The French Army of the Napoleonic wars


The Infantry

Organisation Each Infantry Regiment consisted, in theory, of four Battalions; one Depot and three Field. Many regiments had five or even six battalions and some never managed more than one. A regiments battalions might serve in widely separate theaters of war, so you could have say the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 45th Regiment in Spain while the 3rd and 4th were in Germany.

The depot battalion was a training cadre at the Regiments home base but could in an emergency be fielded as a provisional battalion. Just as often trained from a batch of depots would be combined to form a ‘march’ battalion. On arrival at the front these temporary units would be broken up and the men assigned to Regiments as needed with no reference to the original regiment depot they came from.

The field battalions had six companies (up to 1807 this had been nine) each with a paper strength of 123 men. Normal campaign strength would be nearer to 80-100 men.

The companies were divided into four fusilier one Grenadier and one Voltigeur company.

The Grenadiers were the elite of the battalion supposedly chosen from the biggest and bravest men of the regiment. When in column attack the Grenadiers would often head the column however if the unit was a little shaky they would be found at the rear of the column to make sure no one ran away!

The Voltigeurs, in theory the most agile men of the regiment, provided each battalion/regiment with its own skirmish screen. On some occasions the elite companies of a Brigade or Division would be combined (often with Sappers and artillery) into ‘battlegroups` to perform especially difficult assaults across rivers or against fortifications for instance. The Light regiments were organised identically to their Line counterparts except that the companies were called Chasseur, Carabinier and Voltigeur.

Regimental Artillery In 1810/11 a number of regiments had assigned to them two to four 4 pdr guns, these were crewed by men of the regiment.These guns were later withdrawn only for such regimental guns to be readopted in 1812 when each regiment was supposed to have two 3 pdr guns attached. The plans were never fully implemented.


Higher Formations

Regiments were grouped into Brigades, each brigade having two (occasionally more) regiments. Two or more Brigades were formed into Divisions, which was the basic unit of Grand Tactical Maneuver. Whenever possible one of the Divisions regiments would be a Light regiment.

Attached to each Division would be one or more batteries of field artillery and a small contingent of Light cavalry ( typically 2-4 squadrons of Chasseur a’ cheval) for scouting and patrol duties. Wherever possible a unit of horse artillery would be attached. If the mission of the Division required it could have more cavalry and artillery attached directly to it.


Before going on To describe the organisation of the Corps its best To deal with the organisation of the Artillery and Cavalry.



The Artillery were divided into three basic types of unit , Field Artillery, Battery's of position (Heavy) and Horse Artillery.

Field batteries were equaled with 6 or 8 pdr guns and 5.5” Howitzers. Heavy batteries were equaled with 12 pdr guns and Howitzers. Field batteries were assigned To the Infantry Divisions and the Heavy batteries To the Corps or Army reserve.

Each Regiment of Foot artillery had 22 companies (Batteries) however the Regimental structure was administive only, individual companies were assigned To various war zones with no consideration of Regimental organisation.


Horse Artillery Regiments had 6-7 companies with each company (battery) having six 4 pdr guns.These batteries were attached To the Cavalry Divisions or Corps Reserve. The train teams of the Horse artillery were an interregnal part of the battery. In 1812 each Infantry Division was assigned a Horse Artillery battery.

The Field and Heavy artillery were drawn by separately organised and uniformed train battalions.



Each Cavalry Regiment consisted of eight companies which were paired To form a Squadron. Each company was supposed To consist of 80 men giving a Squadron strength of 160 men though these numbers were rarely achieved. Field strengths were nearer 80-100 men per Squadron. The Heavy cavalry was in particular always short of suitable horses. In addition To the field squadrons each regiment had a depot squadron at its base. The first company of the first squadron was the elite company, the equivalent in cavalry terms of the Infantry’s Grenadiers.



Higher Formations

Like the infantry the cavalry was organised into Brigades and Divisions. Brigades were usually formed of 2 (sometimes 3 or more) regiments of the same type (see below for the types of cavalry).The cavalry Division usually had 2 of these brigades. Wherever possible each division had at least one battery of Horse artillery attached The Cavalry Brigades attached To the Army Corps consisted in the main of Chasseurs and Hussars with occasional Lancer or Dragoon regiments To add a little `weight’.

The `Heavy’ cavalry were concentrated in the Cavalry Reserve Corps. Each of these typically consisted of three Cavalry Divisions, one Light and two Heavy. Horse batteries in addition To the Divisional assets were held at the Cavalry Corp level.

The Army Corps

Infantry Divisions were organised into Army Corps. Each Corps was designed as an all arms formation capable of independent action. Commanded by one of the Marshals each Corps would vary in size and composition depending on the mission it was intended To perform. The Engineer companies would be responsible for clearing obstacles and would have attached a pontoon train.

The French Imperial Guard

Having described the the organisation of the main components of the French Army its time To turn To the rather complex subject of the Guard. As a subject the history of the Imperial Guard is immensely complicated. Units in the Guard changed titles frequently with new units being added constantly. The dates in brackets following the unit name indicates the year that the unit was raised . The terms Old, Middle and Young were only in use from about 1810 / 11.


The Old Guard

The Infantry consisted of the 1st regiments of Grenadiers, Chasseurs and the Marines. The Grenadiers and Chasseurs had two battalions of four two hundred men companies (1805). The Marines had 1-3 battalions each having five companies of 120 men (1805).

