Regimental History Section

Grognards, soldaten, old and new campaigners: welcome to this issue's Regimental History Section! Our offer of last issue still stands - to all and sundry wishing to research and submit a short written piece, be it a regimental unit history or a biography - a glass (or more) of good cheer await you at Rhine Tavern, in addition to (possibly) even greater accolades....

 


 

 

For this issue, we present regimental histories of the French 18th Line Infantry and the 2nd Cuirassiers. These well-researched pieces contain information extracted from primary source material and are very interesting indeed. Special thanks go to Andrea Coppo of Turin, Italy for his well-done piece on the 2nd Cuirassiers, to Yann Lamezec of France for assisting the Editorial Staff in translating French source material into English for the piece on the 18th Line, and to artist Romain Baulesch of Austria for his kind permission to use the image below of his painting of the Battle of Wagram (from Osprey's Campaign Series #33 by Ian Castle). Please note that the rather extensive bibliography for each of these articles, while not appended here, are available on request through the Editor. And remember - the NWC Newsletter is always in need of unit histories and biographical material!

 

Eagles and Flags of the 18th Line

Napoleon's decree of 1811 entitled only five of the 88 active French line infantry regiments to display seven battle honors on the reverse of their tricolore flags. The 18e Regiment d'Infanterie de Ligne was one of the units so honored. As early as the campaign of 1796-97, the 18th Line's stalwart fighting qualities were noticed by the future Emperor of the French. At that time, Napoleon allowed the regiment to place the slogan "Brave 18th, I know you: No enemy can resist you" on their flag. This distinction marked the beginning of an illustrious and tragic regimental history.

With the establishment of the Empire in 1804, the 18th Line and its fellow regiments were presented with a new flag (drapeau) for every battalion. A cast bronze eagle with spread wings (aigle eployee) weighing nearly four pounds surmounted the tip of each 6-foot flagstaff. Over the ensuing decade the 18th Line's path to glory was strewn with stunning victories, agonizing defeats - and the distinction, shared with the 4th Line, of having lost three of its eagles.

The 18th Line participated in the encirclement and capitulation of Ulm on 20 October 1805 as a part of Victor Levasseur's brigade in Claude Legrand's 3rd Division, IV Corps d'Armee commanded by Marshal Nicolas Soult. On 2 December the regiment was heavily engaged on the field of Austerlitz. The 18th and 75th Line held the Pheasantry and the north part of the village of Sokolnitz, key to the French right flank, against overwhelming numbers of Russians and Austrians from the Allied Second and Third Columns. In his report, colonel Vautre of the 18th credited his regiment with "piercing the enemy columns three times", seizing five Russian flags and carrying off a like number of cannon. As a result of the 1805 campaign, the 18th Line won its first (Ulm) and second (Austerlitz) battle honors.

Ten months later, the 18th Line earned its third battle honor (Jena). Again serving under Levasseur, Legrand and Soult the regiment was engaged on 14 October 1806 as part of the French right flank in the great afternoon attack that shattered Hohenlohe's Prussian army. Prussia did not capitulate, however, because its Russian allies were close at hand. The French were forced to continue the campaign into Poland during the winter of 1806-07.

On the frozen and snowy afternoon of 7 February 1807, the 18th Line approached the village of Preussisch-Eylau at the head of a column pursuing Bennigsen's Russian army. The Russian rearguard made a stand on the Ziegelhof plateau; to confront them the two battalions of the 18th were ordered to the left of the main road. In the face of heavy enemy artillery and musketry fire, the 18th deployed into line and was beginning to put pressure on the Russian infantry when, in the act of changing front to the right, the regiment was suddenly charged on its left flank by the Russian St. Petersburg Dragoons. Taken by surprise and overrun before they were able to form square, the color guard of the 1st battalion allegedly buried their eagle in the snow to prevent its capture. Thrown into disorder by the rout of the 1st battalion, the 2nd batallion tried to rally near its color guard. A desperate combat swirled around the eagle, and a group of Russian dragoons including adjutant Fomine, dragoons Podvorotni, Deriaguine and Erofeiev and trumpeter Logvinov were all involved in its capture. Each later received the Cross of St. George for his efforts.

Writing shortly after the battle, Lieutenant Lacombe of the 2nd battalion deplored the eagle's loss but noted that it was taken only after the color guard were slaughtered and the eagle bearer (porte-aigle) was cut down by "the cossacks". A timely countercharge by the 13th Chasseurs a Cheval saved the 18th from further loss, but the damage was enormous: among its officers, nine were killed and 35 wounded - including the colonel, Ravier, and future colonel, Pelleport. The 18th also lost more than 500 men, including several hundred prisoners. If this were not enough, the "buried eagle" of the 1st battalion was never recovered. The regiment was so badly shaken that it was kept in reserve all day on 8 February, when the Battle of Eylau was fought. The 18th Line had thus won its fourth battlefield honor (Eylau) in a most discouraging manner. However, the Emperor again showed his fondness for the regiment in his 20th Bulletin dated 9 February 1807; he minimized the loss of the regiment's eagles, stating that to blame the 18th would be unfair because it had been placed in an exposed position and was therefore subjected to the "vagaries of war". The Emperor ordered that the 18th be given replacement eagles.

