Vintage Photos of Veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, Taken Circa 1858

Monsieur Moret of the 2nd Regiment 1814/15

His­to­ri­ans have debat­ed for cen­turies how Napoleon Bona­parte man­aged to turn the same men who once over­threw a king in the name of lib­erté, égal­ité  and fra­ter­nité into a for­mi­da­ble fight­ing force devot­ed to an emper­or. But that’s pre­cise­ly what he did. As he swept through Italy, Spain and Egypt, his army grew rapid­ly and not just with French troops. Pol­ish, Ger­man, Dutch and Ital­ian sol­diers took up arms under Napoleon’s ban­ner. In 1805, in a French vil­lage fac­ing the Eng­lish Chan­nel, Napoleon chris­tened his mas­sive multi­na­tion­al army the Grande Armée.

Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde  1813-1815.

Orig­i­nal­ly, the diminu­tive despot from Cor­si­ca planned to use the force to invade Britain but that ulti­mate­ly nev­er hap­pened. Instead, he direct­ed his force to take out some of his con­ti­nen­tal rivals. The Grande Armée destroyed the Holy Roman Empire at Auster­litz. After it forced the Aus­tri­ans into sub­mis­sion fol­low­ing the Bat­tle of Wagram in 1809, the Grande Armée set out for Napoleon’s dis­as­trous cam­paign in Rus­sia. As it marched towards Moscow in 1812, its ranks swelled to over a half mil­lion troops. As it retreat­ed, it was reduced to less than 120,000.

Monsieur Vitry Departmental Guard

Napoleon and the Grande Armée were final­ly defeat­ed in 1815 dur­ing the Bat­tle of Water­loo. And though Napoleon was igno­min­ious­ly exiled to Elba, he, and his army, con­tin­ued to be revered by the French. On the anniver­sary of his death, May 5th, vet­er­ans of the Napoleon­ic wars would pay homage to the Emper­or by march­ing in full uni­form through Paris’ Place Vendôme.

Quartermaster Fabry 1st Hussars

In 1858, some­one took por­traits of the vet­er­ans using that new­fan­gled tech­nol­o­gy called pho­tog­ra­phy. The men were well into old age when the pic­tures were tak­en, and some were clear­ly strug­gling to stay still for the length of the camera’s expo­sure. But they all look impres­sive in their uni­forms com­plete with epaulettes, medals, sash­es and plumes. You can see some of the images above. Click on each to enlarge them.

The pho­tographs, high­light­ed this week on Mash­able, come from a web­site host­ed by Brown Uni­ver­si­ty. There you can see more images from the col­lec­tion.

via Mash­able

Relat­ed Con­tent:

14,000 Free Images from the French Rev­o­lu­tion Now Avail­able Online

The First Col­or Pho­tos From World War I: The Ger­man Front

Napoleon: The Great­est Movie Stan­ley Kubrick Nev­er Made

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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Comments (5)
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  • David Zapparoli says:

    Any text to go along with the images?

  • Tom Marks says:

    Won­der­ful lit­tle bit of time trav­el. Thank you. Would love to know what the pho­to­graph­ic process was. I’m a lit­tle rusty on my his­to­ry of pho­to­graph­ic process­es.

  • RockD says:

    Why do you keep repeat­ing the lie that Napoleon was dimin­u­a­tive?
    Just British pro­pa­gan­da at the time and con­tin­u­ing British pro­pa­gan­da after­wards to lev­el the great man who destroyed monar­chies all over the con­ti­nent. Well above aver­age height for the time.

  • Kevin C says:

    As I under­stand, Napoleon was 5′2″ in the French mea­sure which made him rough­ly 5′6″-ish in height as we mea­sure today. That is a bit taller than the aver­age of the time. The work of British car­toon­ist James Gill­ray went a long way to cre­ate the thought that he was small and the term Napoleon com­plex. The above pic­tures are fas­ci­nat­ing.

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