Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics



YEAR 1815.




Related decrees and judgments.



Even shortly after his arrival in Paris (March 21, 1815), Napoleon issued a decree by which no foreigner could thereafter be admitted into any of the corps appointed with the guard of his person.  This decree said moreover: “The Imperial Guard, as of now, is restored in its functions and prerogatives; it could no longer be recruited any more except among the men who had served in the French Armies.”

A second decree, of the following April 8, regulated the reorganization of the Guard in the manner hereafter:




“ART. 1st.  The imperial Guard will be made up as follows, namely:  



Corps of Grenadiers.


3 Regiments of Foot Grenadiers (Old Guard). —

6 Regiments of Tirailleurs (Young Guard).


Corps of Chasseurs.


3 Regiments of Foot Chasseurs (Old Guard). —

6 Regiments of Voltigeurs (Young Guard).




1 Regiment of Horse Grenadiers (Old

1 Regiment of Horse Chasseurs (Old Guard).


1 Regiment of Light Horse Lancers  (id.).

1 Regiment of Dragoons (Old Guard).

1 Company of Gendarmes                 (id.).




6 Companies of Foot Artillery (Old Guard).

1 Company of workers (Old Guard).

4 Companies of Horse Artillery       (id.).

1 Squadron of train              (id.).



1 Company of Sappers, including a squad of miners (Old Guard).




1 Squadron of train.

“ART. 2.  Each regiment of infantry will be of two battalions; each battalion, of four companies, one hundred fifty men strong, including officers and non-commissioned officers.”

“ART.  3. In times of war, the companies will be changed to two hundred men, officers and non commissioned officers included; to this end, they will be augmented with:

1 Second lieutenant for the Old Guard. — 1 Sub-lieutenant for the Young Guard.

— 2 Sergeants. — 4 Corporals. — 43 Soldiers.”

“ART.  4. The corps of foot grenadiers and that of the foot chasseurs will each have one distinct staff.”

“The total force of each of both corps of infantry will be of:

  111 Senior officers.
  214 Officers.
  3.680 Non-commissioned officers of the Old Guard.
  7.329 Non-commissioned officers for the six regiments of the Young Guard.
Total... 11.334 Officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers.”


“ART.  5. Each regiment of cavalry will be of four squadrons, and each squadron of two companies.”

“ART.  6. In times of war, the companies will be changed to a hundred and fifty men, officers and non-commissioned officers included; to this end, they will be increased by:

1 First lieutenant. 1 Trumpeter.
2 Sergeants. 1 Sergeant blacksmith
4 Corporals. 41 Grenadiers, chasseurs, dragoons and lancers 2nd class.”


 “The staff will be increased by:

               4 Squadron heads.    4 Sub-adjutant majors.”

“ART.  7. The company of gendarmerie will be made up in accordance with the decree of April 15, 1806.  In times of war, it will receive the same proportional increase as the companies of cavalry.”

“ART.  8. The staff of artillery, foot companies, those of horse, and the company of workmen, will be composed in accordance with the above-mentioned decree.”

“ART.  9. In times of war, the staff of artillery will be increased by:

1 Battalion head, sub-director of the park.

2 Sub-artillery guards.    2 artillery conductors.

“ART.  10. The material of artillery will be composed of:

4 Batteries of horse artillery, attached to the cavalry regiments………… 24 pieces.
2 Batteries of foot artillery, attached to the two corps of infantry………. 16
4 Batteries of 12, serving equally for the artillery of the Old Guard, and    
forming the reserve…………………………………………………... 32
72 pieces.”

“In times of war, the artillery of the line will provide the batteries cited hereafter, which will be attached to the Guard:

4 Batteries for the two divisions of the Young Guard…………………...



4 Batteries for the reserve………………………………………………..



4 Batteries of horse equally attached to the reserve……………………..






“ART.  11. The squadron of the train will have a staff, and eight companies, each one made up in accordance with the decree of April 15, 1806.”

“ART.  12. The companies of sappers and miners, as well as the staff of the engineers, will be composed in accordance with the above-mentioned decree.”

