Napoleon Series Archive 2009

Re: Forthcoming Book: Soldats ou Matelots?

Anthony and Tim,

I don't agree with your assessments on the French naval units that we've been discussing on a few points:

'Early in this thread we reverted to the age-old discussion of what the seamen/sailors actually were, in terms of their functionality.'

It has little to do with functionality, but has everything to do with identity. The troops were naval troops and remained identified as such throughout their service. I believe that to be both important and essential. Napoleon was very cognizant of morale, esprit, and the 'feu sacre' in dealing with his troops. Hence the creation and employment of the Imperial Guard, the high use of elite troops, and there is evidence that Napoleon didn't want certain specialist units misemployed and hence lose people uselessly.

'I think we lose sight of the fact that they were just men as far as Napoleon was concerned, Just men - and could therefore be used in whatever mode proved most necessary at the time - it didn't really matter to him whether they were soldiers, sailors, candlestickmakers, honky-tonk pianists or nuclear physicists - they were simply more fodder for the machine he was using in support of his Grand Design(s). The fact that they retained a degree of naval identity owes more - IMHO - to the Big Guy's desire to keep naval morale as high as possible while denuding it of resources as it does to any desire to inject a naval element to the Guard or any other unit of the Grande Armée...'

I couldn't disagree more. If the troops were merely 'men' then unit designations, lineage, and esprit would have had no meaning to Napoleon and that definitely was not the case. It did not matter where an enlisted man or an officer-general or otherwise-came from, but it did matter what type of soldier and commander that man became. The units concerned retained their lineage and naval identity because that is what they were. And Napoleon purposely created a naval unit in the Guard to have naval representation. Whether or not they ever went to sea again is not important-what was important is that they represented their service in the Guard and set an example for others to emulate. That they could also function as sailors has never been disputed.

It all seems a tad complicated! But essentially, and irrespective of former occupation and current designation, these équipages/batailons were employed as infantry: garrison troops, on outpost duties, collecting extraordinary contributions, fighting guerrilleros, providing HQ and hospital guards etc. I haven’t got to the section relating to the siege of Cádiz yet, but no-one after crossing the Pyrénées-Atlantiques would appear to have seen a ship (or boat) so far.

Interestingly, the viewpoints expressed are concerned only with the employment of naval battalions in Spain from 1808-1814. Whether or not the naval battalions in Spain manned boats or ships, they were still naval units serving with the army. They were not only employed as infantry, but also as pontonniers, engineers, and artillerymen because they were also skilled in those specialties. And what should not be ignored is how the naval battalions were employed when dealing with the main army in Germany and Russia in 1809, 1812, and 1813. In 1813, for example, it was naval artillerymen detailed to the Guard artillery that helped rebuild that arm after Russia. In November 1812 some of Baste's sailors helped Eble's pontonniers construct the bridges across the Berezina.

Unit designation, morale, and esprit de corps are important to any military organization. That was never overlooked by Napoleon (he picked or confirmed every regimental commander in the army himself), and it was one of the main reasons that the French performed so well for so long, especially in the last three years of the Empire against very long odds. And whether you like or admire the Emperor or not, he was a driving, inspiring troop commander who was fearless in action, was wounded twice, and had nineteen horses shot out from under him. He had the innate ability to inspire the combat troops because he also led from the front and was never above putting himself in the line of fire. Those are facts that are quite evident with any accurate study of Napoleon, the army he formed and commanded, and the troops who served him for campaign after campaign.

I don't believe that merely looking at the war in the Peninsula while ignoring the other theaters and units in them gives a good picture of French unit makeup and employment. It is a fact that many native English speakers focus on the campaigns in the Peninsula that involved Wellington's army, I did so my self many years ago when I first began reading about the period. But merely looking at that campaign necessarily narrows the field when dealing with or studying the Grande Armee.

Sincerely,
Kevin

Messages In This Thread

Forthcoming Book
Mémoires du capitaine de frégate Pierre Baste
Re: Forthcoming Book
Peut-être a-t-il s'est trompé ...?
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Marins, Marines, Matelots, et bric a brac...
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Forthcoming Book: Soldats ou Matelots?
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Russian unicorns
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Observations upon Russian Ordnance
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Russian ammunition and caissons
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Thank you for the clarification
Unicorns vs howitzers
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Quotes
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Memoirs
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Article on the use of howitzers from 1820
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L 'Armee Russe sous le Tsar Alexandre I 1805-15.
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DDS Napoleonic Artillery
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Let's not get ahead of ourselves
Of Possible Interest.
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Operation of Guns
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Ready, Fire, Aim...
Sidearms?
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The spelling should have been 'Adye' throughout.
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The spelling should have been 'Adye'
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Willett - two 't's.
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Some Familliia Adye Stuff.
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Re: Russian unicorns
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Russian artillery officers
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Of Possible Interest.
ADMIN! Re: Of Possible Interest - use caution
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Re: Forthcoming Book: Soldats ou Matelots?
Russian guns in French service????
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Armies of 1812
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Horses, Artillery, Resupply, and Logistics
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AnXI Howitzer Carriage
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Jack of all trades?
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Very nice - thank you :-)
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Very kind - thank you :-) *NM*
Shako
Many thanks: is the peak detachable?
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Re: Forthcoming Book: Soldats ou Matelots?
The point is: they were Soldats not Matelots :-) *NM*
Matelots and Soldats...
Marins, Matelots et Soldats....
Re: Forthcoming Book: Soldats ou Matelots?