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The Grande Armée: The only surviving photos of veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, they are wearing their original uniforms and insignia.

Neil Patrick

In his military career, Napoleon fought about 60 battles and lost seven, mostly at the end of his reign.The great French dominion collapsed rapidly after the disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Napoleon was defeated in 1814, and sent into exile on the island of Elba; he then escaped and returned to power, only to be defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, and was exiled again, this time to Saint Helena.

After his death in 1821, the surviving veterans of  Grande Armée honored his name and historic leadership. Every year on May 5, the day Napoleon died, veterans dressed in the uniforms to pay respect to the fallen emperor marched to Paris’ Place Vendôme.

On one of those occasions, probably in 1858, the following photos were taken. The veterans, all in their late 70s and 80s at that time are wearing their original uniforms adorned with the Saint Helena medals. The St. Helena medals were issued to all veterans of the Napoleonic wars and  in August 1857 .

These are the only known and surviving photographs of the soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic wars

 

Grenadier Burg 24th Regiment of the Guard 1815

Grenadier Burg 24th Regiment of the Guard 1815

 

Monsieur Dreuse of 2nd Light Horse Lancers of the Guard c. 1813-14

Monsieur Dreuse of 2nd Light Horse Lancers of the Guard c. 1813-14

 

Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde 1813-1815.

Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde 1813-1815.

 

Monsieur Dupont fourier for the 1st Hussar

Monsieur Dupont fourier for the 1st Hussar

 

Monsieur Lefebre sergeant 2nd Regiment of Engineers 1815

Monsieur Lefebre sergeant 2nd Regiment of Engineers 1815

 

Monsieur Loria 24th Mounted Chasseur Regiment Chevalier of the Legion of Honor

Monsieur Loria 24th Mounted Chasseur Regiment Chevalier of the Legion of Honor

 

Monsieur Maire 7th Hussars c. 1809-15

Monsieur Maire 7th Hussars c. 1809-15

 

Monsieur Mauban 8th Dragoon Regiment 1815

Monsieur Mauban 8th Dragoon Regiment 1815

 

Monsieur Moret of the 2nd Regiment 1814/15

Monsieur Moret of the 2nd Regiment 1814/15

 

Monsieur Schmit 2nd Mounted Chasseur Regiment 1813-14

Monsieur Schmit 2nd Mounted Chasseur Regiment 1813-14

 

Monsieur Verlinde of the 2nd Lancers 1815

Monsieur Verlinde of the 2nd Lancers 1815

 

Monsieur Vitry Departmental Guard

Monsieur Vitry Departmental Guard

 

Quartermaster Fabry 1st Hussars

Quartermaster Fabry 1st Hussars

 

Quartermaster Sergeant Delignon in the uniform of a Mounted Chasseur of the Guard, 1809-1815

Quartermaster Sergeant Delignon in the uniform of a Mounted Chasseur of the Guard, 1809-1815

 

Sergeant Taria Grenadiere de la Garde 1809-1815

Sergeant Taria Grenadiere de la Garde 1809-1815

The Grande Armée scored a streak of historic victories that gave the French Empire an unprecedented grip on power over the European continent. Widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest fighting forces ever assembled, it suffered terrible losses during the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and never recovered its tactical superiority after that campaign.

All photos by:BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY