La Garde

Wagram 1809

In 1809 the regiment was present at the battle of Wagram The Emperor ordered the Polish Light horse to charge the enemy facing them, and second, to the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval to support the charge. The Polish Light horse and French Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval began to advance towards the Austrian Schwarzenberg Uhlans and the Latour dragoon regiment.

The two front squadrons of the Poles were commanded by Delaitre (a Frenchman) and the other two by Kozietulski. Delaitre was senior to Kozietulski but he was short-sighted and wore spectacles. Seeing the uhlans preparing to charge, and overestimating their strength, he decided that the regiment should retire on the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval who were in support to the rear. Being the senior officer he ordered the entire regiment to turn right about face. Kozietulski saw the danger that the uhlans would hit the regiment from the rear, and so immediately gave the same order again. This maneuvers turned the regiment about face again so that the Light horse again found themselves facing the Austrian uhlans.

Kozietulski ordered: “Advance at the trot !” The Poles fought well, they captured 150 prisoners including several officers and the Duke of Auersberg. Some of the prisoners were Polish uhlans who no longer wanted to serve in the Austrian army.

The majority of the uhlans (also Poles) however were loyal to the Austrian monarch and fought bravely against the Polish Light horse. The regiment suffered 26 killed and wounded, making it the most costly cavalry combat in the history of the regiment. When the battle of Wagram was over, Napoleon rode over the battlefield. There were lots of dead and wounded soldiers. The Emperor stopped several times by the wounded, and ordered to give them some wine or brandy. Ambulances were picking up the wounded.

Spain 1810 – 1812.

After the Austrian campaign part of the regiment crossed over Pyrenees together with the chausseurs and Mameluks of the Guard. In mid-June 1809 the regiment comprised 450 chevau-légers.

After stops in Santo-Domingo-de-Calzada and Bellorado (February-June 1810) he Poles were stationed in Castrogeriz (till January 1811), Valladoid (February – September 1811), Medina del Rio Seco (October-November 1811) and Valladoid again (till February 14, 1812).

In the Summer of 1810 (June 25 and August 26) the Poles were faught at Ciudad de Rodrigo and at Almeida, fortresses that guarded the pass to Portugal and had been captured by the English. Here they controlled the area and fought the Spanish guerillas, in Navarra among others. Two weeks before Ciudad Rodrigo together with Guard Mamelukes and chausseurs they defeated a big Spanish formation routing it with their lances. Soon the ever increasing prospect of war with Russia loomed and it was not long before the poles were on the move again into northern Europe.

On February 14, 1812 some of the chevau-légers commanded by Captain Jerzmanowski returned to France.

The Lance.

In December 1809 the regiment was issued with lances and retitled the Chevau-Legers lanciers polonais. It was said that this was a reward for the regiment’s action at Wagram in 1809, however the emperor had already given orders over four months previous to this for the Poles to be armed with lances.

Training with this weapon was put in the hands of the Vistula Lancer’s, the only regiment armed with the lance in the French army at this time. Several officers and NCO’s were sent to the regimental barracks at Chantilly to train the regiment in the use of the lance. Chef d’escadron Fredo used a training manual to instruct the Poles. In 1811 this manual was probably used by Col. Kraśinski to present to Napoleon a treatise on lance exercise to which he gave his name as author.

There was some uncertainty on the part of the French Ministry of War as to whether the Polish Guard lancers should be armed with the lance. At Schonbrunn Col. Kraśinski showed the emperor the effectiveness of the lance in the hands of a skilled and well trained cavalryman when he ordered Sgt Victor Roman to demonstrate the use of the lance. Roman was matched against three Empress Dragoons of the Guard. He promptly unhorsed two and disarmed the third. This demonstration helped to convince Napoleon to arm the regiment with the lance.

1810-1811 the years of peace.

While about a half of the regiment was fighting guerillas in Spain, the rest of the chevau-légers participated in the wedding of the Emperor with the archdutchess Marie-Louise in April 1810. The celebrations continued in April and May when about 300 men under the command of Kozietulski left Chantilly with the newlyweds and travelled to the Belgian departments of the Empire. For over a year till the beginning of November 1811 – Napoleon and his wife visited the French, Belgian and Dutch coast again

In 1810 and 1811 the regiment rested and enjoyed good time in France. Many Poles in the regiment were promoted or decorated for bravery Kozietulski received the Legion d’Honneur and the title of baron of the Empire. Col.Wincenty Kraśinski was promoted to the rank of general.

