First of all, let me say this.
- I’m not making fun of these brave men. When I looked at these photos, my eyes widened.
- I remembered that they didn’t have good underwear in 1858.
- I can’t control what makes my eyes wide.
All of that said, these photos by an unknown photographer are part of the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection at Brown University Library, are epic historical photos and treasures, and I’m so grateful someone was able to capture them.
These 15 studio portraits shown here are all 12″x10″ inches and mounted on cards. They are the only known surviving photos of veterans of Napoleon’s Grande Armée and Guard, and are shown dressed in their uniforms and regalia.
Let me repeat: these men fought with Napoleon. Just. Wow.
What we know is that the photos were taken after 1857 because each man is shown wearing the Saint Helene medal, which was issued on August 12th, 1857 to French Revolution and the Empire War veterans.
The collection even goes as far as to say that the photos were likely taken on Wednesday May 5th, 1858 because Napoleon Bonaparte died on May 5th, 1821. Every year on the anniversary of his death, veterans would gather in uniform (when possible) and parade through Paris to Napopolean’s tomb.
The Times of London described the event in 1855:
“The base and railings of the column of the Place Vendôme appear this day decked out with the annual offerings to the memory of the man whose statue adorns the summit. The display of garlands of immortelles, and other tributes of the kind, is greater than usual…the old soldiers of the Empire performed their usual homage yesterday at the same place.”
The veterans were in their seventies and eighties in 1858 and many of the portraits suggest that the men had their uniforms re-tailored to accommodate their changing body shapes. Don’t we all have to do that? Ha.
Quartermaster Fabry, 1st Hussars