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"The White Uniforms of the French Army, 1806-1807 " Topic


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1,230 hits since 24 Jan 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tango0124 Jan 2018 11:54 a.m. PST

Of possible interest?

link


Amicalement
Armand

MagnusPloug224 Jan 2018 2:17 p.m. PST

Very informative – thank you

Lambert Supporting Member of TMP24 Jan 2018 2:26 p.m. PST

Yes, an interesting read. Thanks Armand.

Tango0125 Jan 2018 11:18 a.m. PST

A votre service mes amis!. (smile)


Amicalement
Armand

HappyHussar25 Jan 2018 11:44 p.m. PST

I had to research this as part of my work on the Eylau-Friedland computer game I am working on. The list of regiments was a tad larger than that but there is much difference of opinion on the matter. We know that none of the French corps were completely outfitted in white. Even Augereau's VII Corps, which had a higher proportion of the white uniform than most, had blue coated regiments.

Truly a bad move on Napoleon's part. The Austrians wore white and it would have led to a lot of ID problems in 1809 had he had the army continue with the transition to the new uniform.

von Winterfeldt26 Jan 2018 1:57 a.m. PST

remember Boney was a royalist by heart, along with the proposed white uniforms also a change of colour designs attached to his eagles was projected which never came through.
The whole concept of white coats was in line of the Ancien regime, also how the facing colours were determined and so on.

4th Cuirassier26 Jan 2018 2:49 a.m. PST

@ von W

Or as Orwell put it, "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Such was Boney's goal. He didn't oppose hereditary monarchies or absolute rule at all. He just thought it should be his own family that provided the monarchs and wielded the absolute power.

Marc at work26 Jan 2018 3:19 a.m. PST

So unlike most ruling classes then. He must have been truly evil LoL

Not like our royal family who mix it up every few year by public ballot…

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse26 Jan 2018 3:31 a.m. PST

remember Boney was a royalist by heart, along with the proposed white uniforms also a change of colour designs attached to his eagles was projected which never came through.
The whole concept of white coats was in line of the Ancien regime, also how the facing colours were determined and so on.

If that were true, which it isn't by a longshot, Napoleon would have welcomed back the Bourbons when Louis XVIII asked him to do so during the Consulate. Further, one of the reasons he decided on joining the coup in 1799 was that he found out that Barras, one of the Directors, was planning on bringing the Bourbons back.

Napoleon did, however, from time to time attempt to mimic the old regime, but usually his good sense took over and he rejected his own ideas on the subject.

And it should be remembered that the idea for the uniform experiment was that a reliable dark blue dye was becoming scarce and expensive, and white was the most reliable because it wasn't a dye and it was easier to keep clean.

There was also an experiment/idea to put the dragoon regiments into sky blue, and that didn't work either.

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse26 Jan 2018 3:34 a.m. PST

Such was Boney's goal. He didn't oppose hereditary monarchies or absolute rule at all. He just thought it should be his own family that provided the monarchs and wielded the absolute power.

If that was Napoleon's object, then why did he keep the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs in power, later to his own hurt?

And why did he not replace the crowned heads of the major states of the Confederation of the Rhine?

Jerome was given the crown of a new kingdom that didn't exist until 1807-1808. Joseph and later Murat was given the crown of Naples to replace a degenerate Bourbon ruling family. Spain was also Bourbon before Joseph was given the crown. See the pattern?

Eugene was made Viceroy of Italy and it was the best governed of the satellite kingdoms, definitely superior to the Austrians and the House of Savoy. Napoleon gave his sister Elisia an Italian principality which was ruled well also.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP26 Jan 2018 4:10 a.m. PST

I don't know how much confusion white-coated Napoleonic troops fighting white-coated Austrians would have been. After all, the white-coated French royal troops had been fighting Austrians for a couple of centuries prior to that, hadn't they?

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse26 Jan 2018 4:15 a.m. PST

Guy Dempsey is an excellent historian and uniformologist and has written two books on the subject of French Napoleonic uniforms.

