French flag 1804, from warflag.com French flag 1812, from warflag.com
French Artillery
During the Napoleonic Wars

"The infantry and cavalry complained that the gunners
gave themselves airs because the Emperor himself
had been a gunner."

1. French Artillery Under Napoleon.
2. System of Gribeauval.
3. System of Year XI.
4. Foot Artillery.
5. Horse Artillery.
6. Train.
7. General Drouot, the Monk-Soldier.
8. Sappers, Miners, Pontoniers and Pioneers.

French artillery in 1812
Battle of Borodino, 1812
French artillery, part of great panorama by Roubaud

"There had been kings who had made artillery their hobby;
Napoleon was an artilleryman who made a hobby
of breaking and making kings." - Colonel John Elting.

French Artillery Under Napoleon.
"God is on the side with the best artillery !"
- Napoleon

Horse gunner, by Bellange From time immemorial, soldiers in the French army had referred to cannon with a nickname that mingled familiarity and revulsion - le brutal - and they were surely right. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 101).
"The French artillery has always ranked very high. Almost all improvements made in gunnery, during the last three or four centuries, have originated with the French. The theoretical branch of artillery has also been constantly a favorite science with the French; their mathematical turn of mind favors this; and the precision of language, the scientific method, the soundness of views, which characterize their artilleristic literature, show how much this branch of science is adapted to the national genius." ("The Armies of Europe" in Putnam's Monthly, No. XXXII, published in 1855)
The main difference between the French and Allies artillery was not in the quality of gunners or guns but in the fact that Napoleon used artillery offensively while for the Allies the main purpose of artillery was to defend cavalry and infantry. Their batteries of reserve joined the battle, either one-by-one on the request of local divisional commanders or were sent by the commander in chief if he felt that part of his line was took weak or too hardly pressed. In contrast Napoleon's artillery prepared the way for the final blow that would decidethe battle.

The Napoleonic artillery was a product of the change in French military theory that followed humiliations of the Seven Years War (ext.link). Especially painful was the defeat at Rossbach where 42.000 French and their Allies were trashed by 21,000 Prussians under Fredrick the Great. The French artillery in that time was according to the "system" of de Vallerie. The cannons were strongly built, very powerful, but very ornate and far too heavy to handle in the field. The old system was gradually replaced by so-called Gribeauval System. The new guns were designed for more rapid movements, on and off the roads. Gribeauval stressed mobility, hitting power and accuracy. His important innovation was the elevating screw used to adjust the range of the cannon by raising or lowering its breech. Another innovation was the prolong. It was a heavy rope 30 feet long and used to connect the gun and its limber when it was necessary to fire while retiring or to unlimber the gun while crossing some difficult obstacle.

The French artillery was divided into several sections:

  • - foot artillery
    In 1805 were 8 regiments of foot artillery (régiments d’artillerie à pied)
  • - horse artillery
    In 1805 were 6 regiments of horse artillery (régiments d’artillerie à cheval)
  • - pontoon bridge troops
    There were 2 battalions of pontoniers. They were assigned by companies to each army corps, the Cavalry Reserve and its field train's headquarters. When their heavy pontoon wagons were held up by bad roads, they could improvise bridges out of any available boats, rafts built from demolished buildings or empty wine barrels. In 1805 were 2 bataillons de pontonniers.
  • - artificers (ouvriers)
    In 1812 were 19 companies of artificiers (the 19th was made of Spanish dererters and POWs). The artificiers were specialists in the construction and repair of gun carriages and other vehicles. They served in artillery arsenals and with the artillery batteries in the field.
  • - armorers (armuriers)
    In 1813 were 6 companies of armorers (the 5th was made of Dutchmen). The armorers repaired weapons of all types. They served in the artillery arsenals and with artillery batteries in the field.

    When Napoleon became the First Consul he established a large artillery staff under his own control. Officers from this staff supervised the production of ammunition, cannons and howitzers, operation of the artillery schools and the armament of fortresses. Officers from this staff served in the field armies, army corps and fortresses. The artillery organization of the Army of Egypt was the precursor to ideas which Bonaparte would put into practice in 1804-1805 in the Camp of Boulogne. It was a distribution of artillery between the cavalry and infantry divisions and the reserve. The number of guns brought into battle increased with every year:

  • in 1805 at Austerlitz the ratio was 2 guns to 1.000 men
  • in 1809 at Wagram the ratio was 4 guns to 1.000 men (without the guns on Lobau Island)
  • in 1812 at Borodino the ratio was 4.5 guns to 1.000 men.
  • in 1815 at Ligny 2.5 and at Waterloo 3.5 to 1.000 men

    In 1805 at Austerlitz the French had the following ratio of guns:
    8 12pdrs - 1
    63 6pdrs - 8
    16 4pdrs - 2
    22 howitzers - 3
    (Austrian captured guns are not included here.)

