Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics








In the Imperial Decree, dated at Saint-Cloud, the third day completing the year XIII (September 20, 1805), it was proclaimed:

“ART. 1st.  Any soldier belonging to the Imperial Guard, including the vélites incorporated into the aforementioned Guard, will have the rank of sergeants or maréchaux-des-logis, according to the arms in which they are utilized, provided that they have already completed five years of service, either in the Imperial Guard, or in the corps of line troops where they were utilized before.

All the corporals and brigadiers of the Guard will have ranks of sergeant-majors or maréchal-des-logis chef.

All the quartermasters (fourriers), sergeants and maréchaux-des-logis chef of the Guard will have the rank of adjutant non-commissioned officer.

All the sergeants-majors and maréchaux-des-logis chef of the Guard will have the rank of second lieutenant.”

“ART. 2.  Nothing is changed, by this decree, toward the pay, the allowances and the treatments of the various corps and the various ranks of the Guard; the regulations on discipline and subordination, which existed already, remain the same.”

“ART. 3.  The soldiers and horsemen of the Guard will be under the command of all the sergeants and maréchaux-des-logis, and those will take their orders from all the corporals and brigadiers.

The corporals and brigadiers of the Guard will be under the command of all the sergeants-majors and maréchaux-des-logis-chefs, but those will take their orders from all the sergeants and maréchaux-des-logis.

The sergeants and the maréchaux-des-logis of the Guard will be under the command of all the adjutant-non-commissioned officers, but they will take their orders from all the sergeants-majors and maréchaux-des-logis-chefs.

The sergeant-majors and the maréchaux-des-logis-chefs of the Guard will be under the command of all the second lieutenants, but they will take orders from all the adjutant noncommissioned-officers and from all the sergeant-majors and maréchaux-des-logis-chefs.”

“ART. 4.  To mark the rank granted by this decree at the various grades of the Guard, it will be established for each individual who in fact meets the parts of the commissions of the aforesaid ranks, as signed by the colonels-généraux of the Guard, each one for the corps of which he is a commander.”



“The discipline in an army,” said Chevalier de Folard, in his Commentary on Polybe, “can be compared with the heart in the human body.  If the heart is affected and spoiled, the remainder of the machine tends to disorganization and death.  Be convinced, once and for all, that the armies which win battles are those where the discipline is both the wisest and most inflexible.”

These judicious reflections of Chevalier de Folard found a rigorous application in the famous corps to which we devote our work.  The Imperial Guard, such as Napoleon had created it, was a model and type of the most exact and austere military discipline.  The Emperor had felt, more than any sovereign of Europe, the more a corps enjoyed privileges and prerogatives, the more, it also deserved, by his control, the votes and sympathies of the remainder of the army, which would not have forgiven a favor thrown to soldiers who had been made unworthy by their insubordination.  “If a privileged body,” said the Emperor to the General Hulin (colonel of grenadiers of the Guard), “does not behave with wisdom and prudence, it should be dissolved.  I want to have soldiers harden to war in my Guard, but I do not want undisciplined soldiers; whatever their uniform, these men would only be in my eyes Janissaries or Praetorians.  However, not being an Emperor of the Lower Empire, I want neither to be worried, nor deposed by the soldiers whom I attach to my person.”

The military discipline considered in garrison, and especially in a conquered city, has an immense importance.  Would it be believed, for example, that our Imperial Guard had left such beautiful memories in all the capitals of Europe that it successively occupied, if its control, in the midst of the subjected populations, had not been an example of the slightest blame?  Would it be believed in the cities of the interior of France, where they kept their usual garrison, had it been the object of the regard of their fellow-citizens, if they had made the least breach of the public peace, if they had been shown, in the milieu of our streets, as insolent or quarrelers?

