Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Régiment d'Agénois


Like other French infantry regiments, Agénois consisted of two battalions (both of which served in America). Each battalion consisted of 1 grenadier company, 1 chasseur company (their equivalents in the British and American armies was light infantry), and 4 fusilier companies.


One battalion of Régiment Agénois was dispatched from France to the West Indies in October, 1777. There, the battalion helped garrison the island of Guadeloupe. In 1779, a portion of the troops was placed aboard Comte d’Estaing’s fleet and participated in the siege of Savannah. There, the detachment participated in the bloody assault on the Spring Hill redoubt (October 9, 1779). Afterwards, the men from Agénois were disembarked on the isle of Grenada in the West Indies. In 1781, the battalion was reunited on Martinique, and later, sent to Virginia where it participated in the siege of Yorktown. After the British surrender, the battalion was returned to Martinique, and in January, 1782, Agénois contributed to the siege of Brimstone Hill on St. Kitts. There, on January 18, the grenadiers and chasseurs of Agénois, along with those of Touraine, were attacked at Basse-Terre by a large relief force disembarked from a British fleet. The French companies were able to contain the British landing until reinforcements arrived, and this helped bring about the eventual surrender of the British garrison on Brimstone Hill. The troops from Agénois then served aboard the French fleet that was defeated at the battle of The Saintes (April 9 and 12, 1782). Most of the fusiliers were lost: those aboard L’Hector were captured by the British navy, and those aboard Le César perished when the ship exploded.


At the time France entered the war, Agénois wore a uniform white coat with pink cuffs and lapels, and a green collar. A new set of uniform regulations was issued in 1779, although the older uniforms were not immediately discontinued. Under the new regulations, the regiment wore a white coat with violet cuffs. Violet also trimmed the collar, lapels, and pocket flaps, which were white. The new regulations replaced the tall bearskin caps the grenadiers traditionally wore with a three-cornered hat decorated with a red pompom.

The contemporary drawing below shows an Agénois fusilier in the 1779-regulation uniform (excepting the plume, which was a feature of the older uniform).

There is reason to doubt that Agénois strictly adhered to the new regulations. The grenadiers, for example, appear to have retained the bearskin caps. Baron de Montlezun, in his Souvenirs des Antilles (1818) compared a conical-shaped plant found in the West Indies to the caps worn by the Agénois grenadiers (among others) during the American Revolution:

“Je voudrais pouvoir détailler au botaniste la variété des plantes que je foulais aux pieds; celle qui me frappa davantage, que je ne me rappelais point d'avoir vue, et que j'ai baptisée bonnet de grenadier, est une espèce de raquette, en masse demi-ovale, ou cône arrondi au sommet, façonnée dans son contour en côtes hérissées de piquans. L'ensemble a la dimension et la forme exacte d'un bonnet de grenadier surmonté d’un panaché si minutieusement ressemblant par ses proportions, sa teinte rouge-vif, et la place qu'il occupe sur cette plante, à ceux dont se décorent nos premiers soldats d'élite, que je fus saisi d'étonnement à un point que je n'ai jamais éprouvé, et que je ne pus m'empêcher de songer tout de suite aux braves grenadiers d'Agénois et aux nôtres, qui en portaient de pareils sur leurs têtes. Quelques-unes de ces plantes ont plusieurs pompons, mais le plus souvent elles n'en ont qu'un seul d'un beau rouge et de superbe effet!”

Another discrepancy is that the supposedly violet color of the cuffs may have been closer to blue in practice. Bluish cuffs can be seen in the paintings below by Blérancourt and van Blarenberghe. Of course, this could also reflect an error on the part of the painters, or a change in the color of the paint over time. However, René Chartrand, in The French Army in the American War of Independence (1991), refers to one source at Yorktown describing a French regiment wearing “white coats turned up with blue,” which could only be the supposedly violet-clad troops from Agénois or Gâtinais.

Detail from a Blérancourt painting showing a fusilier of Régiment Forez (left) and grenadier of Régiment Agénois (center). Both regiments purportedly had violet facings. The grenadier is wearing the regulation hat with pompom.

Details from the van Blarenberghe paintings of the siege of Yorktown. The marked grouping in the left panel shows officers (from left to right) from 104e Deux-Ponts, 18e Gâtinais, and 16e Agénois. The facings of the latter two appear to be bluish. The soldiers in the right panel are from 13e Bourbonnais, 18e Gâtinais, and 16e Agénois. Again, the facings of the latter two appear bluish. Note the bearskin cap on the grenadier.

No comments:

Post a Comment