A Brief History of the 21eme
The 21ème Regiment d'Infanterie is one of the oldest regiments in the World. It was raised in Lorraine in 1598 by Henri de Vaubecourt at the time when Henri of Navarre became King Henry IV of France. It continued as a regiment of the Monarchy under the name of its Colonel until it became the Regiment Guyenne in 1762.
It was not until the French Revolution that it was known as the 2leme Demi-Brigade de Ligne. The regiment served in Germany in 1793 and by the mid 1790's was in the Armme d'Italie. The 2leme was involved in action at Laona in 1796 and also Montenotee, Millesimo, Dego and the bridge at Lodi. It was at Lodi where Grenadiers of the Regiment charged over the bridge under constant fire shouting "Vive la Republique!" overthrowing the Austrian defenders and capturing their artillery.
In 1799 the regiment saw further action at Verona, Magano, Trebbia and most notably the Battle of Novi. It was here that Sergeant-Major Jean Georges Pauly, cut off by a body of Russian Cavalry was called upon to surrender. Replying Je Passe Quand Même he rallied a handful of men and forced his way back to the regiment using musket butt and bayonet killing or wounding more than 40 Russians in the process.
The regiment was designated the 2leme Regiment d' Infanterie de Ligne in 1803. In 1804 it formed part of the Armee d' Angleterre when the concept of the Grande Armee was first created by Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1805 the regiment marched under Marshal Louis Nicoholas Davout as part of the 3eme Corp d' Armee to fight the combined might of Austria and Russia at Austerlitz.
In 1806 Davout's Corps found itself facing the main Prussian army under the Duke of Brunswick at Auerstadt, whilst Napoleon was defeating what he believed to be the main army at Jena. The 2leme defended the village of Hassenhausen in the centre of the French line. Corporal Boutloup of the Voltigeur company, along with six men, took a Prussian gun and caisson and turned it on the Prussians. These men, having killed the gun crew, manned the cannon for over half an hour until ammunition was exhausted. Losses were heavy but the three divisions of the 3eme Corp became famous through the Armee as "Les Trois Immortelles".
The 2leme saw further action at Custrun, Pultusk and Eylau and later still at Eckmul and Wargram. It was at Custrin, a single company bluffed the fortress into surrendering and took 4,000 Prussian prisoners.
In 1812 the regiment was once again with Davout as part of the crack ler Corp. The 2leme now comprised 6 battalions (4 veteran battalions, the depot battalion and the new 6th battalion led by graduates from St Cyr and volunteers from the Garde.) It fought at Smolensk, Valoutina Gora and Borodino in the bitter Russian campaign. The regiment then faced the winter retreat from Moscow. From a strength of over 4200, only 92 remained in arms by the 1st of February 1813.
The 2leme was later reformed in the same year and saw action including the battle of Dresden. It was here the regiment was left behind while Napoleon moved back to Leipzig. It fought at Hellendorf where Lieutenant Doignon and the Grenadier company took some 70 Russian prisoners.
Inevitably, the 2leme passed into captivity at Dresden.
In 1814 the regiment was reformed from the depots in France and fought the British army for the very first time at Bergen op Zoom in the Netherlands. It was here that the Colour of the Foot Guards was taken. (Now on display at the Invalides in Paris)
Now following the Emperor's abdication the 21e Regiment de Ligne continued as a reluctant regiment of the monarchy.
Napoleons return from exile in 1815 marked the start of a campaign that was to become known as the 100 Days. He re-instated himself as Emperor of France, banished the Bourbons and brought back the tricolour flag. As the storm clouds gathered over Europe his imperial army formed up below the eagles once again.
During this period the 2leme formed part of the 3eme Division in the 1er Corp commanded by the Compte Drouet d' Erlon. The regiment missed both actions at Ligny and Quartre Bras to the confusion of orders between Napoleon and Marshal Ney. Two days later they formed part of the French right wing on the field of Waterloo. Here the 21eme took part in the early stages of the baffle during the advance on the Allied centre. With shouts of "Vive L' Empereuer!" they descended into the valley under the fiery vault of French and English shells which arched over their heads. With drums beating the advance in massed formation up the slopes of Mont Saint Jean to meet Wellington's army. Before the crest D'Erlon's Corp were stopped by a hedge, in front of which the leading ranks were forced to deploy. Here they were surprised by the Highlanders and became involved in a fierce melee. This was only broken as the French heavy cavalry charge by Wellington's Union Brigade. The 2leme retired as best it could.
The regiment was later involved in the capture of the farmhouse of La Haye Saint but never fully recovered from this onslaught. Following the arrival of the Prussians and defeat of the Old Guard the day was lost. The remnants of the regiment regrouped at Laon but Waterloo was the last baffle in the Napoleonic Wars and spelt the end of the era in Europe.
The 21eme have continued active service over the years in Algeria, Italy, the Crimea (allied to the English!), the Franco-Prussian War, the Great War and World War II.
Today the regiment is managing military camp at Canjeurs in the South of France.
This map will show the places important to the Regiment taken from "Histoire du 21e Régiment d'Infanterie, by General Pierre Bertin.
Click on the marker for more information.
View History of the 21eme Regiment de Ligne in a larger map