Thrust, Lancers Thrust!

Pawly, Ronald. The Red Lancers: Anatomy of a Napoleonic Regiment Marlborough, UK: Crowood, 1998. 160 pages. Illustrations (B. & W. and Color). ISBN# 1861261888. Hardcover. Out of Print.


Waterloo: Three Armies cover

One of the most famous regiments of the Imperial Guard was the 2d (Dutch) Lancer Regiment (properly the 2d Regiment de Chevau-legers Lanciers), the famous Red Lancers, so named because of the color of their uniforms. Originally a Dutch light cavalry regiment, it entered French service in 1810 when the Kingdom of Holland was annexed by Napoleon, and was converted into a lancer outfit. Remaining Dutch in character as well as in personnel, it was turned into a first rate unit by training and experience. Suffering crippling losses in Russia in 1812, the essential Dutch character was lost, most of the replacements being French, some coming from the mounted component of the Garde de Paris (which had remained loyal during the Malet conspiracy) and members of Joseph's former Guard. The regiment served excellently and well during the remainder of the Empire, some of its original surviving personnel remaining loyal into 1815 and after. One of its most famous officers, van Merlen, was killed at Waterloo serving as a Dutch-Belgian cavalry commander under Wellington.

This excellent volume, lavishly illustrated, chronicles the regiment's life and service, and, though expensive, is a welcome and vital addition to the literature on the units of the Grande Armee. Many Dutch sources, previously unused, were used by the author, as well as previously unpublished prints and portraits of the personnel of the regiment. The service record of the regiment is told in detail, each chapter tackling a different campaign. There are plenty of first hand accounts that pepper the text, the most notable in my opinion being that of Waterloo by Antoine de Brack, the author of Light Cavalry Outposts, one of the best memoirs to come out of the period on the French side of the fence. There is also an excellent portrait of the young de Brack in the uniform of the regiment, and one can see why he was nicknamed "Mademoiselle" by his comrades (this is mentioned in Parquin's equally excellent memoirde Brack started his career as a chasseur a cheval, later transferring to the lancers and being accepted into the Guard).

Some of the more notable illustrations from Dutch sources are the 3d (Dutch) Grenadiers fighting in line at Krasny in 1812 in the bitter cold, and an excellent rendition of the crossing of the Berezina in November 1812. It is a close-up of troops in order, but in an obvious hurry, crossing the ice-choked river, to get to the other side, artillery and troops on foot crossing together. It is one of the best renditions of the crossing that I have seen and, in my opinion, is one of the selling points of the volume. Lastly, an impressive painting shows a lancer, carrying a cantiniere and her child on the back of his horse, crossing the Berezina, running a Cossack through that was barring his way. It is dramatic, eye-catching, and shows in one picture the desperation of the men, and women, of the Grande Armee as they "hewed their way home."

This book is an outstanding regimental history of a famous, hard-riding regiment that did more than its assigned duty, much of it under its famous commander, General Colbert. I had my doubts about getting it at first glance, until a friend showed me the volume. I was immediately impressed with the pictures, and the text is also excellent, and the references impressive. This volume is highly recommended, and if you are an admirer of the Grande Armee, it is a must for you collection.

[Mr. Pawly is also author of Osprey's Wellington's Belgian Allies, 1815]

Reviewed by Kevin Kiley
Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2001