One of the first non-French napoleonic miniatures I bought were this Vistula Legion battalion from Murawski Miniatures. I had already read the biography of Heinrich von Brandt, who served in the Legion, and there are several images (like the one above) that just etched this unusual regiment into my brain. However, I'll also give you my excuse for including it in my 1812 army.
The Rise and Fall of the Vistula Legion
Born in 1808, the Vistula Legion was not a new formation but a renaming of the Polacco-Italian Legion, which in turn had an older history as various Polish formations had fought for France against the powers that partitioned their country. It was a formation that ebbed and flowed, at it's greatest four regiments of two field battalions each that fought mainly in Spain until 1812, where three of the regiments formed a division that was officially included in the Guard. This was both as a recognition of the extensive experience they got from fighting in Spain, the reputation as worthy troops they had received from there, as well as the back-and-forth balancing act where Napoleon kept the Poles on his side by rewarding their service and constantly hinting at reforming their country, while never fully committing to it.
They fought at Borodino where they were mixed in with parts of I Corps and the Italian Guards in the second assault on Raevsky's redoubt, which means that painting these troops might not just be a case of the all so common Wargamer Imperial Guard Infatuation Symptom. They were even harder tested during the retreat at Berezina, where the remains of the Legion joined the defense of the crossing led by Marshal Ney. In the remaining campaigns they would be reformed as a single regiment, and in 1814 they were barely a battalion.
Vistula Legion on the Tabletop
The Vistula Legion, given their history, is hard to pin down. They were clearly regarded as hardened fighters and earned their place in the Guard. They also had a hard time to recruit new troops, as they were officially restricted from recruiting non-Polish soldiers.
But far more complicated than rating them is painting them. There are a lot of conflicting sources on even basics such as how the four regiments used the cuffs and collars to distinguish each other. I've been caught in several discussions researching this unit on what kind of flag they would be carrying. Not to mention - what miniatures to use? Making your own Vistula Legion will force you to make several decisions, I can not say which ones are right but I can tell why I did as I did.
First of all, like many, I got the Warlord Games Vistula box in a second hand work lot. And I ended up just making them into normal French and bought these from Murawski Instead. Why? There are several mistakes in the Warlord set, but most of all the jackets are just so wrong that I could not go with them. The Vistula Legion did not use the same kurtka as the Duchy of Warsaw Poles did, but rather a jacket that looks quite similar to the Bardin uniform. But not exactly the same. If Warlord had done a set with separate heads on Bardin jackets it might have worked, but on the older French jacket? It just looks too wrong for me.
I think it is worth the extra cost to get a set of minis that are made to look like Vistula Legion. There Murawski miniatures were really nice sculpts and well cast, so I was very happy with going with these instead.
As for the collars and cuffs, you'll find many contradicting sources. I ended up using the ones that Guy Dempsey describes in Napoleon's Mercenaries. Is this source better than the others? I don't know. But I have the book, and I decided to simply stick with one source and leave it at that. This means that these are from the 1st regiment, with both yellow cuffs and collars. The 2nd regiment will have yellow cuffs and blue collars, and the 3rd blue collar and yellow cuffs.
Again, the sources don't all agree, but I'm going with Dempsey's description that they used the old lozenge flag with the rooster, and they were granted the right to have eagles but they never received it, especially not before going into Russia. Conveniently enough this is the flag that GMB Designs provides, which is the ones I ended up using.
I've seen several takes on the fusilier uniforms among reenactors when researching these, but I ended up with the all white pompoms and white Polish cockade. The fusiliers wore the shako, not a czapka, and had no colour on the brim. With all that white and yellow I hope they'll stand out among the regular French troops.
The voltigeurs has also lots of differing sources, like the colour of the pompoms and the shako brim. I went with a yellow strap around the shako, both because I've seen it in many depictions and because I think it will make them stand out even more as a battalion.
I gave my grenadiers a white cross strap on the top of the czapka. This is perhaps the one where I've seen the most variations, and you can go crazy just trying to figure these out. Knötel has them in shakos with red brims and white cords! I'd say pick a look that you're satisfied with and stick with it, don't worry too much as you can't satisfy everyone given how much the sources disagree. The more consistantly agreed detail that is easy to miss is that they have white, not red, epaulettes.
Click below for larger pics:
Well, that's it! Now I'll just have to decide if I'll just paint up the other unpainted battalion I have sitting in the cupboard, or if I'll want to raise an entire brigade of them and paint even more. Hopefully they'll serve well as a colourful ally to the French on the tabletop.
"Glory is fleeting,