Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Berg Regiment of Light Horse 1807-1808

By Guy C. Dempsey Jr.

Light Horse by Edmund Wagner
(From the author's collection)

The history and uniforms of the regiment of cavalry raised by the Grand Duchy of Berg during the Napoleonic Era are in some respects extremely well known since the unit ultimately gained for itself the special distinction of being admitted to Napoleon's Imperial Guard.  In other respects, however, they are somewhat obscure, primarily because the regiment went through a surprisingly large number of reorganizations and transformations during its relatively short existence -- the designations of "Light Horse" (Chevau-Legers), "Mounted Chasseurs" (Chasseurs à Cheval), "Lancers" (Lanciers), and "Light Horse Lancers" (Chevau-Legers Lanciers) all refer to essentially the same military organization. The subjects of this article are the organization and dress of the unit during the first phase of its development, lasting from its creation as a regiment of Light Horse until its amalgamation with the successor formation of Mounted Chasseurs.  Not surprisingly, this phase coincides with the short reign of Joachim Murat as the Grand Duke of Berg.

Organizational History

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the creation of the Berg Light Horse regiment of cavalry is that it took so long to come about.  By the time Murat was named by his imperial brother-in-law to the Grand Ducal throne on March 15, 1806, he had already laid claim to the distinction of being the premier leader of cavalry of his day by his brilliant direction of the French mounted troops during the Austerlitz campaign.  Since one of his first tasks as Grand Duke was the creation of an army for his small state, it would have seemed only natural if he had immediately begun to form a mounted unit.  Nevertheless, although a Berg infantry regiment had been organized by the end of April, the summer came and went without the formation of any cavalry force.  Murat was certainly eager to have a cavalry regiment under his command, as evidenced by the fact that he unsuccessfully petitioned Napoleon in July of 1806 for permission to take the lancers of the Polish-Italian (later Vistula) Legion into his service, but any inclination he may have had to raise an indigenous mounted unit was tempered by the very real physical and economic limitations of his small realm.[1] The Grand Duke was simply unable to find a sufficient number of suitable cavalry recruits and mounts within his own territory.

This situation remained unchanged through the early fall of 1806, as the great events of the Jena Campaign overshadowed the parochial military concerns of the Grand Duke, but in November Napoleon himself abruptly re-focused attention on the subject of a Berg mounted unit when he formally ordered Murat to raise a regiment of cavalry to serve as Murat's personal guard (and, incidentally, provide the Emperor with additional cavalry reinforcements).  Murat's response to this command was based on his hope that he could use Napoleon's interest as leverage to overcome the problems which had hitherto blocked the project.  The Grand Duke accordingly requested, and received, permission to expand his recruiting area to include the territories of La Mark and Munster and to recruit for the Berg Army among Prussian prisoners of war native to the Duchy.[2] Murat supplemented this initiative by asking for rights to recruit directly from the French army.  Napoleon's initial response to this gambit was guarded in that he approved only the distribution of a circular to the colonels of several French Hussar regiments asking for volunteers to come forward to join the regiment of "Hussars" which Murat had been authorized to form.[3]  Eventually, however, the Emperor's attitude changed and in March of 1807 he granted Murat permission to enlist one trooper from each French cavalry regiment in Italy and one from each regimental depot in France.[4]  In fact, this authorization seems to have regularized a process which was already taking place, since the service records of Michael Becker of the 19th Dragoons reveal that he was mustered on to the rolls of the Berg Light Horse on March 17, 1807.[5]  Murat followed up on this success by asking for exclusive rights to recruit in Hesse.[6]

This succession of developments improved the long-term prospects for the raising a mounted force for Berg, but in the meanwhile Murat still lacked a cavalry escort of his own, a situation which was unsatisfactory both from the viewpoint of his personal security and that of his grand ducal prestige.  Murat improvised a  short-term solution to this situation by making personal use of a troop of 50 Polish horsemen from the new levies raised after the French liberation of Warsaw.[7]  This expedient did not, however, meet with the approval of Napoleon and on March 15, 1807 the Emperor ordered Murat  to relinquish control of that particular unit, although he softened the blow by simultaneously authorizing Murat to replace it with a special independent company of 100 Polish Honor Guards to serve as his personal escort.[8]  Murat entrusted the creation of this Polish Honor Guard to Prince Joseph Poniatowski, who set about his task with admirable vigor.  Poniatowski chose his recruits from the youth of some of the most aristocratic families in Poland and by mid-April 1807 he had already assembled 90 Guards and 40 horses.[9]  At this juncture, Napoleon concluded that Poniatowski's efforts were detracting from his own attempt to raise a regiment of Polish Light Horse for the Imperial Guard.  Accordingly, Napoleon abruptly reversed his decision on Murat's escort company and incorporated its men into his own unit.[10]

Murat's attention now shifted back to organization of his own Berg Light Horse.  Having assured himself of both a nucleus of veteran troopers and of a sufficient pool of recruits, he moved to solve the problem of the lack of suitable cavalry mounts in Berg by obtaining imperial permission to acquire horses outside the boundaries of the Duchy.[11] After this additional favor was granted, Murat finally felt confident enough to formalize the status of his unit, which he did by a decree of May 21, 1807, setting forth the organization of a regiment of light horse referred to as the "Regiment of Grand Duchess Caroline of Cleves", a name that does not appear in any other subsequent documentation.[12]  The task of carrying out the decree was conferred on the newly-promoted General Daniel Marx, who during the Jena Campaign had been the commander of the 7th Hussars in Lasalle's "Infernal Brigade".               

