Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Napoleon's Old Guard Grenadiers

There are few units in military history that are as esteemed as Napoleon’s Imperial Guard Grenadiers. They were his bodyguard and fierce reserve held back and committed only when things on the battlefield seemed their darkest. Recruited from the largest and most imposing soldiers they literally towered above their foes. Their Bear fur covers added even more to their fantastic image. Not only physically imposing however, they were each veterans of Napoleon’s finest campaigns. Original requirements were NCOs and privates of the Line with ten years’ service and good conduct records. They were required to be proficient in reading and writing, a rule that was seldom broken. A line soldier could also join the guard if he had proven himself with bravery and recommendation from his commander.

The unit was established in November 1799 as the Consular Guard and took the name Imperial Guard on May 18, 1804. They became Napoleon’s cherished sons. They were often held in reserve as a powerful propaganda tool and therefore missed out on some of Napoleon’s greater victories. This inactivity produced in them the nickname of Les Grognards, or the Grumblers, because they were the only men known to complain in the presence of the Emperor himself. Despite this, they received better pay, rations and equipment then regular soldiers. Their ranks were also graded one slot higher than all non Imperial Guard soldiers.

The Old Guard was decimated in the Russian campaign often fighting in retreat near the Emperor himself. When Napoleon was exiled it was the Guard that he addressed. He is to have exclaimed “I cannot embrace you all, but I shall embrace your general.” And after Gen. Petit, he kissed the Eagle of the 1st Grenadiers a Pied before biding farewell.

When Napoleon returned, the ranks of the Imperial Guard swelled. But due to losses in previous campaigns the requirements for joining were slackened. At Waterloo the Old Guard played the role that they had for years previous. The actual final attack by the French launched at around 7:30 p.m. was by Napoleon’s Middle Guard, a unit that comprised of veterans not quite the age and experience of the Old Guard. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of Grenadiers formed a reserve line and when the Middle Guard broke upon the British line, they eventually fell back. They formed a fighting withdraw that was to gain them everlasting fame. When a group of Grenadiers was called upon to surrender, the resounding retort was “La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas.” Or “The Guard dies, but does not surrender.”  The units that formed the rearguard were decimated by allied artillery and cavalry but played a pivotal role in the retreat. When Napoleon was exiled for the second time, the Guard was considered a hotbed of Imperialists and was promptly disbanded by the new government.

These Old Guard Grenadiers are produced by Victrix Figures and are assembled pretty much as is. It is a fantastic set that offers a variety of poses though I have mainly chosen those in marching order. The only downside is that they are all in greatcoats but this does build for a coherent unit. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

French 55th Regiment of Line

The French Regiment 55e d'Infanterie de Ligne (or 55th Regiment of Line) was formed in 1644 as the Regiment de Conde. In 1803 after numerous reorganizations the 55th received its final number designation that it would carry throughout the remainder of the Napoleonic period. They served in numerous campaigns participating in famous battles such as Jena and Vittoria. The 55th gained battle honors at both Austerlitz 1805 and Eylau 1807.


At Waterloo the 55th Regiment of Line was under the command of Colonel Morin in the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of Count d’Erlon’s 1st Corps of over 19,000 men. The 1st Corps spent June 16, 1815 marching between Quatre Bras and Ligny without participating in either engagement. Two days later, it was the 1st Corps that was given the task of attacking the Allied center near the farm of La Haye Sainte. Wellington’s lines were dotted with these fortress farms, the most famous was to his right at Hougomont.

The 55th Regiment of Line advanced in column formation near 1:30 p.m. The column formation was a favored tactic of the French during this period. They used their intimidation and size of force to overwhelm the enemy by crashing into them. This worked against inexperienced troops but at Waterloo the 1st Corps ran into Sir Thomas Picton’s 5th Infantry Division. Though Picton was the highest ranking casualty of the battle, his men were veteran troops of units such as the 32nd Cornwall Regiment and the three famous Highland Battalions, the 42nd (Black Watch), 79th (Cameron), and the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders). They held firm against the 1st Corps of Napoleon’s Grand Armee and forced them from the field. Then came the coup de grace as the British Heavy Brigade continued to push through the French. The Scots Greys and others continued to run through the French until they themselves over extended their charge leaving them in the disastrous path of French lancers.

