7th Neapolitan Infantry Regiment 1811 – 1814
By: Markus Gärtner
Translator: Justin Howard
This article previously appeared in Issue 1 of the German-language magazine Depesche, which is published by our partner, Napoleon Online. We appreciate the kindness of the editor, Markus Stein, for giving us permission to publish the translation.
Although the uniforms of the Army of the Kingdom of Naples are among the most interesting and varied of the Napoleonic era, up until now they have barely been studied and therefore not all areas have been covered.
In the nine years of its short existence, the army was so inundated with uniform regulations by its flamboyant king Joachim Murat, that the resulting variation and confusion in the regiments remains impenetrable. This is probably the reason why no Italian or even German has yet attempted to produce a complete description of the Neapolitan army of the period.
Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that several notable people have shed some light on the subject. First of all the Fiches Documentaires by R. Forthoffer, which however only covered certain units, as well as the Heer und Tradition pages by H. Brauer, which also filled several gaps.
In addition, some original sources, e.g. various manuscripts and picture series in San Martino, are not readily accessible to the collector, which means having to rely on descriptions of these documents by third parties and inevitably inheriting any mistakes in the descriptions.
The following article will attempt to describe as completely as possible the organisation and uniforms of the 7th Neapolitan Infantry Regiment during the Russian campaign of 1812/13. To do this, primary sources, e.g. the Freiberger Bilderhandschrift have been consulted as much as possible, and these then compared to each other for confirmation and completeness.
As the 7th Neapolitan Infantry Regiment was recruited mostly from Negroes, its exotic appearance was conspicuous among the Neapolitan army units and made a lasting impression on such contempories as the renowned Sergeant Bourgogne and the creators of the Freiberger Bilderhandschrift and the Elsaessischer Bilderhandschrift.
In 1803, Negroes and mulattos who had immigrated to France from the West Indies and Saint-Domingue were grouped together as a battalion designated the Pionniers noirs. When the Kingdom of Naples was established in 1806, our “black pioneers”, entered into the service of the new state on 14 August, and in addition were increased to regimental strength. Whether additional Negroes were recruited for this purpose or the ranks were completed using white men is uncertain.
Because of the high casualty rates later on, there was probably also not enough time to recruit a sufficient number of Negroes. In any case, the majority of the regiment’s officer cadre was white, though in due course black NCOs were also promoted to officer level.
Until 1810, the regiment was officially designated Royal Africain and was listed as Number 7 in the table of infantry regiments.
The old French coat of the Pionniers Noirs, a brown coat with red facings, was worn with only minor changes until 1811.
By decree of 17 December 1811, the regiment was awarded the designation Real Africano as suffix to the number, and a new uniform was also introduced.
The organisation of the regiment was specified as follows:
In 1812, the battalion strength was reduced to 6 companies by removing one company of fusiliers.
In addition, there was regimental staff and the music corps.
Each of the field battalions was also allotted 4 sappers.
The French example was followed for the colours of the uniform facings,.
The regiment’s first major action did not come until the Russian campaign in 1812. It fought as part of the 33rd (Neapolitan) Division under the command of General Francesco Destrés in 11th Corps of the Grande Armée.
Order of battle of the 33rd Division:
Combined with the attached cavalry brigade, the division had a total strength of: 3 generals, 314 officers and 8198 men (including 1097 cavalrymen).
However, the division only advanced with the Grande Armée as far as Danzig, where it was stationed in and around the city.
In the course of the campaign, only some of the various guard units were commanded to other places, where they took part in several actions within Russia.
However, the 7th regiment, together with the 5th and 6th regiments remained in Danzig, where by decree from Murat on 6 January 1813 an elite regiment of 37 officers and 1500 men under the command of Colonel Macdonald was created from the elite companies of these three regiments.
This regiment, together with part of the Marine of the Guard as well as the half battery of Guard Artillery, was attached under command of the Neapolitan general d’Ambrosio to the Young Guard.
This brigade soon received orders to march together with other units towards the remnants of the Grande Armée in order to cover its retreat. The brigade advanced to Elbing, where it was involved in minor skirmishes with the Russian army. Along with its other duties at this time, the 7th Regiment also guarded the headquarters of its King, where it was observed by Sergeant Bourogne of the French Velites of the Chasseurs à Pied of the Guard on 13th February 1813: “Arriving at the assembly point, we saw a regiment of Negroes which belonged to King Murat in front of his palace. The blacks were a wondrous sight. They stood in a closed column. Even the officers were black. The sappers wore white bearskins”.
After the brigade had been strengthened by the addition of the Neapolitan 4th Light Infantry as well as the French 101st Infantry Regiment, it fought in Silesia – among other actions, those at Neidlitz (5 April), Lützen (2 May), Königswertha (7 May) and shortly thereafter at Bautzen (20/21 May), where the brigade excelled itself and its commander was wounded.
