French Forces at Fishguard, 1797

This is the French order of battle, as organised for a wargame using ‘British Grenadier!’ rules, at a ratio of 1:5 (1 figure representing 5 men). The troop quality ratings also conform to ‘British Grenadier!’, where ‘Elite’ is the best rating, followed by ‘Line’, ‘2nd Line’, ‘Militia’ and ‘Levy’. Generals are rated ‘Good’, ‘Average’ and ‘Poor’.

La Seconde Légion des Francs (‘La Légion Noire’)

C-in-C: Chef de Brigade William S Tate [Poor]

ADC: Lieutenant Française L’Hanhard
ADC: Lieutenant Nicolaus Faucon

1er Bataillon, 2e Légion des Francs – Chef de Bataillon Jacques-Phillippe Le Brun [Good]
1er Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Auguste Marie Didier            20 Figures     Militia
2e Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Pierre Bertrand                        20 Figures     Militia
3e Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Louis Garde                              20 Figures     Levy
4e Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Nicolas Tyrell                           20 Figures     Levy
5e Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Pierre Paul Gilsero                  20 Figures     Levy
Compagnie des Grenadiers – Capitaine Jacques Eustache                        20 Figures     2nd Line

2e Bataillon, 2e Légion des Francs – Chef de Bataillon Jean-Joseph Larose [Average]
1er Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Robert Morrison                     20 Figures     Militia
2e Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Louis Verneueil                        20 Figures     Militia
3e Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Francois Gambart Larnelle    20 Figures     Levy
4e Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Jean Baptiste Charmerlot       20 Figures     Levy
5e Compagnie des Chasseurs – Capitaine Charles August Tanerel           20 Figures     Levy
Compagnie des Grenadiers – Lieutenant Barry St Leger                            20 Figures     2nd Line


1. As Tate does not speak any French, apply an additional -1 modifier when Tate attempts to change orders. If Tate dispatches both of his ADCs/translators to command units, this becomes a -2 modifier.

2. Many men had already disappeared into the countryside, so roll a die for each company before the game starts and deduct the resultant number from the starting strength. ‘Levy’ companies roll a D10 (count ‘0’ as 10), while ‘Militia’ companies roll a D6. The Grenadier companies, despite some light loot-and-pillage upon landing, managed to maintain their cohesion as fighting units.

3. The French had no horses present and the locals were very quick in getting their valuable livestock out of harm’s way. The French senior officers and ADCs will therefore only move at the speed of evading infantry – 3 D6.

4. The 1er Chasseur Company and the Grenadier Company in each battalion may be deployed as skirmishers. They may also be deployed in Open Order. The rest lack the training to operate effectively as light infantry.

5. Lieutenant Barry St Leger of the Grenadiers recorded that the Grenadier Companies were well-supplied with large numbers of grenades and had them primed and ready for the planned ambush of Cawdor’s column. In British Grenadier terms, grenades will tip a drawn mêlée in the French Grenadiers’ favour and will also convey the Grenadiers with a +1 mêlée bonus in their first defensive mêlée only.

6. While the full list of company commanders is known, in many cases it is not recorded exactly which company they commanded (the only ones identified are Eustache and St Leger, both of whom were grenadier officers). I have therefore arbitrarily assigned them to units.

7. Regular French light infantry regiments of the period were organised with nine Chasseur (centre) companies and one Carabinier (élite) company per battalion. However, we know from copies of Tate’s own roll of officers that there were only six companies in each battalion and that the élite companies were referred to as ‘Grenadiers’.

Optional Reinforcements

1. While it is recorded that Tate did not take artillery on his expedition in order to increase his mobility, divers have recently discovered a ship’s boat at Carregwastad Point that was loaded with 4 pounder field guns (one such gun had already washed up on the shore nearby and guards the front porch of a local farm). As a ‘what-if’, Tate may therefore add a single 4 pdr battalion gun (2nd Line) to each of his battalions, though these may only be manhandled due to the lack of horseflesh.

2. As discussed, Pembrokeshire was one of the most impoverished counties in the country and corn-riots were a common occurrence right across west Wales. The French had also brought 1,900 muskets and sets of equipment with them with which to arm a local uprising. In the event, fear of the French invaders outweighed any sense of social injustice, but the possibility of insurrection is an intriguing one. Indeed, the riots reached crisis point only three years later due to export of corn and profiteering when local people were starving. A report to Lord Portland in 1800 declared that a mass uprising was imminent and that the locals were only waiting for French troops to land! A full-scale insurrection did indeed erupt in the county during the 1830s and 1840s, in the form of the ‘Rebecca Riots’, which quickly spread to all corners of Wales. It might therefore be interesting to add a few 16-20 figure units of local volunteers (Levy or Militia) to the French force. This might be far more likely if the French win their first engagement.

