Volontaires Étrangers

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Origin and History

The unit was raised on June 1 1756 by Colonel Fischer to serve at sea and as garrison in the French colonies. Recruitment problems impeded the formation of the unit when its destination became known. Most of the recruits were German. The unit initially counted 3 battalions of about 911 men. In 1756 and 1757, its 3 battalions were sent to Bretagne.

By 1758, the second battalion comprised:

  • staff
    • 1 lieutenant-colonel
    • 1 aide-major
    • 1 sous aide-major
    • 1 chaplain
    • 1 surgeon
  • 1 grenadier company of:
    • 3 officers
    • 58 grenadiers
    • 1 drummer
    • 1 fifer.
  • 3 fusilier companies, each of:
    • 3 officers
    • 48 fusiliers
    • 1 drummer
    • 1 fifer

The second battalion was disbanded towards the end of 1758.

On January 27 1759, the first and third battalions were amalgamated into a single unit and renamed “Volontaires Étrangers de Vignolles”. The new unit comprised:

  • staff
    • 1 colonel
    • 1 lieutenant-colonel
    • 1 second lieutenant-colonel
    • 1 major
    • 1 aide-major
    • 1 sub-aide-major
    • 1 chaplain
    • 1 surgeon
  • 1 grenadier company of 3 officers and 60 men, consisting of:
    • 1 captain
    • 1 lieutenant
    • 1 second-lieutenant
    • 3 sergeants
    • 3 corporals
    • 3 sub-corporals
    • 49 grenadiers
    • 1 drummer
    • 1 fifer
  • 16 fusilier companies of 3 ooficers and 40 men, each consisting of:
    • 1 captain
    • 1 lieutenant
    • 1 second-lieutenant
    • 2 sergeants
    • 3 corporals
    • 3 sub-corporals
    • 30 grenadiers
    • 1 drummer
    • 1 fifer

On November 22 1759, when the French light troops were reorganised, the unit changed its name to “Volontaires d'Austrasie”. It then consisted of 948 men.

Initially, there were no commanders for the entire unit. However, each battalion was placed under the command of a lieutenant-colonel:

  • 1st battalion: Tirant
  • 2nd battalion: d'Anthonay
  • 3rd battalion: de la Prade, Baron de Stern

During the Seven Years' War, the unit was commanded by the following colonel-commandants:

  • since 1756: no information found
  • from January 27 1759: Eugène Larreteguy de Vignoles (killed in action near Neuhaus in 1761)
  • from 1761 to December 1762: Vicomte d'Harembures

The unit was disbanded in December 1762 and its troops incorporated into the Légion du Hainaut.

Service during the War

1st Battalion

At the end of 1756, the battalion was sent to defend the coasts of Bretagne.

By August 1 1757, the battalion was stationed at Vire in Lower Normandy.

On September 11 1758, the battalion took part in the victorious combat of Saint-Cast.

On January 27 1759, all battalions remaining in Europe were amalgamated into a single corps.

2nd Battalion

At the end of 1756, the battalion was sent to defend the coasts of Bretagne.

By January 1757, the battalion was garrisoning Avranches in Lower Normandy. On April 8, 150 volunteers under the command of M. de Saint Rome, with six 8-pdr cannon and 18 6-pdr cannon, embarked aboard the Robuste (74) in the estuary of the Gironde and sailed for Canada. On their way, a British frigate attacked the Robuste on three occasions, forcing her to turn back. On her way to France, the ship was once more attacked by a British privateer but managed to reach the Perthuis d'Antioche near the island of Ré.

On March 22 1758, the battalion left France with drafts from the 3rd battalion to serve in Canada. Indeed, it was part of the reinforcements sent from Brest to Louisbourg aboard du Chaffault's Squadron. The battalion took part in the defence of Louisbourg who finally surrendered on July 26, the battalion becoming prisoners of war. In mid-August, prisoners not disabled by wounds or sickness were embarked for Great Britain.

On January 27 1759, the battalion, which had been exchanged, was sent to the Antilles.

3rd Battalion

At the end of 1756, the battalion operated in Germany with the French army.