With the incorporation of Holland into the Empire a second Guard lancer regiment was formed. Known as the ‘Red Lancer’s’ the Polish regiment now became the 1st Light Horse Lancer’s of the Imperial Guard, with the Dutch taking the title of 2nd regiment of Guard Lancer’s.

The Emperor decided on his return from Holland to provide entertainment for his much younger bride, and so every day there was a reception or a ball, sometimes in the Tuileries, sometimes at the home of one of his sisters … During this time of peace Napoleon held frequent parades at the Tuileries Palace where the regiment’s training was monitored and perfected under the tutelage of Gen.Dorosnel

Russia 1812

The regiment was eagerly waiting for a war with Russia. It was the only chance for the soldiers to see their homeland again. The first units moved off to the front on February 20, 1812. The regiment was also strengthened. By the Emperor’s Decree of March 12, 1812 the 5th squadron of the regiment was to be formed. The recruitment was carried out in Warsaw and Poznan and later on – when the war broke out – in Gdańsk as well.

Finally, in April, war with Russia seemed certain. We left our barracks in Chantilly in early May and marched to Theims, then Verdun…. From Verdun we made for Longwy and then Luxembourg, which is a very strong fortress with a large garrison. … We then passed through some beautiful country. The views around Trier in particular were fabulous. … (Chłapowski, – pp 103-105)

On May 15 chevau-légers entered Poznan in parade uniforms, to the accompaniment of trumpets and kettledrums. However In Dresden the musicians learned that there n would be no parade in Warsaw. on June 24, the regiment with the Guard cavalry crossed the Niemen river at Kovno in 26 squadrons. There were over 6200 men, among them 956 chevau-légers in 4 squadrons. The 5th one was still being organized One squadron of the Poles served as escort to Marshal Davout, another squadron to the Emperor. The regiment reached Wilia River and Napoleon ordered Kozietulski’s troop to chase off some Cossacks who had collected on the far bank. One of the Polish officers wrote: “Our boys jumped into the water and some were drowned, but the Cossacks disappeared.“ Marbot saw only one man drown “I took the man’s name. It was Tzsinski.” Kraśinski and some officers who were good swimmers were reported to have rescued some riders who had got into difficulty. De Segur writes that “Napoleon ordered a squadron of Poles to throw themselves into the river. Unhesitatingly these elite troops did so.. “

Chłapowski writes “From Vilnius we eventually marched off with the Emperor to Głębokie on the Vitebsk Road. A few miles short of this city there was a bloody skirmish at Ostrowno … One of our squadrons, which was escorting Murat in person, lost heavily on this occasion as the King of Naples cared as little for his own safety as for that of anybody else. … we came several times upon the russian rearguard of Cossacks and Lifeguard Hussars, but they never once stood to fight. All they did each time was sent out flankers to harry us, while the main body retired. We caught a few red cossacks (Lifeguard Cossacks). They are a very tall and powerful race.”

“News reached the headquarters at Dąbrówna that a Russian force had crossed the Dnieper River … The Emperor sent four squadrons [from the total of six] of Polish Guards under Kozietulski to investigate. We set off after midnight, and … arrived at a spot half mile from Katane. There we encountered our first Cossacks. Our main body halted by some building and one squadron went out to meet them. The Cossacks retreated off to our left, towards the Dnieper.

At about this time the sun rose and we were able to see the country round about. To our front stood a line of cavalry on the crest of a hill, screened by a few hundred Cossacks. Kozietulski now recalled the first platoon, which had already come to grips with the Cossacks, and he formed the leading squadron into line. The regular cavalry must have been able to see our other three squadrons in support, as they did not move from their position.

But the Cossacks approached with increasing boldness, firing with their ancient pistols. As we sent nobody out to skirmish with them, they came closer and closer, shouting; ‘Lachy !’ (slang for Poles) when they discovered we were Polish. A Cossack officer on a fine grey horse came as close as a 100 paces, perhaps less, and in good Polish challenged us to meet him in single combat. Kozietulski forbade any of us to move. The Cossack jumped from his horse and cried; ‘Now you can catch me !’ He then took off his cap and waved it in the air, then having concluded that he would not provoke us, he leapt on his horse and rejoined his men. The Cossacks must have fired a hundred shots at us, but not one hit its target. Cossack will not charge even a lone squadron if is in good order. They like best to tackle individuals, whom they taunt in order to lure them out of the way, entrap them, and take them prisoner. For that reason you should never let impetuous, bold, or excitable troopers go out and skirmish with Cossacks.” (Chlapowski – pp 111-112)

