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"Battle of Jersey (Channel Islands) 1781: French troops?" Topic


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Action Log

08 May 2010 1:44 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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SteelonSand08 May 2010 3:14 a.m. PST

Hello All, casting around recently for some alternative scenario ideas involving AWI-era troops, I remembered the abortive invasion attempt by French forces of the Channel Island of Jersey on 5th January 1781.

The climax of this attempt was a battle in the centre of the island's capital, St. Helier, which, rather in 'Wolfe and Montcalm' style climaxed in the deaths of both of the opposing commanders, as immortalised in the Singleton Copley painting 'The Death of Major Pierson' .

picture


There are good sources available for the British and Jersey Militia troops that were involved (95th Foot, five companies of the 78th Highlanders and 83rd of Foot, plus numerous local militia), but I cannot find any information on the French invasion force.
They were led by the Baron Phillipe de Rullecourt , and originally consisted of perhaps as much as 2,000 men. Does anyone have any inkling of which regiments might have been involved – or any good sources or books that they could share?
I imagine that there would have been perhaps Bombardiers or Infanterie de la Marine in the mix, or even a 'Legion', similar to that of Lauzun in the Americas?

Any guidance would be gratefully received!
Cheers, SteelonSand.

Supercilius Maximus08 May 2010 8:29 a.m. PST

No "Volontaires Etrangeres" I'm afraid – 1st was sent to the Caribbean, 2nd/Lauzun's went to America, and 3rd was in India (5th-8th were never raised).

I have a feeling that two groups landed – one was composed of "light" troops, and the other of regulars. Thinking of the famous "Death of Major Pierson" painting, IIRC one of the French infantry regiments had rose pink facings.

SteelonSand08 May 2010 8:37 a.m. PST

Super stuff, there, Supercilius, with a very Sherlock Holmesian 'process of elimination'; shame I can't have any pretty Volontaires uniforms, then….

Great point about the uniform detail on the Pierson painting; from images I've seen, I think you could be right; have to go to the Tate Gallery to make sure though!

One source I've seen also mentions a French Lieutenant of Grenadiers who was wounded by artillery fire from Elizabeth Castle during the engagements, so seems like w'ere looking at all the various company types…

SteelonSand08 May 2010 9:07 a.m. PST

Quick follow up; a rummage through Chartrand has the Regiment Lyonnois (28) with pink facings; lapels/cuffs and yellow buttons – this seems to match the figures depicted in the rear of the Copley painting to the right of the Pierson group:

link

(use the zoom function)

So, they are currently top of my list, depending on whether we trust Copley as an accurate source….

Supercilius Maximus08 May 2010 10:48 a.m. PST

<<Super stuff, there, Supercilius, with a very Sherlock Holmesian 'process of elimination'; shame I can't have any pretty Volontaires uniforms, then….>>

You can, just not the (French) Admiralty ones!

The French commander, the Baron de Rullecourt, was Lt Col of the Legion of Luxemburg – no idea what their uniform is, but it might be pertinent to look them up if only to produce a figure for him.

About 400 of his men were convicted felons released from prison and a lot of his regulars were officially announced to be "deserters" in order to preserve the illusion that the French government wasn't involved in the invasion. There is one report of them wearing a plethora of different uniforms to make the force look larger. Also, he brought no drums, fifes or colours, according to local accounts.

If I turn up anything else I'll post it here.

Supercilius Maximus08 May 2010 12:04 p.m. PST

Storms en route cost him a lot of his troops and he ended up with just 1,200. He lost a couple of boatloads trying to land and had to leave his four artillery pieces on ship.

SteelonSand08 May 2010 12:20 p.m. PST

Thanks Supercilius – we're cooking on gas now!

Just turned up this reference: right down at the bottom of the page:

'Regiment de Nassau Ussingen'

link

Adam D08 May 2010 6:25 p.m. PST

Chartrand (in the French Army in the AWI) lists the unit as the Volontaires de Luxembourg (p. 4). He says (p. 34) that they wore blue coats with white collar, cuffs, and lapels and yellow metals. The unit formed 1 October 1780.

