“La Garde Au Feu!”: My 15mm French Imperial Guard (Part 2 – The Middle Guard)

A Fusilier-Grenadier of the Guard circa 1809-1814

In Part 1 last week, I looked at the infantry of Napoleon’s Old Guard and my recreation of them in 15mm, using AB Figures.  In Part 2 I’m going to look at what was initially the ‘Young Guard’, but which then became the ‘Middle Guard’.

In 1806, Napoleon embarked upon an expansion of the Imperial Guard infantry, creating the 2nd Regiments of Grenadiers à Pied and Chasseurs à Pied of the Old Guard.  Additionally in October of that year, a new regiment of light infantry was formed from the Vélites of the Guard (i.e. the Guard’s corps of infantry officer-candidates), titled the Regiment of Fusiliers of the Guard.  Only a few weeks later in December 1806, this regiment became the Fusiliers-Chasseurs of the Guard and a new sister-regiment was formed; the Fusiliers-Grenadiers of the Guard.  These two new Guard Fusilier regiments were collectively termed the ‘Young Guard’.

In 1809, the infantry regiments of the Guard were reorganised again, with the 2nd Regiments of Grenadiers à Pied and Chasseurs à Pied of the Old Guard being disbanded as a cost-saving measure.

A sentry of the Fusiliers-Chasseurs of the Guard circa 1810-1814 (with an officer of the Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard)

The savings generated by the disbandment of these expensive regiments enabled several new Young Guard infantry regiments to be raised in 1809, including the Battalion of Vélites of Turin, the Battalion of Vélites of Florence, the Regiment of Tirailleurs-Grenadiers, the Regiment of Tirailleurs-Chasseurs, the 1st & 2nd Regiments of Conscrit-Grenadiers and the 1st & 2nd Regiments of Conscrit-Chasseurs.  I’ll cover most of the ‘new’ regiments of the Young Guard in the next article.

With the creation of so many new light infantry regiments for the Young Guard, the Fusiliers-Grenadiers and Fusiliers-Chasseurs were initially known somewhat confusingly as ‘Old Soldiers of the Young Guard’, through from 1811 became known as the ‘Middle Guard’.  The Vélites of Turin and the Vélites of Florence were also designated as Middle Guard.  (In fact, the 2nd Grenadiers à Pied and the 2nd Chasseurs à Pied, which had been reformed in 1810, along with the newly-raised 3rd (Dutch) Grenadiers à Pied were also officially designated as being part of the Middle Guard, but in reality were lumped with the Old Guard.).

With the huge expansion of the Young Guard, followed by a further expansion in 1813, the Middle Guard really ceased to be light infantry and instead became an extension of the Old Guard, providing excellent recruits for the Old Guard regiments, as well as excellent leaders for the Young Guard and Line regiments.  The Middle Guard was finally disbanded with Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 and was not re-raised with his return in 1815, though veterans of the Middle Guard formed a large part of the newly-raised 3rd and 4th Regiments of the Grenadiers à Pied and Chasseurs à Pied.

The Regiment of Fusiliers-Grenadiers of the Guard

The Regiment of Fusiliers-Grenadiers of the Guard was formed in December 1806 from the 1st Battalions of the Grenadier-Vélites and Chasseur-Vélites of the Guard.  Only a single regiment was ever raised, consisting of two battalions.  Each battalion initially had four companies, expanding in 1811 to five and then in 1813 to six companies.  Like the rest of the Guard regiments, there were no elite companies.  The regiment was initially intended to be attached to their ‘parent’ regiment; the Grenadiers à Pied of the Old Guard.  However, in practice on campaign they were increasingly brigaded with the Fusiliers-Chasseurs and other Middle/Young Guard units.

The uniform of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers was largely modelled on that of Grenadiers à Pied of the Old Guard; namely a long-tailed blue ‘cutaway’ coatee cut in the line infantry style, with brass/gold buttons, blue collar, white lapels, red tail-turnbacks with white eagle ornaments and red Brandenburg cuffs.  However, from 1806 to 1808 the uniform had some slight differences; the collar and lapels were edged with red piping and the cuff-flaps were red, piped white with more white piping around the edge of the cuffs.  On the shoulders were blue pointed shoulder-straps, edged with red piping.

Fusiliers-Grenadiers of the Guard circa 1809-1814 (NCO on the left)

From 1809 the red piping was removed from collar and lapels, the white piping was removed from the cuffs and the red cuff-flaps were replaced with plain white flaps.  The shoulder-straps were replaced at this time with white fringed epaulettes, which had red crescents and two red stripes along the epaulette-straps (NCOs had mixed red-gold epaulettes, while officers had gold epaulettes).  Aside from the epaulettes, the coat of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers now looked exactly like that of the Grenadiers à Pied of the Old Guard.