As might be expected, the announced organizational structure of the Berg Light Horse was modeled on that of a French light cavalry regiment.  The unit thus was intended to consist of a staff, four combat squadrons (each divided into two companies of 87 men each) and a depot company.[13] The regiment organization also called for an elite company that was designated by Murat as his "Garde du Corps" or Body Guard.  Murat apparently hoped that this company would be recruited exclusively from the sons of the most prominent families of his realm who would provide their own mounts, uniforms and equipment, and he accordingly granted the company the same privileges of rank and pay enjoyed by the light cavalrymen of the French Imperial Guard.[14]  The officers for the new unit were drawn from a number of sources, but chiefly their appointment represented a means for Murat to reward faithful services of all description.  Thus, the first commander of the Regiment was Major Count Nesselrode-Reichenstein, the son of the Minister of the Interior of Berg, while one of the company officers was Sous-Lieutenant (later Captain) Benjamin Charinet, a former NCO of the 7th Cuirassiers who had received both his commission and a cross of the Legion of Honor for having saved the Murat's life at the Battle of Heilsberg.[15]

Even before the organizational decree was published, the precarious finances of Berg forced Murat to return to his campaign to make Napoleon the primary benefactor of the Light Horse and so he began again to bombard the Emperor with requests for materiel assistance to complete the unit.  First, he asked for horses to be provided out of those captured or requisitioned from the Prussians.[16]  Next, the Grand Duke made a successful request for basic armaments for the Light Horse:


I have the honor to ask your Majesty to grant the following items for the regiment of cavalry I am going to raise:  1,000 carbines, 1,000 pistols, 1,000 sabers, 1,000, saber belts and 1,000 cartridge boxes, all of which are available in the magazines of Potsdam or of Spandau.[17]

Murat capped his efforts by obtaining permission to use captured Prussian cloth for the unit's uniforms.[18]  Despite these initiatives, the process of organizing the Regiment continued to languish through the summer and fall of 1807 with only fitful progress being made.  An important part of the problem was undoubtedly the absence of Murat who, preferring the comforts of Paris, never returned to Berg after the Treaty of Tilsit and thus never again had the opportunity to exercise direct oversight over formation of the unit. 

Murat gave the Light Horse another dose of long distance attention in January of 1808.  Displaying an idiosyncratic sense of priorities, Murat chose that month as the propitious moment to launch three significant new initiatives.  First, he ordered an increase in the size of his personal Body Guard from a single company to a full squadron. (He apparently planned to find the manpower for this expansion by offering Imperial Guard-style pay and benefits to entice French veterans to enroll in his regiment.)[19]  Next, he ordered elaborate standards to be made for each squadron.[20]  Last, but not least, he then instructed his Minister of the Interior to re-arm the entire unit with lances from the Prussian arsenal at Koenigsberg.[21]  These developments could only exacerbate the already serious financial burden created by the unit, but Murat now apparently believed the at once the Light Horse had been completed he would be able to persuade Napoleon to take the unit into French service, thus relieving the Berg treasury of its upkeep.[22]

By the beginning of February, completion of the Light Horse was beginning to seem imminent.  Murat noted that the first two squadrons had already been fully uniformed and he reported he had received definitive organizational materials which he would soon be returning with a few final comments.[23]  His work was abruptly interrupted on February 20, however, by the unexpected news that he had been appointed as Napoleon’s Lieutenant General in Spain and that he was to present himself  at Bayonne on the Spanish frontier by no later than February 27.[24] Despite his need to respond quickly to Napoleon’s summons, Murat took time on the 20th itself to order the immediate completion of the first two squadrons and to specify that they should be started for Spain even if the lances he had ordered in January were not yet ready.[25]  Major Nesselrode was nominated to command the combined squadrons, while the 1st Guard Company was placed in the hands of Captain La Nougarede and the 2nd Guard Company in those of Captain Reinach.  Captains Lampiere and Rolin commanded the companies of the other squadron, respectively.

Given the history of the Light Horse to this point, it is probably not surprising that Murat's urgent summons produced no result for over a month and, even then, was never full carried out.  On April 5, 1808, a detachment finally set out for Spain, but it consisted only of the Body Guard squadron (fully mounted) and 100 dismounted troopers of the first company of the second squadron.[26]  Even this small a force had the potential to cause a strain on the Berg treasury, but Napoleon once again came to the unit’s support  and graciously agreed that the up-keep (but not the pay) of the Light Horse would be borne by the French Treasury while it was on French soil.[27]  Murat was undoubtedly looking forward to the arrival of his Guard because in the meanwhile he had to make do with an escort consisting of a mere four gendarmes.  As Murat subsequently complained to Marshal Moncey: "This escort may be sufficient for my safety, but it is certainly insufficient for my dignity".[28] 

Lancer of Berg by Herbert Knötel
(From the Library of Tony Broughton)

