Copyright 21eme Regiment de Ligne
The Intimate Souvenirs of a volunteer of 1791
(2nd Drome battalion, 118th Line, 21st Line, 32nd Line 1791-1799)
12 October 1791
O sublime "elan" of 1791 if only I could celebrate its dignity! O spectacle, the most magnificent that any nation
has offered the world! O days of glory and patriotism exciting us and our generation with your immortal fire.
Yesterdaya father of a family presented to our lieutenant-colonel "Here are my three sons", he said, " but I have only been able to arm two; give a musket to the third." A mother turned out her son fully equipped. A "boy" tailor contributed a complete uniform: "During the day," he said, "I work for food to live; but I have made this uniform at night; one does not need much sleep when the nation is in danger.
The battalion has been blessed today at the parish church. All the men took the oath of loyalty before the flag.
On the flag is inscribed "Drome, 2e bataillon". A sergeant-major carries it. Each company has a fanion on which is the company number.
Our battalion consists of nine companies, that of the grenadiers is composed of the eight biggest and strongest men of each of the other eight companies. I command it. My lieutenant is called Batisse; he is a "gunsmith"? by trade, and a joyful companion. He made the war in America under Lafayette, and re-counts stories of his campaigns. The second-lieutenant is called Gonthier and my sergeant-major Julien.
The company is divided into two platoons and four sections. A sergeant is attached to each platoon, and a corporal to each section. There are my auxiliaries to instruct a drummer and 52 grenadiers, good, handsome, men, my word, young and of good height: 5 feet 3 inches as a mean (about 5 feet 8 inches Imperial) .We exercise every day, from 2 to 4 hours so as to be in a state so that we may soon show the same to the soldiers.
Our lieutenant-colonel, M. Boreton, does not lead, any more than we do, the life of luxury. He does not cease to go between the district and the municipality, from the municipality to the barracks. He has had a hard time obtaining arms, in part of poor quality. The "habits" and other equipment supposedly given by the Department shall not be ready for another two months. Fortunately Boreton does not lack for energy, or activity or knowledge. He was a premier captain in a regiment of artillery. The second in command, M. Guedi, an old retired officer, equally has the grade of lieutenant-colonel. Our adjutant-major and adjutant were also formerly active in tne army.
There are not more than 25 "habits" for the entire battalion. Our uniform is composed of a habit in blue cloth, breeches, a waistcoat or gilet in white cloth, with uniform buttons (the buttons have the legend "Republique francaise"; in the middle is a fascine surmounted by the liberty cap) , white stockings and shoes, a chapeau with a pompom. The officers carry epaulettes and a sabre; the grenades of the officers of the company are as those of the troop, in red wool cloth.
21 December 1791
Cavaillon (a letter to his father)
We have arrived in the Comtat, it is not brilliant. We are employed to re-establish order. The inhabitants regard us with scorn and call us "Heroes in rags". It without doubt sours the character,a little stiff already, of our commandant. "Rooms" are impossible: 70 livres per month, and perpetual arguments; our cook steals from us; and from Cany de St-Vallier, and charges 36 livres per month.
Send me a belt, a pair of buckskin gloves, a silver cutlery set, cloth for a pair of culottes, the "Nouvelle Heloise", "Emile", and the "Social Contract", the value of an "assignat" equivalent to 50 livres in silver .
The cost of food rises each day; white bread is 3.5 sous per pound [a Comtat pound], and the pound is less than that of the French pound. The assignats, those of 5 livres, can only be used with the greatest difficulty. I have had to pay, in paper, with a loss of 32 in 100, for the purchase of some items of uniform.
28 May 1792
The consequence of the declaration of war with Austria is already felt. The attitude of King Victor Amadee is becoming menacing. We have today had firing exercises for the third time. The effective strength of my company is carried at 89; our volunteers bum with desire to enter the campaign. Our organisation and our instruction are well advanced. I have received 450 livres 'gratis' for the beginning of the campaign. I am to
buy: a horse, a mule, a tent. I should also have a domestic. All this is a heavy burden on my purse.
27 september 1792
We are camped one quarter league from Fort Barraux. The snow covers the mountains nearby, the rain water-logs the ground; we sleep in a bog. Everyone is impatient to rejoin the principle corps of the army of General Montesquious-Fezensac who has occupied Chambery without firing a shot.
