in camp at Boulogne waiting for the right time to
invade Britain, Napoleon Bonaparte's men of La Grande
Armee spent their time training to maintain fitness
Marshal Michel Ney's VI Corps, based at Etaples, the
men were able to do so outdoors in better
weather but in the colder months another plan had
to be devised.
gave the orders for each regiment to erect two large
buildings behind their huts so
the troops could fence and dance, while a third gave
the officers somewhere to study.
Ney was even more determined to have his men at battle
readiness and he conducted embarkation drills into
gun-sloops, which could carry five guns and a company
of infantry each, and gun-barges that would transport
horses, artillery and ammunition.
marshal's drills initially involved divisional practice
and then when they had got the embarkation right he
moved on to the next division.
satisfied he ordered a full-scale exercise with all
the troops from VI Corps.
troops were kept in the dark about whether it was
a real invasion or not and assembled in front of their
boats awaiting the orders to embark.
canon shot began proceedings and the staff officers
dismounted and joined their troops. Drums rolled and
the men's bayonets were sheathed.
second shot was then fired signalling the officers
to order the men on to the vessels.
the third gun the men quickly made their way aboard.
took only 10 and a half minutes to load Ney's 20,000
men! An astounding piece of military work.
fourth shot told drummers to sound to arms for the
his terrific book following the history of Napoleon's
9th Light Infantry regiment called Incomparable,
author Terry Crowdy details life in the camps and
the reaction of the men to what they thought was the
order to sail for their enemy's homeland.
this was the signal to raise anchor, thousands of
voices spontaneously cried out 'Vive l"Empereur!'
They were bitterly disappointed when told it was the
order to disembark. Thirteen minutes later the grumbling
soldiers were back on the beach formed in line."
A review of Terry Crowdy's Incomparable: Napoleon's
9th Light Infantry Regiment is underway and is a wonderful
history of the formation, taking it from the Revolutionary
Wars through to the 100 Days' Campaign. I'm enjoying
it so much I am reading the book slowly. - RM