Napoleon’s Infantry Handbook by T.E. Crowdy was a book I picked up to learn more about the organization and lifestyle of Napoleon’s army. I was planning to use it mainly for war gaming purposes as some of the necessary information can be hard to come by. Overall I was impressed by this book as it offers insights into areas generally not covered by other books such as the administration of the Infantry regiments, the roles of non-combat personnel, civil and justice matters, duties and training and areas such as personal hygiene and preparation for battle.
Napoleon’s Infantry Handbook dives straight into providing useful information for the reader. It gives a quick introduction as to where the author takes most of his information (Bardin) and clears up some confusion between English and French definitions .
A section is then provided to as a guide to terms and measures of Napoleonic France which are different again from their English counterparts despite using the same name. It is here that the difference between English feet and inches and the French are cleared up. Even more usefully a rundown of the Revolution’s changed months and years are given so that we can work out the time period in question.
The book is divided into 8 parts with 32 small chapters:
Part 1: Organisation & Personnel
Chapter 1 – The Infantry Regiments
A brief history as to the roots of infantry as a word is given before the author lays out the state of the French infantry in 1789 around the time of the Revolution. The number of regiments are detailed and the changes made since the Revolution are briefly discussed such as the formation of National Guard units and the disuse of the term regiment in favour of demi-brigade. The changes that this meant to the staff of the regiments and the organization are outlined. The further changes made by Napoleon (including reintroducing the term regiment) are also included.
Perhaps the most interesting parts of this chapter are the very nice tables that are laid out detailing the changes to staff, petty staff and the companies during the time period 1791-1815. These are excellent for a quick overview of how many of each type of men were to be included in each regiment and battalion.
Extra sections are then included for light infantry and regimental artillery with further specific information for these.
An example of these tables can be seen to the left here.
Chapter 2 – Officers of the Staff
As expected from this chapter the history behind the names of the Staff Officers and their role in the regiment is given. There is a quick rundown of the Colonel, Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Battalion Commander, Adjutant Major, Quartermaster treasurer, Paymaster Officer, Chaplain, Eagle-bearer, Surgeon Major and Surgeon Aide.
Each role gets a paragraph explaining their job in the regiment and the changes to their role as the difference of the Revolutionary era changes to the Napoleonic.
Chapter 3 – Men of the Petty Staff
In much the same way as chapter 2, chapter 3 runs through the roles of the Petty Staff. These include the Adjutant, Second and Third eagle-bearers, Drum major, drum corporal, chief musician, musicians, master craftsmen, maser tailor, master armourer, master cordwainer, master gaiter-maker and baggage master.
Again these only get small paragraphs each explaining their role, although some such as the Drum major get extra attention and detail.
Chapter 4 – Company Personnel
As in chapters 2 and 3, chapter 4 goes through the roles of the company personnel. These include the Captain, Lietenant, sub-lietenant, sergeant major, sergeant, quartermaster corporal, corporal, chosen man, fusilier, chasseur, grenadier, caribineer, voltigeur, drummer and cornetist.
Whilst this section is good for providing a bit of information on the various roles within the company other book provide much more detail as to the workings and set-up of the company. This is however a good overview.
Chapter 5 – Non-Combatant Personnel
As with the other chapters so far chapter 5 runs through the roles of the non-combatant personnel within the regiment. These include the role of regimental children, cantineer and laundress.
Chapter 6 – Special Roles & Appointments
Continuing the outlines of the various roles within the regiment, chapter 6 looks at any special roles or appointments. These include the clothing officer, Recruitment captain, supernumerary officer, ensign bearer, sapper, master-at-arms, orderly, secretary, barber, worker and fifer.
Again these are only small chapter to give a brief understanding to the variety of roles within the regiment.
