Guide Napoleons German Allies (5) : Hessen-Darmstadt and Hessen-Kassel (Men at Arms Series, 122)

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Quite deliberately, the Guard never had a single commander save Napoleon himself, for reasons of his own security. As he wrote to his brother Joseph on 31 May , advising on the establishment of his own guard as king of Naples, "Do not organise your guard so as to be under the control of a single commander; nothing can be more dangerous. As Blaze admitted, and Fusilier-Grenadier right ; the Guardsmen were "little Sardanapaluses" compared with the troops of the latter wears the long trousers line.

The superior status of the Guard was unquestioned; indeed, commonly used on campaign, whenever a Guard unit encountered one of the line on the march, the with shako-ornaments removed. Other generals Fusilier-Grenadier left and a received only a turn-out, without arms or music. Tirailleur-Grenadier right , illus- The difference in status affected all ranks, with each Guardsman trating the different styles of being equivalent to the next rank up in the line: a Guard private equated lapels - square-cut for ordinary infantry and the point-ended with a line corporal, a Guard lieutenant with a line captain, and so on.

As Blaze admitted, however, despite the complainings, of the Imperial Guard. French army pay varied not only according to rank, but according to BELOW Conscrit-Grenadier of the Guard; the shako is like that of unit or grade and length of service. It was highest among those receiving the Fusilier-Grenadiers and the Guard rates.

A Guard sergeant, for example, received 2 francs 22 lapels are square-cut in centimes daily; his line equivalent was paid 62 centimes. Not all pay was Grenadier fashion, but in dark actually received by the soldier, since, as in other armies of the period, blue.

Lithograph after Villain the French had a system of deductions. Conversely there were rewards, bonuses and pensions which were some 50 per cent higher than those of the line. Some of these furthered Napoleon's wish to make the members of the Guard indebted to him; others were nec- essary to assist men promoted from the ranks who had no private income.

Take the chasseur whose horse was killed at Leipzig: rather than leave his troop to get another mount from the depot, he immediately bought a new horse from an officer, remarking that it was advisable to keep a year's money in hand for just such an eventuality. It became the most coveted symbol of bravery or devotion to duty. Its award was accom- panied by a pension, rising from francs annually for an ordinary member to 1, francs for an officier and 5, for a grand-officier.

Equally important was the honour which came with it.

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When Coignet received his cross, he was astonished to find that sentries were ordered to present arms to it and that cafes entertained holders of the decoration gratis; and when travelling on leave he told gendarmes that "the cross" was all the passport he needed. So greatly was the decoration prized that soldiers would often ask Napoleon for it in person. The close relationship with Napoleon was another factor which dis- tinguished the Guard. He created it as his personal fiefdom, and involved himself in every aspect of its administration and personnel.

He would listen to the problems of the ordinary Guardsmen like a subaltern with his platoon, and the men would speak as freely to him as to their own officer. Napoleon knew hundreds of them not only by appearance but by name, and although his well known memory for names and faces might at times have been 'staged' to enhance his reputation, his memory does seem to have been phenomenal. The ease with which some Guardsmen spoke to their emperor reflected the almost familial atmosphere which existed between Napoleon and his Guard. He once reprimanded a chasseur of his escort for clumsiness after the man's horse had fallen; then Napoleon himself fell and the chasseur, having remounted, declared in a voice loud enough to be heard all around, that he was not the only clumsy person there.

Such a rapport between emperor and troops emphasised the unique nature of their relationship and helps explain the absolute devotion he received from his Guardsmen. Perhaps indicative of the mutual trust is Coignet's account of how, when he was an ordinary soldier on duty at St. Cloud, he was entrusted to carry the King of Rome Napoleon's baby son while the child pulled the plume off his bearskin cap; it was one of the highlights of the Guardsman's life.

Book Napoleons German Allies 5 Hessen Darmstadt And Hessen Kassel Men At Arms Series

Relationships between officers and men were also more familiar than in some other armies. This was partly because many were drawn from the same social back- ground: many officers, even those of the most exalted position, had begun their service in the ranks. Apart from the expected familiarity in the field, when officers and men were enduring the same tribulations, it was not even unknown for officers to socialise and entertain favoured 'other ranks' at home.

