Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics


 

Le 3e (Piémont) Régiment d’infanterie de ligne 1495-1815

By Eman Vovsib

One of the oldest regiments of the French army derives its history form the ‘bands of Piémont’ or as they were called Gens de pied delà les monts (troops stationed beyond, or east of Alps), which were created during the first stage of the Italian Wars (1494-1504).  On 21 February 1495, at the battle of Garigliano the condottieri of Milan under Rohan Gian Trivulzio (1448-1518) abandoned the Neapolitan army and joined the French.  After the battle of Fornovo, 6 July 1495, he returned behind the Alps, being a true ally of France.  In 1499, when the French army under King Louis XII (1498-1515) took Milan, Trivulzio was appointed governor; he had at his disposal 4,000 Gascon archers and 4,000 infantry français; in the same year he also became marshal of France.[1]

By 1507 the ‘bands of Piémont’ were reorganized and put on the French pay.  They took part in the siege of Gênes in Switzerland; famous chefs, such as Bayard, led them.  They were finally regulated by the Royal Ordonnance, dated 12 January 1508 prescribing “conduct and order of ours gens de pied”.[2]   They continued service on all phases of the Italian Wars (1512-59).  And they took part in the battles of Ravenne (11 April 1512), Marignian (13-14 September 1515) and many others…

France was one of the first countries in Europe who organized permanent regiments in the modern meaning of this word.  Credit is usually given to the Duke of Guise, who was trying to establish his power during the short regime of Francois II (1559-60).  However, the first real formations appeared during the Wars of Religion (1562-1598).  The 3rd Line could write its history from 1569, when Brissac’s Regiment was created.  It was named so after its proprietor, Count de Brissac (killed in 1582), colonel-general of all French infantry stationed beyond the Alps (or again, in the geographical area of Piémont) and son of the recently diseased Marshal Brissac.[3]  His assistant, or first mestre de camp – commander when Brissac himself was absent – was appointed Mr. De La Rivierè-Puytaillé, who was issued the royal patent on 27 May 1569.[4]  Finally, the unit accepted the name Piémont Regiment in 1584.[5]

Along with the Royal army, the Piémont Regiment took part in the many wars under the Ancient Regime.  The unit participated at the siege of Mannheim in 1634 during the last stage of the Thirty Years War (1635-48, so called “French period”, when France entered the war as Sweden’s ally), when soldiers surprised the enemy by crossing the frozen Rhin.  In 1635, along with the other regiments of the French army they stormed the fortress Saverne.  In May 1636, the regiment fought against the Spanish troops in Picardie and stood firm nearly 10 hours during the intense combat at the bridges near Corby on the Somme river, where the regiment lost 44 officers killed and wounded.  In 1640 they took part in the siege of the strong fortress Arras and until the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, the Piémont Regiment[6] participated in many campaigns and battles:

16 May 1643 – French victory at Rocroi by de Condé

14 June 1658 – Turenne crashes Spaniards at the battle of the Dunes, near Dunkirk

1667-68 – War of Devolution

1672-79 – French invasion of Holland

1683-84 – War against Spain

In 1690, the French army was subjected to some reforms  led by the Secretary of State, Louvois (1641-91).  Under the command of Claude-Hyacinthe de Faverges, Marquis de Rébé d’Arques, the Regiment Piémont included 193 companies totaled 9,650 men and 435 officers: 2 companies of grenadiers, 30 other companies forming 2 battalions and 161 garrison companies (divided in 13 battalions).  Each unit of the French army consisted of grenadier companies, colonel’s companies, lieutenant-colonel’s companies, and ordinary companies.  Each company in wartime had 3 officers: 1 captain, 1 lieutenant. and 1 sous-lieutenant (or enseigne in colonel’s company).  The garrison companies had 2 officers: 1 captain and 1 lieutenant.  On campaign, each company (theoretically) was composed of 2 sergeants, 3 corporals, 5 anspessades (companies’ cadets pursuing the officer’s rank), 1 tambour (drummer), and 39 soldiers.  In the grenadier’s company all 39 soldiers were armed with fusils (flintlock muskets), while ordinary regular infantry company consisted of 10 pikeman, 6 fusiliers and 23 musketeers  (armed with heavy matchlock musket, about 18.6 mm caliber).  The staff of each French include a major and aide-major (administrator and his assistant), 1 maréchaux des logis (the person responsible for troops lodging), 1 surgeon, 1 priest, and 1 pévôt (military justice).  Soldiers were paid daily: 32 sols for lieutenant, 11 for sergent, 8 for corporal, 6 for grenadier, pikemen, fusilier and musketeer.[7]  Pikes were finally abandoned by the Ordinance of 1 October 1703.[8]

