The bulk of the Grande Armée was line infantry, and France had 156 Régiments de Ligne at the peak of its military might. So I think that it's a good start for your force if you don't have anything special in mind. In my case I had Dragoons in mind, but before tackling the mounted troops, I'm adding some bog standard infantry.
The French line infantry was organized in battalions, which in theory would be 840 men at the time of the invasion of Russia. In practice it could be as few as 400 men, depending on losses, attrition, and recruitment success rates. The battalion was then divided into 6 companies, which at full strength would have 140 men each.
There were three kinds of companies in each battalion:
First, we need to build them. I'm starting out with this box from Perry Miniatures:
For £20 I got 42 figures, from which I can make 3 groups of 8 Fusiliers, which is the basic building block of Sharp Practice line infantry. It also comes with figures for a banner, musician, officer, and enough flank company miniatures to build 3 groups of 6 voltigeurs (which is the size in Sharp Practice for skirmisher units), or 2 groups of 8 Grenadiers. There'll be some odd figures left, but I'll worry about them later.
Getting things right when assembling
Most of these miniatures come in just two pieces, but of course I initially managed to get most of them wrong in various ways. So, after removing and gluing a lot of backpacks back and forth, here are some quick pointers to get your line infantry box correct:
1: Look at the top of the hat. Is there a small conical tuft on top of the little ball (pom-pom) on the hat? Congratulations, it's a flank company miniature! If there are loose arms, it should have arms with those fringes (epaulettes) on the shoulders.
2: Look at the miniature. Is he dressed in a big long coat that goes down below his knees? Then he's wearing his greatcoat! When choosing a backpack for him, pick one that doesnt have a roll strapped to it at the top, as that would mean your Jerôme is a greedy bugger who has stolen someone's greatcoat. How rude! I bet it happened anyway, but I tried to avoid it for most of my miniatures.
3: Look at the backpack before gluing it on the miniature. Does it have a small sabre at the bottom? That's an infantry sabre, or a briquete. Save those backpacks for your flank company miniatures, you know, those with the extra bling on the hat and the shoulders. In theory they were only meant to be carried by grenadiers and the Imperial Guard, but in practice everyone wanted them because they thought they looked awesome. Voltigeurs were officially banned from wearing sabres from 1807 onwards, but few seemed to care.
If you remember these three things, you'll be able to assembly the box pretty quickly. And if you make a mistake here or there, remember that different regiments cared more or less about the uniform regulations, and if a strappy Fusilier found an extra greatcoat or picked up a sabre, it wasn't the end of the world.
The Flaw of 1812
That kinds of brings me to a short interlude, that I learned as I painted these up. The box is for 1812-1815, because there was a new set of regulations for uniforms called the Bardin regulations, in 1812. So, as I'll be playing 1812, that sounds perfect, right? Weeeelll... the regulations took time to be adopted, and it seems that the majority of the army didn't follow them until 1813. Yay! So if you wanted to have the "perfect" invasion of Russia army, you should use miniatures following the previous regulations, at least for the majority of your troops. But then, some regiments didn't even follow those, so who knows?
Personally I'm happy with using the box anyway, as I can blame it on them being early adopters. And this discovery also gives me an excuse to blend in some older uniforms if I feel like it. So it's not all bad.
Next time I'll cover how to get your stout Fusiliers from raw plastic to this:
"Glory is fleeting,