The French army had a great and fierce reputation since the Napoleonic Wars (1805 - 1815). But after the Bourbon restoration in 1815 (after the Battle of Waterloo), the French army structure fell in demise. That changed with the July monarchy of King Louis Philippe I of France (1830 -1848). The start of expansionism in the Northern Africa (Algeria) made the French realize that more troops where needed (especially foreign legions) and change of military technology to a modern way (French minie ball was invented because the Arab smoothbore muskets had longer barrels and thus longer range and accuracy than the normal French smoothbore muskets). While military technology was improving, the army structure was sadly lacking behind. While in 1848 things changed with the empowering of Napoleon III as President and later in 1852 as Emperor, many things where still lacking in military perspective. From 1851 to 1870, the army functioned by the structures created for the most part under the Restoration and July monarchy.
The territory was separated into military divisions. The commanding generals had authority over the troops stationed in their division, but they had no means to maneuver or do drills. In 1859, Napoleon III's creation of army corps did not change this situation : the French army was a conglomerate of regiments. Offsetting this weakness would have required acting in three directions: the superior officers, army administration, and training the large units. Nothing was done to ameliorate the first of these. The General Staff was recruited among the elite of the military schools; these officers received a well-rounded education which allowed them to write brilliant texts, but they did not learn the work of a modern superior officer; and since the generals were no more knowledgeable than they, the training of the large units left something to be desired.
With regard to command, the supply corp held on to an independence that it had inherited from the Old Regime and could not be sufficiently coordinated with the preparation of mostly-improvised campaigns. This explains the difficulties faced in Crimea, the slowness of operations in Italy, and the unarguable shambles of the 1870 mobilization.
Training of large units required maneuvering camps that could host more than ten thousand men. That did not exist in 1851. The Emperor decided in 1856 to create a camp at Chalons, the area of which reached about 10,000 hectares. Here, the infantry could advance with the cavalry and the artillery's fire power. Unfortunately, the maneuvers were reduced to no more than mechanistic exercises that taught nothing to the generals, colonels, nor the staff.
The Imperial Guard, created in 1854, was an army corps composed of two infantry divisions and one cavalry division formed after the Crimean War. These generals, too, would be caught in the whirl of the imperial fête and neglect preparations for operations at their level.
The Gouvion-St. Cyr law of 1818 instituted the seven-year service, a random draw, and the option of finding a replacement. To make this system more acceptable, a law in 1855 limited this replacement to close members of the family and created exemptions. This system, managed on a national level, should have encouraged enlistment and re-enlistment by granting bonuses.
After Sadowa, France suddenly discovered that it did make use of reserves. The Niel law of February 4, 1868 institutionalized service in the reserves for universally. For those who drew a "bad number" this meant that four years would follow the five years of active duty. For the others, they took up duties in the national guard that were not too restrictive. By this device, military service became personal and universal.Heavy Cavalry:
Cent Garde (Summer Dress).
Cent Garde (Winter Dress)
Cuirassier (Summer Dress).
Cuirassier (Summer Dress).
Carabinier (Summer Dress).
Carabinier (Winter Dress). Medium Cavalry:
Sabre Cavalry (Summer Dress).
Sabre Cavalry (Winter Dress).
Colonial Sabre Cavalry (Summer Dress).
Colonial Sabre Cavalry (Winter Dress).
Dragoons (Summer Dress).
Dragoons (Winter Dress).
Empress Dragoons (Summer Dress).
Empress Dragoons (Winter Dress). Light Cavary:
Hussar (Summer Dress).
Hussar (Winter Dress).
Guard Hussar (Summer Dress).
Guard Hussar (Winter Dress). Spear Cavalry:
Lancer (Summer Dress).
Lancer (Winter Dress).
Guard Lancer (Summer Dress).
Guard Lancer (Winter Dress).