Napoleon Series Archive 2009

Marins, Marines, Matelots, et bric a brac...
In Response To: Re: Forthcoming Book ()

'As the translator, I feel qualified to respond to this. Since you unfortunately cannot have read it yet...',

I have the book. I ordered it as soon as I saw the title and it arrived very quickly. I haven't finished it yet, but I have read the material at the beginning.

'I can assure you that I did not miss the word sailors - (I would be interested to hear why you assume I would) - though I prefer the word seamen in this case, though I will give you their interchangeability.'

The comment I first made in the thread was based on the incorrect translation in the title. I have no doubt that you know what the translation should be. What was disappointing was that you didn't correct a long-standing error.

'The second footnote on the opening page of the translation reads as follows:
" Translator’s note: Although the word Marins translates to ‘seamen’ rather than ‘marines’, the usual translation of the title of this corps elsewhere in Napoleonic literature has been Marines. In order to avoid a descent into argument over semantic trivia, I have elected to maintain the French title of this unit throughout this translation."'

I have also read this in the book. This makes it even more perplexing as to why you perpetuate an error that doesn't help forward the literature and understanding of the period. It isn't 'semantic trivia' but a point of fact in correct terminology to use in order to correct a long-standing mistranslation, especially as the French had no Marines.

'Which just about describes my thoughts on the subject, notwithstanding your long and interesting peroration on the question of esprit and Napoleon's attitude thereto much further down this thread, Kevin. While I agree about the importance of military ethos..., I still believe strongly that we view Napoleon's motivation and activities too much through the lens of two hundred years of hindsight.'

Actually, it's historical inquiry which is what all of us should be doing and then correcting any errors in fact that we encounter along the way.

'While I agree that hindsight is only of any value if you make use of it, I can't help wondering why we continually try to relate Napoleon's actions to the modern military environment. Yes - he formed a Guard, he was concerned about morale, esprit de corps and all those wonderful, intangible things that inspire men and make armed forces work more effectively.'

I'm a little confused over your rhetoric here, but you can 'relate Napoleon's actions to the modern military environment' in many ways, not the least being his mastery of the operational level of war and what type of troop commander and general he was-those lessons never grow old.

'My point is not to counter that...'

That's good.

'- it is that he was also constrained by the enormous requirements he had for manpower to use whatever was available.'

Yes, he was. but that has nothing to do with what types of troops he employed. The units were formed under their old titles and functions and then deployed. They weren't called what they were just for fun.

'The existence of all those semi-skilled sailors with nowhere to go must have shone like a beacon in the night for him. So - does he give them fancy titles to preserve their self-respect and motivation - sure. Does he put them to work exclusively on matters that their so-called (and too highly vaunted, in my view) skills would suit them to? No. Is bridge-building a skill? The design and understanding of the constraints of bridge building certainly are - but then that was done by the engineers and the officers - not the crews themselves. The actual construction of bridges - the hammering of nails, humping of bales and toting of barges - was done by the PBI - no matter whether his unit was from the infanterie de ligne, the Garde, the équipages de la flotte or the gardiens des bordels Parisiens.'

Why do you consider that the sailors were semi-skilled? The artificer battalions certainly were not. They were officered by naval engineers and naval artillerymen. Further, the naval battalions were already formed into units before being activated for service with the army. If they were merely cannon fodder, they would have been fed into the replacement system.

Your opinion on the naval battalions being 'too highly vaunted' is incorrect to my mind and I've seen no evidence that they were. They were valued for what they were and were able to be employed in different roles. Bridge building is a skill-the French used pontonniers and engineers to build bridges. The troops that built the Berezina bridges in November 1812 were mainly Eble's pontonniers (who were artillerymen, by the way, not engineers) supported and helped by Chasseloup's engineers and Baste's sailors. The infantry were too busy fighting the Russians. The French did not have the same problems the British did with specialist troops to build bridges, conduct sieges, and build fortifications. The French had specialist troops to 'throw' pontoon bridges, build trestle bridges, conduct sapping and mining during sieges and to conduct sieges properly. You cannot evaluate the Grande Armee's capabilities by what the British army lacked during the period.

'The fundamental point is how they were used.'

I completely agree. And they were employed as engineers, infantrymen, pontonniers and artillerymen. Pelet's memoirs from the campaign in Portugal is a good reference for the naval units with Massena's Army of Portugal.

'I am fully prepared to understand that they were used in specialist roles in some places - but you cannot simply ignore the Peninsula experience because it doesn't fit the theory. The simple fact of the matter is that some 500 Marins de la Garde, for example, were used as infantry throughout the Bailen campaign. And mighty proud they were of the fact too.'

They were an infantry battalion. And other naval units with the armies, such as the Battalion of the Danube, the 43d and 44th Bataillons de Flotille, the Bataillons Espagne, and the 1st and 2d Bataillons de Escaut, were composed of artificers from the ouvriers militaires du genie maritime as well as bataillons de marine, which were ships crews, later renamed equipages de haut bord. Then there were the four naval artillery regiments which in 1813 supplied artillerymen, engineers, and infantrymen to the Grande Armee, helping, among other things, the artillery arm to be rebuilt including the Guard artillery. They would be employed as field artillerymen again in 1815.

'Were they sailors with muskets? Were they marines? Were they pontonniers by any other name? If it matters (which it doesn't) the answer is no - they were men - just men - and assets to be used in support of Imperial design.'

It does matter, so in that conclusion you are incorrect. They weren't just men-they were battalions from the navy with particular skills that were useful to the Grande Armee and added greatly to its combat power. They were not just conscripts, but a few rungs above many of the units in the army. And that point you have missed, unfortunately.

'Bottom line - Napoleon is the ultimate exploiter - that is part of the multifarious levels of genius the man had.'

Interesting viewpoint, but somewhat off the mark, though I agree with you on Napoleon having extraordinary gifts.

'He came, he saw, he emptied the boats and made use of the contents.'

Again, an interesting paraphrase and semi-analogy, but a little too simplified for the area we're discussing.

'QED'

'Quod Erat Demonstrandum'

Unfortunately, you haven't demonstrated your theory and certainly have not proved it. Using QED did bring back memories of college calculus, though. We used it in its mathematical format 'End of Proof.'

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 ...?
Re: Forthcoming Book
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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
Correction (was: Quotes)
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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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Corrected URLs.
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Operation of Guns
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A Conundrum...
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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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Russian Artillery
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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?