The next development that affected the Berg Light Horse was completely unexpected and completely beyond the control of Murat.  Early in May, Napoleon sent Murat a letter that contained the following stunning proposition:   "I have decided that the King of Naples [Joseph] will reign at Madrid.  I wish to give you either the Kingdom of Naples or that of Portugal.  Respond at once concerning your preference for the choice must be made quickly."[29] As we know, Murat chose Naples and so, suddenly, his official connection with the Berg Light Horse was severed.  He was, however,  determined to retain the Body Guard on which he had lavished so much attention and so on May 10 he solicited one last concession from Napoleon:  "I ask [Your Majesty] as a special favor to allow me to retain the squadron since it is composed of men entirely devoted to my service."[30]  Napoleon apparently had no objection to the request, but an unusual breakdown in French command and control  prevented Napoleon from acting on it by stopping the unit and re-directing it towards Naples.  The Light Horse detachment instead continued on to Bayonne, prompting Napoleon to report somewhat sheepishly to Murat on May 28, 1808: "The order I gave to halt your Guards . . . did not reach them.  They have just arrived here and are a fine looking body of men."[31]

This missed connection might not have been important except for the fact that Murat was incapacitated by illness for most of June and was therefore unable to press his claim to ownership of the Body Guard squadron.  When Napoleon finally gave Murat permission to leave Madrid on June 29, he was still so weak that he could only travel on a litter carried by men of the Basque Infantry Company, a peculiar, short-lived unit which, ironically, had been raised by Murat in part to provide him protection while he was awaiting arrival of the Light Horse.[32]  Murat passed through Bayonne at the beginning of July, but there is no evidence that he visited the Light Horse detachment.  He could not have known then that he would never have another chance to do so.

The final separation of Murat and his Body Guard came about from a combination of military necessity and imperial convenience.  Having elevated his brother Joseph to the Spanish throne,  Napoleon was very concerned that the new monarch make a strong first impression on his new subjects.  After reviewing the forces available, Napoleon concluded that Murat's Guard was the most presentable unit available to serve as Joseph's escort and he therefore assigned it to the command of General Merlin for the royal journey to Madrid.[33] When Murat learned of this "honor" bestowed on his Body Guard, he complained directly to the Emperor: "I beg Your Majesty not to forget that you yourself authorized my Guard.  I will be desolated if you take away from me this favor to which I attach such a great value."[34]

His protest did have some result, but not the one desired.  Murat eventually received permission to bring the 136 troopers of the dismounted company of the Light Horse at Bayonne to Naples where they formed the nucleus of the light horse regiment he created for the Royal Guard of Naples.[35] The 290 men of the two companies left behind in Germany were, however, incorporated into the successor Regiment of Berg Chasseurs formed by a decree dated August 29, 1808 and the Body Guard squadron in Spain remained at the disposal of Napoleon.  The Emperor eventually chose the Light Horse to escort  King Joseph to Madrid in mid-July of 1808 and then back again to the line of the Ebro River when the French were forced to evacuate the capital due to their disastrous defeat at Bailen.  The Body Guard could theoretically have been sent on to Murat in Naples at this point, but Napoleon was apparently unwilling to part with any troops until the military situation in Spain was stabilized by the arrival of reinforcements from the Grand Army.  By the time that occurred, Napoleon had already concluded that he had other plans for the unit.  On November 17, 1808, he instructed his Minister of War to inform the new King of the Two Sicilies that the Body Guard was being incorporated into the Imperial Guard.[36]  This development prompted one last anguished communication by Murat to Napoleon on the subject of the Berg Light Horse: "Sire, you could do nothing which more clearly proves your indifference for me or which wounds me more painfully."[37] There is no record of any response from Napoleon.

The Body Guard squadron of the Berg Light Horse thus found itself in the ranks of the Imperial Guard during the grand review of the army which took place at Madrid on December 11, taking its place to the left of the senior cavalry units of the Mounted Chasseurs, the Mounted Grenadiers, the Dragoons, the Mamelukes, the Polish Light Horse and the Mounted Gendarmes and showing a strength of four officers and 105 men.[38]  Napoleon's sudden decision that day to launch a pursuit of Sir John Moore's English forces had the coincidental effect of preserving the squadron's independent existence for yet a little while longer and, in fact, of giving the unit its most prominent combat experience.  The Body Guard was attached for operational purposes to the Mounted Chasseurs, and so it was present when Lefebvre-Desnouettes rashly led the Guard Light cavalry across the storm-swollen Esla River to attack the English rearguard at Benavente on December 29.  The French were routed, Captain Charinet of the Body Guard was wounded and the other ranks of the unit may have suffered some seven casualties.[39]

When Napoleon broke off his personal participation in the pursuit of the English, the Body Guard squadron accompanied him back to Valladolid and was formally disbanded there on January 11, 1809.[40]  All of the officers and 39 of the troopers (including almost all of those with Germanic surnames) were re-assigned to the regiment of chasseurs which had been created in Berg the preceding August from the remains of the Light Horse.  The rest of the non-commissioned officers and men (most of whom had French surnames) were incorporated into either the Mounted Chasseurs of the Guard or the Mounted Grenadiers.  The original Berg Light Horse unit had ceased to exist.      

