GUARDS OF HONOUR.
Since the establishment of the imperial government, there existed in the departments of France a kind of Guard of Honor which gathered in companies each time Napoleon had suddenly crossed the localities, and which escorted him on his passage, by sharing the service near his person with the squadron of his Guard that it even often replaced. This guard of honor was almost entirely made up of sons of families, rich and highly esteemed in the department.
On the return from the campaign of Russia, Napoleon thought of creating new resources by giving to these companies the organization of a permanent corps. This measurement, at the same time both political and military, suddenly created four regiments, forming a compliment of ten thousand riders, all young men, strong, well brought up and rich. It was necessary that the fathers offered a certain guarantee to the Emperor. The prefects were ordered to preferably choose the young men who had been kept away and who belonged to aristocratic lines.
These young people were intended to be made officers. The military spirit, inherent in the new generation of this time, was to serve the thoughts of Napoleon; there was still some loathing in some families to serve in a system contrary to their opinion; but once baptized by fire, the prestige of the Emperor did not have to do anything but grow.
The decree rendered at the Elysée, and of which we gave the text to in the preceding chapter regulated the raising and the organization of them.
Another decree of April 8, 1813 named the four colonels of these four regiments which all were major generals. These four regiments were completely organized; namely:
The 1st at Versailles, on June 11. The 2nd at Metz, on June 27. The 3rd at Tours, on June 6; and the 4th at Lyon, on June 8.
As of June 19, the first four trained squadrons were directed to Mainz. Then an order of the Emperor, dated July 27, enjoined to direct these four squadrons on Gotha. Two days after (29) a second order joined them together with the Imperial Guard. We will transcribe an also handwritten order, for firmly establishing the rank that the guards of honor held in the army and to fix uncertainties of many people in this respect, and more particularly those of a great number of officers of the old army.
[Guard of Honor (non commissioned officer), campaign dress, and Scout]
“Order of the Emperor who joins together the Guards of Honor to the Imperial Guard, dated at Mainz on July 29, 1813.
*Aide-de-camp of the Emperor.
In the current August and September, eight new squadrons of guards of honor, completely organized, started from their respective depots to go to Mainz; and on August 10, the time of the rupture of the armistice of Dresden, there were already ten squadrons with the army under the orders of the General Nansouty general, commanding the cavalry of the Guard.
On September 13, the Guards of Honor were in Dresden with the cavalry of the Guard. Since the resumption of the hostilities, this corps had been attached, the 1st regiment, with the horse chasseurs of the Old Guard; the 2nd with the dragoons; the 3rd with grenadiers; and the 4th with the Polish lancers. These regiments provided them instructors. A squadron of each regiment of the Guards of Honor served in turn near the Emperor, with the squadron provided by grenadiers or the horse chasseurs of the Old Guard.
For some time the Guards of Honor were the object of the jokes of the soldiers. Lacking military training, of theory and practice especially, and little experience with the practices in their profession, badly equipped, even more badly mounted, they had to undergo all the vexations and all the gibes which usually follow the conscript on his arrival under the flags. The greatest wrong of the guards of honor with respect to the soldiers of the Guard was to belong as a majority to the old nobility and to be, at the beginning of their career, compared to this valorous militia which had achieved the prestige that it occupied in the army only by many services and by the price of the blood poured out on the battle field. But as soon as the guards of honor were face to face with the enemy, the general opinion soon changed soon totally with all their connection. Leipsick, Haneau, Montmirail, etc, etc, transformed them to fight as valiantly as the winners of Wagram and Moskowa. Also the shortly after the resumption of Rheims, in March 1814, where the 3rd Regiment of the Guards of Honor drove into a corps of Russian cavalry and leveled it, with its standards, fourteen pieces of cannon, it was shortly after this glorious feat, let us say, the guards of honor being met by the foot grenadiers of the old Guard, in one of the processions through a suburb of Rheims, far from disputing the honors of the passage to them, heard these glorious French veterans exclaim: “Let us let pass first the brave guards of honor, this ground belongs to them, they can be proud to press it under the feet of their horses*.” It is that indeed, in this campaign of France especially, the guards of honor proved that they were also the worthy children of France.
*Victories and Conquests, V. XXV, p. 119.
At the time of the first restoration (April 1814) as high reward to the merit for the guards of honor the promise that was made to them (that they were to be retained as second lieutenants in the cavalry of line, after one year of service), was kept, and the doors of the military household of the king were opened to them, and an order, of June 8, 1814, placed at the disposal of the captains bodyguards of Louis XVIII, the non commissioned officers and simple guards of the four regiments of the guards of honor, to belong to this corps. They were authorized to bring with them their horses. Another order of June 24 of the same year pronounced their dismissal.
In consequence the 1st Regiment was laid off in Versailles, on July 14, 1814; the 2nd at Rambouillet, on July 22; the 3rd at Tours, on July 17; and 4th at Versailles, on July 15.
Notwithstanding, with the reorganization of the army many of officers and noncommissioned officers of the guards of honor were allowed in to the cavalry of the new royal guard with the prerogatives to which their quality and their ranks gave them right.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2006
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