Chef de Brigade William S Tate, en Commandant de Le Seconde Légion des Francs

William S Tate was born in Wexford, Ireland, sometime around 1737. He emigrated to America with his family, who settled near Charleston, South Carolina. However, Tate’s parents were killed in a raid by Indians, who were operating as partisans for the British in one of their innumerable American wars against the French, Dutch and Spanish and this sowed the seeds of Tate’s violent hatred of the British.

When the American War of Independence broke out in 1775, Tate, now aged approximately 38, was commissioned as an officer of the rebel South Carolina Continental Artillery. However, Charleston fell to the British and he was captured, undoubtedly becoming in the process, even less enamoured by the British. However, he was soon exchanged for a captured British officer and he served as a Captain in the rebel Continental Army until the end of the war in 1783.

Marrying in 1787, he became a relatively successful land speculator, but became embroiled in a scandal regarding the embezzlement of US public funds and his company collapsed as a consequence. In 1793, with the French Revolution now in full swing, he made an even more unwise decision, when he decided to help the French launch a raid from US ports, against British possessions in Florida. However, the US Government had no interest in re-igniting a war with Britain and ordered the arrest of all involved in the plot. Tate fled to France and became fully signed up for the French Revolutionary cause.

So it was that in 1797, aged approximately 60, William S Tate was appointed as Colonel of La Seconde Légion des Francs and with the brevet rank of Chef de Brigade, was placed in command of the expedition to Wales.

Our model of Tate was heavily converted, using epoxy putty, by Martin Small from a plastic figure by Victrix. The infantrymen in the background are also plastic Victrix figures, built and converted by Mr Small. The officers, drummer and standard-bearer surrounding Tate are metal figures by Eureka Miniatures. All were painted by Jemima Fawr.

Chef de Bataillon Jacques-Phillippe Le Brun, en Commandant de la 1er Bataillon, 2e Légion des Francs

Chef de Bataillon Jacques-Phillippe Le Brun was an interesting character; an aristocrat, he held the hereditary title of Le Baron de Rochemure and had served as an officer in the Royal Army of France. He had even fought against the Revolution as an officer in the Duke of Condé’s army and again at Quiberon Bay, during the Vendée Rebellion. Consequently, it is not clear as to what exactly had motivated him to join the Revolutionary cause and the ‘Black Legion’. Maybe he was serving incognito? Or maybe he was given ‘an offer he couldn’t refuse’ by the Republicans? Strange as it may seem, it was not all that unusual to find former aristocrats and Royal Army officers serving in the Republican French forces. Indeed, Napoleon Bonaparte himself had been raised to the nobility and had served as an officer in the Royal Army.

However, it does seem that Le Brun’s heart was not really with the Republican cause. At Fishguard he was instrumental in persuading Tate to surrender and once Tate had decided upon that course of action, Le Brun was sent to make contact with the British forces at Fishguard and was present when the surrender document was finally signed.

Nevertheless, he was regarded by his captors as probably the most competent officer present in Tate’s force and was the only Frenchman present among the four officers taken to London for questioning (the others being the American Tate and the Irishmen, Captain Robert Morrison and Lieutenant Barry St Leger).

Our model of Le Brun is a metal French Revolutionary artillery officer figure by Eureka Miniatures. His aide is a metal French artillery crewman figure, also by Eureka Miniatures. Both were painted by Jemima Fawr. The Black Legionnaires in the background are plastic Victrix figures, assembled and painted (and converted in some cases), by Mr Small.

La Seconde Légion des Francs (‘La Légion Noire’)

La Seconde Légion des Francs (i.e. ‘The Second Free Legion’, aka ‘The Black Legion’), commanded by the Irish-American Chef de Brigade William S Tate, comprised some 1,200-1,400 men, organised into two battalions, each of five Chasseur Companies and one Grenadier Company. Chasseurs (‘Hunters’) were light infantry, while Grenadiers were traditionally the best, toughest and tallest men in a regiment.

The majority of the Legion’s recruits were conscripted scum and jail-scrapings, along with former Vendéean monarchist rebels. However, around 600 were half-decent Revolutionary volunteers, including some idealistic Irish republicans and 200 of these men undoubtedly served in the two Grenadier companies (distinguished by their red epaulettes and plumes). The Grenadiers seem to have been the most effective forces available to Tate and he formed them into a small elite ‘battalion’, which very nearly succeeded in ambushing Lord Cawdor’s British column in the narrow lanes of the Pencaer. However, despite this one bright spot in their record, the Legion was badly demoralised, starving and poorly-led when it landed at Carregwastad and surrendered at virtually the first sign of organised military opposition. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened, had the French landed with well-trained troops, or at least troops who had been fed.

