Le Petit Bidon (canteen)
The following discussion written by Hans-Karl Weiss, of the 22e demi-Brigade d'Infanterie de la Ligne (Napoleanic) from Bamburg, Germany, is the result of a most exciting collaboration between historians, AWI and Napoleanic reenactors. As following discussion demonstrates we have much to learn from each other. Research by Dr. Robert Selig, a historian living in Holland, Michigan, revealed that contrary to popular belief the French Army in America was supplied with canteens. It fell to Hans-Karl Weiss to provide the details on their construction.

Hans-Karl will shortly be submitting a detailed article tracing the history of the petit bidon and its material cousin the grand bidon to the Rochambeau and Carnot lists. Following its intial "publication" I hope to add it as a permanent element of this site for future referal. In anticipation of Dr. Weiss' article, I would like to offer a short introduction.

"As cruel as it may seem, the French Army did not provide canteens for the soldiers." This was the reply of the Service historique de l'Armee de Terre to the late and sadly missed Roger Petit, the former BAR French Inspector and member of the Regiment d'Auxerrois. The popular interpretation has been that the soldiers provided their own canteen in the form of bottle gourds which were common enough in Europe. The Musee de l'Armee contributed to this impression with a display of an incised gourd in 1983 and another gourd on display in 1999. Paintings of the Napoleanic period also seemed to support this. However, when Bob Selig discovered a letter indicating the an order of canteens had been delivered to the Royal Deuxponts, the hunt was on. Dr. Selig subsequently documented the distribution of several thousand canteens to the regiments prior to the march to Yorktown and the search for tin to repair existing canteens and cookpots. Dr. Weiss then weighed in with his extensive research on the tin petit bidon from the Napoleanic era.
It would appear that in many instances the published regulations codified existing practice as seems to be the case here. Title I of the Reglement Provisoire sur le Service de l'Infanterie en Campagne du 12 Aout 1788 states:

Article 11. "Chaque Soldat sera pourvu en outre d'un petit bidon de fer-blanc pour son usage particulrier dans les marches."

Article 12. "Ce bidon, contenant une pinte, sera fait en forme de flacon applati, ferme d'un couvercle, & concave par un des cotes, enfin de ne pas se ballottter pendant la marche; il sera suspendu a une courroie large d'un pouce, pour etre prote enbretelle & au dessus de la hanche.

History of the Petit Bidon by H-K Weiss

Photos of Original Petit Bidons

Contemporary Illustrations of Petit & Grands Bidons

Reconstruction of a Petit Bidon (Photo by H-K Weiss)
Reconstructed Petit Bidon: Top View
Reconstructed Petit Bidon: Back View