Drummers’ uniforms were essentially the same, though had yellow-gold lace edging added to collar, cuffs and lapels.

The waistcoat and breeches were white and worn with long black gaiters, which came up to the thigh and which were secured down the seam with brass buttons.  White gaiters were reserved for formal parade dress.

In 1806 the shako of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers had a red, carrot-shaped pompom, white cords, a wide band of white lace around the crown and a ‘V’ of narrow white lace on each side.  The front was decorated with the national cockade and the brass crowned eagle badge of the Young Guard.  There was no chin-strap or scales.  NCOs replaced the lace bands with gold lace and the ‘V’s had a red insert.  NCOs’ cords were mixed gold/red.  Officers’ shakos lacked the ‘V’s, but had rich gold lace decoration along the upper and lower bands, plus gold edging to the peak.

In 1809 the white lace band was removed from the upper-edge of the shako, though the white ‘V’s were retained.  The pompom was replaced with a tall, red feather plume and brass chin-scales were added.

The equipment consisted of two white cross-belts; one holding a sabre-briquet decorated with a red sword-knot on a white strap and the other holding a black leather cartouche, which was decorated with the brass crowned eagle badge of the Young Guard.  Backpacks were of the usual French hairy-hide type with white straps, usually topped with a rolled greatcoat in blue.

The uniform of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers remained essentially unchanged until their disbandment in 1814.  Like the Old Guard (and unlike the Young Guard) they never adopted the 1812 Bardin Pattern coat.  However there were various campaign dress variations, including blue or brown campaign trousers, shako-covers and red pompoms or padded discs instead of plumes.

As for flags; the Fusiliers-Grenadiers and Fusiliers-Chasseurs were not eligible to receive Eagles like the Old Guard and instead were ordered to carry plain fanions (i.e. marker-flags) in dark blue.  The lack of decoration on fanions was intended to deny any value as a battle-trophy to the enemy.  Details are sketchy, but units inevitably decorated their fanions with various emblems and inscriptions and the Fusiliers-Grenadiers were no exception, decorating their fanions with gold-yellow grenades.

For figures I’ve used the stunningly good AB Figures Fusiliers-Grenadiers, which like their Old Guard figures are standing at attention, as if waiting in reserve.  The flag is by Fighting 15s.

(NB Fighting 15s at present is the UK agent for AB Figures, though that contract will pass to someone else later this year.  Fighting 15s will however, continue to produce their lovely range of flags.)

The Regiment of Fusiliers-Chasseurs of the Guard

Fusiliers-Chasseurs of the Guard circa 1810-1814 (NCO on the right)

This regiment was initially raised in October 1806 as the Regiment of Fusiliers of the Guard from the 2nd Battalions of the Grenadier-Vélites and Chasseur-Vélites of the Guard, plus a draft of selected conscripts.  However, its title was changed only a few weeks later, in December 1806 to the Fusiliers-Chasseurs of the Guard.

Once again, only a single regiment was ever raised, consisting of two battalions.  Each battalion initially had four companies, expanding in 1811 to five and then in 1813 to six companies.  Like the rest of the Guard regiments, there were no elite companies. The regiment was initially intended to be attached to their ‘parent’ regiment; the Chasseurs à Pied of the Old Guard. However, in practice on campaign they were increasingly brigaded with the Fusiliers-Grenadiers and other Middle/Young Guard units.

Uniforms were modelled on those of the Chasseurs à Pied of the Old Guard; namely a long-tailed blue ‘cutaway’ coatee cut in the light infantry style, with brass/gold buttons, plain blue collar, plain white pointed lapels, red tail-turnbacks and red pointed cuffs edged in white piping.  From 1806 to 1808 the uniform had blue pointed shoulder-straps, edged with red piping.  However, in 1809 the shoulder-straps were replaced with the same fringed epaulettes as those worn by the Chasseurs à Pied, being green with red fringes and crescents.  Tail-ornaments were also added in 1809, being hunting-horn and grenade badges embroidered in aurore (a pinkish yellow-orange) on a white backing.