If you don't have them, they are highly recommended.

von Winterfeldt26 Jan 2018 5:45 a.m. PST

the lack of blue dye is nonesense, the French prior and past Boney's decision didn't have any problems, moreover why to design new colour designs, which look remarkable ancien regime by the royalist Bonaparte?

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse26 Jan 2018 10:51 a.m. PST

It was the lack of a reliable blue dye that was the issue. If there wasn't a dye problem, why switch to another color?

Indigo was the best blue dye and that came from the West Indies. The British blockade undoubtedly had 'something' to do with it.

Supercilius Maximus26 Jan 2018 1:27 p.m. PST

Ah, so it was all down to the evil British. As usual.

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse26 Jan 2018 2:34 p.m. PST

Your words, not mine. The blockade was a fact, was it not?

John Edmundson27 Jan 2018 1:57 p.m. PST

"I don't know how much confusion white-coated Napoleonic troops fighting white-coated Austrians would have been.
After all, the white-coated French royal troops had been fighting Austrians for a couple of centuries prior to that, hadn't they?"

That sort of confusion is the origin of the Austrian Feldzeichen – a sprig of oak leaves in the headdress to identify who is who. French-allied Saxons in white uniforms definitely led to friendly fire incidents.

"Ah, so it was all down to the evil British. As usual."

I can't tell if this is facecious or not – a problem with this sort of communication, but it seems logical to me that the continental blockade would have had an impact on all sorts of aspects of the French economy. It was the point of the blockade after all.

Cheers,
John

John Edmundson27 Jan 2018 1:57 p.m. PST

"I don't know how much confusion white-coated Napoleonic troops fighting white-coated Austrians would have been.
After all, the white-coated French royal troops had been fighting Austrians for a couple of centuries prior to that, hadn't they?"

That sort of confusion is the origin of the Austrian Feldzeichen – a sprig of oak leaves in the headdress to identify who is who. French-allied Saxons in white uniforms definitely led to friendly fire incidents.

"Ah, so it was all down to the evil British. As usual."

I can't tell if this is facecious or not – a problem with this sort of communication, but it seems logical to me that the continental blockade would have had an impact on all sorts of aspects of the French economy. It was the point of the blockade after all.

Cheers,
John

von Winterfeldt27 Jan 2018 2:24 p.m. PST

It didn't have on the blue – there were substitudes to indigo, despite the blockade, the French were able to dye their uniforms blue, also why then redesign the colours, which curiously look like Ancien Regime pattern??
Boney was an Aristo and deep in heart a Royalist, why otherwise return to white??
This time he got one in the eye from the army who hated the white uniforms.

John Edmundson27 Jan 2018 7:30 p.m. PST

I agree that Napoleon was basically in favour of retaining aristocratic privilege. Why else would he have given titles like Prince of Eckmuhl or Duke of Montebello to his marshalls. The French Revolution wasn't exactly Bolshevism ;-)

Cheers,
John

von Winterfeldt27 Jan 2018 11:12 p.m. PST

It wasn't Bolshevism – but very radical, like the 10 days week, the 10 hours day, the tutoyage, the decimal system, for example.

Also – blue dye, when the white uniform went out of the window due to old republican dislike of the army, Boney seemingly had no difficulties to continue and dye all these blue uniform despite expanding his army massively.

Druzhina29 Jan 2018 1:14 a.m. PST
von Winterfeldt29 Jan 2018 5:13 a.m. PST

ah yes, thanks, a lot of bull – in the article, as that blue coats lasted longer than white ones, entirely untrue – regarding the practise in the Ancien regime where a white coat lasted longer than the coloured ones for the Foreign regiments in the French army

Marcus Brutus29 Jan 2018 5:51 a.m. PST

Napoleon was a product of the Revolution and he never wavered, at least in rhetoric, from the values and aspirations of the Revolution. One can see this in the vast amount of civil and legal legislation that came out during his reign. In many ways, the work of Napoleon's regime layed the foundation for later Republics and the fact that these later Republics were able to continue to use the work of his regime is proof that in spirit he was in line with France's future and not its past.

