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Gone Fishing26 Feb 2019 5:56 p.m. PST

…is making me want to start a Napoleonics project. And on land, not on sea.

I know that sounds rather odd. But somehow reading about the vast sweep and drama of that era in these novels (currently on Lieutenant Hornblower) never fails to give me a tug in the direction of what I've always considered the "scariest" of wargaming subjects, if only because of its vast size and complexity. With that admitted, I'd love some advice.

The trouble is what to focus on, and I hope you'll forgive me for starting from the figures that inspire. The range I really like the look of is by Essex in 28mm.

The British are here: link

And the French: link

These are the two forces I'd like to focus on (and I do realise that's not very original). The figures I love most are the French chasseurs (FN13, etc.), and, in cavalry, the cuirassiers (FN91, etc.). So my questions are as follows:

1.) Is there a theatre/battle in which both the chasseurs and cuirassiers fought? That would give me a starting point.

2.) I would guess these are both elite troops? Can one of you tell me what the difference is between Imperial Guard and the chasseurs? Judging from figures alone, to this noob they look exactly the same!

3.) What sort of line troops would have fought alongside them? Even general pointers would help. For example, I rather like the look of the troops in the bicorne or chapeau – would either of these have fought alongside the chasseurs or cuirassiers?

4.) If I were to do a Neil Thomas sort of force (starting small, you see!) of, say, six or so units (of 20 figures each?), and one of those units is chasseurs, how would you complete the force? This could be from a specific battle or just a feel. And this is only representational, of course – they are likely representing much larger forces. Thinking flexibly here…

5.) Having a fondness for bearskins and facial hair, I find the French sappers very appealing. How were they attached to units? In a unit of 20 figures, how many sappers would look correct? I assume their job was to knock down barriers, etc.?

Please forgive what for most of you must be pretty stupid questions. As you can guess I know next to nothing about the subject. I'm starting from figures I like because I know from hard experience that if I don't get grabbed by my painting the project is liable to get dropped. But I do know, do realise, it sounds odd. If I get responses – and very short answers to any or all of the questions would be most helpful – I can go on to ask about the British.

Arrghh! One last question: any recommendations for VERY basic reading would be much appreciated also. Osprey titles would be good.

Thank you!

ChrisBrantley26 Feb 2019 7:07 p.m. PST

Start here for some general background on French army organization and troop types. link

Chasseurs (mounted hunters) were light cavalry used for scouting, screening and skirmishing…usually considered to be less prestigious than the hussars. Cuirassier were heavy cavalry, named for the metal cuirass they wore as armor. They were shock troops. There were units of Chasseurs and Cuirassier in both elite and non-elite formations of the French army and both types of units fought in every significant engagement of all the Napoleonic wars that I can think of.

If you if you like those, these are even more great unit types, like cheveau-leger, chasseurs a pied, chasseurs-a-cheval, voltigiers, legere, fusiliers and more. Not to mention famous units..Old Guard, Young Guard, Polish Lancers, etc.

And all that's just French. Some names were common across national armies, e.g. hussars. But others were different and/or troops had slightly different functions, like the British dragoons, who in theory were mounted troops trained to dismount and fight on foot as infantry, but were used instead mostly as heavy cavalry.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Napoleonics. Suggest you pick a battle that tickles your fancy and try to recreate a small part of the order of battle (a division or brigade) for purposes of gaming. Here is the Waterloo OOB for example: link

Alternatively, for a Neil Thomas sized mixed force, I'd suggest 4 battalions of line "ligne" infantry, 1 battalion of voltigiers or legere, 1 battalion of elite grenadiers, a company of field artillery, 3 regiments of horse (cuirassier, hussars/chasseurs and maybe cheveau-leger) and a company of horse artillery. That gives you a lot of flexibility to try different scenarios and force compositions, including a flavor of different tactics and troop quality.

Soaring Soren26 Feb 2019 7:17 p.m. PST

Maybe you could dabble your feet in Napoleonics by starting with the Perry Brothers' Travel Battle Set, or Commands and Colors: Napoleonics…No painting needed to get started playing right away…

Camcleod26 Feb 2019 7:33 p.m. PST

The French Chasseur you mentioned is an infantryman of the Imperial Guard Chasseurs a Pied (foot). He would be part of Napoleon's Guard Infantry consisting of in 1815 8 batallions of Chasseurs and 8 of Grenadiers a Pied + others.

