Saturday, June 26, 2010

Régiment Joseph Napoleon

The Régiment Joseph Napoléon was a regiment formed from the remnants of the Division del Norte of General La Romana, which had been unable or chose not to leave Denmark and be carried back to Spain by the English ships in 1808. They served in the French Army from 1809 until 1813, participating in the 1812 Russian campaign and 1813 campaign in Germany.


In 1807 the Bourbon monarchs of Spain sent an expeditionary force from the regular Spanish Army to Northern Europe, to serve with the French La Grande Armée. The expeditionary forces was commanded by Marquis de la Romana and consisted of four regiments of line infantry, five regiments of cavalry, two battalions of light infantry, and supporting artillery. The Spanish expeditionary force participated in the siege of the Swedish fortress of Stralsund in late 1807. The Spanish expeditionary force was then broken up and stationed in different parts of Denmark.
The Spanish expeditionary force was still in Denmark in the summer of 1808, when news of events in Spain arrived. The Bourbons of Spain had been forced to abdicate and Napoleon proclaimed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as King of Spain on 6 June 1808. Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal and overthrowing of the Spanish monarchs would result in conflict between France and Portugal, Spain, and Great Britain in the Iberian Peninsula until 1814, which became known as the Peninsular War.
The crowning of Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain was considered by many in the Spanish expeditionary force as disgraceful. However, the Spanish expeditionary force was too far from Spain and too close to French forces to do anything about the situation in Spain. However, a British agent contacted the leader of the Spanish expeditionary force, Marquis de la Romana, and offered transportation to Spain by British ships, La Romana accepted. In August 1808 the Spanish expeditionary force seized the Danish port of Nyborg; however, not all the units of the Spanish expeditionary force made a successful embarkation, the Asturias and Guadalaxara Spanish infantry regiments were overwhelmed, disarmed and captured by French and Danish forces. While the Algarve Spanish cavalry regiment, the farthest unit from Nyborg, did not attempt to escape and actually revealed the escape plot to the French. In total over 3,500 Spanish troops become prisoners of war.


In the autumn of 1808 Napoleon considered the possibility of using Spanish regiments in French service in the Peninsular War and would later become part of King Joseph Bonaparte’s army. General Jean Kindelan, second in command of the former Spanish expeditionary force, had not participated in the escape plot and took an oath of allegiance to King Joseph Bonaparte. Kindelan supported the idea that within the 3,500 Spanish prisoners, there would be a sufficient number who would accept the new ruler of Spain and provide a nucleus for a new military unit for service in the Peninsular War.
On 13 February 1809 a decree specified the formation of Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment. The regiment was formed as a line infantry regiment along French regulations and organization (although allowed to conduct drills and manoeuvres in Spanish). The regiment consisted of four combat battalions and one depot battalion; each battalion had four fusilier (regular infantry) companies, one grenadier (heavy infantry) company, and one voltigeur (skirmisher) company. Formation of the new regiment was slow, since it was formed entirely from Spanish prisoners of war and distinctions had to be made between those who genuinely wanted to serve and those who would desert and fight against the French.

General Jean Kindelan commanded Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment from 13 February 1809 until 19 January 1812. Colonel Jean Baptiste Marie Joseph de Tschudy commanded from 19 January 1812 until 25 November 1813, when the unit was ordered disbanded. Colonel Tschudy was wounded 18 November 1812.

Combat history

By the spring of 1810 the regiment was fully organized, King Joseph Bonaparte asked that Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment be sent to Spain to serve with his army. However, due to the situation in Spain the loyalty of the unit could not be guaranteed if it was sent to Spain. Instead Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment was broken up, the four combat battalions were sent to Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and France.
In 1812 during the French invasion of Russia, Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment was deployed for combat. The 2nd and 3rd battalions formed part of Marshal Davout’s I Corps while the 1st and 4th battalions formed part of Prince Eugene’s IV Corps. In the 1812 campaign Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment fought at Vitebsk and Smolensk. At Shevardino, forming squares and protected a French infantry regiment that had been attacked and disorganized by Russian cavalry from further cavalry attacks. At the Battle of Borodino all four battalions of Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment were present, the 3rd and 4th battalions participated in fighting for the great redoubt that dominated the battlefield at Borodino.
The Spanish earlier fought alongside Murat at the chateau of Fominskoie - "The French right meanwhile is on the highway, and Dedem's 2 weak infantry battallions, one from the 33rd the other Tschudi's Spaniards, are being ravaged by enemy grapeshot. Almost the whole Spanish battalion is thrown to the ground and loses all it's officers."
Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment fought during the French retreat from Russia at Battle of Krasnoi and Battle of Berezina.
There´s a report by Rafael de Llanza or Llança about the Spanish regiments sent to Russia. He was an officer in the regiment and was taken prisoner by the Russian at a large skirmish close to river Dnieper in an action where Ney was protecting the rearguard. Llanza was injured in the action by shrapnel, he didn´t surrender to the Russians, but in his own words the Russians happily were around there. In short, Russians gave a warm welcome to Spanish prisoners. Later some of the prisoners formed a Russo-Spanish regiment.

Of the four battalions that fought in Russia only 160 men were left at the start of 1813. The Regiment was reconstituted from the depot batalion and a 5th battalion that had been formed from prisoners of war who preferred to fight rather than become pioneers and build roads. In the 1813 campaign in Germany Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment fought at Battle of Lützen, Battle of Bautzen, Battle of Leipzig, and Battle of Hanau.

Actions in which officers were killed:
1812: Moskowa, Mojaisk, Krasnoe, Beresina and Wilna
1813: Stettin, Lutzen, Bautzen, Liepzig, Hanau and Glogau


By mid 1813 Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment had been reduced to one combat battalion and the depot battalion. On 25 November 1813 a decree ordered the disbandment of Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment, on 24 December the troops of Joseph Napoleon’s Regiment surrendered their weapons and were converted into a pioneer regiment. The pioneer regiment was disbanded on 17 April 1814.


The regiment was formed in 1809 with a French Line Infantry style uniform and with long gaiters up to 1812. The shako has an early Spanish style plate and features a red roundel.
The officers wear the shako of course with golden ornaments in particular a gold stripe at the top edge.
After the return from Russia the regiment is reconstituted with Spanish prisoners of war, the uniform is a Bardin style, shako with cockade and a plate are the French model 1812 and then the semi-gaiters that go with it.
The drummers of the regiment in 1813 wore a green coat without lapels and without imperial livery.

The following two pictures of a Bonnet de Police are taken from the website of an auction house. It is labelled as being from the JNR and as support for this they claim the decorative initials on the front are 'JNR'. Whilst the initials do appear to be 'JNR' I don't believe it belongs to the Joseph Napoleon Regiment as their facing color was green not red, any thoughts?

Les Espangols A La Grand Armee
Regiments d'Infanterie Etrangers (Napoleon Series)
Tradition Magazine #88


Stephen said...

Perhaps the grenadier company?

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