If the discipline is of great importance in the garrison of the friendly cities, allied or even enemy, because it tends to reconcile the soldiers with the sympathies of the populations, it is of a much larger advantage still on campaign, and especially in the presence of the enemy.  The battles of Malplaquet and Rosback were lost by the weakness of the heads who could not maintain the discipline in the French Army.  Often a simple failure in the military laws is enough to compromise the success of an operation, a battle or a retirement.  How often, on campaign, hadn’t great catastrophes emerge that were only due to a lapse of memory or negligence of discipline, whether this lapse of memory or this negligence came from the Generals, or that it came from the soldiers?  It is without doubt, however, that this contempt for military prescriptions must be punished more severely in a head of a corps than in a soldier.  Discipline triples the number and the courage of the combatants:  it is all at the same time a sword and shield, which intimidate the efforts of the enemy.  With discipline, one can be crushed, but not beaten, and all those who have a military heart know however that these two words: crushed and beaten; are not synonymous.

The difference which existed between the discipline of the Imperial Guard and that of the other army corps was of little importance; but the regulations within the regiments of the Guard were multiplied, more severe, more preventive; there was, so to speak, on behalf of the subordinates, more religion, more observance than in the other army corps.  So it was perfectly conceived:  each soldier of the Guard held with honor respect for the uniforms that he wore, and he was not aware that all the obstacles imposed on his free will were created to increase the reputation of the arms, and to preserve its influence on the other regiments of the army.

Thanks to this type of cement which leveled all the corps of the Imperial Guard, thanks finally to this discipline which made fifty thousand soldiers act and go like only one man, public peace was never disturbed, and, in their relationships with the middle-class, the soldiers of the Guard showed themselves always gracious, polished and benevolent.  Confidence even went further in this admirable militia that it often happened that men of the middle-class, who had quarrels with other middle-class men in public places, did not hesitate to solicit Guard soldiers into being seconds in their duels.  These soldiers never refused this testimony of confidence that one gave them; but, arriving at the place of combat, they almost always managed to settle the business by their exhortations, their wise opinions and their councils.  They were deferred to, because the authority, honor, and bravery of these men was undeniable; and when a soldier of the Guard decided that one was not to cut a throat for a badly interpreted glance, word or a gesture, it very well failed to take place.

In 1805, workmen carpenters who haunted a public house close to the École-Militaire were caught in quarrel.  They were provoked; blood flowed in the fight, when two grenadiers of the Guard, who wanted peace, sitting at table in a corner of this public house, rose, left their place, advancing towards these workmen overheated by the wine, and arriving, initially by their firmness, then using words of harmony, brought back calm and rejoined the disputers among whom friendship had disappeared.  But similar facts were so numerous and so often repeated themselves, that they were not recorded.

Flight was completely unknown in the regiments of the Guard.  The barrack rooms were as sure as a bodyguard; causing General Dorsenne, who commanded the corps of grenadiers of the old Guard to say:  “If I had a van full of gold, I would put it in a barrack room of my grenadiers, as it would be more safe there than in a vault.”

This exquisite probity of the soldiers appeared in a marvelous way, especially in the disastrous retreat from Moscow.  The Cossacks badgered the army staff; the baggage train of the Emperor, where his particular treasure was, missed being taken while leaving Smolensk.  Mr. Beaudeuf, then the Guard paymaster, had the idea to have the soldiers of this corps carry all the gold valuables:  there was two million in gold.  Thus he distributed this gold to each man, who put it in his bag, and who carried it on the road.  Arriving on other side of the Bérésina, and the danger having passed, Mr. Beaudeuf asked for his gold.  The total sum—two million—was found, less seventy pieces of 20 francs which had been lost while crossing this river..., the grenadier who carried them being drowned!  Such was the morality of these soldiers.