For the 1809 campaign on the Danube, the 18th Line remained attached to Legrand's 3rd Division, IV Corps d'Armee, now commanded by Marshal Andre Massena. General de Brigade Levasseur had been mortally wounded at Eylau, and General de Brigade Francois Ledru des Essarts led the three battalions of the 18th together with three battalions of the 26th Light (legere) Infantry regiment. The strength of these six French battalions was 4,268. Also attached were two battalions of Baden's Graf Hochberg regiment. The 18th merited its fifth battle honor (Eckmuehl) after participating in the defeat of the Austrians on 22 April during the first phase of the campaign.

One month later, the 18th Line found itself thrown into the bloody cauldron of Aspern-Essling. At 5:30 PM on 21 May, Ledru's brigade was ordered to retake the key village of Aspern, which had fallen into Austrian hands on the French left. If Aspern were to remain in possession of the enemy, the precarious French bridgehead over the Danube at Lobau Island would be in extreme danger. Thus the safety of the entire army depended on Legrand's division. The 26th Light, supported by the 18th Line and the Graf Hochberg regiment, cleared the village streets and occupied the key positions of church and cemetery. They were then struck by an Austrian attack of six battalions, supported by a further thirteen, spurred on by the Archduke Charles himself. After an hour of intense combat in the broiling heat, Legrand's men were ejected from Aspern. Napoleon ordered its immediate recapture. In a titanic struggle over the course of the next 20 hours, Aspern changed hands many times and was reduced to a heap of rubble. The 18th Line suffered 600 casualties but had earned its sixth battle honor (Essling).

With just 1,574 men, the 18th Line fought at Wagram six weeks later, on 5-6 July 1809. The regiment was once more locked in a fierce combat for Aspern village, and again prevented the Austrians from breaking into the French rear area. For its part in this engagement, the 18th Line was accorded its seventh and final battle honor (Wagram). The summer of 1812 saw the 18th Line proudly carry its newly issued eagle and flag (whose reverse flaunted the seven battle honors) into the vastness of Russia. Attached to Joubert's Brigade, Razout's 11th Division, III Corps d'Armee led by Marshal Michel Ney the four battalions of the 18th fought at Borodino in the center of the French formation, attacking and taking the Bagration Fleches and later Semenovskaya village.

It was at Krasnoe on 18 November 1812, during the long retreat out of Russia, that the 18th Line lost its third eagle. Marshal Ney had turned to confront his Russian pursuers. When Kutusov demanded a total surrender, Ney led his troops in a brash frontal attack that ended in failure. According to colonel Pelleport, the 18th was virtually destroyed in this combat. By Pelleport's express order, the eagle was placed at the head of the regiment. While other units sought to hide their eagles by dismantling them or hurrying them to the rear, the men of the 18th defended their honor. 600 of them became casualties, with 350 dead. Pelleport's justification was that the eagles should be proudly carried as symbols of the liberty they represented, not hidden away. The eagle and flag of the 18th Line were captured by under-lieutenants Koratcharov and Bolchwing and uhlan Dartchenko of the 2nd squadron, the Russian Guard Uhlans. The captors were each awarded the Cross of St. George for this exploit.

A new regiment was formed around the cadre of the 18th Line for the 1813 campaign in Germany. The regiment served under General de Brigade Bronikowsky in Vial's 6th Division (Legrand having been seriously wounded crossing the Beresina in late November 1812), II Corps d'Armee under Marshal Claude Victor-Perrin, known as Victor. The 18th Line had requested a replacement eagle for the one lost at Krasnoe, and Napoleon approved the request in June 1813. The 18th Line fought at Dresden in August and Leipzig in October. Still under Victor, the 18th Line fought in the ensuing campaign in France and was present at La Rothiere on 1 February 1814. We do not know if the final replacement eagle for the 18e Regiment d'Infanterie de Ligne ever arrived.


 

 

History of the 2éme Cuirassiers

 

The 2éme Cuirassiers, the cadet regiment in the French Cavalry hierarchy, was born in 1635, year of foundation of the first 12 regiments of the French cavalry. It has fought in the wars of the French monarchy, of the Revolution, of the Republic and of both the First and Second Empires under commanders such as Condé, Turenne, Murat, counting among its ranks no less than 6 future Marshals of France.

The first commander of the regiment was none other than the great Cardinal Richelieu, whose compagnies d'ordonnance the regiment originated from. The name Régiment du Cardinal-Duc was given to the new unit, and the first commander was the Vicomte du Montbas (François de Barthon). Strength was about 300 officers and other ranks.

The Cardinal died on December 4th, 1663, leaving to the King his regiment that takes up the name of Royal-Cavalerie, as confirmed by a Royal Decree dated August 1st, 1644. Royal-Cavalerie participated in all the French monarchy campaigns during the 17th and 18th centuries, fighting with distinction particularly at Rocroi, where first the Spanish cavalry and then the tercios infantry were beaten in the final melée that gave the victory to the lily banners.

