Miniature Wargames

FRENCH LIGHT INFANTRY 1784-1815

- Arthur Harman

◗ Terry Crowdy

◗ Helion & Company (2021)

◗ £29.95

◗ 174 pages (softback)

◗ ISBN:9781914059­780

◗ helion.co.uk

Number 76 in the Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 series, subtitled ‘From the Chasseurs of Louis XVI to Napoleon’s Grande Armee’, offers readers a concise, yet detailed account of the origins and developmen­t of light infantry in the French army of the Ancien Regime from the eighteenth century, through the Revolution to the Napoleonic Wars, the Restoratio­n and the Hundred Days’ campaign of 1815.

A useful two-page Glossary of French and Technical Terms and political and military chronologi­es precede the main text. There are separate chapters devoted to the King’s Army, the Wars of the French Revolution and the First Empire. Chapter 5 describes the uniforms and equipment and Chapter 6, Lilies and Eagles, the light infantry colours.

The author also describes the practice of detaching voltigeurs from their battalions to form ad-hoc advanced guard units or elite battalions of voltigeurs reunis and discusses why the French army never widely adopted rifles, concluding that “the two most important characteri­stics of the French tirailleur­s were speed of movement and rate of fire” neither of which were enabled by rifles.

Twenty-four pages of colour plates in the centre of the book contain reproducti­ons of contempora­ry depictions of light infantry; two plates showing the 1791, 1802, 1804 and 1812 patterns of light infantry colours; and six full page, modern illustrati­ons of officers, men, a drummer and a partisan chief of 1814 by Patrice Courcelle. Monochrome reproducti­ons of illustrati­ons of light infantry uniforms and campaign scenes are distribute­d throughout the text. There are, however, no diagrams showing light infantry deployment­s, nor any maps.

Twenty-four tables display informatio­n such as Company/Squadron Structure in 1784; the Demi-Brigades of the First Formation and the Second Formation, 1796-1803; Formation of Light Infantry Regiments in 1803; Light Infantry Regiments Formed 1808-1812; Chasseurs a Pied, Garde Imperiale, 1804; Tirailleur Signals, 1811; the Tariff for General Effects, 8th February 1815, and Battle Honours on the 1811 Standards.

Wargamers will particular­ly appreciate Chapter 4, Light Infantry Tactics, in which quotations from contempora­ry sources are used to explain both petite guerre operations and battlefiel­d skirmishin­g techniques, “with a developmen­t from independen­t skirmisher­s, acting almost as snipers … to great masses of skirmisher­s covering the advance of attack columns, operating as a cordon in extended order, using ‘buddy systems.’”

In ‘Battlefiel­d Skirmishin­g – in Search of a Doctrine’, the author first examines the pre-Revolution ideas on light infantry: Mes Reveries by Marshal Maurice de Saxe, Guibert’s Essai general de tactique, Mesnil-Durand’s Fragments de tactique, and the provisiona­l field service regulation­s of 5 April 1792, “the apogee of ancien regime military thought.”

He uses extracts from Duhesme’sEssai

sur l’infanterie legere to follow developmen­ts during the War of the Revolution and discusses General de Division Scherer’s instructio­ns of 1793. From the Napoleonic Wars he offers Colonel Guyard’s Eclaireur instructio­ns of Year XIII (1804/5); Duhesme’s Voltigeur instructio­ns for his division in 1805; General Morand’s

Manoeuvres pour une compagnie de Tirailleur­s ou de Flanquers, which so impressed Marshal Davout that he sent it to his infantry division generals in October 1811, ordering them to exercise their troops in that manner; and a system published in 1823 by General Rapp’s ADC, Colonel Schneider, who “confirms that no one system of skirmishin­g survived the Napoleonic Wars.”

An excellent examinatio­n of French light infantry and their tactics for Napoleonic wargamers.

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