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

Battles and Campaigns

By Paul Dawson


On 8 February 1809, the 1st Tirailleurs received their officers and cadres. They were reviewed by the Emperor on Sunday 19 March.  On May 1st, the Tirailleurs joined Rouget’s Brigade, and formed part of Curial's Division. After defeating General Hiller at Ebersberg on 3 May, the division of Tirailleurs and Fusiliers and the Polish Light Horse were ordered to Amstetten and to camp on the River Ips. From there they went to Neumarkt with 8 guns and 300 Polish Light Horse. On 10 May, Curial’s division of 5000 men were engaged at Vienna. By evening, they were quarted in Hetzendorf, south of the Palace Park. For their conduct, Emperor decreed that Tirailleurs could wear the coverted sabre of elite troops. The Tirailleurs also saw action at Aspern-Essling, where they drove the Austrians out of Gross-Aspern. Capitiane Ciceron’s company was forced to retreat from the cemetary. Ciceron was wounded, and he and his rear guard had to surrender. After Aspern-Essling the Tirailleurs were quartered at Himberg, where it was reviewed on 7th June. Cadres were sent to Paris along with Lieutenant Colonels Flammand of the 2nd and Deshayes of the 2nd Tirailleur Chassuers with 17 captured enemy flags. Major Veuz, wounded as Aspern-Essling was assigned to the Tirailleurs.

After being engaged at Wagram, the 1st formed part of the 2st Brigade of Curial's Division, under Rouget, and were quartered at Enzersdorf. On the Emperor's birthday, 15 August, the NCO’s and Corporals of the Young Guard were allowed to wear the epaulettes and distinctions of the Grenadiers. At the same review, Capitiane Ciceron was rewarded for his conduct at Aspern-Essling by being presented with the Gold Star of the Legion d’Honor.

On 23 November 1809, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Tirailleurs were ordered to march to Spain, including their surgeons and service staff, and be ready to leave by 15 January 1810.  They were to form part of Rouget's Division. The 1st was re-equipped by December 3rd to take part in the fetes celebrating the 5th anniversary of the coronation.

In Spain, The Tirailleurs were brigaded with the Polish Light Horse under the command of Rouget. The soldiers of the Young Guard were quarted in Burgos, operating against partisans in anti-guerilla opperations. Tirailleur Mignolet noted that

‘we are surrounded by 40,00 brigands whom we must fight every day- and the situation gets no better but worse. Their bands grow bigger every year, for we burn their towns and viallges’.

Collete of the 2e Chasseurs-Conscrit noted that any money that they recieved was spent on drink.. Coporal Franconin wrote:

‘We have been running around the mountains for almost two months, se set out in the morning and sleep in what ever village we find at the end of a fruitless search. We have seen the partisans several times. Two of our mobile columns came across one of the largest bands on a hillside and gave them a good beating killing more than 800’

The Tirailleurs in Spain lacked everything from bread, cartidges, flints,  and money. To ease this hardship, the Emperor awarded them a bonus of 120,00 francs.

During September 1811, the 1st was re-organised and equipped, with new officers being drawn from the Guard and the Velites. Baron Lonchamp commanded, assisted by Chef-de-Bataillon Poret de Morvan. The cadres were drawn from the line. They were to have at least 5years service. The rest came from the depots or Fountainebleau.

In the Spring of 1812, the 1st Regiment was recalled from Spain to form part of Lanabere's Brigade, which constituted half of Rouget’s Second Division of the Grande Armee.  Rouget’s Division was the best in the army. Its men were aged 25-30 years old, and were in the prime of their lives, unlike most of the Old Guard; and were experienced in Spain, unlike most of the Young Guard. The 3rd  Tirailleur and 4th Voltigeurs made a remarkable march of 468 miles in 23 days, and in their march from Burgos to Vilna, only 63 men had dropped out. Largely uncomitted at Borodino, the 1st Regiment reached Moscow in good order. Rouget's Division had lost nearly 200 men either through sick, wounded, and deserters. The division had nearly 50% ( 2 officiers and 1251 men) sick or at the rear.  The brigade had 67 officers and 1382 men under arms.

The Guard, along with the rest of the army, was virtually destroyed during the march back from Moscow. Reconstruction began by forming new regiments from conscripts, with the cadre being transferred from existing units, but it increasingly had difficulties with desertion and the quality of the conscripts.

The 1st  Tirailleurs, 1st Voltigeurs, and 3rd Grenadiers fought at Krasnyi, losing 760 men. The 1st Tirailleurs lost 6 Officiers. By Christmas Day 1812, the Young Guard was virtually annihilated, Rouget's Division had some 1,800 men.

By 15 March 1813, the 1st Tirailleurs joined Mortier's command from Paris, along with the 1st Voltigeurs, and were ordered to Frankfurt on 5 April where they formed part of the 3rd Brigade under the command of General Tindal.

