The Hanoverian Legion
By John Cook
The Légion Hanovrienne was created by General Mortier, Governor of Hanover, on 12 August 1803 following the French occupation. It was established as a regiment of light infantry in two battalions and a regiment of chasseurs à cheval in four squadrons. Desertion, sickness, and the consequences of campaigning in general, meant that neither the infantry nor cavalry elements ever realised their establishments.
The Légion was posted to the 3rd Division of Junot's Army of Portugal in 1807, where it served alongside the Légion du Midi. This formation became the 3rd Division, VIII Corps, Army of Spain, which was later transferred to Soult's II Corps, where it became the 4th Division. The Légion Hanovrienne continued to serve with the Légion du Midi and both were joined in the 4th Division by the Détachement de Marche of the Garde de Paris. By the beginning of 1810 the unit, still with the Légion du Midi, was in the 3rd Division of Ney's VI Corps.
The Légion Hannovrienne is often shown in returns as a two battalion unit prior to this date. It seems, however, that it never exceeded a single battalion until 1810. The depot at Aix-la-Chapelle, was never able to muster more than a single battalion, while sickness and casualties of the war in Spain reduced it to a skeleton. On 10 March 1810 the survivors of the Bataillon Westphalie were transferred to it, enabling a second battalion to be formed.
Nevertheless, the effects of the war in Spain were such that the Légion Hanovrienne had to be disbanded on 11 August 1811 and the remaining personnel distributed amongst other German speaking regiments of the French army: 3e and 4e Etrangers, 127e, 128e and 129e de ligne.
Note: (The following was provided by Michael A. Taenzer) Only 1 lieutenant and 2 ensigns, one of them a native of Denmark, of the Army of the Electorate of Hannover joined this legion. In 1811, of the 503 men in one of its battalions 226 were from Austria, 53 from Prussia, 129 from the Federation of the Rhine, 3 from Spain, 2 from Naples, 7 from Poland, 9 from Switzerland, 14 from Russia, 3 from Sweden, and 57 from Holland, the Hanseatic cities, Dalmatia, Istria, Friaul, the Roman states, and Genoa.
Infantry. By 15 January 1808, the single infantry battalion consisted of four companies of chasseurs and one of carabiniers. Total strength was 750 men.
Cavalry. According to Rigo, unlike the infantry, the cavalry was never sent to Spain and served in the Italian and Austrian theatres exclusively. However, Oman, in his History of the Peninsular War, shows a unit described as Hanoverian Chevaux-Légers as part of Franceschi's light cavalry division in October and November, 1808. This same unit also appears in other orders of battle later in the Peninsular War. I think this is a rare mistake by Rigo. Be that as it may, only three of the proposed four squadrons were raised, organized after the French model.
Infantry. The uniform was produced initially from stores found in the magazines of the old Hanoverian army and consisted of a red coat with a white lining, a bicorne hat, and trousers. It would seem likely that equipment was also found from Hanoverian stocks because it is recorded that only the carabiniers were issued a sabre briquet, this being of Hanoverian origin. By early 1808, however, it appears that the infantry had been equipped more uniformly for by 8 March, 861 shakos had been delivered and old Hanoverian equipment exchanged for French.
The uniform too underwent some changes at this time. The long-tailed habit remained red but now had dark blue distinctives, with white hunting horn ornaments on the turnbacks. The lapels and the vertical pockets in the tails were piped in red and blue respectively. Buttons were white metal. Fringed white epaulettes were worn by carabiniers, green ones by the chasseurs.
The shako had white metalwork with a regulation lozenge-shaped plate bearing an eagle and the legend 'Légion Hanovrienne'. The carabinier company wore a light-infantry pattern bonnet à poil without front plate. The green plume was worn, apparently, without distinctive company pompons. Gaiters were either black or white. Equipment was French.
Cavalry. The uniform of the cavalry regiment was in the style of the French chasseurs à cheval with yellow distinctives.
Drapeaux and Guidons
The Légion Hanovrienne did not receive eagles, the staffs being finished with a simple gilt spear point. The infantry received a single drapeau Modéle1804, type Picot, fixed to a blue staff and the cavalry three guidons Modéle1804, type Challiot. The centers to the corner wreaths of the infantry drapeau were silver but without inscription. The wording on the was as follows.
Obverse. L'EMPEREUR/DES FRANÇAIS,/A LA LÉGION/HANOVRIENNE
The description of the cavalry guidons is conjectural but the normal type Challiot design would have resulted in the following wording.
Obverse. L'EMPEREUR/DES FRANÇAIS,/A LA LÉGION/HANOVRIENNE
Reverse. VALEUR/ET DISCIPLINE/1.er. /2.me./3.me. ESCADRON
Blondieau, Christian. Aigles et Shakos du Premier Empire. Paris, 1980. pp26-27.
Charrié, Pierre. Drapeaux et Etendards de la Révolution et de l'Empire. Paris, 1982. p171.
Oman, Charles.History of the Peninsular War Vol I. Oxford, 1902. Appendix XII. (Note: I exchanged correspondence with Jack Gill on the subject of the Legion cavalry and have come to conclusion that Albert Rigondaud's recollections ("rappelons que la cavalerie de ladite Légion n'a jamais été en Espagne mais s'est battue en Italie et en Autriche" - "we recall that the cavalry of the Legion was never in Spain but served in Italy and Austria") are probably wrong and that the cavalry did serve in Spain.)
Rigondaud, Albert. (Rigo) Le Plumet, planche 171 and accompanying text. (based on primary sources in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Chateau de l'Emperi and Archives de Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre).