Cadet Senior Theses in History

Date of Award

Spring 4-14-2018

Document Type

Bachelor's Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Science

Degree Granting Institution

United States Military Academy




French Light Infantry, Napoleon's German Campaign of 1813


Although light infantry held a prominent place within the French corps system, and had proven their professional reputation as valuable and decisive assets in numerous Napoleonic campaigns, they were relegated to a second-class status behind other units during the reconstruction of the Grande Armée. Napoleon’s incessant demands for line-infantry units, as well as a powerful Imperial Guard, led to the creation of ineffective light infantry regiments that were unprepared for the rigors of their tactical and operational duties. Their usual tactical capabilities of skirmishing, reconnaissance, and screening were lost on the newly formed regiments, who were unable to uphold the mantel of French light infantry. Napoleon continued to place heavy demands upon ill-prepared units, which resulted in tactical and operational problems throughout the campaign. The French Army’s operational functions were ineffective, because light infantry units were unable to protect their supply trains, communications lines, screen their advancements, or even follow their enemy. These problems began to plague the Grande Armée until they had ultimately affected their operational capabilities too, which caused the French Army to be unable to achieve a decisive victory in almost a dozen conflicts spanning a period of six months. The initial subordination of light infantry during Napoleon’s reformation of the Grande Armée had dire consequences for the French in 1813, and ultimately led to Napoleon’s defeat in the German Campaign in 1813.