This book combines a history of the organisation and structure of the French infantry of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods with a study of their uniforms. Despite the title the book also covers the Revolutionary period, so we see how the pre-revolutionary Royal army was transformed into the Revolutionary army, and how that army evolved during the decade before Napoleon seized power.
For me the sections on the organisation and structure of the army is more interesting. We look at how the army was organised as it expanded, including the creation of the famous demi-brigades, which combined one experienced battalion with two battalions of new recruits. We look at the size of these units, how they were organised with grenadiers and skirmishers and how that changed over time. During the Revolutionary period there was also a clear distinction between the line and light demi-brigades, but that rather faded under Napoleon. The section on foreign units demonstrates just how much of Europe the French came to control, with units of Spanish, German, Swiss, Italian and Irish troops
The history of the uniforms gives a good guide to the way the French army changed during this period. As the revolution gathered pace the uniform changed from the white of the Royal army to the largely blue with red and white elements of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period. Later in the period covered the Republican elements in the uniform began to be replaced with Napoleonic and Imperial signs – Republican cockades being replaced with Imperial eagles on uniforms for example.
As you would expect the book is lavishly illustrated, using contemporary colour plates from the collection of New York Public Library. This is a very impressive collection, and the author has found good examples to illustrate most of the uniforms described here.
1 – The French Infantry from 1789-92
2 – The French Infantry from 1793-99
3 – French Infantry Uniforms, 1789-99
4 – The Line Infantry, 1800-15
5 – The Light Infantry, 1800-15
6 – Special Infantry Units
7 – Foreign Infantry Units
Author: Gabriele Esposito
Publisher: Pen & Sword