    And in 1812 at Smolensk:
    57 12pdrs - 1
    267 8pdrs - 4.7
    34 4pdrs - 0.6
    132 howitzers 2.3

    The French also used captured pieces, Russian, Prussian, Austrian and British. Napoleon was very interested in British shrapnells. One howitzer and 2 waggons filled with shrapnells were captured at the battle of Albuera (1811). Napoleon ordered General Eblé, to have experiments carried out to determine the mode of loading these shells. Thenceforth Napoleon attached great importance to their property of bursting on graze and projecting their contents as far as possible.
    Shrapnell or case shot was a hollow cast iron shot forming a case which was filled with musket balls. Melted sulfur or resin was poured in to fill up the interstices and gun powder was added. The Shrapnell shot produced the same effect as the canister, and could be used for greater distances.

    In contrast to all monarchs, Napoleon was a gunner and he knew what he was doing. He graduated as an artillerist officer in 1785 and in 1791 entered the II/4th Regiment of Foot Artillery as a lieutenant. Bonaparte received his Captain's commission in 1792 and was stationed with his company in Grenoble. In 1808 in Spain, Bonaparte, already as emperor, met his old colonel. Chlapowski writes: "An old artillery colonel was sitting in the orderly room with me. When the Emperor alighted from his carriage and entered the room and saw that the old man did not recognize him, he said: 'Don't you know me, colonel ? Yet it was you who had me locked in the guard house !' This colonel had been a captain in the artillery battery in which Napoleon had first served as a second lieutenant. So Napoleon now introduced himself as sub-lieutenant Bonaparte, and added that he was increasing the old man's pension." (Chlapowski - p 42)
    Artillery officer in campaign outfit, by Paul Armont As First Consul and Emperor Napoleon awarded and promoted many talented artillery officers. One of them became a marshal, many were promoted to the rank of general. In 1810 the imperial artillery was commanded by:

  • 1 inspector-general (premier inspecteur général) - Songis
  • 11 generals of division (généraux de division) - Lauriston, d'Eblé, de Lariboissière, Andréossy, Sorbier, Dulauloy, Lacombe-St.-Michel, de Seroux, Gassendi, de Careil, Hanicque, Saint Laurent, de Senarmont and Pernetti.
  • 16 generals of brigade (généraux de brigade)
  • 46 colonels (colonels-directeurs)
  • 51 chief of battalions (chefs de bataillon, sous-directeurs)

    The artillery enjoyed an unprecedented popularity among young men in France seeking career in the army. The infantrymen and cavalrymen complained that the gunners gave themselves airs because their First Consul and then Emperor himself had been a gunner.
    Not every European commander was so fond of his gunners. Wellington was particularly hostile toward his artillery officers. In fact it was unusually hard for them to win a recognition no matter how much they contributed to victory. In 1813 Wellington ordered one of his artillery officers, to keep his battery in one place unless ordered by Wellington himself. This officer remained in that spot for 12 hours (!) before an staff officer arrived and ordered him into action as there was developing a crisis in the battle-line. But when Wellington saw this poor fellow leaving his place, he flew into rages and immediately ordered to arrest him.

    Quality of Napoleon's Artillery
    Bonaparte expected excellence and competence from his gunners and he got it. The French artillery became superior to every artillery of Europe. Under the Empire the artillery was greatly increased. It was well organized, efficient and well supplied in ammunition. Several other European armies patterned their artillery after the French. There was even partial adoption of the French Gribeauval System by the US Army in 1809. Between 1804 and 1809 Napoleon's artillery was in its peak and made great impression. Chlapowski writes: "A good half hour passed before a cannon, with French crew, arrived and unlimbered. In front of it came some old French officer, riding beside Dabrowski's aide, Bergenzoni, who was hit immediately by an enemy [Prussian] bullet and fell off his horse just level with the house behind which we were huddled. The Frenchman did not even stir, as if he had not noticed his companion fall beside him. He stood so close to the cannon that the blast of its first round knocked his fine hat over his eyes. At the third shot the gate gave way and this officer said to me in French 'Come on, young man, earn yourself a cross. Into town with you !' We rushed forward and burst into the town, right in amongst the Prussians ..." (Chlapowski/Simmons - p 17)

    In 1812-1813 the artillery suffered horrible losses in horses and equipment. During the reatreat from Russia the gunners and horses were weakened by overwork and poor feeding. It was exhausting to haul the pieces through mud or deep snow. After 1812 the quality of artillery began gradually decreasing, de Gaulle acurately described it: "1,200 cannon had been left behind in Russia and almost as many at Kulm, on the Katzbach and at Leipzig, without counting those that were abandoned by the roadside in Germany, Spain and Italy, and even France. For the wood of which the gun-carriages and wheels were made, instead of being seasoned, as formerly, for 10, 20 or 30 years, now came from newly cut timber; as a result it warped, split and bent." - General de Gaulle

    In 1815 the raising of artillery was beset by some frustrating difficulties, and there was very little time. Napoleon rebuilt the artillery of the Guard but did little to the rest of the artillery. There was no lack of cannons, but trained gunners and horses were in short supply. Despite the poor shape the French artillery still was able to impress even the enemy. Captain Mercer of British Royal Horse Artillery wrote: "The rapidity and precision of this fire [French guns at Waterloo] was quite appalling. Every shot almost took effect, and I certainly expected we should all be annihilated."

