Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics








After accession of Napoleon to the Empire, the new Imperial Guard had given an oath to the head whom had raised it as a bulwark *; but he wanted to awake the spirit of the soldier by calling upon the enthusiasm of the old legions of Rome, and, like the conqueror of Gauls, to address some of these words to them which would stir their hearts.

*Answer of the Emperor to the delegation of the Imperial Guard, which was presented to him on 25 messidor year XII (15 June 1804), by Marshal Bessières:

“I know the feelings of the Guard for my person; my confidence in the bravery and fidelity of the corps which it holds is total.  I constantly see with the greatest pleasure my comrades in arms escaping so many dangers, and covered with so many honorable wounds, and I am filled with a feeling of perfect satisfaction when I then say to myself, by considering them under their flags, that it is not one of the battles, not one of the combats delivered during these last fifteen years, and in the four corners of the world, which did not have among them witnesses and performers.”  (Monitor.)

To begin with the organization of the Legion of Honor had been completed.  The membership of the Legion of Honor was lost, as well as the exercise of the rights which were attached to it, by the same causes that lost the quality of the French citizen.  No judgment carrying defamatory sorrow could be carried out against a member of Legion of Honor before he had not been degraded.  For this degradation, the president pronounced, immediately after the reading of the judgment, this formula:  You are lacking honor; I declare, in the name of Legion of Honor, of which you cease to be a member.  The cashiering of an officer, a non-commissioned officer, a soldier legionnaire, could have only taken place according to the authorization of the Minister of War, who did not give his authority until after having informed the grand-chancellor, who referred to it to the Emperor. * *

** Decree of 22 messidor year XII (July 11, 1804).

The foreigners named members of the Legion of Honor were admitted and not received.  They wore the decoration and did not give an oath; they did not count towards the number fixed for each rank;  they did not enjoy the political rights allotted to the legionnaires.

The decoration of the Legion consisted of a star with five double rays.  The center of star, surrounded by a crown of oak and laurel leaves, presented the head of the Emperor, with this legend:  Napoleon, Emperor of the French, and, other, the French eagle holding lightning bolts, with this legend:  Honor and fatherland.  The decoration was of white enamel; out of gold for the grand-officers, commanders and officers, and out of silver for the legionnaires.  One wore it on the buttonhole of the coat, attached to a red moiré ribbon.  The members of the Legion were to always carry their decoration. ***

***  Decree of 24 messidor year XII (July 13, 1804.)

The festival of Conquest of Freedom and that of the Foundation of the Republic, established by the law of 3 nivose year VIII (December 24, 1799), had fallen into disuse.  July 14, 1804 was chosen by Napoleon to inaugurate the Legion of Honor, to receive the oath of the members, and to distribute to them the decorations himself.

This day, the new Imperial Guard defiled in front of the Emperor, at the Tuileries, then came to form ranks facing each other in line (border la haie) from the palace to the Invalides.  The Empress Josephine crossed the garden in a carriage of eight horses, accompanied by the princesses, sisters and sisters-in-law of the Emperor.  To the noise of an artillery salvo, Napoleon left the palace on horse, preceded by the Marshals, and followed by the Colonel-Généraux of his Guard, his aides-de-camp.  The march was opened by the horse chasseurs of the Guard, and was closed by grenadiers.  The cannon of the Invalids announced his arrival.  The governor (Marshal Serrurier) received Napoleon before the gates of the Hotel, and presented the their keys to him.  The Ministers and those of the grand officers of the Empire who had not come to horse, met on the esplanade of the Hotel, and took their rank in the cortège.

The cardinal Archbishop of Paris accepted the Emperor at the door of the church, and presented incense and holy water to him; then clergy the led the procession, under the platform, to the imperial throne, to the sound of a military march.  He was seated there, and each one took his position around him, according to etiquette.

Seven hundred invalids and a hundred pupils of the Polytechnic School occupied the immense amphitheater.  The grand officers, the commanders, the officers and the members of the Legion were arranged in the nave.

The cardinal began the mass.  After the Gospel, the grand-chancellor of the Legion of Honor made a speech.  Recalling the memories of July 14, 1789, he said that all that this memorable day had established was unshakable, and nothing of what it had destroyed could be restored; he then called upon the grand-officers successively, who approached the throne to give the prescribed oath.

Then Napoleon covered himself, and in a strong and accentuated voice pronounced the formula of this oath, by challenging the commanders, the officers and the legionnaires.  All, upright, the raised hand, repeated at the same time:  I swear it!

The mass finished, the decorations were laid at the foot of the throne, in a gold basin.  That of the Emperor, after having passed through the hands of the Grand Master of Ceremonies, arrived at Prince Louis, who attached it himself on the coat of Napoleon.  Then the grand chancellor successively called the members of the legion in the order of their ranks, to receive the decoration from the hands of the Emperor.  The soldier was mixed with the Guard, the General, the pontiff, the magistrate, the administrator, the scientist and the artist.  The ceremony ended in a Te Deum.  The return to Tuileries was done in the same order as the departure.  That evening, there were illuminations at Tuileries, a concert on the terrace of the palace, and fireworks on the Pont-Neuf.

