Although not as famous as the original French Imperial Guard (Napoleon's Imperial Guard), the French Imperial Guard of the 2nd Empire (Napoleon III's Imperial Guard) had an excellent fighting record, especially the Guard infantry and artillery. They performed very well during the Crimean War, Italian campaign of 1859 (Franco-Austrian War) and even during the Franco-Prussian War. The Guard was an elite corps composed of reliable and experienced soldiers.
The French Imperial Guard knew how to fight. Take a look.
Letters from head-quarters, or The realities of the war in the Crimea, by Somerset John Gough Calthorpe, Officer on the staff.
See pages 317-319 and 382-385: http://books.google.com/books?id=okU...age&q=&f=false
Battle of Malakoff (the final and decisive assault against Sevastopol), during the Crimean War.
The final assault on Sevastopol took place on 8th September 1855. The French, under the command of General MacMahon, poured into the Malakoff and took the advanced works. The Russians emerged from the interior of the bastion and counter attacked. The savage fighting raged from midday until 4pm, when finally the French took the bastion. French zouave Eugene Libaut installed the French flag on the top of the Russian Redoubt.
The loss of the Malakoff with its dominant position overlooking Sevastopol and its defences caused the Russians to give up the struggle. The fall of the Malakoff was the end of the siege of Sevastopol.
In the final attack, the French lost 5 generals killed and 4 wounded. French casualties were 7.567 officers and men. The British lost 2.271 officers and men (3 British generals were wounded) during their failed attack against the Redan. The Russians suffered 12.913 casualties.
BTW, MacMahon personally led the successful attack, spearheaded by the 1st Zouave Regiment. The newly formed Zouave Regiment of the French Imperial Guard, at the time with only one battalion, lost 311 out of 600 men taken into the charge.
The French Guardsmen fought like lions at Magenta (during the 1859 Italian campaign), especially the Grenadiers and Zouaves of the Guard.
Battle of Magenta
"Few regions in the world are so filled with memories of French military glory as northern Italy. The great Napoleon Bonaparte became a legend with his unforgettable victories over the Austrians at Lodi, Arcola, Rivoli and Marengo. In 1859, his nephew, the French Emperor Napoleon III, sought to re-create the splendor of these famous battles by leading a French army against the Austrians in the same region.
In 1859, Italy's numerous small states were not yet united into one nation. The most important of those states was Piedmont, located in the northwestern corner of Italy. Piedmont's prime minister, Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, wanted to enlarge his state, but the powerful Austrians held the regions of Lombardy and Venetia to the east. Cavour soon found a way to exploit Napoleon III's ambitions and at the same time further his own.
First, on December 10, 1858, Cavour secured a promise of French military intervention if Piedmont came under attack. He then sought to provoke Austria by mobilizing Piedmontese armed forces on March 9, 1859. Austria began mobilizing on April 9 and issued an ultimatum for Piedmont to demobilize on the 23rd. Cavour rejected the ultimatum, and when Austria invaded Piedmont six days later, rail cars were already rushing French troops to help defend the little kingdom.
... The Grenadier Division of the Guard began to reach San Martino at 10 a.m. on June 4. Thirty minutes later, Napoleon III also arrived, and soldiers began to repair the damaged bridge and build a pontoon crossing 300 meters to the north. Toward noon, the emperor heard firing from the north and saw clouds of smoke through the trees. MacMahon had begun his advance from the Turbigo bridgehead. It was the signal to unleash the Guard along the main road to seize Magenta.
… The Grenadier Division of the Guard was a crack formation of tough troops and renowned commanders. One of the division's four regiments, the 2nd Grenadiers, thrust northeastward along a minor road to Boffalora. The soldiers attacked the village but found that the bridge had been blown up, so they could only fire across the canal.
The 3rd Grenadiers waded through the soaked fields, knee-deep in water and ankle-deep in mud. The steep bank now loomed above them and looked like a man-made embankment constructed especially for defense. White-coated Austrian infantrymen had massed at the points where the road and the railway reached the top of the heights, and barricades guarded these two access points. Austrian reserves sheltered under cover. A visitor to the battlefield later commented, The position was so good, that it seemed almost madness to attack it.
… The leading battalion assembled at the edge of the field behind a row of trees and then dashed forward under a hail of fire. Before the Austrians could reload, the survivors had reached the far side. Quickly depositing their heavy knapsacks, they charged up the slope. The grenadiers wasted no time firing upward but counted on the sheer élan of their assault to guarantee their success. Indeed, before the first man reached the summit, the Austrians had abandoned both their positions and a gun.
The guardsmen pressed on and chased the fleeing Austrians over the railway bridge. But on either side, other troops held on at Ponte Nuovo and Ponte Vecchio. From Ponte Nuovo in particular, the Austrians poured heavy fire into the grenadiers from only 400 meters away. The French fired back, but they had to either take Ponte Nuovo or abandon their positions. A battalion advanced northward along the canal to seize the two houses of Ponte Nuovo that stood on the west bank, then tried unsuccessfully to storm the stone bridge under fire from the Austrian 60th Infantry.
It was a temporary setback. Brigadier General Jean Joseph Gustave Cler brought up the ferocious Zouaves of the Guard, who burst over the bridge and cleared the customs houses on the far bank with cold steel. How fine it was, recalled a Zouave captain, to see our old sweats cheerfully prepare to attack and hurl themselves on the canal bridge shouting ‘Long live the Emperor!' We were sniped at from all the windows of the customs houses situated on the other side of the bridge. We lost some men but rapidly took the crossing and saw the Austrians fleeing on every side.
So far everything had gone pretty well according to plan for the French. But, suddenly, an entire division of the Austrian VII Corps launched a powerful and wholly unexpected counterattack. Cler's riderless horse appeared out of the smoke; the intrepid general had fallen dead in the midst of his soldiers.
Outnumbered and weary, the Grenadier Division was isolated on the edge of the plateau above the plain as fresh Austrian units advanced against it. If the guardsmen gave way, they would be unlikely to regain their foothold, and MacMahon, whose guns had fallen strangely silent to the north, would be alone, in a perilous position.
Messengers seeking reinforcements galloped to Napoleon III at San Martino only to be told bluntly: I have nothing to send. Hold on. Block the passage.
Other messengers rode off one after another to hurry the march of the French III and VII corps, which had been delayed by the congestion on the main road from Novara.
For an hour, the heroic guardsmen fought against the odds and repulsed repeated frontal assaults by Austrian columns. At last, toward 3:30 p.m., when the agony was at its height, fresh troops in blue coats and red trousers appeared along the railway embankment. A brigade of Marshal François de Certain-Canrobert's III Corps had arrived in the nick of time to save the Guard's tenuous hold on the canal line.
… One of MacMahon's divisional commanders, the intrepid Maj. Gen. Charles Marie Esprit Espinasse, led his 2nd Zouaves into Magenta but found corpses and wounded men covering the streets. When his horse stumbled, Epinasse said: We can't stay on this moving ground. Let us dismount. Suddenly, his 27-year-old orderly, 2nd Lt. André de Froidfond, took a bullet in the stomach and collapsed against a wall.
The firing came from a large house several stories high at a street corner. Scores of bodies lay slumped before it, and Espinasse knew what he had to do. We must take it at all costs, he exclaimed. Come on, my Zouaves, break down this door! He banged the pommel of his sword against the metal shutter of a ground floor window and shouted, Enter, enter through there! Before anyone could do so, a shot came from the same window and struck Espinasse, breaking his arm and penetrating his kidneys. He dropped his sword and fell, mortally wounded. Espinasse's men avenged him by storming the house and killing or capturing its defenders.
… The French suffered more than 4,500 casualties at Magenta. The Austrians lost 5,700 troops killed or wounded, in addition to which lines of dejected Austrian prisoners, 4,500 men in all, snaked westward. Edmund Texier wrote to the French newspaper Siècle, This day will have a great place in our military annals. Indeed, Napoleon III promoted both MacMahon and the commander of the Imperial Guard, Maj. Gen. Auguste Michel Marie Étienne Regnault comte de Saint-Jean-d'Angély, to the rank of marshal. He also made MacMahon the Duke of Magenta.
… The real heroes were the French rank and file, for Magenta was a soldiers' battle. As the commander of the Grenadier Division of the Guard, Maj. Gen. Émile Mellinet, proudly wrote, I hope that the Emperor will be pleased with his grenadiers and zouaves, for I defy anyone to find braver troops."
This article was written by Andrew Uffindell and originally appeared in the June 1996 issue of Military History
Read the entire article: http://www.historynet.com/austro-sar...of-magenta.htm
Battle of Solferino
Here are some interesting excerpts from Patrick Turnbull's "Solferino: The Birth of a Nation".
A flamboyant scene worthy of an image of d'Epinal followed on this order. The Voltigeurs [ 4 infantry regiments of the French Imperial Guard ] had been straining at the leash, eager to prove themselves trully the elite. As their columns filed past Napoleon, their shouts of 'Vive l'Empereur!' almost drowned the roar of battle; the famous uncle might well have been smiling happily in his new resting place in Les Invalides.
... No sooner had the Voltigeurs moved up preparatory to the assault than they had to meet a violent counter-attack by infantry of Stadion's 5th Corps. After fierce hand-to-hand fighting it was thrown back, and the Voltigeurs, reinforced by the battalion of Chasseurs a Pied of the French Guard, resumed their advance.
Each hill, each pimple, was stubbornly defended. The one thing the Austrian soldier did not lack was courage, but on both sides that spirit of chivalry momentarily manifest at Palestro was missing. 'The Zouaves', one reads, 'hurled themselves forward, bayonets levelled, shouting and leaping like animals… the general fury was such that when ammunition ran out and rifles were broken, men fought with bare hands… the Croatians [ Austrian units ] killed everything in sight and bayoneted their wounded enemies… the Algerian Tirailleurs, howling like wolves, cut the throats even of the dying.'
… Resistance was fierce, the Guards' casualties were high, but within half an hour the Mont des Cyprées had been cleared, Colonel d'Auvergne [ ? ] of the Voltigeurs tying his huge red handkerchief to the branch of a tree to signal this local victory.
… As the defence began to waver, Lieutenant Maniglia of the battalion of Chasseurs a Pied of the French Imperial Guard captured six guns, four of them limbered up, the Austrian artillery colonel handing him his sword on surrendering. The Chasseurs a Pied also captured the standard of the Gustav von Wasa Regiment of Grenadiers [ corporal Montellier captured the standard ], the regiment which for a brief period had been commanded by the Duke of Reichstadt, 'the Eaglet', son of the first Napoleon and his second Empress, the Austrian Archduchess Marie Louise, shortly before his death.
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