“ART.  13. The squadron of the military equipment train will be charged to transport the wagons of the corps of the Guard, the tools of the engineers, the ammunition, the food and fodder provisions, the ambulances, etc.  This squadron will be composed of a staff and four companies, in accordance with the decree of April 15, 1806; in times of war, it will be increased to six companies.”


“ART.  14.  Attached to the Imperial Guard will be a staff made up of:

1 Lieutenant general acting in the function 1 Secretary-archivist.
of aide-major 1 Inspector of reviews.
1 Major of the Guard acting in the function of 1 Battalion head adjutant.
sub-aide major. 4 Captain adjutants.
7 Sub-inspectors of reviews or adjutants.


1 Chief of Medicine. 11 Surgeons 2nd Class.
26 Surgeons 3rd Class. 1 Chief of Pharmacy.
2 Ordinary physicians. 1 Pharmacist 1st Class.
1 Surgeon in chief. 6 Pharmacists 2nd Class.
4 Surgeons 1st Class. 9 Pharmacists 3rd Class.”

“To the armies, the administrative workers necessary to the ambulances of the Guard will be provided by the general intent of the army, or, if it is considered necessary, it will be provided for by the re-establishment of the companies of administrative workers.”

“ART.  15.  On campaign, the divisions made up of the troops of the Guard will be commanded either by the colonel generals of the aforesaid corps, or by lieutenant generals belonging to the Guard, or finally, and in their absence, by lieutenant generals called from the line.”

“The brigades will be commanded either by majors of the Guard having the rank of marshal-of-camp, or by marshals-of-camp called from the line.”



“ART.  16.  Nothing is changed, as for the pay and with the allowances granted to the general officers, to the senior officers, to the non commissioned officers and to soldiers, from the provisions of the decree of April 15, 1806.”



“ART.  17.  Up to the rank of major, the officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Guard will have the rank immediately higher than the line; the officers will wear distinctive devices. (See to this end the provisions prescribed in the decree of April 15, 1806.)”

“ART.  18. When troops of the Guard are detached with troops of the line, the command will belong by right to the most senior officer of the Guard in the highest rank.”

“ART.  19. The officers of the Guard are held to render corps honors to the princes of the imperial family, to the marshal governors of the provinces, and to the grand officers of the crown.”

“ART.  20. The commanders of the corps or detachments of the Guard must give status of their troops, as of men and horses, to the military commanders of divisions or the places by which they pass. When the troops of the Guard are in post in a military division or a place, they will be subjugated, like the other troops, by the police of the military commanders.”

“ART.  21. The regiments of the Old Guard will be specially charged with service at the palace.”

“ART.  22. To be allowed into the regiments of foot grenadiers or chasseurs of the Old Guard, it will be necessary to have twelve years of service, including the campaigns. To be allowed into the cavalry, the artillery and the sappers of the engineers, it will be necessary to have eight years of service, including the campaigns.  To be allowed into the Young Guard, it will be necessary to have four years of service, including the campaigns.”

“ART.  23. The size necessary for the admission in the Guard will be:

For the foot and horse grenadiers, the artillery and sappers. 5 feet 5 inches.
For the dragoons…………………………………………… 5  4   
For the foot and horse chasseurs…………………………… 5  3   
For the lancers and the artillery train………………………. 5 — 2    —“

“ART. 24. The first regiments will be supplemented by men chosen in the second regiments. These men will be presented by the colonel of the corps, and will be examined by the commander of the Guard.”

“The lancers will contribute to the supplement of the grenadier, chasseur and dragoon regiments.”

“ART.  25. The other regiments of cavalry of the Guard will be supplemented by men drawn from the regiments of cavalry of the line, vigorous, distinguished by their courage and their good conduct.”

“ART.  26. In foot grenadiers and chasseurs, the 2nd regiment will be supplemented, 1o by men chosen in the 3rd regiment; 2o by soldiers drawn from the infantry of line.”

