Saturday, August 13, 2016

French Napoleonic Artillery in Action

 General Dampierre (who was saved from the guillotine by being mortally wounded in 1793) said that the French soldier depended implicitly on the superiority of his artillery and that there was a noticeable lessening of his courage if he saw that artillery receive a check or draw back. Throughout the wars of the Republic the excellent French artillery made up for many deficiencies in the other arms. The new horse artillery made its first effective appearance of the Battle of Jemappes on 6th November 1792, when several batteries went into action. Although many of the men could as yet hardly ride, the batteries did so well that every general wanted them.

Marshal Saint-Cyr gives in his Mémoires an incident at the siege of Kehl in January 1797 which showed the tremendous pride in their arm possessed by men of the horse artillery. One of the siege batteries had been especially allotted to a company of horse artillery. But although the battery came under very heavy enfilade fire the men would not construct any earthworks to protect themselves from it. Their reply to instructions to do so was that they were horse artillery who fought in the open, and not behind entrenchments; and that if they were permitted to do so they would demolish the defences which had been erected against frontal fire. They had their way, and each morning by 9 o’clock their guns had been smashed and half their men killed or wounded.

The superiority of the French artillery was not due to its equipment, but to its tactical handling and to the efficiency and esprit de corps of its officers and men. That superiority was very marked, for instance, in the Jena-Auerstädt campaign of 1806. The Prussian army had a greater ratio of artillery to infantry than the French; but in the artillery, as in the other arms, the Prussian officers were still following the teachings of Frederick the Great. In their time these had been revolutionary, but that student of the art of war, Napoleon, had absorbed the lessons and had superimposed his own system of a massive artillery reserve, in order to achieve artillery superiority at the decisive point.

To take another example, the Russian artillery was excellent as regards its equipment, but it was poorly commanded. Sir Robert Wilson writes: ‘The Russian artillery is of the most powerful description. No other army moves with so many guns and with no other army is there a better state of equipment, or more gallantly served. The piece is well formed, and the carriage solid, without being heavy. The harness and the rope-tackling is of the best quality for service, and all the appurtenances of the gun complete and well arranged. The draught horses are small, but of great muscular strength, strongly loined, and with high blood. Four draw the light field pieces, and eight the twelve pounders; the latter have sometimes indeed ten horses.’ The extra horses were required for the dreadful Polish roads, before the frost stabilised the bottomless mud and after the thaw some months later. ‘The drivers,’ says Wilson, ‘are stout men: like all other drivers, they require superintendence in times of danger, to prevent their escape with the horses, but on various occasions they have also shown great courage and fidelity; and they have the essential merit of carefully providing subsistence for their horses. Neither gun, tumbril, nor cart belonging to the artillery is ever seen without forage of some kind, and generally collected by the prudence and diligence of the drivers.’ But the junior officers in the artillery were poor, and on active service an officer of cavalry or infantry was frequently appointed to the command of batteries.

‘The horse artillery’, says Wilson, ‘is no less well appointed, and the mounted detachments that accompany the guns ride excellent powerful horses.… The Cossaque artillery, worked by Cossaques, which is a late institution, consisted of 24 pieces, extremely light, and the carriages were fashioned with a care and nicety which did great credit to Russian workmanship.’

Earlier in this chapter there is mention of the division of artillery which Chef d’Escadrom Boulart was directed to raise for attachment to the Imperial Guard. This division went into action at Jena, and Boulart recounts his experiences as follows: ‘The Guard marched to Jena. It was a long day and we only arrived there as night was falling; but it was necessary to cross the town, including a street where a fire was raging both to right and left of the crossing. To pass this obstacle took much time and demanded many precautions; guns and wagons had to be sent over one by one, after unloading the forage, which as usual they were carrying. I was lucky that there was no unfortunate incident. I had been ordered, as soon as I had passed through Jena, to go into camp on a high plateau, which dominated the town and the valley of the Saale, where the Guard had taken up a position. But my leading vehicles had hardly entered the steep and sunken road which led to the plateau, when they were brought to a halt because the road was too narrow. My anxiety was great because I knew we would be fighting the next day and my horses, worn out from their long march, were in great need of food and rest. There was no time to lose. At the foot of the height, I parked as well as I could all my vehicles which had not yet entered the sunken road; then, equipping my gunners with all the pick-axes that I had, I got them to hew at the rock to widen the road. It was difficult and heavy work and progress was slow. I was striving desperately to quicken the pace, and was everywhere— animating, pressing, and encouraging my men. I was worn out with fatigue and anxiety; I felt that the Guard could not fight without me, or at least that I would be dishonoured if my artillery did not appear in time to take part in the action. At last, at daybreak, at the very moment when the Guard left their fires to stand to arms, my last vehicles arrived on the plateau and I began to breathe in the happy relief that I had achieved my aim. The first musket shots were soon heard and a little later the action became general. The din gradually moved further away, but the Guard took no part; it remained in order of battle during the whole action, only changing position to move forward as the leading lines gained ground, and containing its impatience whilst awaiting an order to move into the attack. In fact an order arrived at midday, but it only concerned my artillery. The Emperor sent instructions that it was to move forward immediately and that I was to ride ahead and get his orders. In an instant my batteries were on the way, and whilst they advanced at a trot, I galloped off to report their arrival to His Majesty. I found him just finishing an address to a large body of cavalry. This cavalry had just returned from the brilliant charges which had decided the victory, and the Emperor was expressing his satisfaction. It was a stirring moment. I approached to take his orders. “Well done!” he said to me, “I do not need your artillery; return to my Guard.”’

