The Geographical Engineers/Ingenieurs-geographes
The Geographical Engineers, scouting ahead of the army in the advanced guard, responsible for route finding, surveying and collection of data about the local area were a small, highly specialised force. Marshall Vauban organised the “Ingenieurs des Camps et des Armees” in 1696; in 1726 the organisation became autonomous (Jacob 2006 : 20). They were the pre-curses of the Ingenieurs-Geographes.
The French Armies' Engineer Corps was established as a distinct entity on 7th February 1744, but were merged with the Artillery in 1755 (Ambert 1837: 150) being reorganised in 1759 (Ambert 1837: 151). A School of Engineering was created at Mezieres in 1744 (Fourcy 1828: 3) and a School of Miners at Verdun (Ambert 1837: 151 see also Fourcy 1828: 3). The “Corps Royal du Genie” was formed on the 31st December 1776 (Ambert 1837: 152) In 1758 the Chief Engineer Jean-Baptiste Berthier, father of the famous marshal, had under his command men like: Lhuillier de la Serre, Villaret, Roger, Dupain de Montesson, Viallanez, Soldini, Mouy Chevalier de Marne (Ract 2002: chapter 1). During 1760 the Geographical Engineers were attached to the General War Depot and on 1st April 1769 became part of the army. They were reorganised in 1776/7 (Ract 2002: Chapter 2) when their remit was to produce maps and plans for the army, carry out topographical surveys and trace the camps and marches of the army(Pigeard 2000: 30)
However, no corps can claim to have been so badly treated as that the of Geographical Engineers (Ract 2002: Chapter 2) with proposals for their disbanding appearing in 1770s and 1780s, with only the persistent hard work of Berthier preventing their disbanding and inclusion in the Regulations of 1776 (Ract 2002: Chapter 1).
The “Ingenieurs-geographes” (Geographical Engineers) were established in 1769, as the armies’ map makers, route finders and surveyors.
They were disbanded on 17 August 1791 by the Directory (Journal Militiare Supplement no. 4 p. 282 cited in Pigead 2000 : 30, see also Fourcy 1828: 11 and Ract 2002: Chapter 2) and surveying and cartography became part of one of the 12 disciplines to be taught at the Engineering School (Fourcy 1828: 11). In the following year they came under the command of the HQ General Staff (Fourcy 1828: 11 see also Laisne 1840: 594 ). A provisional depot was established two years later to teach the theory and practice of surveying to a maximum of 12 or so students due to the perceived lack of topographic skills. In addition to these engineers, geographers and surveyors from universities or the Department of Roads and Bridges, were attached to the Headquarters Staff when on campaign to carry out the duties of a Geographical Engineer. On 22nd February and 6th June 1792 there were 36 Officier-Ingenieur-Geographes (Pigead 2000: 30).
During August 1794 Carnot ordered the formation of a “Cabinet Historique et Topgraphique” charged with the production of plans and materials for the army and writing a military history (Brown 1995: 127 see also Pigead 2000: 30). The establishment of this Cabinet was due to the miss management by the aged Geographical Engineer de Calon of the General War Depot (Brown 1995: 127). By creating the Cabinet, Carnot created an organisation whose functions duplicated those of the General War Depot (Brown 1995: 127 to 128) and at a stroke neutralised de Calon who had turned the War Depot into his own personal fief, it having become badly organised, over staffed and too cumbersome to deal with the logistics of the Army (Brown 1995: 128).
The Cabinet became the central planing organisation for the army and had amongst its staff the young Geographical Engineer Cesar-Gabriel Berthier and a Captain Joseph who were responsible for troop movements (Brown 1995: 128). Berthier was a relation of Louis-Alexandre Berthier who was also a Geographical Engineer; Cesar-Gabriel later became a General and ADC to Murat. Under the Restoration the Topograpic Bureau and the Cabinet became part of the War Depot (Pigead 2000: 34).
In the following year there were calls for the re-establishment of a separate corps of Geographical Engineers; on 13th May the following measures were proposed (Pigead 2000: 31):
The General War Depot was re-organised during 1797, and part of this reorganisation included the Geographical Engineers who were now classed as “Artist Engineers” but ranked as Adjoints du Genie. They came under the command of the Officers du Genie (Pigead 2000: 30).