Uniforms and Equipment

Lancer of Berg by Aaron Martinet
(From the author's collection)

The uniformology of the Berg Light Horse Regiment provides a splendid example of how difficult it can be to reconstruct the appearance of a particular military unit at a particular point in time.  Most secondary sources agree that  three separate and distinct uniforms -- one buff, one white and one gray -- were worn by the Light Horse during its brief existence, but the superficial solidarity of this consensus obscures the existence of a substantial number of unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) questions relating to the topic.  The plain fact is that there is little unambiguous primary evidence that indicates how the unit appeared, and much of what appears to be unambiguous is simply wrong.  Perhaps the only non-controversial element of the unit’s appearance is that the men undoubtedly wore the national cockade of Berg (a white disk with a red center).[41]

The first point regarding the Regiment's dress which can be ascertained with some certainty is that its actual uniform was not the first one envisaged by its creator.  In a letter dated May 21, 1807, Murat notes that he is waiting for General Marx to send him a recommendation with respect to the uniforms, armament, equipment and horse furniture to be used by the Light Horse, but he goes on to say:                               

For active service, I prefer a uniform in a light cavalry, that is to say Hussar, style: crimson dolman and light buff [ventre de biche] pelisse with white braid and buttons.  I am sending the model for the shakos.[42]

It seems that this notion of a hussar uniform was just a passing fancy, since there is no subsequent reference to that style of dress anywhere in the information relating to the Regiment, but there are at least two items in this passage that are worthy of note.  The first is Murat's stated preference for a crimson and buff color scheme, a striking combination that he had already used for the uniforms of his own aides-de-camp.[43]  The second is the mention of a particular model of shako (albeit without indication of color, style or other distinguishing features).  Taken together, these points provide the only verifiable underpinning for the detailed description of the unit's first uniform that appears in the earliest regimental history:

The ground color was light buff (ventre-de-biche); cuffs, lapels, piping, trouser stripes, shabraques and valises were rose-red.  The shako was the same color [rose-red?] decorated with a plate in the form of a lion, the armorial animal of the Duchy.  The epaulettes were white.  The parade uniform of the officers was white with rich silver embroidery; the undress uniform was gray.[44]

The conjectural illustration of this first buff uniform that accompanies this article assumes that the style of the uniform jackets worn by the Light Horse would have been similar to those worn by Berg infantry soldiers of the period (as depicted in the Hamburg Manuscript), and thus would have had lapels hooked together all the way down to the waist of the wearer.  The color of the shakos is so unusual as to be nearly incredible, but it is certainly a fact that light crimson French-style shakos were found in the regimental stores in 1808 and distributed to the Berg Mounted Chasseur regiment created by Napoleon as the successor unit to the Light Horse.[45]  Roger Forthoffer, the late French uniform expert, states in the second of his five uniform plates dealing with the Berg cavalry regiment (Fiches Documentaires Nos. 187-191) that the existence of a buff uniform is also confirmed by some contemporary sketches in the possession of Richard Knoetel and by an article in the Gazette de France for June 15, 1807.  Neither of these references could be traced for this article, although some information was found that suggests a notice concerning the creation of the unit did in fact appear in the Gazette de France for the date indicated.  Forthoffer even provides the detail that the uniforms were made by a tailor named Schumacher, albeit without supporting citations to the source of that information.

Even if this evidence suggests that Murat initially intended to dress the Light Horse in buff, the practical difficulties inherent in locating sufficient chamois cloth for that purpose soon caused him to change his plans.  In this regard, there is a revealing primary source document in the French Army Archives that may have been overlooked by prior researchers because its title misleadingly refers to the Berg "Hussars" rather than to the Light Horse.  This digest of correspondence relating to the Light Horse provides the surprising information that at least ten men of the Regiment were in fact dressed in a yellow uniform at the end of June of 1807:

The Grand Duke was informed this morning that ten men of his escort were uniformed in yellow because not enough chamois cloth could be found.  His Imperial Highness has charged me to tell you that not a single one of these men should be sent to Tilsit and instead they should be kept at Koenigsberg with the others.

You will suspend the uniforming process until further orders.  In the meanwhile, you are to have four uniforms made as quickly as possible (using the best men as models) and send them by the first courier.[46]

The four model uniforms referred to in the passage above were probably buff, but the number of buff uniforms made beyond that is uncertain because the subsequent entries in the register indicate that an immediate decision was made to consider alternate color schemes for the dress of the Light Horse.  On July 6, 1807, the Intendant General of the Grand Army was asked to make available from the magazines at Danzig all of the "yellow, ventre-de-biche, aurore, gray and white cloth" found there.[47]   A detachment of seven men and two NCOs of the Light Horse under the command of Lt. Luyarts subsequently collected the cloth and escorted it to back to Berg, stopping along the way to pick up other items of clothing and equipment at Thorn, Spandau and Berlin.  By the end of August, however, there was still no resolution of the basic difficulty, for one finds Murat writing in the following vein to General Marx (apparently referring to a detachment of the Light Horse serving with the Grand Duke): 

I wish to get them dressed but before I can do that I need to know which uniform has been definitively adopted and I therefore ask you to send me one complete model for a trooper, along with one complete model of horse furnishings.[48]

No reply from General Marx has been found, but the next bit of reliable information about the dress of the Light Horse suggests the conclusion that the model of uniform finally adopted was Polish in style.  That information comes from the following passage in the memoirs of Desiré Chlapowski, an orderly officer of the Emperor who encountered the Light Horse in June of 1808 on its arrival at Bayonne on the way to Spain:

A few days later, the two squadrons of lancers of Berg (Germans) arrived at Bayonne.  They had been equipped and dressed by Murat in the Polish manner.  However, one noticed a large difference between their attitude and drill and their uniforms, which were much more impressive.[49]

Since it is unlikely that Murat would have had the time, patience or money to organize two changes of uniform between August 1807 and June 1808, it seems reasonable to conclude that the uniform seen by Chlapowski was the one adopted by General Marx.  As with any memoir written long after the events being described, Chlapowski's account can be faulted on some small points.  For instance, his reference to "lancers" cannot be taken as firm evidence that the Body Guard Squadron actually carried into Spain the lances ordered for them in January, since just a few pages earlier in his narrative he also refers to the Polish Light Horse of the Guard as "lancers" even though they were not armed with lances until 1809.  Nevertheless, since he was a native Pole one can assume that he would be able to identify "Polish" dress correctly when he saw it.  Unfortunately, Chlapowski does not go on to explain what that term means to him, nor does he give any indication of the colors or details of the Light Horse uniform he saw other than his statement that the uniform as a whole was "impressive".  

