The French Adventure in Mexico: The Belgian Legion

Foundry Belgian Legion in their early uniforms. The tall hat was frequently knocked off of “lost” on campaign. It was wrapped with a dark blue scarf trimmed in red for grenadiers or green for voltigeurs.

One of the ultra-cool aspects of the French Adventure in Mexico, or the Second French Intervention in Mexico, or the reign of Maximillian as Emperor of Mexico, or the Mexican War of Independence 1861-1867 is that there are a bunch of very cool units that take part in the on-again off again conflict. The conflict itself is pretty horrific with lots of guerrilla raids, reprisals for guerrilla raids, and war to the knife, take-no-prisoners nastiness.

This is not a new project for me. I’ve had my Maximillian figures at least since the middle 90’s. I started out with figures from the Wargames Foundry range. Then I added more from Guernsey Foundry when the company was in turmoil. I also included your basic militia types from Old Glory. I’d guess my painted collection at somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 figures. I actually didn’t have an unpainted pile laying around, unlike all my other projects. That is until recently.

One of those units is the Belgian Legion. The Empress Carlota was Charlotte the daughter of King Leopold of Belgium. In support of Maximilian and Carlota Leopold raised a “legion” of troops to fight in Mexico to support the imperial couple. These were volunteers, green as ripening corn, with little training. They were formed mostly into two infantry units. One was called grenadiers, the other voltigeurs, though those were fanciful names. In fact there was no shock infantry training for the former or light infantry ability for the latter. But they did have pretty cool uniforms and they fought for Maximilian almost to the bitter end.

There are some Belgian Legion figures available. Foundry offers a single pack of Belgian Legion. Unfortunately, there are no command figures. They are eight figures and are divided evenly between the uniform the Legion wore when they arrived in Mexico, and a later uniform they wore on campaign.

These figures are not true 28’s. They were sculpted in the early 90’s by Aly Morrison. They are all one pose, so very old school. That doesn’t mean aren’t nice, they are, but not up to today ‘s standard.

Foundry Belgians, early uniform. The tall hat, cooking gear and the odd back braiding clearly evident. The red indicates these are grenadiers

The figures with early uniforms have a tall round hat and full kit, with pack, blanket and enough cooking pans for Gordon Ramsey to get by. The Legion wore braided jackets, and the braiding is there to be picked out if the painter is careful. The braiding is on the front and back of the jacket. They wore voluminous pantaloons much as the Second Empire French did, but in a medium blue-gray instead of madder red. These figures should wrap their tall hats in a dark blue scarf, edged red for the grenadiers and green for the voltigeurs, the same color as the jacket braiding

The later uniforms lose the tall hat, which had a bad habit of being knocked off their heads. They replace them with kepi and havelock. These figures are also dressed for the field, and left their kit in camp.

Foundry Belgian Legion in later uniforms. I went a little wild with the trouser variety. I also added a Foundry French officer because the Belgians are not available with command. Sad. The green braiding is difficult to see in the crappy light.

I based my figures on the illustrations of the Legion in Campaigns Magazine 32 January/February 1981 by Fred and Liliane Funcken. I used a craft blue, Mountain Blue by Apple Barrel. I chose this because it is a darker blue gray. I lightened it with white for highlighting. I used Vallejo Grey Blue for the trousers. The red bits for braid and pants for the later units is Vallejo Flat Red. Honestly, if I had to do it again, I’d use Scarlet for the braiding because it is just easier to see. For the later unit, I kind of went overboard with the rainbow of pants colors. I used the Grey Blue, and included some red and white too. Should have just included a few of the Grey Blue and white only, which were adopted as the unit spent more time campaigning.

The Foundry range has a real lack of command figures-no officers, standard bearers or musicians for the Belgian Legion, so I glommed on to one of my French figures and added him to the later unit. That is a real weakness in the range.

Gringo 40’s also has a decent range of Belgian Legion figures. They are all in their later campaign gear with kepi and havelock. Several different poses, plus they have a drummer and the Legion commander Baron Alfred Van Der Smissen. I don’t have any of these, but hope to acquire some later this spring. They will be much larger than the Foundry figures, but they look quite nice with the very distinct jacket braiding.

The Belgians performed reasonably well during the French Adventure. They suffered quite a blow at Tacambaro in April 1865 when a significant portion of them were killed and captured by a larger Republican force. They took their revenge on their tormentors in the action at La Loma three months later. They proved to be reliable troops and remained in Mexico when the French forces were gradually sent home. Many Belgians entered service in the Imperial army and remained loyal until the end.

One comment on “The French Adventure in Mexico: The Belgian Legion

  1. John Gee says:

    They look substantially better than the Belgian Legion deserves to look.   Neat we have them.  

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