3eme Grenadiers-à-Pied de la Garde Imperiale 1810-1813
By Paul Dawson
The coronation of Louis Bonaparte on 16th June 1806 as King of Holland resulted in the formation of a Royal Body Guard on 4th July. The new Guard consisted of a regiments of Hussars, Chasseurs-à-Pied, Grenadiers-à-Pied and artillery.
Louis was a good King to his subjects and quickly realised that his brothers continental system would ruin Holland’s mercantile trade, the basis of its economy, and so allowed English ships into his ports. This lead to Louis being made to abdicate his throne and Holland being annexed by France by the Imperial Decree of 1st July 1810. Article 4 of the decree stipulated that
‘the Royal Guard was to be united with the Imperial Guard’
The remainder of the army was incorporated in to the armies of France. Marshall Oudinot commanded the army of occupation, which was to occupy the main towns and strategic locations. On 14th July,, with cries of ‘Vive l’Empereur, Lieutenant-General Lebrun, Duc de Plaisance ,was placed in command of the new departments of Holland.
In Paris, Napoleon applied great energy to the structure and administration of the new departments, the administration being based on the French model. Revue Inspector Comte Daru based in Amsterdam arranged the transfer of the Royal Guard to France and he was encouraged by Napoleon, for the recruitment of soldiers of other nations into the Guard. In recruiting these men, Napoleon hoped to bind them and their countries to the Empire. The Decree of 9 July 1810, which incorporated Holland into metropolitan France. On 13 September 1810, Napoleon began the process of incorporating the Royal Dutch into the French Imperial Guard. Though the Dutch Grenadiers would slip from the position of the Second to the Third Guard Grenadier Regiment and they never attained the status of "Old Guard" they did occupy a position of prestige and status within the French army. The 2e Chevauleger-lanciers de la garde (hollandaise), however, did rise from the status of Middle Guard in 1811 to the having its first five squadrons designated as Old Guard in 1813. The promotion to the status of Old Guard put the Dutch lancers on the pinnacle of the pecking order of the French army. How much more prestige could a unit be granted?
The support of Holland was important to France for several reasons and by making Dutchmen members of his personal guard Napoleon sought to show the Dutch that they were highly regarded members of French society. The military contribution of Holland to the regular French army was very small and consisted of four infantry regiments and some artillery. Its membership in the Imperial Guard, a grenadier regiment and a cavalry regiment (some 2,568 men) was quite out of proportion to its approximately 15,000 man contribution to the regular army. The significance of Holland lay in its commercial and financial support of the Empire, not its military resources. By making such a major portion of its contribution to the Imperial Army part of the Imperial Guard Napoleon sought to demonstrate to the Dutch people the esteem in which he held them, and thereby, bind them to him and his empire.
On 31 July, Napoleon ordered the transfer of the Royal Guard to France. They left Amsterdam on 5August after an inspecting, which lasted, from 11:30 to 14:00 by Comte Daru. Wearing their white uniforms, faced crimson with yellow brandenbourg lacing, bearskin cap with tall scarlet plume, the regiment made a magnificent site. The Grenadiers were commanded by General Sels (1762-1841). Capitain Pioch of the 1e Chasseurs-à-Pied de la Garde guided the guard, to the capital and was in charge of the columns’ logistics when in France. Marching from town to town, the Dutchmen reached Malines, to participate in the fetes for Saint-Napoleon on 15 August. Under a radiant sun they arrived at Valanciennes on 20 August, step-by-step they were approaching Paris and the ‘Tondu’, their new master. After a three day march, the 1,450 Grenadiers with their band at their head the Dutchmen entered the capital of the Emperor.
At 2 in the afternoon on 2 September, the Dutch troops took part in a grande revue outside the Palace of Saint-Cloud. The Revue before the Emperor started at 6 in the evening and ended at 9 at night, their way being illuminated by torches. Four days later, the Old Guard gave the new regiment of Grenadiers a welcoming reception at Versaille, which ended in an orgy of catastrophic proportions. Women were chased and attacked, men were beaten, and shops were rifled. Drunken soldiers committed outrages despite the best efforts of the police commissioner to stop them - the national guard was no match for the Old Guard, the best soldiers in Europe. Finally, towards midnight order was restored. The following day with splitting hangovers, the company commanders apologised to the Mayor to express their regrets and promised that the guilty parties would be punished.
