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

Introduction

By Paul Dawson

In late 1808, Napoleon’s Grande Armee returned from Spain. The Emperor was in an economising mood, and needed a way in which to make the army more attractive to conscripts with the troubles in Spain continuing and war with Austria plainly coming. Napoleon’s economy drive of 1808, saw the disbandment of the  ‘extremely expensive’ 2eme Grenadiers and Chassuers-á-Pied de la Garde, and the birth of the ‘Young Guard’. Thus, on 16 January, the cadre of the Grenadiers and were transformed into Grenadiers-Conscrits, which were soon restyled Tirailleur-Grenadiers. The ranks were filled with the best of the year's conscripts. The regiment was attached to the Grenadiers-á-Pied, and was equipped as light infantry. The new regiment was organised into two battalions of six companies, of 200 men each, to be commanded by a Major, assisted by two Chefs-de-Bataillon, each company to be headed by a Capitaine, all of which were drawn from the 2eme Grenadiers-á-Pied and retained their status, uniforms, and pay.  The sous-lieutenants were drawn from the school at Saint-Cyr.

Spring 1809 found Napoleon still in an economising mood. The news that the new regiment cost half a million francs less than its line counterpart led to the sanctioning of new regiments. Thus, on 29 March, Napoleon ordered the creation of two new regiments, one the Grenadiers-Conscrit, the other Tirailleur-Chasseurs. Soon after, on 31 March, the 2nd Regiment of Grenadiers-Conscits were raised, along with two regiments of Chasseurs-Conscrit. Two more regiments were formed on 25 April, the 2nd Regiments of Tirailleur-Grenadiers and Tirailleur-Chasseurs. These regiments were formed hastily for the war against Austria, and were unable to take part in the campaign. They were to be commanded by a major, and to be composed of two battalions, each of six (later four) companies of 200 men, for a total of 1600 soldiers. Half of the men were to come from the conscripts of the Guard, other half was to be taken on the conscripts of the reserve of 1810. The major and the two heads of battalion were to be drawn from the officers of Grenadiers or Chasseurs of the Guard; the company captaines from the Fusiliers who retained there higher status, pay and uniforms. The second lieutenants came from the Saint-Cyr Military School (2 per company). Each battalion had one of them acting a Adjutant. There was thus no lieutenants in the regiment, but two sous-lieutenants, though the decree provided that the post would be selected among these young officers, once they had served for two years and taken part in a campaign. The Regiments of Fusilier-Grenadiers and Chasseurs were to provide the framework as NCO’s and corporals: a sergent major, 4 sergeants, a corporal fourrier and 8 corporals per company, also two adjudant-sous-officiers per battalion.  In all 450 men were transferred from the Fusilier-Grenadiers. The conscrits were drawn from the line conscripts of 1809 and reserve of 1810, and after 2 years service, could be admitted to the Fusiliers; and after four more in to the Grenadiers and Chasseurs-á-Pied.  The Fusilier regiments also supplied the officers for the regiments staff, the Capitaine-Adjutant-Major, Officier Payeur and Lieutenant-Adjutant-Major.

Eventhough the decree’s ordering the organisation of the Conscrit-Chasseurs were issued on March 29 and March 31, they were not organised until 21 April.

The cadre, especially the senior officers transferred from the 2eme Grenadiers and Chassuers-á-Pied, of the conscrits regiments did not take kindly to being in ‘conscript’ units. One regiment’s vehicles were marked ‘Garde Imperiale, Regiment des Grenadiers’ in bold letters two feet high, below which was placed in small print ‘CTS’, the abbreviation of Conscript. This was thought exceedingly funny by the rest of the army, notably the other regiments of the Imperiale Guard, who nicknamed them the CTS. The regiment was not amused, and several duels resulted.

The Grenadiers and Chasseurs Conscrit were not formed in time to fight at Wagram and Apsern-Essling, but were ordered to Spain in the new year of 1810. Before they hit the road for Spain for on the job training, the conscripts received very modern-seeming orientatation, stressing the Spanish attitude toward such matters as religion, and women, with special pains to express it to the men from Holland, Italy, and Germany. The enlisted cadre still resented being placed in a conscript unit, and so did not always set a proper example. A regiment orderly book shows that they were put up for punishment almost as frequently as the conscripts.

The Colonel-Major commanding the newly raised 2eme Regiment des Chasseurs-Conscrit, Pierre-Francois Vrigny, had a keen eye for the fraudulant and exploitative dealings of his NCO’s. One fourier newly transferred from the 2eme Chasseurs-á-Pied, was caught only giving his company part of their meat ration. He was quickly broken back to private, and was made to camp behind the barracks for eight days. The responcible sous-lieutenant freshly out of Saint-Cyr, who should have checked on the rations issued, was placed under arrest for four days in the guard house, and was made to pay for the meat that his company did not receive.

Before the Young Guard left for Spain  in October 1809, Napoleon raised three batteries of Artillerie-Conscrit. Each battery had six 6 pounder guns, and were attached to the Guard Artillery. Number 7 Battery was attached to the Grenadiers and Chasseur Conscrits, Number 8 to the Tirailleur Grenadiers and Chasseurs, and Number 9 to the Fusilier Grenadiers and Chasseurs. Each regiment had 3 guns. By attaching regimental artillery to these new regiments, Napoleon hoped to increase both their effectiveness in the field and to bolster the moral of the mainly inexperienced conscripts which made up these units. This system of battalion or regimental artillery ceased after April 1813, when the artillery was returned to the Guard Artillery and designated as ‘Young Guard’.

The Young Guard was radically expanded in 1811. Firstly, the Tirailleur regiments had their title amputated to Tirailleur for the Grenadiers and Voltigeurs for the Chassuers by a decree of 30 December 1810.  February 10 saw the conscrit regiments being converted to the 3rd and 4th Tirailleur and Voltigeur regiments. Each corps was then exapnded with the addition of a 5th Regiment on 11 March, and a 6th on 28 August in Brussels, with cadres from the line regiments, Fontainebleau, and the Velites de Turin. A seventh regiment of Tirailleurs was formed by converting the Regiment des Pupilles on 17  January. The Gardes National de la Garde became the 7th Regiment des Voltigeurs. The 8th regiments were created on 23 March, followed by the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th on 6 April 1813; the 14th, 15th, and 16th on 11 January, with the cadre and enlisted men coming from the Spanish Royal Guard. The 17th and 18th Voltigeurs were formed on 21 January 1814. The Tirailleurs and Voltigeurs, along with the regiments of Flankers, formed the mainstay of the infantry of the French Army during the 1813 and 1814 Campaigns, and bore the brunt of the fighting. These later regiments were equipped and organised under an imperial decree of 8 April 1813, which stipulated that the regiments were to be organised and equipped as a line regiment, but had the status of Young Guard. By creating large numbers of Young Guard formations and taking conscripts directly into them with minimal entry requirements, Napoleon sought to minimize his desertion problems. Napoleon recognized that by putting the label of Guard on his new conscripts and using the popular perception of what Guardsman was and a how a Guardsman behaved, he could hold these potentially reluctant recruits in the ranks. Napoleons desperation for troops during 1814 had led him to the point of prostituting the prestige and elite status of the Guard simply to draw anyone who could carry a musket into the army.

 

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2003

 

Organization Index | More on French Guard Regiments ]



Search the Series

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

Top | Home ]