My father send me the good large mare ca1led Catau, and which serves for commercial
20 March 1793
I only find around me monotonous and unpleasant objects, a town, or rather a mass of gothic shanty-houses blackened and sooty the streets dirty and strewn with dung, the inhabitants, few in number, savages and anti-social, the mountains white on all sides.
One does not find in Anot either billiards, nor a cafe, nor an inn. The officers have their mess.
To occupy usefully the volunteers, they are exercised at the target. The best shot receiving a prize of a pair of shoes. I charm my boredom by teaching 'romantic' tunes to the 'chef de musique', who arranges the battalion music.
3 June 1793
One of my grenadiers, Serve, has received, some two months ago, by the imprudence of one of his comrades, a musket shot in the left arm, which has broken the bone. I like him a great deal, and because the hospital of Entrevaux is invaded by the fever, I send him to you at Romans with a hospital ticket. He shall bring you my letters and 400 livres in assignats for my sister, as an account on the price of a piano. I am rich; my pay has
been increased to 2200 livres, without counting the campaign allowance and the other items.
Announce to Petit that I have named their son as corporal-fourrier. The post has been created in each company, and it is the captain who nominates for the position.
5 October 1793
Clignon (near Colmars)
The battalion is scattered all along the frontier. Our service in the mountains is very punishing. I have the fever and dysentery; but my place is at the head of my grenadiers.
They have just given us the casket to replace the chapeau. I am under arrest, by order of the general and on the complaint of Boreton, I make my journey to the halting place under police escort on foot. Here is the affair: The 9th December, we received the order to go under the walls of Toulon. Our colonel, on the instructions of the general of division, had left at Colmars a captain of his battalion to command the place, instruct the newly formed battalion and to form the garrison. It was a singular idea to assign the duty to me, when the regulation forbids the taking of officers from the elite companies, and that mine was deprived of its lieutenant; Batisse, and its sergeant-major; Jullien.
I refused it, and gave my resignation, which was not accepted. He next day, at the revue for departure, passed by the Commisaire of War , I was in the rank with fusil, sabre and giberne. Boreton gave me the order to return to my place. There, with the aid of the commisaire, he wanted to persuade me to take back my resignation and to accept the command at Colmars; I replied: "My nomination is illegal, First because the officers of the grenadiers, following the regulations, march always with their companies, Second because it is only the general in chef who has the right to name temporary commanders of places. But said the commisaire for the example and for the discipline obey provisionally, and we shall see to your replacement in a few days.- I did not wish to violate the discipline. I had not been able to be absolved as an officer from obeying; also I had given my resignation, because I knew they would not give the command to a simple grenadier. But there is a law which forbids the giving and receiving of resignations in times of war .
The law forbids resignations, that is to say it does not permit a person to leave the service and abandon the country in danger; but me, I had not asked to retire to my hearth. I remained in the battalion, less important in rank. As the law stands it is not applicable here. you say that I shall be relieved in eight days; but in eight days my comrades shall be under the walls of Toulon. perhaps they'll find there the occasion to fight and to distinguish themselves; and me, I arrive the next day. ...to congratulate them apparently! No! , I love to be with them, a simple grenadier. I serve my country , and I never refuse to pay this debt; but the country does not only want me because of my great name, and the virtues of a soldier serve just as well to re-name the great men. "
When they heard what I had to say on my part, they left, not much satisfied. It is probable that I have reason, for I shall be put at liberty. Boreton has withdrawn his complaint and decided to give up the command of the battalion. He returns as commandant of Colmars and I shall rejoin my grenadiers.
25 December 1795
Lorgues, near Draguignan
I have been separated from Catau. A recent degree has banned captains from being mounted. I was prepared, having the habit of making part of the day's march on foot.
I take the march philosophically, with my sack on my back, at the head of mycompany.
Scarena, near Nice
The decree of November 1793 has been put into effect. The "whites" and "blues" are well and truly mixed in such a manner as to efface all distinctions between the two.
Our battalion is amalgamated with the 3rd battalion of volunteers of the Isere and the 2nd battalion of the 59th regiment, formerly the Bourgogne. The demi-brigade is formed with three battalions and takes the number 118. Each battalion has a flag carried by the most senior sergeant major. The flag has at its centre the letters R.F.
surrounded by two laurel leaf branches in gold, with the demi-brigades number placed diagonally in the four comers.