55th with Voltigeurs

French attack at Waterloo

Command figure

Rear view

The 55e d'Infanterie de Ligne shown here are made out of Perry Plastics straight from the box of French Napoleonic Infantry 1812-1815. These are models of fantastic quality especially with the low price. The only downside is that half of them are in greatcoats. This does not always work for all campaigns but does work to give the unit an individual feel while holding on to some contiguity. The banner is of 1815 designation making it appropriate on the Waterloo battlefield.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

How to make Wargame Banners

The Colors, a symbol of a units pride and heritage. They were used on the battlefield to rally and inspire. Many soldiers would rather die than see the enemy take them. It was ultimate shame for a unit to lose their colors. Therefore a great looking banner really adds a nice focal point to any miniature unit. It is also surprisingly easy to get a great looking banner without much hassle.

Starting point

I start with a template. This one came from a box of Victrix Old Guard Grenadiers. Both Perry and Victrix usually supply at least a couple of these. You can also get them from the internet with a little bit of searching. I then copy it and rescale if necessary. Either make larger or more often smaller to fit onto my color sergeant. Then I simply repaint over it. You would be remarkable surprised how much life and color this brings into the banner.

More richness in color

Then cut the banner out. I usually use an exacto knife. If the edges don't come out perfect, dont worry! The next step is to bring out an already painted suitable figure. Cut out a small piece of aluminum kitchen foil. Enough to cover a good chunk of the center of one side. This will add stability and durability. Then cover both sides very lightly with white glue. Place the aluminum foil down on either side and wrap the banner around the pole and press together. Now comes the fun part. You can shape the banner to make it appear caught in the wind. The aluminum foil really helps with this stage. Let it dry and when it has, repaint the white parts on the edges from cutting it out! And there you go.


Confederate Banner
British Battalion

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

95th Rifles

The British 95th Rifle Brigade is one of the most famous units of the entire Napoleonic period. In 1800 they were formed as an “Experimental Corps of Riflemen.” In 1802 they received their official designation as the 95th Regiment of Foot. Three years later in 1805 a second battalion was raised to increase their numbers.

The 95th have received such interest because of their revolutionary change in weaponry and tactics. They were armed with the Baker Rifle and sword bayonet. The difference between a rifle and Brown Bess musket are groves inside the barrel. Called rifling, this allows the ball to spin as it leaves the barrel allowing greater accuracy at a farther range. The disadvantage however, was reload time. Because the musket ball needed to catch the groves within the rifle barrel to get its spin, it had to have a tighter fit. This led to a longer reloading period.

Not only armed differently, the 95th was also clothed in revolutionary green jackets. These jackets provided early camouflage, something that the English Redcoats lacked. Because of their accuracy and desire to operate differently than line battalions the 95th were taught new tactics. They were instructed to think with more independence and operated in open order skirmish tactics rather than in closed ranks. Officers were freer with their men and the harsh corporal punishment such as flogging that so widely exhibited in the regular army was scaled back. They used bugles to aid in mobility and did not advance into the field with colors. They were wielded in a manner quite unlike the line battalions they fought alongside.

The Battle of Nivelle is a prime example of the riflemen being fully used in their capacity as skirmishers. In September of 1813 Wellington took the fortress of San Sebastian in northern Spain and began to drive Marshal Soult back towards France. Soult decided to take a stand by holding redoubts in front of the River Nivelle on a series of ridges and hills. The Greater Rhune, a mountain of 3,000 feet high, dominated the French position. Wellington knew he had to overrun Soult’s position.

The battle began as the light division pressed forward. It was formed from men of the 43rd, 52nd, and infamous 95th. All three battalions were drilled in light infantry tactics though it was only the 95th armed with the Baker Rifles and their sword bayonets of 23 inches of pure steel. The swiftness and surprise of the British attack sent the French troops fleeing for other forts on the nearby hills.

Despite their extreme exhaustion the 52nd was ordered to assault a star-shaped fort that held the French line. The 95th was ordered to support.  The French were so surprised at the light infantry’s appearance on their front that they fled leaving the Light Division in command of the fort and trenchworks without a single fatal casualty.

The 95th Rifles went on to fight in many more campaigns and win greater glory as the tactics they pioneered eventually were adopted by the entire army. The 95th Regiment of Foot continues today as the 3rd Battalion in the Royal Green Jackets.

These miniatures are all Perry Bros. They are a mix of mostly metal from the Command and Skirmishing sets as well as a couple plastic figures which blend in seamlessly from the British Line Infantry box. 

Further information: