Imperial Guard was a small, elite army, directly under Napoleons
control. Like the corps, it had infantry, cavalry and artillery.
It was comprised of the best veteran soldiers from every theater
of war Egyptian Mamluks, Italians, Poles, Germans,
Swiss, and others, as well as French.
were the most feared men in Napoleons army. Much more
than personal bodyguards, they were Napoleon's weapon of last
resort, and were rarely committed in battle. British artist
Benjamin Haydon recalled his impression after seeing them
at Fontainebleau in 1814:
had the look of thoroughbred, veteran, disciplined banditti.
Depravity, recklessness, and bloodthirstiness were burned
into their faces
Black mustachios, giant bearskins,
and a ferocious expression were their characteristics."
most honored among them were the Old Guard, veterans of regiments
formed between 1800 and 1806; next was the Middle Guard, formed
between 1806 and 1809; and finally the Young Guard. The
Imperial Guard grew from 8,000 in 1805 to 80,000 in 1812.
Over 60,000 marched into Russia; few returned.
Waterloo, Napoleon committed most of the Guards twenty-three
infantry battalions, 18,000 men strong. When
he committed his seemingly unbeatable Old Guard battalions
and they were forced to retreat, he had lost the battle. Cries
of "Vive LEmpereur" changed to "Sauve
qui peut!" every man for himself as
Napoleons army panicked and fled.