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"French regimental flags and eagles" Topic

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cgibke Inactive Member09 May 2018 8:31 a.m. PST

I have been confused about how these two are used. I have read that the flag and eagle can be on the same staff and also that the eagles were packed away for protection, and the same for the flags, at different times.

I am assuming that a regiment only had one flag/eagle. Would the first battalion carry it?

How do most folks handle this?

Thanks, any help appreciated.

Artilleryman09 May 2018 9:19 a.m. PST

This is a wide-ranging and complicated matter.

Infantry. In 1804 Napoleon issued the famous eagles to his regiments and the actual flag was now of secondary importance to the eagle itself. The new flags issued at this time measured approximately 80cm square and each battalion and squadron of the French army received one of these flags. In September 1806, it was officially laid down that Light infantry units should hand in all their eagles at the beginning of a campaign, however it is on record that at least one Light regiment lost its eagle in battle as late as 1814. In 1808, it was decreed that only one eagle was to be carried per regiment and that by the 1st battalion, the eagles and flags of the other battalions were to be returned to the regimental depots. This took some time to be implemented and some 2nd and 3rd battalions still had their colours in the field as late as 1811. The new flags were nailed with gilt headed studs to a blue wooden staff, 3cm in diameter and 2m 10cm long (including the eagle itself). Double gold cords and tassels were attached immediately below the eagle.
Battalions that did not have the Eagle with them were supposed to carry a plain fanion to which no importance was supposed to be attached. This was carried by a sergeant-major and the colours were as follows:
2nd battalion – white.
3rd battalion – red.
4th battalion – blue.
5th battalion – green.
Many regiments carried elaborate patterns ranging from differing patterns of stripes in blue and red to a flag not dissimilar to that carried under the Eagle.
From April 1812, each Line and Light regiment received a single new tricolour pattern standard which bore on the reverse the battle honours of the regiment. The battle honours were restricted to those battles at which Napoleon had commanded in person i.e. Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, Eckmϋhl, Essling and Wagram. The new flags measured 80cm x 80cm and had a 2.5cm wide gold fringe. A tricolour cravat measuring 92cm long by 16cm wide with gold fringes was attached to the flagstaff immediately below the eagle.

In 1815 after Napoleons return from exile, the regiments received new flags and eagles. The flags now measured 120cm x 120cm and were of a much simpler design. Most regiments displayed the same battle honours as for the 1812 pattern and the tricolour cravat was still attached immediately below the eagle.
Throughout the period 1804-1815 each Eagle-bearer (porte-aigle) was accompanied by two senior NCO escorts who carried halberds. Triangular streamers or Fanions measuring approximately 61cm x 20cm were attached to these halberds, red for that to the right of the Eagle-bearer, white to the left, both with gold lettering.
Throughout the period the Eagle party was attached to the 2nd fusilier company parading between it and the 3rd fusilier company.

Cavalry. Before 1808 there was one Eagle for each squadron within a regiment. It was carried by a sergeant major but had no escort. After 1808, only the Eagle of the 1st squadron was to be carried on campaign. It was carried by a junior officer or a sergeant-major. In the Guard, it was always the former. Cuirassier Eagles always seem to be illustrated as being carried by a maréchal de logis chef while there is an Osprey illustration of a senior NCO from the compagnie d'elite as the Eagle-bearer. In 1806, it was decreed that ‘all hussar (and) chasseur á cheval regiments ….. should hand their Eagles in at the start of a campaign'. The 4th and 9th Hussars were known to have ignored this and in 1815, Marbot's 7th Hussars went on ‘The 100 Days' with their Eagle carried by a junior officer.

All Eagle staves were coloured mid-blue.

So coming back to the original question; you can have an Eagle without a flag but not a 'regimental' flag without the Eagle. Fanions were always on the staff when they were carried. (No point in having the plain staff otherwise.)

Hope that helps.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP09 May 2018 9:19 a.m. PST

When a regiment had one flag and/or eagle it was the 1st Bn that carried it but there were different numbers and types of flags carried at various times between 1801 & 1815.

I will leave it to a more knowledgeable poster to detail the what, when & where of French Napoleonic vexillia.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP09 May 2018 11:44 a.m. PST

I would refer you all to just Artilleryman's opening sentence.

How right.

Are we talking about 1806 or 1815? Can we assume infantry and only Ligne at that?

His following summary is the best I have read in ages

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP09 May 2018 12:13 p.m. PST

Wargaming is a very visual hobby. This is why I give every battalion a flag and an eagle.

If anyone complains about it being inaccurate I just say "I know, but they are my toy soldiers and if people don't like it then Bleeped text'em!"

cgibke Inactive Member09 May 2018 1:44 p.m. PST

Very nice detail, AM, thanks.

This came up because several manufacturers, i.e. AB and New Line, offer both standard bearers and eagle bearers.

I also have some older 20mm figures that have cast-on flags with eagles on the staff.

Interesting stuff.

42flanker09 May 2018 2:12 p.m. PST

" The battle honours were restricted to those battles at which Napoleon had commanded in person…'

Tough on the Spanish campaigners. Mind you,…

davbenbak Supporting Member of TMP10 May 2018 6:29 a.m. PST

Thanks for including the fanion information.

Like Cerdic said, I stray from the facts myself when gaming. If both the first and second battalion of the same regiment are present in the brigade then I try to only have one with an Eagle as I do have battalion painted both ways. But if no first battalions are there then the second or even third battalions get flags. I mean what is a Napoleonic wargame without flags!

wrgmr110 May 2018 2:58 p.m. PST

Well explained Artilleryman.
+1 Cerdic, all my battalions have flags.

Artilleryman11 May 2018 12:16 a.m. PST

After all that, I should say that my 1809 French army has some sort of flag in every battalion. The 'independent minded' leger regiment has an Eagle in each battalion while the ligne regiments have an Eagle in the 1st battalion and fanions of various patterns in the rest. All flags from GMB.

Widowson23 May 2018 4:01 p.m. PST

By way of clarification, it should be noted that infantry regiments in 1804 had 2 battalions (of 9 cos ea.), and were issued 2 eagles.

In 1808, when the same number of infantry in a regiment was re-organized into 3 battalions (of 6 cos ea.), new eagles were not cast and guilt for the new 3rd bns. The solution was that only the 1st bn would henceforth carry an eagle, with the 2nd bn eagles returned to the depots. Napoleon, as far as I know, never authorized a "replacement" eagle. However, after 1808, if an eagle were lost, the regiment could always retrieve the 2nd bn eagle from the depot as a substitute. There was no battalion designation on the eagle itself, and nobody would have been the wiser.

Flags of this period were notoriously cheap. A single layer of silk with gold paint on each side.

Anecdotally, when the Grenadiers of the guard formed a second regiment (1806?), they carried the eagle originally issued to the 2nd bn of the 1st regiment. By the time the 3rd regiment had been formed, the practice of having only one eagle carried by the grenadier "corps" and one by the chasseur a pied "corps" had been instituted. Again, this was a practical consideration. When the 1804 eagles were issued, there was no middle guard or young guard. These units, when created, were not issued eagles. Goes to show how reluctant Napoleon was to make new eagles.

It should be noted that, in 1815, Marbot's 7th hussars were actually carrying the eagle of his former regiment (chasseurs). He had somehow kept that eagle and prevented its destruction by the royals. It was an original, and not an 1815 replacement. This was a distinction of some pride.

And of course all 1815 eagles were new, the originals having been destroyed by the restoration authorities. There may have been some kind of re-issue in 1813. I know that many flags were burnt on the retreat from Moscow. I don't know if that also applied to the eagles.

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