Part 2 – Uniforms, Arms & Equipment
Chapter 7 – Uniform – General Description
This chapter describes the administrative and practical side of the uniform. Rather than describing what the uniform looks like it describes the materials used and the length required of them in order to create the uniform. The expected lifespan of each article of clothing is also given as is the weight of each piece and the equipment an individual would be expected to carry. The measurements are given in both metric and imperial.
Chapter 8 – Articles of Uniform
This chapter describes the uniform in detail. It outlines the coat, coatee (habit-veste), greatcoat, jacket, breeches and pantaloons, gaiters, footwear, epaulettes and required distinctive markings. Whilst it is very informative the lack of any coloured pictures as an example of the uniforms greatly weaken the chapter.
Chapter 9 – Headgear & Hairstyles
This chapter describes the various types of headgear and their differences. It outlines the infantry helmet, cocked hat, shako, bearskin cap, forage cap, plumes, hairstyles, beards and moustaches, tattoos and jewellery.
The text is very informative in this chapter however I feel that there should have been pictures for each type of
headgear so that we can see the difference, rather than one or two throughout the whole chapter giving the odd example here or there.
The pictures that can be seen here to the right and to the left are the only examples given for headgear which are not enough to show a true range for the period.
Chapter 10 – Equipment
This chapter describes the equipment that you would expect to see on a French Infantry soldier. It includes the cartridge pouch, gun tools, flints, haversacks, various petty equipment and non-regulation equipment.
Sections are also included which discuss how the soldier would have packed the haversack, utensil and tools used for cooking, the use of tents and of regimental wagons and horses.
This is a very informative chapter which goes into more detail over areas that generally tend to be missed in favour of uniforms and organization.
A picture here shows the level of information provided in explaining the equipment which is very detailed.
Chapter 11 – Weapons & Ammunition
This chapter describes the weapons and ammuntion used by the French infantry soldier. It includes a description of the musket, carbine, pistol, ammunition, bayonet, infantry sabre, officer’s épée and markings that may be found on certain weapons.
Whilst other books offer more detail on the weapons and their use and the implications it would have for battlefield tactics this is still a useful introduction that provide brief descriptions.
Chapter 12 – Flags
This chapter describes the flags and eagles of the Napoleonic wars and the changes that were made throughout the period. A black and white picture is included of six flags between 1794 – 1804, however this is far from complete and so is not particulary useful for comparing the flags.
The chapter also includes descriptions of the ensigns, pennants and discusses the use of flags as signals. Again these are small paragraphs that give a brief bit of information but do not go into any great detail.
Part 3 – Recruitment and Administration
Chapter 13 – Recruitment and Conscription
This chapter begins by discussing the situation before the French Revolution and from where the French army drew its recruits. It quickly moves on to the needs of the Revolution and the expansion of areas such as voluntary enlistment and military conscription. The chapter outlines the differences expected of the two and what you could expect depending on if you were conscripted or enlisted.
Information is then given on Recruitment Councils, the use of replacements, objectors, reserve battalions and velites. These are interesting parts that are often ignored in favour of looking at actively engaged battalions as part of a campaign. This section discusses the replacement of losses and other administrative areas regarding the battalion and how it found recruits.
Chapter 14 – Administration & Pay
This chapter discusses the company’s administrative structure and the rate of pay and deductions that could be expected for a soldier, which the chapter lays out very clearly in multiple columns and tables.
Differences such as high pay for elites, various communal funds, credit and debt, audits and reviews, leave and the postal service are all outlined and given detail. I found this chapter very informative although not necessarily exciting.
Chapter 15 – Promotion & Rewards
As the name suggests this chapter details the routes of promotion, both within the company, to the officer corps and to the Imperial Guard. Information is also given as to the process of receiving awards and national recognition.
The National veterans and Les Invalides are also described, including the requirements to be admitted.
Chapter 16 – Civil Matters
This chapter details such things as marriages, births, registering deaths, wills, assistance for widows and orphans and pensionable pay. Although again these are only talked about briefly they are areas that often get ignored so the quick description are a good way to learn this information.