In 1798 in Italy Napoleon utilised both Geographical Engineers and Surveyors from the Department of Bridges and Roads, superintended by officers of the Engineers. He wrote that their duties were to survey routes for the army and to carry out field reconnaissance ahead of the army. The Geographical Engineers in Italy in June 1800 were commanded by Rousseau and Adjutant Commandant Bailleu. There were six Officers: Epailly, Cabos, Delcros, Pasquier, Legrand and Roubo assisted by five draughtsmen, namely: Denaix, Blancheville, Lerouge, Loras, Collin.
The lack of Geographical Engineers led to a committee being formed to study the re-establishment of the Department of Geographical Engineers.
Decree of 1803
The Geographical Engineers were re-established upon the recommendation of the committee which reported on 15 Nivôse an XI (1 May 1803) that the School of Geographers should be taken under military control and merged with the Geographical Engineers, for both internal and external service. An earlier recommendation for the Corps of Geographical Engineers was proposed in 1802 but abandoned (Pigead 2000: 32) but re-presented in 1804 (Pigead 2000: 32) This new school, which incorporated the School of Geographers which had been established on 30 vendémaire year 4 was to teach eight pupils “the least possible number to be enough with recruitment to the body to the engineer-geographers”. Part of the school was a library which was open to all officers, housing around 4,000 books, which included text books, aide-memoires, engraved maps, other “printed works” and manuscripts.
Economics appear to have been a major factor: by uniting the School of Engineers with the army and the Geographical Engineers there was a considerable saving from 40,000F to 12,000F.
Decree 1st May 1803
On the Organisation of the special School of Geography and Topography.
Organisation of the Corps
The Corps was to consist of sixty officers, divided into six sections ten strong, with the possibility of increasing the number of 2nd and 3rd class engineers on campaign; indeed the Minister of War had proposed the corps to be at least 90-95 men strong. The increase in size of the Corps was due to the numerous operations being undertaken by them, in Bavaria, in Souabe, in the four départements joined together, in Savoy, in Helvetia, in Piedmont, in the Italian Republic, on the isle of Elba, in Egypt and in Morée. One section was on permanent duty in Paris the remainder on service.
The Geographical Engineers came under the remit of the “Bureau Topographique Exterieurs” and had eleven depots located as follows (Pigead 2000: 32):
It was felt that if the Geographical Engineers were a strictly military unit, then the possibility of “their ambition to acquire hierarchy would too often make them ignore the less brilliant utility [of] their functions.” and that such ambition for promotion would affect their work; “they have many relationships with those of the staff officers and the military engineers, that they would give birth to unceasingly, on their respective limitations, of the difficulties which the correspondence of the ranks would not fail to multiply.” It was for these reasons that a “suitable way the service of the engineer-geographers,” was found without them being “a military body… one determined their functions so as to preserve their utility and their importance, without confusing them with any of those of the officers of the army.”
There were 60 Geographical Engineers in 1803 and with the other employees of the school etc. total establishment was around 90. Each ten-strong section comprised: a section-chief, two assistant managers, two geographers of first class, two of second and three of third. Attached were other assistants, translators and guides who were paid for out of an “allowances” fund. This supplementary pay was allotted as follows:
This supplement was to be paid to them after the costs had been certified by the section head and by the director of the Depot, and scheduled by the Minister for the war.
Pay for the Corps in 1803 and 1804 was as for the officers of the rest of the Army and they drew their rations as follows:
They fell under the immediate command of the Chief of Staff.
On 6 June1804, Napoleon ordered the formation of the Geographical Engineers to be as follows:
The Corps was composed entirely of officers with:
The corps was subdivided into six sections, each section ten men strong:
The School of Geographical Engineering was reformed under Napoleon's orders in 1804 and the Corps of Geographical Engineers re-organised on 6th June of the same year.
The rank system used by the Geographical Engineers was comparable to the remainder of the Army but used its own unique terminology. They all ranked as officers and as such wore the various rank distinctions but their ranks were comparable with not equivalent to. In 1808 their rank and pay was made comparable to the Staff Officers, and in 1812 brought in line with the rest of the Engineer officers, but the terminology was unchanged, so that each class of Geographical Engineer was the equivalent to the normal army rank.
During 1806 it was proposed to attached a Corps of Guides to the Geographical Engineers, but this was abandoned for being impractical (Pigead 2000: 32); during the following year it was felt that the Corps was short staff so 26 qualified army engineers were drafted into the service (Pigead 2000: 32).