In November 1757, during the Franco-Imperial invasion of Saxony, the battalion was engaged and roughly handled by the Prussian Frei-Infanterie von Mayr.

In February 1758, the battalion was brought to full strength by drafts from the 1st Battalion. The lieutenant-colonel of the battalion also asked for colours because the regimental colours had been given to the 2nd Battalion. On March 25, the battalion was increased to 1,080 men and then subdivided into 2 distinct battalions, each of 540 men.

On January 27 1759, all battalions remaining in Europe were amalgamated into a single corps.

Amalgamated Corps

On January 27 1759, the 1st, 3rd and 4th battalions were amalgamated into a single unit and renamed “Volontaires Étrangers de Vignolles”. On November 22, when the French light troops were reorganised, the unit changed its name to “Volontaires d'Austrasie”. From June, the corps (now estimated at only 751 men) took part in the French offensive in Western Germany. By August 31, the main unit was attached to Chabot's Light Corps. By September 25, the unit was deployed at Grossen-Buseck near Annerod. Meanwhile, in the summer and autumn, a few companies had been assigned to Thurot's squadron which was blockaded in the harbour of Dunkerque by a British squadron under the command of Commodore William Boys. In October, Boys's Squadron was driven from his station by a gale. On October 15 at 5:00 p.m., Thurot seized the opportunity, slipped out through a thick fog and made to the northward. He then sailed for Ostend, Göteborg and later Bergen.

In January and February 1760, the detachment assigned to Thurot's force took part in an expedition against the Irish Coasts. On February 28, Thurot's small squadron was engaged and captured. The French prisoners were brought to Ramsey on the Isle of Man then to Belfast where they arrived on March 2. On May 10, they were freed and transported to France.

By the end of January 1760, the unit had taken its winter-quarters in the third line of the French Army along the Rhine and the Main from its mouth. On May 25, the unit was part of Prince Xavier's right reserve who advanced towards Lohr. On July 31, the Saxon Contingent along with La Marck Brigade drove Kielmansegg's Corps out of its defensive positions. The Volontaires du Hainaut, Volontaires d'Austrasie and the dragoons then pursued Kielmansegg. On August 2, Prince Xavier marched from his encampment at Lutterberg at the head of the grenadiers and chasseurs of his corps and made himself master of the town of Münden by a coup de main, taking the 350 men of the garrison prisoners of war. The Volontaires d'Austrasie entered into the place through a door while other troops scaled the walls. On August 8, an Allied detachment under Luckner attacked Einbeck, forcing the Volontaires d'Austrasie to retire to Harste where they were soon joined by a dragoon rgt and the Royal-Nassau Hussards. By December 30, the unit had taken its winter-quarters in Wanfried.

On February 2, 1761, during the Allied campaign in Hesse, Champagne Infanterie and the Volontaires d'Austrasie arrived at Mühlhausen where M. de Boisclaireau took command. Langensalza was occupied by 4 Saxon bns and Stainville's Corps was reinforced with the Légion Royale. On February 15, during the Combat of Langensalza, the unit was still posted at at Mühlhausen. On March 21, it took part in the Engagement of Grünberg. On March 25, M. de Montchenu's at the head of a detachment of his vanguard (Orléans Dragons brigade and mounted companies of the Volontaires de Flandre, Volontaires du Hainaut, Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince and Volontaires d'Austrasie) drove the Allies out of the village of Mengsberg before catching up with Zastrow at Leimsfeld. Montchenu successfully engaged the Allied rearguard.