Regimental History: 1810-1813
The Dutch officially became the 2eme Grenadiers by the Imperial Decree of 13 September 1810.
Article 1 stipulated that the Garde du Corps would be broken up, the 1st and 2nd Companies being transferred to the 2e Grenadiers (10 corporals, 99 guards, 1 fife and 2 drummers), 3e Company to the 1e Grenadiers-à-Pied and 3e Company (7 corporals 60 guards, 1 fife and 2 drummers) to the 1e Chasseurs-à-Pied. Forty-two Guards were incorporated into the Velites attached to the 2e Grenadiers. The 177 men destined for the 1e Grenadiers (10 sergent-majors, 161 sergents, 2 fifes and 4 drummers) along with an additional 108 guards were passed instead to the 2e Chevau-Leger Lanciers.
The Officers of the 1er Company, Colonel Avisard, Lt-Col Contamine, Capitain Luce, and 6 Lieutenants were transferred to the 1e Chasseurs-à-Pied, whilst the remaining officers were passed to the 1e Grenadiers-à-Pied, namely Lt-Col Roque, Capitain d’Hime, 6 Lieutenants, and Surgeon Jansen. The promotions of these men was as follows:
Article 3 saw the transformation of the Hussars of the Royal Guard into the 2e Regiment Chevau-Leger Lanciers, the famous Red Lancers. The German members of the regiment could transfer to the Berg Lancers or to one of the 4 Dutch cavalry regiments. The ex-Guard artillery company and train was incorporated into the Artillery of the Guard by Article 4.
Marshall Bessieres was to have the regiments organised by 15 September, the surplus officers and men to be transferred to other regiments of Fusiliers, Tirailleurs or Conscrits by 1 October. Empress Marie Louis was so taken by the Grenadiers white uniform, it reminded her of her fathers army (Austria), so the uniform was retained, but the yellow laced Brandenbourgs were removed, and new buttons of the guard pattern were adopted by Articles 8 and 9.
Of the men who had joined the 2e Grenadiers, 427 were neither French nor Dutch . Of these 287 remained with the regiment, 19 left the service, 53 demanded to be transferred to Dutch regiments serving in Holland, 16 to serve in French regiments, and 52 were ill in Hospital.
The new commander of the regiment was Colonel Ralph Dundas Tindal, who was of Scottish origin and entered the army in 1785. He was an excellent officer, and intelligent of immense capabilities. On 21 September 1810, Marshall Bessieres, assisted by Baron Felix, the Revue Inspector for the Guard, officially created the 2e Regiment des Grenadiers-à-Pied de la Garde at Versaille. It was organised like the 1er Regiment, having 1,600 men formed into two battalions of 4 companies each. When formed, the regiment had 46 officers, 8 sergent-majors, 23 sergents, 64 corporals, 16 Sapeurs, 16 fifes, 16 drums and 1,093 grenadiers along with 158 Velites (the future Pupilles), and 428 followers. Marshall Bessieres installed the Council of Administration with the prerequisite that the regiment had to be operational by 1 October.
The standards of the Guard had to be maintained so on 24 November 1810, the staff indicated to Bessieres that 26 members of the regiment did not qualify to be members of the Guard. To this end, 4 officers, 24 Sergents, 154 corporals and men were discharged from the Guard and passed back to the line regiments of Holland. To fill these gaps, 99 Germans who had the required service were taken into the regiment. They were 1 surgeon-major, 2 sergeants, 96 corporals and grenadiers. Of this number 3 were Italians, 15 Austrian, 6 Polish, 3 Pomeranians, 2 Swiss and 70 from the Confederation of the Rhine states. On 21 January 1811, 7 grenadiers (6 from the 3e Company and 1 from 4e Company) had gained a reputation for poor conduct, and were disciplined; 1 grenadier was hospitalised due to venereal infection, and 8 others from 2e Company were also hospitalised at Zutphen.