Part 4 – Discipline & Honours
Chapter 17 – Discipline & Military Justice
This chapter discusses the command structure and the hierarchy in it. It details general disciplinary measures, the use of regimental prisons, the use of formal military justice, councils of war and military executions. Duelling is also discussed as a way of settling disputes.
Chapter 18 – Rendering Military Honours
This chapter discusses the use of salutes, how the soldiers were to honour dignitaries such as Napoleon, how they were to honour religious parades and services and how to honour funerals. This is interesting again because it is something that is generally not mentioned.
Part 5 – Tactical Organization and Drill
Chapter 19 – Tactical Organization
This chapter outlines the tactical composition of a battalion. It includes a good table outlining the breakdown of the battalion into divisions, platoons and companies from in 1791 and 1808. A description of a how the platoon would be assembled is given, as is a relatively detailed diagram showing where each member of the platoon would be positioned.
A description is also given as to how the battalion would be assembled, including again a detailed diagram showing where the various roles of the battalion would be situated. This includes the placement of the colour guard, drummers and musicians, sappers and the tactical placement of senior officers and staff.
The author discusses times when the French could adopt two rank formations and the use of detachments towards the end of the chapter.
Chapter 20 – Arms Drill
This chapter discusses how the soldier’s would be drilled. It includes the use of tone of command (vocally animated orders),the position of the soldier without arms and doing the manual exercises such as presenting arms.
Chapter 21 – Marching & Manoeuvres
This chapter begins by outlining the various types of pace that could be expected of the infantry soldier. It also provides a comparison chart of expected speeds per hour of each different type of pace. This is useful for those of use looking for speed examples for wargames.
The chapter goes on to discuss platoon and battalion manoeuvres and formations such as square and columns of divisions. Pictures are included to give examples of different manoeuvres. The chapter is finished with description of the bayonet charge as a manoeuvre.
Chapter 22 – Musketry
This chapter details the procedure of firing a musket. It discusses the loading procedure, volley firing, two rank firing, firing by rank, firing against cavalry, firing from the cross bayonets position, independent fire and older ways of firing.
An example of the detail provided for the step by step process in firing the musket can be seen to the right.
Chapter 23 – Skirmishing
This chapter highlights a set of instructions from Davout in 1811 that have survived and which detail how a battalion should skirmish. The chapter moves on to how skirmishers were deployed which includes a nice diagram, how skirmishers moved and communicated with each other and some general remarks
about skirmishing and how it was used, especially on broken ground.
Part 6 – Garrison Service
Chapter 24 – Duties & Routines
This chapter details some of the general duties and routines that soldier would expect as part of the infantry. It discusses the arrangement of lodgings, the daily routine of th soldier, the police at the garrison, use of the police guard, the role of the sergeant of police, the duties of the corporal of the guard and the use of sentries and passwords.
This chapter is pretty interesting as often life in the barracks is glossed over or not mentioned in favour of life in the field.
Chapter 25 – Rations & Supplies
This chapter outlines certain foodstuffs that a soldier could expect as part of his rations, including the frequency of such rations and how many certain products could be expected to feed. An example given is that one cow was expected to feed a thousand men.
The rations of brandy, vinegar, forage for horses and cooking supplies are also explained.
Chapter 26 – Food Preparation
This chapter describes the process of collecting foodstuffs and their preparation for the company.
Chapter 27 – Cleaning & Maintenance
This chapter details how an Infantry soldier would be expected to maintain his uniform, including whitening leather belts, polishing the cartridge pouch and properly maintaining and storing their muskets.
Chapter 28 – Training
This chapter details briefly the syllabus for basic training, the training for officers and sub-officers, target practice, making field works, fitness exercises and general education. This chapter is very brief and so does not cover these aspects in any great detail.