4th Cuirassier29 Jan 2018 6:53 a.m. PST

why did he keep the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs in power, later to his own hurt?

Because he either lacked the military power to enforce any such thing, or because if he had done so, someone other than himself would have been the beneficiary.

Had he removed the Austrian monarchy, for example, the northern part of the empire would have fallen to Russia and Prussia and the rest to the Ottoman empire.

He was able to defeat the Spanish army handily but he wasn't able to remove the monarchy of Spain, because the whole country then rose against him. Something similar would have happened had he tried to do the same to Prussia. He intended to do the same to Britain, but this is like me intending to pay my credit cards off next month.

His goal wasn't effective governance. Regardless of whether Bonaparte siblings were effective or not, their titles and thrones were hereditary. There was to be a brief interval of meritocracy, during which Napoleon would meritocratically place his family and cronies on various thrones, and then the window would close and it would be normal inherited business as usual.

As long as it was his family providing the absolute monarchs, indefinitely, Napoleon was just fine with absolute monarchies. The type of absolute monarch he didn't get along with was one of similar military potential.

Murvihill29 Jan 2018 9:24 a.m. PST

I read somewhere that the blockade prevented indigo from reaching france, and the white uniforms were the solution to that problem, until a local source of blue was found. I'm curious though, since we have extensive records in France for that time, if there isn't some correspondence saying "Hey, we're running out of blue dye, what are we going to do?" I mean, we have all kinds of records on obscura Franca, isn't something about this uniform issue?

Oliver Schmidt29 Jan 2018 9:56 a.m. PST

In his letter of 16 June 1807, which re-introduced the blue coats, Napoleon doesn't mention any possible problems (pertaining or solved) with providing blue cloth. He just states that he is "extemely discontent" with the white coats and that the blue coat is "a thousand times better".

link

von Winterfeldt29 Jan 2018 11:25 p.m. PST

Boney was no ways a product of the Revolutions he was a born and raised aristo, he turned the clock very much back.

But back to the blue cloth, it was not a problem before the white coats and after – and again, any reason why to redesign the colours of the eagles as well, and seemingly very much in accordance to the Ancien regime? His aristo heart broke through.

Le Breton30 Jan 2018 3:40 a.m. PST

"It was the lack of a reliable blue dye that was the issue"
Not exactly, it was that importing indigo would violate the Berlin decree.
Napoléon did not want to have the profit from the indigo trade go to Britain.

I do not know, after the reversion to blue habits, if the French just forgot about this, or made indigo from woad (for which they had historically the best processes in Europe) or tried to get indigo from smuggling and neutrals like the Americans (it was a big crop in the Carolinas in the era.)

"This time he got one in the eye from the army who hated the white uniforms."
According to Elézar Blaze, it was how dirty the uniforms looked when worn by inexperienced conscripts on campaign. When changing his mind, Napoléon onyl said that he was "very discontented" with the white.

The story about Napoléon being emotionally touched by the blood showing onn the uniforms is from Thiers – it is not original. Napoléon had seen plenty of other nations' bloodied white unforms before making his order, and saw them on is own troops during the Eylau campaign. It was not until after making a spring/summer campaign, after Tilsit, that Napoléon ordered going back to blue. So, I am prone to think that Blaze had the right of it : the inexpereinced soldiers did not know ho to keep the white habit presenable when on campaign.

============

"If that was Napoleon's object, then why did he keep the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs in power, later to his own hurt?"

He had also rather run out of brothers and brothers-in-law and adopted sons.

HappyHussar30 Jan 2018 7:27 a.m. PST

Bernadotte as the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary … hmmm ;)

Le Breton30 Jan 2018 4:46 p.m. PST

or Davout in Prussia ? …. hmmmm, indeed.
:-)

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse31 Jan 2018 5:37 p.m. PST

The only reliable dark blue dye, indigo, had to be imported to France. The best indigo came from Java, Guatemala, and Bengal. The British blockade cut off any supplies of indigo from these areas. The substitute blue dyes would fade under campaign conditions or just daily wear to any shade ‘between seasick green and royal purple.'