A source of primary documents (in French) for this unit and the campaign is available here:

link

SteelonSand09 May 2010 12:03 a.m. PST

Fantastic Adam D, thanks for that – now I'll have to dust off my schoolboy French!

Supercilius Maximus09 May 2010 4:31 a.m. PST

Some links on the Copley painting, which was done fairly quickly after the battle and is therefore more reliable for fine detail (if not historical accuracy) than most:-

link

A study done for the painting (scroll down to bottom):-

link

What on earth was that woman thinking taking her children out shopping on a day like that?

(And you have to feel sorry for the highlander who's about to get a bayonet in his prostrate prostate.)

Colonel Tavington10 May 2010 4:01 a.m. PST

We did some work and two events out there a few years ago! Castle Elizabeth is well worth a visit, we garrisoned the fortifications for two 3 day events and carried out a grand firing in the Royal Square to commemorate the battle!

After we all had a wetty in the "Pierson", the sound of 70+ muskets going off was quite numbing! I picked up Richard Mayne's book on the battle while there!

Col.T

SteelonSand10 May 2010 11:15 a.m. PST

Sounds like great fun there Colonel T; I have fond memories of childhood holidays on the islands myself – now don't hold back….any new insight from the Richard Mayne book would be appreciated!

SteelonSand10 May 2010 3:39 p.m. PST

A quick update for those who might be following this thread; the French text including contemporary letters and documents so kindly linked by Adam D in his post above has been duly rummaged through by yours truly.

Given the limitations of my French(!) I can't attest to the whole accuracy of the following, but here is a run-down of the pertinent military information that I managed to glean (starts on page 360 or so…):

The invasion fleet included the following vessels:
4 'Corsairs', 2 Frigates, 2 'caiches', the privateer 'Paul Jones', and a large number of fishing boats, also the flagship seems to have been the 'Pilot Des Indes'

The expedition's patron was the Monsieur Le Chevalier de Luxembourg, and it seems that the infantry involved were principally from the
'Corps de Volontaires de Luxembourg'; a figure of 1,500 is mentioned.

The following officers are singled out in the account:

Chevalier d'Aubri, Capt. Of Grenadiers; commandant of the Legion
Le Chevalier de Montardot: Capt. Grens
Le Chevalier de Beaudrop, Capt. aide-major
De Bleygeac, (same)
De Saint Ange

After the Battle at St. Helier, there is a plan to land 'marins'; the attendant infantry of the warships, perhaps Infanterie de La Marine, to cover the withdrawal, but this was not followed through.

A further document states that some 262 prisoners were taken to England, where they spent 2 years in captivity, and this number included militia men from Haut Normandie; so perhaps in typical fashion, the ranks of the French regulars had been padded out with a local draft.

Any further info would be gratefully received!

Supercilius Maximus11 May 2010 1:45 a.m. PST

S,

From what I have found in other parts of the world, the Infanterie de La Marine were actually quite a rare specie and most ships' garrisons – even on the larger vessels – were detachments of line infantry from the metropolitan regiments.

Was there any mention of the Lyonnois regiment, which seems to be the unit depicted in the painting?

SteelonSand11 May 2010 2:08 a.m. PST

Hi Supercilius, good catch! No, from what I could see, only the word 'marins' was used, so that remains a mystery, I'm afraid….but on a second reading of the French text (top of p369), it may be that it says that the troops from the ships were added to the force after all:

"que M. le Baron avait fait debarquer tous les marins, comme il se l'etoit proposer pour grossir son armee…."

So maybe that is where Lyonnois comes in?

Adam D11 May 2010 6:58 p.m. PST

According to the histoire de l'infanterie francaise, Lyonnois was sent to Toulon (on the Mediterranean) in December, 1778, and remained there until October, 1781. I can barely read French, but I think the history says that the regiment formed garrisons on the vessels in the port, and that one detachment saw combat on board the frigate Montreal, off the coast of Africa (on July 31, 1780). After leaving Toulon, the regiment was sent to Minorca and then Gibraltar.

Source page 306 in this book: link

This series of books (only some of which I've found online) may be the best bet for identifying detachments of metropolitan infantry regiments at Jersey.

abdul666lw12 May 2010 4:19 a.m. PST

In French 'marins' simply means 'sailors'.
The whole sentence translates roughly as: "Not boat coming to announce the fate of the landing, one wondered whether the Baron had all the sailors disembarked to strengthen the army."

