Tirailleurs de la Garde Imperiale: 1809-1815
"In war, I profit more from the Fusiliers and Conscripts than
the Grenadiers and Chasseurs’
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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