a total strength of 737 men, the unit having been created ostensibly for the preparation of the invasion of England .
The unit was almost entirely destroyed in the Spanish Campaign of
1808 at Baylen , but was rebuilt, and in 1810 the battalion was
expanded to eight equipages with a total of 1,136 men, but this was
severely reduced by the casualties of the Russian Campaign , and only
350 officers and men remained in the ranks in 1813. With Napoleon's
first abdication, an ensign and 21 marins accompanied him to
and returned with him for the
The marines were distinct in several ways from other Grande Armée
units in that naval rather than Army ranks were used, the uniform was
based on that of those of the Hussars , and it was the only unit of
The battalions of marine artillery were conscripted for the 1813
campaign, and included four regiments with the 1st regiment intended
to have 8 battalions, 2nd regiment 10 battalions and the 3rd and 4th
regiments four battalions each, totalling 9,640 men in all serving
with Marshal Marmont\'s 6th
FOREIGN TROOPS IN THE GRANDE ARMéE
Józef Antoni Poniatowski See also: V
Many European armies recruited foreign troops, and Napoleonic France
was no exception. Foreign troops played an important role and fought
with distinction in La
French pioneer during the
While the glory of battle went to the cavalry, infantry and artillery, the army also included military engineers of various types.
The bridge builders of the Grande Armée, the pontonniers, were an indispensable part of Napoleon's military machine. Their main contribution was helping the emperor to get his forces across water obstacles by erecting pontoon bridges . The skills of his pontonniers allowed Napoleon to outflank enemy positions by crossing rivers where the enemy least expected and, in the case of the great retreat from Moscow, saved the army from complete annihilation at the Berezina .
They may not have had the glory, but Napoleon clearly valued his
pontonniers and had 14 companies commissioned into his armies, under
the command of the brilliant engineer,
In addition to the pontonniers, there were companies of sappers , to
deal with enemy fortifications. They were used far less often in their
intended role than the pontonniers, however, since the emperor had
learned in his early campaigns (such as at the
The different types of engineer companies were formed into battalions
and regiments called Génie, which was originally a slang term for
engineer. This name, which is still used today, was both a play on the
word (jeu de mot) and a reference to their seemingly magical abilities
to grant wishes and make things appear much like the mythical
One of Napoleon's most quoted lines is his dictum that "An army is a creature which marches on its stomach". This clearly illustrates the vital importance of military logistics . The troops of the Grande Armée each carried 4 days' provisions. The supply wagon trains following them carried 8 days', but these were to be consumed only in emergency. One man was allotted to 750 grams of bread, 550 grams of biscuits, 250 grams of meat, 30 grams of rice, and 60 grams of grain; one liter of wine was shared between four men. Insofar as possible, Napoleon encouraged his men to live off the land through foraging and requisition of food (which was known as La Maraude ). An integral part of the French logistics system was the inclusion in every regiment of several women known as cantinières (also known as vivandières, but "cantinière" was by far the more common term among French troops). These women were married to soldiers in their regiments, and acted as sutlers, selling food and drink (especially alcohol) to the troops. They were considered "absolutely necessary" to the functioning of the army, and the Consular Decree of 7 Thermidor, Year VIII set their number at four per battalion and two per cavalry squadron. These women fed the troops when all other logistical arrangements broke down.
Additional supplies would be stockpiled and stored at forward bases
and depots which he would establish before the start of his campaigns.
These would then be moved forward as the army advanced. The Grande
Armée's supply bases would replenish the
The Flying Ambulances were developed by French battlefield surgeon Dominque-Jean Larrey to rapidly transport the wounded from the battlefield to field hospitals.
The medical services had the least glory or prestige, yet they were required to deal with the full horrors of war's aftermath. Though the Emperor recognized its chief, Dr. Dominique Jean Larrey as stated in the 'Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène': "The Emperor had only the highest praise for Dr Larrey, declaring that he left him with the image of a truly good man who combined all the virtues of effective philanthropy and science to the highest degree. Every wounded soldier was a member of his family. Larrey is the most virtuous man I have ever met."
While the technology and practice of military medicine did not
advance significantly during the Napoleonic wars, the Grande Armée
did benefit from improvements in the organization of staff and the
establishment of a Flying
Because of Larrey's efforts, and the popularity of his reforms of
that of Baron Percy's, every regiment, division and corps had its own
medical staff, consisting of corpsmen to find and transport the
wounded, orderlies to provide assistance and nursing functions,
apothecaries, surgeons and doctors which was more than any other army
of the day would offer until around the time of the
After 1797, the flying ambulances were always present with the advance-guard of the army and even tended to the wounded on the battlefield, even under fire in stark contrast to the long-held tradition of waiting to collect the injured until after the battle in question during which time many of the most gravely wounded would have died for lack of proper medical attention. this boosted the morale for the rank and file of the French Revolutionary, and later Imperial, armies, but its most revolutionary aspect was Larrey's attention to the wounded on both sides of the battlefield. A noble concept that survived to modern times in the form of the Red Cross and the 1864 First Geneva Convention .
