Download FREE briefings. Have an account? Please log in. Text Size: A A A

Photos: Veterans of the Napoleonic Wars

Military History

Photos: Veterans of the Napoleonic Wars

These aged veterans of the Napoleonic Wars are likely the earliest uniformed soldiers ever caught on film. Click here to see these one-of-a-kind photographs.

These aged veterans of the Napoleonic Wars are likely the earliest uniformed soldiers ever caught on film.

by Peter Harrington

We are all familiar with photographs of Civil War veterans, and of bearded, aged Britons who charged at Balaclava with the Light Brigade, but perhaps the earliest photographs of veterans are a series of 15 original sepia views of members of Napoleon’s army taken when these old Napoleonic War veterans were well in their 70s and 80s. The photographs are now in the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection at Brown University Library, although it is not known how Mrs. Brown acquired them. They measure 12 inches high by 10 inches wide and are mounted on stiff card. At some time during the last century, the name and regiment were inscribed in pencil on the verso of each.

These remarkable photographs provide probably the only surviving images of veterans of the Grande Armée and the Guard actually wearing their original uniforms and insignia, although some of the uniforms have obviously been recut by tailors of the 1850s. Each is a formal portrait of an individual photographed in a studio. Some of the men stand in front of a blank or paneled wall on an elaborately decorated carpet, while others are seated. One old veteran, who appears to have lost his right eye, Monsieur Lorier of the 24th Mounted Chasseur Regiment and a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, stands against a piece of furniture that also appears in other portraits by a curtain. It is not known who the photographer was and the blurring on one or two suggests the difficulty aging subjects had in standing still for several seconds while the plates were exposed.

The historical figures you’re familiar with, featuring the exploits seldom talked about...
Get your copy of Warfare History Network’s FREE Special Report,
Tolkien to Hitler: Famous Soldiers of World War I

Who are these grand old men? When and why they were photographed is a mystery, but some clues are offered in Henri Bouchot’s book L’Epopée du Costume Militaire Français, published in Paris in 1898, and containing pictures by the famous French military illustrator, Job. There is a color plate with a transparent overlay bearing the title “Les Vieux de la vieille, Le 5 Mai, 1855.” This depicts 10 Napoleonic War veterans in their full uniforms passing the column in the center of the Place Vendôme erected by Napoleon to commemorate the battle of Austerlitz. A Second Empire Zouave of the current French Army looks at the hunched and slow-moving procession. Most significant is the fact that two of the veterans are carrying wreaths. If one compares the individuals in the photographs, they match up very well with the figures crossing the square.

The date of the event—May 5, 1855—provides the clue about why these men were in Paris. It was the anniversary of the death of Napoleon, and every year on that date veterans gathered in the capital, as the Times of London noted: “The base and railings of the column of the Place Vendôme appear this day decked out with the annual offerings to the memory of the man whose statue adorns the summit. The display of garlands of immortelles, and other tributes of the kind, is greater than usual … the old soldiers of the Empire performed their usual homage yesterday at the same place.”

On the same day, a funeral service was held in the chapel of Les Invalides, attended by Prince Jerome and other dignitaries. The entire personnel of the Invalides as well as soldiers of the First Empire were present. Paris in May 1855 was full of visitors who had come to see the Universelle Exposition, which opened on the 15th, and it is quite possible that the veterans were photographed at the exposition. It is also known that several artists sought these old veterans in their original uniforms to serve as models in paintings of Napoleonic War battles.

These aged veterans of the Napoleonic Wars are likely the earliest uniformed soldiers ever caught on film. Click here to see these one-of-a-kind photographs.
Caption
M. Schmit of the 2nd Mounted Chasseur Regiment
These aged veterans of the Napoleonic Wars are likely the earliest uniformed soldiers ever caught on film. Click here to see these one-of-a-kind photographs.
Caption
M. Vitry of the Departmental Guard
M. Lefebre, a Sergeant of the 2nd Regiment of Engineers
Caption
M. Lefebre, a Sergeant of the 2nd Regiment of Engineers
M. Dreuse of the 2nd Light 
Horse Lancers of the Guard
Caption
M. Dreuse of the 2nd Light Horse Lancers of the Guard
M. Taria, a Sergeant of the 
Grenadier Guards
Caption
M. Taria, a Sergeant of the Grenadier Guards
M. Maire of the 7th Hussar Regiment
Caption
M. Maire of the 7th Hussar Regiment
M. Ducel of the Mamelukes of the Guard
Caption
M. Ducel of the Mamelukes of the Guard
M. Verlinde of the 2nd Lancers of the Guard
Caption
M. Verlinde of the 2nd Lancers of the Guard
M. Mauban of the 8th Dragoon Regiment
Caption
M. Mauban of the 8th Dragoon Regiment
M. Fabry of the 1st Hussar Regiment
Caption
M. Fabry of the 1st Hussar Regiment
M. Dupont of the 1st Hussar Regiment
Caption
M. Dupont of the 1st Hussar Regiment
M. Lorier of the 24th Mounted Chasseur Regiment
Caption
M. Lorier of the 24th Mounted Chasseur Regiment
M. Moret of the 2nd Hussar Regiment
Caption
M. Moret of the 2nd Hussar Regiment
M. Burg of the 24th Regiment of the Guard
Caption
M. Burg of the 24th Regiment of the Guard
M. Delignon, a Sergeant of the Mounted Chasseur of the Guard
Caption
M. Delignon, a Sergeant of the Mounted Chasseur of the Guard

Originally Published April 27, 2014

Updated February 20, 2017

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *



Issue Previews

Wunderwaffe: The Nazi Wonder Weapons

Wunderwaffe: The Nazi Wonder Weapons

As World War II turned against Hitler, he became desperate to develop weapons that might turn the tide. Some of the technologically advanced systems proved to be devastating.

Armored Cars of the Third Reich

Armored Cars of the Third Reich

German light and heavy armored cars enabled scouts to gather vital intelligence for panzer units.

A Sergeant in the 12th Armored Division

A Sergeant in the 12th Armored Division

From the Colmar to the Rhine, Sergeant Carl Erickson fought World War II as a tank driver with the 12th Armored Division.

The USO Turns 75: American soldiers’ “Home Away From Home”

The USO Turns 75: American soldiers’ “Home Away From Home”

During WWII, the unique civilian organization did much to boost the morale of soldiers at home and abroad.

facebook gplus twitter youtube rss

Enter Your Log In Credentials

Forgot your Password?

×
.