On the anniversary of the Coronation, the 2e Grenadiers celebrated like the rest of the Guard with a celebratory ball and meal. The music was lead by the newly appointed Tambour-Major Siliakus, some 2 meters 10 centimeters tall. Life in garrison continued throughout the winter of 1810, and moved to new lodgings near the Panthemont on the Rue de Grenelle-Saint-Germain. They were joined by 12 sapeurs and the Chef d’Musique Olivier for the guard mounting parades, which took place twice a day. In March, they relieved the 1e Grenadiers of their duties in guarding the Imperial Palace. In summer the guard would change at 9 in the morning; in winter at midday. For these parades, the grenadiers would be served their morning soup at 8 in the morning.
On 20 March 1811, cannon boomed across Paris, all waited for the 21 shot, announcing the birth of Napoleon’s son and heir. Ten days later, after a parade of the Guard through Paris, Napoleon signed a decree making the Velites of the 2e Grenadiers the Guards of the King of Rome, the official title of his son. These Guards, were best known as the Pupilles. The Pupilles were formed by Louis, and were the orphaned children of army officers and NCOs who had been killed on campaign, as well as taking the best children from the orphanages of Holland. The Pupilles were expanded by the Imperial Decree of 30 August, and it received its own administration. To furnish the required number of officers, the following men were transferred from the Grenadiers to the new regiment on 23 December in accordance to the decree of 6th December:
The Duc de Frioul proudly announced to Napoleon on 24 April 1811 that the 2e Grenadiers were full equipped and had a full complement of officers and men. Indeed, he was proud to note that 80 men had been furnished to the 4 Dutch regiments, and 20 had been returned home or promoted. Sergeant Melchoir Hoek had been promoted as Lieutenant-en-Second in the 127e Ligne on 8 April.
War with Russia was plainly coming, so Napoleon turned once more to enlarge his Guard. At Rambouillet on 18 May, he ordered the creation of the 2e Regiment des Grenadiers-à-Pied, taking back the old number 2. The 2e became the 3e Grenadiers, which would last for the rest of their history.
By June 1811, the Guard and the Empire was at its apogee of glory: Napoleon was Emperor of the French, King of Italy, Moderator of the Swiss, Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine, Viceroy of Italy, Naples, Westphalia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Wurtembourg; all of European monarchy from kings and Emperors to princes and dukes came to Paris to the baptism of his son. The infantry regiments of the Guard lined the processional way to Notre Dame. On 23 June a huge banquet was given by the Guard. The Emperor personally paid every guardsman 3 francs to thank them. On 30 June, at the Tuileries Palace, the 3e Grenadiers paraded before the Emperor to receive a new eagle. The ceremony began at 2 in the afternoon, the retreat was beaten 8 hours later to summon the Grenadiers back to barracks, but many did not leave Versaille until 2 in the morning.
Throughout June, at the request of the Empress, the 3e Grenadiers guarded her at Versaille, their white uniforms reminding her of home. Indeed, the regiment containing many German speakers, lead to a degree of familiarity growing between the Empress and the Regiment. Lieutenant-en-Second Jacobus Scharp (1781-1858) notes that the Empress would often bid him good night ‘Das braucht ja nicht immer, Herr Leutnant’.
For two years, or thereabouts, the regiment had been barracked in Pairs, with three months on guard at the Palace in rotation with the other regiments of the Guard. They had seen no fighting. The future for France was full of foreboding with the Tondu’s relationship with the Tsar deteriorating.
A great parade was held in Paris on 12 January 1812, to celebrate the New Year. In the same month the 3e took up duty as the Paris Garrison having completed their duty at Versaille. Inspections became more frequent and severe as the regiment was put through its paces. In February, a great number of the Guard was assembled to be ready to campaign in Poland. On 19 February, de Quaij, an officer in the Regiment, wrote to his cousin ‘ the 3e Grenadiers-à-Pied de la Garde leave tomorrow, the 20th, for Metz. We will pass through Paris. Its war!’ On 10 March, war was inevitable, and Napoleon decided that he would only take the eagle of the 1e Grenadiers on campaign, those of the 2e and 3e regiments to remain in Paris. The Old Guard (1e, 2e, 3e Grenadiers, 1e and 2e Chasseurs) was formed into the 3e Division, a total of 10 battalions, commanded by General Curial. Although only the eagles of the 1er Regiment were taken, the other regiments carried fanions in the national colours.