Other important combats of this period are the Dunes victory (1658), the capture of Valenciennes, and of Gand and Ypres (1676-1678). Under the King's brother (Philippe d'Orlèans) at Mont-Cassel the regiment took part in the defeat of the Spanish left wing under the Prince of Orange. During the War of Spanish Succession at Friedlingen in 1702 Royal-Cavalerie distinguished itself in the bloody charge against the Imperial cavalry that decided the day's outcome.

In 1791, as the guerre en dentelles gave over to the fury of the sans-culottes and the tricorne hat gave over to the bonnet phrygie, the regiment changed its name again. Following the Royal Decree dated January 1st, 1791 the old regiments lost their distinctive names to take up a progressive number within their speciality: Royal-Cavalerie thus became simply 2éme Régiment de Cavalerie. Under this name the regiment would write one of the most beautiful and glory-laden pages of its history. The decree fixed a new organisation: 3 squadrons of 2 companies each, for a total of 28 officers and 439 troopers. Of course, in the organisational chaos of the first years of the Republic these strengths would remain mainly on paper.

The Revolutionary Wars were spent within the Army of the Rhine and that of the Vosges, fighting at Hungrischwolf, Geisberg, Mayence, Rastadt, Ettingen, Dunstelkingen, Neresheim, and Diersheim. At Dunstelkingen, under chef de brigade Radel, the regiment routed the Lobkowitz Chevauxlégers while supporting the 2éme Chasseurs à Cheval. At Neresheim, always in co-operation with the 2éme Chasseurs à Cheval, the regiment charged the Austrian infantry arresting their advance and gaining an official praise from the Directory. In all these actions, the regiment was chronically understrength: in the average it had less that 200 sabres under arms; the horses are badly cared for and underfed, the men hungry and with months of pay in arrears, the equipment in pitiful condition. At Diersheim, on April 21st, 1797 the 2éme de Cavalerie distinguished itself in a series of charges led by Moreau himself.

In 1800 the regiment's path crossed for the first time that of Napoleon, while all of 376 sabres strong entered the Army of the Reserve. On May 11th, 1800 a decree defined the regiment as belonging to the 1st cavalry brigade under géneral de brigade Kellermann, together with the 3éme and 20éme of the same speciality. The Colonel (still named chef de brigade) is Jean-Fréderic Ywendorff. The dawn of 25 prairial an VIII found the regiment deployed under arms on the fateful Marengo plain. The official relation of the battle by Berthier gives the regiment as 120 sabres strong (more modern sources say 150) for a total of 470 for the Kellermann brigade.

About at noon the 2éme de Cavalerie charged the Karaczay Leichte Dragoner (Pilati brigade), routing them back to the Fontanone streambed. In the melée, the commander of the Kaiser Leichte Dragoner was captured. A second glorious charge came at 2,15 p.m. with the same scheme of the first: the Austrian light dragoons came forward (3 Leichte Dragoner Erzherzog Johann and 9 Leichte Dragoner Liechtenstein) to charge the division Gardanne that was retreating, the 8éme de Dragons charged the Austrians slowing their advance without stopping them, the French dragoons retreated and then the furious charge of the 2éme and 20éme de Cavalerie broke the Austrian regiments, routing them back on their infantry support. The remaining part of the day was spent in bloody covering actions that reduced the brigade strength to no more than 150 sabres.

The hour of destiny came at about 5 p.m. Kellermann, gathering around his weary squadrons part of the 8éme de Dragons and a platoon of the 1ére de Cavalerie, deployed his brigade in line, ordered a left conversion and the 2éme de Cavalerie, followed by the 20éme and by the rest of the brigade, trotted out among the Marengo vineyards. At some 100 paces, the trumpeter sounded the charge and the 2éme de Cavalerie crashed against the flank of the Austrian advance guard. Taken by surprise, the Lattermann grenadiers were literally annihilated by the violence of the clash. In the melée, trooper Claude-François Riche of the 2éme, born in the Doubs département, captured General Zach, chief of staff of the Austrian Army. Chef d'escadron Jean-Baptiste Alix, and trooper Simon Leboeuf, both of the 2éme, captured a standard each. The sight of the French troopers galloping furiously forth and back among the grenadiers broke the morale of the Bohemians of the Michael Wallis regiment, who routed towards the rearguard. According to the official reports of both sides, from 2000 to 4000 prisoners laid down their arms. According to the same source, Kellermann took 6 standards and 4 pieces of cannon.

But it didn't end here: once past the head of the Austrian column, Kellermann gathered the squadrons of the 2éme and of the 20éme and lead them against the Liechtenstein dragoons (1200 sabres), drawn out of the flank of the Austrian column. The sight of the closed ranks of the French heavy cavalry boring down at the trot on them is too much for the Austrian dragoons who disperse to avoid contact and rout towards the rear taking with them in their flight the Pilati brigade. The 2éme de Cavalerie at this point took part in the pursuit of the routed mass of the fleeing Austrian cavalry. At the end of the day, many troopers of the regiment were mentioned in official dispatches and recommended for decorations.

Thus ends the second Italian campaign. But the regiment waited for another change: within Napoleon's project related to the creation of an armoured heavy cavalry speciality, on October 12th, 1802 the regiment took up the breastplate and the horsehair mane helmet and became the 2éme Cavalerie-Cuirassiers. The organisation of the French cavalry arm was then completed by the decree 1 Vendémiaire an XII (September 24th, 1803) that formed the first 12 regiment of cuirassiers of the Napoleonic cavalry. At this point the regiment was called 2éme Régiment de Cuirassiers, or simply 2éme Cuirassiers. The organisation changed, bringing the strength to 4 squadrons for a total of about 712 officers and other ranks.

Another important event: the 2éme Cuirassiers crossed paths now with the aristocratic géneral de division Etienne-Marie-Antoine Champion, count of Nansouty, being part of the 2nd brigade (géneral de brigade Saint-Germain) of the 1ére Division de Réserve de Grosse Cavalerie, together with the 3éme Cuirassiers. The association was to be permanent: during all the Napoleonic glory years the regiment galloped on the European battlefields under the command of the silent and caustic Bordeaux general.

The 2éme Cuirassiers took part in the 1805 campaign. It left Lille on August 28th for Pirmasens, where it arrived on September 16th. Leaving one squadron at the regimental depot at Caen, it counted three squadrons, for a total of 23 officers, 434 tropers and 469 horses. This badly understrength status must have been an exception in the Grande Armée, as the same Napoleon gave out his disappointment on the matter to Berthier. This kind of high-level attention had its effects and the 2éme Cuirassiers counted 575 horses as its passed the Rhine, thanks to the strict march discipline and horse caring enforced by Nansouty. During the campaign, the 2éme Cuirassiers participated in the Wertingen fight (October 8th, 1805) but stayed in the reserve and did not take part in the several charges made by the dragoon divisions.

On December 2nd, 1805 the regiment was deployed with the Corps de Réserve de Cavalerie on the right of Marshal Lannes' 5éme Corps d'Armée, south of the Santon hill and west of Blasowitz. The strength had suffered from the long campaigning and frequent detachments as only 304 sabres were under arms that morning, to see the sun of Austerlitz rise. The regiment was always part of the 2nd brigade, under géneral de brigade Lahoussaye. The first fight came when Murat, perceiving the Russian cavalry engaging the dragoons to be at the end of its tethers, launched in the melée both the 1ére as well as the 2éme Division de Réserve de Grosse Cavalerie (better known simply as divisions Nansouty and D'Hautpoul). The following fight established the reputation of the French heavy cavalry for more than a decade.

Amid a creaking of harnesses and a tingling of blades, the regiments advanced, Nansouty's in the front line with D'Hautpoul as support. First in the melée were the carabiniers of the 1st brigade (géneral de brigade Piston) who clashed against the Russian Tver dragoons. The charge of the carabiniers literally crumbled the Russian cavalry. After this first fight, the 1st brigade made a conversion to the south-east, to meet a new obstacle, the Elisabethgrad hussars and the Chernigov dragoons. The lines clashed, and as the bear-bonneted troopers fought outnumbered two to one Nansouty threw in the 2éme Cuirassiers, supported by the 3éme. Among shouts of "En avant ! En avant !" and Colonel Ywendorff's hoarse orders ("Serrez, cuirassiers ! Serrez") the regiment thundered forward and swept away the Chernigov dragoons as well as part of the hussars. At this point, the cautious Nansouty had the recall sounded as a new body of enemy cavalry was approaching, reforming the cuirassiers behind Caffarelli's infantry division.

Behind the cover afforded by Caffarelli's veterans, Nansouty formed three columns, with the 1ére and the 2éme Carabiniers as well as the 2éme Cuirassiers as first line, and the 9éme, the 12éme and the 3éme Cuirassiers in the second line. Caffarelli's crack infantry opened up the ranks with perfect co-ordination, and the steel wall once again bore down inexorably at the trot against the Russian cavalry. An eyewitness described the scene, never repeated during the Napoleonic wars, of ten regiments of heavy cavalry charging line abreast as "it seemed that they were at a review in front of the Inspector General". The divisional horse battery opened fire against the enemy mass, and in a whirlwind of sabres cuirassiers and carabiniers charged three times against Chernigov dragoons, the Elisabethgrad hussars and the Kharkov dragoons. The Russian first line was routed and thrown back in the second, and after four to five minutes of furious melée the Russian cavalry scattered all over the battlefield with heavy losses.