Under this system, the French army required an officer to buy his military post.  Every year the King issued certain numbers of letter-patents and there were many those from various social backgrounds, who wished to serve in the army.  To certain extent, the officer was an “owner” of his post. Note that until the abolition of purchasing in 1776 the only positions that were officially recognized as purchase were those of captain and colonel, which were conferred by the purchase of a company or a regiment.  A company could cost between 6,000 and 14,000 livres; and infantry regiment from 22,000 to 120,000 livres (1 livre roughly equals $20  today).   The other officer grades were ostensibly non-purchase; however, colonels and captains frequently allotted these positions for financial consideration to recoup their own expenditures.  “ Positions in the Piémont Regiment are sold like a meat on the market… Length of service does not really mean anything.  All this haggle is just to benefit a colonel who hires anyone who are able to pay”.  However, this circumstance allowed bourgeois to sneak into the army even when the officer corps was a strict prerogative of nobility.  For example, in 1715 out of 120 officers in the Piémont Regiment, 34 were of non-noble descent (so-called roturiers, or the Third estate).[9]

Under this organization, the Piémont Regiment continued to serve on all fronts during the reigns of Louis XIV – Louis XV:

1689-98 – War of the League of Augsburg.

1701-14 – War of Spanish Succession.  Defeat of Marshal Tallard at Blenheim (4 August           1704) and Marshal Villeroi at Ramillies (23 May 1706); battle of Malplaquet (11 Sept. 1709).

1733-35 – War of the Polish Succession.  Fall of the fortress of Philippsburg (18 June 1734).

1740-48 – War of the Austrian Succession.  Famous French victory under Marshal de  Saxe at Fontenoy (11 May 1745).

1756-62 – Seven Years War

At the outbreak of the Seven Years War, the Regiment was under command of its mestre de camp Jean-Jacques Comte d’Esparbés de Lussan, who led the Piémont from 1 February 1749 till 30 November 1762. It consisted of the staff and 4 battalions.  On 1 February 1760, each battalion consisted of 8 companies of fusiliers, 1 company of grenadiers, and a staff.  The regimental staff comprised the colonel, 1 lieutenant-colonel (mestre de camp), 1 major, 1 aide-major, 1 chaplain and 1 surgeon.  Note that the ordinance on 1 January 1755 restored the colonel and lieutenant-colonel’s privilege to command the two senior companies.

The fusilier companies consisted of 1 captain, 1 lieutenant, 2 sergeants, 3 corporals, 3 anspessades, 74 fusiliers, and 1 drummer.  The company of grenadiers: 1 captain, 1 lieutenant, 1 sous-lieutenant, 2 sergeants, 3 corporals, 3 anspessades, 36 grenadiers, 1 drummer.  The companies, however, were never complete, because of insufficiency of recruitment, wounds, diseases, desertions, or imprisonments…[10]  

In this last big European affair before the Revolution, the Piémont Regiment took part in the French defeat at Rossbach on 5 November 1757. They also participated in several small combats of 1758-59 in Hesse and Bergen.  On 28 January 1760, the regiment was ordered to return to France, for reorganization; its officer corps was cut in half!

