Thanks for the clips, Marengo.
Now, Waterloo is heaven for a uniform nerd like me!
Seeing Napoleonic era uniforms is like reading a book, so for the benefit of myself and the 3½ others who may share my interest here on TRF, let's have a closer look at uniforms and the units fighting at Waterloo, shall we? - Not least because most of present day European guards uniforms are based on uniforms from that period.
These gentlemen are from Napoleon's Guards Corps. The Old Guard to be exact.
They are grenadiers, as you can tell from their bearskin caps.
You had to be an old veteran and have distinguished yourself in battle even to be admitted into the Old Guard. Their devotion and loyalty to Napoleon was legendary.
However, even elite units have their limitations. At the climax of the battle the Old Guard was sent in, and they broke in the face musketry fire. That was so novel a thing that the cry: "The Old Guard is retreating!" spread consternation in the French army.
The Old Guard fought a rearguard action and was surrounded at the end of the battle and when urged to surrender the reply was: "The Old Guard may die, but it will never surrender". And that's what they did.
Here we see two British regiments represented.
Those to the left with the elaborate brass plate in the front of their chakos (hats) are infantry of the line. They are also regulars as you can see from their grey trousers. Militia wore white trousers. These ordinary infantry men constituted the wast majority on the battle field, even though you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise when looking at photos of reenactors.
In the middle is a senior officer. And typical of veteran officers of the time is that they dressed more or less like they pleased. They left it to junior officers to be perfectly attired in uniforms.
To the right is a light infantry regiment. You can tell by the bugle on their chakos. The white "wings" on their shoulders identify them as a flank company.
There were two flank companies to a regiment. Typically a light company and a grenadier company. They were picked among the best and brightest within a regiment.
The grenadiers were older veterans who could be relied upon in battle. The light company consisted of the young, the fittest and brightest. By 1815 it was common to form light and grenadier companies from different regiments into battalions.
The stars of the show, also back then, were the Scottish regiments. These are (surprise!) also from a flank company as you can tell from their wings.
Initially Highland regiments were not allowed to wear kilts. Scottish, especially highland, distinctions being suppressed after the Jaccobite rebellions and after the battle of Cullodden in 1745.
By 1815 the kilt was worn with pride and Highland regiments had with considerable justification established a reputation for being an elite.
Notice the man in white. Specialists often wore very distinct uniforms, especially here towards the end of the Napoleonic era. Partly because the now seasoned veteran armies had a more lax attitude to uniforms and partly because it was practical. It was basically work clothes, just a little more elaborate.
I don't know what nationality this regiment belongs to, but is certainly not French nor British. Few people realize how many nationalities actually fought at Waterloo, not to mention the battle at Leipzig in 1813, where practically every European country back then was represented!
Notice the pompon on top of their chakos. Partly for decoration and to look taller and even more impressive, but just as much for quick identification. Each battalion had a distinct combination of colors.
Also notice the long pikes seen over the soldiers. They were typically but not always used by NCO's. Partly as a badge of rank but just as much as a very efficient defense against cavalry. Officers and NCO's were after all more exposed to being cut down by cavalry. In close combat with other infantry a man with a pike could outreach anyone else.
Notice the women behind the line. You'd be surprised how many women were among those killed at Waterloo! Women camp followers (or bags as they were called in the British army, because they travelled with the bags. Hence the term "old bag" for a seasoned camp follower) were often married to a soldier, so it was only natural they followed right up to the front. Where they handed out water to the soldiers. Biting on cartridges with black powder results in a raging thirst. And if their husband, father, brother was wounded they dragged him away and nursed him. In 1815, despite considerable progress not least in the French army, the majority of wounded were still left on the battlefield, usually for days.
The cavalry in this picture is interesting. They are Polish lancers. You can tell from their square headgear and of course their lances.
By 1815 lancers were still predominantly used by the French army and they were feared by enemy cavalry! Armed with lances they could outreach anyone else. And being light cavalry they could outpace anyone else but hussars and light dragoons.
The pennants on the lances were partly for decoration and indentification but also for spooking enemy horses. Fluttering pennants can freak out even the most docile horse, especially if it can sense that the rider is scared.
The pennant also prevented a lance from going in too deep. A lance that skewers an enemy and cannot be retracted is a useless lance.
Lancers were also feared by enemy infantry. Being able to outreach a man armed with a bayonet, they attacked the corners of an infantry square, picking off the soldiers there, forcing the square to slowly shrink and eventually break.
But it required a lot of skill to wield a lance, so lancers remained specialist cavalry.
Here we have the outline of a corner of an infantry square. At Waterloo they would have been standing closer together and preferably in three ranks.
These are ordinary infantry of the line, with their chakos covered for protection against the weather. (The weather in 1815 was lousy BTW). And in that way they didn't have to polish their brass plate endlessly. By 1815 the armies had become very seasoned and practicality was very much the order of the day, rather than just showing off, which was the case at the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars.
An infantry square was the standard defense against cavalry. Forming a square of close packed infantry you presented four lines able to fire volleys into an attacker no matter where they came from.
Disciplined infantry in tight formations was almost invincible for cavalry, as long as the infantry maintained discipline and did not break ranks. If that happened, they were cut to pieces!
Also, while you can persuade humans to do silly things like charging a massed formation bristling with bayonets, there is no way in this world you can persuade a horse to do it! Even the most battle-crazed horse will have an tendency to weer of.
The officer with the distinctive bicorn hat would have been standing inside the square or he would soon have been an extremely dead officer!
But standing in a square was no fun!
You are standing there among your mates. You can feel them. You can smell them. You are sweating like a pig and your mouth is bone dry from the gunpowder. And there the French cuirassiers come. Big men on big, very big, horses. In tight formation. Unstoppable. With their swords stretch out towards you
. And you know every single one of them bear a personal grudge towards you
! You know they will run you over and spend at least fifteen minutes jumping up and down on you, because they all
hate you. Personally!
They are getting closer and every fiber in your body screams for you to run. But you don't because you can't get away and you would let down your mates.
- Well, I could go on, but I think it's better to stop now, before I get too eager.