Accounts of the ordeals of the wounded are horrific reading. Napoleon, himself, once noted "It requires more courage to suffer than to die", so he made sure those who did survive were given the best treatment available at the best hospitals in France, in particular Les Invalides , while they recuperated. In addition, the wounded survivors were often treated as heroes, awarded medals, pensions and provided with prosthetic limbs if needed. Knowing that they would be promptly attended to, then honored and well looked after once back home, helped boost morale in the Grande Armée, and thus further contributed to its fighting abilities.
Most dispatches were conveyed as they had been for centuries, via messengers on horseback. Hussars, due to their bravery and riding skills, were often favored for this task. Shorter range tactical signals could be sent visually by flags or audibly by drums, bugles, trumpets and other musical instruments. Thus standard bearers and musicians, in addition to their symbolic, ceremonial and morale functions, also played important communication roles. A Chappe semaphore tower near Saverne , France.
Chappe's system comprised an intricate network of small towers,
within visual range of one another. On top of each was a 9-metre mast,
with three large, movable wooden rods mounted on them. These rods,
called the régulateur (regulator), were operated by trained crews
using a series of pulleys and levers. The four basic positions of the
rods could be combined to form 196 different "signs". Provided with
good crews of operators and decent visibility conditions, a sign could
be sent through the 15 station towers between Paris and
Chappe's telegraph soon became one of Napoleon's favourite and most important secret weapons. A special portable version semaphore telegraph travelled with his headquarters. Using it he was able to coordinate his logistics and forces over longer distances in far less time than his enemies. Work was even begun on a wagon-mounted version in 1812, but not completed in time for use in the wars.
FORMATIONS AND TACTICS
While Napoleon is best known as a master strategist and charismatic
presence on the battlefield, he was also a tactical innovator. He
combined classic formations and tactics that had been used for
thousands of years with more recent ones, such as Frederick the
Great\'s "Oblique Order" (best illustrated at the
Battle of Leuthen )
and the "mob tactics" of the early
Levée en masse armies of the
Revolution . Napoleonic tactics and formations were highly fluid and
flexible. In contrast, many of the Armée's opponents were still
wedded to a rigid system of "Linear" (or Line) tactics and formations,
in which masses of infantry would simply line up and exchange vollies
of fire, in an attempt to either blow the enemy from the field or
outflank them. Due to the vulnerabilities of the line formations to
flanking attacks, it was considered the highest form of military
manoeuvre to outflank one's adversary. Armies would often retreat or
even surrender if this was accomplished. Consequently, commanders who
adhered to this system would place a great emphasis on flank security,
often at the expense of a strong centre or reserve. Napoleon would
frequently take full advantage of this linear mentality by feigning
flank attacks or offering the enemy his own flank as "bait" (best
illustrated at the
Battle of Austerlitz
Some of the more famous, widely used, effective and interesting formations and tactics included:
* LINE (Ligne): The basic three rank line formation, best used for
delivering volley fire and was also a decent melee formation for
infantry or cavalry, but it was relatively slow moving and vulnerable
on the flanks.
* MARCH COLUMN (Colonne de Marche): The best formation for rapid or
sustained movement of troops and a good melee attacking formation, but
it offered little firepower and was also vulnerable to flank attack,
ambush, artillery and "funneling".
* WEDGE (Colonne de Charge): An arrow or spearhead shaped cavalry
formation, designed to close rapidly and break the enemy's line.
Classic, and effective, mounted formation used throughout history, and
still used by tanks today. But if the wedge is halted, or its attack
loses momentum, then it is vulnerable to counter-pincer attack on its
* ATTACK COLUMN (Colonne d'Attaque): A wide column of infantry,
almost a hybrid of line and column, with light infantry skirmishers in
front to disrupt the enemy and screen the column's advance. Once the
column closed, the skirmishers would move off to its flanks, then the
column would fire a massed musket salvo and charge with their
bayonets. An excellent formation against a standard, thin line. The
Attack Column was developed from the "Mob" or "Horde" tactics of the
early French revolutionary armies. Its disadvantages were a lack of
massed firepower and vulnerability to artillery fire.
* MIXED ORDER (Ordre Mixte): Was Napoleon's preferred infantry
formation. Some units (usually regiments or battalions in size) would
be placed in line formation, with other units in attack column behind
and in between them. This combined the firepower of the line with the
speed, melee and skirmishing advantages of the attack column. It also
had some of the disadvantages of both, so support from artillery and
cavalry were especially vital for this tactic to succeed.
* OPEN ORDER (Ordre Ouvert): Foot and/or horse would spread out by
unit and/or individually. This formation was best for light troops and
skirmishers. It allowed for rapid movement, especially over "broken"
or rough terrain such as hills or forests, and offered the best
protection from enemy fire since the troops were spread out. Its
disadvantages were it did not allow for massed or volley fire and was
terrible for melee or close quarters fighting and thus, especially
vulnerable to cavalry.