The Piémont Regiment joined the army in Germany at Metz, in March 1761.  They were placed at the camp of Wessel, on the right flank of the army.  On 16 July, the regiment was already in action at Schedingen under Marshal de Broglie. It participated in the attack on Wolbeck and was at the siege of Meppen.  Until May 1762, the Piémont was at the camp of Rees, completing a reserve of the prince Condé Bourbon, commanding on the lower Rhine.  In the affair of 25 August, the regiment, while a part of the brigade, was placed on the right of the order-de-bataille, along with companies of grenadiers and chasseurs, defending 8 pieces of artillery… They also took part in combat of Johannisberg in September, but the Piémont Regiment appeared just after the allies had already abandoned the battlefield.  The regiment returned to France at the beginning 1763 and was ordered to Saint-Omer.  The Piémont was stationed in Cambrai in May 1764 and then transferred to Lille in October 1765.  It returned to Saint-Omer in May 1768, but then the regiment went to Calais in October 1769; and Douai in October 1772.[11]

In 1776, based on military reform, the Piémont Regiment was assigned white coats with  black facings and yellow buttons; they were given the Number 3, in accordance with its seniority.  Since 18 April, Colonel Jean-Henri Morel de Groslée, Comte de Peyre, commanded the regiment. The Regiment was sent to Toulon, were it arrived in May 1776 and soon after embarked for Corsica. The Piémont was garrison at Saint-Florent, from July 1776 through July 1779, when the Regiment returned to the mainland.  A new Colonel was appointed on 13 April 1780 -- Mari-Gabriel-Joseph-Henri, Marquis de La Fare.  They were again stationed at Toulon, were they remained until 1783.  The Piémont Regiment met the Revolution while at the camp of Grenoble under command of its last Colonel of the Ancient Regime, Louis-Marie-Jacques-Amalarie, Comte de Narbonne (1755-1813), appointed on 28 October 1789.[12]  Note that this commander, later known as Narbonne-Lara, became  Général de division and Comte under the Empire; he served as an aide-de-camp to the Emperor Napoleon, 24 December 1811 and was appointed an ambassador to Vienna, in 1813.[13]

The Law of 1 January 1791 directed that the regiments cease using their royal names and be known only by the numbers, therefore the Piémont Regiment became known as the 3eme Régiment d’Infanterie.  The regiment took part in the battle of Jemmapes, on 6 November 1792.  They were at the Jura, Alsace and Lower Countries (Pays-Bas or the Austrian Netherlands), until February 1796; time when the Regiment rejoined volunteers at Strasbourg and its strength arose to 2, 565 soldiers and officers[14] under command of its new Chef de brigade Pierre Martilliere (1759-1807).  During this period they were  subject of two amalgamations, that is a process of intermingling of battalions of the old. regular army with volunteers.  By decree of the 1 February 1796, the 3eme demi-brigade d’Infanterie de Ligne was formed from the following units:

91e demi-brigade de bataille (consisting of the 1ere battalion of the 46eme Regiment d’Infanterie, volunteers of Jura and de l’Ain)

127e demi-brigade de bataille (consisting of the 1ere battalion of the 68eme Regiment d’Infanterie, volunteers of Haute-Rhin and de la Aute-Marine)[15]

Since 1798, they were part of the Army of Italy, commanded since 26 May 1798 by Chef de brigade Georges Mouton (1770-1838, future Général de division and Comte under the  Empire).  They were positioned at Genoa and La Verriera.  On 24 September 1803, the term “regiment” was restored and the unit became the 3eme Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne.  Its commander was Colonel Laurent Schobert (1763-1830, Général de brigade on 6 August 1811), appointed 1 February 1805.[16]

