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"French Régiment pénal de l'Île de Ré" Topic

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138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP09 Jul 2019 12:13 p.m. PST

I recently came across a reference to the French Régiment pénal de l'Île de Ré.

I'd be interest in any information on this unit or a source where I can find out more. I believe it was renamed 132e regiment d'infanterie de ligne and so presumable has normal French uniforms.


Prince of Essling09 Jul 2019 1:40 p.m. PST

From François Lo Presti at link
There was an article "Les Régiments de Réfractaires 1810-1814" by Alain Pigeard in the french journal Tradition Magazine n°167 p14-18.
According to this article the 1er de la Méditerranée was reorganised in 1811 (decree of 11 march) in 4 battalions of 6 companies without grenadiers and voltigeurs. There was also a fifth battalions of depot with 4 companies. It was clearly written in the decree that the 2 regiments de la Méditerranée will not have grenadier or voltigeurs companies until two years of service. At this time, the war minister will decide if they can have one or more. The 1er de la Méditerranée was transformed in the 35th light infantry regiment on september 20, 1812 (I don't know if elite companies were formed at this time).
the 2nd regiment de la Méditerranée was formed in march 11, 1811 (4 bat 6 comp + 1 bat depot 4 comp).It becomes the 133rd infantry regiment on september 20, 1812. He fought at Wolkowisk (16 nov 1812) and after this fight, elite companies were made with the most distinguished men. But apprently these companies were not formed in all the battalions since 1 grenadiers company and 1 voltigeurs company were formed in the 4th battalion the 21 march 1813 after their brilliant valour at the battle of Kalisch (13 feb 1813).
The regiment of Walcheren was created by decree of the 24 january 1811 with the same organization of the 1er de la Méditerranée. It became the 131st infantry regiment the 20 september 1812.
The regiment de Belle-Ile was created on the same date (same organization). It became the 36th light infantry the 20 september 1812.
The regiment de l'ile de Ré was also created on 11 march 1811 with the same organization. It became the 132rd infantry regiemnt the 20 september 1812.
In 1812, the refractaires regiment were in the division Durutte formed into 3 brigades : 1st brig general Devaux (Wurzbourg regiment 2nd, 3rd and 4th bat; regiment de Belle-Ile 2nd, 3rd and 4th bat); 2nd brig general Jalras (Walcheren reg. 2nd, 3rd and 4th bat; 1st de la Méditerranée 1st, 2nd bat); 3rd brig general Jarry (2nd de la Méditerranée the 4 first bat; regiment de l'ile de ré 2nd, 3rd and 4th bat). After the success encountered in the battle of Wolkowisk, Reynier ask the Emperor to autorise the formation of elite companies. We know that some were formed since there were almost 5 companies in the division Durutte after that.

From Kevin Kiley at link
In actuality, these were 'Disciplinary Regiments' vice penal units. There were two types of disciplinary units in the French army of the period: punishment (penal) units, which, depending on the level of crime those in them were guilty of, had varying degrees of severity; and rehabilitation units for apprehended draft dodgers. The Disciplinary Regiments were of the latter type. They received only 'the better class' of refractaires. Those apprehended that had criminal records went either to the colonial battalions or foreign battalions. The penal units were in a class by themselves and were actually used for pioneer work. You might want to check Chapter XXI of Swords Around A Throne for information in that regard.
The four Disciplinary Regiments had four battalions each. There were originally four of them: Mediterranean (based on Corsica), Walcheren, Ile-de-Re, and Belle-Isle. Later, a fifth, entitled 2d Mediterranean, was formed from the overflow from 1st Mediterranean. The cadres for these units were carefully chosen, many coming from the Imperial Guard. Officers and NCOs assigned to Mediterranean had to be able to speak Italian; those going to Walcheren, German or Dutch. Walcheren also contained a battalion of former Spanish prisoners of war, cadred by 'sure' Spanish officers and NCOs. They seem to have served loyally and ably. Their mission was to create 'good and willing' soldiers from them and they were remarkably successful. Eugene remarked on their reliability in 1811. They were first used as replacement depots, processing men who were sent to infantry, artillery, and engineer units. Some of their battalions were also used as 'carrier units' taking replacements forward to the field armies, the cadre returning to the depots.
When made into a 'combat worthy' infantry division in 1812 (the 35th), their commander was General Joseph Durerre. There were three battalions from Belle-Isle, Ile-de-Re, and Walcheren, and 2d Mediterranean as well as two from 1st Mediterranean. Unfortunately, I haven't found information on elite companies.
Later, the 1st Mediterranean was redesignated the 35th Legere, Belle-Isle the 36th Legere, Walcheren the 131st Ligne, Ile-de-Re the 132d Ligne, and 2d Mediterranean the 133d Ligne. I would assume that elite companies would be formed after the units had proven themselves under fire, which was Napoleon's usual policy, as he believed it took more than a tall man to make a grenadier. Under that assumption, the battalions probably had six companies of fusiliers initially, forming their two elite companies from picked men after their first action. With the hand-picked cadremen, that process would have been done somewhat quickly I would think.


Prince of Essling09 Jul 2019 1:51 p.m. PST

Also see Steve Smith's post at link
for extract from Paimblant Du Rouil, Adrien Félix Marie Joseph, 1855-1905. Historique du régiment: le 131e d'Infanterie / rédigé par le lieutenant Paimblant du Rouil; d'après les instructions de colonel Girard. Paris: Presse régimentaire du 131e, 1891. 30 p. ; 15 cm.

Prince of Essling09 Jul 2019 2:04 p.m. PST

Link from Steve Smith at Napoleon Series link

Prince of Essling09 Jul 2019 2:29 p.m. PST

Unfortunately I cannot find an electronic copy to download of:
La division Durutte : les reìgiments de reìfractaires sous Napoleìon Ier
Author: Adrien Feìlix Marie Joseph Paimblant du Rouil
Publisher: Paris : H. Charles-Lavauzelle, [1896?]

The only electronic version is on hathi (but you need an account) link

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP09 Jul 2019 2:32 p.m. PST

Thank you very much!

Greatly appreciated.

Lilian09 Jul 2019 2:46 p.m. PST

despite the so-called french title of the reference, actually this one is totally wrong,

a «régiment pénal» doesn't exist at all in french, and even it is quite antinomical in french

seems more a franglish version from english-speaking world and the translated «penal regiments» to describe disciplinary units than anything else

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP09 Jul 2019 5:51 p.m. PST

Interestingly, I have battalions of all five of these regiments in my 1813 French force that fights against the Prussians and Russians of the Allied Army of the North.

Thanks for the information about them.


von Winterfeldt09 Jul 2019 11:37 p.m. PST

in German

Die Refraktärregimenter unter Napoleon I. und die aus ihnen hervorgegangene Division Durutte


for hathi – you must have a us ip address

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