Sunday, 11 July 2010

Light Drill in the French army

United Service magazine article from 1866 describing in English the new Chasseur drill and how it differed from the norm. Also this article from 1863's Atlantic Monthly tells the story of the Chasseurs a pied and how they evolved - I must admit I thought they were a continuation of the leger regiments of the Napoleonic period but apparently not.


  1. Hi Ralph
    This is the best moment to explain that this drill was developed from 1838 in the compagnie expérimentale des tirailleurs, that became the next year the "bataillon des tirailleurs de Vincennes". In 1840, 9 more bataillons were created and these units were re-christened chasseurs à pied. At the accidental death of their creator, the Duc d'Orléans, son of the King, the name was changed again to chasseurs d'Orléans; at the fall of the monarchy of Louis-Philippe, this reverted to chasseur à pied, not to change again.
    The drill as described was first made available in a manual in 1841 under the title "Instruction provisoire sur l'exercice et les manoeuvres des bataillons de chasseurs à pied".
    An improved version was published in 1845 as "Ordonnance du Roi 22 juillet sur l'exercice et les manoeuvres des battalions de chasseurs a pied". Both manuals are very similar and comprise two parts: part 1 - école du soldat(school of the soldier) and part 2-école du bataillon (school of the battalion). The second book, however, includes many illustrations showing the exercises of the individual soldier, the squad, company and finally the batallion. These manuals are very detailed, and are rather arid to read unless you are effectively going to start drilling a company (not to mention a batallion).
    The innovations of the drill of the chasseurs was mainly the formation on two ranks, the speed of the manoeuvres, the emphasis on rifle practice (using the carabine), bayonet fencing (with the yataghan or sword-bayonet), and pas gymnastique (accelerated pace); chasseurs also used the "tirailleur drill" extensively, or formation in open order.
    Regular line infantry, on the contrary, was formed in three ranks, did move at the regular slow pace of the 18th century, kept closed-rank formations, and was armed with smoothbore muskets. They followed the Ordonnance of 1831.
    During the period following 1845, i.e second republic and second Empire, the chasseur drill was progressively extended to the rest of the infantry, that finally received rifled muskets.
    Lieutenant Hardee of the US army also translated the 1845 manual under the name " rifle and light infantry tactics", and it was used extensively, along with other, slightly different systems, during the early phases of the American Civil War, before armies turned to trench warfare.
    The publication of the above article in the USM came a bit late, however, because by 1866 the French army had decided to introduce the Needle rifle, or Chassepot (discussed in the article found immediately after this one), and in 1867 they introduced a new drill system, taking into account the fact that most of the fighting would now have to be done lying down.
    For a good account of the creation of the chasseurs à pied, see
    Les Zouaves et les chasseurs à pied, esquisses historiques.
    See also:
    Exposition universelle de 1851: Travaux de la Commission française sur l'industrie des nations, from page 329, bataillons spéciaux des chasseurs français.
    Also, in English, see Notes on French Infantry:

    Best regards


  2. thanks again Andre - fascinating stuff