Part of this missing information is provided by an inspection report dated February 9, 1809 with respect to one of the companies of the Light Horse that remained in Berg and was incorporated into the successor regiment of Berg Chasseurs.  While noting that numerous suits of the new green uniform were then in inventory, the report confirms that the company still had in use 88 "Habits-vestes blancs [white]", 88 "Habits-vestes gris [gray]" and 88 "Bonnets polonais".[50]  The white uniform was presumably for full-dress and the gray for campaign wear, and since the same term "habit-veste" is used for both, they were both apparently cut in the same style.  (Although there were and are no absolutely standard definitions for Napoleonic uniform terms, “habite-veste” was often used to describe a coat with lapels and short tails just like the kurtkas of the Guard lancers.)  The term “Bonnets polonais” undoubtedly means to a czapska headdress.   This report also refers to gray stable pants, sheepskin saddlecloths and armaments consisting of pistols, carbines and sabers.  Unfortunately, however, the report neither specifies a facing color, gives details of the style of the uniform nor refers to ornaments such as lacing, epaulettes, aiguillettes, plumes or shako cords.

Information about these other features of the Light Horse uniform are probably provided in a roundabout fashion by a contemporary colored print from the publishing house of Aaron Martinet that features a cavalryman of the "Cavalerie Polonaise du Grand Duc de Berg" mounting his horse (see accompanying illustration).  (There may be a second Martinet print with this caption that depicts a mounted cavalryman in the same uniform holding a lance, but it is not listed in the standard Martinet print inventory.)   Most experts, including Colonel J. Thomas, the author of the most authoritative modern work on the Berg Light Horse, and Roger Forthoffer conclude or assume that this print depicts a soldier of the Berg Light Horse.[51]  If that is true, then the print is a primary source of information about the dress of the Regiment since it can be dated with a reasonable degree of confidence to the  time period of 1807 or 1808.  Unfortunately from the point of view of simplicity of information, there are three reasons to believe that the print is more likely a depiction of the Polish Honor Guard raised for Murat by Poniatowski and not a picture of the Light Horse.  In the first place, the title of the print (“Polish Cavalry of the Grand Duke of Berg”) is more consistent with a depiction of a soldier in Murat's Polish unit than of a soldier of the Berg Light Horse dressed in Polish-style uniform.  In the second place, the print comes from the Martinet series entitled "Troupes Étrangères" [Foreign Troops] whereas the prints of Berg infantry by Martinet are found in the series entitled "Troupes Francaises" [French Troops].[52]  The third bit of evidence that the uniform depicted by Martinet relates to Murat's Polish Honor Guard rather than the Light Horse comes from an anecdote recounted by Baron Louis Francois Lejeune, an aide-de-camp of Marshal Berthier was also a celebrated military artist of his day, which can be dated to March of 1807:

On my return to Osterode, the Emperor . . . asked me what I thought of introducing their weapon [the lance] into the French army, and when I replied that I thought it was a good thing to do, he told me to design a suitable costume for a corps of French lancers.  Marshal Murat coming in during this conversation the Emperor said to him: 'You are to equip a hundred men in the costume Lejeune will design, and at once instruct them how to use the lance.'  Murat approved the rough sketch I made; he chose the colors, and formed the hundred men into the guard of the Grand Duchy of Berg.  The Emperor was pleased with the result, and later introduced whole regiments of lancers into his own guard and the army, retaining the uniform I had designed.[53]

Since this passage clearly refers to lancers and to a definitive uniform, it cannot (as a chronological matter) be referring to the Berg Light Horse, since we know from other sources that the unit did not carry lances until 1808 at the earliest and that the uniform for the unit had still not been decided in August 1807.  The most logical alternative is that the anecdote relates to the Polish Honor Guard company being raised by Prince Poniatowski at precisely that time (and with precisely that strength), and it clearly states that the style of dress worn by that unit was the same style of uniform which eventually was made famous by the Polish and Dutch lancers of the Imperial Guard.  Since the uniform depicted in the Martinet print discussed above meets that criteria (to such an extent that the same print with different coloring is in fact used in some plate variants in the Martinet series to depict the Polish Light Horse of the Guard), the conclusion that Martinet and Lejeune are both referring to the same uniform and unit is difficult to refute.[54]