Smolensk is on the left bank of Dnieper River. Chłapowski writes: “From the Emperor’s tent we could see all of Smolensk … There were masses of Cossacks circling in front of the city. Between the French line and the city walls was a massive gully into which the Cossacks had spilled. As I was on duty that day, I was ordered by the Emperor to take a squadron and force the Cossacks to withdraw. Coming up out of the ditch on the far side, I deployed the squadron in a single line, as I expected the enemy to shoot at us from the walls. Sure enough, they fired a number of howitzer shells, one of which exploded in the middle of the squadron. A few men were wounded, and some horses broke ranks in fright, so the Cossacks seized the moment to charge us. They were upon us very quickly, and I had to parry one of their lances with my saber. I damaged the lance but did not cut right through it, and it struck my horse’s head, wounding it from its ears to the nostrils. Captain Skarżyński accounted for 2 or 3 Cossacks. Cossack lances are longer than ours, and in a close fight they handled less well. Our squadron repulsed this attack and sent the Cossacks back to the shelter of their walls.”

At the Battle of the Moscova [Borodino] The entire regiment spent the whole time in a hollow, and only once moved to higher ground, and that was when the French, Polish and Saxon cuirassiers charged the Russian infantry in Raievski Redoubt. The regiment moved in support and charge in turn if the heavies were repulsed. The cuirassiers captured the earthwork and cut the infantry to pieces. In the beginning of September only 38 (out of 69) officers and 230 (out of 886) soldiers were serving in the chevau-légers. On the eve of the battle of Borodino (fr. bataille de la Moscova) 6 officers and 217 soldiers joined them.

The day after battle the Poles and the Red Lancers set off to the south of the great Moscow Road. The (Dutch) Red Lancers. In the Polish Guard Lancer Regiment served men from eastern parts of Poland who spoke some Russian . These were used as translators or put into the advance guard. They would speak Russian to anybody they came across and pass themselves off as Russian troops. Some of the locals knew that the Russian army had uhlan regiments, so they mistook the Polish Guard for one of those units. The Dutch ‘Red Lancers’ had no knowledge of the Russian language, so General Colbert added 1 or 2 Poles to each Dutch outpost.

At Babinovitz the Cossacks ambushed and captured a whole Dutch detachment ! General Colbert mounted his horse and set off with 2 squadrons in pursuit, but the Cossacks made off with their prisoners so quickly that all that could be seen were their hoof prints in the mud. The Poles moved on the Moscow-Kaluga Road and captured a post chaise, in it was Minister Guriev. General Colbert sent him to the Emperor under escort.

In Moscow Chłapowski was ordered to leave 1 officer and 25 lancers in the Kremlin where Napoleon was. Chłapowski was given quarters in the palace of Prince Lubanov, Colonel Kraśinski took up residence in the palace of Baryshnikov, the great banker. To Chłapowski’s disgust, numerous soldiers tried to sell their comrades goods they had looted for free. There were stockpiles of fur coats and hats. He writes: “Before leaving we equipped our entire regiment with fur hats.” The French officers found a few French actors in Moscow and arranged daily performances. The audience consisted exclusively of soldiers. In late October the regiment left Moscow and after several days was in Mozajsk. The regiment assigned one squadron to protect Napoleon and quickly began to suffer casualties, not only through action but also through exhaustion and fatigue.

Heavy fighting started on October 19 – the beginning of the retreat. On October 25 in the Lancers Brigade fought at Malojaroslavetz. Near Malo-Yaroslavetz the Cossacks attacked Napoleon’s headquarters at Gorodnia [Horodnia]. The only troops with the Emperor was the Duty Squadron of the Guard Lancers under Kozietulski. Kozietulski’s men threw themselves at the swarm of Cossacks, Kozietulski was pierced by lance “which entered his shoulder as far as the bone.” It was a desperate struggle. There then appeared the Old Guard Horse Grenadiers in line formation and the Cossacks disappeared into the forest. (In Museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw is exhibited his uniform with the visible hole in the sleeve and stained in blood). The Cossacks returned in large numbers and surrounded the Red Lancers on three sides. The Dutch lost more than 100 men and the Poles lost approx. 20 killed and wounded.

Chłapowski writes: “This was the fault of General Colbert who over-reacted to the threat to an isolated squadron by hurling everything he had at the enemy. We could have avoided suffering losses if he had charged with only a few squadrons and followed up with the rest of the brigade at a slow and orderly pace. You should never engage your whole strength at once, especially when dealing with Cossacks. This was the worst loss we suffered during the entire Russian campaign. The Dutchmen were less experienced than our men and did not know how to handle Cossacks. Every time they were in the rearguard they would lose a few men, and the Cossacks were becoming increasingly bold in attacking them.”

