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La Tete de Colonne

Napoleonic French Imperial Guard Head of Column
Was there a more imposing sight upon the battlefields of Napoleonic Europe than a French column of infantry marching inexorably towards the enemy ranks?

Truly this was the embodiment of “La Gloire” – the bands playing the “Pas de Charge “ as they advanced.

Imagine being a British line infantryman at Waterloo at the crisis point of the battle. Imagine the effect it had on morale.

Sunset loomed, but the battle raged on; and through the thick haze of gunpowder smoke, occasional glimpses of the ‘indestructible” Imperial Guard marching up the soft incline towards the chaotic remnants of the allied front line foretold imminent disaster.

Faintly at first, but slowly getting louder between the irregular discharges of cannon, musketry and the cacophony of battle, the massed ranks of the drummers announced the attack with the rhythmic drumbeat of the “pas de charge”.

“The crash of the Imperial drums, beating with the harsh unity that stamped them as the voices of veterans in war, woke me from my reverie and made my heart throb with their stony rattle.Never did I hear such drums and never shall I again: there were years of battle and blood in every sound .”
All seemed lost.

(Acknowledgement to David Gates – Warfare in the 19th Century)

Passage no: 2

“Good musicians were greatly prized. They had to have both musical talent and tremendous courage. It took years of practice and training to produce, for example, a drummer whose repertoire included all of the batteries, but also he had to play them amidst the stress and strain of battle, regardless of what was occurring all around him.”

(D.Gates – Warfare in the 19th Century.)

A French Colonel recalls the Imperial Guard advance at Waterloo.

“I saw the Emperor go past followed by his staff…… He moved along the road which was swept by a hundred enemy guns.One hundred and fifty bandsmen now marched down at the head of the Guard, playing the triumphant marches of the Carousel as they went.
Soon the road was covered by the Guard marching by platoons in the wake of the emperor. Bullets and grapeshot left the road strewn with dead and wounded”

From the memoirs of Octave Levasseur

French captain at Austerlitz 1805

“Contrary to custom, the Emperor had ordered that the bands should remain in the centre of each battalion. Our band was at full strength, with its chief at its head.
They played a song we all knew well.”On va lui percer le Flanc.” ( Which translates as “We’re going to stab (the enemy) in the arse” )
While this air was played, the drummers beat a charge loud enough to beat their drumheads in.
It was enough to make a paralytic move forward!”

Stand Proud and march forward to battle!

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