    The caissons and wagons were pulled by horses. Mules (ext.link) were also excellent but were not used. Although in the heat of battle the horses would shy and rear and flash their hooves; but mules were much worse, they would buck and kick and roll on the ground, entangling harnesses and becoming impossible to control and direct. An ox was calmer and stronger animal but was far too slow. (I can't imagine a flamboyant gunner mounted on an ox. ;=)
    In 1812 official colors of horses for the 8 pieces in every battery were as follow:

  • for the 1st cannon - whites
  • 2nd cannon - pales
  • 3rd cannon - red bays
  • 4th cannon - chestnuts
  • 5th cannon - bays
  • 6th cannon - blacks
  • 1st howitzer - brown piebald
  • 2nd howitzer - black piebald
    The ammunition wagons for every cannon and howitzer were equipped in a similar manner. (During campaign the gunners used whatever strong horses they got or found.)

    barrel length
    barrel weight
    carriage weight
    total weight
    for the gun
    caissons and horses
    12pdr foot cannon
    2.3 m
    6 3 caissons
    with 2 horses each
    8pdr horse cannon
    2 m
    6 2 caissons
    with 2 horses each
    8pdr foot cannon
    2 m
    4 2 caissons
    with 2 horses each
    0.71 m
    4 2-3 caissons
    with 2 horses each

  • ~

    "Napoleon endeavoured to compensate for the progressive
    deterioration in the quality of his troops by increasing
    their armaments. Thus in 1806 he estimated that he
    needed 3,000 serviceable cannon; in 1809 he wanted double
    that number. Every campaign saw an increase in the general
    artillery reserve...But material wore out and replacements
    became progressively poorer in quality.
    The armaments industry suffered from lack of men, who,
    in any case, were badly paid. Botched work became more
    and more frequent." - General de Gaulle

    Gribeauval System.
    "Gribeaval simplified and experience has proved
    the necessity of further simplification" - Napoleon

    Artillery officer. 
Musee de l'Armee, France "The chief factor that limited the use of cannon in the early modern era, particularly on the battlefield, was their weight. In the 1620s, the barrel alone of a 34-pounder weighed 5,600 pounds, and the cannon on its carriage required 20 horses to pull it and a crew of 35 to serve it. Artillery train possessed neither their own draft animals nor their own teamsters. ... At the beginning of the reign of Francois I, the French possessed a bewildering variety of at least 17 calibers ... French regimental pieces proliferated after 1635. ... Battlefield tactics required lighter, more mobile pieces ... " (Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle" pp 501-503)

    Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval (ext.link) introduced the following changes in the French artillery:

  • reduced the number of calibers
  • the gunners began using prefabricated powder amounts instead of loose powder.
  • introduced interchangeable wheels
  • redesigned gun carriages
  • introduced elevating screws for easier raising of the gun barrel
  • introduced double files of horses instead of single files
  • reduced the weight of field guns yet managed to increase firing range with smaller powder charge

    The new guns combined with the technological changes assured that the French artillery was the best in the World. These improvements boosted morale of the gunners which already had a long tradition of professionalism. Napoleon wrote: "The 4pdrs and the 8pdrs have been rightly suppressed. Gribeaval simplified and experience has proved the necessity of further simplification. ... The 8pdrs and the 4pdrs were often employed in the wrong place: the ammunition of 8pdrs was expended where that of 4pdrs would have sufficed." Napoleon however was unhappy with the new carriages: "Gribeanval's carriage was altogether faulty. It has been altered, and rightly so, for there has been a gain of 100 per cent. in transport, and lightness given to both the carriage and the howitzer. But the latter still requires improvement." The Gribeauval System was very innovative for that times as it gave the French an advantage of making many items interchangeable for repairs and mainteinance during campaign. In 1792 the first regulations of the artillery service appeared.

  • ~

    System of Year XI.
    The new system replaced the 8pdr with 6pdr cannon
    and theoretically abandoned the 4pdr.

    French cannon and gunners
at Borodino, picture by Korfilm The System of the Year of XI cconsisted of the following types of guns:

  • short 24pdr cannon
  • long 12pdr cannon
  • short 12pdr cannon
  • long 6pdr cannon
  • short 6pdr cannon
  • 6pdr howitzer (called a la Prussienne)
  • 24pdr howitzer
  • 6pdr mortar
  • 24pdr mortar
  • 3pdr mountain gun

    Although certain parts would be interchangeable, Gribeauval System still required 25 different size of wheels and different size of caissons for each caliber of gun. It was not what Napoleon expected from his artillery. In 1803 the Gribeauval System was replaced by the System of the Year XI.
    According to George Nafziger ("Imperial Bayonets" pp 245-246): "after the Battle of Marengo" the Army of Italy (French army in Italy under Bonaparte) was so deficient in artillery that General Allix had been ordered to form a train of 250 guns in Turin. ... so he made use of a number of 6pdr cannons and 24pdr howitzers he found in Turin, which were introduced into service by the order of 2 March 1803 (Year XI) This would indicate that initially the 6pdr cannons of the System of the Year XI were captured rather than French weapons; ... Eventually, however, all the 6pdr guns were of French manufacture. The new system replaced the 8pdr with 6pdr cannon and theoretically abandoned the 4pdr. However the 4pdr continued in use until the end of the Empire and the System of the Year XI never fully replaced the Gribeauval System in the field or in fortresses."