“ART.  27. The 3rd regiment of Old Guard will be supplemented, 1o by men chosen in the regiments of voltigeurs and tirailleurs of the Young Guard; 2o by men drawn from the infantry of line.”

“ART.  28. The regiments of voltigeurs and tirailleurs of the Young Guard, the train battalion of the of military equipment, will be supplemented by voluntary enrolments, or men called by the mode of recruitment which will be adopted.”

“ART.  29. In each regiment of cavalry of the line, the colonel will appoint two officers, twenty non-commissioned officers and soldiers for the Imperial Guard. These men will be examined by the general commanding the military division, which will make sure that they have the necessary qualities. The administrative council will address to our Minister of War a personal enrollment making known the description and the services of these men, their brilliant deeds, their conduct, etc.  This survey will be conducted by the division commanding general.  The Minister of War will choose, according to the lists of the candidates, the men necessary to complement the corps of cavalry of the Guard.”

“ART.  30. In each regiment of infantry of line and light infantry, the colonel will appoint two officers, thirty non commissioned officers and soldiers to be placed in 2nd and 3rd regiments of Old Guard. These men will be examined by the general commanding the division military, and divided into two classes.”

“The first class will include the men who have eight years of service, including the campaigns, and the second those which have four years of service.  The personal conduct of these men will be established as in the article preceding, and addressed to our Minister of War, who will choose on these lists the men necessary to supplement 2nd and 3rd regiments of foot grenadiers and chasseurs of the Old Guard.”

“ART.  31. In each artillery regiment of foot and horse of the line, and in the squadrons of the artillery train, the colonels will appoint two officers, thirty non commissioned officers and soldiers for the Guard: it will be drawn up by rolls as in the preceding article.”

“ART.  32. The sappers of the engineers and the miners of the Guard will be chosen by our Minister of War, from lists formed in the regiments of the engineers belonging to the line. The gendarmes will be appointed by the first inspector of the gendarmerie.”

“ART.  33.  Once done and as each regiment provides to the Guard half of the men coming from the list; they will proceed in the formation of a new list that will be drawn up like the first, which will be addressed to the Minister of War by the board of directors of the regiment.”

“ART. 34. The troops of the Imperial Guard will be under the jurisdiction of the permanent councils of war of the military divisions where they will be.”

“ART. 35. Any time that a soldier of the Old Guard will have committed an offence carrying the death penalty, or any other sad defamation, he will be stricken from rolls of the Guard, and then delivered beforehand to the courts which will have to take note of the offence.”

“ART. 36. The soldiers who, by their bad conduct or disciplinary faults, have become unworthy to be used in the Old Guard will be expelled by it.  We reserve to ourselves to pronounce on the case of a soldier of the Old Guard, and to order, if it is necessary, the suspension or the dismissal of a non commissioned officer.”



“ART. 37. There will be, in each body of infantry, an administrative council for the three regiments of Old Guard, and another administrative council for the six regiments of Young Guard, made up as follows:

Old Guard: a lieutenant colonel general, president; the major and the most senior captain of each regiment.”

Young Guard: a lieutenant colonel general, president; majors of 1st, 2nd and 3rd regiments; most senior captains of 4th, 5th and 6th regiments. In the absence of colonel, one or the other council will be chaired by the colonel as a second.”

“ART. 38. There will be, in the other corps of the Guard, an administrative council made up as follows:

Regiments of cavalry: the lieutenant colonel general, president; the major, the first squadron head, the two first captains.”

Gendarmerie: the major, president; a captain, a lieutenant.”

Artillery: the lieutenant colonel general, president; the major, the first major, the first captain.

Artillery Train: the lieutenant colonel general, president; the major and the three first captains.

Engineers: the colonel, president; a captain, a lieutenant.

Equipment Train: as in the line.

“Each member of the administrative council will be compensated for, in the event of absence, by an officer of the same regiment and same rank, and subsidiary, by an officer of the immediately lower rank.

“ART. 39. The administrative council of the Guard will have the same attributions and the same duties to be carried out as the administrative boards of the regiments of line. The major of the regiment will be personally in charge of the behavior conduct.”

