Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics



Tirailleurs de la Garde Imperiale: 1809-1815

"In war, I profit more from the Fusiliers and Conscripts than from
the Grenadiers and Chasseurs

Role of the Young Guard

By Paul Dawson


Napoleon never fully explained his reason for creating the Young Guard, but it was three fold.

Firstly the Young Guard was a source of trained cadre for other guard units and the army as a whole. In April 1811, Napoleon recognized that he had a senior cadre locked up in the 1er Regiment de Voltigeurs and the 1er Regiment de Tirailleurs and that they might be more useful if they were used to form a second chasseur regiment. The Decree of 18 May 1811, ordered the re-activation of the 2e Regiment de Grenadiers-á-Pied and 2e Regiment de Chasseurs-à-pied de la Garde, which was formed using the cadres of the 1st Tirailleur and 1st Voltigeur Regiments. The ranks of the Young Guard being filled with selected cronscripts, with the cadre coming from the Line.

Napoleon personally estimated this organization could give him sufficient cadres serving in his Guard to organize an army of 100 battalions. He estimated that he could draw 3,000 sergeants from the fusiliers and tirailleurs, 6,000 corporals from the tirailleurs and the conscrits, 600 lieutenants from the Old Guard and 600 sous-lieutenants from the various schools. To furnish this cadre, each Tirailleur and Voltigeur regiment was to have a company of Coporal-Tirailleur or Voltigeur, who were instructed at Bataillon d’Instruction de la Garde at Fontainbleau, where they were taught military practice and theory.

The progressive enlargement of the Guard and movement of personnel between regiments resulted in newly formed units having a percentage veterans who would stiffen the ranks of the mainly conscript army. However, this resulted in the accounts of the Guard becoming over stretched, in arrears and ‘a labyrinth which no inspector could find a thread’.

Secondly, the Young Guard became the main combat arm of France in the last years of the Empire, and was as noted previously, used as a way of combating desertion which was rife throughout the army.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2003


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