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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Knapsacks :

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Knapsacks :

Postby Iain » May 7th, 2016, 5:56 am

Can anyone tell me if, under garrison siege conditions, (Hougoumont) the soldiers continued to carry knapsacks ?

On the move, knapsacks are obviously a cherished item and in cases even serve as body-armour..., but after midday and inside the farm, (no more sorties) the soldiers would have been more agile and quicker without them. (heavy wet blankets spring to mind)
I ask this because just about every painting you see relative to the afternoons’ events, they’re all wearing knapsacks. Which seems somewhat illogical !

Of course, tactics were so different in those days. But on several occasions, I’ve read the order “baggage to the rear.” However, I suppose that’s for batmen and kitchen staff etc., in the minutes leading up to a battle.

Thank you..., Iain.
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Re: Knapsacks :

Postby Andrew » May 11th, 2016, 7:47 pm

Iain,

I cannot give you a straight answer;I'm surprised no one has responded. My feel is: as you will know, its well used military saying; 'never get separated from your kit' and I can't believe it was any different in those days. Whilst there were advantages in not having to carry your knapsack and within the confines of Hougoumont you would never be far away from it if you were to drop it, I guess, when your whole life is in there, you are rather reluctant to be parted from it. Not only is there a chance that you might get sent off before retrieving it, there was probably a good chance that someone would have had a good rummage round inside it before you were re-united! And needless to say some precious or personal effects would have disappeared.

The only evidence I have found in them being discarded is when troops were running for it and it was slowing them down to the point where they were likely to get a bayonet in the back!

On Waterloo, Gawler wrote, 'I feel however, confident that the square of the Old Guard threw off its knapsacks at about 'L'...' and in a separate article, '...at a short distance from the farm of Rosomme, the French grenadiers, finding their inability to outmarch their pursuers on equal terms, suddenly halted by word of command, threw off their knapsacks, and thus lightened, quickly disappeared in the closing twilight.' You will note the 52nd weren't quite so keen to throw off their own in order to catch them up!!

If I'm honest, in the deepest depths of my memory, I seem to recall reading something that described troops centralising their knapsacks before an attack, but I have read too much Napoleonic history in my life to recall the circumstances. As a French infantryman about to climb some steep ridge in the Peninsula, I suspect there was some occasions when the prospect was quite attractive!!

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Re: Knapsacks :

Postby John Franklin » May 12th, 2016, 8:22 am

Iain,

I would recommend that you refer to the 'Marching Order' details given in the Small Holland Order Book held by Regimental Headquarters Coldstream Guards. These clarify a number of important aspects in relation to the Foot Guards, and why they acted in the manner in which they did during the campaign.

Best of luck

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Re: Knapsacks :

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 12th, 2016, 10:42 am

I almost responded a few times but didn't becuase like Andrew, I couldn't think of a straight answer. The best I can come up with is to say it depended on circumstances. At Hougoumont, one would guess they had their knapsacks stowed somewhere. Yet we remember that the Guards began the fight outside of the compound so they may have been wearing them at the beginning of the engagement. Because the baggage of the army was stretched out over most of the road to brussels, no proper baggage park is noted. So it would've been up to the battallions in question to dispose of knapsacks as they could.

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Re: Knapsacks :

Postby Iain » May 20th, 2016, 1:09 pm

Andrew, John and Josh..., good afternoon.
Please forgive me for not replying sooner. I get notifications for some messages and others, like this one, nothing at all.

Thank you.
I’m inclined to agree that the issue would depend on the circumstances.
As Josh mentioned, late arrivals would certainly be carrying them and I suppose in those days, battle situations must have changed a lot faster than they do today and to discard ones’ belongings then loose them, would certainly have led to a flogging.
Also, it’s only common sense to think that the lighter and more agile you are, the bigger your success rate. But when you compare modern day tactics that formally discourage soldiers to group then in the films you see the French advancing in blocks of ‘cannon-fodder,’ it becomes difficult to speculate.

I think the best solution would be to follow John’s advice and ask RHQ. Jimmy, SG-Archives must be getting fed up with me so I’ll do as he says and contact the Coldstreamers.

Thank you all again. ;) I’ll keep you updated.

Kind Regards..., Iain.
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Re: Knapsacks :

Postby 348 White » May 22nd, 2016, 11:29 am

I'd guess it depended on the initiative of the officers and NCOs at Hugomont..though ditching them would help with climbing ladders etc. Some seem to have been kept inside formed squares, possibly stripped from dead and injured men, an account mentions some used to help prop an injured staff officer at Waterloo.

Knapsacks could be certainly left off for assaulting forts etc, prior to assaulting Bergen-op-Zoom guardsmen were sent by company to deposit their knapsacks in a church.(Corp Meuller's letter reprinted in Triumphs and Disasters)

Cooke of the 41st
"The troops always fought with their knapsacks on; except when storming breaches or escalading forts" .

(They were definately worn more often than many re-enactors would have you believe!).
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Re: Knapsacks :

Postby Andrew » June 15th, 2016, 6:20 pm

I don't particularly want to resurrect this subject, but thought members would be interested in the following quote from the battle of Ramillies which, although out of era, is still relevant I think;

'The French soldiers had paused to recover the knapsacks they had dumped on the ground when moving forward earlier in the day; now they were ridden down and dispersed by the charging dragoons.'

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Re: Knapsacks :

Postby Iain » June 17th, 2016, 12:55 pm

Firstly thank you 384White for your feedback. It was also a wakeup call that I should have posted this on the uniforms page.

Andrew, thank you also. Very interesting.
I’m still waiting for a reply from the Coldstreamers but in the meantime, I’m just about certain that soldiers inside Hougoumont didn’t wear them.
In any case, I’ll keep you all updated when I hear from CG-Archives.

Kind Regards..., Iain.
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Re: Knapsacks :

Postby Iain » November 8th, 2016, 6:28 pm

Hi All…

I decided not to write to RHQ-Archives concerning knapsacks because I intend visiting them in January.
Lol…, with a list as long as my arm !

In the meantime, can someone tell me where I found the attached image ?
Could it be Siborne ?

A drawing from the garden of the Guards firing over the wall. And wearing knapsacks !

PS What's more, this drawing confirms the following conversation. (sections of two) viewtopic.php?f=20&t=3489
Attachments
Hougoumont defences.jpg
Hougoumont defences.jpg (60.68 KiB) Viewed 453 times
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Re: Knapsacks :

Postby Will M » November 11th, 2016, 5:49 am

What is the proper terminology for a military pack worn on a soldiers back?
Rucksack and backpack come to mind but in the early 1800's would it be the same?

I googled it and Haversack seems to be correct: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haversack
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