“ART. 40. The forms of the internal administration of the bodies of the Guard and those of accountancy will be the same ones as in the regiments of line of the army; the payments will take place in the same way.”

“ART. 41. The administrative councils of the corps of the line will send directly to the administrative councils of the corps of the Guard the funds for the allotments for linen and shoes of the men who will come into the Imperial Guard. The state of these funds, overseen by the inspector of reviews, will be addressed, by the administrative council of the bodies of the line, to the inspector of reviews of the Guard.”

“ART. 42. The non commissioned officers and soldiers of any arm, taken into the Old Guard, are entitled to a sum of twenty francs, which is payable as the first bonus of forty francs granted to each man of a new levy, and must also be provided with the allotment for linen and shoes of a new allotment.”

“ART. 43. Except for the two allotments mentioned in the preceding article, our Minister of War will manage all the allotments of the Guard, or will provide for them to be managed as he manages or makes manage the war being accounted for in the annual budget, including all the supplies which must be made to the Guard, calculated according to the tariff of the allotments and allowances of first enlistment, annexed to the decree of above mentioned April 15, 1806.”

“ART. 44. The regiments of infantry of the Old Guard will have the same dress; the musicians, in the two corps of the Old Guard, will have the same uniform: there will be one uniform for the musicians of the regiments of Young Guard.”

“ART. 45. The corps of the Guard will preserve the uniforms ordered before April 1, 1814; the staff general, the cavalry, the artillery and the artillery train will only wear the aiguillette; in the infantry, the general officers only will wear the aiguillette.”

“ART. 46. The clothing effects delivered at the first enlistment, the duration of the effects and the time of their replacement, remain fixed as it was made known in the decree of April 15, 1806.”

“ART. 47. All the distributions made to the troops of the Guard will be regulated as those made to the troops of the line.”

“ART. 48. The horses, in the cavalry and the train, will be the same size and the quality as required up to now. The fodder ration will be the same for the horses of the corps of the Guard as that of the the line corps. The winter ration of will be as great as the summer ration.”

“ART. 49. The hospice of Gros-Caillou will continue to be especially intended for the soldiers of the Guard.”



“ART. 50. A call will be made in all the departments to the former non commissioned officers and soldiers of the Old Guard who, having obtained their final discharge, would like to take up service again in their old regiments.  They will present to the chief town of their canton, in front of the mayor, who will deliver travel papers for Paris , where they will be incorporated, according to their seniority, in the regiments of their corps.”

“ART. 51. The same call will be made to the non commissioned officers and infantrymen of the Young Guard, to the artillery squadrons and to the military crews of the Guard.  They will be placed in their old corps, or, according to their seniority, in the regiments of Old Guard.”

“ART. 52. The artillery non commissioned officers of the Old Guard and those of the 1st artillery regiment that, since April 1, 1814, were incorporated in the artillery of line, will be directed without delay to Versailles, to form the artillery of the Guard there.  What would be missing to complete the corps will be determined by our Minister of War, on the lists which each regiment must draw up, in accordance with articles 29, 30 and 31 of this decree.”

“ART. 53. The regiments of cavalry of the Guard will be supplemented by men designated by our Minister of War, on the lists drawn up in accordance with article 29, of this decree.”

“ART. 54. The company of the sappers of the engineers of the Guard will be formed from the former sappers of the Old Guard who wish to take up service again, and miner sappers who will be appointed by our Minister of War, according to the lists drawn up in the regiments of line.”

“ART. 55. The company of gendarmerie of the Guard will be made up either of the former elite gendarmes, or of the officers, non commissioned officers and soldiers whom the first inspector of the gendarmerie will propose.”

“ART. 56. The officers of the Old and the Young Guard will be appointed from among the officers who are today in active service in the Guard, among those who were put on half-pay, and among the officers indicated on the lists drawn up in the regiments.”

“ART. 57. The companies of the Old Guard, which accompanied us to the Island of Elba will take the head in the regiments of their arms. The artillery company will form the head of the first foot artillery company. The light horsemen will be incorporated in the regiment of lancers, of which they will form the first company.”

