NCOs, Drummers, Standard Bearers and Sappers

Broadly speaking the uniform of the NCOs was identical to those of the men. Their rank markings followed the French design of bars on the sleeve. Peter Bunde emphasises that the Saxon musketeers and grenadiers only wore rank distinctions on the left sleeve. Corporals had a single bar in facing colour, sergeants had a single bar in button colour and senior sergeants had double bars in button colour. Sergeants also had button colour edging along the top of their shakos – one broad bar for sergeants and two thinner bars for senior sergeants. A very Germanic distinction of Saxon NCOs was a special cartridge box. It was smaller than the men’s and had the royal cipher on the cover in button colour. Sergeants had a black tip to their pom-poms or grenadier plumes.

Peter Bunde has recently sent me some intriguing information concerning the Feldwebel or Regimental Sergeant Major. Peter informs me that he received a document from a Mr. Vetters on this subject. The Feldwebel, apparently, was a figure of some considerable importance in the Regiment. As such he was permitted some of the officers’ privileges –

There are some very interesting details concerning the Feldwebel/Master-sergeant (highest ranking NCO): The Feldwebel did not carry muskets and therefore no cartridge pouches as well. They were allowed to carry individual sabers, similar to officers´ sabers, with iron scabbard. This was to distinguish them from the other NCOs. They also had a rectangular badge of buttonhole coloured metal showing the Royal crest. This badge was fixed on the shoulder belt that carried the side arm. The individual sabers were purchased on the owner´s own cost otherwise the Feldwebel had to use the regular NCO saber. (Bunde/ Vetters).

Drummers had ‘swallows nests’ on their upper sleeves just below the shoulder straps. These were white with a regimental line of ribbon along the lower edge. This regimental ribbon was generally based on the facing colour with a blue and yellow woven pattern down the centre of the ribbon (Bunde). Drummers carried no cartridge box and no bayonet scabbard but did carry the regulation sabre. The drum was brass and the rims were usually painted in diagonal alternating bands of facing colour and white. Occasionally the rims are shown in the same colours but painted in a ‘dog tooth ‘pattern.

I have found only one illustration of a Saxon standard bearer (Berjeaud). He is a sergeant, not an officer. The flag is carried inserted into the’ bucket’ of a white bandoleer belt. Research has shown that there were more ornamental bandoleers for parades but I have not as yet established the 1810-15 design. He carries the black waterproof cover for the flag tied round his body (over his right shoulder). One point of interest is that his cross straps can be clearly distinguished. Standard bearers would be expected to carry a sabre but not a cartridge box. I can only conclude that the cartridge box was carried as it was a particular symbol of the NCOs’ rank in the Saxon army. The Grenadiers did not carry flags but a number of sergeants carried red company pennants on their bayonets. Illustrations show these with a grenade symbol in the centre and the battalion name emblazoned around it - all ‘artwork’ in button colour.

Saxon standards are a source of much confusion as a result of the re-organisation of the Saxon infantry regiments in 1810. New flags were ordered initially in 1807 when Saxony was made into a kingdom by Napoleon. At the time there were 12 infantry regiments and the flags ordered for them were designed to fit in with the facing and button colours of these regiments. In a review of the Saxon forces carried out in 1810 it was decided that the Saxon state could not support 12 regiments and four were disbanded (Burgsdorf, Cerrini, Oebschelvitz and Dyherrn). Furthermore, four regiments also changed the colour of their facings at this point (Von Low –green to blue, Prince Clemens - blue to green, von Rechten – crimson to yellow, von Niesemeuschel – crimson to red) so that in effect the crimson and light blue facings were removed from the line. The ‘new’ flags were not issued until 1811, a year after the reorganisation. There is much debate as to which flags were issued to which regiments but there are two schools of thought.

The first of these is that the crimson and light blue flags were, like the facing colours, taken out of the system and put into storage. The flags were then issued as had originally been intended so that they matched the facing and button colour of the regiment which carried it.

The second school of thought is that the flags were not reorganised and were issued to the regiment they had originally been ordered for, so that the von Rechten regiment despite having yellow facings carried crimson flags; von Niesemeuschel – crimson flags red facings; von Low – green flags blue facings and Prince Clemens – blue flags green facings. I do not agree with this theory but there is enough evidence for a convincing argument to support it and it cannot be discounted.

The picture is further complicated by the loss of 9 (possibly ten) infantry standards in Russia in 1812. Only one of these was replaced - that of the Prince Frederic Regiment in recognition of their bravery. We know that the remaining eight ‘lost’ flags were replaced with the standards that had been put into storage in 1811. Since researchers cannot agree as to which flags were in storage in the first place it is impossible to say, with certainty, which flags were carried in 1813.

I have corresponded with Peter Bunde on this subject and I have copied his answer below:

The flags that were given to the regiments to replace lost ones seem not to be reported! The Kelterborn book gives a suggestion based on the opinion that the flags handed out should fit to the regiments´ facing colours. That makes sense, of course.

The Kelterborn list is as follows:

·         Regiment Konig (1. Bat) got Life-flag Cerrini (white basic colour).

·         Regiment Niesemeuschel (2. Bat.) got the battalion-flag Cerrini (red basic colour).

·         Regiment Prinz Maximilian (1. Bat.) got the life-flag Burgsdorff (white basic colour).

·         Regiment von Rechten (2. Bat.) got the battalion-flag Burgsdorff (yellow basic colour).

·         Regiment Prinz Anton (1. and 2. Bat.) got both flags  Dyherrn (white and light blue basic colour).

·         Regiment von Low (1. and 2. Bat.) got both flags Oebschelwitz (white and light blue basic colour).

 The flags were of the same design as all the flags of the 1810 regiments. The flags´ production was ordered after the Saxon Elector had become King. Only in 1810 the reorganization of the army showed that some of the regiments could not survive. Their flags were stored in the arsenal. These flags were used as replacements in 1813. A peculiarity of the Saxon flags is the framing band of regimental lace. There is still discussion on how this lace looked in detail for some of the regiments. The patterns that you find in the publications are interpretations of black and white photographs.”

These comments above are only valid if you accept that the flags issued in1811 did not conform to the facing and button colours of the regiments as re-organised in 1810. If,  like me, you feel that they did, then the replacement flags carried in 1813 by the Prince Maximillian, von Rechten, Konig and Niesemeuschel regiments would have been from the crimson stands originally ordered (in 1807) for the von Rechten and von Niemeuschel regiments and put into storage in 1811. Fortunately, there is no disagreement about the light blue flags (originally ordered for the Oebschelwitz and Dyherrn regiments) issued to the von Low and Prince Anton regiments as replacements in 1813.

Flag-staffs were usually coloured in regimental facing colour. It was tipped with a yellow metal spear-point. There is no evidence of cravats or hangings of any sort although we do know that these were in use by the 1820s. (Rigo, Le Plumet).          

Sappers had several distinguishing features not the least of which was their apron. This is generally shown in red leather but I have seen examples of sappers in parade dress wearing white aprons (Berjeaud). Sappers carried an axe and had a distinctive motif on the upper left arm. This took the form of crossed axes surmounted by a crown. It was in facing colour.  Although several illustrations (Bunde) show them wearing full beards it is more common to see them with ‘handlebar’ moustaches. I have not come across any evidence to indicate that they carried special swords or storage pouches for the axe although they are generally shown with a slung musket without the bayonet. Berjeaud has a very interesting illustration of a sapper in full campaign dress – he has no axe but instead carries the company pennant on his musket.