    According to John Elting tooling up for the new weapons took time and was only well begun by 1805. (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" 1997 p. 258) Unfortunately the constant wars forced the use of the old guns (Gribeauval System) or mixing them with the new guns (System of Year XI), which increased the spare parts problem. The new 5.5 inch howitzer required 2 powder charges to the 3 required by the old 6.4 inch howitzer.

    The mountain artillery was improvised when required, no permanent units being organized. The mountain artillery was used in Tyrol, Dalmatia and Spain. On such occassions the howitzers were either mounted on strengthened sleds (6pdr and even 12pdr howitzers) or disassembled "into several mule loads" (only for 3 or 4 pdrs).

    Gribeauval's caissons were front-heavy and thus still awkward vehicles for Napoleon's taste. The carriage/cannon of the new system was lighter than that of Gribauval System. It was important for the maneuverability of the Napoleonic artillery. Below is comparison of net weight of the carriage and cannon:
    Gribauval System:

  • 4pdr - 1940 pdrs
  • 8pdr - 2456 pdrs
  • 12pdr - 3205 pdrs
    System of XI Year:
  • 6pdr - 2008 pdrs
  • 12pdr - 2811 pdrs
  • ~

    Foot Artillery
    [Artillerie à Pied]

    The French foot gunner On picture: French foot gunner in campaign dress, 1815.
    By Clive Farmer in Adkin's "The Waterloo Companion"
    The foot gunner wore, in addition to his white leather crossbelts for cartridge box and short saber, a bricole. It was a shoulder belt with an attached long drag rope. The bricole had a hook that could be inserted at the ends of the gun's axles and along the sides of the carriage.

    The gunners marched on foot and their officers were suppose to march with them. Only those of officers who were 50-years old and more were entitled to horses. But according to French sources (for example Tousard) and regulations there is a provision for mounting foot artillerymen on gun team horses as early as 1809. The gunner was armed with musket of dragoon model, bayonet and a short infantry saber. He wore dark blue coat with dark blue lapels and collars. The drummers customarily wore red coats with dark blue lapels. All gunners and drumers wore either dark blue breeches (parade, review) or dark blue trousers (campaign, battle).

    There were 8 (administrative) regiments of foot artillery (régiments d’artillerie à pied) of 22 (tactical) companies each. The companies were scattered among various armies. For example in 1812 the 3rd Regiment had 8-9 companies in Spain, 2-3 in Netherlands and the rest in France, Germany and Russia. In 1810 was formed 9th Regiment of Foot Artillery.
    When a train company, with the drivers, horses and limbers, was merged with an artillery company (guns and gunners) it became mobile and was known as a division d'ertillerie
    When deployed for combat the distance between each battery was to be 36 m (54 paces).

    Foot artillery companies, or batteries, consisted of 100 to 120 men with 6 cannons and 2 six-inch howitzers. During a longer campaign the company would be reduced to 3 or 4 guns as there were losses among the gunners. Fewer gunners were able to serve fewer guns. * (read more) Napoleon was not too happy with the 8 guns batteries. He wrote: "It would be better, were it not determined otherwise by the details of artillery, to form a unit of 4 guns, because a battery of 8 guns is already too numerous not to be often divided ..."

    In 1807 company of foot artillery (8 pieces) consisted of:

  • 2 captains
  • 2 lieutenants
  • 1 sergeant-major
  • 4 sergeants
  • 4 corporals
  • 1 furrier
  • 2 drummers
  • 24 gunners of 1st Class
  • 45 gunners of 2nd Class
    Each company had fanion.

    In 1815 company of foot artillery (8 pieces) consisted of:

  • 2 captains
  • 2 lieutenants
  • 1 sergeant-major
  • 4 sergeants
  • 4 corporals
  • 1 furrier
  • 2 drummers
  • 20 gunners of 1st Class
  • 48 gunners of 2nd Class
    Additionally each company had 4 metal workers, 4 ouvriers, 13 woodworkers and artificiers.

    There were discussions on the internal order of company (battery) when on the move. Napoleon wrote: "Artillery officers have differed in opinion as to whether the 8 guns with their limbers should march past, the wagons following behind the 8th gun, or whether each waggon should follow its gun." In general, artillery officers prefer that the waggon should follow the gun. They fear the waggon may make a mistake and get lost amid the perplexities and circumstances of a battle. They feel the want of obtaining every possible security that the waggon shall not be far from its gun, and they can find no other means than by keeping the waggon always under the eye of the No. 1 of the gun."