“ART. 58. The artillery of the Guard will be quartered in the barracks of Paris and Vincennes ; its school will be placed close to Paris ; the corps will be reorganized in Versailles . When the school is established, the necessary number of professors will be attached there. The professors’ salary will be fixed by a later decision.”

“The sappers and miners of the Guard will be placed in the same school as the artillery; work of the engineers and that of artillery will be carried out there in concert by the two arms, under the direction of the artillery major-director who, in times of peace, will have command of the artillery school of the Guard.”

“ART. 59. The officers of the Young Guard currently on half-pay, and who are not selected to be included in the new organization, will remain at the disposal of our Minister of War, to be placed in the corps of the line with the prerogatives to which they have right.”

“ART. 60. The decrees and ordinances relating to the returned Imperial Guard so far are repealed.”



An imperial decree, dated January 18, 1813, had changed the number of the squadrons of the Horse Chasseur Regiment of the Old Guard to eight.  This same decree said: “The chasseurs coming from the recruits offered by the Departments will be designated under the title of second chasseurs, and will only draw pay of the line cavalry.”



[Timpanist of the Horse Chasseurs (Old Guard) and Horse Chasseur (Young Guard)]


Another decree, from the next March 6, increased the Horse Chasseur Regiment of the Old Guard to nine squadrons, while decreeing that the Mamelukes would form the tenth.  This new 9th squadron was recruited from among the conscripts of 1814, who also took the title of second chasseurs.

During the two preceding campaigns (1813 and 1814), this new regiment, undoubtedly jealous to see regiments of scouts attached to the regiments of the Guard cavalry, informally assumed the title of 2nd Regiment of Horse Chasseurs of the Guard, or Hussar-Scouts of the Young Guard, and it was not designated any more, with the army, but under the title of 2nd Horse Chasseurs of the Young Guard.

With the Restoration, and when the Horse Chasseurs of the Old Guard were incorporated into the Royal Corps of Horse Chasseurs of France, the Second Chasseurs was dropped, in June 1814, into the 2nd, 3rd and 7th horse chasseurs of the line, except for those of them who entered the Royal Corps of the chasseurs. On his return from the Island of Elba , Napoleon, satisfied with the good conduct of these newly admitted, granted them, on the next May 25, the title of 2nd Regiment of Horse Chasseurs of the Young Guard.  Consequently, on May 27, 1815, the colonel of the regiment* appeared in the following order:

*He was never named.  General Lefèvre-Desnouettes was a colonel of all the Horse Chasseurs of the Guard.


“It is with pleasure that I announce to the cavalry corps of the Young Guard that His Majesty, in reward for the good account which was returned to him on the conduct of those newly allowed into this regiment, agreed to give the title of 2nd Horse Chasseur Regiment of the Young Guard.  The Emperor, by this favor, wanted to reward the brave men of the Young Guard who fought, in the last campaigns, with so much of heroism in this same regiment.”

The uniform of this new regiment was as follows:


Shako madder red with double visor; green cord and madder red; forage cap green, similar to that of the chasseurs.

Dolman green braided yellow, green collar, facings madder red; girdle green and madder red, making several turns around the body.

Green trousers, with a band of madder red on each side.

Hungarian (knot) of madder red braided in yellow.

Pelisse Hungarian (knot) and filled with black.

Green stable jacket, buttons yellow.

Green mantel with shoulder straps.

Hussar styled boots, iron spurs.

Yellow leather belts; plain black leather sabretache.

Leather saddle similar to that of the line lancers; bridle and halter as the hussars; brass attachments; saddle blanket madder red similar to that of the chasseurs, covered with a black sheepskin.

ArmamentThe same one as that of the horse chasseurs of the Old Guard.


Uniform of the officers.


Pelisse light madder red, braids and laces in gold, black Astrakhan fur with a doublet of crimson.

Green dolman braided gold, facings madder red.

Trousers madder red, with two bands of green cloth and a stripe of the same braid color in the seam.

