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Le 3e (Piémont) Régiment d'infanterie de ligne 1495-1815 (3rd Line Infantry Regiment)

The 3me de ligne is one of the oldest regiments of the French army and derives its history from the ‘bands of Piémont’ (Piedmont), or in French, Gens de pied delà les monts (troops stationed beyond, or east of Alps). They were created during the first stage of the Italian Wars (1494-1504).

In the years after its founding, the regiment had a distinguished history in France’s wars. Some of the actions it was involved in include:

-The Italian Wars of 1512 to 1559.

-The Wars of Religion from 1562 to 1598. The 3rd Line could write its history from 1569, when Brissac’s Regiment was created.

-The last stages of the 30 Years War, 1635 to 1648.
-de Condé’s victory at Rocroi,16 May 1643.
-Turenne’s defeat of the Spaniards at the battle of the Dunes, near Dunkirk, Belgium, 14 June 1658.
-War of Devolution, 1667-68.
-French invasion of Holland, 1672-1679.
-The War against Spain, 1683 to 1684.

The wars of Louis XIV and XV, including:

-The war of the League of Augsburg, 1689-1698.
-War of Spanish Succession, 1701-14, including the defeat of Marshal Tallard at Blenheim in August 1704, and of Marshal Villeroi at Ramillies on 23 May 1706. Also present at the battle of Malplaquet, 11 Sept. 1709.

War of the Polish Succession, 1733-1735, including:
-The fall of the fortress of Philippsburg, 18 June 1734.

War of the Austrian Succession, from 1740 to 1748, including:
-The French victory under Marshal de Saxe at Fontenoy, on 11 May 1745.

-The Seven Years War, from 1756 to 1762, including being present at the famous French defeat on 5 November 1757 at Rossbach at the hands of the Frederick the Great and his Prussians, which would be avenged in 1806 at Jena and Auerstadt. The regiment also participated in several small combats of 1758 and 1759 in Hesse and Bergen.


In 1776, the regiment was given the Number 3, because of its seniority. The beginning of the Revolution found the regiment at Grenoble under command of its last colonel of the ancien régime, Louis-Marie-Jacques-Amalarie, Comte de Narbonne (1755-1813), who later became Général de division and Comte under the Empire. He served as an aide-de-camp to Napoleon, and served as an ambassador to Vienna, in 1813.

A republican law of 1 January 1791 directed that regiments cease using their royal names and be known only by their numbers. The Piémont Regiment became known as the 3eme Régiment d’Infanterie. The regiment took part in the battle of Jemmapes, 6 November 1792.

The regiment was at the Jura, Alsace and Low Countries (Pays-Bas, or part of Austrian Netherlands), until February 1796; when the Regiment rejoined volunteers at Strasbourg and its strength arose to 2,565 soldiers and officers under command of its new chef de brigade, Pierre Martilliere (1759-1807). During this period they were a subject of two amalgamations—a process of intermingling of battalions of the Old regular army with volunteers.

By a decree of 1 February 1796, the 3eme demi-brigade d’Infanterie de Ligne was formed from the following units:
• 91e demi-brigade de bataille (consisting of the 1ere battalion of the 46eme Regiment d’Infanterie, volunteers of Jura and de l’Ain), and
• 127e demi-brigade de bataille (consisting of the 1ere battalion of the 68eme Regiment d’Infanterie, volunteers of Haute-Rhin and de la Aute-Marine)

Since 1798, the regiment was part of the Army of Italy, commanded since 26 May 1798 by Chef de brigade Georges Mouton, a future général de division and Comte under Empire. It was positioned at Genoa and La Verriera.

On 24 September 1803 the term “regiment” was restored and the unit became the 3eme Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne. Its commander was Colonel Laurent Schobert. appointed 1 February 1805.

At the beginning of the war with the Third Coalition, stationed at the Camp of Boulogne preparing to invade England, the 3eme Ligne was part of the Marshal Soult’s IV Corps of Marshal Soult, in the 3rd Division commanded by General Legrand.

After the Emperor Napoleon realized that it was impossible to invade England because Austria and Russia were mobilizing to attack France from the east, in August 1805 the Emperor marched forth from Boulogne with his army—now called the Grand Armée—to capture Vienna and defeat Austria and Russia.

Marching in the center of the great wheel that encircled Ulm, the 3eme Ligne took part in capturing Augsburg, Landsberg and Memmingen and emerged in a blocking position some 30 miles to the south of the main target at Ulm, where Austrian General Mack eventually capitulated on 20 October. Pursuing the Russians, the 3eme Ligne took part at the against the Russian rear-guard at Hollabrünn on 16 November 1805, fighting around the bridge at Schöngraben. At Austerlitz , 2 December, it was Soult’s corps that was chosen for the decisive central attack upon the Pratzen Heights.

