There is much material that has been written on how the Imperial Guard in general was seldom in combat. In actuality, that does apply to the Old Guard infantry regiments, the Grenadiers a Pied and the Chasseurs a Pied.
They did fight at Marengo in June 1800, saw some action at Eylau in 1807, stood firm under the intense bombardment by the Austrian 200-gun battery at Essling in 1809 and some of them reinforced Lauriston's 102-gun battery at Wagram when the artillery losses in that battery began to grow. They were engaged periodically during the great retreat from Moscow in 1812, definitely were engaged at Hanau in 1813 and fought during the campaign of 1814 in France. In 1815 they were engaged at Ligny and five Old Guard battalions made the final French attack at Waterloo and lost outnumbered against the allied center. Two battalions successfully counterattacked at Plancenoit on the French right flank after the Young Guard division was ejected from the village by the Prussians. The 1st Grenadiers a Pied stood firm among the rout at the end of the battle and withdrew in perfect order.
There were usually only one regiment each of grenadiers and chasseurs a pied in the Guard, sometimes increased to two each, but the latter was for only a brief period. In 1815 there were four regiments of each.
For the rest of the Guard, the situation was different. The cavalry of the Guard was usually engaged and charged at Austerlitz, Eylau, Wagram, in Spain, and was actively in the fighting in 1814 and at Waterloo.
The infantry of the Young and Middle Guard fought hard beginning in 1809 at Essling and was usually employed in combat in 1813, 1814, and 1815.
The artillery of the Guard after being expanded with the organization of the regiment of artillery a pied became the artillery reserve of the Grande Armee and fought hard at Wagram, Lutzen, in 1814 and 1815.
What is usually overlooked, though, is that the Old Guard infantry regiments were veterans and had done more than their share of fighting surviving various fields to become eligible for entrance in the Imperial Guard.
@Kevin F. Kiley Does Bowden give references separately for the muster data, as Dawson does in his work? The 26+562 for the 1st Chasseurs must for the most part be the largely unengaged 1st Bn, who Dawson quotes loses of just 40. The Bn in question with Cambronne (2nd) given by Dawson from the same parade states as has losses of 446. Does Bowden concur? Or are they not broken down? Sadly, copies of Bowden are relatively rare. I lent mine to a late friend who passed away, and afterwards found out his books had been donated, including a couple of mine. I’ve not wanted to spend a three figure sum in re-acquisition, especially when more comprehensive data is being made available.
@Kevin F. Kiley if you having problem with footie, you really ought to get into Cricket. 5 days, and it can still be a draw!
@Kevin F. Kiley I was referring to the capture of Cambronne. Dawson’s Napoleon’s Waterloo Army page 520. Despite the apocryphal “The Guard dies! It does not surrender” only 9 men from 1st Coy 2nd Bn 1st Chasseurs we’re not made PoWs. As a battalion 419 prisoners out of 446 losses does not echo much like the romantic epithet does it? In fact it sounds rather more like “rather than dying we preferred to allow ourselves to be rounded up like sheep”. The reality of this last part of their combat record does not fit the myth making. For the most part, they weren’t even facing fellow “elites” either. Regular light cavalry and a Hanoverian Landwehr Bn. Whilst overall talent and ability will out there are only invincibles in the romantics’ imaginations. On their bad day they are easily defeated by ‘mediocre’ others on their good days. Ask any Premier League football fan who see their heroes go out to some ‘giant killer’ Conference side in the early stages of the FA cup what that feels like. Or ask why there is a seeding system in professional tennis. Otherwise, how do you explain the “elite” French getting their backsides handed to them by the “mediocre” British, Hanoverians and Netherlanders?
Discussing the heats is all well and good, but surely it's what happens in the final that counts? As Paul Dawson's recent analysis of casualty and prisoner of war data can reveal, some Guard units did a lot more surrendering than dying, despite the words put into Cambronne's mouth.
Either it was all hype all along, which I'm inclined not to believe, or Elting's description of the army (including the Guard) of 1815 needs some critical revision. I do see though that Wellington's assertion that many enemies were defeated before a shot was fired might be a fair one. Maybe it was not as tested as their reputation suggests, or by 1815 and after the emotional rollacoaster of Fontainbleu had somehow become more brittle?
On that ridge at Mont St Jean were veteran British soldiers who had never met anything other than line, so may not have been as over awed. "Insiders" such as Chasse are a different kettle of fish though. Did they have a inkling that Guard was not as invincible as the public reputation suggests? Had he been a wargamer, he would have expected Detmer's to have needed to roll 13 on a pair of dice to overcome their negative modifiers and all those veteran and elite status bonuses. Maybe that says more about him and his reputation, but I think there may be more to it.
Of course, that could be so much twaddle, and actually it was the metalic clang of Van Der Smissen's cannon and the steady musketry that did it. Perhaps simply the meatgrinder of cannister and ball is no respecter of persons or reputations after all?
Perhaps even all three or none of them. But something went wrong, because "La Garde recule!" one way or another,