Corsican 18 C Army of 1760

I Organization and numbers

Military service was compulsory for men aged from 15 to 60. Recruitment was by "communes" which had to raise (according to the number of men in local community) one or more companies of thirty soldiers, three corporals, two sergents, one lieutenant and a captain. The troops were divided in three groups which served in turn during 15 days (other sources say 8 days).The militiamen and their families furnished their own weapons and supplies , although the commune had to accomodate them. In each commune a retired soldier having served overseas was appointed by the Consulta, to be in charge of the military training.

The number of troops available with this system is unknown. Some sources indicate 35000 men, others 12000-18000 militiamen. In either case, however, the real availability of these men depended on the amount of work in a rural society. An example of this was after the victory of Borgo against the French in 1768, Paoli had only 180 men with him.

Despite Paoli’s reluctance about regular armies (which "served better despotism rather than liberty") and despite a lack of money in the Corsican state, a regular Corsican troop called "Truppa or Milizia Pagata" was recruited. The wars of 1755-57 and of 1757-61 (Conquest of the Cap Corse) proved that a regular army was necessary . The army had not only to fight, but also to guard the towers on the coast, to serve as personal guard for authorities and was also the instrument of the severe "Ghjuztizia Paolina".

The regular soldiers were supposed to be paid volunteers with a length of service of one year. It is also possible that some soldiers were recruited for a single campaign or even a short period and that some foreigners (officers and - and other ranks) were admitted.

Details on organisation and strengths remain somewhat obscure. In 1755, the 300 regulars were organised in six companies of 50 men. A Consulta (Corsican Parliament) of November 1762 authorised the creation of two further regiments of 300 men each in addition those raised since 1755. In 1762, the average number of men in each company became 20 (maximum.being 60, minimum being only:10). In 1768, the average had risen to 40 (max.92,min.8) for thirty companies in all. The army had 1800 men in 1764 and 3200 in 1768(including the mercenaries).

Two companies were raised in 1768-69. These men are described as "Prussians", but were probably Swiss, Germans and Prussians and were formerly soldiers in the Genoese and French armies who had either been taken prisoner or were deserters. Organization and numbers of these companies are unknown though they seemed to vary from as few 100-200 men to 1000.

Artillery: Gunners were rare in this army although they were very necessary on the coasts and fortresses.

II Command and Training

As supreme commander Paoli appointed all the officers in the army. He had been an officer in the Royal-Farnese ( Army of the Two Sicilies) and knew his limits as military commander. He did not find the Napoleon, the great "stratège" needed by the Corsican cause, but appointed good leaders : Clemente Paoli, Vinciguerra, Buttafoco, Murati, Pasqualini .
Despite the use of Prussian instructors and of severe punishments, the regulars never achieved the quality expected of Prussian drill. However their military value was real and was not underestimated by French officers.

III Tactics

Corsicans were generally individual marksmen and had -for obvious reasons- an excellent knowledge of Corsican mountains which was of course ideal terrain for a partisan war. The preferred tactic was to ambush and retreat to prepared defences where the fight could begin again. Their attacks seem generally have been in rather open order,.although some sources speak of good tactics learned from continental armies. In defence, they relied upon redoubts and entrenchments.
Formation changes  were carried out with whistles and cornets , in fact shells called "tritons" in French and "culombu" in Corsican.
Final note on tactics : this peasant army was always accompanied by dogs.

IV Uniforms

Militiamen : The "uniform" was in fact the local costume, made of goat wool. The colour was brown (see L. and F. Funcken "The Lace wars" p. 71 , n°49). The jacket was either small or long without pockets, trousers were short, gaiters were made using pig skins. A felt bonnet was worn which was sometimes red or black instead of the usual brown. A long greatcoat called a "pelone" with an identical colour to the jacket was also often worn..

Officers sometimes had wollen cloth for the jacket and trousers with red being a popular colour.Their bonnet, according to James Boswell, was in blue or black velvet and edged in yellow or red. Officers wore half-boots rather than gaiters.

Regulars : A very simple uniform was worn of dark brown in the same material used by the militiamen. Their bonnet was very dark brown or even black due to the wild boar skin used. It was roughly similar to the first bearskin worned by the French horse grenadiers of the Maison du Roi/King Household.Officers had jackets with a collar edged in colour. Gaiters were light brown or black.

Mercenaries: Some historians indicate that all mercenaries had a green uniform of jacket and trousers with yellow facings and collar worn withwhite or black gaiters and tricorns. Other that they had a mixture of their ancient uniforms and of new with additional local garments. Two types of caps are indicated: tricorns and hats like those of the Corsican provincial regiment before the Revolution( see Funcken op.cit. p.71 n°54 and 55).

V Weapons and Equipements.

Usually, all belts for both the militia and regulars were in either light or dark brown.The giberne was of the same colour and was worn in order to load more quickly (this was adopted later in the French army as :"être armé à la corse").

The militiamen had a pistol, a dagger, a musket. The regulars had a musket with a bayonet, one or two pistols and dagger. The officers sometimes carried very high quality Corsican made pistols and on occasion a sword. Most muskets were of English manufacturing .This is also true for the artillery. The Corsicans received 26 guns sent by James Boswell in 1768. The remainder of their artillery were very old weapons . The guns were very rarely used in the field, but were placed in towers and fortresses.



VI Corsican flags

In 1760, Paoli replaced the Corsican flag with the Virgo for another style. On one side he required a reproduction of Santa Devota ("patronne de la Corse") and on the other side the scene represented on the illustrations. The Moors’s head is inside a shield surmounted by a crown of gold or silver.On the sides are two marine giants (a) or two satyrs (b).

The illustration a) is taken from the cover of a book printed with permission of Paoli himself and represents his true wishes and thoughts.

However, the giants do not appear on any flags in existence today, nor do they appear in the descriptions of flags of the period. However, satyrs do appear on some flags and in descriptions of period flags. To date no one has located a Santa Devota on a flag.

For those interested, the actually known colours of the cloth are light yellow and white, the plinth of the satyrs is dark blue. The light yellow flag is 1,70m.x 1,35m in size. As very very few of these flags have been preserved this could indicate that they were rare in 1768. Corsican flags of the army and militia were probably similar to those of the Corsican ships, being a white field with only the Moor’s head.


Moor on white field

All gouache and drawings (except (a))by Jacques, our grandfather and father

We thank Keith McNelly for his help. Merci à Keith McNelly pour son aide à la traduction en anglais