Volontaires de l'armée

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Armies >> French Army >> Volontaires de l'armée

Origin and History

During campaigns, as early as 1757 but particularly after 1758, the generals of the French army would avoid risky large encounters and would engage in a war of movements and positions... to force the Allies to adopt a defensive stance; and to try to choose their own ground for an eventual battle. The lack of light troops soon became obvious.

Indeed, this type of war where scattered advanced positions were used to cut supplies and forages, to prevent the erection of bridges, to occupy strategic places, and to force the enemy to change positions... requires a much greater number of mobile units. This led to the multiplication and increase of light units, but still this remained insufficient. It must be noted that dragoon regiments constituted a mounted infantry who usually took part in the petite guerre (guerilla). However, most of these regiments had remained in France to guard the coasts, their mobility allowing them to rapidly reach threatened coastal areas. Hussars were too few and, as cavalrymen, could not hold positions. The situation required infantrymen. This explains, for example, the idea to adjoin to hussar regiments two corps of chasseurs à pied (foot jägers): Granpré and d'Origny (or Dorigny). However, this measure reduced the mobility of hussars and the chasseurs à pied were not used in conjunction with them. Therefore, it was becoming necessary to dispose of a large number of small units who could be sent forward in advanced positions. This explains the creation and multiplication of so called Volontaires de l'armée.

These Volontaires de l'armée are often short-lived units receiving the name of their commander, like Anfernet, La Noue de Vair, de Muret, de Canon, de Verteuil, Saint-Victor... This makes things difficult when we try to follow these units throughout campaigns. These units were composed of soldiers taken in the various infantry regiments present in an army (more rarely from the cavalry). The soldiers kept the uniforms of their respective units. After a few weeks, or sometimes months, these soldiers were returned to their parent units.

These Volontaires de l'armée were usually supported by dragoons, hussars and especially by light troop regiments who included mounted troops, the Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince for example. Throughout the war, an officer like Stanislas Louis de La Noue Vieuxpont, Comte de Vair, had several of these temporary units wearing his name.

In February 1761, the Volontaires de Saint-Victor, already active in 1760 as Volontaires de l'armée, escaped to the temporary character of such units, when the Maréchal de Broglie ordered to all infantry regiments forming part of his army to designate two soldiers for the creation of this unit. Nevertheless, this new unit was an independent light troop regiments like the Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince, the Volontaires du Hainaut, or the Volontaires de Flandre, its soldiers still being paid by their parent regiment.

Service during the War

The Volontaires de l'armée were regularly used throughout the war, particularly after 1758, to occupy advanced posts in front of the army.

On March 15 1760, a party of volontaires under M. de Noue de Vair was driven out of Schlitz and forced to retire to Salmünster by an Allied detachment under Gilsa. By May 23, the Volontaires de Vair were part of the centre vanguard of Broglie's Army. By July 23, the Volontaires de Vair were at Wasbeck under the personal command of the Duc the Broglie. In July, Stanislas Louis de La Noue Vieuxpont, Comte de Vair was killed at the head of his unit of Volontaires de l'armée at the affair of Sachsenhausen. As soon as February 1760, the Maréchal de Broglie had adjoined him M. de Saint-Victor as second in command. At the death of the Comte de Vair, Broglie entrusted this unit to M. de Saint-Victor. The following year, this particular unit of Volontaires de l'armée became a permanent unit under the name of Volontaires de Saint-Victor. By August 6 1760, Saint-Victor's unit was scouting the banks of the Weser between the Diemel and the Fulda. On August 10, Colonel Donop attacked and dislodged the Saint-Victor's volunteers (2,000 men), who had been detached into the woods of Sababurg to protect Broglie's line of communication with Prince Xavier. The French lost 500 men killed, wounded or taken prisoners; and 3 guns. The routed Volontaires de Saint-Victor took refuge into Münden. By December 30, the unit had taken its winter-quarters in Krumbach.

On August 9 of the same year, the Volontaires de Wandersmesch, who were defending the bridge of Salzderhelden on the Leine, abandoned their post and retired to Northeim. On August 11, the Volontaires de Wandersmesch surrendered to an Allied detachment. By December 30, two units of Volontaires de l'Arméee are reported in winter-quarters in Krumbach: the Volontaires de Saint-Denis and the Volontaires de Neufchatel.

It was often difficult to identify precisely the French officers leading these units of Volontaires de l'armée. For instance, there were several officers serving in the French army of the period who wore the names of De Vair, de Wurmser, de Saint-Victor, etc.

Uniform

To the exception of the Volontaires de Saint-Victor, the temporary Volontaires de l'armée units had no specific uniform. The soldiers attached to these short-lived units simply wore the uniform of their parent regiments.

The drummers of the regiment wore the Royal Livery: blue coat lined red; red cuffs, waistcoat and breeches; laced with the braid of the small Royal Livery.

Drummer wearing the Royal Livery - Source: Jocelyne Chevanelle

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

French Royal Livery - Source: reconstruction based on a sample from Jean-Louis Vial's collection


Colours

The Volontaires de l'armée did not carry specific colours.

References

Acknowledgements

This article is a translation of a text Jean-Louis Vial publishing the website Nec Pluribus Impar.