French Infantry Organisation North America

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Introduction

Most French regiments who supplied troops for North America were organized as two battalions, but only a single battalion would have been sent to Canada with the other battalion remaining in Europe. In the case of the Régiment de Berry, two battalions were sent to Canada (2nd and 3rd) with the 1st Battalion remaining in Europe. Each of the regimental colonels stayed in Europe, as did the 1st Battalion of their respective regiments.

Organisation of a Battalion

After the War of the Austrian Succession, a regulation dated February 10 1749 reduced each battalion to 13 companies. However, this regulation did not standardise the number of battalions per regiment. Therefore, regiments still consisted of 4, 2 or 1 battalion.

On the eve of the Seven Years' War, a regulation dated August 1 1755 increased each battalion to a wartime strength of 16 fusilier companies, 1 grenadier company and a regimental staff. A new regulation of August 17 1757 brought each battalion to 17 fusilier companies and 1 grenadier company (for more details on the organisation of the French Infantry operating in Europe, see our article French Infantry Organisation).

However, from Governor General Vaudreuil's letter to Machault (Controller-General of Finances - Paris), dated November 6, 1757, it is clear that the French battalions in Canada were still organized under the 1749 model of a battalion, 12 fusilier companies and 1 grenadier company (Brodhead, 1858: Page 498), and not the 1755 model. Yet company organization was different in North America with the addition of 10 men per battalion line company and 5 men in the grenadier company. On paper, the authorized strength reached 50 men per company (NCO's plus Rank & File). This increased was authorized on February 25, 1757, but does not include the Régiment de Berry. The authorized levels now were close to 650 men per battalion, but the strengths never equaled those levels and were always at least 130 men short. On paper, this allowed Montcalm's battalions to be on par with the strength of European battalions under the newer 1755 model, but with fewer officers and NCOs and thus less expense — fewer companies in each of Montcalm's battalions, but each company was larger in size. Only additional drafts and recruits needed to be shipped to Canada.

On September 18, 1757, Montcalm reports only an average of 39 men per company and not the authorized 50 men (Brodhead, 1858: Page 636). Again, this 50 men per company does not include officers. In 1757, most of the reinforcements arriving from France were authorized to the Troupes de la Marine and rebuilding the La Reine and Languedoc battalions which had lost eight companies to the British while in sea transit. The replacement companies for the lost La Reine and Languedoc arrived in September 1757 (Bouganville Journal, September 9, 1757).

From the Adventure in the Wilderness: The American Journals of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, 1756-1760, Edited by Edward Hamilton, University of Oklahoma Press, 1964. Journal entry for June 13, 1757:

"The King has granted M. de Vaudreuil all the aid that he asked for this colony, to wit: an increase of ten companies for the troops of La Marine, on the basis of 65 men per company, recruits to completer the others, eight companies to replace those captured (at sea) of La Reine and Languedoc, recruits sufficient to put all the companies of our six battalions at 50 to 55 men, a detachment of royal artillery and engineers, a body of scouts and this reinforcement amounts to about 3,000 men. It is now only a question of their getting here."

Of these 3,000 men, only about 1,100 actually arrived in Canada (Montcalm to Paulmy, Department of War, September 18, 1757 in Brodhead, 1858, Page 636).

Organisation of Companies

Authorized strength of a French Regular Company (Canada Only from 1757 to 1759):

  • 1 captain
  • 1 lieutenant
  • 2 sergeants
  • 3 corporals
  • 3 lance corporals (ansepessades')
  • 41 privates
  • 1 drummer.

There were no ensigns. There is the possibility that 1 or 2 cadets could be attached, but the attachment of cadets may have been limited to the Troupes de la Marine. The grenadier company might have had an sub-lieutenant attached; this now being the only difference in company size between the grenadier and the other line companies.

The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of Berry Infanterie were originally slated to be shipped to India and were organized to reflect that theater, but were then shipped to North America — 9 companies, each under three officers, and 60 other ranks. The Berry regiment suffered badly from an epidemic during transit.

Strength of Montcalm's Regular Regiments 1757-1759

In 1757, instead of about 650 men per battalion (including about 580 Rank & File), those regiments in Canada fielded only about 470 men per battalion (not counting the even weaker Languedoc and La Reine). The slow rate of reinforcements reaching Canada allowed Montcalm to slightly increase his strength, but not build those forces to anywhere near the authorized strength. Although 20% under their authorized strength, Montcalm's companies were roughly in line with the European levels and their 40-man companies (NCO's plus Rank & File). Montcalm's larger regiments and companies were only on paper, but it does foster both complaints in the historical correspondence and confusion in histories and narratives including suggestions of 10-company battalions.

Effective Rank & File
Battalion July 29, 17571 April 30, 17582 May 17593
II./La Reine 369 465 440
II./La Sarre 451 499 489
II./Royal Roussillon 472 508 485
II./Languedoc 322 474 473
II./Guyenne 492 508 436
II./Béarn 464 516 454
II. And III./Berry n/a 811 908

In his letter to Maréchal de Belleisle dated April 30, 1758, Doreil includes the statement: "The complete out to 4,230, it consequently lacks 449 men, and 1,250 would be required to carry the companies of the six battalions which first arrived to 50 men. We have actually only 100 men in the hospitals of Québec, Montréal and Trois-Rivières."

References

1 Adventure in the Wilderness: The American Journals of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, 1756-1760 (Edited by Edward Hamilton, University of Oklahoma Press, 1964. Journal entry for July 29, 1757).

2 Letter from M. Doreil to Marshall de Belle Isle, April 30, 1758 (Brodhead, John Romeyn Brodhead. 1858. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York: Procured in Holland, England and France. Vol. X, Weed Parsons and Company, Printers, Albany. Page 702). On-line.

3 Quebec: The Battle that Won Canada (Stuart Reid, Osprey Publishing, 2003).

4 Military Uniforms in Canada 1665-1970. Summers, Jack; Rene Chartrand and R.J. Marrion. Canadian War Museum, Historical Publication No. 16, National Museum Canada, 1981.

Acknowledgements

Kenneth P Dunne for the initial version of this article