Shortly after the Battle of Jena, the artillery of the Guard arrived, and Boulart, with his artillery division, was transferred on attachment to Oudinot’s special infantry division, composed of grenadier and light infantry battalions.

But Boulart had made his mark and before the 1809 campaign he was posted to the Horse Artillery of the Guard as a Chef d’Escadron. He was soon promoted to Chef de Bataillon in a new regiment of Foot Artillery of the Guard, discarding rather reluctantly the blue dolman and pelisse of the Guard’s Horse Artillery.

When the French army entered Vienna in 1809, Boulart was commanding two batteries of the Foot Artillery of the Guard, equipped with a total of twelve pieces of ordnance. The Emperor inspected these two batteries at one of the daily parades at Schoenbrünn. As usual, he went into great detail, but found everything in order. One of the gunners, however, told the Emperor that one of the 12-pr. guns was ‘mad’—that is, its fire was a little uncertain.

At daybreak on 22nd May Boulart, who had his two batteries on the north side of the island of Lobau and close to the river, was ordered to send one of his batteries forward with the Chasseurs of the Guard. Leaving one battery close to the bridge, Boulart followed the chasseurs with the other towards Essling. He brought his battery into action but was soon overwhelmed by the Austrian fire, his battery commander losing an arm and he himself being slightly wounded. The position was untenable, and he moved the battery closer to the chasseurs, establishing it in a tile factory by the village of Gross-Aspern. But he had to contend with the fire of at least twelve pieces against his six. Short of ammunition, he sent back for more, but all the ground to his rear was swept by the heavy enemy fire. Finally, when half his men and a third of his horses were out of action, lack of ammunition forced him to cease fire and give way to a fresh battery.

Marshal Masséna was now 300 to 400 yards in rear with the Chasseur Division of the Guard, and Boulart reported to him and remained with him until the end of the action. Masséna told him that the Austrians had cut the bridge over the Danube and thus their communications. That night the army withdrew to the island of Lobau.

Boulart writes that, ‘On the 26th, as soon as the bridge was rebuilt, the Guard and my artillery crossed to the right bank, and moved to the village of Ebersdorf where Imperial Headquarters was. I had hardly been there an hour when the Emperor sent for me. I was taken into his office where he was standing by a table on which maps were spread out. “Have you brought back all your artillery?” he asked me. “Yes, Sire.” “Have you any ammunition left?” “Some grape shot but no round shot.” “And why have you not spat that out at the enemy’s face?” “Sire, because I was not within range, and the position of my battery was subordinated to that of the troops to which I was attached. Marshal Masséna, who was there, could see that I was not able to do more.” “How many men and horses have you lost?” “Sire (I gave him the figures).” “And your mad piece, did it fire well?” What a memory to recall such a minor detail! Nothing escaped him. “Yes, Sire, its fire has been better for I gave it my personal attention.” “And your other pieces, are they in good condition?” “Sire, there is one of which the vent is greatly widened and which has need of a vent lining.” “And why, Sir, has this lining not already been fitted?” He added in a high and angry tone, “In what regiment have you served?” This outburst, absolutely undeserved, disconcerted me a little. “Sire, I arrived on the Isle of Lobau where I had no resources with which to carry out this repair. There is only the arsenal at Vienna that might be able to do it, and already I have made arrangements to send the piece there.” “Yes; expedite its departure; tomorrow I will inspect your artillery and you will show me the repaired piece.” “Sire, your orders will be carried out.” I knew the thing impossible, but it was no good saying so. The Emperor knew nothing of impossibilities.

‘I was very worried when I left him, but I set about taking action immediately. I sent Captain Lefrancais to Vienna with the piece, telling him to expedite the repair if he could find at the arsenal a machine to install vent linings. But Captain Lefrancais would not be able to return in time for the Emperor’s inspection; and it was necessary, therefore, to procure a gun to replace temporarily the missing one. It seemed to me that it should suffice if the Emperor could see that my batteries were complete and ready to move. I hurried to see General Songis, to tell him of my trouble and seek his help. “I would willingly do so,” he said, “but in fact there are only Austrian 12-pr. guns in the general park, though these are of the same calibre as ours. If you wish I will put one at your disposal.” For lack of anything better I accepted; but the thought of the inspection the next day depressed me. The Emperor would of course notice the absence of my piece; and what would he say if he was still in his present bad humour? At least I would not fare any better, and at the worst I should get another “broadside”.

