A basic run through of equipment used by Line troops in 1815.
Three soldiers awoke before dawn on the 18th of June 1815. An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Prussian. Their names are unknown, but in most ways they represent the other thousands on the field that day. Though the Englishman didn’t represent his German and Dutch allies, much of his equipment was the same, though the Prussian didn’t represent some of the national contingents in his army, or for that matter the large numbers of more simply armed militia, much of his equipment was similarly common through his army. The Frenchman is not of the Garde, nor the other of their elite units, but their kit is essentially the same, except in regards to weaponry, even the light infantry used the same basic equipment.
They are all line soldiers, the men who won the great battles we remember, who stood in ranks shoulder to shoulder, but who if required could skirmish, and marched to within 50 yards of an enemy and attempted to break him by firepower.
The French soldier in his long tailed blue uniform, with regimental facings and buttons had equipment that was well suited to campaigning. His shako was of the bell topped variety, with distinguishing features for Grenadiers, fusiliers and light infantry. Usually on campaign long gaiters would be covered by loos trousers. His 1777 Charleville Musket was 17.5mm caliber 151.5 centimetres long and just as hardy and lethal as a British or Prussian gun. From his white shoulder straps he had a leather “Giberne” cartridge box holding a wooden block with two compartments each holding 15 rounds ball cartridge and all the tools he needed to maintain his weapon. The box was suspended over the left shoulder.
In a “frog” at the end of the strap over his right shoulder he carried two scabbards, one for a 46.5 cm triangular section bayonet and the other held a short infantry hanger. When not in use items would normally sat high at the small of the back, so as to keep the soldier unencumbered. If he was not a Grenadier, or some other kind of “elite” the bayonet was slipped though a loop in the cartridge box strap.
The knapsack was a hardy and comfortable affair made of tanned calfskin, with a flap, with two shoulder straps which made it easy to wear. Strapped to its top was his greatcoat and inside it was filled with all his personal equipment. He also carries a non regulation canvass satchel, and a canteen which could take the form of wooden barrels or bottles with wicker covers, suspended by string.
The Prussian Regular soldier formed the core of Blücher’s army. He too wore a distinctive bell topped shako, which was similar to the French unless covered by its black oilskin. He wore a blue double breasted uniform and long blue, grey or white trousers with foot straps to be pulled over their boots, gaiters were still in use in some units. As usual specific differences, noticeably in shoulder straps and collars, denoted regiments, and further distinctions set apart fusiliers, grenadiers and light infantry. He carries an 8 pound calfskin pack similar to the French model but with and added chest strap like the British, indeed British uniforms and equipment were bought and converted to look more Prussian. He carried a rolled greatcoat and a blanket roll, in some regiments Sabres were also carried in a scabbard beside the triangular section bayonet of typical length. These muskets were either 1809 pattern 17.9mm caliber 143.5cm long Prussian models or British imports which are described below. A black leather cartridge box was suspended form the left shoulder for his ammunition, with a large brass plate on the flap, resting behind the right hip.
The British Redcoat, post Waterloo increasing referred to as Thomas Atkins, is one of the the most distinctive figures of the Napoleonic Wars. The fact that Britain financed the majority of the coalition armies from 1805 to 1812 meant that much of their equipment could be seen in most European armies. A typical line infantryman wore a short tailed brick red wool coatee, with specific regimental facing’s, lace and buttons. Grenadiers, centre company men and light infantry were identified by the colour of the tuft in the shako, visual badge device and shoulder straps. At Waterloo he wore a 1812 pattern “Belgic” shako. Loose trousers, which varied from white to grey depending on the season, were worn over black ankle gaiters and square toed hobnailed boots. His equipment consisted of a black square wooden framed “Trotter” knapsack, with three chest constricting straps. On his right hip suspended from a wide white strap over his left shoulder and sitting squarely below the knapsack over the kidneys was his ammunition pouch holding 40-60 rounds of ball cartridge. Over the right shoulder and behind his left hip was his 17 inch triangular section bayonet in a black scabbard, and tight under his left arm was his haversack and wooden canteen, both issued by the board of ordinance. On top of the knapsack was the blanket roll. All in all he carried 60lbs on his back. His primary weapon was the East India Pattern “Brown Bess” musket 55.25 inches long and firing a hefty .75 calibre round.
These men bore the brunt of the fighting at Waterloo, just remembered as anonymous lines of uniforms that stood in square or marched in column. These men lived and in part they lived day to day through the tools of their trade. Taking care of this equipment and making it work under pressure was at the centre of every day, especially that Sunday in June 1815.
French Napoleonic Infantryman 1803-1815: Terry Crowdy
Napoleon’s Line Infantry: Phillip Haythornthwaite.
Prussian Regular Infantryman: Oliver Schmidt.
Prussian Line Infantry 1792-1815: Peter Hofschroer.
British Infantry Equipments 1808-1908: Mike Chappell