Some Napoleonic French Foreign Legions (AB Figures 15mm)

In my last post I looked at a few armies that were allied to Napoleonic France.  However, the French Army itself also contained quite a number of foreign Regiments and Legions within its ranks, raised from Germans, Italians, Swiss, Dutch, Spaniards, Portuguese, Irish, Corsicans, Croats, Poles, Lithuanians and others.

A few such units were excellent troops, raised from men keen to support the ideals of Revolutionary France or simply to liberate their own homeland from another imperial power.  However, many were also extremely dubious units raised from PoWs and jail-scrapings.  Sadly, many of the former group rapidly became the latter as the original source of good recruits dried up.

The definition of a ‘Legion’ was a combined-arms force of infantry and cavalry, sometimes also with artillery.  However, in reality and probably due to the expense of raising cavalry and artillery, many ‘Legions’ frequently fought simply as infantry units or were completely divorced from the other elements of the Legion.

The reason I’m telling you all of this is that in 2001 we decided to refight the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro as the third and final AB Figures Wargames Weekend and there were three distinctive Legions that needed painting in order to complete the French Army for that battle.  As we were playing General de Brigade rules, these were all created at a 1:20 ratio, rather than my usual 1:100ish ratio for Napoleon’s Battles.  So here are the three Legions I painted for that game, as well as a bit of their history and uniform details:

Please try to control your excitement…

The Irish Legion

There had for many years been Irish volunteers in the French Republican armies (as there had been in the Royal French Army of old) but in 1803, these volunteers were consolidated into the French Army as a new Irish Legion.  The ‘Legion’ consisted initially of a single light infantry battalion and no other combat-arms, so was from the outset referred to frequently as a ‘Regiment’ rather than a ‘Legion’.  Although the Legion reached a strength of 2,000 men in four battalions, it never did raise any cavalry or artillery, so was formally re-titled in 1811 as the ‘3rd Foreign Regiment (Irish)’.

In actual fact, while the initial battalion was indeed made up of patriotic Irishmen and more Irishmen did continue to trickle in from various sources, the Legion was soon padded out with distinctly non-Irish recruits.  In 1806 the Legion did indeed receive a draft of 200 Irishmen who had been serving with the Prussian Army, but they also took in 1,500 Poles at the same time!  To add further problems, the Legion often found itself split to various parts of the French Empire and only the 2nd Battalion was present at Fuentes de Onoro (as part of Thomieres’ Brigade, Solignac’s Division of Junot’s VIII Corps), while the 1st Battalion found itself fighting against a British landing on the diseased Dutch island of Walcheren.

The Irish Regiment fought again during the Campaign of Germany in the spring of 1813, but suffered heavy casualties.  Nevertheless, it fought on until the end in 1814 and was then taken into Royal French service.  The regiment suffered from split-loyalties during Napoleon’s brief return to power during The Hundred Days and was finally disbanded in September 1815.

The Legion was dressed in uniforms cut in French light infantry style, but coloured ’emerald green’.  Collars were ‘primrose yellow’, while lapels, cuffs, shoulder-straps and turnbacks were all green, piped yellow.  Sources are split on the cuff-detail – some say they were pointed, while others say that they were Brandenburg-style, with a yellow cuff-flap.  Buttons were yellow metal.  Waistcoats were white and breeches are recorded as both green and white in different sources.  Belts were white.

The Legion’s battalions were organised with six companies apiece – four Chasseur companies, a Carabinier company and a Voltigeur company.  The four Chasseur companies all had shakos with white cords and pompoms in a distinguishing company colour (1st – yellow, 2nd – green, 3rd – sky-blue & 4th – violet).  The Carabiniers wore red fringed epaulettes and had black bearskin caps with red cords and plumes and no front-plate.  The Voltigeurs had shakos with green cords and green plumes with yellow tips.  They also wore fringed epaulettes with yellow crescents.

The Legion was presented with an Eagle in December 1805 and this was carried by the Legion’s 1st Battalion.  Accompanying the Eagle was a flag of unique design (shown above), having a green field with gold-yellow fringe and gold-yellow Irish harps in the corners.  In the centre was a tricolour panel, bearing the regimental title and bordered by a gold-yellow wreath.

The other battalions carried a simpler ‘fannion‘ flag, which was plain green flag without a fringe, simply showing a large yellow Irish harp in the centre.  The stave had a simple gold spear-point finial.  Note that although it was the Legion’s 2nd Battalion that fought at Fuentes de Onoro, I cheated slightly by depicting the 1st Battalion’s Eagle.

The Hanoverian Legion

The Hanoverian Legion was raised in 1803 following the French occupation of Hanover, theoretically consisting of a Light Infantry regiment of two battalions and a Chasseur a Cheval regiment of four squadrons.  However, it never managed to achieve its full strength due to disease and desertion.

The infantry element was sent to Spain in 1807, where it initially served with the 3rd Division of Junot’s Army of Portugal, being brigaded with the Legion du Midi.  This then became the 3rd Division of the VIII Corps, Army of Spain.  The brigade was then transferred to Soult’s II Corps and by 1810 was serving with Ney’s VI Corps.