‘The next day at 11 am I went to His Majesty’s apartments; where I spent a long enough time in the antechamber with the Russian Colonel Czernischeff, a young and handsome man, beautifully turned out. At last I was summoned. He was not the same man as on the previous day; he had received excellent news of the Army of Italy and his face was cheerful and contented. I noticed this at once and was reassured. “Well, Commandant, your 12-pr., has it returned?” “Not yet, Sire. I am informed that I shall receive it during the day. Whilst waiting I have replaced it by a piece lent me by General Songis.” “Have you replenished your ammunition?” “Yes, Sire, I can now go into action.’ “Good. I will not inspect you.” And this was all said in a kindly tone with considerable charm.’

This account by Boulart tells us more about the personality of that remarkable man the Emperor Napoleon than do many books that have been written about him.

At the Battle of Wagram, which followed shortly after this incident, the French artillery fired 96,000 rounds. The day after the battle Boulart visited the ground which the Guard artillery had ploughed up with its projectiles and he did not find that the damage done was proportionate to the ammunition expended. Other parts of the field reinforced this impression. And yet never had such a mass of artillery been assembled, producing such a brisk, continuous and frightening noise; for those who heard the uproar from afar believed that the two armies were destroying themselves.

After Wagram, Boulart was promoted Major in the Guard, which gave him the rank of Colonel in the Line and the tide of ‘Colonel-Major’.

Japanese Invasions of Korea and Gunpowder Weapons

Korean and Chinese soldiers assault the Japanese-built fortress at Ulsan.

The Siege of Pyongyang probably saw the largest use of artillery in the 16th century, as the Chinese had amassed an arsenal of 200 pieces of various types of artillery, including rocket arrows, breech-loading cannon and several large caliber "Great General" cannons (Although Song Yingchang's letter claimed that the Great Generals did not reach Pyongyang in time as they had intended). Both armies used state of the art firearms and cannons.

Although guns were widely available in the struggle for supremacy in China during the mid-fourteenth century, they became a cornerstone of the Ming army only after the Ming conquest of China. Before the end of the fourteenth century, almost 10 percent of the army’s 1.2–1.8 million soldiers were armed with guns. The capital’s arsenals produced 3,000 cannon and 3,000 handguns annually from 1380 to 1488. These weapons were widely deployed and initially gave Ming armies an advantage over neighboring states that were not so armed. European advances in gun technology were quickly adopted in China, and the cannon it brought into the field owed as much to the West as did the Japanese army’s muskets.
Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea brought about a direct clash between three different gun-armed forces, the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans. Japanese forces were armed with muskets and trained in volley fire; Chinese forces relied upon cannon; and Korean forces used cannon on armored warships to interdict Japanese maritime supply lines. On the strategic level, the Japanese were completely defeated, achieving none of their political or military goals at a tremendous loss of life. Tactically, the results were more mixed. Chinese armies succeeded when they brought their cannon up to the battlefield, and lost when they did not. The Korean navy defeated the Japanese navy using cannon to oppose their boarding tactics, but was ineffective when poorly commanded. Overall, the conflict demonstrated that guns, whether muskets or cannon, were now critical in East Asian warfare.

After the first Japanese campaign (1592–3) was driven back to the southern tip of Korea, the Ming attempted to improve the Korean army by training its soldiers to use firearms. The course of the war surprised all sides, revealing deep-seated weaknesses within everyone’s armed forces. By campaigning outside of Japan, Hideyoshi subjected the Japanese army to new military problems that it struggled to overcome. The Korean and Chinese forces suffered similar difficulties in dealing with new modes of warfare. For example, the Ming army, which possessed several different kinds of troops based upon their regional origins, had to bring southern Chinese troops, who had previously fought against ‘‘Japanese’’ pirates, to the battlefield in order to engage the Japanese in close combat. Northern Chinese troops, who emphasized cavalry and had no experience of the Japanese, were generally regarded as ineffective.

It is impossible to draw conclusions about which mode of warfare was superior without taking into account the specific conditions and commanders of a given battle. Japanese superiority in close combat, and in medium-range missile firing through their use of muskets, was negated when Chinese cannon were present on the battlefield. At the same time, the test of combat could be rendered moot by larger strategic issues. Japanese attempts to hold and control Korean territory, combined with a desire to avoid large-scale battles with the Chinese and their cannons, induced them to disperse their troops and focus on ambushes and placing small garrisons in key locations. These tactics then exposed them to even greater risk, as Korean partisans were able to ambush small Japanese units, or harass their supply lines.