By April 15, 1761, the units was attached to the Army of the Upper Rhine of the Duc de Broglie. On July 5, the Volontaires d'Austrasie and the Volontaires de Schomberg reached Soest. On July 10, Allied troops posted behind the village of Oestinghausen retired and then deployed in order of battle on a large heath enclosed within hedges near Hultrop. Their cavalry charged the Volontaires d'Austrasie who were closely following the retiring troops. The Volontaires d'Austrasie, after losing 60 men killed or wounded and 6 officers wounded, took refuge behind the hedges bordering the village where they were soon supported by the Volontaires de Saint-Victor. At the beginning of this action, the Maréchal de Broglie along with MM. de Poyanne, de Stainville, d'Egmont, the Comte de Lillebonne and the Comte de Broglie were not far behind the Volontaires d'Austrasie and they were forced to gallop to escape the Allied charge. In the night of August 16 to 17, the Saxon infantry of the corps of Prince Xavier took position to pass the Weser at Höxter at daybreak. The town was already defended by 2 infantry brigades, 2 cavalry brigades and the Volontaires d'Austrasie. On August 19, M. d'Espiez with 2 infantry brigades, 1 cavalry brigades and the Volontaires d'Austrasie, escorted a bread convoy to Göttingen. On September 14 at midnight, Caraman took position on the heights behind Naensen. He then immediately launched an attack with his dragoons, his cavalry, the Volontaires d'Austrasie and the battalion of grenadiers and chasseurs of Castellas Infanterie. These troops reached the Allied positions undetected. The Allies, although surprised, opposed a strong resistance, losing 3 guns, a colour and 600 men taken prisoners.

In March, 1762, the unit formed part of the Army of the Upper Rhine under the Prince de Soubise. On May 23 or 24, during the campaign in Western Germany, Luckner and Prince Frederick of Brunswick sent reconnoitring parties (including Riedesel Hussars and Frei Hussars von Bauer) towards Göttingen. These parties chased the French vanguard but Lieutenant-colonel Lahr of the Volontaires d'Austrasie sallied from Göttingen with dragoons and hussars to support the vanguard. Lahr was mortally wounded and his force driven back into Göttingen and the Allied parties captured 80 men and 100 horses before retiring once their reconnaissance completed. On June 24, the unit was present at the Battle of Wilhelmsthal. On July 10, M. de Vaux marched from Göttingen towards Uslar where the Volontaires de Flandre, Volontaires du Hainaut and Volontaires d'Austrasie chased the few Allied troops occupying the town before attacking the woods where they took more than 500 prisoners, including a lieutenant-colonel. However, Luckner's Corps, marching from Dassel, rapidly came to the support of the Allies and M. de Vaux retired to Göttingen. By July 21, the unit was attached to the army of the Prince de Condé. On August 30, Prince Xavier encamped at Windecken with the Saxon Contingent, 1 dragoon rgt and the Volontaires d'Austrasie. On September 5, Prince Xavier with the Saxon Contingent, a regiment of German cavalry, 1 sqn from Fitz-James Cavalerie and the Volontaires d'Austrasie took position at Bergen to protect Frankfurt and the French magazines on the Rhine. On September 17, M. d'Arembures at the head of the Volontaires d'Austrasie successfully attacked Freytag's cavalry, taking several prisoners. On November 20, Louis XV issued his instructions regarding the French armies serving in Germany, specifying which units should return to France right away and which should stay in Germany till the final evacuation. The present unit was among those that remained in Germany.

Uniform

Uniform of the Volontaires Étrangers

Privates

Uniform in 1758 - Source: Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar
Uniform Details as per
Etat Militaire of 1758
and the Abrégé du Dictionnaire Militaire of 1759
Headgear
Fusilier black tricorne laced silver
Grenadier probably black bearskin with a pewter grenade as frontal decoration
Neck stock black
Coat white lined white with white buttons under the lapels
Collar green
Shoulder Straps n/a
Lapels green
Pockets horizontal pockets, each with 3 white buttons
Cuffs green, each with 3 white buttons
Turnbacks white
Waistcoat white with white buttons
Breeches white
Gaiters grey
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt natural leather
Waistbelt natural leather
Cartridge Box black
Bayonet Scabbard black
Scabbard black


Armaments consisted of a musket and a bayonet. Fusiliers carried a sword (brass hilt) while the grenadiers had a sabre.

Officers

no information found yet

NCOs

no information found yet

Musicians

The musicians of the unit wore the livery of its colonel which is unfortunately unknown.

