The Objects

5th Mar 1815

Source: Stowarzyszenie Arsenal, with permission.

The pennant of the Elba Squadron

Contributed by: Jarosław Czubaty

After Napoleon’s abdication (6 April 1814), several thousands of Polish soldiers who had fought alongside Napoleon returned to the Duchy of Warsaw. However on Napoleon’s request, Major Paweł Jerzmanowski chose from the chevau-légers 125 volunteers who decided to follow the Emperor into his exile on Elba.

In 1815 the Elba squadron assisted Napoleon in his triumphant return from Elba to Paris and took part in the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo. The so-called Elba Squadron was organized in April 1815. It consisted of volunteers who had served in the regiment of Polish chevau-légers formed in Warsaw in 1807; the regiment had accompanied Napoleon in all subsequent campaigns until his abdication as part of the Imperial Guard.

The Polish chevau-légers were just a small percentage of the Poles fighting under the Napoleonic eagle – in 1812 the army of the Duchy of Warsaw and Polish troops in the French service numbered about 100,000. Nevertheless in the opinion of many Poles it was the chevau-légers – closely connected with the person of Emperor of the French – who were to be the representative of Polish national aspirations for the reconstruction of the Polish state under Napoleon’s protection.

The squadron was disbanded after the Emperor’s second abdication. In Polish collective memory across the 19th and 20th centuries, the chevau-légers at Elba became the symbol for the soldiers’ fidelity and political hope for regaining Poland independence in alliance with one of the great powers of Western Europe.

See the longer version in ‘Further Information’.

Geolocation

The so-called Elba Squadron was organized in April 1815. It consisted of volunteers who had served in the regiment of Polish chevau-légers formed in Warsaw in 1807; the regiment had accompanied Napoleon in all subsequent campaigns until his abdication as part of the Imperial Guard.

Known for its courage and combat values, the Polish light-horse regiment gained military glory in many battles including Somosierra (1808), where Napoleon and his Old Guard honored them as “braves des braves”, Wagram (1809) and many others in 1812-1814.

In 1812 Polish chevau-légers guarded Napoleon during his retreat from Russia. The Polish chevau-légers were just a small percentage of the Poles fighting under the Napoleonic eagle – in 1812 the army of the Duchy of Warsaw and Polish troops in the French service numbered about 100,000. Nevertheless in the opinion of many Poles it was the chevau-légers – closely connected with the person of Emperor of the French – who were to be the representative of Polish national aspirations for the reconstruction of the Polish state under Napoleon’s protection.

After Napoleon’s abdication (6 April 1814), Tsar Alexander I decided to enlarge the Russian sphere of influence in Europe, taking upon himself the role of protecting Polish national aspirations. With the permission of the Russian ruler several thousands of Polish soldiers who had fought alongside Napoleon to the very end returned to the Duchy of Warsaw. However on Napoleon’s request, Major Paweł Jerzmanowski chose from the chevau-légers 125 volunteers who decided to follow the Emperor into his exile on Elba.

In 1815 the Elba squadron assisted Napoleon in his triumphant return from Elba to Paris. Although the Grand Duke Constantin, who was commanding the Polish army on behalf of his brother Alexander I called for the chevau-légers to return immediately to the country, Jerzmanowski ignored the order. The squadron was even enlarged by other Polish volunteers, reaching 225 cavalrymen.

The unit took part in the battle of Quatre Bras (15 June), and during the battle of Waterloo (18 June) they successfully repelled the charge of Ponsonby’s cavalry brigade.

The squadron was disbanded after Napoleon’s second abdication. The chevau-légers’s involvement at Elba contributed to the strength of the Napoleonic legend in Poland; in Polish collective memory across the 19th and 20th centuries, they stood as a symbol of the soldiers’ fidelity and political hopes for regaining Poland independence in alliance with one of the great powers of Western Europe.


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