The regiment's losses for the day were 1 dead and 17 wounded. After the battle colonel Ywendorff was promoted to géneral de brigade, and chef d'escadron Chouard was promoted and became the new Colonel. During the brief peace period, an Imperial decree dated August 31st, 1806 fixed the organisation and the strength at 820 sabres and 831 horses. During the following Prussian campaign, the 2éme Cuirassiers arrived too late to take part at the battle of Jena and participated only in the first phase (up to October 25th) of Hohenlohe and Blücher's pursuit. The regiment spent the first part of the 1806-1807 winter in Warsaw. At the beginning of the winter phase of the Polish campaign the division Nansouty hurried to join the Grande Armée but escaped Eylau's massacre. At the beginning of June géneral de brigade Doumerc took command of the 2nd brigade (2éme and 9éme Cuirassiers). Before Heilsberg, the regiment was present at Guttstadt and arrived in the early hours of June 14th, 1807 on Friedland's battlefield. Here it took part in the cavalry fights around Heinrichsdorf village, routing general Uvarov's Russian cavalry several times during no less than fifteen charges.

The 1809 campaign saw the 2éme Cuirassiers in the brigade Doumerc with the 9éme Cuirassiers. The regiment's first action came at Eckmühl, where the regiment participated in the famous night melée at Alt Eglofsheim. The action took place during the evening of the second day of the battle, as Rosenberg's corps was breaking contact with Davout's corps to start the retreat. The French cavalry, already wearied by a long approach march, started the pursuit, and the first rearguard action happened as the Austrians turned back to stop the pursuit in the plain between Hagerstadt and Alt Eglofsheim. General Schneller's kürassier brigade (about 2000 sabres) took position at dusk (about 7 p.m.) on April 22nd, 1809 with the Gottesheim-Kürassiere regiment in the first line and the Kaiser-Kürassiere in the second line. Supporting them was a horse artillery battery, eight squadrons of the Stipsicz-Husaren, two weary squadrons of Erzherzog-Ferdinand-Husaren, and eight squadrons of the Vincent-Chevauxlégers. The Austrian light cavalry was already spent from several charges during the day's fight on the Bettelberg's hillsides with the Bavarian light cavalry and Saint-Sulpice's cuirassiers, but nonetheless stood bravely side to side with its heavy comrades.

The moon was rising and it shone on the breastplates of the division Nansouty as the cautious general deployed his division and Saint-Sulpice's to prepare for the most important cavalry action since Eylau (due to the absence of both Bessiéres and Murat, Nansouty had de facto an independent command at cavalry corps level). The division Nansouty deployed in column by brigades, with the carabiniers in the centre, the 2nd brigade in the left with the 2éme Cuirassiers in the front line and the 3rd brigade on the right. The division Saint-Sulpice was deployed in the second line, while on the right of the French heavies the Allied order of battle was completed by the Bavarians with the Von Seydewitz brigade (2 Dragoner Thurn und Taxis and 4 Chevauxlégers Bubenhofen) and the 1 Chevauxlégers Kronprinz, by the Württembergers with the Jägers zu Pferd König and Herzog Louis (two squadrons of the latter), by 3 squadrons of the 14éme Chasseurs à Cheval and by the Baden Leichte Dragoner.

The scene seems taken from a David or Détaille painting: something like 10-12,000 sabres, deployed on the two sides of the plain, with the moon playing with silvery reflections off blades and breastplates as the snorts of the horses fill up the fresh April night. The cuirassiers come forward at the walk, as they had marched and fought for almost 30 miles on that day. From the heights on the left the 24 pieces of Nansouty's horse artillery reply to the salute of the Austrian's 12 guns, firing against the enemy's mass of men and horses. Eyeing nervously the long lines of the 2éme Cuirassiers stately advancing on their left, the Gottesheim regiment charges the 1ére Carabiniers in the centre of the French line, and at a 100 paces the Austrian trumpeter sounds the gallop. They are received by a musketry salvo by the carabiniers, but this is not enough to stop the Hapsburg dash. An order "Escadrons, trot, marche !" resounds among the cuirassiers, and the two lines clash against each other, the Austrians at the gallop, the French at the trot. A furious melée begins, the darkness mitigated by the sparks of steel against steel glowing like fireflies in the spring night. The 2éme Cuirassiers turns the Gottesheim-Kürassiere right flank and the pressure soon causes the rout of the Austrian troopers, handicapped by having only a front plate and not a full breastplate.

Nansouty's brilliant tactical management wins this first engagement, but the Kaiser-Kürassiere enter the fray, supported by the Stipsicz-Husaren on the left. The arrival of reinforcements stems for some seconds the Austrian crisis, but Nansouty's second line (9éme and 12éme Cuirassiers, 2éme Carabiniers) comes forward to engage in a titanic melée, with no less than 70 squadrons. The Vincent-Chevauxlégers try to hit Nansouty's 3rd brigade in the flank, but a swift charge of König and Herzog Louis sweeps them away. The general melée quickly turns to the French favour, and protected by a charge of the Erzherzog-Ferdinand-Husaren the Austrian cavalry breaks contact routing wildly in indescribable confusion. General Schneller is wounded as the enraged cuirassiers chase the Austrians towards the Ratisbon road. The French make 300 prisoners, while an eyewitness reports the fact that the Austrians had respectively 13 and 8 times more dead and wounded than the French.

On the next morning, arriving at Ratisbon, the 2éme Cuirassiers took part in a fight with the Merveldt-Uhlanen first and then against the Hohenzollern and Ferdinand-Kürassiere led by the Prince of Hessen-Homburg. Charged three times, the Austrian cavalry routed towards the city. The 2éme Cuirassiers under colonel Chouard took 200 prisoners fortified in a village. During this period (22-23rd April) the regiment had 3 officers and 22 troopers killed and wounded.

After that, the regiment reached Vienna with the rest of the army. The Doumerc brigade did not participate in the battle at Aspern-Essling, staying in the reserve on Lobau island (but M. Bigarre, the regiment's chirurgien-major gives the first assistance to the mortally wounded Lannes). At Wagram, the regiment participated in the desperate charge of the division Nansouty against the Austrian centre, hitting the joint between Kollowrath's 3rd corps and Liechtenstein's reserve corps. The charge had an initial success, riding over a battalion of Grenzer (Austrian slavic infantry), but was then halted by the murderous combined fire of musketry and artillery by the Austrian grenadiers and the dozens of pieces of cannon. The division retreated on their lines.

Even if tactically a defeat, the charge was successful in stopping the advance of the Austrian centre and in giving back the initiative to the French. It was practically the only action of the regiment during that battle: At the end of the day the regiment counted 7 officers and 81 others killed or wounded. Thus ended the 1809 campaign, and the regiment spent the following two years in Germany, where on September 7th, 1811 Colonel Rolland took command of the regiment. The Imperial decree dated January 18, 1810 strongly reinforced the regiment up to 960 sabres.

The Russian campaign opened with the regiment within the 1ére Corps de Réserve de Cavalerie, 1ére Division Cuirassiers (géneral de division Saint-Germain), 1st brigade (géneral de brigade Bessiéres). The strength was about 992 officers and troopers. The Ostrowno fight saw a charge against the Russian infantry that gave about 200 prisoners. At Borodino, the regiment distinguished itself in the furious melée around Semenovskaya, beating the Russian Guard Cavalry. With the rest of the French cavalry, the 2éme Cuirassiers disappeared in the nightmare of the retreat. Only 14 officers, 57 troopers and 21 horses reached the safety of the Niemen.

The 1813 campaign began with the 2éme Cuirassiers part of the 1st brigade (géneral de brigade Berckheim), 1ére Division de Grosse Cavalerie (géneral de division Bordesoulle), counting 9 officers and 169 others, under Colonel Rolland. It participated at the battle of Bautzen. At Dresden, it charged the division Metzko taking several prisoners. After that, it supported the division Dubreton in a charge that broke two Austrian squares. During the Wachau fight, Colonel Rolland lost a leg in a clash with the Cossacks after leading a charge that swept away a Russian battalion of the Eugen Von Württemberg corps and took 26 pieces of cannon. The regiment did not participate in the battle of Leipzig and the 2éme Cuirassiers counted, at the beginning of November, 13 officers and 129 troopers. On October 28th 1813 Colonel Morin took command of the regiment.

The 1814 campaign opened with the regiment part of the 3éme Régiment Provisoire de Grosse Cavalerie, with the 3éme, 6éme, 9éme, 11éme and 12éme Cuirassiers. It counted 13 officers and 101 troopers. It fought at La Rothiére and at Champaubert, where in a vigorous charge it routed the head of the Russian infantry column. At Vauxchamps, the Prussian infantry was routed in two different charges the regiment took part in. On February 20th, 1814, during a reorganisation, the 2éme Cuirassiers was part of the 1st brigade (géneral de brigade Thiry) of the cuirassier division (genéral de division Bordesoulle) of the cavalry corps commanded by the same Bordesoulle. At Athies, the regiment was involved in the general rout of the French cavalry charged by the Prussian mounted arm. At La Fére-Champenoise, the regiment was beaten by the Russian cavalry. After the battle of Paris, the regiment was reduced to a mere 5 officers and 54 troopers.

This history would not be complete without a mention of the role played by the 2éme Cuirassiers in Marshal Davout's defence of Hamburg. The Prince of Eckmühl formed three régiments provisoires of cuirassiers, and the 3éme was formed from a nucleus of two squadrons of the 2éme Cuirassiers that were sent to Hamburg during the month of June 1813 to be equipped. The Iron Marshal trained his heavy cavalry with the usual discipline and ruthlessness, but the armistice came without an opportunity to employ the cavalry in action.

During the First Restoration the 2éme Cuirassiers took the name of Régiment de la Reine, with a theoretical strength of 42 officers and 602 other ranks.

At the beginning of the 1815 campaign, the 2éme Cuirassiers was part of, together with the 3éme, the 2nd brigade (géneral de brigade Donop), 2éme Division de Reserve de Cavalerie (géneral de division Roussel D'Hurbal). The strength was 21 officers, 214 others and 247 horses in 3 squadrons. The Colonel was M. Grandjean. On June 3rd the brigade passed under Kellermann's orders, 3éme Corps de Réserve de Cavalerie. It seems that at Quatre-Bras the regiment stayed in reserve without taking part in Kellermann's epic charge. It counted then about 300 officers and troopers in two squadrons.