In July 1813, the brigade was posted to the 31st Division, with which it saw action in Saxony. In October, it defended Leipzig as part of the XI Corps (19 October).
At the end of October, the remnants of the brigade, a total strength of 310 officers and men marched back to Naples, together with the remnants of the cavalry brigade.
The Neapolitan troops who had remained in Danzig – namely the centre companies of the 5th, 6th and 7th Regiments – were formed into a brigade with a total of 96 officers and 3084 men. At this point, on 1 January 1813, the 7th Regiment mustered a total of 21 officers and 859 men.
On 21 January 1813, the Russian siege of Danzig began. For its defence, parts of the garrison were distributed among the surrounding suburbs, among these the Neapolitan Brigade. The siege lasted throughout 1813, and was marked by attacks by the allies and sorties by the garrison troops. Our Neapolitans took part in several of these actions, so that by 1 April the 7th Regiment had been reduced to 20 officers and 754 men – a further 210 men were in hospital. By the middle of the year, the regiment mustered only 21 officers and 448 men. 252 men were in hospital.
On 1 January 1814, the garrison of Danzig under General Rapp, which had resisted the allies for almost a year, capitulated and entered captivity. After intervention by King Murat, who in the meantime had defected to the Allies, the Neapolitan troops were soon released, and returned to their home by the middle of 1814.
The Neapolitans had a bad reputation with the French as well as with the allied troops, which led to Napoleon refusing to award them regimental eagles. However, the 7th Regiment counts as one of the best, due to its years of military experience. During the campaign of 1813, several French generals also praised the conduct of the Neapolitan troops, for example General Gérard at Elbing in 1813.
Other Ranks (Figures 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 15)
Shako after the French model, made from black felt with black leather top and black leather bands on the upper and lower edges. Black leather peak – Sources 1 and 6 show the peak with a brass rim. Chin straps with overlaid brass scales.
Heart-shaped plate. For the fusiliers, “JN” or “7” cut-out, for the voltigeurs a flaming grenade over a hunting horn, which itself is over a cut-out “7”.
Cockade outer ring white and inner ring amaranth-coloured. Loop of white leather ribbon. Brass button.
Fusiliers had a flattened pompom in the facing colour with a white centre. Source 1 shows a “7” in this centre, whereas Source 9 gives the respective company number. Source 6 follows the French regulations and shows round pompoms in the colour of the individual company.
Voltigeurs had a round yellow pompom, to which a yellow plume was fixed for parades.
According to Source 2, similar to the voltigeurs, the fusiliers wore a round black pompom with affixed black plume for parades.
In the field, shakos were covered with a black oilcloth and worn without pompom.
The shakos did not have any cords!
Grenadiers wore black or brown bearskins with red cords and red tassel at the top as well as a red plume on the left-hand side. Under the plume was the cockade (as above). Red top with white grenade in the centre.
Decree number 821 of 17 December 1810 specified a new uniform, with the coat stipulated as follows.
Short-tailed coat with closed lapels in the style of the French habit-veste. Collar, lapels, turnbacks and cuffs have yellow as facing colour, the basic colour of the coat is white. Seven brass buttons on each lapel.
Fusiliers have white shoulder straps with yellow piping – the shoulder straps are pointed at the shoulder and rounded at the collar. Source 1 shows the button at the shoulder end of the strap.
For grenadiers red and for voltigeurs yellow epaulettes.
Yellow three-pointed cuff flaps with white piping (according to Sources 2 and 9) or white cuff flaps with yellow piping (according to Sources 1 and 5). Three brass buttons on each cuff flap.
The sources contradict each other on the style of the cuff flap, even the Freiburger Bilderhandschrift shows two different styles in four pictures – one is the style with three points (French), the other is the smooth, rectangular form (Prussian).
Grenadiers have red grenades on the turnbacks, whereas the voltigeurs have yellow hunting horns.
Vertical coat pockets with yellow piping and three points, each with brass button.
In a sketch, Source 2 shows yellow turnbacks with white piping, which is confirmed by Source 1 for other regiments, but not for the 7th.
According to Sources 1 and 2, all turnbacks are piped in white, but in contemporary drawings and descriptions there is no mention of white piping of the facing colours. This is especially true for the Freiberger Bilderhandschrift, which only shows white piping on the cuffs.
White forage cap (bonnet de police) with yellow lace.
Tight white trousers.
Black or white gaiters, which reach to the underside of the knee.
The gaiters have either brass buttons or buttons which are covered in a black fabric.
In the field, long white trousers (according to Sources 1 and 3). Source 5 points out that in the garrison of Danzig, the occupying troops were issued with dark blue trousers. These had red stripes on the outer seams for the grenadiers, yellow stripes for the voltigeurs and were without stripes for the fusiliers.