Both the 1er and 2e Légion des Francs were issued with British uniforms that had been captured from Vendéean rebels at Quiberon Bay and were then modified for French Republican use. The original uniforms were short-tailed red coats (some sources show lapels, suggesting cut-down infantry coats, while other sources show short-tailed, single-breasted ‘roundabouts’), mainly with sky-blue facings. These were then apparently re-cut to French light infantry style, with the red being re-dyed black. The dyeing process had mixed results, with the coats of French prisoners also being described variously as ‘brown’ or ‘rust’ by witnesses.

One unidentified witness described the uniform of the prisoners taken at Fishguard to be a black-brown coat, faced blue, with a blue waistcoat and black pantaloons. This is the only description that gives any indication as to the colour of facings or smallclothes. Headgear was described as being casquettes, which typically means leather caps or helmets.

The 1er Légion des Francs, which fought in Ireland, certainly retained the sky-blue facings of the original coats (lapels were black, piped sky-blue). 19th Century French sources also describe sky-blue breeches and red or sky-blue waistcoats. Headgear was the ‘Chapeau Henri IV’; being a hat cocked on the left-side only, with a falling horsehair plume (red, black and green all being recorded as plume colours. Some sources also show red and/or green fringed epaulettes.Another witness described the prisoners’ headgear as a leather cap, with a falling black horsehair mane combed down at one side. However, it is not inconceivable that cocked hats were also worn. The grenadiers would undoubtedly have worn red epaulettes, though it was not unusual for any company to wear red epaulettes in this period. Red grenadier epaulettes are depicted in Crowdy’s Osprey plate of a chasseur from the 2e Légion. Green plumes and epaulettes may have been worn by the chasseur companies and these are shown in 19th Century depictions of the 1er Légion.

Edward Laws’ account from 1888 describes the French as being equipped with ‘redundant cavalry helmets’ and black leather belts and equipment. However, 19th Century French sources show hats (cocked and slouched) and white belts.

Yet another account describes how the French soldiers stole striped ‘ticking’ from the bedding of farmhouses and made overall trousers from the stolen material.

Flags are not described in detail, though ‘some flags bearing the Liberty Tree’ device are described by a witness as being among the captured arms and equipment. A ‘tricolour’ is also mentioned being raised above the rocks of Carnwnda. We have therefore opted for the American-style ‘Liberty Tree’ device described by the witness and copied from American Revolution designs, along with the French translation of the American Revolutionary slogan ‘Liberty or Death’.

Tate was described by Colonel Dering of the Fencibles as wearing ‘a long, blue coat, faced scarlet, with blue pantaloons, white waistcoat and a cocked hat with national cockade’.

It is highly unlikely that the Legion’s Grenadiers wore traditional full-dress bearskin caps, but we’ve depicted them with such headgear simply in order to break up the monotony!Given the brown coats, Liberty Tree flags and general uncertainty about the uniforms, you could happily use American Continentals to represent the French at Fishguard. American troops in light infantry caps would be especially suitable. If you want to paint this unit from scratch, the Perry Saratoga British might be useful for troops in leather caps, while AWI British infantry in slouch hats would be very suitable for troops dressed in the style of the 1er Légion. However, we have used the excellent Victrix plastic 1804 French Infantry figures with some converted 1815 Perry plastic figures, though you could also use Foundry, Eureka, Brigade Models, Dixon or Trent Revolutionary Wars French.

Most of the figure-building and all of the conversion was done by the talented hand of Mr Small, while the painting was split 50/50 between Mr Small and Jemima Fawr.


This entry was posted in 28mm Figures, British Grenadier! Rules (AWI), Fishguard 1797, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units, Scenarios. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to French Forces at Fishguard, 1797

  1. Bluewillow says:

    Bloody fabulous work! A most excellent project you are to be congratulated on a lesser known part of the revolutionary wars.

    I like British grenadier for this period, did you do any further modifications to the rules?


    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Matt!

      I must confess that it’s been a few years since I’ve played them, but I do remember that we played the rules as written, with a few scenario rules, as described in the scenario notes.

      Cheers, JF

  2. Pingback: 225 Years Ago This Week: The ‘Battle’ of Fishguard 1797 | Jemima Fawr's Miniature Wargames Blog

  3. Martin H says:

    Great material here and not too hard to recreate either, given the range of AWI, revolutionary and similar figures. Thanks for all this detail.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Thanks Martin. Yes, we’re very proud of that one and did a hell of a lot of research, including some stuff that isn’t in the public domain. We also got a bit carried away in the museum attic, finding stuff that even the curator didn’t realise they had! 🙂 The Museum of the Royal Norfolks (9th Foot) were very excited, as we discovered a 1768 Pattern coat of an officer of the 9th Foot, which was apparently worn by a retired veteran at Fishguard (he lived in Goodwick and was one of the armed ‘civilians’). The Norfolks’ Museum didn’t have one and so arranged an inter-museum loan to exhibit it in Norfolk. 🙂

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