Hideyoshi’s invasions, like the construction of the Great Wall, demonstrated once again the close connection between siege warfare, naval warfare, and guns. While troops in the field could maneuver to take advantage of their own strengths and avoid those of their opponents, sometimes to the extent of refusing battle entirely, siege and naval warfare quite often did not allow that possibility. Strong points had to be taken if territory was to be controlled, certain sailing routes had to be used at certain times if ships were to reach their destination. One of the greatest weaknesses of the Japanese war effort was the Japanese navy, a rather surprising circumstance given the competence of Japanese sea lords earlier in the sixteenth century.


An 18th century engraving, depicting the explosion of one of Giambelli’s “hellburners” on the Duke of Parma’s pontoon bridge at the Siege of Antwerp in 1585.

The Catholic–Protestant schism let loose antagonisms that shook kingdoms on the Continent as well. For several decades, Italy had been the area of Europe in which the air was almost perpetually tinged with gunpowder smoke. In the second half of the sixteenth century the violence moved north, to France and the Dutch Republic. It would soon spread to Germany, the wars there growing increasingly fierce. The core issues—nuances about the best way to achieve everlasting life through Jesus Christ—hardly seemed to justify mass slaughter, yet they led to an unimagined brutality.

Gunpowder added a horrific dimension to the wars of this period. Both handheld firearms and artillery were achieving a new efficiency, inflicting battlefields with storms of deadly missiles. “Firepower” became the military watchword of the day. Fueled by the lethal capabilities of gunpowder, violence raged across northern and central Europe until the middle of the seventeenth century, killing both soldiers and inhabitants by the tens of thousands.

Maurice of Nassau was 17 years old when he took power in Holland in 1584, assuming the title stadtholder. His father, William the Silent, had just been assassinated by agents of Philip II, the Hapsburg monarch of Spain. With the Dutch Republics struggling to win independence from Philip’s empire, Maurice took a keen interest in military affairs. Commanders across the continent were searching for ways to make gunpowder the centerpiece of battle, not just an adjunct to it. Maurice and his cousins set up arrays of toy soldiers to explore new ways of using gunpowder weaponry. With the same fresh insight that had touched Joan of Arc during the 1420s, Maurice started a process of military realignment that would bring powder-based warfare to a new level of sophistication. The toy soldiers were a telling emblem—the fighting man was on his way to becoming a cog in the terrible engine of firepower.

Individual firearms had been around for a century, but no one had found a way to make them truly effective on the battlefield. Maurice saw that musket-wielding soldiers, extended in a line, could unleash a wall of fire to fend off and disrupt enemy forces. What he needed was a system to coordinate that fire. A student of the classics, he found the answer in the military thought of the Romans, the last power to rule Europe with an infantry-based army.

His goal was concentration and coordination of firepower. The secret for achieving it was drill, a means of making every soldier move in lockstep with his fellows. The formation that Maurice devised was a line of infantrymen ten deep. Those in the front row fired, then turned and countermarched to the rear, where they could reload in relative safety. Those in the next row stepped forward and fired in turn. A murderous ballet ensued, groups of men moving in unison and in close coordination with other units. Maurice broke down the process of loading a firearm into forty-two small gestures, each with a name. His troops practiced the movements over and over until they could be performed without thinking under the stress of battle.

Combined with a system of rigid discipline, drill melded the mass of warriors into a single unit. “No one reasons, everyone executes,” is how the Prussian monarch Frederick the Great would describe it in the eighteenth century. Drill not only turned individual soldiers into an effective means of delivering violence with gunpowder, it also trained them to stand up to the harrowing return fire of the enemy. It gave soldiers the ability to perform a complicated choreography in the mouth of hell. The goal was efficient repetition and massed fire, not heroics. Discipline replaced initiative in war, a transformation that would be paralleled by the coming encroachment of factory production on the methods of the traditional craftsman.

A year after Maurice rose to the head of Holland, gunpowder trumpeted its role in the coming cataclysm in yet another way. Spanish Hapsburg troops under the Duke of Parma were besieging the Dutch port of Antwerp. An itinerant Italian military engineer named Federigo Giambelli had offered his services to the Spanish and been rebuffed. Like the enterprising engineer Urban at Constantinople, Giambelli gained revenge by peddling his skills to the Dutch.
Giambelli turned a sailing vessel, ironically named the Hope, into a new weapon: the first floating time bomb. He packed its hull with almost four tons of gunpowder and surrounded the explosive with bricks, scraps of metal, even tombstones. This debris would turn into deadly missiles when the powder went off. A clockwork device controlled the fuse. The ship was known as an “infernal machine,” a term that straddled two worldviews: the medieval, now fading, of demonic influences; and the modern, of a mechanical, clockwork universe.