During all its time in Spain, the Legion had never managed to muster more than one battalion, but in 1810 it briefly achieved a strength of two battalions when the remnants of the Westphalian Battalion were amalgamated with it.  However, the Legion was back down to one battalion again by the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro in May 1811 when, still serving alongside the Legion du Midi, it formed part of Ferey’s Division of Loison’s VI Corps.  The casualties suffered during that campaign were such that the Legion was finally disbanded in August 1811.

The Legion’s Chasseur a Cheval regiment meanwhile, never served with the infantry regiment and spent all its time on garrison duty around Austria and Italy.

The Hanoverian Legion, while serving as a single battalion in Spain, had a slightly unusual organisation, comprising one Carabinier (elite) company and four Chasseur companies.  There was no Voltigeur company.

The Legion’s infantry uniforms were initially drawn from old Hanoverian stocks, being red with white facings and essentially the same as British infantry of the late 18th Century.  However, these were soon replaced with new red uniforms cut in French line infantry-style, with blue square-ended lapels and blue collar, cuffs, cuff-flaps and turnbacks.  Buttons were white metal.  Waistcoats, breeches and belts were white.

The Chasseur companies wore green fringed epaulettes on their shoulders and for headgear had shakos with white cords, green plumes and white metalwork.  There were no distinctively coloured pompoms to identify companies.  The Carabiniers wore white fringed epaulettes and black bearskin caps with white cords and plumes and no front-plate.  The use of white as opposed to red for the elite company colour harkens back to Hanoverian and British traditions of military dress.

Drummers wore plain dark blue uniforms with white lace around lapels, collar, cuffs, cuff-flaps, swallows’-nests and turnbacks, with epaulettes and headgear the same as the rest of the company.

The Hanoverian Legion for some reason was never presented with an Eagle.  However, each infantry battalion carried a standard French 1804 Pattern infantry regimental flag, as shown above.  The corner-medallions, which would normally show a regiment’s number, were instead decorated with silver cloth discs.

Little is known about the uniforms of the Hanoverian Legion’s cavalry element, save that they wore Chasseur a Cheval-style green uniforms with yellow facings.

The Legion du Midi

The Legion du Midi (also sometimes known as the Piedmontese Legion) was raised in 1803 from Piedmontese volunteers.  It was originally intended that the Legion would comprise three line infantry battalions, two light infantry battalions and a battery of artillery.  However, the Legion’s first posting was to the Caribbean and disease soon whittled this organisation down to two light infantry battalions.

In 1807 the Legion was posted to Junot’s Army of Portugal and spent the rest of its existence brigaded with the Hanoverian Legion, as discussed above.  Initially deployed as two light infantry battalions, by Fuentes de Onoro in 1811 it appears to have been reduced to a single battalion.

Battalion organisation changed somewhat throughout the Legion’s existence.  When first formed, each battalion consisted of five companies – four centre companies (Fusliers in the line battalions or Chasseurs in the light battalions) and one elite company (Grenadiers in the line battalions or Carabiniers in the light battalions).  In 1804 one of the centre companies in each battalion was re-designated as Voltigeurs.  In 1805 the battalion organisation changed to the standard French nine-company format and by 1808 the two remaining light infantry battalions had changed again to the new standard French six-company format (one Carabiner company, four Chasseur companies and one Voltigeur company).

The Legion’s coats were initially produced from dark red-brown cloth, looted from a Capucin monastery.  The colour is therefore known as Capucin and remained the Legion’s uniform colour throughout its existence.  Waistcoats and breeches were white, but Capucin overall trousers were also very common.  Collars, lapels, cuffs, cuff-flaps and turnbacks were sky-blue and buttons were yellow-metal.  Belts were white.  Like the Hanoverian Legion, lapels appear to have been cut in the line infantry style, with square ends.

The Chasseur companies all wore green fringed epaulettes and shakos with green cords and green plumes.  There were no coloured pompoms to distinguish companies.  the Carabinier company wore red fringed epaulettes and bearskin caps with red cords, red plumes and a brass front-plate.  The Voltigeur company wore green epaulettes with yellow crescents, a shako with yellow cords and yellow lace edging, a yellow pompom and a green plume with a yellow tip.

Like the Irish Legion, the Legion du Midi was presented with an Eagle, which was carried by the 1st Battalion.  This was dressed with a standard 1804 Pattern infantry regimental flag with silver corner-medallions, as for the Hanoverian Legion.

Anyway, that’s it for now!  I’m even making myself bored…

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Some Napoleonic French Foreign Legions (AB Figures 15mm)

  1. Paddy Green says:

    Nice stuff Mark.

  2. Rhys Lewis-Jones says:

    What a fantastic article. With regards to making some of these units up myself in 28mm, would I just need to paint them up as you have or do I need to hunt down different models? That is, can I just use Perry & Victrix French models/ with alternate paint schemes? I have an abundance of unpainted French plastics!!

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Yes, being part of the French Army proper, these units’ uniforms were manufactured in France to French patterns, with French badges on the shakos, etc, so just use French figures. 🙂

      Keep reminding me and I’ll dig out the models to check the design of the bearskin-patches.

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