Based on this reasoning, then, there is a strong possibility that the print of Murat’s Polish Cavalry has been misinterpreted throughout history.  Nevertheless, even if the controversial  Martinet print does depict the Polish Honor Guard instead of the Light Horse, it is still possible (if not likely)  that the information it provides is relevant to discussion of the dress of the Berg unit because it is hard to imagine Murat changing the dress of the Light Horse to a Polish uniform without copying, consciously or unconsciously, the uniform of his Honor Guard to some extent.  In other words, the print may contain relevant information because the uniform of the Light Horse was similar to that of the Polish Honor Guard, not because the print depicts a Beg Light Horseman. Unfortunately, it is simply not possible to ascertain the extent to which that copying may have occurred

Four other sources (two iconographic and two documentary) have the potential to provide the missing link between the Martinet depiction and the actual dress of the Light Horse, but their reliability cannot be definitively established.  If Forthoffer’s Fiche Documentaire No. 189  is correct, there is a portrait of Captain Reinach, the commander of the 2nd Guard Company, that shows the Captain wearing the exact uniform of the Martinet figure except that 1) his czapska has a gold sunburst plate with a silver center decorated with a gold “J”, 2) his aiguillette is on his left shoulder, 3) he has a single silver stripe down the outside of his trousers, 4) there is a black sheepskin covering part of the rose-red saddle cloth and 5) the ends of the valise (and the tails of the saddlecloth) are decorated with a silver “J”.  Unfortunately, Forthoffer  does not provide any indication of where this portrait might be found.  Forthoffer also reproduces a drawing of an officer of the Light Horse that he attributes to "Colonel Jolly", by which reference he probably means Louis-Claude Jolly, a Napoleonic cavalry officer and amateur artist known usually by the final rank of Colonel he obtained under the Restoration.[55] Jolly, who was a Captain Adjutant-Major in the Dragoons of the Guard in 1807-1808, could well have seen the Light Horse in person when it passed through Paris on the way to Spain, so if a drawing by him of the unit does exist, it would potentially be an accurate depiction of the uniform seen by Chlapowski at Bayonne.  However, the only public collection of Colonel Jolly's uniform drawings that is known today is in the Library of the French Army Museum, and it does not include a drawing of the Berg Light Horse.  That being the case, it is difficult to rely on Forthoffer’s reconstruction of this source, which differs significantly from his reconstruction of the Reinach portrait  in that 1) the jacket has white closed lapels with rose-red piping and yellow-metal buttons, 2) both epaulettes are rose-red with gold fringe and 3) the figure has a gold aiguillette on the right shoulder and rose-red tight-fitting trousers with a gold stripe down the outside seam.

Of the two documentary sources, one is German and one is English and neither can be established as a reliable primary source beyond the shadow of a doubt.  The former is a book entitled Die Bergische Kavallerie  . . . in Spanien und Sachsen (Dusseldorf 1842) written long after the Napoleonic period by a former lieutenant of the Regiment named Hermann.  That source records that the “full dress uniform was white with crimson red lapels, czapskas, pants, saddlecloth and valise and white epaulettes and shoulder knots”.[56]  Herrman goes on to say that the officers had silver [lace] and  that all ranks wore a gray undress uniform.   Colonel Thomas’ work on the Regiment refers to a similar description of the Light Horse uniform penned by an English officer in early 1809: “White ulanka [sic] and white epaulettes, rose-red czapska, collar, lapels, cuffs, overalls and saddlecloth, white buttons, and white lace on the lapels.”[57]  Unfortunately, no such description exists in the Diary of a Cavalry Officer in the Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns by William Tomkinson (London 1895) that is cited by Thomas as his source (without indicating a particular page).  The mystery of this reference deepens when one considers that it is unlikely that Tomkinson would have ever been in a position to observe the Berg Light Horse since he did not arrive in the Peninsula until April 15, 1809, three months after the Light Horse squadrons in Spain were disbanded, and he never left Portugal until he was invalided home in June as a result of wounds. 

We know even less about the uniforms of the musicians of the Light Horse than we do about those of the officers and other ranks.  Forthoffer presents a trumpeter in a light crimson, Polish-style uniform with white facings in Fiche Documentaire No. 187, but does not cite a source for that information.  The same uniform also appears in another secondary source, however, which attributes the information to some paper soldiers depicting the Light Horse that were painted by Fritz Boeswilwald in the mid-19th century.[58]  That same collection of paper soldiers is also cited as the source for a representation of a kettle-drummer of “the Light Horse of Berg” dressed in an opulent mameluke-style costume of white and crimson.[59]  Unfortunately, none of these descriptions or depictions can be reliably traced to a primary source. 

As noted above, Napoleon authorized Murat to make use of captured Prussian weapons, belts and bridles in order to complete the mobilization of his Regiment.   There is one indication in the relevant correspondence that not all the authorized items could be found with ease, but there is no reason to believe that the original materiel for the Light Horse came from any other source.  The only point for consideration is the possibility that the unit might have been re-equipped with French-style weapons and equipment at the same time it was re-uniformed. 

Although there is no evidence that the Light Horse carried standards into Spain, we do know that Murat ordered standards for each squadron in January 1808 and there would probably have been enough time for the Berg military authorities to put that order into effect before the unit departed for the Peninsula.  If standards were issued, it seems probable that it would have followed the model of the flags known to have been delivered to the first Berg infantry regiment in January (which are said to have displayed the same pattern on both the obverse and the reverse):  a square red standard with the coat of arms of Grand Duke Joachim (including the spirited motto "God, Glory and Women") on a white octagonal central field surrounded by gold laurel leaves and with gold wreathes in the corners enclosing the number "I".[60]  For the Light Horse, the corner wreathes would perhaps have enclosed the letters "C-L" (for "Chevau-Leger").