Part 7 – Service in the Field
Chapter 29 – Opening the Campaign
This chapter opens with the expectation on the infantry soldier on the march and how much ground they were expected to cover each day. It discusses the administrative behind the scenes of a march order and what needed to be set up properly for when the troops arrived to their location. The use of halts and how long they would be are also discussed, as well as the reasons for having them.
The use of night marches, duties of the baggage master, what happened when arriving at camp, duties when in camp, securing of provisions and outpost duties are all discussed to give a picture as to what life was like on the march.
Chapter 30 – The Day of Battle
This chapter opens with a brief outline as to the use of battalions within the whole picture of battle tactics. It discusses the role of officers in the battle and the duties of sub-officers during the battle.
The chapter ends with a breakdown of what would happen after the battle in regards to the battalion and what would happen to prisoners of war.
Part 8 – Health and Medical Provision
Chapter 31 – Health & Hygiene
This chapter discusses the health of recruits and the medical officer’s manual. It also explores the effect of things such as clothing, headgear, rations and alcohol, air quality, sanitation, sexual health, guard duty, physical exercise, forced marches, battle, sieges and the internment of the dead.
Each section is given a brief outline as to the effects they could have on an individual soldier’s health.
Chapter 32 – Medical Treatment
This chapter describes medical treatment both within the garrison and also in military hospitals, including the use of hospitals in the field.
Napoleon’s Infantry handbook was easy to read. It’s not one of those books that requires a flowing narrative as it is neatly divided up into lots of small sections. Because of the fact that you are reading only small chunks at a time it becomes a lot more manageable even though a lot of the subject matter is not exactly exciting.
The text is well broken up and appropriately headed which makes it easy to skim through and the slightly longer parts still flow pretty well. Crowdy has also provided similar linked sections which you might want to check out for certain parts which makes it easy to flick back and forth if you are only interested in say drummers or grenadiers.
The book is not huge in length and provides more of a brief overview of various related subject areas to do with the organization, administration and everyday life of a soldier in Napoleon’s Infantry. In total it runs to 283 pages long with a page at the back showing the bibliography of sources used. An example of the length of the book can be seen here with an A4 pad given for scale.
I found that Napoleon’s Infantry Handbook was a bit hit and miss in regards to illustrations within the book. Whilst there were some good illustration in regards to organization of platoons and battalions it was very poor at showing the differences in uniform. This was especially poor because all pictures were black and white so he could not show any examples of uniforms in colour even if he had chosen to. I feel in a book such as this one that this is a big let-down as books outlining campaigns don’t necessarily need
to be in colour however showing uniforms does.
An example can be seen here to the left of one of the better illustrated parts.
This book was good in that I feel it caters to an area that is generally not covered, especially in the English speaking world; however I feel as if it could have been so much more. The descriptions were brief and lightly touched enough to provide an overview but often held no more depth.
I found it annoying that Crowdy would skip certain chunks of time throughout the period which means that there were gaps in the information he was providing. An example of this is when he discusses the flags and includes six illustrations, missing out those of 1812-1815 completely, let alone any 2nd or 3rd battalion flags. I just get a general sense that we are being provided a small basic amount of information where if Crowdy had dug deeper and spent more time he could have provided a complete authoritative reference – instead we get a brief overview.
As mentioned above the book could have done with more illustrations, especially in areas discussing the difference between headgear and the elite companies to the fusiliers. Instead we get a couple of black and white pictures showing one or two difference uniforms or headgear which I feel is not enough.
That said this book does provide some useful information as there are many areas that are generally ignored and this book shows that they can be quite interesting. Perhaps someone else can come and do a more detailed look at these areas as it seems to me there is more to see.
The quality of the book is excellent I should note. I ordered it off Amazon and It has very good quality pages with a nice feel to them and is a good clean hardback. I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in the organization of the French Infantry regiment as it provides useful insights but I would still be on the lookout for a more detailed and authoritative piece.
If this sounds like something you might be interested in or you want to check out any other reviews you can find it on Amazon here.