Robert's point earlier about matelot being the first rang of marin I found interesting. I want to know more about these units - but I am fairly limited in my scope etc and I suppose it is my focus that prompted your response earlier
“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.”
I would not quibble with you on these points: however, I think they are not really the issue (I have briefly looked at the information in the Sarramon article, for example, relating to other theatres and taken on board the points you made - I think the conclusion that continued usage of the word "sailor" is incorrect is the same. This is true for context of recruitment (see below), deployment and theatre of operations. is their deployment in other theatres significantly different to that in Spain / Portugal? Is the basis of your argument that the majority of these battalions were principally employed in other ways?
Going back to the origin of the discussion (according to the “Product Description” as posted at the beginning of this thread above) is as follows:
“This memoir provides an eyewitness account of several of the actions of the 1808 Andalusian campaign, culminating in the battle of Baílen and the capitulation of Dupont's entire army. Very little material has hitherto been available in English dealing with this campaign-thus the reader can expect to discover fresh details and new insights not available in the general histories of the Peninsular War.”
I take the reference to “very little material … in English” to refer to material that:
1) is readily available and sheds light on those aspects of the war that are not concerned primarily with the subjects of English (British) history, military, diplomacy etc
2) that inform us about French activities (and their perspectives, viewpoints etc)
These would be my principal interests in viewing the current work and I therefore look forward to reading it (in addition to it providing a useful work to help compensate for my limitations with French materials in developing my understanding of the French experience).
No-one, I think, is disputing that these units (marins de la garde, and the équipages de la flotille (and now I know about the ouvriers militaries de la marine) provided admirable service: not just as infantry but also as pontonniers, artillerymen etc (however, their services as engineers I remain to be convinced about).
Yes, the sum total of my knowledge and understanding of these units, and their operations, at the moment is limited to the 43e and 44e (although I do have access to “Le bataillon des marins de la Garde, 1803-1815” Eugène Lomier, Jean Baptiste Grivel (bon) and “Aventures d'un marin de la garde impériale”, Ducor). I would like to know more about these troops.
Thus far, the limited information I have to hand demonstrates very clearly that the 43e and 44e were employed principally as infantry (although you have pointed me to their use as pontonniers and artillerymen in other theatres, I have as yet seen no clear or definitive indication they were used as such in the Peninsular). Pelet (primary source) and Sarramon (a useful secondary source, being both knowledgeable and writing from a “French” perspective) confirm the use of the 44e as infantry, HQ and hospital guards etc, as “tax” collectors and in counter insurgency roles etc. The 43e would not appear to have been employed significantly differently!
Apart from one specific reference to an alternative use (a small detachment of the 44e) to assist with a river crossing (as swimmers, to secure boats) I have no further evidence of more specialised roles. I would imagine, that when Massena and Eblé requested artisans to come forward to help with pontoon / bridge building activities on the Zêzere that some of these artisans would have come from the remnants of the 44e – however, the majority of the evidence points to their use as infantry during, and at the time of, the third French invasion.
As an aside, although I principally concern myself with matters related to the Peninsular War (and I am by no means a specialist, merely an amateur historian), my particular interests are as follows (and in this order of importance):
1) Portuguese history (army, together with socio-economic and political matters)
2) The operations of the French army (principally but not limited to the French invasions of Portugal)
3) the British army AND
4) the Spanish army (and patriot opposition to Napoleon and his troops) where relevant to the above.
The point that I’m leading up to making is this: what possible point could here be in continuing to describe the men who comprised these units as sailors? Some (perhaps a majority) were sailors when recruited: agreed. They were recruited as far as I know from ports (and were either, in the main, unemployed sailors, and unemployed skilled and semi skilled “workers” previously employed in related service sectors). I don’t know the officer to man ratio, but there will have been a good number, BUT not a majority, of “artificers” - if this is the correct term in the ouvriers. Nevertheless, , a good part (perhaps almost one half if we consider the mix of équipages de la flotille and ouvriers militaries de la marine) were NOT sailors at all (I do not know anything at all about the équipages de haut-bord yet, but am anxious to find out more.
Chartrand called them (I think) sea soldiers - but I think even this is stretching a point. That they had some naval connections (prior to service) is not in doubt. The marins de la garde were obviously recruited as a naval battalion. But were they all sailors? Were they ever employed as sailors? I'd be interested to know about recruitment criteria implemented after their initial formation – did they subsequently recruit only sailors or people with sea going experience? And this is one battalion out of many (say 100?)
In relation to the équipages de la flotille and ouvriers militaries de la marine, recruitment would appear to have been on the basis, respectively, of previous employment as sailor or having some sea faring experience (and yes, some of these would be gunners, carpenters etc) OR skilled and semi-skilled workers from docks and supporting industries (some of which would have been shore emplacement gunners etc but not sailors). You can argue that they are "naval battalions" at the time they were recruited, but their roles and functions would appear to be principally limited to land-based military operations.