Sorting through the information presented above, one can see that only a few firm conclusions can be drawn about the dress of the Berg Light Horse:

1.     The first dress uniform of the Light Horse was a light buff jacket with rose red lapels and a rose red shako.
2.     The light buff uniform was never used extensively.
3.     The light buff uniform was replaced in or after August 1807 by a white Polish-style uniform.
4.     The white uniform was worn with a czapska.
5.     A gray uniform was worn as service dress throughout the Regiment’s existence.

Beyond these points, there are a number of important details about the dress of the Light Horse that remain unclear and, indeed, may be impossible to clarify unless new primary source information comes to light.  For instance, what distinctions, if any, were worn by the Body Guard squadron?  What was the dress of the trumpeters and did the unit in fact have a kettle drummer?  What happened to the lances ordered by Murat?  When did the changeover from the buff to the white uniform finally take place?  Further research in archives in France and Germany may provide some of the answers, as suggested by a footnote in Charles Schmidt's authoritative study of the Grand Duchy of Berg which provides an ironic and tantalizing finish to the story of the dress of the Light Horse.  Citing papers in the French National Archives which can no longer be traced due to intervening reclassifications of documents, Schmidt states that "Murat left the Grand Duchy without paying his military tailor, for after his departure the tailor, who had made 200 sets of clothing for Murat's Guard, tried, ultimately without success, to collect a part of his bill".[61]


[1] Demand submitted by Murat to Napoleon, July 1806, in Joachim Murat, Lettres et  Documents pour Servir à l'histoire de Joachim Murat 1767-1815, 8 vols. (Paris 1908-1914), Vol. 4, p. 267 (hereafter, “Lettres de Murat”).  Murat was so confident that his demand would be granted that he went so far as to have standards made for two regiments of "Uhlans Polonais", one of which is now in the Brunon Collection of the French Museum of the Army.

[2] Murat to Napoleon, 18 November 1806, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 4, p. 453; Colonel J. Thomas, Un Regiment Rhenan Sous Napoleon (Liege 1936), p. 13, n. 1.

[3] Circular to Hussar Colonels, 15 January 1807, Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre, Cote C*2 251.

[4] Lettres de Murat, Vol. 5, p. 142, n. 2;  Napoleon I, Unpublished Correspondence of Napoleon I Preserved in the War Archives (3 vols. New York 1913-1918) (E. Picard & L. Tuetey eds.; Louise S. Houghton, trans.), Vol. 1, p. 500.

[5] Regiment Rhenan, p. 13, n. 3.

[6] Murat to Berthier, 15 March 1807, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 5, p. 142.  This right was formally granted in June.  Journal de l'Empire, 21 June 1807, quoted in Lettres de Murat, Vol. 5, p. 142, n. 1.

[7] Berthier to Murat, 15 March 1807, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 143, n. 1.

[8] Murat to Poniatowski, 16 March 1807, Ibid., Vol. 5, p.142.

[9] Poniatowski to Murat, 19 April 1807, Correspondance de Prince Joseph Poniatowski (5 vols., Poznan 1921), Vol. 1, p. 59.

[10] Napoleon to Murat, 10 April 1807, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 5, p. 155.

[11] Murat to Nesselrode, End of May 1807, and Murat to Berthier, n.d. [End of May 1807], Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 180.

[12] Regiment Rhenan, p. 13.  Murat also said at one point that the unit would bear the name "Regiment of the Grand Duchess".  Murat to Nesselrode, 21 May 1807, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 5, p. 178.

[13] Von Eck, Geschichte des Westfalischen Husaren Regiment No. 1 1807-1903 (Dusseldorf 1904), p. 3.

[14] Von Ardenne, Bergische Lanziers- Westfalisches Husaren Regiment No. 11 (Berlin 1877), p. 3; Murat to Nesselrode, 21 May 1807, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 5, p. 178.

[15] Murat to Nesselrode, 21 May 1807, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 177; Regiment Rhenan, p. 114-115.

[16] Murat to Berthier, n.d., Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 180.

[17] Murat to Napoleon, 24 May 1807, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 181.

[18] Register of Correspondence entitled "Hussards de Grand Duc de Berg -- Pologne et Prusse -- Correspondance -- 1807-1808 -- du 15 Janvier 1807 a 21 Fevrier 1808", Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre, Carton C*2 251 (hereinafter referred to as the "Correspondence Register").

[19] Murat to Nesselrode, 3 January 1808, Lettres de Murat

[20] Murat to Nesselrode, 7 January 1808, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 240

[21] Murat to Nesselrode, 25 January 1808, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 258.

[22] Murat to Nesselrode, 7 January 1808, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 240.

[23] Murat to Nesselrode, 2 February 1808, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 267;  Murat to Nesselrode, 11 February 1808, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 269.

[24] M. Dupont, Murat (Paris 1934), p. 205; Napoleon to Clarke, 20 February 1808, Unpublished Correspondence of Napoleon, Vol. 2, p. 76.

[25] Murat to Nesselrode, 20 February 1808, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 5, p. 284.

[26] Decision, 24 March 1808, Unpublished Correspondence of Napoleon, Vol. 2, p. 141.

[27] Napoleon to Clarke, 20 February 1808, Unpublished Correspondence of Napoleon, Vol. 2, p. 78.

