Russia’s Imperial Guard is overlooked by many Napoleonic historians, as the Imperial guard of Napoleon is concentrated upon. Yet the personal guard of Alexander I (Paul I before his death in 1801) is still a massive part of the history, as Russia and Austria held against the French invaders. Russia’s common infantryman wore a dark green coat with white pants and a plumed shako, but the guards wore more elaborate and complex uniforms that rivaled any ornate French uniforms. Grand Duke Constantin Pavlovich’s Imperial Guard became an integral part of the Eastern Napoleonic Wars and helped the Russians all the way to Paris in 1814.
The Imperial Guard in 1800 was four regiments strong: Preobazhensky, Semenovsky, Ismailovksy, and Guard Jagers. Two more regiments – Lithuanian Life Guard and Finnish Life Guard – were added in 1812 in time for the Battle of Borodino. Finally, two grenadier regiments joined as the “Young Guard” in 1813. What made these units different from regular Russian infantry. First of all, their height was drastically different. The minimum height of a guardsman was 1.71 m (5’6 ft) compared to the diminutive 1.56 (5’1 ft) of a regular. Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, the guards served mostly in St. Petersburg as guards of the Czar and sent officers to regular units. Many of the guards came from Russian nobility rather than the basic origins of regular soldiers. The guards outranked regular privates in the Russian Army and were also given Prussian drilling- arguably the best in contemporary Europe.
Russian guards wore the same coat and pants as the regular infantryman, except with different facings and cuffs. For example, the Semeonvksy Regiment had blue collars, red facings, and blue cuffs. They each had specific colour restrictions on drumsticks and in 1800, Imperial Guard Infantry even had mustache restrictions. Their shakos were the main difference than regular troops. A guard had white cord on their shako as well as a much more elaborate badge than the standard Russian eagle or grenade symbol.
Napoleonic cavalry is always associated with vivid colours, and the Guard Cavalry is no exception. The cavalry consisted of dragoons, hussars, cossacks, lancers, the Lifeguard Horse, and the Guard Cavalry Regiment. Each unit wore a different coloured coat:
- Cuirassiers: White
- Dragoons: Green
- Lancers (Uhlans)- Blue
- Cossacks- Red
Veterans were moved into both guard units and the cuirassiers after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. The cavalry set restrictions on horse colour between certain squadrons of each regiment as well. The oldest of the seven guard cavalry regiments was the Lifeguard Horse, founded in 1721.
Guard Cuirassiers wore the traditional breastplate and a tall, plumed helmet which was blackened like the cuirasse. Saddle pads reflected a regiment’s facings and each had a star of St. Andrew stitched into the side. Dragoons were the same except they did not wear a breastplate. The hussars wore a white-plumed shako with a red coat and pelisse, each braided in gold. Uhlans wore a blue czapka and a white sash over their waists.
The Guard Artillery were a small branch, but were still important. Their branch colour, red, adorned their shako cord and shoulder straps. Their collar was black, and they wore the traditional Russian dark green coats. White breeches completed their uniform. Guard Horse Artillery wore the same except their shako had a tall white plume and they wore green pants with two red stripes.