Grenadier Burg, 24th Regiment of the Guard, 1815 Credit: Brown University Library
Photos of Veterans of the Napoleonic Wars
The first (and final) time these old soldiers were captured in photograph
Napoléon Bonaparte’s final defeat was the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Even after his death in 1821, the surviving soldiers of Grande Armée revered his historic leadership. Each year on May 5, the anniversary of Napoléon’s death, the veterans marched to Paris’ Place Vendôme in full uniform to pay respects to their emperor.
These photographs were taken on one of these occasions, possibly in 1858. All the men — at this time in their 70s and 80s — are wearing the Saint Helena medals, issued in August 1857 to all veterans of the wars of the revolution and the empire.
These are the only surviving images of veterans of the Grande Armée and the Guard actually wearing their original uniforms and insignia.
We do not know the identity of the photographer. Some of the images are slightly blurred, which indicates that the men may have found it taxing to remain still for the duration of the exposure, which in the 1850s would have lasted a number of seconds.
Some of the soldiers have gained weight over the years since they fought for the Emperor; their uniforms have been let out to accommodate their girth.
Not pictured: the bear he personally strangled to make that magnificent hat.