Similarly, they retained the old-fashioned queue and hair-powder, and gold ear-rings were also virtually part of the uniform. They did use trousers on campaign at times, but they also retained the breeches and long gaiters which Blaze remarked were only suited to the mature veterans of the Guard with well developed legs, the gaiters hanging badly on the thinner legs of the young conscripts of the line. The use by the Guard of breeches and white cotton stockings in undress caused Coignet some embarrassment. When promoted to sergeant and permitted to carry a cane in undress and wear silk stockings, to conceal the shapelessness of his legs he bought a pair of false calves, concealing them by wearing two pairs of ordinary stockings with the silk ones on top.

When entertained by a society lady who had taken a fancy to him, he found such difficulty in hiding the false calves under the pillow and in putting them on unseen in the morning that he never wore them again. Coignet remarked that they were wonderfully smart but terribly uncomfortable. Such was the concern for the Guard's appearance that its first commander, Jean Lannes later Marshal , exceeded his budget by some , francs.

Napoleon ordered that he make good the sum within eight days or face court martial. Lannes had to borrow the money from Augereau and relinquished the position as commander of the Guard. Conversely, at first discipline was somewhat lax Guardsmen would attend morning roll-call in their shirt and breeches, without stockings, and then go back to bed. His Sunday inspections of the barrack rooms were meticulous: a speck of Flanqueur-Grenadier of the dust on the shelf where the bread-ration was kept resulted in four days Imperial Guard. The single in the guard room for the section's corporal.

Dorsenne even lifted up shoulder-belt is the one used by the men's waistcoats to check upon the cleanliness of the shirt the rank and file of the Young underneath. As a result, discipline at least in the senior Guard reg- Guard after the withdrawal of the sabre-briquet from all except iments was unmatched.

With higher morale and a composition of NCOs and drummers. Lithograph veterans, the Old Guard's record of discipline was excellent, but after Villain desertion did afflict the more junior regiments; some of those appre- hended were court martialled and others were treated as line deserters, being sent to a correc- tional depot for reassignment.

Expulsion from the Guard and a return to the line was a great disgrace, as well as a loss of pay and privileges. For the Guard, life at home and in barracks was very much better than for the line regiments.

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Napoleon took care to supervise the Guard's well- being in person. When inspecting a barrack room, he noticed that a tall grenadier had his feet hanging over the end of the bed; so Napoleon ordered that longer beds be provided for the entire Guard. Barracks were clean, well ventilated and tidy though not without graffiti on the walls, according to contemporary pictures , but sometimes overcrowded. Light for the barrack rooms was provided by the men, who had to buy their own candles.

When not on campaign, the Guard's rations were much superior to those of the line. In barracks the Guard hired female cooks, instead of each member of a mess taking his turn, as in the line. This was, in Blaze's words, "a Sybarite luxury" which was jeered at but nevertheless envied an analogy to the inhabitants of Sybaris, a Greek city in ancient Italy, who were renowned for their luxurious lifestyle.

Other employees were permitted in the Guard: cavalry NCOs and trumpeters, as well as officers, were allowed civilian grooms. Food was supposedly of a high standard. On one occasion Napoleon noticed bread of inferior quality, and declared that as he paid for white bread he would have it issued every day.

Even on campaign, some three weeks before Friedland, he discovered sub- standard bread and remarked that it was not good enough for 'gentlemen'. This was thought to be a sarcastic remark in response to a complaint, until proper white bread was delivered the next day. Criticisms were not uncommon, but then the Old Guardsmen were nicknamed grognards - 'grumblers' - and as one old NCO remarked to Blaze, they could be given roasted angels and they would still complain!