At the beginning of the War of the Third Coalition, the 3eme Ligne, it was part of the 3rd Division of General Legrand,  of the IV Corps of Marshal Soult. It was stationed at the Boulogne Camp.   After it was realized that it became impossible to invade England, in  late 1085 the Emperor marched forth from Boulogne with his new acolytes to capture Vienna and defeat the power of Austria and Russia. Marching in the center of the great wheel that encircled Ulm, the 3eme Ligne took part in capturing Augsburg, Landsberg and Memmingen to emerge in a blocking position some 30 miles to the south of the main target at Ulm, where Austrian General Mack eventually capitulated on 20 October.[17]  Pursuing the Russians, the 3eme Ligne took part at the rear-guard combat at Hollabrünn (16 November 1805), fighting around the bridge at Schöngraben.   At Austerlitz (2 December), it was Soult’s corps that was chosen for the decisive central attack upon the Pratzen Hills.  However, during the night, parts of the 3rd Division of General Legrand was committed on the right flank, where the 3eme Ligne recaptured the village of Tellnitz from a force of the Austrian Chevau-legers.  On the next day of the battle it was the place, which the 3eme Ligne along with the Legion Corse held against five battalions of the 1st Regiment Sczéklers and the Border Croats at the lower Goldbach stream. Well-positioned among the vineyards and houses, the French got in several telling volleys as the Austrians launched a direct attack. The first attack failed and in the course of an hour the Austrians delivered perhaps as many as five attacks.  The 3eme Ligne gallant fight earned them the nickname “fermeté du 3eme de Ligne”.[18]  Perhaps, back then they created an unofficial motto of the Regiment: “Résolus de crever plutôt que de ne pas tenir bon”  (Approximate translation: “Ready to burst rather then not to stand firm).[19]  After sustaining heavy loses, he regiment was finally evicted from Tellnitz and retired to the rear to be reformed.  Marshal Davout sent the 1st Dragoons and the 108eme Ligne to assist and the situation was restored.[20]

During the summer campaign of 1807, the 3eme Ligne was part of the Reserve Corps under Marshal Lannes and was in the 2nd Division of General Verdier. It was brigaded with the 72eme Ligne (General Harispe’s brigade). They participated in the combat of Heilsberg, 10 June 1807.  Being in reserve for the whole day, Lannes moved General Verdier’s division only at 10:00 p.m., when the battle was almost over.   The infantry battalions’ of 3eme and 72eme, supported by the 75eme Ligne of  Legrand’s division, were led again to storm redoubts before Heilsberg, which had been repeatedly assaulted by the French army all day… However, this attack was cut off by the strong Russian artillery fire; it cost the French nearly 2,300 men…The 3eme alone lost 33 officers and 920 soldiers killed and wounded, including its commander, Colonel Chobert, who was wounded.[21] 

Napoleon began to concentrate his forces.  He gave Lannes the advance guard of the army with orders to move in the direction of Friedland, on 13 June 1807. Reaching the Pothenen village, (10 miles west off Friedland) that evening, Lannes’ cavalry and Oudinot’s grenadiers held the ground under heavy Russian gunfire and cavalry attacks. Lannes reported to the Emperor that he would try to keep the Russian forces engaged on the left side of the Alle River until the army arrived. 

At 9:00 a.m., a force of 9,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry was arranged to hold a position four miles wide against 46,000 Russians!  The French tried to stand firm under heavy attacks, but the fire was immense.  Around 10:00 a.m. Verdier’s Division approached, to support the bleeding regiments – and the 3eme Ligne was immediately sent into the battle.  Napoleon reached the battlefield at noon and he ordered a general attack on the Russian army at 5:00 p.m.  Lannes’ infantry supported by Sénarmont’s artillery fire advanced slowly into the burning town of Friedland, driving the enemy back…The 3eme suffered heavy loses: 720 soldiers and 21officers.  Therefore, within less than a week, the regiment lost 1,704 men or nearly 50 per cent of its initial force![22]

After the Treaty of Tilsit was signed on 25 June, the 3eme Ligne returned to France.  It was scheduled to receive a new uniform.  The 1st Battalion  was issued the new white uniform, “Imperial green” facings. Under the command of Major François Duclos, its 825 men had passed before the Inspector General Schauenbourg in Strasbourg, on 1 November 1807; the rest of the Regiment was in Dantzig along with its colonel.[23]   However, the blue uniform came back in the next year.

