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French Light Infantry

Introduction

The distinction between French Light and Line infantry was mainly one of dress and nomenclature. Both Light and Line infantry were trained and equipped in the same way. They were often employed not just as skirmishers, but also as close order troops. French Line infantry were also capable of skirmishing - however, it is unclear whether the raw recruits of the Line infantry during the 1813-1815 period would have been well-trained enough to have been deployed as skirmishers.

Organisation

Like their Line counterparts, French Light Infantry battalions were organised into 6 companies. Of these, there was 1 Carabinier company (instead of Grenadiers), 4 centre companies and 1 Chasseur company (instead of Voltigeurs). A company was composed of about 120 men - giving a battalion strength of around 700 men. Each regiment was composed of 4 battalions plus 1 depot battalion.

Uniforms

There were many regimental variations in uniform. Unlike in British regiments, these variations were not just in terms of facing colour. There were variations in the colour of the plumes, piping, epaulettes, shako cords, position of the plumes and so on. As such, the regimental variations are too numerous to list here. The reader is directed to the Osprey book on Napoleon's Light Infantry.

For the sake of simplicity, the "standard" Light infantry uniform can be described as follows:

The uniform coat, vest and breeches were dark blue piped white at the cuffs and along the lapel and turnback edges. Turnbacks and cuffs were dark blue (red cuffs in 1812 uniform). Cuff flaps were red. Headgear on campaign was the shako. Legwear were short black gaiters cut to look like Hussar boots. The tops of the gaiters were piped in either red, yellow or green - depending on whether the wearer belonged to the carabinier, centre or chasseur company.

In general, company distinctions were as follows:

Carabinier company:

Red plumes. Sometimes bearskins without brass plates were worn in place of the shako.

Red collars and epaulettes.

Centre company:

Yellow or yellow/green plumes.

Yellow collars and epaulettes.

Chasseur company:

Green plumes.

Green epaulettes.

Red collars.

From Left - first 4 figures belong to the centre companies. The next 4 belong are from the chasseur companies.

Carabiniers in showing the many uniform variations. The last figure (from left) is dressed in 1812 pattern uniform (note that the lapel extends to the waist). Illustrations by Richard Knoetel reproduced by kind permission of Uniformology Inc.

Note - for the sake of clarity, the above description has been simplified. It should suffice for wargamers. For more detail, please consult the following references:

Haythornthwaite - Uniforms of the Peninsular War

Haythornthwaite - Uniforms of Waterloo

Chartrand - Napoleonic Wars: Napoleon's Army (Brassey)

Napoleon's Light Infantry (Osprey Men-at-Arms)

Pericoli - The Armies at Waterloo

Fred and Liliane Funcken - Historische Uniformen

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