The Red Lancers were dogged by ill luck with the Cossacks, who seemed insultingly eager to come to blows (perhaps as a result of their easy victory in the fight at Babinovitz).

Sometimes when Cossacks saw a patrol of the Regiment they would make a rush at them shouting “A red one ! Catch him !”, and often forced them to flee. It is said that, on occasion, the seasoned Polish Lancers would exchange their blue and crimson uniform for the Dutch scarlet, causing considerable surprise to overconfident Cossacks and encouraging a warier approach in future.” (Pawly – “The Red Lancers” p 35)

A duty squadron that protected Napoleon was changed every few days. The rest of the regiment was fighting the Cossacks losing men and horses daily.. At the battle of Krasne where the Guard fought its way through the enemy forces already 112 chevau-légers were crossed out of the register. Murat ordered the regiment to follow him at the trot and then ordered it to charge right in to the village occupied by Russian jagers. The Poles suffered 10 killed and wounded before they reached the center of the village. The cavalry was unable to gallop in deep snow, they lost several horses to close range fire, came out the other side of the village and formed up again. Napoleon was furious at Murat and sent a single infantry company (of Old Guard Foot Grenadiers) who took the village without a single shot. The Foot Grenadiers also freed several Poles who had been unhorsed and taken prisoner by thejagers. Chłapowski was greatly impressed with the Foot Grenadiers, saying that they “stood as solid as a wall.” After the battle of Krasne Napoleon moved toward Smolensk.

Having left the city on November 11 During retreat from Russia the Polish Guard Lancers and the French Guard Chasseurs formed Napoleon’s escort. The 7th Company of the Guard Lancers and the French Guard chasseurs-a-cheval formed Napoleon’s escort and accompanied the Emperor through Lithuania. The rest of the Guard Lancer Regiment escorted Emperor’s money and baggage.

They also guarded their regimental cook Garlinski “like hawks”. He always busied himself cooking whatever the lancers collected, flour, beef and horse meat. Every morning before setting off, every lancer would receive a round of bread and a piece of meat. They crossed the Niemen River at Kovno, left the hostile territory behind and entered Lithuania. From here on they no longer slept in the open.

On November 21 apart from a 120 man strong escort the regiment consisted of 206 chevau-légers capable of fighting and 12 officers and 331 corporals trailing behind with many fatigued men. On the next day 28 men were crossed out of the control. At the Berezina (November 26-28) the regiment was ordered to cover other retreating units and lost about 50 soldiers. Crossing out of the control usually meant that an exhausted chevau-léger was thrown on the enemy’s mercy

On December 5 Napoleon left his (former) Great Army and took off to recreate it in France. Polish Guard lancer’s accompanied him on the first frosty night. According to Robert Bielecki 32 chevau-légers were crossed out of the control near Smorgonia.

In accordance with Dautancourt’s list of December 28, 1812 the 1st regiment of chevau-légers lanciers including the 5th squadron that joined it later on, entered Russia with 79 oficers, 1058 privates and 1109 horses and left with 54 officers, 416 privates and 276 horses. 34 privates were killed in military operations. One officer and 2 privates died of some illnesses. One officer and 21 privates were taken prisoners. According to Marian Kujawski: “when you deduct soldiers transferred earlier to the 3rd regiment od chevau-légers, Lithuanian recruits of the 5th squadron who returned home and soldiers missing in the retreat the regiment lost 5 officers and 388 privates”. The numbers changed because of the sick and the convalescents. On December 28, 1812 there were 374 men in military service plus 118 chevau-légers of a squadron commanded by Jerzmanowski – the rearguard of the army. According to Robert Bielecki altogether “556 chevau-légers survived and 546 were killed or stayed behind”. Bielecki stressed that the regiment started to “crumble” only when the Emperor had left and the regiment passed Vilnius: since December 5, 1812 till the beginning of January, 1813 the regiment of chevau-légers lost 280 men that is almost as many since June 24 till December 4, 1812. That clearly proves where the final collapse of the Great Army took place”.

The Russian war meant the end of a dream for the Emperor and the Poles of capturing the Russian Empire.

The Saxon Campaign of 1813

After the retreat from Russia and massive losses the regiment was forced to accept many young soldiers without battle experience. In the beginning of April 1813 the regiment had 531 men in 3 squadrons and was part of 1st Guard Cavalry Division. In mid August 1813 they still were part of 1st Guard Cavalry Division, their strength however was increased to 7 squadrons (1.380 men)

At Dresden the Guard Lancers suffered from artillery fire. Officer Julian Krasiński had his head taken off by cannonball in front of the regiment. Officer Kruszewski was mortally wounded. At Dresden Napoleon defeated Russia, Prussia and Austria, all three participants of the partitions of Kingdom of Poland.