Finally, at Waterloo the splendid epoch of the 2éme Cuirassiers extinguished itself among the mud and blood of Mont-St-Jean. The regiment took part in the second phase of the great French cavalry charges with great valour and élan, suffering huge losses for no result. On that fateful evening the regiment counted 7 officers, 116 troopers and 117 horses.

During the Second Restoration the regiment took the name of Cuirassiers du Dauphin, on July 16th, 1815. About 1830 it retook the name of 2éme Cuirassiers and participated at the 1870 campaign suffering huge losses at the Reichshoffen fight.

 


Neumärkisches Dragoner-Regiment Nr 6

By Dallas Gavin 

The Neumärkisches Dragoner-Regiment Nr 6 (NDR) was born as a result of the massive rebuilding of the Royal Prussian Army after the defeats of 1806/07. Despite being a "new" regiment (in that it was made up of the elements of more than one of the "Old Army" regiments), NDR was considered to have been formed on 10 December 1704. The reason for this is that the remnants of the two units used as the foundation of the new NDR were originally the same regiment of dragoons, raised as an eight-company regiment by General-Major Friedrich Reichsfreiherr von Derfflinger on that date.

This regiment was redesignated as the "Grenadier-Regiment zu Pferde" (Horse Grenadiers) on 27 February 1713 and increased to ten squadron's strength in 1718. On 27 February 1725 the regiment was split into two units, which were re-designated as the 3rd and 4th regiments of dragoons.

Both regiments served throughout the wars of the 18th Century and were in the field in 1806, the 3rd (von Irwing Dragoner-Regiment Nr3) at Auerstadt and the 4th (von Katte Dragoner-Regiment Nr 4) at Jena. The 3rd distinguished itself by charging the squares of the 85th line (more than can be said for other units at the battle) and lost 1 officer and 77 men killed and 7 officers and 105 men wounded. The 4th had three squadrons at Jena and two in Stettin. These latter later made their way to Lubeck.

The "new" NDR was formed from the depots and remnants of the 3rd and 4th dragoon regiments on 10 October 1807. The regiment was granted crimson facings and and white buttons as its distinctives. The regiment retained the trumpets presented to the Grenadiere zu Pferde in 1722 and took the Leib-Standarte of that regiment when the number of standards in the units were reduced to one in 1811. NDR was one of only two units (the other being the 1st Dragoons) to carry a Leib-Standarte during the wars.

 

The standard of the Neumärkisches Dragoner-Regiment Nr 6

 

The regiment was assigned to the II Corps in the reorganisation of the Royal Prussian Army and served as the brigade cavalry for the 9th Brigade, serving under General-Major von Klüx. NDR managed to accumulate a long list of battle honours and was present at the following actions (among others) in the "Wars of Liberation".:

The regiment was again serving with II Corps in 1815, taking part in the climatic end to the Napoleonic era. The regiment paid dearly for its service, though, suffering the following casualties from 1813-15:

Officers- 7 killed in action and 20 wounded

Men- 76 killed and 124 wounded and 14 missing.

The unit also lost 355 horses killed and 156 wounded during the wars.

For their bravery five members of the regiment were awarded Iron Cross 1st Class and 56 the Iron Cross 2nd Class. The regiment was also awarded the right to bear the Iron Cross on the finial of its standard-pike on 3 June 1814.

The NDR regiment is fairly typical of the Prussian cavalry of this period. Although its history boasts no squares broken nor eagles captured, this regiment was the one of the steady, reliable units without which victory is impossible.

 

Sources:

Alt, Pr-Lt Georg "Geschichte der Königl. Preußischen Kürassiere und Dragoner 1619-1870". Berlin 1869 (reprinted 1972).

Hofschröer, Peter "Prussian Cavalry of the Napoleonic Wars (2) 1807-15". Osprey Men-at-Arms series 172, London, 1986

 

 


 

Saxon Leibstandarte Regimental History Part III

Onwards to Moscow

1811 Following the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro the regiment bade farewell to Marshal Massena (now in retirement) with the oompah band playing as his carriage set off hastily for France. Marshal Marmont, who replaced Massena, gave the Saxon Leibstandarte the honour of escorting the marshal back through Spain. The regiment quickly increased their pace to match the disappearing marshal but by the end of the first day a gap of twenty miles had appeared between them. Upon reaching Paris a fortnight later, the regiment was ordered back to Saxony for some garrison duty.

1812 Preparations for the greatest invasion in history had begun several years earlier and Napoleon was amassing a huge force. His staff officers scoured Europe for able-bodied troops, and somehow the Saxon Leibstandarte were overlooked in the first draft. In fact they were overlooked in the second draft too. As the date of invasion drew near and Napoleon grew more apprehensive the Saxon Leibstandarte were added to the invading force and were posted to 22nd Division, Seventh Corps (Saxons) under General Reynier. This was the first occasion for the Saxon Leibstandarte to fight alongside their fellow Saxons.