  • ~

    Horse Artillery
    [Artillerie à Cheval]

    horse gunner On picture: French horse gunner in 1815, by Clive Farmer in Adkin's "The Waterloo Companion"

    The horse gunners and their officers were mounted. Each gunner was armed with a light cavalry saber and 2 pistols attached to the pommel of his saddle under its sheepskin cover. Prussian King Frederick the Great, organized the first batteries of horse artillery under the name of "flying artillery". Some of the French officers had seen them and were very impressed. In the beginning of 1792, the first 2 French batteries of horse artillery were formed. The French horse artillery has made great progress since that time. While their primary service was with cavalry divisions, Napoleon also would assign companies of horse artillery when possible to each of his army corps because their mobility made iit possible for them to react to changing battlefield developments much more rapidly than foot artillery could.

    The horse artillery should be placed that it can move freely in any direction. Their job always quickly being to make a hole in the enemy line with the break through being the task of the infantry and cavalry. When the enemy advanced in line, the artillery should fire from the flank in order to achieve the most desirable effect. During attack the artillery was to accompany the cavalry. There was no infantry square to withstand artillery fire at close range.
    To bring the guns close to the square was not as easy as it seems. Often the cavalry made continuous charges and counter-charges against the enemy's horsemen, any batteries would have been overrun as each wave of horsemen was forced, or merely retired, to reform in the rear. With no close friendly infantry to seek cover with the gunners would have been slaughtered or have to mount up and abandon their pieces in the heart of the enemy position. The only other alternative, that of continually limbering and moving downslope, then returning and unlimbering again would hardly be practical.

    In 1807 France had 6 regiments of horse artillery each of 3 squadrons x 2 companies each. Every regiment had 1 depot company. In 1814 each regiment had 4 squadrons x 2 companies in the field, and 1 depot company. In 1810 was formed from the Dutch the 7th Regiment of Horse Artillery. When a train company, with the drivers, horses and limbers, was merged with an artillery company (guns and gunners) it became mobile and was known as a division d'ertillerie
    Horse artillery was an expensive arm. After Napoleon's abdication, the food and peace loving Bourbons cut back the horse artillery to 4 regiments.

    In 1815 company of horse artillery (6 pieces) consisted of:

  • 2 captains
  • 2 lieutenants
  • 1 sergeant-major
  • 4 sergeants
  • 4 corporals
  • 1 furrier
  • 2 trumpeters
  • 24 gunners of 1st Class
  • 35 gunners of 2nd Class.
    There were also 4 metal workers and 4 ouvriers.
  • ~

    "Had I possessed 30,000 artillery rounds at Leipzig ...,
    today I would be master of the world." "
    - Napoleon

    Artillery Train.
    [Train d’artillerie]

    In 1800 Bonaparte created the artillery train. It was very important part of every army as it was responsible for ammunition. Before Bonaparte the men in artillery train were civilian contract drivers. They took good care of their horses and were more obedient than soldiers. But soldiers-drivers looked better on parade and were not scared as much in a battle as were the civilians. At the battle of Novi the civilian-drivers panicked and abandoned all wagons, caissons and guns ! The soldiers-drivers were former cavalrymen, wounded or unfit for service. Sometimes foreigners were accepted as drivers, especially if they were strong and knew horses. Among the foreigners were especially many Dutch and also Prussian prisoners.
    The situation with artillery trains in other European armies was not better. For example the officers of British artillery train were neglectful and the drivers "became notorious for indiscipline and criminality."

    The French train driver was armed with a carbine, a short infantry-type saber, and a pistol. They were expected to take a hand in protecting themselves and their ammunition wagons if attacked by Cossacks, Spanish or Tyrolean guerillas etc. The color of the train troops coat was officially iron grey.

    In 1805 France had 10 bataillons du train d’artillerie. Each battalion consisted of 1 elite company and 4 center companies. The elite company (best draft horses and drivers) was assigned to a battery of horse artillery. The center companies were assigned to foot batteries. The drivers rode on left hand horses.
    In 1808 France had 8 battalions of artillery train.

    In 1805-1807 artillery train company had:

  • 2 officers
  • 7-10 NCOs
  • 2 trumpeters
  • 84 privates
    There were also 2 blacksmiths and 2 harness makers.

    In 1815 artillery train company consisted of:

  • 1 sergeant major
  • 4 sergeants
  • 1 furier
  • 4 corporal
  • 2 trumpeters
  • 24 drivers of 1st Class
  • 60 drivers of 2nd Class
    There were also 2 blacksmiths and 2 harness makers.

