Time Machine back to 1858 – 15 Amazing Photos of Napoleon’s Veterans

Among the oldest photographs of veterans in the world is a set of fifteen sepia portraits of former soldiers from Napoleon’s army. The photos were taken when the subjects were in their seventies and eighties. The pictures are currently in the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection at Brown University. It is unknown how Brown acquired the photos. Each is 12”x10” and mounted on stiff card; the name of each veteran and his regiment is written on the back of each in pencil.

They are likely the only remaining images of the veterans of the Grande Armée and the Guard in their original uniforms and insignia, although some of the uniforms appear to have been tailored in the 1850s. Each photo has been taken in a studio. Some of the subjects are standing while some are seated. Several images are blurry – an indication of the difficulty the elderly subjects had in standing still for the time it would have taken to expose a film plate.

It is not clear when and why the men were photographed. L’Epopée du Costume Militaire Français by Henri Bouchot gives some clue. In the book, there is a color plate showing ten Napoleonic veterans in full uniform passing the column which sits at the center of the Place Vendô. Two of the men bear wreaths. The photo is titled, “Le Vieux de la Vieille, Le 5 Mai, 1855”. A comparison shows that the ten veterans look very much like the veterans in Mrs. Brown’s collection.

May 5th is significant because that is the day when veterans would gather in Paris to commemorate the death of Napoleon. The London Times described the 1855 procession: “The base and railings of the column of the Place Vendôme appear this day decked out with the annual offerings to the memory of the man whose statue adorns the summit. The display of garlands of immortelles and other tributes of the kind is greater than usual … the old soldiers of the Empire performed their usual homage yesterday at the same place.”

On that occasion, there was a funeral in the chapel of the Invalides. It was attended by Prince Jerome and other dignitaries. The entire personnel of the Invalides was present along with soldiers of the First Empire.

The more likely date for these photographs, though, is 1858. All the photographed veterans are wearing Saint Helene medals. All those who fought in the wars of the Revolution and the Empire received these medals in August of 1857.

“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”

Credit for all quotes: Napoleon Bonaparte.

Credit for all images of Napoleon’s Veterans: Brown University Library

Grenadier Burg, 24th Regiment of the Guard, 1815 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Grenadier Burg, 24th Regiment of the Guard, 1815.
“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

Monsieur Mauban, 8th Dragoon Regiment, 1815 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Mauban, 8th Dragoon Regiment, 1815.
“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious than to be able to decide.”

Monsieur Moret, 2nd Regiment, 1814-15 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Moret, 2nd Regiment, 1814-15.
“Let France have good mothers, and she will have good sons.”

Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde, 1813-1815 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Ducel Mameluke de la Garde, 1813-1815.
“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”

Monsieur Vitry, Departmental Guard [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Vitry, Departmental Guard.
“The human race is governed by its imagination.”

Monsieur Dupont, Fourier for the 1st Hussar [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Dupont, Fourier for the 1st Hussar.
“He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.”

Quartermaster Fabry, 1st Hussars [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Quartermaster Fabry, 1st Hussars.
“When soldiers have been baptized in the fire of a battle-field, they have all one rank in my eyes.”Mor

Monsieur Schmit, 2nd Mounted Chasseur Regiment, 1813-14 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Schmit, 2nd Mounted Chasseur Regiment, 1813-14.
“Impossible is a word only to be found in the dictionary of fools.”

Monsieur Maire, 7th Hussars, c. 1809-15 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Maire, 7th Hussars, c. 1809-15.
“There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”

Quartermaster Sergeant Delignon, in the uniform of a Mounted Chasseur of the Guard, 1809-1815 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Quartermaster Sergeant Delignon, in the uniform of a Mounted Chasseur of the Guard, 1809-1815.
“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principals which direct them.”

Sergeant Taria, Grenadiere de la Garde, 1809-1815 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Sergeant Taria, Grenadiere de la Garde, 1809-1815.
“The most dangerous moment comes with victory.”

Monsieur Loria, 24th Mounted Chasseur, Regiment Chevalier of the Legion of Honor [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Loria, 24th Mounted Chasseur, Regiment Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
“Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.”

Monsieur Lefebre, Sergeant 2nd Regiment of Engineers, 1815 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Lefebre, Sergeant 2nd Regiment of Engineers, 1815.
“The future destiny of the child is always the work of the mother.”

Monsieur Dreuse of 2nd Light Horse Lancers of the Guard, c. 1813-14 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Dreuse of 2nd Light Horse Lancers of the Guard, c. 1813-14.
“Death is nothing; but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.”

Monsieur Verlinde of the 2nd Lancers, 1815 [Source: BROWN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY]
Monsieur Verlinde of the 2nd Lancers, 1815.