When a jewel, a watch, a wallet were lost in the districts of the Guard, they were brought back to the service adjutant-major, sometimes even before those who had lost them knew of it.  In 1814, the Baron Harlet, who had been a commanding major of the 2nd Foot Grenadier Regiment, told to us by his mother-in-law, Mrs Letourneur of La Manche, former woman member of the Directory, who one day had dropped, in the large court of Courbevoie, her purse containing about sixty francs.  This loss had happened in the night.  The following day, at his rising, he was very astonished to see a sergeant major entering his room a purse in hand; it was his, which had been found by a drummer of rounds.  General Harlet called for this man, and wanted to at least give him something to drink to his health; but the drummer refused with obstinacy.

Intoxication was severely punished, and there were few examples in the Guard of such an obvious infringement to sobriety.  However when in fact it happened, when a soldier of the Guard had had misfortune put in this state, and appeared in a street of Paris -- what was, we repeat, excessively rare -- at once as if coming out of the ground two or three soldiers of the Guard, regardless from which arm, seized the delinquent, made him get into a hackney carriage, and returned him to the barracks, where often he managed to disguise his intoxication to the service adjutant.  But if he escaped punishment, he could not escape the gibes from his comrades.  Here was his most significant punishment.  Also the drunkard soon renounced this vice of intemperance.

The soldiers of the Old Guard were so well imbued with the holiness of discipline, that when they had incurred a punishment, they went themselves to the police force station, even before it was called for officially by the order of the immediate superior.  In this connection, speaking of a grenadier named Little John (Petit-Jean), who, during twenty years of actual service, had never set foot in a police station, although before entering the Imperial Guard he had served, for us to use the polite expression, several regiments.  He served as instructor to the training battalion of the Young Guard at Fontainebleau, and there, any instructor as he was, he was punished with six hours at the police force room.  He found his captain, and begged him to agree to inflict another punishment, confined to barracks, for example.  The captain remained inflexible.

—Then, he added, just take me out and shoot me, my captain:  I’d like that better.

The officer started laughing, and persists.  Little John went up to his room, took his rifle and blew out his brains, after having said to his comrades:

—I was never punished, and I will not have it.

Isn't the suicide of Vatel*, the despair of that famous house steward laughable compared to this voluntary death of an honest soldier?

*Vatel, François, 17th cent., French chef, famous in the time of Louis XIV. Mme Marie de Sévigné, in her letters, speaks of him as the chef of the prince of Condé and says that on a Friday, when the king was coming to dinner and the fish failed to arrive in time, Vatel committed suicide. The authenticity of this story is doubtful. (translator’s note)

Never were officers and non-commissioned officers obeyed with more promptitude and abnegation than in the Guard.  The soldiers had called Marshal Lobau (General Mouton who was for a long time aide-de-camp of the Emperor) the sheep-lion, undoubtedly because of his brilliant value on the battlefield and the softness of his character in the ordinary relations of the life.  This nickname could have been also applied to all the soldiers of the Guard, because these men who, in the plains of Austerlitz, Eylau, Jena, Wagram and Moscow, made the ground tremble under their steps, were also the easiest men to direct in their barracks.

It is also that these intrepid soldiers knew as, the first of the army, of which they were quintessence, the example they set of all the warlike virtues.  However, what is the first virtue of a soldier, if it is discipline, which prevents, which punishes and which sometimes kills, but whose whip never dishonors, the uniform being there like a palliative to ennoble all, all absolutely, except the perjury and the desertion with the enemy, because treason in uniform is the worst of all treasons?



It was only in 1630, under Louis XIII and at the beginning of the ministry of Cardinal Richelieu, that one saw rise in Paris the first barracks, still—they were built only at the end of the suburbs of the city and outside the walls.  Louis XIV completed what Louis XIII and Richelieu had begun.  By his order, four spacious barracks were built in the interior of the suburbs:  for the French guards, for the regiment of Swiss guards, the third intended for the regiments in transit, and finally a fourth for the constabulary; but it was only from the reign of Louis XV that all these spacious barracks that one sees today in the interior of Paris date.  Louis XV was the first of our kings who thought seriously of the convenience and the ease of the soldier, at the same time he relieved the inhabitants of the capital of an onerous burden and a tax as cumbersome as it was expensive:  that of situating the people of war.  At present the good intentions of his successor appear in all their glory.  Louis XVI, in imitation of his grandfather, played a big part in what was to ensure the well being of the soldier.  The barracks, which rose under his reign, testify to the importance that the monarch attached to these useful buildings, where the defenders of the fatherland must find all that can maintain attachment to the flag, devotion and obedience with the prince.