The Dutch set the Hope adrift on the tide. The vessel approached a densely manned pontoon bridge by which the Spanish were blocking access to the city. The bomb exploded on schedule, blowing a gap in the bridge and strewing wreckage for a mile in all directions. It was, to that time, the most lethal blast of a single weapon in history. Hundreds of men were killed instantly. The “Hell-burner of Antwerp,” as it was called, the first major bombing in Europe, was a chilling portent of gunpowder’s increasingly destructive potential.

The wars over religion, property, and empire reached their culmination in the Thirty Years War, a conflict in which France, Sweden, and the Dutch Republics battled against Spain, Austria, and Bavaria over Hapsburg supremacy in the Germanic lands. Marked by convoluted alliances and motivations, it was a “war for all reasons.”

During this period of perpetual ferment, the man with the clearest vision of gunpowder’s deadly future was Gustavus Adolphus, the king of Sweden. Gustavus ruled a rustic kingdom barely touched by the sweeping changes of the Renaissance. Yet the young king had a vision and energy that would, for a time, make Sweden a power to be reckoned with. An affable man with golden hair and myopic blue eyes, Gustavus insisted on sharing the hardships of his troops on campaign, even helping dig earthworks when needed. He was a fighting king, a consummate man of action. Napoleon judged him among the half-dozen greatest commanders in history.

Gustavus took the system sketched out by Maurice and brought it to fruition. He drilled his men incessantly and enforced iron discipline. He was determined to maximize their firepower. To that end, he issued lighter muskets and introduced paper cartridges, containers of premeasured powder that allowed soldiers to load faster. Faster loading meant more frequent volleys of fire.

Gustavus, an expert gunner himself, introduced his most far-reaching changes in the realm of artillery. Until he took power in 1611, the big guns had been used primarily for siege work, for war at sea, and for the static defense of forts. The battlefield role envisioned by Edward III at Crécy had continued to elude commanders. The great guns, concentrated under the supervision of contracted gunners rather than soldiers, remained ponderous and largely immobile during the fighting.

Gustavus integrated the guns more skillfully into his forces, creating the first effective field artillery. He assigned a handful of smaller, much lighter pieces to accompany infantry and cavalry regiments. If cartridges could ease loading for musketeers they could do the same for artillerymen—Gustavus ordered gunners to use prefilled bags of powder with balls already attached. Because of these changes artillery fire could be employed in the middle of a battle. The great guns, designed to smash stone walls but directed now against human flesh, added to warfare a new dimension of horror.

By 1632, the war had already been raging up and down Germany for fourteen years. Gustavus found himself in command of a massive anti-Hapsburg coalition. He maneuvered a force of some 20,000 men into position to attack an army of similar size led by Albrecht Wallenstein, the mercenary commander of the imperialist force, outside the village of Lützen, fifteen miles west of Leipzig. Gustavus planned to attack at dawn, but the dank November morning brought a thick fog that stalled operations and gave Wallenstein time to recall a large detachment of cavalry.

The battle that ensued in many ways typified the war as a whole. It was a story of firepower gone mad. The Swedes pushed forward into withering musket and artillery fire to capture imperial cannon, which they turned against the enemy at close range. But by doing so they lost touch with their own cavalry, allowing the imperialists to regain momentum. The thick mist descended again, mixing with the gunpowder smoke to blind the fighters and turn the field into a snarl of confusion. The effects of drill, rapid musket fire, and effective field artillery combined to inflict enormous casualties on both sides.

Though he was the champion of a cool-headed, almost mechanical approach to military strategy, Gustavus could not keep himself from personally leading a detachment of cavalry to reinforce a weak spot in his line. He was hit by a bullet. His horse carried him away from his escorts into the wild melee. An imperialist cavalryman shot him in the back. He fell. Another enemy soldier fired a lead ball through his head. Looters stripped him to his shirt. His horse careered riderless through the chaos.

The Swedish forces “won” the battle of Lützen, driving Wallenstein’s army from the field. Yet the awful carnage and the loss of their leader made the victory less than sweet. Wallenstein, broken by the battle, tried to sell out the Hapsburgs and was assassinated. Lacking a conclusion, the war continued for another sixteen years. Finally, Gustavus’s daughter Queen Christina joined Louis XIV of France as coguarantor of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which was to bring order, if not peace, to the European continent until the French Revolution.

Gunpowder had, for the moment, turned military conflict into savagery. The ethos of the hunt had invaded warfare. Equipped with firearms, soldiers had turned predatory, chasing down beaten foes, killing prisoners, ravaging the countryside. Modern estimates put Germany’s losses during the Thirty Years War at almost 8 million persons, more than a third of its population. The conflict had imposed on an entire generation a level of atrocity and degradation that horrified thoughtful observers. Gunpowder, which philosophers had once imagined would protect Europe from a slide back to barbarism, threatened to plunge the continent into a new dark age.