A good site for getting a feel for orders of battle and uniforms is the Mont St. Jean site focusing on the 1815 Campaign:

Pick 'Unites/nation' in the top row and 'France' on the left
for a list of French units during the 1815 campaign. Pick one and further along it gives a uniform plate worn by the unit.
"Organigrammes' will give an orders of battle for the army.

Musketballs26 Feb 2019 7:38 p.m. PST

Welcome to the mad, mad world of Napoleonics :) You'll probably get any number of opinions, but here's my take:

1) Historically, any of the 'Eastern' campaigns from 1805-1814 featured the Imperial Guard and the Reserve Cavalry. That's against Austria and Russia in 1805, Prussia and Russia in 1806-1807, Austria in 1809, Russia in 1812, Austria, Russia, Prussia and Sweden in 1813-14. Plus you can use them against British, Prussians and Dutch-Belgians in 1815.

2) The Imperial Guard grew and grew…but at it's simplest: The Old Guard was divided into two types of infantry – Grenadiers and Chasseurs. The only real difference between the two was the height requirement – above a certain level, you went into the Grenadiers, shorter into the Chasseurs. In terms of quality, service required etc…everything was the same.

Cuirassiers were elite troops in the sense that they all had 'Grenadier' status. But it was a awfully big elite…3 divisions worth. Generally, wargame rules consider the Imperial Guard heavy cavalry to be the true elites, with the Cuirassiers being rated highly, but lower than Guard Cavalry.

3) They would have fought alongside Legere (Light) regiments, and Ligne (Line) regiments, with one Legere to three-to-five Line being a decent proportion. The French started switching from bicorne to shako pretty early on…a good rule of thumb is maybe bicorne 1805-1807, shako after that. Imperial Guard Chasseurs and the Cuirassiers fought in those campaigns. For artillery, you'll maybe want an 8-pound foot battery to go with them.

4) For infantry, Chasseurs…one Legere…the rest Ligne. This gives you a standard any-period force which is always a good idea for the first 'core' of a new army. Then as your force grows, maybe add a Young Guard for later campaigns, or an allied German, Italian or Dutch unit etc.

5) One sapper on the Command Stand looks fine.

For basic French army history, organisation, tactic and uniforms…all that stuff is widely available for free on the internet. I wouldn't spend money on books until you've firmed up which period, units etc you're going for.

And please don't think you're asking stupid questions…we *all* started off right where you are now :)

Gone Fishing26 Feb 2019 8:06 p.m. PST

I can't thank you all enough. I knew there would be some palm to face moments in bringing this up, so your patience is appreciated.

Chris: Awfully nice of you to respond in such detail. My first learning curve is clearly that Chasseurs are actually cavalry and not infantry. This is why it's foolish to look at a catalogue and think, "Ooh, I like the look of those!" and working from there. They really looked like infantry to me! Ah, well. I'll take a look at that OOB tomorrow – thanks so much!

Soren: Thank you for reminding me of that Perry offering. I remember taking a peek at it ages ago, but had forgotten about it. Might be a good starting point!

Camcleod: I greatly appreciate your info on the specific Chasseur figure I was thinking of. Were the Guard Chasseurs a Pied used earlier? I only ask because the catalogue says up to 1812. Might be an error on their part. I'll look forward to exploring the link you gave tomorrow. Thank you, thank you!

Gone Fishing26 Feb 2019 8:14 p.m. PST

Musketballs: Just seeing your post and must leave the computer, but that is extremely helpful. Points 3 and 4 especially – being a gamer, it helps me start planning army building…

So appreciate your input!

Musketballs26 Feb 2019 8:26 p.m. PST


Confusingly, Chasseurs could be either infantry or cavalry.

The Guard infantry were Chasseurs a Pied. Chasseur was also the term used for the normal (ie non-elite) soldier in a Legere/Light regiment (his line equivalent was a Fusilier).
However, the French also had Chasseurs a Cheval as a common sort of light cavalry, and one of the Imperial Guard cavalry units was the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard.

The Chasseurs-a-Pied existed all through the 1805-1815 period…the 1812 is there because the French have a major uniform change at that point. Didn't think the Guard uniforms changed, though…could be wrong.