The government of the revolution and the Directory did not do anything for quartering republican soldiers; they only granted churches and monasteries to them, which they changed into quarters for infantry or cavalry, as they needed, but without making the least improvements there, without even trying to make the changes that this new destination seemed to require.  The cavalry, the artillery, the infantry, the engineers, all these weapons arms piled up pell-mell in these establishments, without the authority to make other expenditures to complete the metamorphosis, other than to trace in large red letters on the Gothic door of the church:  National Barracks.

The interminable wars of the Empire did not leave to Napoleon the leisure to devote his care to the philosopher's stone of military regeneration.  The Emperor built few barracks in Paris; however that which he raised on the quay of Orsay, except the exiguity of the site, which is far from fulfilling the requirements of such a construction, but that could neither be corrected nor increased, is designed according to all the rules of military architecture.  The barrack rooms are well aired and perfectly distributed; the courses are regular;  the stables, the kitchens, the canteens, etc, are in the places that they must occupy, in a word the building, seen on the quay, even has a monumental aspect:  this great number of windows, this door decorated with a simple but severe architecture, imprint on this barracks a character completely similar to its purpose.

It is reported that Napoleon went to visit the barracks of the quay of Orsay a few days after it had been finished.  The service battalion of foot grenadiers was already installed there, and the Emperor, by traversing parts of the building, said a few words to some of his old companions of Italy and Egypt.  On the day he was doing this, he singled out an old grenadier who, in spite of the sun’s heat (it was in July), had quietly sat down in full midday on one of the circular beams that form the sides of the principal court.

—Eh well!  Napoleon says, I assume that you must be content; I built you a beautiful barracks where you will live in clover (coqs en pâte). 

—It is true, my Emperor, answered the grenadier while rising at once and while raising the hand to his bonnet, the quarters is not awkwardly made; the master mason who designed it is not a fool; but he however omitted two essentials of primary need to this barracks...

—Which essentials?  Napoleon stopped. 

—Trees in this court for our shade from the sun, and gutters on the roofs to prevent us, when it can, of splashing mud about like ducks.

Napoleon sadly repressed a smile; but he recognized the accuracy of the grenadier critic;

—Bah!  Bah!  He answered him by pulling him by the moustache, you are never content, you others; you are little masters:  if you were listened to, it would be necessary to put to you in cotton.

—Possibly!  My Emperor, set out again the soldier with imperturbable phlegm; but sometimes we have mud up to the shins in the canteen.

In all events, shortly after this visit Napoleon called for, on his rising, the architect who had built the barracks of the quay of Orsay.  This one came at once on the orders of the Emperor, who, unfortunately for him, was in one of these moments of crisis or excitation which sometimes threw into his character, usually so affectionate and so good, a little roughness and brusqueness.

—Sir, he said to him first of all, you are from the Institute, and you have a thirty years experience in civic


—Yes, Sire, this one answered.

—Eh well!  Sir, I am annoyed to be forced to say to you that you do not know your trade. 

The modern Vitruve* fell from high at the sound of so singular a compliment, and could only stammer unintelligible words.  Napoleon had pity on his embarrassment, and taking a tone of benevolence little by little, he added: 

—In the barracks of my Guard, that of the quay of Orsay, you forgot the gutters: only that, Mister.

—Ah!  Sire, Your Majesty is right, set out again at once the architect whom the smile, which materialized on the Imperial lips, had completely reassured; but I thought that your grenadiers did not fear water more than fire.