Single-breasted grey overcoat with collar patch in the facing colour – i.e. yellow.
The equipment consists of:
Fusiliers were supposed to have only the cartridge box belt with a frog for the bayonet scabbard, but Source 3 shows a fusilier with an additional cross belt for a sabre-briquet (probably with white sword knot). The sabre-briquet with cross belt was only supposed to be issued to fusilier NCOs.
The grenadiers have a sabre-briquet with red sword knot and the voltigeurs one with yellow sword knot.
The grenadiers have a brass grenade as decoration on their black leather cartridge box. There is no definite information on this subject for the voltigeurs and fusiliers.
Sabre-briquet in black leather scabbard with brass chape.
The musket is the French 1777 Model, probably manufactured in Italy, with white leather sling.
Drummers (Figure 13)
Shako as for the other ranks.
Coat as for the other ranks with the following exceptions:
On the upper edge of the collar and running around the front, a double row of livery lace, which is alternately white and amaranth-coloured. The lapels also had lace as described above. On each sleeve, 7 upward-pointing chevrons of the same lace, although some sources only show 6 chevrons. On the front and back seams of the sleeve there was also continuous lace.
Underneath the shoulder straps or epaulettes there were white swallows’ nests edged all round with the livery lace. The cuff was also edged with lace.
White drum belt with drum stick holder. Drum sticks painted black with brass caps on the butts.
Drummers carried sabre-briquets with the appropriate sword knots for their particular company.
Brass drum shell. Drum hoops with triangular pattern, i.e. red downward-pointing and white upward-pointing triangles. White ropes.
Musician (Figure 7)
Shako as for the other ranks. White (⅓) over yellow (⅔) plume above a round yellow pompom.
Long tailed, single-breasted yellow coat with brass buttons.
Amaranth-coloured collar with white or silver lace. 9 white horizontal lace strips on the chest and amaranth-coloured piping on the button placket. Amaranth-coloured cuffs with white trimming. No cuff flaps. White vertical piping, which overlaps the cuff by half of its length. 3 buttons, of which two are on the cuff and the other above it. White turnbacks with amaranth-coloured piping. The turnbacks run to a point on the inside. Vertical coat pockets as for the other ranks.
Short Hungarian boots without trimming. Sources 2 and 5 show smooth tops to the boots.
Épee with brass hilt. Black leather scabbard with brass chape. White sword knot. White waist belt, which was worn underneath the coat.
Sappers (Figures 10, 11, 12, 14)
Surprisingly, there are many descriptions of the sappers available; however the sources contradict each other to such an extent that it is necessary to look at each source’s description separately.
Source 1 – R. Forthoffer (Figure 10):
White bearskin with red cords and plume; on the front a high brass plate, which covers ⅔ of the cap; on the plate two crossed axes under a flaming grenade – within these a cut-out “7” and under the axes a “J”; chin strap with brass scales.
Yellow coat. White lapels, collar and turnbacks. Yellow lace on the collar. The cuffs are not visible because the sappers wear gauntlets – however there were probably white cuffs with yellow cuff flap. On each upper sleeve two crossed red axes, over these a white grenade. Red epaulettes.
The apron is light yellow leather and reaches to the waist.
White trousers. Black gaiters.
Sabre with stylised cockerel-head pommel.
White leather double crossbelts. On the right hand belt a brass grenade badge, over this crossed axes. On the left hand crossbelt a brass buckle.
Around the waist a belt with clasp is worn. In the centre a cartridge box, which also has the brass badge of two crossed axes under a grenade.
Light yellow gauntlets with white cuffs.
Equipment as for the other ranks.
Axe with brown shaft and brass cap on the grip.
Year IX Model carbine with white sling.
Source 2 – Armata Neapolitana (Figure 12):
In this source, the sapper is white-skinned!Brown bearskin kolpak with red plume in the centre.
Coat as for the other ranks. Epaulettes with yellow fringes and red crescent and slide.
White leather apron, held at the shoulders by two shoulder straps.
Double crossbelts, the right one having a brass buckle.
Waist belt with cartridge box without badge on the front.
Otherwise as per the previous sapper.
Source 3 – Freiberger Bilderhandschrift (Figure 11):
Shako with cover.
Coat as for the other ranks. Shoulder straps.
Light yellow apron, which tapers up to a point on the chest.
Crossbelt over the right shoulder, on the lower end of which a short-handled axe is hung.
Long white trousers – underneath these white gaiters.
Source 8 – Elsäβer Bilderhandschrift (Figure 14):
White bearskin with red plume. On the front a semicircular brass plate with stamped grenade.
Coat as for the other ranks, but with iron buttons.
Red epaulettes. On each upper sleeve, two upward-pointing red chevrons – in addition the right sleeve had underneath these red crossed axes, and under this again a red grenade.
