Napoleonic Military History Glossary

19th Century weapons were relatively standardized – musket, cannon, sword – but uniforms had become quite varied and detailed. (F)rench and (G)erman terms dominate in this period, and they refer primarily to uniform items.

Term Definition
à cheval (F) on horseback
à pied (F) on foot
atiradores Portuguese sharpshooters. One company per battalion of cacadores.
Bashkirs Asiatic tribal cavalry in Russian service. The Bashkirs continued to use bows during the Napoleonic Wars. Apparently, Lt-Col. Lee of the British 44th Foot advocated the re-introduction of the longbow as late as 1792. The longbow was at least as accurate as the musket, it had a longer effective range, a much higher rate of fire, and a more devastating effect on morale. Nevertheless, the musket prevailed, because a recruit could learn to use it in a few hours of training. Archery took years to perfect.
belgic shako Short British shako, with raised front plate (false front). First introduced in 1812, it gradually replaced the earlier cylindrical shako in British line infantry regiments, with the exception of the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment which still wore the stovepipe shako in 1815. Also worn by Belgian troops engaged at Waterloo.
Beschussdelle (G) A bullet dent indicating that a newly manufactured Kürass breast plate has been tested for its resistance to shot. The small dent was an important confidence builder for the Kürassier who might be ordered to charge into a storm of musketry. To this day, soldiers are known to test Kevlar helmets and armour vests by firing at them.
Zweispitz (G)
A hat with two corners, replacing the tricorne of the early and mid 18th Century. French revolutionary infantry, and pre-1808 Saxon, Prussian, Spanish, and many German soldiers wore the bicorne until the more practical shako took its place. Many officers maintained the bicorne even after their troops had adopted shakos or helmets. The bicorne was worn side-to-side or fore-and-aft, depending on national or regimental preference.
breeches Three-quarter length trousers, wide at the waist and narrow at the calf. Designed to be worn with gaiters or long boots.
colback (F)
Pelzmütze (G)
A wide, cylindrical fur hat, flat on the top, with a cloth bag hanging over one side. Worn by elite French and British hussars, some Prussian hussar regiments, French light infantry carabiniers, and Nassau grenadiers.
cacadores Portuguese light infantry.
carabinier (F) French light infantry grenadier. Also elite French heavy cavalier.
chasseur (F) Literally, hunter. French light infantry and light cavalry.
cockade A circular decoration in national colors usually held onto a hat with a strap and button. Red, white, and blue – revolutionary French, white – Bourbon French, yellow & black – Austrian.
cohorte (F) Unit in the French National Guard, similar to a battalion.
Congreve Rocket field battery named after British major-general Sir William Congreve who invented it.
cuirass (F)
Kürass (G)
Torso armour consisting of a back and breast plate. In some armies, only the breast plate was worn. Prussian Kürassiers took the field without armour in 1813, for reasons of economy, and they were instructed to equip themselves with captured French cuirasses in the course of the campaign.
Tschapka (G)
Polish hat with square top, with the corners pointing fore & aft and side to side. Worn by most Polish soldiers and lancers of various nations.
dolman (F) Short, tight-fitting, braided jacket worn by hussars.
éclaireur (F) Cavalry scout. A French Guard cavalry unit.
épaulette A shoulder board with fringe, either wool or mettalic, indicating elite or officer status. Junior officers might have one épaulette and one contre-épaulette, the latter without fringe.
flanker Infantry skirmisher in the British army. The term derives from the British infantry formation which differentiated center companies and flank companies. The left flank company was a light infantry company, grenadiers stood on the right flank of the battalion.
flanqueur (F)
Flankeur (G)
Cavalry skirmisher protecting a formed unit against surprise attack. Flanqueurs used rapid figure-8 movement to evade enemy fire, and to keep pace with the slower-moving parent formation.
French Young Guard infantry type.
raquettes (F)
Large, flat, round knots on hat cords.
Freiregiment (G)
Freibataillon (G)
Volunteer unit of infantry or – rarely – of cavalry.