However, during the night, parts of General Legrand’s 3rd Division on its right flank was engaged, where the 3eme Ligne recaptured the village of Tellnitz from a force of the Austrian Chevau-legers. On the day of the battle it was the place which the 3eme Ligne, along with the Legion Corse, held against five battalions of the 1st Regiment Sczéklers and the Border Croats at the lower Goldbach stream. Well-positioned among the vineyards and houses, the French got in several telling volleys as Austrians launched a direct attack. The attack failed.

In the course of an hour the Austrians delivered perhaps as many as five attacks. The 3eme ligne’s gallant fight deserved them the name “fermeté du 3eme de Ligne”—“the steadfast 3rd of the line.

Perhaps at the time the unofficial motto of the Regiment was created: “Résolus de crever plutôt que de ne pas tenir bon” (Approx.: “ready to burst rather then don't stand firm). After sustaining heavy loses, the regiment was finally evicted from Tellnitz; it withdrew to the rear to be reformed. Marshal Davout accordingly sent the 1st Dragoons along with the 108eme Ligne and the situation was restored.

During the summer campaign of 1807, the 3eme Ligne was part of the Reserve Corps under Marshal Lannes and was included into the 2nd Division of General Verdier, and brigaded with 72eme Ligne, Gen. Harispe’s brigade. It first participated in the actions of Heilsberg, 10 June 1807. Being in reserve for the whole day, Lannes moved General Verdier’s division around 10:00 p.m., then the battle was almost over. The infantry battalions of 3eme and 72eme, supported by the 75eme Ligne of Legrand's division, were led again to storm redoubts before Heilsberg, which had been repeatedly stormed by the French army all day since the morning. However, this attack was cut off by strong Russian artillery fire; it cost the offensive side nearly 2,300 men…The 3eme alone lost 33 officers and 920 soldiers killed and wounded, including the wounding of its commander, Colonel Chobert.

Napoleon began to concentrate his forces. He gave Lannes the advance guard of the army with orders to move in the direction of Friedland, 13 June 1807. Reaching the Pothenen village 10 miles west off Friedland that evening, Lannes’ cavalry and Oudinot’s grenadiers held the ground under heavy Russian gunfire and cavalry attacks. Lannes reported to the Emperor that he would try to keep the Russian forces engaged on the left side of the Alle River until the army arrived.

At 9:00 a.m. a force of 9,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry was arranged to hold position four miles wide against 46,000 Russians! The French tried to stand firm under heavy attacks, but the fire was immense. Around 10:00 am the Division under Verdier approached, to support bleeding regiments – and the 3eme Ligne was immediately sent into the battle. Napoleon reached the battlefield at noon and he ordered a general attack on the Russian army at 5:00 p.m. Lannes’ infantry supported by Sénarmont’s artillery fire advanced slowly into the burning town of Friedland, driving the enemy back…

The 3eme suffered heavy loses: 720 soldiers and 21officers. Within less than a week, the regiment lost 1,704 men or nearly 50 per cent of its initial force! After the Treaty of Tilsit was signed on 25 June, the 3eme Ligne returned into France. Note that along with several others regiments, the 3eme Ligne was scheduled to be dressed in the white uniform. The 1st battalion factually received the new outfit, distinguished with the “Imperial green”. Under command of major François Duclos, its 825 men had passed before the Inspector General Schauenbourg in Strasbourg, on 1 November 1807; the rest of the Regiment was in Dantzig along with the colonel. However, the blue uniform came back in the next year.

Their next action was against the Austrians in 1809. The 3eme Ligne, still commanded by Colonel Chobert, was part of Marshal Lannes’ II Corps, in its 3rd Division of Louis St.-Hilaire, Lorencez’s brigade. Iit was composed of 3 battalions, totalling 1,860 men.

The Regiment covered itself with glory at Eckmühl, 22 April 1809. Here, after success at Abensberg two days earlier, Marshal Davout was left with 20,000 men to control the area, while the greater part of the Grande Armée was pursuing what proved to be only the left wing of the Archduke Charles’ army. But Davout suddenly faced the main body of the Austrians, nearly 70,000 men; after heavy combat, his troops, outnumbered, started loosing the ground. Napoleon ordered Lannes to hasten northward from Landshut to Davout’s aid. Around 4:30 p.m. it was the 3eme Ligne along with other units of the Lannes’ corps, which fell with a vengeance on the Austrian IV Korps, which was holding the eastern approaches to Eckmühl. By nightfall the French were masters of the city and both Austrian flanks were thoroughly beaten and driven in. This battle cost the regiment 27 officers and 520 men killed and wounded.

At the battle of Essling, on 21 May, Lannes crossed Lobau Island and was pressing Austrians at Aspern; the 3eme Ligne along with the division took an important part in the action and helped in capturing of an entire enemy battalion, five guns and a flag. Noticing a gap in the Austrian forces, Napoleon ordered an attack there. On the next day by 7:00 a.m. Lannes’ three assault divisions were in position along the Aspern-Essling road. They advanced in echelon, with St.-Hilaire’s on the right leading. The Austrian artillery had begun to pour a devastating fire into oncoming French. With support of the French cavalry the heavy battle continued; Austrians were driven back toward Breitenlee village. But by 9:00 a.m. Lannes’ men, suffering mounting casualties and low on ammunition received an order to withdraw to its original position; the bridges were under fire, and support could not reach his troops.

 By midday the French were back behind the Aspern-Essling road; the great breakthrough attempt had failed. Among the casualties was the 3rd Division commander General St.-Hilaire, mortally wounded when his left foot was shot away. At 2 p.m. Austrians finally win control of Aspern. Around 4:00 p.m. Napoleon withdrew to the Danube and organized the final retreat, during which Lannes had both his legs smashed by a cannonball. The 3eme lost 27 officers and nearly 500 soldiers killed and wounded.

The battle of Wagram occured on 5-6 July 1809; General Oudinot was appointed the II Corp’s commander to replace Lannes, who had died on May 31. The 3eme Ligne was still part of the 3rd Division under its new commander, General Charles-L-D. Grandjean. At 9:00 p.m. on the 4th covered by a convenient thunderstorm, the leading elements of the Oudinot’s assault troops crossed by boat the Danube at Stadtler Arm and were marching on to the Marchfield. By 4:00 a.m. on the 5th, leading his men forward, Oudinot encountered elements of the Austrian Jägers and pushing these outnumbered light troops back until they reached Sachsengang Castle. When the resistance was broke, Oudinot’s divisions were to march to a position on the Russbach stream, opposite the Baumersdorf (road Adreklaa-Markgrafneusiel), against the II Austrian Korps under Fieldmarshal-lieutenant Hohenzollern.

While the 3eme Ligne stormed the village, the 10eme Légère and 57eme Ligne of the Grandjean’s division launched a flanking attack to the right. The fighting around Baumersdorf was very heavy, and continued until noon on 6 May, but this allowed Napoleon to concentrate his troops in the centre. Oudinot received the order to storm the escarpment and dislodge Hohenzollern’s troops, while at the centre Macdonald was to lead his famous mass square in an attack supported by artillery of 102 guns under General Lauriston. In the heavy fighting, Grandjean’s division pushed back the infantry regiment d’Aspre under command of General-major Wied-Runkel; Marshal Davout’s capture of Markgrafneusieldt created pressure on the left and forced the Austrian to abandon Baumersdorf. The 3eme Ligne lost in this battle 19 officers and nearly 400 men killed and wounded; Colonel Chobert also was wounded.

The Regiment returned to Paris in 1810, and was soon sent into Spain in the next year. Under command of a new colonel, Louis Ducouret, appointed 7 September 1811, the 3eme was part of the Marshal Soult’s l’armée d’Andalousie. In 1812 the Regiment took part in “non-battle” actions against Anglo-Portuguese army at Sanguessa and Bilbao. Next year they saw actions at the Bidassoa crossing, on 7 October 1813; then at Nivelle and Bayonne. Mostly, it was maneuvers and counter maneuvers, exhausting troops with no actual results. Soon, war entered the territory of France.

After leaving the Spanish Peninsula, the 3eme was under command of Colonel Claude-Marcele Delson (appointed 25 November 1813, after death of Ducouret) and was placed at the garrison of Strasbourg, assisting troops coming back from the disastrous Russian campaign. The regiment took part in the campaign of France 1814 and under command of its new colonel, Hubert Vautrin, distinguished themselves at Bar-sur-Aube and Arcis-sur-Aube, 20-21 March.

Under the First Restoration the 3eme was renamed into the Dauphin Regiment and stationed at Douai. With the return of the Emperor in 1815, the regiment was renamed back to the 3eme Ligne. These “last soldiers of the last war” took part in the battles of Ligny and Waterloo, 1815; led by Colonel Vautrin, they were part of brigade of General Bauduin of the 6th Division, under general command of Prince Jérôme Bonaparte (1784-1860) , storming Hougoumont. The regiment lost in these repetitive assaults 25 officers and nearly 460 soldiers killed and wounded. Colonel Vautrin, leading his men into attacks, was also wounded.

Along with the other regiments of the Napoleon’s army, the 3eme Ligne was disbanded in September and October 1815. Battle honors on the colors of the 3eme Ligne Regiment (model 1812) are as follows:

Today, the 3eme Ligne motorized Infantry Regiment is stationed at Nîmes, in southern France. In March 1995 the Regiment celebrated its 500th Anniversary and invited many re-enactors from around the Europe to participate in the occasion. The traditions of the Piémont live!

"Edited and abridged from an original article by Eman Vovsib,"
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