On Sept 16th 1813 at Peterswalde the Guard Lancers routed the Prussian Life Hussars. NCO Mierzejewski wounded Colonel Friedrich von Blucher, a relative of the well-known General Blucher, and took him prisoner. Officer Jankowski was awarded with a star of the Légion d’honneur and the whole regiment won noteable fame.

The campaign in Saxony was a very busy time for the Guard Lancers. They participated in numerous skirmishes and several battles. The Polish Guard Lancers, the Dutch-French Red Lancers and the Berg Lancers were brigaded under General Charles Comte Lefebvre-Desnouettes, a very brave and loyal commander..

“General Lefebvre-Desnouettes arrived at the gallop and said I should charge. But he did not say this as an order, and he added that he trusted my judgment. … We were still about 500 paces from the enemy, so I said to the general, who was riding beside me: ‘If you permit me to advance at a walk for another 150 paces, and then to move straight into a charge, I vow I can shatter the enemy’s center.’ He agreed and returned to the squadrons that were crossing the ditch behind us.

We continued at a walk for another 300 paces, and I instructed both squadrons to go hell for leather as soon as I sounded the charge. They were not to lower their lances, however, but should point them at the enemy’s faces. … We were perhaps 200 paces away when I ordered, ‘Charge !’ and in the blinking of an eye we were upon them. …”

In May near Zgorzelec (Gorlitz) General Walther was ordered to take all regiments of the Imperial Guard cavalry and move to the right flank. Walther’s force met the Russian rearguard at Reichenbach. Chłapowski describes the actions of his regiment as follows: “We marched off by platoons, and crossing the fields at a trot we covered about 0.5 mile until we came to a deep ditch full of trees. There we had to halt and cross slowly in pairs. As soon as my 2 squadrons had crossed, General Lefebvre-Desnouettes … ordered me to see off a mass of Cossacks that had appeared to our front. I formed line with my two squadrons and advanced toward the enemy.

The Cossacks retired before us firing their side arms. We followed them for 300 paces, while the next two squadrons under Jerzmanowski crossed the ditch behind us. We came upon a second ditch … The Cossacks halted on the far side, and kept up a lively fire from behind the trees. They began moving against us again, but as soon as we begun to cross this ditch in a couple of places, they resumed their retreat. When we had crossed the second ditch, we saw a line of regular cavalry beyond the Cossacks. After we had advanced 500 paces I could make out four squadrons: two of dragoons in the center, with one of lancer on either side. Once my squadrons had crossed the ditch and reformed into line, we began slowly to advance.”

The melee lasted but a few seconds. From the moment we struck, the enemy fell into confusion and began to retreat, even including the uhlans who had no enemy before them. I did not see how many men fell because I had passed through their line so quickly. My squadrons had themselves become disordered and individuals were chasing after those of the enemy whose horses were weakest, and ordering them to dismount.”

“But shortly I saw a second enemy line approaching, all of them uhlans. I stopped my horse, and had only begun to restore order to the ranks when this line began a charge. I was obliged to reform as best I could, I ordered ‘Forward ! March !’ otherwise they would have caught us stationary, which you should never let the enemy do. … As they charged, the Russian uhlans lost some of their dressing, but they still came on and broke into our line. They outnumbered us, and we should certainly have been beaten if Jerzmanowski had not come up with his two squadrons. He was the very best field officer in the regiment … and with a fine, cool judgement. At just the right moment he struck the enemy from our left flank, having come up close at a walk to save energy for his charge. The uhlans retreated almost faster than they had charged. A dozen or so fell into our hands. … The uhlans had disappeared, and our four squadrons reformed into line. We had advanced quite a way ahead of the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval … and so General Lefebvre-Desnouettes ordered us to halt.”