Attached to our demi-brigade are six cannon, four-pounders, with all their necessary equipment, and to serve the cannon a company of volunteer cannoneers has been created, it has an effective strength of 64 men not including the officers and ncos.
At the time when it ceased to exist the 2nd Drome was a model battalion, in its drill, its dress, its discipline, and the quality of its "cadres".
There has arrived from the line a certain number of "old moustaches", who, because of their seniority ( 1 ), occupy positions beyond their means or capabilities. The general good is sacrificed to the interests of the individual. The soldiers of the line are between 32 and 37 years, while the average age of the volunteers is 25 years; the average height is 1.65m.
The troops who occupy Nice are badly situated. Despite the union of this city with France, the council remains with Piedmontese sympathies and feelings, and is not prepared to make a sacrifice for the benefit of our troops. Entire battalions are affected by the "gale". Food and lodgings are at a premium. I share the rent with Cany for a small lodging, at 80 livres per month, or one louis in coin.
(1) The law apportioned advances in rank in the proportions: one-third by seniority,
two-thirds by choice.
11 July 1794
My company has not yet taken part in the amalgamation. It formed part of a battalion of grenadiers in Gamier's division; it took part in the attack on the Belveder and Roccabigliere redoubts. We have had five killed and many
wounded. The campaign has been very arduous; I am sustained with a little eau de vIe.
General Massena has taken command of the division in which the 118th forms a part. All the superior officers gave him a dinner with the money from the sale of their silver shoe buckles.
I cannot explain the inaction, which has followed the initial success of our campaign. Soon snow will force us to evacuate the ground we have gained. Our work will have to begin again next year.
4 November 1794
Feligno, near Finale,(a letter to his father)
I command, by seniority, five companies of the battalion of grenadiers, established in the old works at Feligno. We sleep on straw and have the "POUX". I am consoled that I do not have the "itch", that infects most of the army without exempting the officers.
The magazines are empty; the soldiers are poorly clothed and bare-footed. My shirts and my jackets are in tatters, and my shoes have holes. I am grotesquely clothed with a large "roupe", a sort of cloak or overcoat, but I am unable to find to buy linen or stockings. The hospitals are full; epidemics cause great destruction. I am marvelously well and my spirits are good. I play music and I am learning the patriotic tunes.
24 December 1794
Besse (to the north of Toulon)
Overcome with work and illness, old Dumerbion has left the Army of Italy and passed command onto Scherer. The battalion of grenadiers has been dissolved, and I have rejoined the 118th demi-brigade. All the old Romanais have departed, wounded or infirm. Vinay, my sergeant major, has retired to Romans, with a pension of three decimes per day. Chevillon is more fortunate; his pension is six decimes (per day). Only the young remain.
I have had the good fortune to obtain a peaceful billet; I have found a room, a bed, hearths, chairs, a good table, all items I have long lost the habit of using. The inhabitants are hospitable, though somewhat attached to the aristocracy; they say monsieur and madame, though it does no harm amongst true and strong citizens such
6 February 1795
We are preparing for a maritime expedition to the shores of Corsica; the demi-brigade is to take part. While waiting each day of life becomes more dear. By contrast, my monthly income is not sufficient to enable me to purchase a hat or shoes. And this follows the Conventions quiet doubling of the allowances enjoyed by the civilian functionaries and honourary titleholders !
18 March 1795
On board the Guerrier
The embarkation of the troops took place on the 21 st February .Our squadron comprises of 15 vessels of the line, six frigates and three corvettes. Admiral Martin, assisted by Representative Letourneur, is in command of the expedition. On the morning of the 10th March, an English squadron appeared on the horizon off Cape
Corsica; it comprised some twenty four sail, fifteen vessels of the line, and seven frigates (sic), some English and some Neopolitan. Sailing was made difficult by a heavy sea.
During the night of the 11 to 12th, the Mercure, a 74, and the Ca-Ira an 80, fouled one another and were gravely damaged. The latter, which was dismasted, fell to the rear of the line. The Censeur went to its aid.
The next day, the 13th, at daybreak, the Censeur and the Ca-Ira were found to be far to the rear .They were surrounded by the entire advance guard of the English, six vessels, three of which were three deckers. Admiral Martin maneuvered to go to their aid, but was prevented by a flat calm. The Censeur, which carried four companies of the 2nd battalion of the 118th, and the Ca-Ira made a desperate resistance, they managed to dismast the nearest of the two English vessels.
