Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics


Napoleon’s Polish Lancers

By Paul Dawson

Mr G. Lubomski, Capitaine of the reconstructed Polish Lancer Regiment, in wearing ordinary, or service full dress

The Chevau Legers Polonais de la Garde Imperiale were created by Napoleon on his entry into Warsaw in 1807. He was escorted by a honour guard composed of Polish noblemen whose bearing and loyalty so impressed him that he ordered the formation of a regiment of Polish light horse and attached them to his Imperial Guard. Upon its creation the regiment comprised of four squadrons and a headquarters staff, which totalled 968 men. Candidates for the regiment were required to be landowners or the sons of landowners between the ages of 18 and 40 and were to furnish their own horse, uniform, equipment, and harness to a set pattern.

The regiment was quartered at the Chateau of Chantilly near Paris, but for most of its existence it was on active service in Spain and Europe. It was during its service in Spain in 1808 that the regiment was officially taken into the Old Guard after it's heroic charge at Somosierra. Here the 3rd squadron attached to the Emperor’s duty squadron was ordered to charge up the Somosierra Pass where four Spanish batteries had been entrenched and supported by Spanish Infantry in the hills above. The Poles, without a second thought, charged up the pass taking fifteen cannons and captured the batteries, at the cost of more than half the squadron killed and wounded.

'It does not matter,' I exclaimed; 'the Emperor is there and he insists on the thing being settled. Come, Commandant, the hour will be ours, advance by squads, and forward!' ... I had hardly had time to draw my sword from my scabbard, before they had begun their charge in a column... We charged at full speed, I was about ten paces in front with my head bent down, uttering our war cry…..’

So wrote de Segur of the Polish Lancers at Somosierra.

The Lancers Barracks in Warsaw

Following the battle of Wagram in 1809 and shortly before sections of the regiment entered Spain for the second time, the Poles were issued with the lance; their national weapon, which they used with such devastating effect against their enemies. Consequently, the regiment was renamed the Regiment de Chaveau - Leger Lanciers Polonais de la Garde Imperiale.  

On 13 September 1810, Napoleon began the process of incorporating the Royal Dutch into the French Imperial Guard, and so impressed by the record of the Polish Lancers, that a second Lancer regiment was raised for the Guard. The 2e Chevauleger-lanciers de la garde (hollandaise), rose 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, thus both Napoleon.s lancer regiments were formed for political reasons.

In 1812, a fifth squadron was formed and the regiment now totalled 1,500 men upon its entry into Russia. The regiment served with distinction during this campaign being engaged at Smolensk and at the battle of the Moscova (Borodino). During the retreat, the Poles once again distinguished themselves when, in the early hours of  25 October, near the small village of Horodina, the Emperor and his headquarters staff were attacked by cossacks. Part of the Honour Guard that day was formed from the 1st Squadron of the Regiment, under the command of Chef. Esq. Kozielulski. The cossacks were counter-charged in the near darkness by Lieutenant Joachim Hempel together with the Chausseurs-à-Cheval of the Guard. During the struggle Kozielulski, in personal defence of the Emperor, was pierced in the upper left arm by a cossack pike. For his service to the Emperor, Kozielulski was soon promoted to Major.

Polish Lancers of Association Britannique de la Garde Imperiale at the memorial to the Imperial Guard and Polish Lancers, Waterloo, 1995

During the retreat the 1st Polish Guard Lancers wisely had their horses rough shod and managed to save two hundred horses out of a thoU.S.A. nd. The Dutch 2nd Regiment was only able to save a few officers’ mounts.

After the Russian Campaign, remnants from the 3rd Guard Lancers were incorporated into the 1st Regiment, and together with other replacements, allowed the unit's strength to increase to seven squadrons by July 1813. In December of that year,  following the disaster of Leipzig, the regiment was reduced once more to four squadrons.

With the abdication of the Emperor in the Spring of 1814, a single squadron of 150 men under Lt. Col. Jerzmanowski accompanied the Emperor to Elba with only 22 men being mounted. When Napoleon returned to France for the 100 Days campaign, the lancers marched with him carrying their saddles on their backs. The regiment could not be reformed, as what existed of it in 1814 had been disbanded and returned to Poland. However, the Poles were able to form a squadron which was incorporated into the 2nd Dutch Lancers as the senior squadron in its own right. This squadron fought bravely during Ney's great cavalry attacks on the British centre at Waterloo. The Poles were recorded to have been one of the only French cavalry units to have charged in full dress uniform.

Battles and Campaigns

Spanish Campaign

14th July 1808 - Medina del Rio Seco
10th October 1808 - Burgos
30th November 1808 - Somosierra

Austrian Campaign

22nd May 1809 - Essling
6th July 1809 - Wagram

Russian Campaign

28th June 1812 - Wilno
22nd July 1812 - Mohylów
16th August 1812 - Smolensk
7th September 1812 - Borodino (Mozajsk)
25th October 1812 - Malo - Jaroslawiec
17th November 1812 - Krasnoje
28th November 1812 - Berezina

Saxon Campaign

2nd May 1813 - Weissenfelds/Lützen
19th - 21st May 1813 - ßautzen
22nd May 1813 - Reichenbach
21st August 1813 - Görlitz
27th August 1813 - Drezno
16th September 1813 - Peterswalde
24th September 1813 - Hochkirchen, Altenburg
18th - 19th October 1813 - Leipzig
30th - 31st October 1813 - Hanau
30th October 1813 - Nieder - Isingheim

French Campaign

27th January 1814 - St. Dizier
29th January 1814 - Brienne-le-Aube
1st - 2nd February 1814 - La Rothiére
10th and 14th February 1814 - Chaumpaubert
11th February 1814 - Montmirail
12th February 1814 - Château - Thierry
14th February 1814 - Vauchamps
14th February 1814 - Villeneuve
18th February 1814 - Montereau
24th February 1814 - Troyes
3rd March 1814 - Rocourt
4th March 1814 - Braisne
5th March 1814 - Berry-sur-Aube
7th March 1814 - Craonne
8th March 1814 - Laon
13th March 1814 - Reims
18th March 1814 - Fere-Champenoise
20th - 21st March 1814 - Arcis-sur-Aube
23rd March 1814 - Vitry
26th March 1814 - St. Dizier
29th March 1814 - Bourget
30th March 1814 - Paris

Belgian Campaign

16th June 1815 - Quatre Bras
18th June 1815 – Waterloo

Conclusion

Reconstructed Lancers, Campaign dress wearing overcoats c.1813.

The Decree of 6 April 1807, which founded the Chevauleger-lancier polonaise de la garde was an astute political move by Napoleon. Napoleon sought to build ties with nations by honouring them with positions in his guard. The Grand Duchy of Warsaw, the rump Polish state, was critical to Napoleon's foreign policy as it formed the eastern buffer between his empire and the Russian Empire. It was critical to Napoleon that it be closely tied his empire since it would not only absorb the first blows of the Russian army, but that it would also provide a tremendous army of loyal Poles to fight alongside the French. The army of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw in 1812 consisted of eighteen infantry regiments and sixteen cavalry regiments. Even though the Polish state was loyalty,  Napoleon attempted to re-establish his ties to the Polish people by the formation in October 1813 of a Polish Guard Grenadier Battalion. Chronologically the Polish Guard Grenadier Battalion is the third instance of membership in the Imperial Guard being used for international political reasons. Yet another instance of this can be found in the formation of the 3e Regiment de chevauleger-lanciers [Lithuanians] by the Decree of 5 July 1812. Here Napoleon was attempting to establish political support among the conquered western provinces of Russia. Such political support would minimize the threat to his lines of communication across this conquered territory as well as to encourage the recruitment of new troops for his cause.

The Polish Lancers were created as part of Napoleons vision of Europe, and gained one of the finest light cavalry regiments of the era, which soon became part of his Guard. The personal loyalty of the Poles to the Emperor is beyond question. They fought for the liberation of their homeland from foreign oppressors and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Poland. They fought for the man who offered them this dream, together with glory and national recognition. Their battle honours speak for themselves. The regiment faught in 45 battles and major engagements in Spain and Europe throughout the Napoleonic Wars.

The Reconstructed Regiment.

Reconstructed Lancers, campaign dress c.1813. Here we see two troopers and a trumpeter, conspicuous in his sky blue uniform.

In the early 1990’s, Mr George Lubomski, a descendant of a Polish lancer, inspired the regiments dedication, and loyalty re-formed a U.K.  based re-enactment of the Polish Lancers. Over the last ten years, the Lancer section of Association Britannique de la Garde Imperiale has made a reputation of authenticity and dedication that have inspired others throughout Europe to follow in their foot steps. Today the re-activated Lancers have a section based in U.K., a second in Latvia, and members in Europe and the U.S.A. The Lancers are a battle re-enactment and living history unit, and take part in many event in U.K.  and Europe, where they demonstrate mounted and dismounted skill at arms with Lance, and Sabre. The Lancers provide a stable mate to La Garde’s premier section, the Artillerie-à-Pied.

Bibliography.

I am grateful to Mr G Lubomski for supplying me with information about his unit and the original regiment.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2004

 

Organization Index | More on Polish Lancers of the Guard ]



Search the Series

© Copyright 1995-2004, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]