Reorganisation: 1808 and 1809
An Imperial Decree dated Burgos, November 23rd 1808 confirmed the existing rank structures of the Corps (Pigead 2000: 33) and several officers were promoted, namely (Pigead 2000: 33), Colonels Bonne, Brossier, Henry, Jacotin, Tranchot, Nouet. Napoleon ordered on 22nd December 1808 that the Geographical Engineers be re-organised into a more efficient unit. Under this new organisation there were to be
An Imperial Decree of 30th January 1809 established the Geographical Engineers as a separate military organisation in their own right(Article 1). They were still part of the General War Depot commanded by a General Officer, the unit comprising 70 all ranks:
Admittance was fixed to students from the Special School of Geography and the Ecole Polytechnique.
They were to be considered as officers of the Corps of Engineers and had all the “benefits and allowances” of officers and also extra pay to pay for their instruments, pencils, colours (article 7).
From the Schonnbrunn Palace Napoleon wrote that “ The Corps of Ingenieurs-Geographes will accept from orders only the adjutant-commander Bacler of Albe. The Ingenieurs-Geographes will correspond with him and delay him their jobs; They will received my orders by this channel. Every evening, it will be made to me a report on the job of every Engineer.” (Pigead 2000: 33). The Corps of Geographer Engineers were to be responsible for (Allant 1808: lv and Pigead 2000: 33) drawing the map of France, preparing copies of maps on campaign, drawings plans of battles, camps, fortifications, field works. Their work was of the “first importance” according to Napoleon (Pigead 2000: 33)
In 1811, the Corps was commanded by Colonel Nouet, head of the Bureau of Topography, and it was under his jurisdiction that a further change in the establishment was made:
Functions and Duties
In times of war, the Geographical Engineers came under the command of the Chief of the General Staff. Their main duties were to survey routes for the army and to locate any obstacles in its path (Allent 1808: lv). The officers were also required to supply all the charts, maps, aide-memoires as needed by the Staff and also to brief officers about the local geography and routes. In an age where there was no carbon-paper or photocopiers, they had to reproduce maps and charts as required. They were often found in the advance guard, scouting ahead of the army surveying routes, updating and amending maps and finding out as much as possible about the terrain, the enemy, their strength and their location – data vital to the movement of the army, supply lines and when and where to engage in battle. As mentioned above, the Geographical Engineers were granted an allowance to pay for translators and also local guides to help them.
The formation decree stated that in times of war In times of war, the section head attached to an army was at the disposal of the General in Chief, or the Chief of the General Staff, and had to be able supply all the the aide-memoires, charts and plans and also to provide extracts or copies, of them. They were also to survey the country occupied by the army, and draw plans of camps, field fortresses and also battle fields. It also appears that they acted as intelligence gathers, as they were also charged to collect all the “knowledge of the country and its statistics, of the military operations of the enemy” and collect all the data possible about a given area.
In times of peace, the Geographical Engineers came under the command of the Director of the General War Depot and they were to survey land and maritime borders as well as routes and survey for new highways; the improvement and extension the maps of France and those of the colonies; final improvement and engraving of the charts of the Depot, and drafting of the topographic surveys made with the armies.
The section heads, or the assistant managers were in charge of the first order triangulation, for the establishment of the trigonometrical ground works; they were to give the points of the secondary triangulation, were to supervise the geodetic and topographic operations, and were ultimately responsible for the accuracy of all measurements taken and surveys made.
Admittance and Promotion
In 1803 and 1804, admittance to the Corps was following graduation from the Special School of Geography and from 1808 the Ecole Polytechnique. In 1811, a course of Surveying and Geodetic Studies was added to the curriculum of the Ecole Polytehcnique (Fourcy 1828: 304). According to the 1804 Decree all the pupils of the School of Engineering and those civilians who worked for the army as Geographers or Surveyors were eligible for admittance into the Corps after passing an examination and practical test or “other means” as chosen by the Director. Furthermore, those pupils of the School or Civilian Employees were to be called upon when needed on active service as Geographical Engineers, classed as “Supernumeraries”.
Admittance into the corps as Engineer 3rd Class was to be approved by the Emperor and promotion from that rank was based on examination and seniority. Each Geographical Engineer was to have held a rank for at least twelve months or have been on active service to be considered for promotion and the Eleves Sous-Lieutenant and Engineer 3 Class were “open to competition of exams”.
Each candidate for the corps had to be aged between 18 and 24 and to have applied in writing to the Secretary of War; exams were held annually in Brumaire. The Examination Board was nominated by the Secretary of War and included the Director, three General Officers of Engineers and three members of the Institute.
Eleves Sous-Lieutenant were undergraduates of the Special School, receiving on the job training.