British Infantry Firepower

 An incident in the rebellion of 1745, by David Morier

British participation in the War of the Austrian Succession was interrupted by the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 when Prince Charles Edward Stuart, with French support, landed in Scotland and raised a Scottish army to attempt to recover the Crown for his father. The eyewitness descriptions of combat that survive from that domestic affair allow a far more detailed analysis of how the British infantry fought than has so far been possible. From the beginning it was recognised that the threat posed by Highland forces was quite different from that of conventional European forces. Their tactics had been described by Lieutenant General Hugh Mackay who had been beaten by them at Killiekrankie.

Their way of fighting is to divide themselves by clans, the chief or principal man being at their heads, with some distance to distinguish betwixt them. They come on slowly till they be within distance of firing, which, because they keep no rank or file, doth ordinarily little harm. When their fire is over, they throw away their firelocks, and everyone drawing a long broad sword, with his targe (such as have them) on his left hand, they fall a running toward the enemy.

Lieutenant General Henry Hawley wrote a similar account of the Highlander’s tactics, adding that they normally formed four deep, with their best men in the front rank, but that by the time they reached their enemy they were twelve or fourteen deep. The Duke of Cumberland added further detail when he gave his orders on how the Highlanders were to be fought. His orders explained that the object of the Highlanders firing ‘at a distance’ was to draw their enemy’s fire, adding that after firing they lay down to avoid that return fire. This enabled them to charge home with swords against unloaded muskets.

Mackay’s attempts to overcome the Highland tactics ended in defeat. Hawley’s response was to advise firing by ranks, the fire directed at the centre of the attacking body of Highlanders, starting with the rear rank, but not firing until the range was ‘ten or twelve paces’. He deemed it necessary to wait until the range was so short because the speed of the advance would prevent reloading. Cumberland’s orders were more comprehensive as he allowed for the enemy advancing slowly as well as for the Highland charge. First he specified that a battalion must be in eighteen platoons. If the advance was slow he ordered that firing should be by half firings, that is three platoons at a time, in the case of a rapid advance the fire of the whole battalion was to be reserved until the range was ten or twelve yards. He makes no mention of firing by ranks, so it would seem the whole battalion was to fire together.

The first infantry to meet the Jacobite army were those of the scratch force of Lieutenant General Sir John Cope at Prestonpans on 21 September 1745. A considerable amount is known concerning events at Prestonpans because there was a subsequent inquiry into the defeat of Cope’s little army, although the main interest of the inquiry was the conduct of the senior officers, not the tactics employed. What is clear is that there was no attempt to fight the Jacobite army in anything other than a completely conventional way. The infantry was described as completely formed and having been divided into platoons and firings. When the Jacobites attacked first the dragoons broke and then the infantry gave what was described as ragged fire and also broke and ran.

At the battle of Falkirk, 17 January 1746, the British army was led by Lieutenant General Hawley and, following the defeat of his cavalry, most of his infantry turned and ran in the face of the Highland charge and a raging storm with rain and sleet. However, some detail is available of how the infantry battalions that did stand fought the Jacobites. In particular the description by a sergeant in Barrell’s regiment described how the front rank knelt while the centre and rear rank fired continually. This is confirmed by a private in Barrell’s who referred to the battalion keeping a reserve, that is the front rank. A description of the Royal Scots that appeared in a Dublin newspaper described them firing on attacking Highlanders, the rear rank first, then the centre rank and the front rank when the enemy were within a few paces. This was sufficient to repel the attack. There is a suggestion that while the front rank was held as a reserve, the centre and rear ranks fired by platoon rather than whole ranks, but on the whole those battalions that stood appear to have adhered to Hawley’s advice.

Prior to the battle of Culloden the Duke of Cumberland assembled his army at Aberdeen. There the infantry were carefully trained for the forthcoming confrontation with the Jacobite army and the Highland charge in particular. On 2 April 1746 Cumberland ordered: ‘The Royal North British Fuzileers to be out in the Park tomorrow at 11 o’clock there to practice the motions of alternate firings by platoons from ye right and left to ye centre reserving the fire of ye front rank & Grenadiers.’ These were followed by the Royal Scots, Price’s, Barrell’s and ‘Every Regiment to take their turns afterwards.’ This method of firing was a departure from the normal practice of firing by platoons organised into firings. In some ways this was similar to what Bland advised for dealing with cavalry, with the front rank reserved, but alternate firing was something that he advised against. He described the way the Dutch conducted alternate firing when advancing and although he thought it could be very effective against a stationary enemy he considered it to be vulnerable to a sudden counter-attack while the platoons were reloading. He emphasised that it was necessary for a battalion firing in this manner to advance slowly, ‘to give the Men Time to load their Arms before they approach too near the Enemy’. This would seem to make it unsuitable as a method of dealing with the fast-advancing Highlanders. However, the suggestion that a battalion could be left vulnerable while men reloaded also indicates that the whole fire of a battalion could be delivered very quickly in this manner, something that would be desirable against Highlanders closing quickly. Should that fire not stop an attack then the fire of the reserved grenadiers and front rank could be delivered at a range of only a few yards. This intention of delivering the maximum available fire in a short time at close range is borne out by a passage in a contemporary history of the rebellion that described the infantry at Culloden as firing ‘according to Orders, viz. the 2d and 3d Rank, as they were within 30 Yards, and the 1st, just as they were at the Muzzles of their Guns’.

