Legion of the Vistula

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Vistula Legion
Flag of Poland.svg
Flag of Poland
Active 1807 to 1814
Country Poland in the service of France
Allegiance France
Branch Infantry and Cavalry
Engagements Siege of Saragossa
Battle of Yevenes
Battle of Smolensk
Battle of Borodino
Battle of Leipzig
'Vistula Legion' Polish infantry

The Legion of the Vistula (Polish: Legia Nadwiślańska) was a unit of Poles in the service of Napoleonic France, one of the larger Polish Legions of Napoleonic Period.

Creation of the Legion[edit]

The Legion was formed in Breslau, Silesia in February 1807 from an infantry regiment and cavalry regiment in the service of the Kingdom of Naples that were descended from Jan Henryk Dąbrowski's Dąbrowski's Legions and Karol Kniaziewicz's Danube Legion originally raised in the 1790s. The new formation was expanded from the Neapolitan cadre into a formation of three infantry regiment and one cavalry regiment, initially named the Polish-Italian Legion as it had been organized around the Poles formerly in Italian service. Most of the recruits came from ex-Prussian and ex-Austrian territories, particularly Poznań and Pomerania.

The Polish-Italian Legion fought its first engagement at the siege of Klodzko and then was transferred to Kingdom of Westphalia in October 1807 and was placed in garrison in the capital, Kassel where it was recruited to full authorized strength from Poles in French occupied territory. The newly expanded cavalry regiment arrived in Kassel on November 11, 1807.

Napoleon I directed that the Legion be transferred to French service on February 21, 1808. The Legion was transferred to Poitiers, France and was officially renamed the Vistula Legion on March 31, 1808 with the equivalent status of French line units. The infantry was reorganized to the 1808 pattern of six company battalions in April of that year in conformance with the new French organization decreed on February 18, 1808. The Legion's depot was at Sedan. All of the personnel of the Legion were to be of Polish ethnicity except for the company clerks, the fourriers, battalion adjutant non-commissioned officers, and paymasters. who were to be French. The strength of the Legion was set at 5,959 men in June 1808. The 2nd and 3rd infantry regiments of the Vistula Legion in June 1808 and participated in Napoleon's invasion of Spain (the Peninsular War). On March 24, 1809 at the Battle of Yevenes, 600 of Polish lancers of the Legion of the Vistula lost all their banners (which had not been defended because nobody knew they were hidden in the carriage) when they had cut through the ambush set by 5,000 of Spaniards. The regiment was renamed in 1811 into the 7e régiment de chevau-légers lanciers.

Napoleon I ordered a Second Vistula Legion formed from prisoners taken after his defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Wagram in July 1809. Recruiting was slow and only two battalions were raised and were sent to Sedan in October 1809. Unlike the original legion, ethnic Germans were accepted into the new formation. The Second Vistula Legion was unable to recruit up to strength and was disbanded in February 1810 with its personnel being amalgamated with the original Legion as its 4th Regiment.

Service in Spain[edit]

Lancers of the Vistula Legion on patrol in Spain during Peninsular War by Juliusz Kossak, 1875

On February 7, 1811, a second lancer regiment was raised, and on June 18 of that year, the two lancers regiments were removed from the legion and redesignated as 7th Chevauleger-lanciers Regiment and 8th Chevauleger-lanciers Regiment of the French line, with six converted French dragoon regiments being numbered 1 through 6.

On May 16, 1811, 1st Vistulan Lancers Regiment in Battle of Albuera annihilated three of four Colborne Brigade regiments, with their own casualties of 130 out of 591 people, against 1,258 men lost by Colborne's first three regiments, 319 were killed, 460 were wounded and 479 were taken prisoner.

Service in Russia[edit]

The Legion was withdrawn from Spain early in 1812 preparatory to the Napoleon's invasion of Russia. In March 1812 Napoleon ordered the four regiments to recruit a third battalion, raising them to three battalions apiece, plus a small regimental battery of two 3-pdr guns to be attached to each regiment as per the standard French practice of the time. The whole would serve together as a single division attached to the Young Guard commanded by General of Division Claparede. The new third battalions of the regiments did not join their parent units until the retreat from Moscow was well underway. Of the approximately 7,000 members of the Legion who entered Russia, only about 1,500 returned.

Service in Germany 1813[edit]

On June 18, 1813 the survivors of the legion were reorganized into the single Vistula Regiment of two battalions.

Service in France 1814[edit]

The Vistula Regiment was again reformed early in 1814 at its depot at Sedan with all the remaining Polish infantrymen in French service being transferred to it.

After Napoleon's abdication, the survivors of the Legion returned to Poland.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]