This revelation and flash of wit completed to disarm Napoleon, who was caught with laughing while saying to the architect: 

—My soldiers fear neither water nor fire, it is true; but it is urgent however to place gutters at the roofs of the buildings.  I count on you to repair this lapse of memory as soon as possible.

A few days after, the gutters were positioned everywhere, and the grenadier who had warned Napoleon of this lapse of memory said to his comrades:

—The little corporal took my advice, he placed gutters in the quarters; also in the future he will not  obliged us, like the soldiers of the pope, to take umbrellas to cross the court in times of bad weather.

  Independently of the service squadrons of the Guard (infantry and cavalry) who were temporarily placed in the Bonaparte Quarter of the quay of Orsay, the corps of foot grenadiers, as of the end of 1804 until the beginning of the year 1814, the beautiful barracks of Courbevoie.

The 3rd Grenadier Regiment (Dutch) was quartered in Versailles, as well as the veterans of the Guard and the flanqueurs.

The foot chasseurs were placed in Ruel, in this antique residence of Cardinal Richelieu.

The regiments of fusiliers, tirailleurs, voltigeurs and flanqueurs were always on campaign; but their depots were at the barracks of Courbevoie, Panthemont, at Ruel and at the École-Militaire.

The sappers of the engineers were quartered at Mont Blanc street, today barracks known as de Clichy.

Seamen, at the École-Militaire.

The foot and horse artillery occupied the castle of Vincennes.

The horse grenadiers and chasseurs were distributed in the vast buildings of the École-Militaire.

The company of the mamelucks held garrison in Melun.

The Empress Dragoons were quartered in the District of Grenelle-Saint-Germain Street, called Panthemont.

The Polish lancers in Chantilly.

And the elite gendarmerie in Célestins.

It should be said however, at the time of the Consulate, and even at the beginning of the Empire, the body guard and the posts occupied by the Guard did not have at any point a resemblance to the Dutch body guard, so picturesquely recalled on the fabric by Wouvermans and Vandermeulen.  Four cracked walls, covered with devices, names, dates and coarse figures drawn with charcoal; a sheet iron stove with an odd chimney, a worm-eaten rack of weapons; a rickety table, which was at the same time used all to arrange the mess tins and to write the report of each day; a black camp bed polished like ebony, but rather similar to the fabulous bed of Procuste, as it was so short; a long smoked out shelf intended for cans, the case of the drum and the cloak, rolled in enormous rolls;  men of guard;  two or three wooden benches of oak;  four chairs similar to church pews, for the non commissioned officers, and an old armchair covered with leather, with copper nails, for the officer commanding the post, formed the furnishing of this smoked out den, more worthy of a band of brigands than of a squad of brave soldiers.  But these soldiers were Imperial Guard; their martial figures exerted such a prestige, that little was necessary of it other than greeting them while passing in front of one of their bodyguard, as formerly the citizens of Rome were inclined in front of the Jupiter Stator temple, entrusted to the guard of the legions of Caesar.

* Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, engineer and Roman architect about the 1st century B.C.  He is the author De architectura, a work in 10 volumes, and the sole volume on architecture that reached us from antiquity.  This work is a principal inspiration for Classicism. (gmg)

(Interior of a Grenadier’s post)

It was only into 1806 that these bodyguards, especially those contiguous to the palaces and the Imperial residences located out of Paris, were improved.  Initially the neighborhoods of the building were cleansed, the walls

re-plastered and whitewashed; then furniture was changed and increased, and an express warning was made to the soldiers not to etch or carve anything on the walls, on the tables or on the benches.

The officer commanding the post, as well as the non commissioned officers, had a separate room in the interior of the bodyguard, and each one of them a particular camp bed; finally, later, the establishment of running a water fountain, placed near the post, further increased these various improvements.