The ranks had been filled with men drafted from the National Guard of the Guard, between 18 and 25 years of age, who over 5 feet 6 inches. They were organised into two battalions of 4 companies each. Each company was to have a Capitaine, two Sous Lieutenants, one Sergent-Major,  four Sergents, one Fourier, eight Caporals, two drummers and a fifer. The regimental staff was a Colonel-Major, two chefs-de-Bataillon, a Capitaine-Adjutant-Major, a Officer-Payeur, a Sous-Lieutenant-Adjutant-Major, a Surgeon-Major and an assistant, four Adjutant-Sous-Officier, a Corporal Drummer, and an Armourer. The 1st Regiment left Frankfurt for Coburgh, Meiningen, and Eisenach on 9 April. The 1st Tirailleurs being placed in Tindal's 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division, under the command of Dumoustier,  on 10 April.  The Young Guard Division supported Ney’s 3rd Corps with the Cavalry of the Guard.

The year 1813 saw the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th Regiments of Tirailleurs being formed between 10 January and April. The 4th, 5th, 8th and 10th, 11th, and 12th Regiments were due to leave Paris by 1 May and form the 4th Young Garde Division commanded by Generals Friant, Michel, and Boyer de Rebeval. The Brigade saw action at Dresden.

In 1813, the Guard transitioned from the role of tactical reserve to a major battle formation. It was no longer the elite of old and represented almost one third of the entire army, mustering some 47,269men under arms, which rose to a theoretical 102,706 men in January 1814.

From 1813 through 1814, the Guard was heavily engaged at Lützen, Bautzen, Leipzig, Brienne, La Rothiere, Champaubert, Montmireil, St. Thierry, Vauchamps, Montereau, Laon, Arcis-sur-Aube, Fere-Champenoise, Courtrai, Craonne, St. Dizier, and Paris. In 1814, the regular army was no longer the principal combat arm of France. That role had passed to the Imperial Guard.

In the forefront of the 1813-14 Campaign, the Young Guard distinguished itself. At Dresden, the 1st charged 6 Prussian battalions and won themselves 100 Legions d’Honor.  At a review on 30 August, the Emperor took off his hat to the Young Garde ‘There are the brave 1st Tirailleuers, order 100 from the ranks so that I may award them the cross of the Legion’. For his conduct, Chef-de-Bataillon Masson was named Colonel of the 3rd Tirailleurs. On 1 October 1813, the 1st were placed in the 2nd Guard Division, commanded by General Barrois. At Leipzig, the Young Guard lost 120 officers. After Leipzig the 1st were posted at Lindenau to guard the position between the town and the road to Halla. By 6 November 1813, Major Deblais reported that the 1st was a complete regiment in June, but know mustered less than 300 other ranks. The entire 2nd Division mustered some 3,500 Tirailleurs. On 15 December, the 1st were placed in the 4th Division of General Barrois and posted to Burssels, the journey through the Ardennes took 5 days, the Tirailleurs being packed ten to a cart with their arms and baggage. The new conscripts for the 1st were turned over to other units. The cadre were sent to Amiens on 4 January 1814 where the ranks being filled with conscripts, equipped with line uniforms and equipment. The 1st Battalion was ordered to leave Amiens for Champagne on 17 January. Drummers and fifers were furnished from the Pupilles.

Wherever the Guard fought, the Emperor won; but faced by overwhelming odds, the casualties became insupportable.

The first restoration saw the disbandment of  the Young Guard. The rank and file being broken up to form the light infantry Regiments du Roi and du Reine. Other Young Guard regiments were broken up to form new infantry regiments. For example, the 2e Bataillon 4e Tirailleurs were brigaded with the 3e Bataillon 131e Ligne to form the newly activiated 22e Regiment du Ligne.

The 1st Tirailleurs which were hastily reformed on 28 March 1815 along with the 2nd through 8th Regiments, the organisation being confirmed on 11 April. The new regiments were formed hastily, and not without difficulty. Napoleon noted that ‘the Young Guard regiments are very weak and have few means of procuring reinforcements, enlist volunteers and attract old soldiers..beat the drums, parade the flags, do everything possible to arouse enthusiasm’. The strength of the newly re-activated Tirailleur regiments was as follows:

1st         26 officers 1,083 men
2nd        24 officers, 960men based in the Vendee
3rd        28 officers, 960 men
4th        24 officers, 389 men based in Paris
5th        23 officers, 153 men based in Paris
6th        16 men, 249 men based in Rouen
7th        17 officers, 89men based in Paris
8th        8 officers, 77men based in Lyon

The 1st Regiment was reformed at Coubervoie, and once a cadre of  ex-Tirailleurs had been formed, they were sent to Rueil where NCO’s and Officers were appointed. On 16 May, the 1st Tirailleurs and 1st Voltigeurs formed the 1st Young Garde division under General Chartrand, which were posted to Compiegne, along with three batteries, four field hospitals, the artisans, and surgeons. The regiment was well dressed and equipped with line equipment and uniforms, and mustered 1000 men under the command of Colonel Trappier. The regiment joined the Northern Army at the start of June.

The Regiment fought at Ligny and at Waterloo, where it vainly held Plancenoit against a rising tide of Prussian Infantry. On 24 June, the 1st and 3rd Tirailleurs mustered 1,100men. The 1st Regiment was disbanded at the beginning of September 1815 by Generals Meunier and Guye.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2003


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