Grenadier - Encyclopedia

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GRENADIER, originally a soldier whose special duty it was to throw hand-grenades. The latter were in use fora considerable time before any special organization was given to the troops who were to use them. In 1667 four men per company in the French Regiment du Roi were trained with grenades (siege of Lille), and in 1668-1670 grenadier companies were formed in this regiment and in about thirty others of the French line. Evelyn, in his Diary, tells us that on the 29th of June 1678 he saw at Hounslow "a new sort of soldiers called granadiers, who were dexterous in flinging hand-granades." As in the case of the fusiliers, the French practice was therefore quickly copied in England. Eventually each English battalion had a grenadier company (see for illustrations Archaeological Journal, xxiii. 222, and xlvii. 321-324). Besides their grenades and the firelock, grenadiers carried axes which, with the grenades, were employed in the assault of fortresses, as we are told in the celebrated song, "The British Grenadiers." The grenadier companies were formed always of the most powerful men in the regiment and, when the grenade ceased to be used, they maintained their existence as the "crack" companies of their battalions, taking the right of the line on parade and wearing the distinctive grenadier headdress. This system was almost universal, and the typical infantry regiment of the 18th and early 19th century had a grenadier and a light company besides its "line" companies. In the British and other armies these elite companies were frequently taken from their regiments and combined in grenadier and light infantry battalions for special service, and Napoleon carried this practice still further in the French army by organizing brigades and divisions of grenadiers (and correspondingly of voltigeurs). Indeed the companies thus detached from the line practically never returned to it, and this was attended with serious evils, for the battalion at the outbreak of war lost perhaps a quarter of its best men, the average men only remaining with the line. This special organization of grenadiers and light companies lasted in the British army until about 1858. In the Prussian service the grenadiers became permanent and independent battalions about 1740, and the gradual adoption of the four-company battalion by Prussia and other nations tended still further to place the grenadiers by themselves and apart from the line. Thus at the present day in Germany, Russia and other countries, the title of "grenadiers" is borne by line regiments, indistinguishable, except for details of uniform and often the esprit de corps inherited from the old elite companies, from the rest. In the British service the only grenadiers remaining are the Grenadier Guards, originally the 1st regiment of Foot Guards, which was formed in 1660 on the nucleus of a regiment of English royalists which followed the fortunes of Charles II. in exile. In Russia a whole army corps (headquarters Moscow), inclusive of its artillery units, bears the title.

The special headdress of the grenadier was a pointed cap, with peak and flaps, of embroidered cloth, or a loose fur cap of similar shape; both these were light field service caps. The fur cap has in the course of time developed into the tall "bearskin" worn by British guards and various corps of other armies; the embroidered field cap survives, transformed, however, into a heavy brass headdress, in the uniform of the 1st Prussian Foot Guards, the 1st Prussian Guard Grenadiers and the Russian Paul (Pavlovsky) Grenadier Guards.

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