Each corps of foot grenadiers and chasseurs, and horse grenadiers and chasseurs of the Guard, provided a battalion and a squadron to serve the imperial residence where the Emperor was located.  This battalion and this squadron were raised every three months; they had with them, to defile on parade, the sappers and the musicians of their corps, which always accompanied the relief guard.

Each corps of infantry was in service for one week alternatively:  they were relieved Sunday.

The service battalion of grenadiers was placed, only throughout this service, in the Bonaparte Quarters, quay of Orsay; that of the chasseurs at Panthemont, Grenelle Saint-Germain Street.  In 1811, the chasseurs gave up this barracks with the grenadiers, and were placed at the École-Militaire.

In the summer, the relief guard defile on parade at nine o'clock in the morning, in the court of the palace inhabited by the Emperor, and, in the winter, at midday.

The service squadron of horse grenadiers and that of the chasseurs were also quartered in the Bonaparte Quarters.

By Imperial Decree, dated at Saint Cloud the 24 messidor year XII (July 13, 1804), Napoleon established in the following way the service obligations, which the Imperial Guard would have to fill near his person, as near that of the members of his family and the high-ranking dignitaries of the Empire.

“Art. 1st.  Everywhere where the troops of the Imperial Guard are present together with those of the line, the station of honor is submitted to them.”

“Art. 2.  The officers and non commissioned officers of the Imperial Guard have, an equal rank with, the commanding of the officers and non commissioned officers of the line corps, when they are joined together at a post for the same service.”

“Art. 3.  When the Emperor grants to some corps of the line the honor to take part in the guarding of his person, the troops of the imperial Guard always preserve the right, and are placed in the posts which more approach His Majesty.”

“Art. 4. When a corps or detachment of the Imperial Guard travels and it meets another corps or detachment of line troops, this last is placed in ranks and ports arms; the flags are saluted and the drums beat aux champs until the troops of the Guard pass by.”

“The colonels and commanders of the detachments exchange salutes.”

“In this case, the corps of the Imperial Guard returns the same honors that it receives from the corps of the line troops, but it does not stop its march.”

“Art. 5.  When a corps or detachment of the Imperial Guard is in a place of war or on campaign, the commander of this corps or detachment only provides the muster rolls of men and horses to the commander of the place or to the major-General of the army; but if in a besieged place, the corps or detachments of the Imperial Guard which are there, receive, like the other corps of the garrison, orders to contribute to the general defense from the higher commander of this place.”

“When the Emperor crosses a river, or being in a seaport he walks in the port or on the roads, the seamen of the Imperial Guard exclusively guard the boat which carries His Majesty.”

“Out of the palace, the Imperial Guard presents arms and forms in ranked lines facing one another (borde la haie) for the Emperor and Empress; it also presents arms and is place in ranks for the princes and princesses of the Imperial family; then the drums beat aux champs.  It bears and ports arms in the same way for the Colonel-Généraux of the Guard, but then the drums beat only the recall.”

“When the Emperor is on campaign, the posts filled by the Imperial Guard present arms and hold them for the Marshals of the Empire; they leave the post, without arms, for the other Generals, but the drums do not beat.”

“When the Emperor is not on campaign, the posts provided by the Imperial Guard render the same honors to the Generals that the troop of line would render to them.”

“The posts provided by the Imperial Guard, out of the palace of His Majesty or on campaign, or finally in the absence of the Emperor, return to the Marshals of the Empire the same honors as those allotted to His Majesty himself.”

“With the army, the corps must visit the corps through the service aide-de-camp of the Emperor.”

“No one can enter the palace where the Emperor lives but the troop that is ordered to serve for the day, without the service Colonel-Général knowledge.  In this case, he must be presented beforehand with the execution of the order for this advanced troop; but if the Colonel-Général is not warned, or if he is unaware of the reason for the arrival of the aforementioned troop, he must, on his private authority, to make this troop withdraw.”

Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2005


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