In addition to a different form of firing the infantry also received instruction in a new way of using the bayonet. From its introduction the bayonet had been treated in the same manner as the pike and for combat it was held in exactly the same manner as the ‘charge for pike’ position. The soldier turned his body to the right with the musket held horizontally under the chin across the chest. The left hand supported the musket under the chin while the right arm was fully extended and the right hand held the musket butt. Drill for fighting with the bayonet was limited to simply thrusting the musket forward, bringing the right hand to the right shoulder and extending the left arm, all with the musket held horizontally at shoulder level. It would seem improbable that soldiers in hand-to-hand combat only plied their bayonets in this manner and it is possible that this lack of drill, when compared to the extensive instructions for musketry, might be partly responsible for the idea that firepower was more important than the bayonet. However, the amount of instruction required for an activity is not necessarily an indication of its relative importance.

Platoon Firing at Culloden: Front rank and Grenadiers held in reserve; second and third ranks of platoons firing in the sequence indicated from the flanks to the centre.

The drawback with this drill when fighting a Highlander armed with a sword in the right hand and a targe on the left arm was that any thrust with the bayonet was easily caught on the targe and the musket was also easily knocked aside by the targe, leaving the back of the soldier exposed to the sword. The solution to this problem was simple and introduced by the Duke of Cumberland: ‘his Highness took the pains to confer with every Battalion of Foot, on the proper Method of using the Musket and Bayonet to Advantage against the Sword and Target.’ He simply instructed the soldiers to reverse the position so that they faced to the left of their unit with the right hand under their chin and their left hand on the musket butt. The intention was that any thrust with the bayonet would then tend to come at a Highlander’s exposed right side instead of the left that was covered by the targe. Although Cumberland is usually credited with devising this drill, it is described in an article in the Gentleman’s Magazine for January 1746.

Cumberland’s army came face to face with the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart on Culloden Moor on 16 April 1746. What followed was Cumberland’s army simply, efficiently and professionally going about its business, particularly the infantry. The Jacobite army was organised in two lines, the front consisting of the Highland units, with the Lowland units and French regulars in the second line. It was the Highlanders in the front line that attacked, moving forward in three large bodies. The body which moved towards Cumberland’s right flank did not make contact. Three times it advanced, trying to provoke the infantry into firing too soon, but, as Cumberland wrote in a letter to Lord Loudon: ‘On our right tho they came on with great fury, our Men did not take their firelocks from their shoulders tho they advanced three times within less than an hundred yards of us.’ It was also probable that the Jacobites were inhibited by the presence of three squadrons of cavalry on that flank.

On the other side of the battlefield the other two bodies of Highlanders coalesced into one single mass that struck the battalions of Barrell and Monro. Because of the surviving accounts and an accurate list of the strength of Cumberland’s army it is possible to examine in some detail the combat that ensued.

Barrell’s regiment took the brunt of the Highland charge. The strength of Barrell’s that day was 373, all ranks, of whom 325 were carrying muskets in the three-deep platoons. At this time infantry battalions consisted of nine hat companies and one grenadier company. Given the low strength of Barrell’s, it is probable that it was organised into a total of twelve platoons, giving a platoon strength of twenty-seven men. This would mean that the centre and rear ranks of the ten hat platoons contained 180 men and the reserve had 145 men. If they fired as related, the platoons would have commenced firing at thirty yards in what one eyewitness described as a ‘running fire’, followed by the reserve who ‘received them with their fire upon the Points of their Bayonets’. They appear to have only fired once before the Highlanders reached them, a total of 325 rounds.