    Ammunition Wagons.
    Caisson and limber "The bulk of ammunition was carried in caissons, designed by Gribeauval to hold the new 'fixed' ammunition, i.e. projectile and propellant made up into one. The caisson was an 11-foot long, narrow-bodied wagon with a sloping lid hinged to open, the interior being divided into compartments for the assembled rounds. Powder and matches were also carried in the caisson, as were shovels and a pick (fastened to the sides), a detachable tool-box at the front and a spare wheel ... A light caisson was also produced (presumably for horse artillery use) only 7'6" long and without either spare wheel or tool box." (Wise and Hook - "Artillery Equipment of the Napoleonic Wars" p 7)

    The ammuntion was also kept in the small "coffer" attached to each gun's trail. The ammunition in the "coffer" (Gribeauval System) consisted of:

  • 12pdr - 9 cannonballs
  • 8pdr - 15 cannonballs
  • 4pdr - 18 cannonballs
  • 6.4 inch howitzer - 4 canisters
  • 5.5 inch howitzer - ?

    The French army used two kinds of wagons designed to carry a supply of ammunition: ‘caisson à munition’ (ammunition caissons) and ‘charette-caisson’ (ammunition wagons). The ammunition caissons and wagons were painted in olive-green, metal and wooden parts, including the wheels. The oil paint increased the resistance of the wood against the damp and bad weather.
    Napoleon habitually wanted a double standard load of ammuntion with each gun. That required 2 caissions for each 4-pounder, 3 caissons for a 6- or 8-pounder, and 5 caissons for a 12-pounder. (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" pp 258-259)
    The 12pdr caisson loading (Gribeauval System) was designed to carry ammunition for the 12pdr and 8pdr cannons, howitzers, and infantry muskets :

  • 12pdr - 48 cannonballs, 12 big and 8 small canister
  • 8pdr - 62 cannonballs, 10 big and 20 small canister
  • 14,000 infantry cartridges
    This caisson could also carry ammunition for the new 6pdr cannon of System Year XI.
    The 4pdr caissons was designed to carry ammunition only for the light 4pdr cannons and infantry muskets:
  • 4pdr - 26 cannonballs, 26 big and 24 small cartridges
  • 12,000 infantry cartridges.

    Cannon Ammunition wagons Weight
    of fully loaded caisson
    and canister
    per caisson
    8- pounder 2 1295 pdrs 92 projectiles
    (+15 in coffer)
    4- pounder 1 1079 pdrs 150 projectiles
    (+18 in coffer)
    6- pounder 1 or 2 1468 pdrs 140 projectiles
    (+21 in coffer)

  • ~

    "Drouot would have been as happy on 40 sous per day
    as on a sovereign's allowance. His morals, his integrity,
    his lack of affectation, would have brought him honor
    in the greatest days of the Roman Republic... I had good
    reason to rank him superior to a great many of my marshals."
    - Napoleon on Saint Helena

    General Drouot - The Monk-Soldier
    The Best of Napoleonic Gunners

    Drouot He had become a living legend to the men who wore the blue, a figure who elicited an almost mystical devotion. Praying and fighting appeared to be his idea of the whole duty of man.

    Antoine Drouot was born at Nancy on January 11, 1774 to a family of bakers; he was one of 12 children of Claude Drouot. Antoine Drouot wrote: "My parents attempted above all to inspire me with religious feeling and to give me a love of work and virtue." Drouot was a man with Spartan tastes. In order to spare parents' budget, he covered the distance between Nancy to Chalons on foot and entered the exam room wearing his walking clothes. Because of his good grades, Drouot was named lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Foot Artillery.

    Antoine Drouot had quick mind and was one the most remarkable artillerists the world has ever produced. In 1804, he requested service in Boulogne where Napoleon was creating the Grand Army. In 1805 Drouot was in Cadiz (Spain). Between 1805 and 1807 he managed the arms factory at Maubeuge and factory at Charleville. In 1808 Drouot was promoted to major. In December he became the commander of the Foot Artillery Regiment of the Guard. The Emperor kept him for great emergencies. In battle Drouot - dressed in an old uniform - stood in the midst of his guns and directed their fire. His quiet and grave demeanor, his steadfastness, reminded one of the mighty strength of his artillery. When Drouot received an order to bring up his guns, he moved fiercely and steadily.

    In 1809 Drouot commanded a massive 100-gun battery at Wagram. In 1812 he participated in the invasion of Russia and fought at Borodino. In that year Drouot was awarded with Order of the Legion of Honor. In 1813 he was promoted to the rank of general de brigade. In this year Drouot fought at Weissenfels, Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden and on October 16 at Wachau near Leipzig. Meanwhile he was promoted to the rank of general de division. At Leipzig Drouot commanded a huge battery of 100-150 guns deployed on the Gallows Height. He gained the victory at Hanau in clearing the Bavarians from the road to France. In 1814 Drouot and his artillery fought at La Rothiere, Champaubert, Vauchamp, Mormant, bloody Craonne, Laon, and Arcis-sur-Aube. Among the 2,000 volunteers that Napoleon was authorized to take with him for his guard on Elba Island was Drouot. Drouot participated in the 1815 campaign but no longer commanded his beloved artillery. At Waterloo Napoleon would take his advice, as an experienced gunner, when he advised to 'wait until the ground had dried out after the rain for the guns to manoeuvre.' Drouot would ever afterwards reproach himself for having lost Waterloo by allowing the Prussians time to come up. (Austin - "1815 - the return of Napoleon" p 289)