[28] Murat to Moncey, 12 March 1808, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 5, p. 332.

[29] Napoleon to Murat, 2 May 1808, Correspondance de Napoleon Ier (32 vols., Paris 1858-1869), Vol. 17, p. 52.

[30] Murat to Napoleon, 10 May 1808, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 6, p. 82.

[31] Napoleon to Murat, 30 May 1808, Correspondance, Vol. 17, p. 242

[32] Dupont, Murat, p. 228;  G. C. Dempsey, Jr., "The Basque Infantry Company of the French Army 1808-1809", Journal of the Napoleonic Association, No. 23, pp. 18-21 (Autumn 1982).

[33] Napoleon to Joseph, 8 July 1808, Correspondance, Vol. 17, p. 359.

[34] Murat to Napoleon, 14 July 1808, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 6, p. 218.

[35] Decision of Napoleon, [17] July 1808, Unpublished Correspondence of Napoleon, Vol. 2, p. 344.  A subsequent report by Count Beugnot to the French Minister of War specifies that a total of 136 men of the Light Horse followed Murat to Naples. 

[36] Napoleon to Clarke, 17 November 1808, Correspondance, Vol. 18, p.64.

[37] Murat to Napoleon, 3 December 1808, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 6, p. 437.

[38] Cmdt. Balagny, Campagne de l'Empereur Napoleon en Espagne (4 Vols., Paris 1906), Vol. 4, p. 53, n. 1.

[39] Ibid., Vol. 2, Appendix E.

[40] Regiment Rhenan, pp. 22-23.

[41] Decree of May 6, 1806 in Lettres de Murat, Vol. 4, p. 202.]

[42] Murat to Damas, Lettres de Murat, Vol. 5, pp. 176-177.   The color ventre-de-biche, which translates literally to the vivid imagery of "doe's stomach", cannot be identified today with any certainty, but it was clearly some shade of tawny brown.  The term "light buff" has been used in this article as a close substitute.

[43] Louis Maurer,  "Les  Aides-de-Camp Sous le Premier Empire", La Giberne, Vol. 13, pp. 1 - 16, at 11.

[44] Von Ardenne, Bergische Lanziers, p. 4.

[45] Regiment Rhenan, p. 83.

[46] Digest of letter to Nesselrode, June 30, 1807, in Correspondence Register.

[47] Letter to Intendant General, 6 July 1807, Ibid

[48] Letter to General Marx, 28 August 1807, Ibid.

[49] Desire Chlapowski, Memoires sur les Guerres de Napoleon 1806 -1813 (Paris 1908), p. 84.

[50] "Regiment de Chasseurs a Cheval du Grand Duche de Berg -- Revue d'Inspection du Fevrier 9, 1809 -- Situation de la 5e Compagnie" quoted in Regiment Rhenan, pp. 85 - 86.

[51] Regiment Rhenan, p. 84.

[52] The details of the numbering and captions of the Martinet series of plates are taken from  Costumes Militaires -- Catalogue des Principales Suites de Costumes Militaires Francais (Paris 1900) by "Un Membre de la Sabretache" [Glasser].

[53] L. Lejeune, Memoirs of Baron Lejeune (Mrs. Arthur Bell, trans.; 2 vols., New York 1897), Vol. 1, p. 52.

[54] There is a drawing attributed to Nicholas Hoffman in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris that depicts the same uniform, but the figure represented is identified as an officer of the Hanoverian Legion.  Since there is no other evidence to connect this uniform with that unit, one can only conclude that Hoffman was copying Martinet, but somehow mis-identified the resulting work.

[55] See generally, L. Margerand, "Le Colonel Jolly" in Carnet de La Sabretache (1928), pp. 65-69.

[56] The Hermann reference and other helpful material about the Berg Light Horse was kindly provided by Mr. Marcus Stein and Mr. Klaus Tohsche.

[57] Regiment Rhenan, p.  

[57] Regiment Rhenan, p. 82.  This reference is so blatantly incorrect that its presence in Col. Thomas' otherwise carefully researched text is almost inexplicable.  A review of known memoirs of the British retreat to Corunna (including the combat at Benavente) has not turned up any alternate source to which the information might be attributed.

[58] J. M. Bueno and Henri Achard, L'Armée Francaise et ses Allies en Espagne, 1808-1814 (Madrid 1972-73), Plate 156.  The locations of only a very few figures from the Boeswilwald collection are known today.  Even if they could be traced, these figures (and almost all other sets of so-called “Alsatian” paper soldiers) are themselves merely secondary sources of information.  See generally, Francois Lotz, Les petits soldats d'Alsace (Strasbourg n.d. [@1980]). 

[59] The kettle drummer of the Light horse is depicted in R. Wathier, Les Timbaliers de la Grande Armée (Paris n.d.), Plate 11

[60] Terry Wise, Flags of the Napoleonic Wars (3) (London 1981), pp. 5-6.

[61] Charles Schmidt, Le Grand Duche de Berg (1806-1813): Etude sur la Domination Francaise en Allemagne sous Napoleon 1er (Paris 1905), p. 151, n. 2, citing Series F7 6524, No. 1402 of the French National Archives.  With respect to the re-classification of documents, see France, Ministère de l'Instruction Publique, Archives Nationales, Les Archives Nationales -- État General des Fonds (Jean Favier, ed., 3 Vols., Paris 1978), Vol. 2, pp. 149, 155.


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