The shako was initially of the 1801 Light Infantry pattern, with the brass crowned eagle badge of the Young Guard on the front and the national cockade on the left-hand side.  White cords were suspended from the cockade-strap on the left side.  A mushroom-shaped, red-over-green pompom was also worn on the left side.  Officers wore a more conventional shako with plume and cockade positioned on the front.  In 1809 chinscales were added and the pompom was replaced with a tall feather plume, coloured red-over-green.  Sources are split over the exact proportion of red to green in the plume – some say a 50/50 split of red and green, while others suggest mostly green with a red tip.  In 1810 (ish) the shako changed to a more conventional type, with the plume and cockade moved to the front and the cords suspended from both sides.  The shako of the Fusiliers-Chasseurs lacked the white lace of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers, though NCOs and officers still wore gold lace (minus the ‘V’s of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers).

Drummers of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers (left) and Fusiliers-Chasseurs (right)

Drummers’ uniforms were essentially the same, though had yellow-gold lace edging added to collar, cuffs and lapels.  However, some sources suggest that the lace was coloured aurore (as shown in the plate on the right).

Waistcoats, breeches, gaiters and equipment were the same as for the Fusiliers-Grenadiers, except for the sword-knot, which had a white strap, green knot and red fringe.

The uniform of the Fusiliers-Chasseurs, like that of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers, remained essentially unchanged until their disbandment in 1814, except for various items of campaign dress.

As with the Fusiliers-Grenadiers, the Fusiliers-Chasseurs were not eligible to receive Eagles and instead were ordered to carry plain blue fanions. Again, information is scant, but the Fusiliers-Chasseurs probably decorated their fanions with gold-yellow hunting-horn and grenade badges.

In terms of modelling, I should point out that I don’t actually need a large, formed unit of Fusiliers-Chasseurs.  As mentioned before, I play Napoleon’s Battles, in which each unit on the table represents a full brigade at roughly 1:100 ratio.  The two regiments of Fusiliers were never deployed in sufficient strength to warrant having two formed units on the table, so my Fusiliers-Grenadiers are sufficient for the job.  However, I do need some skirmisher bases for occasions when the brigade needs to deploy in entirety as skirmishers, so I’ve decided to use the Fusilier-Chasseurs for the skirmishers.

While AB Figures produce lovely Fusilier-Chasseurs wearing the 1809 side-plumed shako and standing at attention (and their Fusilier-Grenadier figures can be used for post-1810 Fusilier-Chasseurs), they don’t produce any Guard Fusilier skirmishers.  Consequently, I’ve used AB Figures Young Guard Voltigeur skirmishers and have simply painted in the upper part of the gaiters above the knee.  The plumes are on the front of the shako and the coat-tails are a little short, but the differences aren’t all that noticeable, so I’m happy.

The Battalions of Vélites of Turin and Vélites of Florence

Although I haven’t painted these units, they formed part of the Middle Guard and wore very similar uniforms, so are worth mentioning here.  Both battalions were raised in March 1809 from a cadre of Imperial Guardsmen and volunteers (most of them Italian).  The Vélites of Turin were specifically raised to be the bodyguard for Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Prince Borghese, who lavished money and expensive Parisian tailoring on his beloved regiment.

The uniforms of both these units were meant to be the same as those of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers of the Guard, though various conflicting sources show a few minor differences and some more differences were created by Prince Borghese’s largesse!

As can be seen in the plate on the right, the uniforms of the Vélites of Florence were essentially identical to those of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers, though almost all sources show that the shakos lacked the white lace ‘V’s on the sides (the cords were white for rank and file – the soldier shown here is a sergeant and has the usual gold lace band around the crown and mixed red/gold cords.

Depictions of the original 1809 uniform for the Vélites of Turin show an identical uniform to that of the Vélites of Florence, again lacking the white lace ‘V’s on the shako.  However, some sources show red epaulettes.  By 1812 the shakos had been modified with the addition of aurore lace ‘V’s and the white cords had changed to aurore. This modification was presumably due to the patronage of Prince Borghese.  Again, most depictions of troops wearing the latter shako have the regulation white epaulettes, but some are depicted wearing red epaulettes (there is a suggestion that corporals may have worn red epaulettes as a mark of their rank, while the sergeants wore mixed red/gold).

A specific request by Prince Borgehese for the Vélites of Turin to be issued with an Eagle was refused by Napoleon, but there is a surviving flag of the standard 1804 ‘lozenge’ Pattern (pictured here).  This may have been a private purchase by Prince Borghese, but if officially issued, it seems likely that the Vélites of Florence would also have been issued with such a flag.  These flags were probably carried on light-blue poles with gilt spearhead finials.  I can’t find any other details of fanions for the Vélites.

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

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