    "He was a man of considerable courage, integrity and endurance who acquired the nickname 'Sage de la Grande Armee'. During the appalling conditions of the retreat from Moscow it was said that he was the only man in the army to shave in the open daily with a mirror propped up on a gun carriage. A bachelor, who limped as a result of a foot wound (his only injury) received at Wagram, he had been fighting almost continuously since 1793... he was described by Marshal Macdonald as, "the most upright, honest man I have ever known, well educated, brave, devout and simple in his manner." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" pp 12 & 201)
    Drouot was a man of honesty, modesty and faithfulness and always carried a Bible with him. Napoleon liked his monk-general and appreciated his wisdom and loyalty. "If I had followed the wise counsel of Drouot, I would never have left Elba." - said the Emperor at Saint Helena. In the Will of Napoleon is written: "To General Drouot, one hundred thousand francs."


    At Waterloo during the dramatic fight for the farm La Haye Sainte
    (defended by German infantry in British service) the main gate
    was battered down with axes wielded by men of the 1st Engineer
    Regiment and stormed by the II Battalion of 13th Ligh Regiment."
    (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 139)

    Sappers, Miners, Pontoniers and Pioneers.

    The French military engineers (sappers, miners, pontoniers etc.) enjoyed a great reputation. (Small groups of them rendered invaluable service to the Continental Army during American Revolution against the British.) The best officers of the engineers came from the polytechnic school and the school of application. The Napoleonic engineers had been better equipped and organized than the Austrian, British and Russian engineers for many years. They were all well trained under professionally qualified officers. Chlapowski writes: "... I was sent 30 French sappers, commanded by a sergeant, and ordered to take these men and my two companies [of infantry] and eject the enemy [Prussians] from Zblewo. ... [I] selected an advance guard from my Polish troops. But the French [sappers] straight away requested permission to lead off, very politely explaining that older soldiers should set an example. ... These Frenchmen moved so fast that my men had difficulty keeping up." (Chlapowski/Simmons - p 19)

    In Egypt with Bonaparte were 800 engineers (sappers, miners etc.) under GdD Cafarelli-Dufalga and Colonel Sanson. In Italy the engineers were commanded by Colonel Chasseloup-Laubat, and in the famous training ground Camp of Boulogne by Marescot. In 1805 the engineers of the I Army Corps were under Colonel Morio, in II Army Corps under GdB de Lery, in III under GdB Andreossy, in IV under Colonel Poitevin, and in V Army Corps under GdB Kirgener. In 1809 during the campaign against Austria, the engineers were commanded by Bertrand. From 1809 several French army corps had one battalion of sappers and one company of miners under command. This establishment included 35 wagons carrying 1,700 pickaxes, 1,700 spades, 680 axes, demolition equipment etc.

    The most known engineer in the Napoleonic army was General Henri Bertrand (1773-1847). He was an engineer by training and a longstanding imperial aid. "... immensely loyal ... His great success in the field was the construction of the pontoon bridges across the Danube in front of Aspern-Essling during the Austrian campaign in 1809 ... he accompanied the Emperor to Elba. He was present at Waterloo and was at Napoleon's bedsite when he died on St.Helen, having remained with him throughout his exile." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 12)
    In 1815 the commander of guard engineers was Baron Haxo. He was very brave during sieges but his loyalty to Napoleon was questionable. He was particularly servile to the Bourbons. At Waterloo one of his tasks was to carry out a morning reconnaissance of allied lines to locate any field fortifications. Haxo was one of the first to suggest capitulation after the Allies arrived on the outskirts of Paris.
    General François Chasseloup-Laubat (1754-1833) was an engineer of great reputation. According to wikipedia.org "His ability as a military engineer was recognized in the campaigns of 1792 and 1793. In the following year he won distinction in various actions and was promoted successively chef de bataillon and colonel. He was chief of engineers at the siege of Mainz in 1796, after which he was sent to Italy. He there commanded the positions and lines of advance of the army of Bonaparte. He was promoted general of brigade before the close of the campaign, and was subsequently employed in fortifying the new Rhine frontier of France.
    Chandler writes: "... he became chief engineer to Bonaparte in Italy (1796 and 1800), being present at most battles and sieges. Promoted to general of division in 1799, he spent many years in Italian appointments. In 1807 he supervised the sieges of Danzig [Gdansk] and Stralsund, and next year was made a count. He served in Russia in 1812 and retired the next year. Chasseloup-Laubat espoused the Bourbon cause in 1814 and took no part in the events of 1815." (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" p 90)
    As an engineer he was an adherent, though of advanced views, of the old bastioned system. He followed in many respects the engineer Bousmard, whose work was published in 1797 and who fell, as a Prussian officer, in the defence of Danzig in 1807 against Chasseloup's own attack.