“Then another regiment of Russian uhlans appeared … and advanced toward us in line. But when it was still 500 paces away it broke into a gallop. Lefebvre-Desnouettes … again wanted us to counter-charge. Jerzmanowski, who knew the general very well, told him there was no point in charging, as the enemy had begun to gallop far to soon; they would soon lose formation and would never reach us. Sure enough, their line shortly broke up, a few dozen pulled ahead and the majority began to slow down. Nobody came any closer to us than 100 paces. … General Lefebvre-Desnouettes ordered two platoons to form skirmish order and go out to meet them. They brought back half a dozen or more of the slowest horsemen. We discovered they weren’t lancers, but regular Ukrainian Cossacks. … The Cossacks had retreated and were reforming a very long way away from us. This proved them to be very young recruits, whose officers were probably no better. … Now General Walther appeared, and after complimenting us on our charge he ordered us to march off by platoons to the left and advance up the slope … ”

There was unwritten law to not maneuver in front of enemy’s cavalry – too often it ended up in a disaster. Only very few regiments attained the perfection of changing the formation at gallop without losing its order and in front of the enemy. At Reichenbach the Guard lancers came under artillery fire, made half-turn and crushed the enemy’s cavalry without losing its alignment. Chłapowski writes: “When we were about 60 paces from the hussars they turned and fled, and did not stop until they had passed through a regiment of cuirassiers, behind which they began to reform. … Shortly after we had charged the hussars, the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval came over to support us.

General Walther must have seen the line of enemy cuirassiers. First came the Mamelukes … and launched a charge straight into the cuirassiers

The enemy commander could not have believed that a single squadron would attack his brigade. … It’s true that our four squadrons were also advancing toward the cuirassiers, but they gave us no chance to attack as they retreated in a rabble upon their second line. We were promptly ordered back to our original position, facing Miloradovich’s guns. … a hail of ball and shells came in our direction … One shell exploded between me and Cpt Jankowski. A fragment struck his lip … and another hit me with more force on the right shoulder. But I was able to stay on my horse, and only dismounted when the fighting was over. … Generals Walther, Lefebvre-Desnouettes and Letort all congratulated me on my successful charges. I was delighted when one of them said: “If anyone is braver or fights better than us, it’s you Poles !”

The Guard Lancer Regiment then marched to Haynau and camped there until Napoleon arrived. Napoleon ordered the Cavalry of the Imperial Guard circle the town of Lignica in order to catch any enemy that might still be retreating.

Chłapowski reports that “As soon as my two squadrons had crossed, I led them rapidly out of the village … When we arrived in the open again I saw four squadrons standing in line. So I turned my line to face them and just as we did so, they began to advance and their trumpeters sounded the charge. I advanced to meet them. … They stopped, turned right around, and began to retreat just as we fell upon them. As might be expected, they retreated.

Their slowest troopers fell into our hands and we’d have captured more if their infantry had not been in column close by. … We camped that night at the spot where we had captured these troopers. They turned out to be from the Prussian Guard Cavalry Regiment, and included hussars, dragoons, and a few Berlin Cossacks, whose beards were longer than those of the Don Cossacks.

The Campaign of 1814.

In 1814 as the Emperor struggled to thwart the advance of the Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies on Paris. the Polish lancers were heavily engaged in the subsequent skirmishes and battles and distinguished themselves in every engagement they fought in: Brienne, Montmirail, Vauchamps, Montereau, Craonne, Rheims and Paris. In these battles they fought as part of the Guard Cavalry Division and not as a sole regiment. But still certain individuals managed to distinguish themselves in combat.

“Major Skarżyński of the Old Guard Lancers performed prodigies of valor. Overwhelmed and ridden down by a flood of Cossacks, he wrenched an “especially heavy” lance from one of them and – wild with the outraged fury of despair – spurred amuck down the road, bashing every Cossack skull that came within his reach. Rallying his men he cleared the field of his enemies. The same day Napoleon made Skarżyński a Baron of the Empire. (Snatching a lance from a Cossack, he created a void around him by knocking over the fugitives in his path and running the rest through with his lance.” – Henri Lachoque)

Napoleon abdicated on 6 April. On April 7th he called for volunteers from his Old Guard to serve in his guard on the Island of Elba.The Allies allowed Napoleon 500 infantrymen, 120 cavalrymen and 120 artillerymen. Generals Petit and Pelet were soon swamped with requests. Many officers asked to serve as simple privates.

Krasiński, wearing his parade uniform announced to his lancers that “God has visited misfortune upon the Emperor” and all began to weep. They regretted they had not all been killed before hearing that anyone had dared demand Napoleon’s abdication. Loud cries for vengeance were heard along with “Vive l”Empereur!” Lances were raised and the cavalry spontaneously moved toward Fontainebleau. They passed through Nainville before Sebastiani’s ADC halted them. Krasiński galloped off to headquarters to protest that his duty and honor called him to Napoleon’s side, since it was not to France but to Napoleon that his lancers had pledged their lives.

