Infantry of the Line
The Infantry of the Line made up the majority of the Grande Armée. In 1803, Napoleon had reinstated the term Regiment, the revolutionary term demi-brigade (due to the fact there were two per brigade and it lacked the royal connotations) was now only used for provisional troops and depot units. At the time of the formation of the Grande Armée, the French Army had 89 Régiments de Ligne, a number which roughly corresponded with the number of départements in France. There would eventually be 156 Ligne regiments.
The Régiments de Ligne varied in size throughout the Napoleonic Wars, but the basic building block of the Infanterie of the Line was the battalion. A line infantry battalion was numbered at about 840 men; however, this was the battalion's 'full strength' and few units ever reached this. A more typical strength for a battalion would be 400-600 men. From 1800 to 1803 a line infantry battalion had eight fusilier companies, and one grenadier company. From 1804 to 1807 a line infantry battalion had seven fusilier companies, one grenadier company, and one voltigeur company. From 1808 to 1815 a line infantry battalion had four companies of fusiliers, one company of grenadiers, and one company of voltigeurs.
The Fusiliers made up the majority of a line infantry battalion, and may be considered the typical infantryman of the Grande Armée. The Fusilier was armed with a smoothbore, muzzle-loaded flintlock Charleville model 1777 musket and a bayonet. Fusilier training placed emphasis on speed of march and endurance, along with individually aimed fire at close range and close quarters combat. This differed greatly from the training given to the majority of European armies, which emphasised moving in rigid formations and firing massed volleys. Many of the early Napoleonic victories were due to the ability of the French armies to cover long distances with speed, and this ability was thanks to the training given to the infantry. From 1803, each battalion comprised eight Fusilier companies. Each company numbered around 120 men.
In 1805, one of the Fusilier companies was dissolved and reformed as a Voltigeur company. In 1808, Napoleon reorganised the Infantry battalion from nine to six companies. The new companies were to be larger, comprising 140 men, and four of these were to be made up of Fusiliers, one of Grenadiers, and one of Voltigeurs.
The line Fusilier wore a bicorne hat, until this was superseded by the shako in 1807. The uniform of a Fusilier consisted of white trousers, white surcoat and a dark blue coat (the habit long model until 1812, thereafter the habit veste) with white lapels, red collar and cuffs. Each Fusilier wore a coloured pom-pom on his hat. The colour of this pom-pom changed depending on the company the man belonged to. After the 1808 reorganisation, the First company was issued with a dark green pom-pom, the second with sky blue, the third with orange and the fourth with violet.
Grenadiers were the élite of the line infantry and the veteran shock troops of the Napoleonic infantry. Newly formed battalions did not have a Grenadier company; rather, Napoleon ordered that after two campaigns, several of the strongest, bravest and tallest fusiliers were to be promoted to the Grenadier company, so each line battalion which had seen more than two campaigns had one company of Grenadiers.
Regulations required that Grenadiers recruits were to be the tallest, most fearsome men in the regiments, and all were to have moustaches. To add to this, Grenadiers were initially equipped the a bonnet à poil or bearskin, as well as red epaulettes on their coat. After 1807 regulations stipulated that line Grenadiers were to replace their bearskin with a shako lined red with a red plume; however, many chose to retain their bearskins. In addition to the standard Charleville model 1777 and bayonet, Grenadiers were also equipped with a short sabre. This was to be used for close combat, but most often ended up serving as a tool to cut wood for campfires.
The Grenadier company would usually be situated on the right side of a formation, traditionally the place of greatest honour. During a campaign, Grenadier companies could be detached to form a Grenadier battalion or occasionally a regiment or brigade. These formations would then be used as a shock force or the vanguard for a larger formation.
Voltigeurs (literally, Vaulters or Leapers) were élite light infantry of the line regiments. In 1805, Napoleon ordered that the smallest, most agile men of the line battalions be chosen to form a Voltigeur company. These troops were to be second only to the Grenadiers in the battalion hierarchy. Their name comes from their original mission. Voltigeurs were to combat enemy cavalry by vaulting up onto the enemy's horses, a fanciful idea which failed to succeed in combat. Despite this, the Voltigeurs did perform a valuable task, skirmishing and providing scouts for each battalion, as well as providing an organic light infantry component for each line regiment. In Voltigeur training, emphasis was placed on marksmanship and quick movement.
Voltigeurs were equipped with large yellow and green or yellow and red plumes for their bicornes. After 1807, their shakos were lined with yellow and carried similar plumes. They also had yellow epaulettes lined green and a yellow collar on their coats.
Originally, Voltigeurs were to be equipped with the short dragoon musket, however in practice they were equipped with the Charleville model 1777 and bayonet. Like Grenadiers, Voltigeurs were equipped with a short sabre for close combat, and like Grenadiers this was rarely used. Voltigeur companies could be detached and formed into regiments or brigades to create a light infantry formation. After 1808, the Voltigeur company was situated on the left of the line when in combat. This was traditionally the second highest position of honour in the line of battle.