    Until 1789 in addition to the general staff of engineers' officers, existed 6 companies of sappers (sapeurs du genie). These companies belonged to the artillery corps. In 1793 the numebr of sappers dramatically increased to 12 battalions, each of 8 companies of 200 men. In 1805 Napoleon had 5 battalions but in 1810-1812 three more were added (they were Dutch, Italians and Spaniards).

    The elite of all engineer troops were miners. They were recruited from civilian miners. Not only did they face the enemy in counter-mining operations, but the equally dangerous threats of cave-ins and asphyxiation. There were 6 companies of miners which the artillery absorbed for a while. In 1793 at Carnot's proposal the companies of miners were separated from the artillery. They participated in sieges as they were specialists in the attack and defense of fortified places. It was a very dangerous duty. During First Empire the 6 companies of miners were reduced to 5, in 1805 expanded to 9 and finally to 12 companies.

    In February 1811 was ordered to use the captured Spanish, Portugese and Austrian POWs in the 38 pioneer battalions. Out of the 38 battalions, 15 were to be used for fortresses, castles and other fortifications, another 15 for repairing and building the roads. Eight battalions were to be used for seaport and offshore services.
    In 1803 Napoleon formed one battalion of black pioneers (pionniers noirs) from Haitians POWs. The "negros" wore brown breeches, white gaiters, and brown coats with red lapels and collars. In 1806 this unit was transferred to the Neapolitan Army in southern Italy.

    Each larger army corps had small troop of pontoniers. The System of the Year XI discarded the copper pontoons and replaced them with wooden pontoons. In May 1813 at Briesnitz the pontoneers built two pontoon bridges with rafts and boats, and the stone bridge in Dresden was repaired. Two further pontoon bridges were built parallel to the stone bridge. (Nafziger - "Lutzen and Bautzen" p. 193)

    Bridges Over Mighty Danube River
    [1809 in Austria]

    In 1809 near Vienna Napoleon instructed GdD Bertrand and his engineer officers to organize the construction of great bridges protected by a palisade upstream and capable of withstanding the current and the ramming raft that had destroyed the original bridge connecting the south shore of Danube River with the Lobau Island. On June 1st the work started. In adddition to the engineers and pontoniers, three naval battalions (1,500 men), two battalions of sailors (1,00 men) and one battalion of naval artificers joined Bertrand. They built bridges, gunboats, landing barges and a floating battery, repaired damaged pontoons and mannded several crafts.
    When they lacked of cordage Napoleon had the church bell ropes dismantled. The bridgeworks were impressive. By working day and night the engineers and pontonniers completed the construction of the main trestle-bridge and its subsidiaries - major engineering achievements surpassing the bridges constructed by the Roman emperors, Caesar and Trajan. (Rothennburg - "The Emperor's Last Victory" pp 132-135)

    Bridges Over Frozen Beresina River
    [1812 in Russia]

    Picture by Nathan Having waited until mid-October Napoleon soon found itself in the midst of an unusually early and especially cold winter. Temperatures soon dropped well below freezing. Icicles hung from the trees like glittering chandeliers.
    At Beresina River GdD Eble's pontoniers and engineers (French and Polish) saved the army there by construction of the bridges. The bridge trains has been destroyed at Orsha, several days before the crossing of the Berezina River. But GdD Eble did wonders. He had several companies of pontoniers with him who had all kept their muskets. Then they plunged naked into the icy river, working deep to their armpits and only few survived. It was unusual display of discipline and sacrifice. Eble himself died too.

    Note: according to one of our visitors, Gunter Janoschke of Germany "that was not such a simple thing. The main problems with fielding the standard number of guns was the shortage of horses, the capture of guns or the inability to repair them. The crew was not the problem, because guns didn't needed crews full of well-trained artillerymen. A few of them plus additional untrained men were enough. I can only speak for the Prussians, as they were used to fill the crew by the reserve men of the battery, placed somewhere in the rear. They get reinforcements from the depots, and if that wasn't possible, men from the infantry and cavalry were transferred to artillery service. The result was, that the batteries could field still a lot of guns even after a long campaing, apart from material losses. It´s known, that the French started sometimes war with leaving guns behind due to a shortage of horses. "

    Sources and Links.

    Elting - "Swords Around a Throne"
    Broughton - "French Artillery Regiments and the Colonels Who Led Them."
    Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion"
    Susane - "Histoire de l'Artillerie Francaise" Paris 1874
    Bowden - "Napoleon's Grande Armee of 1813" Chicago 1990.
    Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" (translated by Tim Simmons)
    photo by Korfilm

    Battle of the Nations.

    Artillery Tactics and Combat
    Cannons and Howitzers, Gun Crew, Battery, Ammunition
    Deployment in Battle, Accuracy of Artillery Fire
    Attacking and Defending Artillery Positions

    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies