Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1er Regiment de Carabiniers (early uniform) REDUX

The first group of these figures (ten, I think) originated from my earlier days in the hobby and I decided last spring that I wanted to enlarge and rebase them so they better aligned with the look and feel of our 'Big Battalion' games. So here is the regiment, fresh with replacements, (24 strong) ready to be deployed on the tabletop.

The early Carabinier uniform is one of my favorites of the period as, to me, it personifies both the elegance and power of the French heavy cavalry at that time. Sure, the later brass cuirass and crested helmet was very fashionable and quite swish but I think it lacked the understated grace of the long-tailed cutaway coat, white waistcoat and tall bearskin bonnet.

It is believed that the regiment retained a high proportion of aristocrats from the ancien regime which may have helped it maintain a greater level of professionalism during that early period when the French cavalry typically suffered from a lack of experienced officers (at this time the guillotine was very busy providing 'advancement opportunities' to meritorious NCOs and junior officers). 

An interesting anecdote from this early period is during 1800, when the 1st Carabiniers were billeted in the small German town of Eichstadt. The impoverished town was so strained under the burden of French taxes that it faced the prospect of having to sell its sacred vessels from the local church in order to raise sufficient funds.  On hearing of this situation the Carabinier officers first tried to get the debt reduced, and failing that, passed the hat amongst themselves in order to pay the debt from their own pockets. For years afterward, long after the French were considered to be the arch enemies to all Germans, the grateful town of Eichstadt celebrated an annual mass for the 1er Regiment de Carabiniers a Cheval.

A little known but dramatic action involving the Carabiniers occurred early in the 1809 campaign when they faced against their equivalent in the Austrian Cuirassiers in a moonlit melee near the village of Alt Egolfsheim.  The Austrians were covering the retreat of their infantry after the Battle of Eckmuhl to which the French were vigorously pursuing. The Austrian Gottensheim Regiment of Cuirassiers led the charge and were met with a short range volley of carbine fire from the 1er Regiment de Carabiniers, who then slung their firearms, drew swords and charged. The combination of their numbers, training and superior mounts allowed the French  to prevail. (John Elting writes that the quality of the enormous Flemish and Norman horses was telling against the largely untrained remounts of the Austrian troopers)

The French heavy cavalry was used ruthlessly by Napoleon during the vicious battles of Aspern-Essling and Wagram. The cuirassiers and Carabiniers were often sacrificed to fill gaps or to buy time for the infantry to redeploy.

After the shocking losses they suffered during the 1809 campaign it was decided to equip the Carabiniers conforming with the regulations of the rest of the heavy cavalry arm, that is with helmets and full cuirass. With typical Gallic elan the Carabinier troopers received the news of them being issued armour rather poorly, thinking it to be an insult to their honour and courage and it took no small amount of convincing to have them surrender their beloved bearskins and long coats.

These are relatively older Foundry castings but they are still amongst the best depicting this early Carabinier uniform. I expect that either Victrix or the Perry's (if not both) will come out with a new rendition in the years to come.

Above is a small conversion to a cavalry casualty figure depicting a Carabinier trooper who has been shot from his horse which is gamely galloping forward with the charge.

As these larger cavalry units can be a bit of a nuisance to move around the table I decided to place them into movement trays that Sylvain kindly mocked-up for me in card. We decided to break them over two sections to facilitate both the extended line and supported line formations which were common doctrine at the time.

I think I have enough castings in 'the lead stocks' to do the 2nd Regiment but I'm afraid that'll be down the road as I need to get another Dragoon regiment done to fill out a proper brigade - but more on that later!

(Information from John Elting's Swords Around A Throne, David Johnson's Napoleon's Cavalry and its Leaders, James Arnold's Crisis on the Danube and Napoleon: His Life, His Wars, His World vol. 10. Illustration buy Angus McBride.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

The 2nd/66th (The Berkshires) - 28mm Perry & Victrix

 Here are some new recruits to bolster my British Napoleonic collection. This unit (composed of Perry plastics and a Victrix mounted officer) represents the 2nd battalion of the 66th Regiment of Foot (The Berkshires). I had mentioned previously that I was building a British force based on Colborne's ill-fated brigade which was severely mauled by French cavalry at Albuera in 1811 (approximately 70% casualties throughout the brigade).

On top of being a speed bump for Polish lancers, the 66th had the distinct misfortune of loosing both its Regimental and King's colours that day.

The 2nd/66th was all but destroyed at Albuera. Of the approximately 400 men that made up the battalion at the start of the day, it suffered 16 officers and 310 men killed or wounded. The following day, it was able to muster only 53 bayonets. The majority of the casualties had been killed and among the dead were the battalion major, and the ensigns Walker and Colter. Captain Clark was taken prisoner, but was able to escape later, wrote that one of the flags was saved, but he does not specify which one. The remnants of the 2/66th was formed into a provisional battalion with the 2nd Battalion 31st, which had saved its flags. It was noted in its last inspection in Roncesvalles in 1813 said “The Battalion of the 66th doesn't have flags, because their new ones were sent to Lisbon in 1812. It is the undeniable test of their loss at Albuera, and the King's Colours also exists still in Paris”.

Another document, a letter from Lieutenant George Cromption of the 66th, dated May 18, 1811 states, "Oh, what a day that was. The worst of the story I have not related. Our Colours were taken. I told you before that two ensigns were shot under them; two Sergeants suffered the same fate. Lieutenant seized a musket to defend them, and was shot to the heart, what could be done against cavalry?"

These flags, in fact four complete and two reduced to the flagstaffs with their spearhead and  some fragments of their cloths, were sent by Soult to Paris, where they were temporarily deposited in the home of Marshal Berthier, until their presentation in the Tulleries in August 1811, along with 200 flags taken from the Spanish in the past campaigns.

After 1814, these trophies remained hidden until 5 April 1827, when five were displayed in the Museum of Artillery. During the Revolution of 1830, a mob stormed the Museum and took weapons and flags from it, including the King's Colour of the 66th Foot. 

In 1831, the four remaining Colours, were placed in the cornices of the chapel of the Hotel des Invalides. During the funeral of Marshal Sebastiani on 11 August 1851 a fire broke out. The Regimental Colour of the 66th Foot was completely destroyed, while the King’s Colour of the 48th Foot was badly damaged with only its central shield surviving. 

In 1861, General Duffourc d'Antist donated to the Invalides his collection of flags. Among these flags was the King's Colour of the 66th Foot which had been stolen by the mob in 1830.

From what I understand, currently there still exists the shield of the King’s Colour of the 48th Foot, which is in a frame in storage of the l'Armée Musée, while the King's Colours of the 66th Foot, as well as the remains of those of the 3rd and 48th are suspended of the cornices of the chapel of the Hotel des Invalides, which is part of the annex to the l'Armée Musée.

(Information from