On 18 March, Napoleon ordered Bessieres and the Old Guard to continue their march to Wurzberg. The Guard marched in 3 columns with the 3e Grenadiers at the head. The Old Guard reached Wurzberg by 9 April, when Capitain Quaij noted that rumours about war were circulating throughout the army; that 4 regiments of the Young Guard were marching from Spain to join the Grande Armee as well as the Polish regiments in Spain. The rumours were right! On 10 April, Napoleon wrote to Berthier, ordering the Duke of Danzig to leave Mayence, and to take command of the division of the Old Guard, and for the Guard to join him in Dresden between the 20th and 25th of April.
On 23 April, at 8 in the morning, the Foot Guard entered Dresden, the Duke of Danzig joining them for the Parade. The Grenadiers and Chasseurs wore full dress with their sapeurs and bands at their head. The band of the 3e Grenadiers was placed at the Palace and played during a revue by General Tindal, who commanded the Grenadiers and Boyer de Rebeval who commander the Chasseurs. What a spectacle it must have been 5,000 bearskins with their red or red and green plumes. The 2e Grenadiers were dressed like the 1e, but were younger and fitter men and made a better appearance than their seniors.
After the parade, the 3e were billeted in the nearby village of Reitzensteins, and had now grown in number. A company of 200 women had attached itself to the regiment, acting as vivandiers, cantineres and blanchisseues, and were escorted by a detachment of Chasseurs-à-Cheval. A number of carpenters and workmen had also attached themselves to the Regiment. The Regiment’s stay in Dresden was obviously to the liking of many. Captain de Quaij noted that Dresden was a nice place, the environs being beyond description, and that it was in fact two towns separated by the Elbe River. He also noted that the King of Saxony was a good Catholic and that in church and chapel, music of a superior composition could be found. Many of the singers he notes were castrati and belonged to the Kings household.
Soon after, the Regiment was ordered to march at Night to Glogau, a journey of some 14 hours. The officers place their belongings in the regimental carts, while shoes and biscuits were distributed, as well as horseshoes for officers horses. On Sunday, 9 May, the Emperor accompanied by Marie Louise left Saint-Cloud for Dresden, being received by the King of Saxony on the 16th at Freybourg, and greeted by fireworks and salvos of artillery. One after another, the sovereigns of Europe arrive, the Princes of Weimar, Coburg, Mecklenburg, Grande duc de Wurzberg, the Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine, the King and Queen of Westphalia. On 18 May, the Emperor of Austria arrived; the King of Prussia on the 26th.
In Dresden, on 21 May, Napoleon wrote to Berthier to order the 2e Chasseurs-à-Pied, and 2e and 3e Grenadiers to depart Glogau for Posen to arrive by the 22nd. On 14 June, the Regiment arrived at Thorn where the Emperor had established his headquarters. In the town the depots and hospitals of the Guard had been established. Of the 1,200 men were suffering from the heat and dehydration: 300 men were in the existing hospitals, 600 were placed in the town hall, and 300 in other buildings. It was also here that Capitain de Quaij recalled that he and other members of the regiment would often hear the Napoleon singing when in the bath or at the toilet through an open window. This was because he liked to listen to the band of the 1e Grenadiers, which had been established at the Palace.
A revue took place the same day, and full of good humour, the Emperor had 14 NCO’s formed a line with the Sous-Lieutenants of the Corps commanded by General Tindal to be presented with the Cross of the Legion of Honour. After a brief repost, the Regiment departed for Osterrode where they would meet ‘father in law’ (The Austrian Emperor).
By 13 June, the 3e Grenadiers were at Heilsberg, and the 17th Insterburg, only a 20 hour march from Russia. The 20th of June saw the distribution of rations for six days, consisting of 12 ounces of bread, 5 ounces of flour, 1 ounce of rice. The officers checked that the men had kept their reserves fresh and had not eaten them. On 23 June, the Regiment crossed the Niemen River into Russia, with the band at their head and colours floating in the breeze. Slowly the Grande Armee crossed the expansive planes of the Russia. Many soldiers succumbed to the heat and fatigue in that hot summer, and as the columns marched through the vast forests the number of deserters increased. The army arrived at Vilna on the 28th. Although the town had been evacuated; it was where the regiment was billeted. Here food and drink could be purchased, a bottle of wine cost 5 francs, a cheese 4 francs, a small loaf 1 franc. After a day, four regiments of the Young Guard were placed in the same quarter of the town. Food cost too much even for the officers. Beef stew cost 6 sous and potatoes were sold individually.
