Reviews: Military Books


Napoleon's Regiments: Battle Histories of the Regiments of the French Army, 1792 -1814

By Digby Smith

London: Greenhill Books; 2000. 328 pages. ISBN 1-85367-413-3. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Robert Burnham, FINS

Napoleon's Regiments cover

This is the ultimate reference guide to the individual regiments of the French Army from the Revolutionary Era to the final days of Napoleon. In this one volume work, Digby Smith examines all of the combat arms of the French Army. Included are the regiments of the Imperial Guard, the line and light infantry regiments, the line cavalry, the artillery (both foot, horse, marine, and bridging units), colonial and auxiliary troops, and units do not neatly fall into these categories, such as the Chasseurs d'Orient and the Regiment de Pioniers Blancs. Excluded, however, are those units that were not combat arms or were temporary organizations, such as the 'Sacred Squadron' of 1812. Some foreign units are included, but only those considered being part of the French Army (the four foreign infantry regiments, the Swiss Regiments, and the Vistula Legion, among others).

Wherever possible Mr. Smith provides information on the regiment's nicknames, its lineage, the various re-organizations it underwent, the combats and campaigns it participated in (both during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars), officer casualties, and, in some cases, short biographies of its commanders and battle honors won. Occasionally details are provided about the unit's eagle and colors. When known, information is provided on some of its more distinguished actions. Mr. Smith closes each entry with information on the lineage of the unit after Napoleon's final defeat and the Bourbons' assumption of the throne of France.

Napoleon's Regiments closes with 8 appendices that include lists of demi-brigades raised entirely from volunteer units; authorized organizations and strengths for the various arms; the expansion of the infantry of the Imperial Guard; how the army was re-organized after both of Napoleon's abdications; and, actions and losses in the French navy. Mr. Smith also provides an extensive bibliography for those who wish to do their own research.

Due to space limitations (over 400 regiments are listed), Mr. Smith resorts to a series of abbreviations for ranks, organizations, etc. Many are standard (such as ranks) and will be familiar to most students of military history. Others are of French terminology and organizations that will require the reader to make extensive use of the glossary of abbreviations. However, they are often logical and will be easy to learn.

Napoleon's Regiments is not for the casual reader or one who is looking for detailed information on uniforms and battles of the Napoleonic Era. It is the book, however, for those who have questions about where a regiment served, who its commanders were, and other hard to find information. This book is a must for the serious student of the era.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2000 

 

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