Napoleonic French Infantry Uniforms 1812 – 1815


Napoleonic French Line Infantry Uniforms 1812 – 1815

French Line Infantry Uniforms 1812 – 1815

The bread and butter of the French Army; the Line Infantry would make up the majority of the French soldiers taking part in Napoleon’s campaigns. They would often be in various states of dress with the common depiction being in full battle uniform with their dark blue jackets. The use of greatcoats when campaigning would often be seen as well as more disheveled looks as uniforms were damaged along the way and non regulation replacements would be used instead.

 

All soldiers in French Line regiments wore dark blue jackets with white lapels and white trousers or breeches to match. Red collars and cuffs were worn with white threading around the rim. Examples of French 1812 uniforms can be seen below.

Each soldier wore a shako (headgear), although the Grenadier and Voltigeur shakos were often much more distinctive then those of the fusiliers.

Fusiliers

The fusiliers were the most numerous members of the French Infantry Battalion. Out of the 6 companies 4 of them were Fusiliers.

Habit-Veste

Back view of French Habit-Veste, including backpack, cartridge pouch and canteen
Front view of French Habit-Veste
Front view of French Habit-Veste

 

The major change to the uniform of the Infantry was the introduction of the “habit-veste” – a new coat (or coatee) which replaced the longer
and less practical coat from before.

The habit-veste is the dark blue (known as Imperial blue by this time) jacket with scarlet collars and cuffs and had white lapels and piping that most people recognize as the French colours. It transformed the coat into one that would fasten from the neck to the waistline and had an upstanding collar. The jacket also included the epaulets, which for the Fusilier meant a base colour of blue with a piping of scarlet.

A close up of the French habit-veste can be seen above. The straps are for the backpack and for the soldier’s cartridge pouch which is situated at his rear and can be seen in the second
picture. Extra straps were provided underneath the cartridge pouch for the soldier to keep his rolled up fatigue cap. A further strap could also be attached for the bayonet scabbard.

Breeches/ Trousers

By 1812 the use of breeches was formally abandoned and so cannot be found in the Bardin regulations. The use of pantaloons or trousers was now much more commonplace than earlier in the period and it would be perfectly
reasonable to assume that the majority of the infantry were using them. It should still be noted that there were always exceptions in the French army and the breeches would still have been worn by some regiments throughout the later campaigns.

Gaiters

Gaiters were still used from 1812 -1815 although they were much shorter than the previous versions. This was because the longer gaiters were found to restrict the soldier when moving and especially when kneeling. This could become a major problem during battle and the shorter gaiters were hoped to fix this problem.

Shoes

Infantry officers previously had a turn down of yellowish leather at the top of their boots but these were gradually phased out by 1812 in favour of shorter black boots.

Shako

The shako had been adopted by line infantry regiments by 1806 although alterations were made in 1810. This meant that for the uniforms of 1812 – 15 the shako were designated to be 19 cm tall and made of felt with a hard leather top piece with a diameter of 24.4 cm. A larger band was around the top of the shako and was 4 cm deep, while a shorter band was nearer the leather visor.

A 7cm tricolour cockade would be fastened to the front of the shako as would a shako plate to designate regiment numbers. In 1810 this was designated as a lozenge shape, however by 1812 the shako plate was designated to be a perched eagle with a crown. Again however older regulation shako plates would often be seen in the field. Often on campaign shako covers would be used to protect the shako and the plates from any damage.

French Fusilier pom pom colours by company – 1st dark green, 2nd sky blue, 3rd orange, 4th violet

The pom-poms on top of the shako would be 4 different colours for each of  the fusilier companies. The first fusilier company would have a dark green coloured pom-pom, the second company a sky blue coloured pom-pom, the third company an orange pom-pom and the fourth company would have a violet pom-pom.

The pokalem was reintroduced in 1812 and was used as a fatigue cap. The various fatigue caps were collectively known as “bonnet de police”.

Backpack/ Haversack

The design of the backpack was changed in 1812 to be flatter and more square to help with packing. Whilst it made closing ranks easier and helped movement for reloading the new design sat higher on the soldier and made it more difficult for the second rank to fire. The weight was borne more directly on the upper arms which could wear out the soldier.

Officers did not carry a backpack and instead their equipment was carried by a portmantle or case with the regimental baggage.

The greatcoat when not being worn would be rolled up and strapped to the backpack. If there was no space the linen sheet used for sleeping would also be rolled up and stored on the backpack rather than inside it.

Grenadiers / Voltigeurs

In general the uniform was the same for the elite companies as for the fusiliers. For such things as the backpacks, shoes and trousers there was no difference.

 

Habit-Veste

Whilst the actual jacket was itself the same the elite units had different epaulets attached to confirm their special station in the battalion. As can be seen to the right these were much more ornate and distinctive than the fusilier epaulets.

Red was used to distinguish the Grenadier companies.

Yellow and green is used here for the Volitgeurs however this was a much less regulated colour scheme and Voltigeur companies would often have various colours depending on the regiments. The most commonly used colours however were a dark shade of green and yellow, or some mixture of the two.

Notice also that the elite companies have an extra strap across the chest to the fusilier’s. These were for the “sabre briquet”, a short sword of about 75 cm in total. It should be noted that an imperial decree limited the use of the sabre to sub-officers, Grenadiers, Carabineers and drummers only in 1807 however this was routinely ignored by the light infantry companies and Voltigeurs would still be seen sporting these short swords throughout the remaining years of the Napoleonic Wars.

Markings at the end of the coattails of the habit-veste and on the cartridge pouch would be used to distinguish the Grenadiers and Voltigeurs from the Fusiliers. Grenadiers would have some form grenade symbol whereas Voltigeurs would have a form of horn.

The epaulets would also be worn over the greatcoats so as to be able to distinguish the companies when wearing their campaign dress.

Shako

The shako for the elite companies were made more distinctive than the fusiliers. Bright colours were incorporated into it to make them more noticeable. Grenadiers were given red bands around the top of the shako and above the visor whereas Voltigeurs were generally given yellow.

The pom-poms often had a little tuft at the end to show distinction from the fusiliers although they were a far cry short of the long plumes that would have been used previously.

Decorative coloured bands would also have been seen down the side of the shako in some instances.

Officer 

The officer uniform could be altered depending on the regiment. By 1812 The standard was to have a dark blue jacket with gold epaulets and a shako with gold banding and a white pom-pom. Often officers would also have a bicorne hat to change into as these were much lighter and less of a burden than the shako.

The trousers were often white but could be dark blue as well, especially on campaign where the trousers could be muddied or stained. By 1812 officers were moving away from the turned down boots with yellowish leather and towards shorter all black boots.

Officers during this period were armed with swords and often wore white gloves.

A picture of a battalion commander “chef de battalion” (major) can be seen here.

Drummer

The drummer was designated in the 1812 uniform regulations as needing a “dragoon green” coat with green braid bordered with red. It should also have yellow squares which were to be embroidered either with an eagle design or the letter “N”.

The body of the drum was to be blue with brass rims. The drummer was also designated as having the “sabre briquet”.

Whilst the pictures here demonstrate the drummer with a shako cover the shako plate would be the same as for the rest of the company.

 

Eagle Bearer

The eagle-bearer wore the same shako as the other men in the battalion but had a similar coat to that of the officer, which included gold epaulets and a completely dark blue jacket with dark cuffs around the wrist and neck.

The rest of the uniform was the same as that of a Fusilier but included the “sabre briquet” and an extra strap for resting the pole in when holding the eagle up.

 

 

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