Vacancies created by promotion or death were to be filled by the pupils drawn from the special school from geography and topography, in the manner regulated by the decree concerning the establishment of the school (see above).
The Section Chiefs and Assistant Managers were all nominated by the Director.
The Geographical Engineers of first class were promoted with two thirds named by the Director and the third with the seniority of commission. For those of second class, half were nominated and half promoted by seniority.
Due to the small size of the Corps, if an officer was away sick or wounded for a length of time, it was found easier for no replacement officer to be appointed, and the vacancy would be left until the officer could return.
The decree of 15 Nivose An X1 stated that the Geographical Engineers were to wear the same uniform as the staff but with their own facing colour and buttons. The 1812 regulations simplified and lessened the cost of the uniform.
The Geographic Engineers were only a tiny unit, less than 100 strong, so contemporary depictions of them is rare. Vernet-Lami in 1810 indicates white breeches and black knee boots, a blue coat with blue turnbacks, aurore collar and aurore piping to both turnbacks and the horizontal pockets. An officer working in the background of his plate has a dark coloured waist belt and perhaps a white waistcoat.
During the revolutionary period, Victor Adam shows the wearing of a long tailed habit with aurore collar, cuffs and square cut lapels.
Marbot (undated but definitely post period) fancifully shows a Geographical Engineer wearing a habit-long with an aurore collar and cuffs and blue square-cut lapels, scarlet turnbacks and piping with white waistcoat and breeches. Brian Fosten in his plate of a Geographical Engineer (which is obviously based on that by Marbot) compounds this error. He gives them a habit with pointed lapels as one would expect for a staff/Cavalry uniform but plain cuffs devoid of flap or point.
The wearing of a lapelled coat might have been a case of “tenue de fantasie” and contrary to regulation which specified a lapel-less coat. That both the 1803 regulations, decrees of 1804 and 1808 and the Regulation of 1812 state that the coat was to be devoid of lapels, one can assume that the wearing of a coat with lapels was a tenue du fantasie or an error on later artists' part.
Chef de Section Epailly writing to his friend from Hanover in 1803 wrote of the new uniform that it wasn't very “showy” and that only one of his colleagues had “the lace and trimmings of a bigwig”. He noted, however, that the “epaulettes are very fine”. (Pigead 2000: 34)
1803 Regulation Full Dress
The single-breasted National Blue Habit-long was cut from wool cloth and had an aurore collar and cuffs. The front fastened with a single row of seven or nine large buttons, and the cuffs closed with three buttons at the rear and were devoid of flaps. The turn backs were were blue and bore the Engineers emblem of the “Corselet d'Armes” in gold. The three pointed pockets were horizontal, and had three buttons.
The waistcoat was aurore and blue pantaloons were worn over short boots or blue breeches and knee boots were worn according to season. The riding coat was blue with an aurore collar.
The buttons were gilt, initially bearing a globe “registered in a triangle of the compasses and rule with the legend Ingenieur-Geographes”. This was later changed to a globe surrounded by an oak and laurel wreath with the legend “Ingenieurs-Geographes”. On 30th March 1810 new buttons were ordered, bearing a a crowned eagle on globe device.
An epaulette of Engineer pattern was worn on the left shoulder with an aiguilette on the right.(see Reglement AnXI: Plate VIII figure5)
An epee or sabre was worn from a white leather shoulder belt and from the left shoulder a small giberne was carried containing a field telescope, paper, pens, brushes, coloured crayons or watercolour paints and various instruments including compasses.
The gilt brass belt plate was shaped like that of the Imperial Guard and bore a globe “surrounded in the twin branches of oak and laurel”. It changed in 1809 to a rectangular plate bearing an eagle on globe device in a circle of oak and laurel.
Rank was shown by the amount and location of embroidery which in the Formation Decree was described as being like “interlocking saw teeth”. In other words, interlocking triangles, creating a zig-zag effect where they interlocked, ostensibly similar to the special pattern of woven lace worn by the Engineers (Reglement AnXI: plate VIII, figure 7).
The Section Heads had embroidery around the top and bottom of their collars and on their cuffs in double rows; Assistant Managers in a single row and Engineers 1st class “simple embroidery” on the collar only and second class on the cuff only. Those of the third class had no embroidery. There was also embroidery on the “taille” of the coat between the two buttons at the base of the spine.
A bicorne was worn with a national cockade, gold lace cockade strap and an aurore coloured plume.