The war with Austria in 1809, saw the 3eme Ligne, still commanded by Colonel Chobert. Once again it was part of Marshal Lannes’ II Corps (3rd Division of Louis St.-Hilaire, brigade Lorencez’s). The 3eme Ligne was composed of 3 battalions and had approximately 1,860 men.   The Regiment first covered itself with glory at Eckmühl, on 22 April 1809.  Here, after his success at Abensberg two days earlier, Marshal Davout was left with 20,000 men to control the area, while the greater part of the Grande Armée was pursuing what proved to be only the left wing of the Archduke Charles’ army.  But Davout faced the main body of the Austrians -- nearly 70,000 men. After heavy combat, his troops, outnumbered, started losing ground. Napoleon had ordered Lannes to hasten northward from Landshut to Davout’s aid.  Around 4:30 p.m. it was the 3eme Ligne along with other units of the Lannes’ Corps, which fell with a will on the Austrian IV Korps, holding the eastern approaches to Eckmühl.  By nightfall the French were masters of the city and both Austrian flanks were driven in.[24] This battle cost the Regiment 27 officers and 520 men killed and wounded.[25]

At the battle of Essling, on 21 May, Lannes crossed from Lobau Island and was pressing the Austrians at Aspern.  The 3eme Ligne along with the division took an important part in the action and helped capture an entire enemy battalion, five guns and a flag.  Noticing a gap in the Austrian forces Napoleon ordered  an attack there.  By 7:00 a.m. the next morning, Lannes’ three assault divisions were in position along the Aspern-Essling road.  They advanced en echelon, with St.-Hilaire’s on the right leading.  The Austrian artillery had begun to pour a devastating fire into the oncoming French.  With support of the French cavalry the heavy battle continued. The Austrians were driven back toward the village of Breitenlee. But by 9:00 a.m. Lannes’ men, suffering mounting casualties and low on ammunition received an order to withdraw to its original position; the bridges were under fire, and support could not reach his troops… By midday the French were back behind the Aspern-Essling road.  The great breakthrough attempt was failed.  Among the casualties was the 3rd Division commander, General St.-Hilaire, mortally wounded when his left foot was shot away.  At 2 p.m. Austrians finally won control of Aspern.   At 4:00 p.m., Napoleon withdrew to the Danube and organized the final retreat during which Lannes had both his legs smashed by a cannonball.[26]   The 3eme lost 27 officers and nearly 500 soldiers killed and wounded.[27]

The new battle at Wagram flamed up on 5-6 July 1809. General Oudinot was appointed the II Corp’s commander, in place of Lannes, who died on May 31.  The 3eme Ligne was still part of the 3rd Division under a new commander, General Charles-L-D. Grandjean.  At 9:00 p.m. on the 4th, under the cover of a convenient thunderstorm, the leading elements of the Oudinot’s assault troops crossed by boat the Danube at Stadtler Arm and were marching on to the Marchfield.  By 4:00 a.m. on the 5th, leading his men forward, Oudinot encountered elements of the Austrian Jägers and pushing these outnumbered light troops back until they reached Sachsengang Castle.   When resistance broke, Oudinot’s divisions marched to a position on the Russbach stream, opposite the Baumersdorf (road Adreklaa-Markgrafneusiel), against the II Austrian Korps under Fieldmarshal-lieutenant Hohenzollern.  While the 3eme Ligne stormed the village, the 10eme Légère and 57eme Ligne of the Grandjean’s division launched a flanking attack to the right.  The battle around Baumersdorf was very persistent, and continued until noon of the 6th May.  But this assault allowed Napoleon to concentrate his troops in the centre.  Oudinot received the order to storm the escarpment and dislodge Hohenzollern’s troops, while at the centre Macdonald was to lead his famous massed attack supported by artillery of 102 guns under General Lauriston. In the heavy fighting, Grandjean’s division pushed the Infantry Regiment d’Aspre under command of General-Major Wied-Runkel. Marshal Davout’s capture of Markgrafneusieldt created pressure on the left forcing the Austrian to abandon Baumersdorf.[28]  The 3eme Ligne lost in this battle 19 officers and nearly 400 men killed and wounded; Colonel Chobert also was wounded.[29]

The Regiment returned to Paris in 1810, just to be sent to Spain the next year.  Under command of a Colonel Louis Ducouret, who was appointed 7 September 1811, the 3eme was part of the Marshal Soult’s l’armée d’Andalousie.  In 1812, the Regiment took part in actions against the Anglo-Portuguese army at Sanguessa and Bilbao.  The next year they saw action at the Bidassoa crossing, on 7 October 1813; then at Nivelle and Bayonne. Mostly, it was maneuvers and contre-maneuvers, exhausting troops with no results.   Soon, war entered the territory of France.