Freikorps (G) Mixed volunteer formation of infantry and cavalry, sometimes including a detachment of artillery. 18th century Freikorps consisted primarily of foreigners, enemy prisoners and deserters. In the period of 1813–1814, German Freikorps were recruited among patriotic citizens, they were well disciplined and very reliable in combat. Formations like the Lützow and von Thielemann Freikorps eventually became regular army units. When Freikorps converted to line status, the infantry and cavalry contingents were separated to join their particular arm of service. If the individual contingents were too small to form a regular battalion or regiment, they were incorporated into an existing line unit or amalgamated with other former Freikorps detachments.
Freischar (G)
Francs-Tireurs (F)
Literally "horde of volunteers", the individual guerilla is called a Freischärler in German. A troop type commonly used in the 18th and 19th century, but made illegal by modern conventions.
Freischütz (G)
Robin des bois (F)
A legendary figure in possession of seven magic bullets – Freischüsse – which hit their mark at any range. One of the seven bullets – The last or a randomly chosen one – is controlled by the devil, i.e. it takes a path unkown to the marksman. Johann August Apel first told the tale in his Gespensterbuch – book of ghosts (with F. Laun, Leipzig 1810–1814); Johann Friedrich Kind wrote the text and Karl Maria von Weber composed the music for the famous opera by the same name which premiered in Berlin on 18th June 1821.
Freiwilliger (G) Volunteer, literally "free-willed". Prussia allowed the formation of Freiwillige Jäger in 1813, small units of marksmen attached to infantry and cavalry regiments.
fusilier (F)
Füsilier (G)
Originally an artillery train soldier armed with the flintlock fusil which eliminated the need for burning match, thereby reducing the danger of accidental powder explosions. Fusiliers became an infantry troop type when the flintlock musket was introduced as the standard infantry weapon. In Prussian and German service, Füsiliers were usually 2nd rate infantry, they received the young and unusually short men who were issued with slightly shorter muskets to facilitate loading. By 1806, Prussian and most German Füsilier units had evolved to light infantry, and they adopted the green coat previously limited to Jäger units. In British service, fusileers became an elite troop type similar to grenadiers, distinguished by bearskin caps.
guêtres (F)
Gamaschen (G)
Long cloth sleeves usually worn from the shoe to the knee, like false boots. Often black in winter, white in summer. These became shorter in later years, or were replaced with long trousers or short boots.
Grenzer (G) Literally a borderer. Austrian light infantry raised in Croatia. Given land in return for service protecting border areas against the Turks. Battalions of Grenzinfanterie were used as skirmishers, although they did fight in closed order as well.
Inhaber (G) Literally the owner of a regiment of infantry or cavalry.
Jäger (G) Literally a hunter. German elite light infantry typically recruited among professional foresters and game wardens.
Kaiserliche (G) Kaiserliks, imperial troops. Short for Kaiserliche und Königliche Armee or K.(u.)K.-Armee. The term referred to all imperial troops in the 17th and 18th century, and what was left of the Habsburg empire after Napoleon had annexed most of its German and Italian satellites.
Kalmyks Asiatic tribal cavalry in Russian service.
kiwer M.1812 Russian shako with curved top – high front & back, low on the sides. Nicknamed "the coal scuttle". Introduced in 1812.
Kollet (G) A short German coat.
Krümper (G)
Nickname for Prussian soldiers recruited and trained under the Krümpersystem. Implemented by Gerhard von Scharnhorst, this system of recruitment circumvented the Tilsit peace treaty of 1807 which limited the Prussian army to 42,000 soldiers under arms. Regiments were instructed to reduce their active strength, and make the vacant slots available for Krümper, men who were trained only for a few months and then returned to civilian life. By 1813, every regiment had a pool of 5,000 – 6,000 active soldiers and partially trained Krümper available. When mobilization came, the Krümper were called up to form 12 new musketeer battalions and 39 reserve infantry battalions.