The morning or riding coat was national blue, double breasted and had an aurore collar. The front closed with two rows of seven large buttons. This was not to be confused with the Manteau which had a detachable shoulder cape (edged in engineer pattern lace according to rank) and was entirely dark blue with an aurore collar.
The neck stock was, in 1803, white in times of peace; black with white piping on service and all black when in undress.
In full dress soft black knee boots were worn and in undress, soft jockey boots with fawn coloured fold down tops. Shoe buckles, spurs and horse tack was identical to the Sapeurs du Genie.
The uniform of the Geographical Engineers was laid out in 1812 as section 8 of the Regulation and also listed in Article 3 – distinctive marks. The uniform of the Topographical Engineers was brought into line with the other Engineering troops and as a matter of economy their expensive aurore facings were abolished on all but the collar and cuffs of the full dress coat.
The full dress coat was as prescribed under the 1803 regulations: dark blue with aurore collar and cuffs, lined blue. The turnbacks were blue piped blue and bore gold embroidered corselet d'armes devices. The transverse pockets were three pointed and closed with three buttons; there were two buttons at the base of the spine. The cuffs closed with two small buttons.
The gold embroidery was discontinued as a matter of economy and rank was shown by epaulettes. It is not clear if the aiguillettes were discontinued or not.
The aurore waistcoat was discontinued in favour or blue or white according to order or dress. The plume was also discontinued.
The undress coat was also single breasted but entirely dark blue; there were no pockets on the tails. The turnbacks bore the corselet d'armes device; Vernet also shows lightening bolts.
The riding coat was unchanged but in place of the cape a greatcoat was introduced which, according to Vernet's plate, was double breasted and had an aurore stand and fall collar.
Orders of Dress 1812
Service Full Dress
Off-Duty Full Dress
Primary Sources – Imperial Decrees, Projects and Councils of State
CONSEIL D'ETAT - Organisation du Génie20/08/1801
ET PROJETS D'ARRÊTÉS Sur l'Organisation, 1. Du corps
des Ingénieurs-Géographes ; 2. De l'École spéciale
de Géographie et de Topographie ; 3. Du Dépôt
général de la guerre. 15 Nivôse an XI
DE DÉCRET Relatif à l'Organisation du Corps des Ingénieurs
CONSEIL D'ETAT - Rapport et projets d'arrêtés sur l'organisation 1° du Corps des ingénieurs géographes ; 2° de l'école spéciale de géographie et de topographie ; 3° du dépôt général de la guerre 05/01/1803
Primary Sources - Printed books, Aide-memoires
Allent P A J (1808) Etat du Corps Imperial du Genie 1808 Imprimee Imperiale, Paris
Ambert J (1837) Esquisses historiques, psychologiques et critiques de l'armée française Tome 2 A Degouy, Saumur
Laisne J (1840) Aide-Memoire Portatif a l'usage des Officicers du Genie Ansein et Gaultier-Laguionie
Uniforme des Officiers du Genie et des Employes des Fortifications in Reglement 1er Vendemaire An XI pp 15 to 16 Paris
Reglement 1812: Section 8eme Uniformes des Ingenieurs-Geographes. Article. 1Ere Habillement. Article 3eme Marques Distinctives
www.reunionmuseenational accessed 20/10/2007 1803 Regulations plates and 1812 Bardin Regulation plates
Berhaut, H-M-A (1902) Les Ingenieurs Geographes Militaires, 1624-1831 Paris
Boufays B (2007) Personal Communications: Emails 19/10/2007, 20/10/2007,
Brown H G (1995) War, Revolution and the Bureaucratic State Oxford University Press, Oxford
Elting J R (1997) Swords Around a Throne
Fourcy A (1828) Histoire de l'Ecole Polytechnique Ecole Polytechnique, Paris
Haythornthwaite P J (1988) Napoleon's Specialist Troops Osprey Publishing
Jacob C (2006) The Sovereign Map... University of Chicago Press. Chicago
L'Artillerie Napoleonienne et la Genie Tradition Magazine, Hors Series 23LCV Services, Paris
Pigeard A & Bourgeot V (2003) Dictionaire du Uniformes Premier Empire Editions du Cannonier, Nantes
Pigead A 2000 Les Ingenieurs-Geographes L'An XII - 1815 in Tradition Magazine no 153 pp 31 to 34 LCV Services, Paris
Ract P (2002) Les ingénieurs géographes des camps et armées du roi, de la guerre de Sept Ans à la Révolution (1756-1791) L'ecole des Chartes
Vernet, C (1812) Uniforms of Napoleon's Army Greenhill Books, London
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2008
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