SteelonSand12 May 2010 11:03 a.m. PST

Fantastic follow-ups there guys – thanks abdul for the correct translation – gives a much better insight, and Adam, great link to have a look at – certainly puts Lyonnois in the right part of the world at the right time….

More digging by anyone else welcome! :-)

Colonel Tavington13 May 2010 2:26 a.m. PST

SteelonSand, sorry have been meaning to get back to you! I have a long flight this weekend so will take said book with me for a read and see whats within, I must admit its been awhile since I read up on the battle so will refresh my memory!

SteelonSand14 May 2010 9:12 a.m. PST

Excellent news Colonel T!
We await your further dispatches with nervous anticipation…… :-)

jerseyman23 May 2010 4:09 p.m. PST

As you can guess from the name I used to live in Jersey and have a keen interest in the Battle of Jersey!
I too have Dr Mayne's book which others are consulting. I also have a pamphlet produced by the Societe Jersiaise which is the Island's historical society. The pamphlet says that it is an excerpt from the Societe bulletin of 1957 and is written by my first maths teacher! The article is called 'The Invasion at La Rocque 1781'. It sets out background info to the invasion which landed at the most rocky part of the shore at a place called La Rocque. To quote direct "Baron de Rullecourt, (chosen as commander by the Prince of Luxembourg who then disappears from the story)assembled a motley force made up partly of volunteers, partly of militia from Normandy, partly of deserters from the regular army released from prison for the purpose. Ill equipped and ill armed…. (they) looked as motley a crew of brigands as could ne imagined." Whilst the invasion force was on its'way the Ministry of Marine wrote a letter denying all knowledge of the force. The Ministry of War had likewise offered no support. The invasion force consisted of " 3 naval vessels and 3 corvettes". Artillery was listed as 4 guns and 2 mortars. Rullecourt had entrusted the naval side to a well known smuggler, Regnier, who had assembled 30 small boats ranging from 3 to 70 tons to transport the 900 men. This all up against approx. 2000 regulars and 3000 militia!
The pamphlet goes on to tell the story of the landing and seizure of a fort at La Rocque. It goes on to tell how Rev. Le Couteur, (described as an amateur artilleryman!), persuaded a party of the 78th Regt together with some militia and the Reverend's 2 cannon to storm and re-take the fort!
Hope this helps

Jerseyman

SteelonSand23 May 2010 8:30 p.m. PST

Fantastic stuff, there, Jerseyman – from the horse's mouth, as it were!

Thanks for following up on this – it does seem very much like one of those 'truth is stranger than fiction' stories – quite what the French were expecting to achieve is beyond me – perhaps one of those popular uprisings against the iniquitous rule of the British type things – but I think the Jersaise were probably as surprised as we are at the effrontery of the madcap scheme!

Some good detail, there, anyway, which should go to give any re-fight of the incident some proper flavour.

Many thanks, SteelonSand.

noelwarlock26 Aug 2012 8:59 a.m. PST

Hi from a Jersey man who has run a display game based on the Defense of La Rocque 1781. This battle was a British attack on a small French rear guard defending their ships. I have done a lot of research on this Battle. For the French I used 28mm Perry AWI French 1779 coats, the uniform were light blue coats with white facings.

This action had not many troops involved, Here is a breakdown:-

100 to 200 French defending the coastal battery (with a few sailors and artillerymen.)

40 x 83rd Foot (Royal Glasgow Volunteers) Grenadiers with blue facings.

450 x 83rd Foot Line.

10 x Jersey Militia Redcoats with Yellow facings.

2 x Jersey Militia 6pdrs with Jersey Gunners (Blue coats with red and yellow facings)

Hope this helps

noelwarlock

Musketier27 Aug 2012 6:27 a.m. PST

"…comme il se l'้toit proposer pour grossir son armee…."
= as he had planned to do in order to increase his force

Nice what-if scenario here: Assume no losses during the crossing and execution of that plan, that's 2000 soldiers and maybe about 1000 sailors (leaving skeleton crews aboard) ? A subtle shift in the balance of forces…

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