Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics


Organization of the Savoy-Piedmont-Sardinian Armies 1792-1815

Part III: Enlisting into the French army December 1798 –1799

By Ludovic Isnard

In December 1798, the French, after gradually acquiring the authority of the kingdom, decided to end the situation, by demanding annexation of all mainland territories chasing away King Charles-Emmanuel IV.  All troops were relieved from the fidelity oaths.

The army was reorganised according to the French model and the 136 (!) general officers and most of the colonel underwent a true revolutionary purge.


Was  now formed of 3 line demi-brigades and a light demi-brigade, all with 3 battalion of 10 companies of 80 men (theoretically 2400 men per dem-brigade). Each battalion had 8 fusiliers companies, 1 grenadier and 1 chasseur company and were made of a former national regiment:

1st Demi-Brigade:            

1st Battalion:  ex-Savoie
2nd Battalion:  ex-Aoste
3rd Battalion:  ex-Lombardie        

2nd Demi-Brigade:             

1st Battalion:  ex-Monferrat
2nd Battalion:  ex-Saluces
3rd Battalion:  ex-Alessandria

3rd Demi-Brigade:

1st Battalion:  ex-Piémont
2nd Battalion:  ex-La Reine
3rd Battalion:  ex-Oneglia 

1st Light Demi-Brigade:            

1st Battalion:  ex-Guard
2nd Battalion:  ex-Light Regiment                                   
3rd Battalion:  ex-Pioneers and free corps

The Swiss regiments was disbanded on 5 December 1798, by the king but on  the 6th the Directoire ordered that the remaining 2000 Swiss were to form an auxiliary Helvetic Legion for the Italian army. Many Swiss officers shirked faking their nationality and entered the national regiment instead with the help of their Piemontese colleagues. Two Swiss Legions were finally formed of 2 battalions each (400 men per battalion).


Cavalry swas also reorganised and renamed to erase every trace of the ancient regime. First, 6 Cavalry regiments were created, each corresponding to a former Cavalry regiment:

1st Cavalry Regiment (former King's Dragoon)
2nd Cavalry Regiment (former Majesty's Chevau léger)
3rd Cavalry Regiment (former Piemont's Dragoons)
4th Cavalry Regiment (former Piemont Royal Cavalry)
5th Cavalry Regiment (former Savoy Cavalry)
6th Cavalry Regiment (former Queen's Dragoons)

But Cavalry, arm of the nobility, saw numerous desertion after the reorganisation, many of this soldiers had fight the French for the last 6 years. Therefore from February 1799 the cavalry consisted of 4 new regiments of Piemontese's dragoons.

The 2nd and 4th Regiments were actually made of the fomer cavalry (light and heavy) regiments whereas the 1st and 3rd Regiments were formed from the dragoons regiments

There were few Garde du Corps left, because since the annexation of Savoy and Nice the Savoyards were rarer and many Sardinian joined the king in his exile on Sardinia. The rest formed an elite squadron of horse carabineers (2 companies of 160 men) that served with the headquarters.

Artillery and Engineers

Already renowned for the great quality of its soldiers, the former Piemontese artillery was made of many non-noble officers. This helped its integration into the French system, while the French that were very anxious to add these experienced men.

In December 1798, 200 recruits joined the artillery regiment and the worker company now split into 2 new companies that joined the others (13th and 14th). The miner company was transferred to the engineer corps, which transferred the bridge build company to the artillery regiment

In February 1799, artillery was definitely organised into:

2 battalions of 8 companies each (comprising the 2 workers companies)
2 autonomous veteran companies used for garrison service.

The French were very suspicious towards the Piemontese troops at the start of the war against the Austrian and Russian commanded by Suvarov, and they split the brigades among the French divisions. In fact, apart for the logical desertion of the free corps, most of the soldiers fought loyally and many deserved the French generals respect for their behaviour on the battlefield.



Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2006


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