Only the senior officers wore laces instead of bands on each side of the braid.

Waistcoat madder red braided with gold.

Girdle braided with a mix of green and madder red, tassel buttons gold.

Shako madder red with visor and contra visor of black patent leather; a cockade on the top, laces, braids and pompom of gold.

Cord of the shako gold being seven feet long, with tassel attachments similar to those of the Guard.

Hungarian knot of madder red and gold laces.

Green mantel with plush red lining, and yellow buttons of the hussars.

Forage cap like the Polish: an edge of black Astrakhan three fingers wide, and the top of the bonnet madder red, with only one lace above the Astrakhan .

Vest worked in green cloth, with turnbacks of the same madder red and braids color.

Boots like the hussar, brass spurs, having the right bow.

Varnished black leather cartridge box, with gold fittings.

The senior officers carried this cartridge box similar to that of the senior officers of the horse chasseurs of the Old Guard.

Black leather sabretache, without fittings.

Only the senior officers carried the sabretache similar to that of the senior officers of the Old Guard.

Same harnessing and armament that those of the officers of the Old Guard.



known as Chasseurs of the Young Guard — 1815.


Mr.………………, colonel.     CARDON, squadron head.
MERLIN (de Donai), camp marshal,     BELLER, adjutant-majors.
major.     PRÉGU,
ASSANT, squadron heads. DUCLOS, paymaster officer.
JACOBI, THOMASSIN, surgeon major





















































During the campaign of 1815, this regiment did not leave Chantilly or its surroundings; then it followed the retirement movement of the army on the Loire, and was disbanded, in Bourges , on December 4, 1815.





The vast plain of the Field-of-Mars had always been used as a theatre for the pompous ceremonies of the Revolution, from the Federation of 1790 up to the distribution of the flags in 1815.  In this twenty-five years space, the Field-of-Mars had successively been decorated with scaffolding, hangings, decorations and garlands delivered up to the vanity of the political parties.  At what time had these hillocks not been stirred up! … The governments seemed to like these edifices, which are born in the morning and collapse in the evening: after all, they are only the image of the whims of the masses.

The Field-of-Mars had been worked on for one month. The carpenters, the decorators, the tapestry makers, had been requested.  They were invited to all assemble the field of May.  Finally the great day arrived: it was on June 1, 1815, on a tepid morning of Spring.  From the morning, the Field-of-Mars had been invaded by the multitude; immense wood constructions surrounded its enclosure, where the thousands of enthusiastic spectators were; an altar was placed beside the throne, raised on steps: all that of red Damask, raised with gold, and strewn with innumerable tricolors.  On these steps, women of the court and high-ranking dignitaries of the Empire came in to sit down first; in a much more restricted space were the five hundred voters, appointed by the electoral colleges, agents of the registers of votes, and at their head standing out himself was Mr. Dubois (of Angers), who, in this solemnity, was to carry the word.

It was a curious meeting, which brought these voters from all the Departments of France.  It was not, as under the Consulate or at the time of the advent of the Empire, an assembly of peaceful land owners and strong taxpayers; all these voters of the field of May, selected among lawyers, had been noisy and spoke for parts of the country, deeply wounded by all nations.  Thus it always comes to pass after a revolution, which stirs up life: the true notables hold back; those, which come forward, are generally the ambitious spirits and declaimers.  One cannot say what agitation these deputies had brought to Paris : political arguers, they filled the salons of Lucien Bonaparte, where each day there took place banquets, toasts, and patriotic songs.  The assembly day before the field of May, read as a kind of repetition among the voters; an address had been written fully filled with resounding sentences: this first drafting, communicated to the Emperor, put him in sharp anger.  The address, indeed, was not limited to being patriotic, it was almost insolent: it seemed to dictate laws to the sovereign power.  Lucien joined together with the majority of the voters in the evening, and asked them to make certain modifications in the interest of the good harmony of the stakeholders.