The Guard Light horse-Lancer Regiment was split into three groups:
– one squadron of Poles under Jerzmanowski remained with Napoleon
– the remaining squadrons of Poles Under the command of Gen.Krasiński left for Poland
– all Frenchmen under Dautancourt were turned over to the Guard Horse Chasseurs

The Poles sent the following memorial to Napoleon: “Sire: Released from our obligations, we come with one accord to place at Your Imperial Majesty’s feet the arms that no man could take from us by force. … As Poles we have served the most amazing man of the century … Sire, accept the homage of our eternal loyalty, maintained under the most trying circumstances …” Then, with trumpets sounding this fine unit marched past the chateau and on to Paris, Nancy, and Poland, after serving more than 7 years and winning the esteem of Emperor, the Imperial Guard, and the French Army.

The ‘100 Days ‘and Waterloo 1815

When Napoleon was forced to abdicate, Jerzmanowski was chosen as the commander of cavalry volunteers who were allowed to accompany the Emperor to Elba Island. (Jerzmanowski didn’t like one thing about Napoleon: the Emperor was unable to correctly pronounce his name)

These men were carefully selected and served in the guard of Napoleon:

“A squadron of Polish lancers under Chef d’Escadron Jerzmanowski and Major Roul – 125 men divided into a mounted company of 22 under Capitaine Schultz (a giant over 2.13 metres who was present at Waterloo); a dismounted company of 96 under Capitaine Baliński … There was also a group of 7 chasseurs and Mamelukes commanded by Lieutenant Seraphin (a Mameluke…) The lancers had a white standard emblazoned in crimson with the words, ‘Polish Light-Horse, Napoleon Squadron’ with a crowned ‘N’ on the reverse.” On Napoleon’s return from the Elba Island, Jerzmanowski’s squadron formed a supernumerary but senior squadron to the 2nd Regiment of Guard Lancers during the Waterloo campaign.

On June 15, 1815, at around 2.30 am, Napoleon’s army crossed the Belgian border with the intention of attacking the English army under command of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army under Field Marshal Blucher. In front of Napoleon’s army, cavalry units were moving, and among them, the Second Regiment of Lancers of the Guard as a part of the cavalry brigade of the guard commanded by Charles Lefebvre-Desnouttess, part of Marshal Michael Neys. Moving towards Brussels, the regiment approached the city Frasnes occupied by the second battalion of the Second Nassau Regiment, which was part of the army of the Duke of Wellington (First Corps of William, the Duke of Orange). The advance guard of the regiment which were expected to support the French infantry was halted by heavy artillery fire. The first Polish squadron was the only unit that went around the city from the east, approaching Quatre Bras, without any resistance. When dusk broke, having received no support, it had to withdraw to Frasnes, clearing the enemy in front of it.

On June 16, in line with Napoleon’s intention, the squadron, at the lead of the main forces moved against the Prussian army of Marshal Blucher. Marshal Ney was ordered to attack the British force and prevent it from joining up with the Prussians.

At dawn, Ney’s units started preparations for the advance to Quatre Bras, however William the Duke of Orange, temporarily replacing Wellington, directed new units to this region with the task of delaying the French. At once, the alarm was sounded that Wellington was moving with speed towards Quatre Bras. The first gunfire was heard at about 7.00 am when the Polish and Dutch lancers, taking some losses, attacked the Silesian Hussars cutting them off from main forces of the Prussian army. The regiment then came under heavy fire from an artillery battery. Charges against the battery were undertaken by the Dutch Lancers but failed and under cannon fire Colbert’s lancers were withdrawn.

At around 2.00 pm the French Ninth and Fifth infantry Divisions started the attack towards Quatre Bras. The left wing was protected by the Guard cavalry brigade. After two hours of fighting the French forces pushed the Dutch Third Division aside. At the same time other units of Wellington approached and halted the advance of the French infantry. Then, the French cavalry joined the fight and managed to break a battalion of the Scottish Forty Second Highlanders, known as the “Black Watch”,as they were in square and units of the Fifth English Division. In many publications, particularly British ones, it was believed that the Polish lancers participated in this charge, however it is uncertain. It has to be noted that much of the information about the actions of the Polish and French lancers in the Belgian campaign remains muddled and confused. Poles were assigned to all actions that were undertaken by French light horse units. It can be assumed that this also applied to the battle at Quatre Bras where lancers of the Third Division of the Cavalry of General Pire were engaged in the fighting. The Poles may not have been at this battle despite what some historians have claimed. That can be confirmed by a lack of any losses in the Polish squadron on that day.

On June 17, upon receiving news about the defeat of Prussians at Ligny, Wellington made the decision to withdraw his army towards Brussels. An afternoon storm made the pursuit difficult for the French and allowed the English to take up an advantageous position at Waterloo. The next day, the battle of Waterloo took place.