1812 On the night of 22 June the Saxon Leibstandarte found an unguarded bridge and crossed the Niemen near Grodno. This was in fact the spearhead of La Grande Armee, by crossing into Russian territory 24 hours before any other unit. This occurred due to a desire on the part of the Saxon Leibstandarte to impress Napoleon with their aggression. This incursion was spotted by some Cossacks, who promptly warned Prince Bagration that the invasion had begun. He immediately began to withdraw his troops away from the French forces.

July 27 Following a lengthy march, Napoleon finally pinned the Russians, commanded by Barclay de Tolly, near the town of Vitebsk. Seeing an opportunity of destroying Barclay's army, Napoleon decided to use the right wing under Jerome, to advance and encircle Barclay. After conferring with Davout, L'Empereur decided to change the command structure and appointed the "iron marshal" to command the right wing in the place of Jerome. With his customary foresight, Napoleon then dispatched an ADC to his brother with news of the new command structure.

Davout, understanding Napoleon's inspirational plan in trapping Barclay, called for a staff meeting at first light and despatched messengers to the senior officers. However, Jerome had already gone to bed after ordering to be woken " after 6 bells, me hearties". (Authors note: This unfortunate lapse from Prince Jerome is now thought to have been a carryover from his time as an admiral in the French navy). The Saxon Leibstandarte, not wishing to show their ignorance, nodded enthusiastically as they watched the retreating back of their General retiring to his hammock for a good nights sleep. As soon as the tent flaps were closed a hurried conference was called amongst the regiment. Otto, never backwards in coming forwards, insisted that "after 6 bells" referred to the amount of time it takes a trained regiment to collect 6 bells. As there were no opposing suggestions, the regiment split up into six parties and began to scour the countryside looking for the bells.

During the night, Napoleon's ADC arrived at Jerome's tent, but found his way barred by two tall and thickset Saxon Leibstandarte grenadiers. Knowing that Jerome was not to be awoken before 6 bells had been collected, all the ADC could get from the sentries was "Ve are only obeying orders". The ADC then sat down and began drinking some wine, accompanied later by Davout's messenger as they both awaited their chance to see Jerome.

Davout conducted the staff meeting at first light, without Jerome, and ordered the army, including the right wing, towards Vitebsk. Later that afternoon, Jerome was wakened by the sound of bells clanging outside his tent. The Prince then read the orders from Davout and flew into a rage, shouting "Hoozefinkheis? I'll keelhaul the swab". He immediately cancelled the orders and started to eat a late breakfast. A couple of hours later, Napoleon's ADC (who had partaken more wine than Davout's messenger) successfully passed on the earlier message to Jerome as the latter was quizzically examining an unexpected collection of bells beside his tent. Upon realising the new command structure, Jerome stomped off to his carriage and set off for Westphalia, followed by his Saxon Leibstandarte bodyguards.

Davout reissued his orders, after being informed by his scouts that the right wing was not moving. The chief of staff, left behind by Jerome, received these new orders and the troops began moving towards Vitebsk. Several hours later the silence of the empty camp was broken by the sounds of "clang ouch, clang ouch" as over a small hill came the Saxon Leibstandarte oompah band led by Otto with a very large cowbell swinging dangerously between his legs. Finding the camp empty, except for a lone hammock swaying gently in the breeze, they sat down and began a council of war. While discussing what to do next, the band was delighted to see the regimental pioneer detachment approaching from the south carrying another bell. It was then decided by mutual consent to head east where a large dust cloud could still be seen. The route taken by Otto and his merry band actually took them to the south of Smolensk. They wandered around the countryside, for a fortnight, looking for the army and Prince Jerome. During this time, Barclay after preparing to fight at Vitebsk, had received news of the extent of Davout's advance and had begun a fighting retreat.

On the 16th of August the Saxon Leibstandarte heard sounds of a battle coming from the north east of their position and immediately decided to march towards the sound of the guns. After a full days march they arrived at a crossing point on the river Dnieper where they were met by a large body of troops moving to the east, which they took to be the lead elements of La Grande Armee. Setting up the band to boost morale they played a selection of Saxon folk music accompanied (for the first time) by 2 Russian cowbells. The band played non-stop, under the burning sun amid clouds of dust from the marching feet of the troops as they passed by. To Otto's delight the sound of the music seemed to spur the troops on as they picked up pace tremendously as they marched past the band.

This stirring performance continued for 5 hours until the flow of troops eventually petered out. The band, with relief, laid down their instruments and with cracked lips and parched throats advanced towards the river for a quenching drink. They had just started to drink thirstily when they were disturbed by hoof beats splashing across the river. Nobody to this day knows who was more surprised by this encounter, the French vanguard or the oompah band. The French vanguard and Otto then held a confused conversation concerning the retreating Russians/advancing French before the cavalry continued their advance.

Author's note: The regimental archives then continued to tell the tale of camp life for the majority of the regiment who were in Westphalia, throughout the remainder of this momentous invasion. Fortunately, we managed to obtain a diary, which was kept by Bandsman Frederick "Fritz" Muller, relating the adventures of the oompah band together with the pioneers in Russia. The next portion of our story will draw heavily from this source and will include the tale of how Otto received his "Legion d'Honneur"!