The Emperor reviewed his Guard on 19 July, when 14 regiments paraded before him. After a rest of 6 hours, Napoleon ordered the army to advance to Gloubokie, upon reaching this destination the 3e Regiment had 38 officers and 1,074 men. Nearly 600 men had left the Regiment due to illness or desertion since leaving Dresden. Perhaps it was the lack of experiencing campaign life that made the 3e suffer more than the other guard regiments, as this was their first, and indeed last, campaign.
No bread, no water, dry hot dust clogging the eyes and nose, the men began to suffer, and many died from diarrhea. The retreating Russian army burnt or destroyed everything in its wake. Some officers were wishing they were back being bored on Palace duty than being stuck in Russia
On 16 August, the Army arrived at Smolensk, the town being defended by 120,00 Russian troops. By 1 in the morning of the 17th of July, Smolensk was in French hands. The stench of the quickly decaying corpses prevented the Guard from enjoying the pleasures of victory in the town. On the 19th, a Russian general, found hiding in the town, refused to surrender and was bayoneted by the Grenadiers. On the 21st, Capitain de Quaij noted that he was able to eat pain au raisin in a café. At midday he was able to purchase eggs, as well as some sugar for 8 francs and some beer for 4 francs. On the 24th, the army began to quit Smolensk, for the Russians were withdrawing to defend Moscow. The Regiment survived Borodino intact, like the rest of the Guard Infantry who saw no action even after repeated requests that the Guard would tip the battle in Napoleon’s favour rather than a long drawn out stalemate.
Napoleon entered Moscow on 14 September. Moscow was put to the flame which forced Napoleon to withdraw. By 10 October the 5 regiments of the Old Guard mustered 195 officers and 6,003 men; the 3e had 39 officers and 714 men, nearly 1000 men had been lost since July. On 19 October, the army quit Moscow after Napoleon had waited for nearly a month for the Tsar to sue for Peace. The retreat from Moscow had begun.
"Grenadiers, we are retreating without being conquered by the enemy; let us not be vanquished by ourselves! Set an example to the army. Several of you have already deserted your eagles, and even thrown away your arms. I have no wish to have recourse to military laws to put a stop to this disorder, but appeal entirely to your sense of duty. Do justice to yourselves. To your own honour I commit the maintenance of your discipline."
This was all that was needed to make the grenadiers firm as iron. In fact it was rather whipping the other troops over the Old Guard's shoulders, for amid the general panic that prevailed in the darkness, when all believed the enemy was upon them, Napoleon on his return, found them standing in perfect order, and ready to charge ten or ten thousand alike.
But the horrors of this march increased as he advanced towards the Beresina, and when he arrived near that fatal river, he ordered all his eagles to be burned, together with half the wagons and carriages of the army, and the horses to be given to the artillery of the Guard. He commanded them also to lay hands on all the draught cattle within their reach, not sparing even his own horses, rather than leave a single cannon or ammunition wagon behind. Eighteen hundred dismounted cavalry of the Guard were rallied into two battalions, although but eleven hundred of them could be supplied with muskets or carbines. All the officers of the cavalry of the army that still had horses, formed themselves into a "sacred squadron" for the protection of the person of the emperor; and with this and the Old Guard as a fixed and central orb to retain the vast and straggling multitude -- Napoleon, with a sack of poison on his breast to take in the last extremity rather than fall into the hands of the Cossacks, plunged into the gloomy forest of Minsk, and pressed forward to the desperate conflict that awaited him on the banks of the Beresina. Amid the double darkness of the night and the forest, thousands perished, and Napoleon with knit brow and compressed lip saw men in raging delirium constantly falling at his feet wildly entreating for help.