4th Cuirassier27 Feb 2019 3:14 a.m. PST

One thing to be aware of is that in this period, even taking the strict "Napoleonic" era of 1803 to 1815, most armies changed both their battalion / regiment organisation and their bloody uniforms, the b@stards.

So the French infantry "regiment" in 1803 comprised three battalions, each of eight companies, one of which was grenadiers. By 1804 most battalions had an unofficial ninth company of voltigeurs, who were basically skirmishers. The nominal strength of such a battalion was just over 1,000 men. By 1805 this nine-company structure became the formal norm, but only until 1808 when it was replaced by a four-battalion, six-company structure (four "fusilier", one grenadier, one voltigeur company per battalion) nominally of about 800 men per battalion.

Light infantry regiments were the same except that they called their fusiliers chasseurs and their grenadier equivalents were carabiniers. Functionally, the difference between light and line diminished over the period.

Irritatingly, the uniforms changed at different times. Until 1813 French infantry wore what is called a "cutaway" coat, which means the lapels separate around the bottom of the breastbone, so you can see the waistcoat underneath. After 1813, the coat had shorter tails and lapels down to the waist. The headwear was the fore-and-aft bicorne until about 1805, after which it gave way to the shako. So if you get really anal about this stuff, a battalion in 1803 would look different to one in 1806 would look different to one in 1808 would look different to one in 1813.

Another irritation is that some troop types didn't exist in certain armies prior to a given date; so there were no French lancers before 1809, for instance.

Fortunately, nobody really cares and most people just collect the coolest army regardless of any of the above, and quite right too. Many rules abstract this stuff away anyhow.

By the way, if you like cuirassiers, get a load of post-1810 carabiniers:


Brass cuirass, red caterpillar crest, and white coat. What's not to like?

It is perhaps worth thinking about troop proportions in your intended army. As a very broad generalisation, your typical Napoleonic army would be 15 to 20% cavalry, maybe half of which might be "heavy" cavalry: cuirassiers, carabiniers, dragoons. In most of this period the French had 12 cuirassier, 2 carabinier, and 27 dragoon regiments which gives you an idea of proportions. Among the light cavalry there were I think around 30 chasseur, 10 hussar and 7 lancer regiments. Functionally the first two were very similar.

There is a measurement called "guns per thousand men" that tells you roughly how much artillery you would expect to have, with 3 per 1,000 being about normal. It would have been less in the Peninsula because it was hard to keep the required horses in good shape, more in central Europe. An army of 75,000 men might therefore have about 225 guns, of which perhaps 20% would be horse artillery (the whole crew was mounted for speedier deployment).

Among the infantry, the remaining 80%, about one regiment in four was light, so one light to every three line makes sense. Of course these proportions varied at the local level.

The British army is a bit of an oddity. Its infantry consisted of regiments which would generate a battalion of ten companies for active service as required. But they weren't single-battalion regiments, because a cadre would remain in the depot to train replacements, who might in turn become a second or third battalion. There were 100-odd foot regiments only 7 of which were light, so on the face of it, the British army looks short of light troops. Only a fraction of the army went on campaign, however, which included all the light formations. These also usually had multiple battalions rather than one, so the actual proportion of light to line was not radically dissimilar to the French.

Aethelflaeda was framed27 Feb 2019 6:21 a.m. PST

If you are fighting the English, the cuirassier won't get much play in Peninsular battles. There was only one provisional cuirassier regiment deployed there and iirc it only fought the Spanish.

Dragoons would be the first choice for me…they fought everywhere.

skipper John Supporting Member of TMP27 Feb 2019 7:20 a.m. PST

Just remember… if you start painting Napoleonic's, you will be gone for 10 or so years.

Gone Fishing27 Feb 2019 8:22 a.m. PST

Gentlemen, thank you for all replies – I have read them all and have enjoyed them greatly. I have no time now, but will respond properly later. Many thanks again!

Gone Fishing28 Feb 2019 8:28 a.m. PST

Not much to add except to thank you all again – I have been so impressed with both your knowledge and the kindness with which you've presented it. One thing that makes me smile is how helpful good old Wikipedia has proven. Suppose I should have checked there first!

And 4th Cuirassier: those post 1810 carabiniers are amazing. A dashing bunch to be sure!

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