The uniform situation for the army in 1800-1802 was ‘unsatisfactory' with ‘fugitive' dyes being generally a minor problem. Napoleon wanted the army to be smartly uniformed and in 1804 he began a survey of the marshals and the regimental councils of administration to get their opinions on how the army should be uniformed. He told them that the soldiers' health and comfort, along with overall economy, were to be the major and most important considerations in their recommendations.

One of the comments was a hearty dislike of the dark blue coats then being issued, the unsatisfactory nature of the substitute blue dyes being used. The suggestions for change included using light blue and iron gray instead.
The two uniform experiments that were conducted happened between 1800 and 1806. The first was the idea to put the dragoon regiments into light or sky blue, that dye being considered better than green as well as being cheaper.
The second was putting the infantry into white.

The Minister of War Administration, Dejean, tested different replacements for the then unsatisfactory dark blue-beige, white, and silver gray being tried. White was the cheapest and the easiest to keep clean as it was undyed and could be washed where the old dark blue coats could not because of shrinkage. To clean a dyed uniform coat a thorough beating of the coat took place, which was usually followed by ‘careful brushing and sponging.'

Interestingly, if a coat was washed, the coat and lining might shrink differently, causing other problems with fitting.

Two line infantry battalions were put into white in February 1805. That went well, so in April 1806 nineteen line infantry regiments were ordered into the new white uniform for a test in 1807. Some of the regiments didn't comply, and others only partially. Some not designated did it anyway. Some units wore white into the field in 1806. By the next year some regiments had a mix of white and blue uniforms. That year deciding that the experiment did not go well, Napoleon ordered all line infantry units back into dark blue, along with work to find a better dark blue dye.

Le Breton01 Feb 2018 12:07 a.m. PST

"The substitute blue dyes would fade under campaign conditions or just daily wear to any shade ‘between seasick green and royal purple.'"

That looks like page 440 of "Swords …."
Do you have a contemporary source for this assertion?

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse01 Feb 2018 2:57 a.m. PST

The way to proceed on your part is to produce different and contradictory information on the subject.

That you have failed to do.

Col Elting's knowledge of period uniformology was quite extensive, so much so that he produced four excellent uniform books on the period using Herbert Knotel's watercolors that Col Elting had commissioned and collected.

I've seen the originals and they are excellent. I also have two of them in my collection.

Oliver Schmidt01 Feb 2018 3:17 a.m. PST

In te 1840s, Bardin wrote in his great Dictionnaire de l'armée de terre that Napoleon got the idea to introduce the white uniforms, "seduced by economical reasons and maybe forced by the scarcity of indigo".

White cloth was cheaper than blue cloth, I presume ?

link

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse01 Feb 2018 3:32 a.m. PST

Yes it was, as already stated. It was undyed and therefore less expensive.

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse01 Feb 2018 3:46 a.m. PST

As long as it was his family providing the absolute monarchs, indefinitely, Napoleon was just fine with absolute monarchies. The type of absolute monarch he didn't get along with was one of similar military potential.

That doesn't answer the question of why Napoleon kept the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollern's in power after they were badly defeated for attacking France.

Further, the idea that Napoleon 'ran out of relatives' to enthrone is not easily defended. The monarchs of Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Saxony, etc., were not deposed and Napoleon generally stayed out of their internal functions and operations. They were allies, not puppet states.

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse01 Feb 2018 3:47 a.m. PST

Boney was no ways a product of the Revolutions he was a born and raised aristo, he turned the clock very much back.
.

Perhaps you would care to elaborate on this very inaccurate statement and please provide source material for you ideas and opinions.

von Winterfeldt01 Feb 2018 4:31 a.m. PST

""The substitute blue dyes would fade under campaign conditions or just daily wear to any shade ‘between seasick green and royal purple.'"
another howler in Swords, it did not before and after the white coat reactionary attempt – woad was a well used dying agent on Europe.

von Winterfeldt01 Feb 2018 4:38 a.m. PST

from the 1786 regulation, Brechtel please note they are available on line, for your convenience I translated them into English, but please cross check I might have made some errors.