Even the horses of the Guard received favoured treatment; their daily allocation of forage was 6. Veteran of the Imperial Guard. Until its expansion by the formation of the Young Guard, it was an elite which usually accompanied Napoleon in person, the ultimate reserve, committed to action only in the most desperate of circumstances. Napoleon's attitude was exemplified by his unwillingness to commit the Old Guard to action at Borodino, even when the battle conceivably the entire campaign was in the balance; when pressed to bring the Guard into action, Napoleon demurred, conscious of his position in a hostile land, far from support, remarking, "And if there should be another battle tomorrow, where is my army?

This was also a source of frustration within the Guard, since it denied them the chance of distinction. When the Guard was sent into action, it was likely to be in desperate situations, as at Marengo, where the Consular Guard won its first laurels in helping to hold the French right wing until the arrival of rein- forcements saved the day. They were described as "a redoubt built of granite", and so heroic was their conduct that Austrian officers who asked of prisoners the number of the men in the large bearskin caps, believed it when they were told 4, At Eylau, following the near-destruction of Augereau's corps, a Russian column came close to splitting the French centre and over-running Napoleon's own command-post.

As usual, the Guard had been held in reserve, though not out of danger in this most sanguinary of battles. All morning they had remained immobile while under artillery fire. To meet the Russian attack, Dorsenne brought up two battalions 2nd Grenadiers and 2nd Chasseurs with fixed bayonets, charging instead of prolonging the action by a lengthy exchange of musketry. Before they had arrived, Napoleon's own escort had had to charge the head of the Russian column to buy time. A successful repulse of the Russians, however, stabilised the French position.

Another critical deployment of the Guard occurred in , at Aspern-Essling, when Napoleon was striving to hold a bridgehead over the Danube. He was greatly outnumbered and reinforcement was almost impossible because of damage to the bridges over the river. This was the baptism of fire for the junior regiments, which went into action on the flanks of Napoleon's position as they attempted to hold the villages of Aspern and Essling.

In Aspern the effort was eventually unavailing, and at Essling a counter-attack by four battalions, led by General Georges Mouton, proved insufficient to hold the position. General Jean Rapp was sent with two further battalions to extricate Mouton, but together Mouton and Rapp decided to mount another counter-attack and secured the position.

Napoleon actually commended Rapp for his disobedience, declaring that the safety of the army depended upon holding Essling. You may depend upon him, he will know how to die at his post! Even under heavy bombardment the Old Guard disregarded its own plight to call to Napoleon to remove himself from the firing-line, threatening to lay down their arms unless he moved to a safer position.

So severe were the losses at Aspern-Essling that some Guardsmen were sent to replenish the gun-crews, but they too were shot down and the artillery carriages shattered like firewood. A sentry- post outside a barrack-gate.

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  • Print after E. They were virtually destroyed in Russia, but the Guard was re- formed for subsequent campaigns; its enlargement changing its nature: from being originally a veteran elite as the Old Guard was still regarded , by October it represented about one-third of the field army almost 49, strong , rising to a nominal strength in of over , Recruiting became increasingly difficult for the junior regiments, with raw conscripts filling the ranks and experienced men acting as cadres.

    Retired veterans and even invalids were recalled as NCOs. The nature of some of the new soldiers is exemplified by the investi- gation carried out by the surgeon Baron Larrey into 48 young soldiers sentenced to death for deliberately injuring their hands to obtain their discharge. Among them were men from the Guard. After exami- nation, Larrey proved them all innocent by having received their injuries through lack of training; by advancing with hands raised in front of their faces, and when in line of having been shot acci- dentally by the men behind!

    Despite insupportable losses and the drafting in of ever more conscripts, the presence of the Guard was of immense importance in the last campaigns; as Napoleon remarked, in the defence of France they did more than could ever have been expected from mortal men. Most of the Guard regiments were disbanded after the Bourbon restoration; some were kept as a separate category of troops - neither as part of the new Royal Guard nor of the line.

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    Together with the Guardsmen who accompanied Napoleon to Elba and with the re- created Young Guard regiments, they served in the Hundred Days campaign. Even their efforts at Waterloo were unavailing, and the Guard was disbanded after the second restoration. The role of the Guard cavalry was somewhat different. Fewer in number than the infantry, they were often kept as a reserve, brigaded together instead of being absorbed in the ordinary cavalry corps.