The association “Le 10eme escadron” (The 10th squadron) was created on December 2, 1988, day celebrating the battle of Austerlitz, by passionate people about the history of the first French Empire. Today, it essentially brings together riders who set out to make relive the most prestigious regiment of the Grande Armee (Great Army): Les Chasseurs à cheval de la Garde impériale.
This prestige relied on the conditions of entry in the imperial guard, but also on the fact that these riders provided the personal escort and the guard of honour of the Emperor Napoleon 1st.
Before we go any further, allow us to take a few moments to observe this famous painting by Gericault. It represents the lieutenant Alexandre Dieudonne. A powerful dapple-grey horse rears up in impatience under the hand of its master, foaming with sweat, tensed by the excitement of battle. The officer riding this horse is firm in the saddle, impassive in the middle of the turmoil. Suddenly, an order is given. He turns towards his men to give the signal for charge.
Alexandre Dieudonne, who died in Russia about 200 years ago, is one of the witnesses of this saga that formed Europe. How many men have had an exceptional destiny, valorous combatants or glorious generals, when nothing predestined them to such a heroic journey. All have followed the Emperor, many by passion, most of them constrained. At the dawn of the 21st century, our squadron wants to fittingly represent its Ancients, beyond the borders of France today, by commemorating the soldiers of the whole of Europe who have served under our colours.
I/ “Les Chasseurs à cheval de la Garde” of yesterday: witnesses of the napoleonian saga
A few privileged witnesses of this adventure have recounted their campaigns across Europe. For instance, we can refer to the writings of the general Bro, the commandant Parquin, the lieutenant Chevalier, and Krettly. Alexandre Dieudonne, painted by Gericault, is worth the novels of these men.
Their history begins with the guides of Italy. On May 30, 1796, inBorghetto, the general Bonaparte is surprised by an attack of the Austrian Uhlans. The next day, a squadron of 50 mounted guides is created for the protection of the commander in chief. A captain of the 22nd “Chasseurs à cheval” is given command for this squadron: Jean-Baptiste Bessieres.
The saga finishes in Waterloo, with the dissolution of the regiment in November 1815.
This gives us 19 years of a brief existence, 19 years that will have been enough to give this squadron a place in history.
Amongst the soldiers of this phalanx, we will find, as they surrender their arms, a few ancients from the campaigns of Italy, Egypt, Italy again in Marengo, Austerlitz, Poland, Eylau, Spain with Somo-Sierra and Madrid, Wagram, Russia, Leipzig, Brienne, Champaubert, Montmirail, Arcis sur Aube,… and Waterloo.
Alexandre Dieudonne, painted by Gericault, is the image of the mounted soldier, even if we concede that the richness of the uniform of officer was not to be found to the same extent on the uniform of a simple soldier.
As soon as the Consulate period, “Les Chasseurs à cheval de la Garde” wears the hussar clothing, the uniform becoming a more relaxed outfit.
The “colback” in bear fur, the “dolman” and the “”pelisse” thrown on the shoulder, as well as the “breeches trousers” made of suede and the “pleated boots” are part of the soldier’s uniform. We can add the attributes of the colback and cord racket” and our soldier is in full dress uniform of parade.
The saber, model 1803, was specially created for the unit. The officers often wear “eastern weapons” or more enriched sabers.
II/ The soldiers of today: actors of the napoleonian saga
Being part of the 10th Squadron: on the roads of a Great Journey
The 10th Squadron is 23 years old and has always followed the way of the Great Army. Today’s soldiers thus travel a lot across this Europe that the soldiers of the time have travelled across for years and over thousands of kilometres.
From the harbours of the North Sea to the hills of Moravia, from the arid mountains of Spain to the frozen plains of Russia, from the borders of Niemen to the shores of the river Po: the 10th Squadron participates in a number of events recalling this collective European memory. Austerlitz, Friedland, Eckmul, Somosierra, Marengo, Eylau, la Moskowa, Montmirail, Jena, Auerstaedt… The 10th Squadron is present on all these battle fields, and many more, several times a year.
The 10th Squadron thus has crossed Europe a number of times, always in the steps of the actors of the saga.
At every trip, the souvenirs of our forebears are reread, and the riders of the 10th Squadron relive a page of history. Of course, they are expected at the bivouac of reconstitution on Friday evening. In reality, the riders of the 10th Squadron have left France 3 days before, and take a moment to visit a monument or a battle field on the way there. They often arrive to the bivouac of the Friday night already dressed and mounted, as they have arrived in the region two or three days before and have already covered with their horses a historical route.