"The duration of coats & smallcoats is fixed at three years, in the French infantry, for Sergents, Fourriers , Caporals, Appointes & Privates; & consequently the replacement of them will be made each year by thirds.
As for the Foreign Infantry, considering the lesser quality of fabrics that it is in the habit of employing, the replacement of coats & smallcoats will be done by half for the Sergents, Staff Sergents, Caporals, Appointes & Privates."

So it is not only the colour which makes cloth expensive, it is the quality of the cloth.

Oliver Schmidt01 Feb 2018 4:50 a.m. PST

The French 1786 regulation on clothing

link

Also, in lesser quality, on Google Books (sroll down a bit):

link

And the related instruction of 1787:

link

Le Breton01 Feb 2018 4:53 a.m. PST

"Do you have a contemporary source for this assertion?"
"The way to proceed on your part is to produce different and contradictory information on the subject.'

No it is not. I was asking about the source(s) of *your* information.
How about an alternative way to proceed : you actually answer my question?

von Winterfeldt01 Feb 2018 6:05 a.m. PST

""The way to proceed on your part is to produce different and contradictory information on the subject.'"

proof of a weak position – the usual tactic of poor Brechtel.

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse01 Feb 2018 7:01 a.m. PST

Actually it is more of a challenge, historically, than anything else.

That you don't seem able to do it definitely shows the bankruptcy of your opinion(s).

Le Breton01 Feb 2018 7:25 a.m. PST

I don't have an opinion on what you wrote.
I am trying to form one, hopefully an intelligent opinion.

You asserted something, without providing any source.
I found a similar assertion in "Swords …."
I have asked you, "Do you have a contemporary source for [your] assertion?"

It is a simple question. Did you make your assertion based on the similiar passage in "Swords …." and/or do you have any contempoary source for your assertion.

This is not about what I think.
It is a very very simple question to you about what you wrote. Why are you having so much trouble providing a simple answer? There is no "challenge" here at all, just a simple question.

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse01 Feb 2018 8:51 a.m. PST

You seem to believe that a secondary work is not a source. That just isn't true.

Both primary and secondary works can be excellent reference material.

That is certainly taught in post-graduate history programs.

Therefore, Swords Around a Throne along with other excellent secondary material, is a source for the Grande Armee. And unless something is found to contradict or negate what I posted, it stands whether or not you agree with it.

Le Breton01 Feb 2018 9:23 a.m. PST

I did not say anything about agreeing or disagreeing.
I did not say anything about "Swords ….", except that it had a passage in it which was very similar to your assertion.
I did not say that secondary sources are not sources.
I did not say they can't be excellent reference material.
I just asked you a simple question about something you wrote.
You wrote it.
You made an assertion. No one asked you to do this – it was an assertion that you volunteered.
I just assked you a question about what you wrote.
Nothing more.
But you have dodged my simple question as if I had just asked you to admit that you practise witchcraft or something (not that witchcraft is bad, i almost married a Wicca).
What's the big deal?
==========

Can you please answer my simple question – yes/no would be a sufficient answer, although if "yes" it would be nice for you to share what contemporary source :

You wrote:
"The substitute blue dyes would fade under campaign conditions or just daily wear to any shade ‘between seasick green and royal purple.'"

I asked:
Do you have a contemporary [to the era] source for this assertion?

Brechtel198 In the TMP Dawghouse01 Feb 2018 6:30 p.m. PST

Brechtel please note they are available on line, for your convenience I translated them into English, but please cross check I might have made some errors.

Thanks very much but I can do my own translations. I was in Europe this past summer and I was surprised how quickly my spoken French and German returned.

Further, I can find material on line if necessary. I have downloaded about 1,000 old books over the years in multiple languages.

However, I do appreciate what you are trying to do.

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