The frightful disorder that arose among the multitude during the awful passage of the Beresina, when the Old Guard at last began to cross, shows with what feelings the army regarded it. It was compelled to clear a passage for the emperor with the bayonet, though one corps of grenadiers, out of mere compassion, refused to exercise force on the despairing, pleading wretches, even to save themselves.
Still they stood firm. Napoleon had said to them, "Grenadiers of my Guard, you are witnesses of the disorganization of the army. The greater part of your brethren have, by a deplorable fatality, thrown away their arms. If you imitate this sad example, all hope will be lost. The safety of the army is confided to you. You will justify the good opinion I have had of you. It is necessary not only that the officers among you maintain a severe discipline, but also that the soldiers should exercise a rigorous surveillance, and themselves punish those who attempt to leave their ranks."
Having reached the opposite banks, they defended them during the succeeding days of storm, and battle, and death that marked the passage. It encamped near the ruins of Brelowa, in the open fields with Napoleon, also unsheltered, in their midst. During the day they were drawn up in order of battle, while the driving snow covered them as with a shroud; at night they bivouacked in a square around their suffering, yet intrepid leader. These veterans of a hundred battles would sit on their knapsacks feeding their feeble fires, their elbows planted on their knees, and their heads resting on their hands, doubling themselves up for the twofold purpose of retaining the little warmth they possessed, and of feeling less acutely the gnawings of empty stomachs. The nights were nearly sixteen hours long, and either filled with clouds of snow, or so piercing cold that the thermometer sunk to twenty, and sometimes to over thirty degrees below zero. Painful marches, fierce battles, tattered clothing, cold, and famine combined, were too much for human endurance, and in a few days one third of the Guard perished.
One who had seen that corps, on a review day in Paris, would not have recognized its uniform in the tattered vestments that half protected their persons. But they never murmured, never broke their solid formation, but clenching firmly with frozen fingers their muskets, struggled, and died at their posts.
The army was back at Mojaisk by the 28th of October, the ground was still strewn with the decaying cadavers from the battle of 7 September. The Old Guard rested at Ghjastk on the 30th and were issued with four days of rations from the remaining caissons. On the 8th of November the Old Guard entered Smolensk once more and on the 14th, they arrived in Krasnoi. It was here that the 3e Grenadiers would fight their last battle. The 16,000 men of the Guard fought against 35,000 Russians, and won, saving the army, but at a high price. Of the 380 remaining members of the 3e Grandiers, 36 officers and only 17 men would survive past this point. The 3e Grenadiers no longer existed.
The army arrived at Vilna on 6 December. The Old Guard had 1,312 men and 278 officers left. Only 500 were in fighting condition.
In January 1813, the Regiment consisted of 18 officers and 17 men. During the campaign, 6 officers had died (Charles-Jacob-Rudolphe de Quaij, Guilaume-Frederick Boebel, Jean-Etiene Ambos, Jean Thierry Ninebar, Gautier-Henri Paets , Jean-Herman Roskamp), 12 had disappeared since 12 December ( Jean Antoine Roevlink, Jean-Samuel-Ennemond Carteret, Gerard-Henri-Akersloots Van Houten, Louis-Otton-Antoine Bagelaar, Louis-Otton-Antoine Overreith, Abraham Jean Huygens, Jean-Hubert Janssen, Braskamp, Gualtere van der Hoeff, Gerard Bruigom, Francois Goosens, Joseph Troegg), and 4 were resting in the hospital at Vilna. Bernard George Tindal lost an arm to frostbite, which was amputated upon returning to France. The sick and wounded were evacuated from Elbing, and the Regiment was disbanded by an Imperial Decree of 15th February 1813.
The officers that survived were the campaign and returned to France were promoted to other regiments in the Guard.
Chef du Bataillon Georges: Chef du Bataillon Chasseurs-à-Pied
On returning to France, Capitain de Quaij wrote, ‘Praise be to God. The continual dangers and privations of the last 6 months, the privations and suffering is impossible to describe’. He Died in January 1813.
But its fame lasts. The courage that nothing could daunt the patient endurance under unheard of horrors, the sublime moral elevation of its character, its steadfast devotion to duty amid universal disorder, and which no bad example nor the last pangs of mortal agony could demoralize its lofty sense of honour triumphing over famine and death, will claim the admiration of the world till the end of time.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2004
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