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Foot Grenadiers

Foot Grenadiers

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Foot Grenadiers

3/5 (1 valutazione)
114 pagine
40 minuti
May 20, 2012


This book examines the uniforms, equipment, history and organisation of Napoleon's Foot Grenadiers. Their experiences at Ulm, Austerlitz, Berlin, in Russia and at Waterloo are all summarised. Uniforms are shown in full illustrated detail.
May 20, 2012

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Foot Grenadiers - Charles Grant



The Last Hours

At about 9.00 p.m. on 18 June 1815, after more than eight hours of fighting, the French Army was in flight from the battlefield of Waterloo. Thousands of French troops of all arms, infantry, cavalry, artillerymen and sappers jostled, cursed and even fought each other as they stumbled southwards, harried by the Allied cavalry and the fresh hordes of Prussians desperately eager to avenge the defeats and humiliations of former years. The almost instantaneous disintegration of the mighty French Army is practically without parallel in military history. The complete repulse of the final infantry attack on Mont St Jean had, it seemed, been the spark which kindled the fire of defeat. At first a trickle, then a tremendous flood of men had started to pour down the slopes from Hougoumont and from La Haye Sainte, flooding southwards along the road to Charleroi and possible safety.

To halt the rout was impossible. Even Marshal Ney, ‘bravest of the brave’, was ignored by the soldiery as he stood beside the road, in a tattered and powder-stained uniform, beating the barrel of an overturned cannon with his sword in mingled fury and bitterness. Past La Belle Alliance rushed the stream towards the farm of Rossommé, but here there was a change in the speed of the torrent, as though a rapidly flowing river had met and been obliged to swerve round a boulder in its course. On either side of the high road stood a grim square of tall and weatherbeaten men in bulky blue coats and high, red-plumed, black bearskin bonnets. They had a massive and formidable look about them and they stood in their ranks presenting a glittering and uncompromising line of bayonets. They were contemptuous of the fighting, shouting masses as they swirled past, wild-eyed and panic-stricken.

These men – the élite of the élite – were the two battalions of the First Regiment of Foot Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard. They were all devoted body and soul to the Emperor Napoleon who had created them and who even now, his last battle irretrievably lost, had sought shelter in the square formed by the First Battalion of the regiment. That their idol the Emperor – ‘le Tondu’ as they had named him – should enter their square for refuge while beyond their bayonets raged the enemy, was a fitting end to a story stretching over the whole period of the Empire.

The last stand of the Old Guard, from a lithograph by Hippolyte Bellangé

Sixteen years before, the then Consular Guard had been instituted by the young Bonaparte. With him they had tramped the roads of Europe – their eagles had passed through Vienna, Berlin, Madrid and Moscow. They had endured the snows of Russia and the torrid heat of Spain. They had grumbled – after all, had ‘he’ not dubbed them his ‘grognards’ – but they had followed him until it was no longer possible. No other military leader, save possibly Alexander with his Companions, achieved such an identity with his men as did Napoleon; and of the hundreds of thousands who marched in his armies none epitomise this loyalty more than the men of those two veteran squares at Waterloo who held the Emperor while his world was crashing in ruins about them. It is their story – the story of the Foot Grenadiers of the Guard – that we shall tell.

The grenadier greatcoat worn by all ranks

The First Years

The origins of the Imperial Guard must be sought in the events of the coup d’état of ‘Brumaire’ in the year 1799. General Bonaparte, as he then was, had landed at Frejus on 9th October hotfoot from his largely abortive expedition to Egypt, and he found the existing French Government – the Directory – corrupt and ready to fall. Talleyrand, later one of the great figures of Imperial France, acted as intermediary between Bonaparte and a group of conspirators in the Government who wanted the already famous and popular Napoleon as a ‘front’ man in their bid to seize power. These conspirators included Lucien, Napoleon’s brother, the President of the Lower House. To further the plot, an emergency was declared and the sessions of both the Upper and Lower Houses were transferred to St Cloud, ostensibly to remove them from any popular agitation in the capital, and at the same time Bonaparte was given command of the troops in the Paris region. However, when Bonaparte attempted to speak to the Lower House of the Legislature he found them bitterly hostile. Shouts of ‘Outlaw him!’ were raised, and he was pushed and threatened by some of the more aggressive members. Making a somewhat in-glorious exit from the Orangerie, where the session was taking place, Napoleon and his brother Lucien addressed the Guards of the Legislature assembled in the grounds. Lucien alleged that an attempt had been made to assassinate his brother. An order was given, the Grenadiers of the Guard of the Legislature moved forward, and with bayonets fixed and drums rattling they swept

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