On board the Guerrier, helpless spectators to this courageous defence, we shouted "Vive la Republique!" as we saw the masts of the English fall with a crash to the decks, and we shook with rage at not being able to carry aid to our brothers. We were broken-hearted to see our two vessels dismasted and overwhelmed one after the other, to become the prizes of the English.
I have come to the conclusion, in a naval combat, that though we fought as well as if not a little better than the English, we did not manoeuvre as well as they; and, at sea, speed and precision of movement counts for more than courage.
9 April 1795
We have disembarked here; the demi-brigade is reduced to 1200 men. Because of our hardships, losses and our ragged appearance we deserved the rest given to the garrison of Nice. The 117th was designated as the garrison: the political attitude of that regiment being more in tune with the ideas of the day.
The 118th was dispersed on the Genoan coast. Our misery was at its peak. The Genoans refused absolutely the assignats. A bottle of wine costs 4 livres; a file of paper,4 sous, to have a shirt washed, 20 sous, and the soldier receives only 11 sous pay per day!
We know little of the sittings of the Convention, and what we do does little to satisfy us. It is very hard for us, that we expose our lives and sacrifice the best years of our lives to defend and affirm the constitution of our country , to see it shaken to the core by those who should be its founder fathers. I say this without vanity: of all those who
have contributed to the success of the Republic, it is the armies which are least rewarded for their work.
11 July 1795
The Carline Camp,
The affair at Melogne (25-26th June), was one of the hottest actions in which I have been involved. My company has lost 25 men, killed, wounded or disappeared. It was only by a miracle that I have not been hit. Massena, with his usual ardour, which knows of no obstacles, ordered us to attack the enemy, without seeing the mountain of Melogne, without knowing the strength of the Austrians, nor of their defensive preparations. Three fruitless attacks were made in two days with retreat as the only result.
Cany told me of an episode, which shows the antipathy of our soldiers to the Representatives: during one of the attacks a grenadier was smoking his pipe, sitting on the slope of the mountain. A Representative of the People without uniform came by, saying to the grenadier "What are you doing there, that's not the thing to be doing! - Get up and rejoin your battalion, or I'll have you shot." "I only take orders from my chiefs", replied the grenadier. "I am your chief; do you not recognize me. I am a Representative of the People attached to your army." "You! Ah well, if you are my chief, then show me your papers. Otherwise I don't know you." The Representative was furious, and went in search of an officer who asked the soldier why he was not taking part in the action. The soldier rose and saluted with respect saying, " Because I have been", and, opening his jacket showed his body, pierced by a ball. "I am awaiting the surgeon, and remain here to see if it goes well for my comrades."
I have lost my sack during the march, and have had to borrow the most indispensable items from my friend Alizon.
The hurried evacuation of the magazines has thrown all into chaos and holds up all distributions. The troops receive their rations part in bread, part in biscuit, and in a most irregular manner, so that we sometimes have to fast for more than a day.
13 December 1795
Savona,(a letter to his father)
The victory of Laono has cleared the Genoan riviera. We have managed a little rest at Savona. I had hoped that our brilliant success would have allowed me, at last, to take the leave that I had applied for some time ago. I went to find the Representative of the People. He received me, with his pipe in his mouth, and after having listened to me, he assured me that it would be impossible to give leave without permission. Though I observed that the suspension of the campaign had only to be announced after our expedition, he asked me whether the commander in chief had told me that the campaign was over, and that I could guarantee that we would not be attacked tomorrow.
Certainly, bravery alone is not sufficient for the military man, many other sorts of courage are necessary for the soldier: patience and resignation to carry off the privations and fatigues ofhis life. Illness and hunger are no more to be feared than muskets.
Our destitution is such that it is impossible to obtain the "pair of boots, or shoes awarded after the victory of Laono, to each officer, by a grateful Nation."
We have neither obtained a sou of the 8 livres in coin granted by the Convention, in October. The Deputy only has benefited by telling the Assembly that the soldiers would give a months pay to the Republic: we have never been consulted.
I have some 1500 assignats, with which I still cannot obtain a pair ofboots. I have neither shirts, nor handkerchiefs, nor stockings. I am obliged to borrow epaulettes when I am on duty. A sad consequence of the loss of my sack on the retreat from Melogne. I have taken at Laono, from a handsome Austrian officer, killed by a bullet, a magnificent pair of new nankeen breeches. The cloth of my jacket is stitched to the sleeve lining to keep the pieces together. The soles of my shoes are in pieces, and my hat was equally taken on the field of battle. I have improvised soles for my shoes tied on with rather visible laces; I have tried to dye the unfortunate laces black with some ink. The inhabitants often pour scorn upon us, contrasting our miserable state with the
luxury with which the Austrians preceded us.
Imagine my shame, last evening when the majordomo of the beautiful marchioness the palace of whom I am lodged, came to my room to invite me to dine. I entered the dining room, all in marble. The marchioness and her sister were the only ones present.
They were a little afraid of me, and I the same. I paid them a few words of compliment. As I spoke, I saw 12 footmen and servants staring rigidly at my coat, and perhaps at my shoes, which cut me to the quick. Consider that the "rascals" not only had good shoes, but also silver buckles.
I cut a sorry figure, when an idea out of the blue came to me. I re-counted to the ladies the miseries that we had encountered in the mountains around Genoa. There, I said had to obtain and cook by their own hand, the meat distribution. We had three ounces of bread per day. I had not spoken for more than two minutes when the good lady had tears in her eyes, her sister the same. "What! Captain, they said, three ounces of bread?" y es, mademoiselle; and the issue was only made three times per week. The peasants with whom we were lodged were in a more miserable state than we, and we used to give them some of our bread."
On leaving the table I offered my arm to the lady upto the door of the room, then returning quickly I gave to the servant who had served me over dinner a unique coin worth six livres which I had, which by using thus I might as well have had castles in Spain.
(To be continued)
Translated by Keith Redfern
25th February: East Midlands Napoleonic Day, Long Acre Studios, Bingham, Nottinghamshire.
12th March: Alumwell Wargame Show, Wolverhampton.
24th-26th March: Whittington Castle, Oswestry.
8th-9th April: Ickworth House, Suffolk
26th-29th May: Hole Park, Rolvenden, Kent.
24th-25th June: The Alamo, Weston Park, Telford, Shropshire.
5th-6th August: Cannon Hall, near Barnsley.
12th-13th August: Spetchley Park, Worcester.
2nd-3rd September: Fishguard, south Wales.Cancelled
23rd-24th September: Stamford, Lincolnshire.
2nd December: Recon: Pudsey, Yorkshire
Hassock Lane North
Derbyshire DE75 7JB
7 Lowcroft Crescent
Oldham OL9 9UU
1790 Regiment Guyenne at Lyon
1792: Journal militaire:1st battalion arrived Besancon
1793 Landau, siege until 28th December.
1794 At Nice, General Kellerman formed a Polish battalion with men found in the 21eme demi-brigade, 9 companies of 3 officers and 70 men.
1796 Evening, Massena's division (21e) along left bank of the Ellero, from Mondovi to the Tanaro.
1798 Into garrison at Amiens, 2nd battalion at Nantes (formed March 1797), 3rd at Dunkirk
1799 Magnano, towards Brescia.
1800 Pas de Suse, and town of Suse.
1801 Battalion expeditionnaire formed on the Ile de Re, with 140 of the 21eme, 106 56th Line, 59 5th Light, 58 Colonial depot Ile de re, 28 legion Loire, 119 cannoniers 5th Foot artillery, on the frigate l'Africaine.
1803 Bruges Camp/Ostend, 3/4 battalions Flessigne until July 1804.
1804 3rd and 4th battalions to Cologne.
1805 Crossed the Danube at Pressberg, one battalion at Bruick, other in villages of Regelbrun, Arbestal, Collesbrunn, Willfersnauer, and Schadendorf, until 5th January 1806.
1806 Division Kreus Munster
1807 Division at the Hohenstein camp until 5th June.
1809 Division left Ebersdorf for Vienna
1810 Brunswick, until October.
1812 Division Thorn
1813 Order to form 1st Corps, 1st division, 33rd Provisional demi-brigade (2/12, 2/21) forming near Erfurth, united into corps at Wittenberg.
1814 Bergen op Zoom
1815 Between Quatre-Bras and Waterloo.
Boulogne 1991 on the Video page.