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Waterloo > French Army

The French Army

The French army was, on paper, one of the best fielded since before the invasion of Russia. Many experienced soldiers had flocked to join their beloved Emperor, including many who had been released from the prisons in England.

However, it contained a fragility that was to prove fatal in defeat. While the rank and file had mostly stayed loyal to Napoleon, many of the officers had made accommodation with the reinstated Royalists. For example, Marshal Ney had promised to bring Napoleon back to Paris in an iron cage. While they had turned back to Napoleon at his return, there remained a fundamental mistrust. This probably contributed to the rapid collapse of the army. At the same time as the Guard were repulsed, they learned that it was the Prussian army on their flank, not French troops as they had been told. Much of the army never properly reformed on the retreat to Paris after the battle.

Napoleon was also short of senior commanders. His previous Chief of Staff, Marshal Berthier, had withdrawn from public life and died on 1st June 1815. Others were unavailable for a variety of reasons.

Of those who were available, Marshal Davout, who had never sworn loyalty to the new king, was appointed Minister of War by Napoleon on his return. He was left in Paris to carry on the essential work of raising and equipping more troops. Napoleon appointed Marshal Soult as Chief of Staff, an appointment he was not really suited for. Marshal Ney was appointed to command the left wing and proved uncharacteristically cautious at Quatre Bras and over-impetuous at Waterloo. Recognising the shortage, Napoleon appointed Grouchy, who had not served under Lois XVIII, as Marshal in 1815 but he failed to exercise initiative while pursuing the Prussians after Ligny.


Strengths by Corps

Imperial Guard
Infantry: 22 battalions (21% of all French infantry battalions).
Cavalry: 4 regiments, 18.5 squadrons (16% of all cavalry squadrons).

Artillery: 3 x 12-pounder companies (batteries), 6 foot artillery companies and 4 horse artillery companies (96 guns, 39% of the total).

I Corps
Infantry: 33 battalions (32% of the total).
Cavalry: 4 regiments, 15 squadrons (12% of cavalry squadrons).
Artillery: 1 x 12-pounder company, 4 foot artillery companies, 1 horse artillery company (46 guns, 19% of the total).

II Corps
Infantry: 33 battalions (32% of the total).
Cavalry: 4 regiments, 15 squadrons (12% of cavalry squadrons).
Artillery: 1 x 12-pounder company, 3 foot artillery companies, 1 horse artillery company (38 guns, 15% of the total).

VI Corps
Infantry: 15 battalions (15% of the total).
Cavalry: 6 regiments, 20 squadrons (17% of cavalry squadrons).
Artillery: 1 x 12-pounder company, 2 foot artillery companies, 3 horse artillery companies (42 guns, 17% of total).

III Reserve Cavalry Corps
Infantry: nil.
Cavalry: 8 regiments, 25 squadrons (22% of cavalry squadrons).
Artillery: 2 horse artillery companies (12 guns, 5% of the total).

IV Reserve Cavalry Corps
Infantry: nil.
Cavalry: 8 regiments, 24 squadrons (21% of cavalry squadrons).
Artillery: 2 horse artillery companies (12 guns, 5% of the total).

Summary
Infantry: 103 battalions  53,400
Cavalry: 34 regiments, 113.5 squadrons  15,600
Artillery: 34 companies (batteries), 246 guns  6,500
Others: Staff, engineers, equipment train, medical, etc.  2,000
Grand total at Waterloo (estimated)  77,500

Additional information - Infantry
There were approximately 3.4 infantrymen to every cavalryman.
The strongest battalion was the 1/10 Ligne with 718 all ranks.
The weakest battalion was the 3/108 Ligne with 251 all ranks.
The average strength of a French battalion was about 520 all ranks.

Additional information - Cavalry
All cavalry were grouped into divisions, with a division attached to I and II Corps, two to VI Corps and the remaining six held in reserve.

The cavalry was approximately equally divided between the ten divisions, five each of light and heavy cavalry.

The strongest regiment was the Ch√Ęsseurs √† Cheval of the Imperial Guard with 1,197 in five squadrons.
The weakest was the 7th Cuirassiers with a mere 180 in two squadrons.

The average strength of a French cavalry regiment was about 460.


Additional information - Artillery
Napoleon deployed 246 guns and howitzers in thirty-four companies, giving a ratio of about one gun to every 315 soldiers.
Of the thirty-four companies, six were 12-pounders, fifteen were foot artillery and thirteen horse artillery companies. Early in the battle Napoleon grouped eighty guns into a 'Grand Battery' in a co-ordinated attempt to smash Wellington's line before the first main attack.

 
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