There were six Cavalry Regiments in the Old Guard. 1st Chasseur a' Cheval; initially of five 200 men squadrons later rising To six squadrons of 248 men (1805). Grenadiers a Cheval; originally of four squadrons of 200 men later of 248 men (1805). Guard Dragoons (Empress); Initially one squadron of 200 men rising To four squadrons and then To four squadrons of 248 men (1806). 1st Chevau-leger (Polish Lancers); originally of four two hundred men squadrons. In 1810 the Regiment was armed with lances and increased to seven 248 men squadrons (1807). Mamelukes; one squadron of two hundred men (1809). Gendarmes d elite; two squadrons of 200 men (1807).

In 1810 the Lancers of Berg were admitted To the Guard, initially of one later rising To four squadrons of 248 men.

The Guard Artillery consisted of Foot and Horse Batteries. Horse Artillery; consisted in 1806 of four batteries, each battery (company) having four 6 pdrs and two howitzers manned by 100 men. In 1809 the regiment was expanded To three squadrons each of two batteries. Foot Artillery; raised in 1808 as four batteries this was increased in 1810 To eight batteries and To nine in 1810. Each battery consisted of six 12 pdrs and two howitzers.

The Middle Guard

The infantry consisted of the 2nd Regiments of Grenadiers , Chasseurs (1806-1809 and then again from 1811-1812) and the 3rd Grenadiers (Dutch)(1810-1812) organised as the Old Guard units.The Fusilier Grenadier and Fusilier Chasseur Regiments were raised in 1806 and consisted of two battalions each of six 120 men companies. The Velites of Florence and Turin consisted of one battalion with four companies of 120 men (1809). The cavalry had one Regiment 2nd Chevau-leger Lancers (Dutch); organised as per the 1st Regiment (1810). In 1812 the Regiment was raised To 10 squadrons.

The Young Guard

In 1808 the Tirallier Grenadiers and Tirallier Chasseurs were raised as two battalion Regiments. Each Battalion was composed of four 125 man companies. Initially there were two of each of these regiments. In 1809 the Young Guard was expanded with the creation of two regiments of Conscript Grenadiers and two regiments of Conscript Chasseurs, organised as above. Note that the term `conscript’ does’nt have the low grade connotations in French that the phrase has in English. In 1809 / 10 the Tirallier Grenadier and Chasseur regiments were retitled 1st and 2nd Regiments of Tiralliers and 1st and 2nd Regiments of Voltigeurs respectively. Also this year a regiment of National Guards were added, later this became, in 1813, the 7th voltigeurs.

In 1811 the Conscript Grenadiers and Chasseurs became the 3rd and 4th Regiments of Tirallieurs and Voltigeurs. In 1811 the 5 th and 6th Regiments of Tiralliers and Voltigeurs were added. Also in this year were added the Flanker Grenadier and Chasseur Regiments, both organised as above.

In 1813 the 7th- 13th Regiments of Tiralliers and Voltigeurs were raised. 1814 saw the Tiralliers and Voltiguers being raised To nineteen regiments each. In 1809 two companies of Young Guard artillery were raised and this had risen To fourteen by 1813. The first Cavalry regiments were added To the Young Guard just before the Russian Campaign of 1812. The 3rd Chevau-leger Regiment was organised into five squadrons each of 248 men. Also added to the Guard at this time was a regiment of Lithuianian Tartars (Lancers) organised into six squadrons.

In 1813 plans were laid down To raise a further twelve regiments of Young Guard Cavalry. The first five regiments were To be Young Guard equivalents of the Old Guard Regiments. Each was To consist of six squadrons of 300 men. Two regiments were To be Lancer regiments of five 200 men squadrons. The other four regiments were raised from sons of the French nobility (who had to pay for the privilege of being shot at !) , called the Gardes du Honouer non reached he envisaged strength of ten squadrons.


Uniform tips

It is not the intention here To go into detail about the myriad uniforms worn by the French army (for these details see the bibliography ) merely To outline some basic points which will assist in getting hold of the right figures for the units you intend portraying. Where code numbers follow they indicate appropriate examples. There were two basic types of French infantry uniform. The early uniform ( called the habit ) with cut away lapels and waistcoat, was formalised in 1808 and worn throughout the period though decreasingly common by 1813. (3B 3C 4B 5B 5C etc.). The 1812 Bardin Reform uniform (the habit veste) was closed To the waist. Some units wore it for the 1812 campaign though it was only widely worn from 1813 onwards. (29B/C, 30 B/C 32B etc.).

Grenadiers and Carabiniers wore Bearskins, (1C 8B etc.) other infantry the shako. In 1808 Bearskins, plumes, cords and Colpacks were officially withdrawn. However the regulations had little effect. Any self respecting unit would find plumes, bearskins etc. at least for its elite companies and officers. As the disaster of 1812 took effect with the shortages of uniforms the army in many ways became more uniform based on the 1812 regulations.

In some of the Light regiments the elite Voltigeur company sported colpack style busbys (9B). There is often much talk about how scruffy units would be on the march when compared To their parade outfits, in the main this is indeed true. However units would make every attempt to dress for the occasion before a battle. Obviously the result would depend on the units resources. Some well endowed units would appear on the field sporting Bearskins, full cords etc. whereas some units ( particularly 1813 onwards ) would think themselves lucky to have a greatcoat and musket !

As outlined above each cavalry regiment had one company (that is half a squadron though in wargames terms its best To combine the elites with the command group To form one stand ) as elites. In the Hussars and Chasseuers this company, as well as Officers, standard bearers and trumpeters would nearly always wear Colpacks (FNC 1A 4A 10A ).In the Dragoons the elite companies sometimes wore Bearskins (5A). Some Lancer elites wore the Polish style Czapkska. Note that shakos are often described by a date, i.e. 1808. don't be misled by these they do not mean that from this date everybody wore this particular headgear. For or instance the 1812 shako was never officially issued it was always a private purchase and was in fact worn from 1810 onwards.