That is how the 10th Squadron took part in the 205th Anniversary of the Battle of Iena-Auerstaedt. We have worked for several months before the event to be able to attend the ceremony on the battle field of Auerstaedt, mounted on horses, before charging to Jena on the Saturday and Sunday.
To realise this event, we had to transport 12 horses from France, 6 of which were rented while the other 6 belonged to members of the association; furthermore, we had to find accommodation for the riders and the horses in Hassenhausen, and then prepare an itinerary on maps to get to the camp site of Vierzehnheiligen (approximately 30km). Here, we once again thank the dwellers of Hassenhausen for one of the most friendly and warm greetings that we have had in Europe.
“It is the 14th of October 2011, in Hassenhausen. In the cold of the early morning, our group composed of 12 riders mounts its horses. A small stone monument placed at the back of our stables is marked with the inscription ‘Division Gudin’.
Our day starts with a field discovery in the direction of Spielberg. We go to the Duke of Brunswick monument, near the village of Taugwitz, to attend the annual ceremony to honour the veterans…
But soon we must abandon our hosts and go back to our bivouac of Vierzehnheiligen before the night. Lunch is taken ‘bridle on arm’, behind the church of Flurstedt. The dwellers are surprised, but soon we are sharing with them local hams, cheeses and alcohols.
It is already sunset and we arrive, after by-passing Stobra, to the mill of Krippendorf. Our arrival on the bivouac is announced by trumpets, but soon we must take care of our horses as tomorrow is a battle day.”
This is how our association likes to do reconstitution: by doing a little more than the event of travel. Discover in civilian clothing historical places, ride horses two days before the event, discover the itineraries of the soldiers of the time, with our uniforms and horses, and then meet the other groups on the camp site to participate in the event all together.
Over the past three years, the 10th squadron has thus realised a two day long approach march before the bicentenary of the battle of Znaim, a long journey riding on horses between Austria and Austerlitz last winter (in a very trying storm and cold weather), and finally this year in Germany.
Being part of the 10th Squadron: between a life in society and in bivouac
Also we support the Imperial court at events that we can occur in center city. In 2011 at Sarzana (Italy), we were escorted by the Emperor on horseback and took part in parade. Our evenings may continue into balls like in Bath (Great-Britain). “Le Chasseur à cheval” was also a good dancer !.
We never forget the great dates of the Empire: each year we commemorate in Paris under the Arc of the Triumph December 2, 1805.
But to ensure the success of these trips, it is necessary to be a good rider.
If our squadron counts in its ranks a number of experienced riders, it is also necessary to train the young recruits. This instruction follows the principles of the Colonel Wattel (chief horseman in the Saumur School of cavalry), who constantly repeated the maxim “Work and read”.
We therefore train the new members of the association in foot works as well as in horse work. They are often already riders, but horseback riding on a very different saddle, with a uniform that resembles in nothing horse-riding clothes, to train with a sabre, and handling a pistol and a carbine… All this really does necessitate an intense training at the beginning, and regular practice later.
This is why the association organises several times every year training sessions of one to two days so that each member can have a chance to progress in the fields that are the most important to them (fencing on horseback, mastering the horse single-handed, use of arms of black powder…)
The training of a good Chasseur also includes the identification of the regulatory soundings. Essential on the battle field.
Our sutlers, “vivandières”, are with us most of the time to ensure, with great efficiency, the administration and a part of the logistics. It is better if the meal is ready as our arrival is often at night time, while in the meantime, it is suitable to go pick up a vehicle that was left at the point of departure of the trek.
Finally, once the battle finished, the horses fed and checked upon, we share our evenings with our faithful enemies. It is the time for fraternizing, for the sharing of the same passion. The French, the Prussians, the Saxons, the Badois, the Bavarians, the Austrians, the Russians, the Spanish, the English… Our camps are so cosmopolitan that it feels like we are back in history of two centuries.
Our journeys are still long before the end of the Empire in 2015. This year, we will principally be present for the Bicentenary of the “Campaign of Russia” (in August we’ll be for the battle of Borodino, at least in November for the retreat of Berezina) before going back to the German lands in Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, Leipzig… in 2013. But this is another story. A story that we have shared and continue to share with our German friends, because memories of the past are there, but friendship has replaced war. And it is by reliving the wars of the past that we find our friends of today.
Clémence Douchez (translater)
Pierre – Laurent DOUCHEZ and Christian GRANGER (autors)