* SQUARE (Carré): Classic infantry formation for defence against
cavalry. Soldiers would form a hollow square at least three or four
ranks deep on each side, with officers and artillery or cavalry in the
middle. It offered infantry their best protection against charges,
especially on good defensive terrain such as on the top or reverse
slope of a hill. Squares were slow moving, almost stationary targets,
however. This, along with their density, made squares very vulnerable
to artillery and to a lesser extent, infantry fire. Once broken,
squares tended to completely collapse.
* FLYING BATTERY (Batterie Volante): Designed to take advantage of
French artillery's mobility and training. A battery would move to one
area on the field, lay down a short, sharp barrage, then rapidly
redeploy to another area and fire another barrage, then quickly
redeploy again, etc. The combined, cumulative effect of numerous
batteries doing this all along the enemy's lines could be devastating.
The horse artillery were especially well suited for this tactic.
Napoleon used it to great success in the Armée's early campaigns. Its
flexibility allowed him to quickly mass well-aimed fire anywhere it
was needed. But it required superbly trained and conditioned
artillerymen and horses as well as close command, coordination and
control in order to work.
* GRAND BATTERY (Grande Batterie): An alternative artillery tactic,
when circumstances prohibited the flying batteries.
RANKS OF THE GRANDE ARMéE
Further information: List of Marshals of the
First French Empire
Unlike the armies of the
Maréchal d'Empire, or
Marshal of the Empire , was not a "rank"
within the French Army, but a personal title granted to distinguished
Divisional generals, along with higher pay and privileges. The same
applied to the
GRANDE ARMéE RANK MODERN U.S./U.K./NATO EQUIVALENT
GéNéRAL DE DIVISION,
LIEUTENANT GéNéRAL (ancien régime rank reintroduced in 1814)
GéNéRAL DE BRIGADE,
MARéCHAL DE CAMP (ancien régime rank reintroduced in 1814)
ADJUDANT-COMMANDANT Staff Colonel
COLONEL EN SECOND Senior lieutenant colonel
MAJOR EN SECOND Senior Major
CHEF DE BATAILLON or CHEF D\'ESCADRON Major
CAPITAINE ADJUTANT-MAJOR Staff Captain
ADJUDANT SOUS-OFFICIER Chief Warrant Officer
SERGENT-MAJOR or MARéCHAL DES LOGIS CHEF First sergeant
SERGENT or MARéCHAL DES LOGIS
CAPORAL-FOURRIER or BRIGADIER-FOURRIER Company clerk/supply Sergeant
SOLDAT or CAVALIER(Cavalry) or CANONNIER(Artillery) Private or UK equivalent
Wikimedia Commons has media related to GRANDE ARMéE .
Army of Spain (Peninsular War)
* British Army during the
* ^ Riehn, Richard K. (1991), 1812: Napoleon's Russian Campaign
(Paperback ed.), New York: Wiley, ISBN 978-0471543022
* ^ INS Scholarship 1998: Henri Clarke, Minister of War, and the
* ^ Christian Wilhelm von Faber du Faur, Campagne de Russie 1812:
d\'après le journal illustré d\'un témoin oculaire, éditions
Flammarion, 1812, 319 pages, p. 313.
* ^ Eugène Labaume, Relation circonstanciée de la Campagne de
Russie en 1812, éditions Panckoucke-Magimel, 1815, pp.453–54.
* ^ It was inscribed on the regimental flags issued in 1804
* ^ Elting, John R.: "Swords Around a Throne", pp. 60–65. Da Capo
* ^ Correspondance générale – Tome 12: La campagne de Russie,
1812 Par Fondation Napoléon –
* ^ Zamoyski, p. 536
* ^ Insects, Disease, and Military History: Destruction of the
Grand Armée Archived 2008-08-20 at the
* (in English)
Paul Britten Austin , 1812: Napoleon's Invasion of
Russia Greenhill Books, 2000. (Originally published in three volumes:
The March on Moscow, Napoleon in Moscow, The Great Retreat.) ISBN
* (in English) McNab, Chris, Armies of the Napoleonic Wars, Osprey
Publishing Ltd., Oxford, 2009. ISBN 978-1-84603-470-1
* (in English) Watson, S.J., By command of the Emperor: A life of
Marshal Berthier, The Bodley Head, London, 1957
* La Grande Armée: Introduction to Napoleon's Army, Mas, M.A. M.,
Andrea Press, 2005.
* Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée, John Robert
Elting. 784 pages. 1997. ISBN 0-306-80757-2
* Napoleon's Line Infantry, Philip Haythornthwaite, Bryan Fosten, 48
pages. 1983. ISBN 0-85045-512-X
* Napoleon's Light Infantry, Philip Haythornthwaite, Bryan Fosten,
48 pages. 1983. ISBN 0-85045-521-9
* Campaigns of Napoleon,
David G. Chandler . 1216 pages. 1973. ISBN
* The Napoleonic Wars: The Rise and Fall of an Empire., Fisher, Todd
& Fremont-Barnes, Gregory, Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2004. ISBN
* Royal, Republican, Imperial, a History of the French Army from
1792–1815: Vol 1 –