—Is this the time to recriminate? He said.  Isn't it plainly better to speak of the dangers which threaten the fatherland?*

  *We borrowed these details from the excellent and conscientious work of Mr. Capeligne, entitled: The Hundred Days.

Lucien was right, and however it was only with difficulty that he obtained some changes.  Mr. Dubois (of Angers ) recited, in front of his colleagues, the topic which had been adopted; he did it with an inexpressible voice: in the following days it was somewhat pleasing, because the empty sentences had needed to be supported by a broad chest.

All the voters were thus arranged behind the arch chancellor, Cambacérès, in princely orange coats; and the first of the balloters, Mr. Champollion-Figeac, was to assist him by adding the results of the votes.  The crowd was numerous, when artillery salvos announced the Emperor.  He had on his head a black hat shaded by feathers attached on the front by a large diamond; his coat was crimson velvet, a white ermine doublet strewn with gold bees: Napoleon was in his clothes of pageantry.  Almost all the officers of the Guard observed judiciously that he would have done better to keep his ordinary costume, which was the uniform of the army, however he was not in the habit of wearing it in ceremonies of the nature of this one. Nor had he followed the way shown by the program.  He had crossed, in his official reception carriage, surrounded by all the marshals, and being followed by a large and brilliant escort, the garden of Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde, the quay of the Bourbon Palace, the esplanade of the Invalides and Field-of-Mars; he was preceded by his page, heralds and his chamberlains, dressed in their red costumes, streaming with embroideries.  Napoleon had a suffering and concerned air.  He got out lightly from the carriage, while hundreds of drums beat in the fields; and, advancing precipitately, after saluting several times, he sprang towards his throne, and sat down while throwing anxious glances on this innumerable crowd, which had to give birth in his imagination, so sharp and so impressionable, a thousand various thoughts, which did not include the masses of men on a battle field!  His brothers placed themselves at his sides: Lucien on his left, Jerome and Joseph on his right; they were all the three in white satin dress, with black velvet hats trimmed with white plumes.

The religious ceremony preceded all political operations; the Archbishop of Tours celebrated the mass, and one saw Napoleon, concentrating, calling upon the God of battles to save his throne and the fatherland in the fatal crisis, which threatened them both.

The most solemn act of the field of May was indisputably the announcing of votes relating to the additional act; the voters had brought the registers; it was necessary to present a figure and to submit it to the Emperor and to the people.  One had been in such a hurry, that the tally was not finished: it was improvised, so to speak.  The arch chancellor and Mr. Champollion-Figeac had to hasten in order not to cause impatience in the spirit of Napoleon, who hurried them with gesture and glance.  This work achieved, it was proclaimed, like final result, which was truly only a hastily seized digit; but in matters of the constitution, who was the government to obstruct it?  The votes were divided into two series: citizens and the army; but hardly one twentieth of the population had been able to take part there:  wasn't Napoleon its father, its benefactor? He raised it to its present state!  Ultimately, Cambacérès, with his pale figure, announced that “the additional act to the constitutions of the Empire was accepted with an almost unanimity of the voters.”  One moment afterwards, one heard the great voice of Mr. Dubois (of Angers), who gave a lesson in patriotism to the Emperor:  his declamatory speech was only one long continuation of catch phrases, and still this speech had been well worked and modified.  The first text contained true insults against Napoleon.  The writers had not dared to say: “that Bonaparte was to bring back from exile a repentance of his past!”  There were invectives against Europe , of insults to the Bourbons: “A new contract had been formed between the nation and the Emperor, said the speaker; the wishes of the people, of which they were the representatives, recalled Bonaparte to the throne!  Who wanted the line of the kings? The undoubted dismemberment of France ?  For us to share the fate of Poland or to restore the Bourbons? …”

“Nothing is impossible, nothing will be spared, continued Mr. Dubois (of Angers ), to ensure us honor and independence, these goods more expensive than life!  All will be tried; all will be carried out to throw off an ignoble yoke!  We say it to the nations, can their chiefs hear us!  If they accept your peace overtures, Sire, the French people await your administration, strong, liberal and paternal, motivated to ease the sacrifices, which peace costs; but if one leaves us with only the choice between the war and shame, the very whole nation will rise for the war!  It is ready; Sire, to release you from the offers, perhaps too moderate, that you made to save Europe from new upheavals.  All Frenchmen are soldiers; victory will follow your eagles; and our enemies, who counted on our internal divisions, will soon regret having provoked us!”

