Friday, June 18, 2010

Uniforms: Chasseurs de Montagne

To ensure security along the border with Spain, and to try to capitalize on the potential strength of the numerous departments of the Pyrenees, Napoleon decided in 1808 to form battalions of "irregulars" with a special status called "Chasseurs de Montagne" or hunters of the mountain. The term originally referred to Miquelet Catalan supporters raised by a gang leader Miquelot Prats in the fifteenth century.

The decree of August 6, 1808 created 34 companies of irregulars known as "Chasseuers de Montagne" to protect the people and property in the Pyrenees. These troops were tasked with monitoring the border between France and Spain to prevent invasion as well as to ensure free movement of troops, convoys of prisoners and materials through the Pyrenees mountain passes and valleys.

The soldiers were recruited in the five departments of the Pyrenees (Pyrenees Oriental, Haute-Pyrenees, Pyrenees Basses, Ariege, Haute-Garonne).

Each battalion was to be composed of a variable number of companies:
8 in the Pyrenees-Orientales
8 in the Ariege
2 in the Haute-Garonne
8 in the Hautes-Pyrenees
8 in the Basses-Pyrenees.

They were comprised of local inhabitants, National Guard and draft dodgers. The draft dodgers had been promised amnesty by serving in the "Chasseuers de Montagne" with the assurance that they would only serve within France. In some departments such as the Ariege and the Basses-Pyrenees, the influx of draft dodgers was so great that they doubled the number of battalions. History would show that this promise was not kept.

At their inception, the 34 companies totaled 5032 men but by 1810, it was no more than 4465. On January 17, 1811, an imperial decree gave the "Chasseurs de Montagne" a new structure, with the companies now divided into three battalions numbered from 1 to 3:

The 1st Battalion Chasseurs de Montagne is formed from:
- 1st Battalion of the Pyrenees Orientales (1 Company)
- 1st & 2nd Battalion of the Haute-Garonne (2nd & 3rd Company)
- 1st Battalion of the Hautes-Pyrenees (4th, 5th & 6th Company)

The 2nd Battalion was formed with two battalions of the Ariege.

The 3rd Battalion was formed at the meeting by 8 companies of the battalions of Basses-Pyrenees and the reserve battalion.
- The five companies stationed in Jaca (1st & 2nd Coy)
- The reserve battalion in Bilbao (3, 4 & 5 Coy)
- The battalion of the Basses-Pyrenees employed in the 10th Division (6, 7 & 8 Coy)

Contrary to what had been promised the Chasseurs were active in Spain in particular to monitor the road between Pamplona and Zaragoza. This flagrant breach of commitments was the cause of many desertions, so that the first battalion of the Ariege, for example, had be returned to its parent department to be reformed and General Wouillemont, who left for the Haute-Aragon with 3,000 Chasseuers in early 1809 had no more than 700 on his arrival.

The continuing influx of draft dodgers however more than offset these losses and even a second battalion was raised by Ariege which was sent to Jaca a strategic node on the other side of the border where it was joined by the reformed first battalion. The Ariege Chasseuers came to be regarded as the best, and under the command of Captain Roquemaurel they dispersed several bands of guerrillas in 1809. Suchet asked for the cross of the Legion of Honour for this worthy captain. Chasseuers de Montagne fought in many other battles, but their marginal nature makes them difficult to identify but throughout the French occupation of Spain the Chasseuers de Montagne continued to secure communications in the border region and participated actively in the fight against the Spanish guerrillas. After the evacuation of Spain, the battalions were incorporated in the infantry in December 1813:
- The 1st Battalion in the 116th regiment of the line,
- 2nd in the 4th light,
- The third in the 25th light.

Article 7 of decret de portait: "The weapons, equipment and clothing are the same as they were in the last war with SpainThe problem is that the uniform of the 1793 French irregulars is not known, and therefore, in the absence of further research in the departmental archives, we rely upon simply classic uniformology that gives us:

The dress was that of the light infantry, with the background color of the cloth brown, with sky blue facings. It seems clear that the cutting of the uniform was not that of 1794, and the shako had replaced the hat.It is from this meager data that dress of the Chassuers de Montagne has been reconstructed.Further research in the archives of the departments concerned should provide answers to remaining questions.

It is difficult to use the word consistent when speaking of uniform of the Chasseurs de Montagne. The brown cloth remains the basis of the uniform. The facings sky blue. The headgear consists of a black shako without adornments and with a plate with a white eagle or diamond. The jacket of known variants: lapels, cuffs and collar for some blue sky, brown collar with blue piping (see red) for other . It seems that many Chasseuers have worn civilian clothes as shown in this application Wouillemont General dated 24 March 1809 and calls for " at least shakoes coats and absolutely indispensable to cover the ragged villagers three quarters of my men" .

Napoléon Et Les Pyrénées -
Les Chasseurs Des Montagnes Et La Couverture De La Frontière 1808-1814
By Jean Sarramon


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