Imperial Guard

From Academic Kids

Alternate uses at Imperial guard
French Imperial Guard distinguishable headdress

The Imperial Guard was originally a small group of elite soldiers under the direct command of Napoleon I, but grew considerably over time. It acted as his bodyguard and commando element, and he rarely used it in battle.

The Guard had its origin in the "Garde du Directoire" which protected the revolutionary Government of France. It was originally comprised of fanatical Republican supporters. Eventually, as Napoleon rose to power he adopted it as his personal guard.

The Guard was comprised of three wings. The Old Guard was the elite of the elite, and had served Napoleon since his earliest campaigns. The Middle Guard was comprised of his veterans from the 1806 to 1809 campaigns. The Young Guard consisted of the best of the annual intake of conscripts, and was never considered to be of quite the same calibre of the senior Guards, although its units were still superior to the normal line regiments. In 1805 the Guard numbered eight thousand men. By the time of the invasion of Russia in 1812, it had swelled to over 80,000 men. The Guard had artillery, infantry and cavalry just like a normal Army corps.

Napoleon took very good care of his Guard, particularly the Old Guard, and the Old Guard Grenadiers were known to complain in the presence of the Emperor, giving them the nickname les grognards, the grumblers. The Guard received better pay, rations, quarters, and equipment, and all guardsmen ranked one grade higher than all non-Imperial Guard soldiers. However, his care for them caused him to hold them back, sometimes for too long, letting the enemy get away instead of utterly crushing them, which could have occurred had they been committed.

The Guard played a major part in the climax of the Battle of Waterloo. It was thrown into the battle at the last minute to salvage a victory for Napoleon. It faced terrible fire from the British lines, and began to retreat. It was the first time the Guard had ever been defeated in battle. At the sight of this Napoleon's army lost all hope of victory.

"La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas!" "The Guard dies, it does not surrender!" is attributed to general Cambronne during their last stand at the Battle of Waterloo and it makes a suitable Epitaphde:Kaiserliche Garde (Napoleon)


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