With this harangue, whose end had at least something of good, the Emperor gave one of these serious answers, solemn, in the ancient way, and for which posterity will have to keep a memory.  He had just placed his hand on the Gospel to give the oath to the constitution, when, saluting his hat to the moved crowd, and covering himself with dignity, he spoke these fine words:

“Emperor, consul, soldier, I hold all these for the people.  In prosperity, in adversity, on the battlefield, with the council, on the throne, France was the single and constant object of my thoughts and my actions.  Like the King of Athens, I sacrificed myself for my people, in the hope to see carried out the promise given to preserve for France its natural integrity, its honor and its rights.  The indignation to see these rights, acquired by twenty-five years of victories, ignored and lost forever; the cry of the faded honor, and the wishes of the nation, brought me back towards this throne, which is dear to me because it is the palladium of the independence of the nation.  While crossing, in the midst of public joy, the various provinces of the Empire to arrive in my capital, I had to count on a long peace: the nations are bound by the treaties concluded by their governments, whatever they are.  My thought carrying me then were wholely on the means of founding our freedom by a constitution in conformity with the will and the interest of all, so I convened the field of May.  I was not long in learning only the foreign princes, who ignored all principles, abused the opinion and the dearest interests of so many people, still wanted to try to make us go to war.  It was thus necessary to prepare for war.  However, having to run the risk of personal engagements, my first duty had to be to constitute the nation without delay, and the people accepted the act that I presented to it.  French! When we push back these unjust aggressions, and Europe is convinced of what one owes to the rights and the independence of twenty-eight million men, a solemn law, made in the manner proscribed by the constitutional act, we will join together the various provisions of our now scattered constitution. French! You go to return to your Departments: let the citizens know that circumstances are grave; that with union, energy and perseverance, we will leave victorious this fight of a great people against its oppressors; that the generations to come will review our conduct severely; that a nation is totally lost when it loses its independence.  Say to them that those whom foreign sovereigns raised to the throne, or who me owe the title of their crown, these sovereigns, I say, who, in the time of my prosperity, solicited my alliance and my protection, today direct all their blows against my person.  If I did not see that they wanted part of our fatherland, I would put this existence, against which they have shown such keenness, at their mercy; but also let your fellow-citizens know that, as long as the French hold for me the feelings of love of which they haven given me so much evidence, this rage of our enemies will be impotent, because my honor, my glory and my happiness are only held through the honor, the glory and the happiness of France!”

What a difference between the language of the voters and these sentences expressed by so a high character!  Napoleon spoke here the language of the people; around him grouped the army, proud of its Caesar, as he was proud of it!  Then he distributed the eagles and the flags to the National Guard, the Imperial Guard and the troops of line.

—Soldiers of the National Guard of the Empire! He exclaimed, soldiers of my Guard, troops of land and sea!  I entrust the Imperial eagle to you! … Do you swear to defend it, at the price of your blood, against the enemies of the fatherland?  Do you swear that it will be always your rallying sign? … Do you swear it?





—We swear!  Was the unanimous cry, which resounded like thunder.

In these kinds of ceremonies, each time Napoleon remained general, consul, emperor, he was always in his element, and nothing could equal his gesture, his glance, his inflections of voice, finally his grandeur:  he left in the hearts a profound imprint.

The spectacle, which this day offered, will never leave the memory of those who were present; and certainly it was in the thoughts of all that, at any time of the revolution, the soldiers had not appeared better prepared to defend the independence of the fatherland.  Napoleon himself left the Field-of-Mars persuaded that he could count on the feelings of the people and especially the Guard had shown him; and, consequently, he did not think any more about going to meet the storm, which was gathering in Belgium .



Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2007


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