Landsturm (G) The Landsturm Edict of 20th March 1813 was a directive regulating the formation of the Landsturm, second line militia. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau introduced the idea of an armed populace, but this was not fully implemented by the Prussian government. In light of the French revolution it is not surprising that the monarchy did not support the idea of a nation in arms. Nassau and the Austrian Empire raised Landsturm units during the Napoleonic Wars.
Landwehr (G) The Landwehr Edict of 17th March 1813 was a directive regulating the formation of the Landwehr, first line militia, based on Scharnhorst’s publications supporting universal conscription.
légère (F) Light.
Leib- (G) Literally "body" or bodyguard. Prefix used to indicate elite or guard status, as in Leib-Garde, Leib-Regiment, Leib-Kompanie, etc. The Leib-Kompanie of the first battalion carried the Leib-Fahne (sovereign’s colour) of the regiment.
levée en masse (F) Large-scale conscription of the French populace. The nation in arms successfully defended itself against counter-revolutionary forces.
licorne Russian artillery piece, a hybrid between howitzer and field gun.
mirliton (F)
Flügelmütze (G)
18th century hussar hat, still worn during the French Revolution and early Napoleonic Wars. A tall, and slightly conical shako, narrow at the top and with a cloth trail or wing (Flügel) attached to one side. This relatively long Flügel could be wrapped around the shako. Prussian hussars are popularly known as Flügelmützen-Husaren or Pelzmützen-Husaren, depending on the type of hat the regiment was issued.
ordananza Portuguese militia.
ordre mixte (F) The French regimental practice of deploying one infantry battalion in line, and protecting each of its flanks with a battalion in column. French infantry regiments consisted of three battalions, and they were trained to form ordre mixte together.
pelisse A short, braided, fur-trimmed coat worn by hussars. When not worn, the pelisse was carried over the left shoulder as a protection against sword cuts.
passepoil (F)
Paspel (G)
Trim lines along cuffs, cuff flaps, lapels, turnbacks, shoulder boards, pockets, and other clothing edges. Often referred to as edging. The colour of the passepoil usually contrasts with that of the facings.
Plänkler (G) Skirmisher. Plänkeln, blänkeln or blänkern was the act of skirmishing.
plastron A single piece of cloth replacing the coat lapels, buttoned at the edges like a double-breasted coat.
pupilles (F) Cadets. Usually recruited before they had completed their training or reached adulthood. A unit in the French Guard.
Schabrunke (G)
Cavalry pistol cover usually made of the same cloth as the Schabracke.
chabraque (F)
Schabracke (G)
Saddle cover made of cloth or sheepskin, the latter being more popular on campaign, because it provided additional padding and warmth.
sabretache (F)
Säbeltasche (G)
Literally sabre pouch. A flat pouch worn over the scabbard, usually decorated with regimental designations. More decorative than practical.
Schütze (G) Literally a shooter, marksman. German elite light infantry, slightly less adapt than the professional Jäger. Büchsenschütze – rifle-armed marksman.
Shrapnel Fused exploding cannister shell fired from field guns, named after British lieutenant Henry Shrapnel who invented it.
stovepipe shako British cylindrical shako worn during much of the Napoleonic era, until gradually replaced by the belgic shako after 1808.
tirailleur (F) French sharpshooter. Designation of the elite light infantry company in French light infantry battalions.
troika (R) Three horses hitched in triangular formation to tow a Russian wagon or limber.
turnbacks Turned coat tails, revealing the coat lining. The colour of the lining was often used to differentiate regiments in an army.
Ulan (G) German lancer, based on the original Polish troop type. In 1853, Prussian Ulans received a special uniform coat known as Ulanka.
valise porte-manteau (F) Round or square pouch behind the saddle, usually used to hold a raincoat.
velites (F) Juvenile recruits. A French Guard unit.
voltigeur (F) French light infantryman. Designation of the light infantry company in line battalions.
waistcoat A vest worn over the shirt and under the coat. Most pre-1812 style uniform coats were cut to reveal the bottom of the waistcoat.

Chris Salander

Miniature Wargaming