Gen.Colbert with the Dutch and Polish Guard lancers formed part of the Guard Light Cavalry Brigade which was drawn up as a reserve on the west of the Brussels road, supported on their left by the Guard Heavy Cavalry Brigade and Gen. Kellermann’s 3rd Cavalry Corps and Gen. Milhaud’s Cuirassiers on their right.

When Marshal Ney launched his cavalry at Wellingtons infantry squares the Guard lancers led by Colbert who had his left arm in a sling from a sword cut received at Quatre Bras, made several unsuccessful charges and were unable to break through the infantry squares. In turn they were counter charged by Allied light cavalry and were forced to withdraw and reform to the west of the battlefield close to Hougoumont.

The arrival of the Prussians on the battlefield and the failed attack of the infantry of the Imperial Guard broke the will of the French army. Total chaos spread through the French ranks. Within minutes most of the French units were completely destroyed. Of the few regiments that remained ready for battle was the Second Regiment of Lancers of the Imperial Guard. For the remainder of the evening, the Poles and Dutch were sheltering the Emperor’s withdrawal along with the remnants of his army. The reputation of the lancers got so deeply into their opponents heads that it was said that at the battle of Waterloo that the last sound on the field was the sound of the Polish Lancer’s trumpets as Napoleon fled the field, and the charge of the Polish squadron in his defence was the last one of the Napoleonic age.

In the bloody battle that sealed the fate of Europe, the Polish cavalrymen had surprisingly light losses: five lancers died (Łukasz Biernacki, Jan Nowak, Karol Pawłowski, Ignacy Rużyczko and Sylwester Zeleski), one was lost (Jan Malinowski), one was taken captive (Sergeant Major Michał Szulc). Several were wounded and injured, among others, Colonel Jerzmanowski and Captain Baliński.

Other sources listed 8 men and 16 horses as killed, 2 officers , 29 men and 19 horses as missing.

Only a few lancers were lost during the retreat (probably due to the tiredness of horses) when they were separated from the regiment and taken captive. After the battle, a regiment of “Red Lancers” managed to withdraw to France, and shortly after the second abdication of Napoleon, was dissolved. Most of the Poles returned to Poland, but in comparison to those of the First Regiment of Lancers of the Guard that went back in 1814, only very few were assigned to the army of the Kingdom of Poland.

The light losses (around 3%) of the Squadron of Elba probably resulted from the individual training of the lancers and the lance.

Spanish Campaign

14th July 1808 – Medina del Rio Seco
10th October 1808 – Burgos
30th November 1808 – Somosierra

Austrian Campaign

22nd May 1809 – Essling
6th July 1809 – Wagram

Russian Campaign

28th June 1812 – Wilno
22nd July 1812 – Mohylów
16th August 1812 – Smolensk
7th September 1812 – Borodino (Mozajsk)
25th October 1812 – Malo – Jaroslawiec
17th November 1812 – Krasnoje
28th November 1812 – Berezina

Saxon Campaign

2nd May 1813 – Weissenfelds/Lützen
19th – 21st May 1813 – ßautzen
22nd May 1813 – Reichenbach
21st August 1813 – Görlitz
27th August 1813 – Drezno
16th September 1813 – Peterswalde
24th September 1813 – Hochkirchen, Altenburg
18th – 19th October 1813 – Leipzig
30th – 31st October 1813 – Hanau
30th October 1813 – Nieder – Isingheim

French Campaign

27th January 1814 – St. Dizier
29th January 1814 – Brienne-le-Aube
1st – 2nd February 1814 – La Rothiére
10th and 14th February 1814 – Chaumpaubert
11th February 1814 – Montmirail
12th February 1814 – Château – Thierry
14th February 1814 – Vauchamps
14th February 1814 – Villeneuve
18th February 1814 – Montereau
24th February 1814 – Troyes
3rd March 1814 – Rocourt
4th March 1814 – Braisne
5th March 1814 – Berry-sur-Aube
7th March 1814 – Craonne
8th March 1814 – Laon
13th March 1814 – Reims
18th March 1814 – Fere-Champenoise
20th – 21st March 1814 – Arcis-sur-Aube
23rd March 1814 – Vitry
26th March 1814 – St. Dizier
29th March 1814 – Bourget
30th March 1814 – Paris

Belgian Campaign

16th June 1815 – Quatre Bras
18th June 1815 – Waterloo

One Response to La Garde

  1. Andrea Kaiser says:

    What information can you give me about the 8th polish regiment of light horse lancers. The 8th is the regiment I would like to reenact. hope you can help. Merci!

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