After its exit from the Peninsula, the 3eme was under command of Colonel Claude-Marcele Delson (appointed 25 November 1813, after death of Ducouret) and was placed at the garrison of Strasbourg, thus assisting troops coming back from the disastrous Russian campaign.  The Regiment took part in the campaign of France in 1814 and under command of its new colonel, Hubert Vautrin, distinguished themselves at Bar-sur-Aube and Arcis-sur-Aube, on 20-21 March.

Under the First Restoration the 3eme was renamed into the Dauphin Regiment and was stationed at Douai.  With the return of the Emperor in 1815, the Regiment was renamed  the 3eme Ligne.  These “last soldiers of the last war” took part in the battles of Ligny and Waterloo. Led by Colonel Vautrin, they were part of brigade of General Bauduin of the 6th Division, under the command of Prince Jérôme Bonaparte.[30] They were part of the unsuccessful storming Hougoumont. The Regiment lost in these repetitive assaults 25 officers and nearly 460 soldiers killed and wounded.  Colonel Vautrin, leading his men in the attacks, was also wounded.[31]

Along with the other regiments of the Napoleon’s army, the 3eme Ligne was finally disbanded in September-October 1815.

Battle honors on the color of the 3eme Ligne Regiment (Model 1812):    

ULM – AUSTERLITZ – IENA[32] – FRIDLAND – Eckmühl – ESSLING – WAGRAM

Today, the 3eme Ligne motorized Infantry Regiment is stationed at Nîmes, in southern France.  In March 1995, the Regiment celebrated its 500th Anniversary and invited many re-enactors from around the Europe to participate in the occasion. Traditions of the Piémont live!

Notes:

[1] Susane, Histoire de l’infanterie française.., vol. 1, pp. 229-30.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Wood, James B. The King’s Army Cambridge; 1996. p. 86.

[4] Susane; vol. 1, pp. 228.

[5] Bucquoy, Cdt. Les Uniformes du Premier Empire. L’Infanterie Paris; 1979. p. 66.

[6] Bucquoy;  p. 66; also E.V. unpublished manuscript on the  French officer corps.

[7] Belhomme, Victor.  L’armée Française en 1690 Paris; 1895.

[8] Chartrand, René. Louis XIV’s Army  Osprey, 1988. p.18.

 [9] Tuetey, Louis. Les Officers sous l’ancien régime Paris; 1908. pp. 134-37, 153.

[10] Vial, Jean. France Infanterie (unpublished manuscript).

[11] Susane;  vol. 1, pp. 282-83.

[12] Ibid., p. 284.

[13] Six, Georges. Dictionnaire Biographique des généraux & amiraux… Paris; 1934. p. 250.

[14] Bucquoy; p. 66.

[15] Nafziger, George. The French Army (Unpublished manuscript).

[16] Quintin, D. & B. Dictionnaire des colonels de Napoléon Paris; 1996.

[17] Chandler, David.  Napoleon’s Marshals New York; 1987. p. 465.

[18] ‘The firm 3rd Line”.  Bucquoy; p. 68.

[19] E.V. unpublished manuscript.

[20] Duffy, Christopher. Austerlitz, 1805 Seeley; 1977. pp. 91, 104, 109.

[21] Shikanov, Vladimir. The First Polish campaign “Reitar”No. 31; 2002 (Russian manuscript). pp.235, 276; also: Martinien, A. Tableaux par corps et par batailles des officiers tués et blesses… Paris; 1899.

[22] Shikanov;  p. 576.

[23] Rigo. Le Plumet. – 3e Regiment, Drapeau 1804-1809 (Planche 60, privately published)

[24] Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars New York; 1993. p. 126

[25] Martinien.

[26] Castle, Ian. Aspern & Wagram Osprey, No. 33. pp. 45-47, 53; also, Chandler; p. 211.  

[27] Martinien.

[28] Castle; pp. 58, 60-82.

[29] Martinien.

[30] Bucquoy; p. 68

[31] Martinien.

[32] Issued by mistake, the Regiment did not participate in this battle (E.V.)

 

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