Corps de Génie – French Napoleonic Engineers

French Army engineers already had an excellent reputation during the Ancien Régime. Their education and training were organised along enlightenment ideas of rationality, so there was a strong emphasis on geometry and mathematics. Napoléon, who knew of the value of a scientific approach to warfare, organised the army engineers into the Corps Impériale du Génie in 1804. It comprised several special branches, such as sappers (general combat engineers), miners (specialists in mining) and “gardes” (responsible for the maintenance of fortresses). They were organised into companies, with each army corps nominally having one company of miners and at least one of sappers. Each company had their own caisson with tools. Usually marching with the advance guard, they facilitated the movement of their corps by making ad hoc improvements to roads and bridges. They also often worked alongside the pontoniers in building new bridges. One of their most famous exploits was the bridging of the Danube before the battle of Wagram, which was conducted under the supervision of engineer General Henri-Gatien Bertrand.

Building the Lobau bridge. Image from Musée du Génie.

In Sharp Practice, engineers are a support option and come in groups of 5. I pondered which figures to use – if using marching poses, they would look silly when deployed for working and vice versa. So, I decided to make two sets and use markers to indicate casualties.

As I could not find engineers in 15mm, I used light infantry for the marching pose.

For the officer, I used I nice little figure from Stonewall Figures which is meant to depict distinguished French surgeon Dominique Jean Larrey. I thought about painting him as a surgeon – if there is one soldier from the Napoleonic period that really deserves a model, it is Larrey, who worked very hard to alleviate the suffering of the wounded. However, I already have a model of a surgeon, so I decided to transform him into an engineering officer. I kept the mule he is riding, as I thought that might be fitting for a somewhat eccentric engineer, and tucked a roll of paper under his arm – no doubt depicting an ingenious plan for crossing the Danube!

I built the caisson myself and painted it (and the uniforms of the drivers) in the colour of the artillery trains. I don’t know if the engineers used a different colour, but in this way, I can also use it as an artillery caisson.

For the deployed engineers, I decided to make three bases. This time, I used horse artillerists and converted them by adding tools and arranging them in vignettes. This has the advantage that they can also be used as deployment points or as decorative elements to enliven the table. The wheel barrow, the saw and the axe are 3D printed.

It’s been fun arranging those little scenes and I hope to use them in one of our next games of Sharp Practice!

6 thoughts on “Corps de Génie – French Napoleonic Engineers

  1. Leigh November 26, 2021 / 7:42 pm

    The train de genie had black facing same as the troops themselves. In 28mm I used an artillery officer as other than black facing that wore the same uniform and some if the excellent black hussars engineers and accompanying engineer wagon.

    • Thomas Brandstetter November 26, 2021 / 8:35 pm

      Thank you. I did paint black facings on the troops and the officers, but wanted to be able to use the train personnel for artillery also, so I painted them in the uniform of the artillery train. The Black Hussar stuff is very nice indeed.

  2. Pete S/ SP November 27, 2021 / 12:12 am

    Those are great- they’ll make lovely vignettes for the games table.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

  3. James Fisher December 12, 2021 / 7:46 am

    You have done a lovely job of these. They will look marvellous on the table.
    Regards, James

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