Double crossbelts – at chest height on the left one a brass grenade.
White waist belt with rectangular brass clasp, on which a grenade is stamped.
Brown leather apron, which is worn under the coat.
Brown leather gauntlets with black cuffs.
Axe with brown shaft and iron cap on the grip.
Sabre-briquet with red sword knot.
Arms and equipment as for the others.
Officers (Figures 1, 2, 3)
Full or parade dress, after Sources 4 and 5 (Figures 2 & 3):
According to Source 4, shako as for the other ranks, only with gilt plate and gilt chin straps. “JN” as emblem. According to source 5, the upper leather band and the side chevrons were also gilt.
Coat as for the other ranks – according to Source 4 long-tailed, according to Source 5 short-tailed. Rank distinction as in the French army by means of gold epaulettes.
Silver gorget. According to Source 4, on this gorget a gold grenade for the grenadier officers, a silver “JN” for fusilier officers and a hunting horn for voltigeur officers.
Waist belt, worn under the coat.
Épee for fusilier officers, sabre for grenadier officers.
In both cases, black leather scabbards with brass fittings.
Field uniform, after Source 3 (Figure 1):
Shako with cover.
Single-breasted blue coat – the so-called surtout – with long tails and nine tin buttons. A single button on each cuff and at each side of the waist. No coat pockets. Silver grenades on the grenadier officers’ turnbacks.
Long grey trousers with dark-grey vertical stripes. Black gaiters.
Silver epaulettes. Gold gorget with stamped gold grenade for the grenadier officers or with silver, crowned “JN” for the fusilier officers.
Black crossbelt, worn over the right shoulder.
Sabre or épee in black leather scabbard. Brass hilt and chape.
From the sources available, the decoration on the turnbacks of the officers’ single-breasted coats can only be guessed at.
There are no explicit descriptions or drawings for the following types in the 7th Regiment, they are only very generally described for other regiments.
Horn-player of voltigeurs (after R. Forthoffer):
Coat as for the other ranks, decorated with the same livery lace as the drummer’s coat. Facings as for the voltigeurs. Brass horn. The cords are mixed white and amaranth-coloured.
Usually held the rank of lieutenant.
Uniform as for the officers. Over the left shoulder a wide crossbelt in the facing colour of the regiment, with gold fringes.
Uniform as for the officers. Black bicorn or brown bearskin kolpak with white plume.
Lace chevrons on the sleeves as for the drummers. Collar and lapels with gold lace.
Over the left shoulder a wide crossbelt either in the facing colour or amaranth-coloured – gold fringes.
As the drum-majors of the individual regiments each had their own character, further details would be purely conjecture.
Surgeon (after I. Cenni):
Black bicorn with tassels on the ends. Single-breasted white coat with long tails and brass buttons. Collar and cuffs in the facing colour – i.e. yellow for the 7th Regiment. Gold trimmings on the collar, with a gold lace patch on each side.
Tight white trousers. Short Hungarian boots with gold fittings.
The épee is worn on the waist belt under the coat.
Figure 13: Drummer – a reconstruction after the details from R. Forthoffer and H. Boisselier
Figure 14: Sapper after the Elsäβer Bilderhandschrift
Figure 15: Fusilier after a sketch by H. Knötel and H. Brauer
The following sources are quoted or compared in the text::
Source 1 Roger Forthoffer Fiches Documentaires Numbers 250/251 La Division Napolitaine à la Grande Armée
Source 2 Herbert Knötel Estate in the Wehrgeschichtliches Museum in
Rastatt including details by R. Forthoffer and details from the Armata Neapolitana
Source 3 Freiberger Bilderhandschrift. Described by Richard Knötel in the Mitteilungen zur Geschichte der militärischen Tracht, 1912, as well as partly copied by H. Boisselier
Source 4 Richard Knötel Uniformkunde Volume XVIII, Page 40 as well as Mitteilungen zur Geschichte der militärischen Tracht, Rathenow 1896 – 1920
Source 5 Henri Boisselier Article in La Sabretache, 2/1969
Source 6 M. Fiorentino Figures from the collection
Source 7 M. Fiorentino I Napoletani in Russia e Germania 1812-13 (including details of the drawings in the Museum of San Martino), 1980/81
Source 8 Herbert Knötel Description from the Elsäβ>er Bilderhandschrift
Source 9 Hans Brauer Das Neapolitanische Heer König Murats 1812-14, contributors Prof. I. Cenni and J. Mauke Heer und Tradition, Sheet Number 80
Source 10 Lienhart & Humbert Les uniformes de l’Armée française depuis 1690 jusqu’à nos jours, Leipzig 1895 – 1906
 Translator’s Note: The Freiberger Bilderhandschrift is known in English as the Freiberg Picture Manuscript
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2010
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