Uniform of the Volontaires de Vignoles and d'Austrasie

Privates

Uniform from 1759 - Source: Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar
Uniform Details as per
Etat Militaire of 1760
and a manuscript of 1761 kept at the Zeughaus in Berlin

completed where necessary as per Taccoli and Raspe
Headgear
Fusilier black tricorne laced white with a white cockade
Grenadier probably a black bearskin with a pewter grenade as frontal decoration
Neck stock black
Coat royal blue lined red with 4 white buttons under the right lapel
Collar red
Shoulder Straps red epaulet fringed red on the left shoulder
Lapels red, each with 7 small white buttons and 7 white laced buttonholes (no laced buttonholes as per Taccoli and Raspe)
Pockets horizontal pockets, each with 3 white buttons and 3 white laced buttonholes (no laced buttonholes as per Taccoli and Raspe)
Cuffs red, each with 3 white buttons
Turnbacks red
Waistcoat royal blue with one row of white buttons
Breeches white
Gaiters white, grey or black
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt natural leather (white as per Taccoli)
Waistbelt natural leather (white as per Taccoli)
Cartridge Box black
Bayonet Scabbard black
Scabbard black with brass fittings


Armaments consisted of a musket with a bayonet and a short sabre.

Officers

Officers wore a uniform similar to the one of the privates with the following exceptions:

  • silver laced tricorne with a white rosette
  • silver epaulette on the left shoulder
  • no turnbacks

Officers carried a stick.

NCOs

no information found yet

Musicians

Drummers and fifers wore the colonel's livery which is unfortunately unknown.

Uniform of the Dragoons

Although dragoons are not mentioned in the contemporary Etats Militaires, Pajol describes the following uniform for dragoons of Autrasie: red coat, waistcoat, lapels, turnbacks, cuffs and collar; blue housings and schabraque; helmet à la Scomberg. This might be the strange helmet illustrated in Raspe's publication of 1762.

For his part, Mouillard illustrates the uniform of the Dragons d'Austrasie as follows: blue coat line blue, waistcoat and collar; red cuffs, lapels, turnbacks and breeches; blue schabraque and housings edged black; helmet à la Schomberg.


Volontaires d'Austrasie - Uniform of the dragoons in 1759 - Source: Frédéric Aubert


Colours

Colours of the Volontaires Étrangers

Colonel colour: probably white with a white cross (the standard infantry colonel flag).

Ordonnance colours: white cross with each canton subdivided into 2 vertical band, one white the other green. The upper cantons had their green section towards the flagpole and the lower cantons had their white section towards the flagpole.

Colonel Colour - Source: Kronoskaf
Ordonnance Colour - Source: Kronoskaf

Colours of the Volontaires d'Austrasie (1759-1762)

Colonel colour: probably white with a white cross (the standard infantry colonel flag).

Ordonnance colour: white cross with 4 black cantons; each canton carried a white cross of St. Andrew.

Colonel Colour - Source: Kronoskaf
Ordonnance Colour - Source: Kronoskaf

Regimental guidon for the dragons of the Volontaires d'Austrasie in 1759: not mentioned in the 'États Militaires' but, following the colours of the infantry flag, we have made this proposal:

  • black field; centre device consisting of a golden (or silver ?) royal sun surmounted by a red scroll bearing the motto “NEC PLURIBUS IMPAR”

References

This article is mostly a translation Jean-Louis Vial's article “Volontaires Étrangers” published on his website Nec Pluribus Impar. The article also incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. VII, Paris, 1891, pp. 238-239

Other sources

Menguy, Patrice: Les Sujets du Bien Aimé (a website who has unfortunately disappeared from the web)

Morris, John: Volontaires Etrangers Au Canada - 1756-1806, 18th Century Military Notes & Queries No. 4

Partridge, Mike: Answers - Volontaires Etrangers, 18th Century Military Notes & Queries No. 3

Rogge, Christian: The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006

Service Historique de l'armée de terre - Sommaire des forces armées Françaises à l'intérieur et à l'extérieur de la France - 1er Août 1757

Vasey, Charles H.: Military Answers - Volontaires Etrangeres, 18th Century Military Notes & Queries No. 2

Raspe, Gabriel Nicolas: Recueil de toutes les troupes qui forment les armées françoises, Nuremberg 1761

Raspe, Gabriel Nicolas: Recueil de toutes les troupes qui forment les armées françoises, Nuremberg 1762

Taccoli, Alfonso: Teatro Militare dell' Europa, Part 1, vol. 2; Madrid, March 1760