This solemnity was majestic and imposing; the sharp emotion which it had excited on several occasions in the Church of the Invalides was expressed even more at the exit of the temple, and a long time after the departure of Napoleon the courses of the Hotel reserved for the martyrs of the battles resounded with the cries of:  Long Live the Emperor! *

*  To prove that Napoleon did not freely lavish the cross of Legion of Honor, it will be enough for us to quote only one fact. 

Veyrat, Inspector-General of the military gendarmerie, had rendered many services, in particular in all the attempts which had been made against the life of Napoleon under the Consulate, and mainly in the Mallet affair, in 1812, since it was he who, by the decree of the latter to General Hulin, governor of Paris, to some extent broke through this incredible conspiracy.  Veyrat had only one ambition: that to see his buttonhole decorated with the red ribbon.  A many high connections that were interested in him had made requests to the Emperor without ever being successful.  One day that the Duke of Rovigo, who had succeeded Fouché as the Minister of the police force, enumerated the qualities which he believed that Veyrat had for this distinction, Napoleon having let him speak without interruption, tells him in the end: you are correct, Savary, I agree with all that, I am very-content with Veyrat, he is very useful to me and for a long time; I will give him money as much as he wants, but the cross... never!  Say this to him once and for all, so that one does not speak to me again about it any more.

A few days after this Napoleon left for Boulogne.  He wanted to appear for the troop camps.  The expedition to England was prepared with a great deployment of energy; 150,000 men would greet their Emperor on the shore of the English Channel.  Napoleon had distributed the Legion of Honor to his Guard at the Invalides; he wanted to repeat the grandeur of this solemnity at the Camp of Boulogne.  By visiting his brave legions, the Emperor was to reward so much devotion to his person and his service; his presence would encourage work; the soldiers would accustom themselves to seeing Caesar under the tent.  He thus arrived at Boulogne with the Empress Josephine, who seemed to dominate it like a mysterious destiny, and was soon in the midst of the massed regiments on vast expanse along the shore.  Then announced to the grand army *, by order of the day, that, in the military festival of the following day, he would distribute the cross of the Legion of Honor to the most deserving army; all were to receive it his hand, so to have a more powerful memory of it.  On a height, where the dunes form a large amphitheater, the Imperial Guard and the army lined up in tight columns; ahead of the line, innumerable ships of the flotilla, by repeated evolutions, seemed to be delighted by the presence of their Emperor, like the dolphins of fable around Neptune.  Many artillery salvos, the sound of military music, which resounded with an echo, the noisy trumpets of the brass bands, the beating of three hundred drums, were heard when Napoleon appeared.  He was placed in the center of this amphitheater; he was the shield of Bayard, and the helmet of Duguesclin the crosses of the glorious order which he was going to distribute to the worthy children of France.  The Marshals grouped at his sides; Marshal Berthier read the names of each soldier or officer who received the noble distinction for so many services; then each one advanced close to the Emperor, who said to all a benevolent word in their receiving the badge of the honor.  To the most ancient soldiers, he recalled Egypt, Italy, and large tears rolled in their brilliant eyes at the memory of Montenottè, of the Pyramids or of Marengo; glorious mixed-up heroes, who all approached with respect that had made them such.  This ceremony had to leave in the heart of all inexpressible memories.  We will find them, at the days of battles and even at the times of death, always the same ones, and thrilled by only the name of their Emperor!

*  It was at the time of the first dispositions taken at Bouogne to operate the descent into England, that Napoleon (who was yet only Consul for life) ordered the formation of a large army divided into six principal and distinct corps.  Berthier, then Minister of War, joined to these functions those of major general of this army.  It was easy to guess who was to be the supreme head of it.  After having decreed all the bases of this vast organization, the Consul, in a letter to the Major General, on 25 prairial year XI (June 14, 1803), indicated the regiments of the various arms, which were to form the six army corps without equal.  Such was the origin of the Grand Army, whose final organization was however complete only under the Empire, and who concentrated, under the command of Napoleon alone, all military forces of France.  As of this moment the Imperial Guard formed an essential part of the grand army, and became about it to some extent the pivot and the engine.

This solemnity lasted only one day; and, as of the following day, Napoleon accomplished his work of a solemn visit to the camps; he wanted all to see, like the first time that he had visited Boulogne.  He worked successively with the Minister of War and that of the Navy.  The man of war who he consulted most was indisputably Marshal Soult.  Then, going upon a ship in the middle of the surging sea, he had operations performed in front of him.  The wind of the ocean blew with violence; he could judge how much a similar blowing would be perilous; but the ground troops had to be accustomed to rolling of the tempest, if frequent on the coasts of the north of France.  Some divisions of the flotilla approached with the port, and Napoleon leapt with joy at the spectacle which Admiral Werhuel had prepared for him, entering with a division of Dutch launches at the time even when he distributed the rewards so legitimately due to courage and intrepidity; because, it should be said, that Napoleon was not only happy in the camps and was surrounded by his Guard; he was there in the element of his glorious life; he understood the language of his soldiers, and was understood much pride these men had with such a leader at their head.



Staff and administration



Foot grenadiers

1 regiment



Vélites grenadiers

1 battalion



Foot chasseurs

1 regiment



Vélites chasseurs

1 battalion




1 company




4 battalions






Horse grenadiers

1 regiment



Horse chasseurs

1 regiment




1 company



Elite gendarmes

1 battalion, 2 squadrons





Artillery. 1 squadron of light artillery, 1 section


of workers, 1 train company



Hospital called Gros-Caillou







Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2005


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