Monro’s regiment was the largest battalion on the field with a total strength of 491 men and 426 men in the platoons. An account by a corporal in the regiment states: ‘we fired at about 50 yards Distance . . . they still advanced, and were almost upon us before we had loaden again. We immediately gave them another full fire.’ This probably means that the platoons of the centre and rear ranks fired twice, almost certainly tap-loading to get in a second round, followed by the reserve. Thus 236 men fired twice and 190 fired once, a total of 662 rounds. The corporal of Monro’s continued that ‘the Front Rank charged their Bayonets Breast high, and the Centre and Rear Ranks kept a continual Firing . . . most of us having discharged nine Shot each.’ Monro’s suffered a total of eighty-two killed and wounded in the battle, allowing for which the battalion could have fired approximately two thousand rounds at ranges well under fifty metres.
To the right of Monro’s was Cambell’s Royal Scots Fusiliers. Although not subsequently involved in hand-to-hand fighting, part of the Highland charge crossed its front. With 412 men in its platoons, and assuming its reserve did not fire, it is likely that it fired about 220 rounds at the Highlanders, if it only fired once. The initial fire received by the front of the Highland charge was probably in excess of one thousand rounds, many at point-blank range. The corporal of Monro’s wrote that this ‘made hundreds fall’.

It was at this point that Cumberland’s new bayonet drill came into play and numerous letters and accounts speak of its effectiveness. Cumberland himself wrote: ‘our Men fairly beat them & drove them back with their Bayonets & made a great slaughter of them.’ According to another account: ‘the Soldiers mutually defended each other, and pierced the Heart of his Opponent, ramming their fixed Bayonets up to the Socket.’ Another eyewitness claimed: ‘there being scarce one Soldier in Barreyl’s Regiment who did not each kill several Men; and they of Monro’s which ingaged did the same.’

Some Highlanders passed around the left flank of Barrell’s and between Barrell’s and Monro’s, overrunning two artillery pieces in the gap. Pairs of three-pounder cannon had been placed between the battalions in the front line and these undoubtedly added many casualties, the guns next to Barrell’s firing their last shots of grape at only six feet. The Highlanders who passed Barrell’s then came under fire from regiments in the second line. Subsequently these moved forward to support Barrell’s and Monro’s. In particular Edward Wolfe’s regiment marched to the left of Barrell’s and placed itself at right angles to the front line where it commenced firing. The account of an officer of that regiment says that the battalion fired five or six times. The strength of the regiment was 324 in the platoons and if this firing was carried out with the front rank and grenadier platoons reserved it would have fired between nine hundred and one thousand rounds into the Highlanders at close range. Ligonier’s, Bligh’s and Sempill’s regiments also added their weight to this fire with a total of 1,157 muskets in their platoons. There is no indication of how many rounds they fired, but if, like Wolfe’s, they fired five rounds each that would have been another 3,200 rounds.

All in all it would appear that the Highlanders received between six and seven thousand rounds from the battalions of British infantry, many at ranges well under fifty metres. The strength of the Highlanders who attacked the British left-flank battalions was about 2,500. According to the officer of Monro’s left-flank grenadier platoon: ‘we laid about 1,600 dead on the spot.’ The figures for rounds fired would seem to be reasonably robust, as the various sources are consistent. It would also seem that most, if not all, were fired at ranges under fifty metres and that a considerable proportion were fired at much closer ranges. The area where the greatest doubt is to be found is in the numbers of casualties actually inflicted by this fire. However, a return of approximately 1,600 casualties for six or seven thousand rounds is a hit rate of roughly 22–26 per cent, which is in keeping with the 23 per cent suggested for Fontenoy. Even if the casualty figure is high and includes casualties from other parts of the battlefield a figure of one thousand casualties still gives a rate of 14–16 per cent. It would be unwise to place too much reliance on these figures, but they do give an indication of the capability of British musketry to inflict high casualties at the short range that they seem to have preferred to engage at. Every soldier with a musket had twenty-four rounds at Culloden, yet Wolfe’s battalion fired only five or six rounds a man. It would seem most likely that they stopped firing because there was nothing left to fire at.


A three-view drawing of a ½-pood edinorog (1780 model) taken from A. S. Katasanov’s Album (1801). The heavily built gun carriage gives evidence of one of the edinorog’s primary characteristics – and draw-backs – its fearsome recoil. A ½-pood edinorog would have had a 6.1 in bore and would have fired either a 29 lb (Russian trade pound) solid ball very roughly equivalent to a British 24pdr, or a 22 lb (19.8 pounds British) explosive shell at a greater range and with greater accuracy than its British equivalent, which of course, could not fire explosive ammunition. Edinorogs were unique to the Russian army and navy. Aboard ship, they were generally mounted two per gun deck, alongside their nearest conventional cannon equivalents – ½-pood guns alongside Russian 24pdrs and one pood guns alongside 36pdrs.

Russian naval artillery differed from French and British ordnance in one important respect, the early development and use aboard ships of small numbers of long-barrelled howitzers firing both explosive and solid shot. Edinorog translates into English as ‘unicorn’ and into French as ‘licorne’. English-speaking readers may be more familiar with the term ‘licorne’ but we are retaining the Russian usage here because it became the official designation within Russia. Edinorogs were developed by Field Marshal Shulavo, Chief of Ordnance, and introduced into the Russian army in 1757 and the Russian navy in 1767. They came to be called ‘unicorns’ because these mythical animals were displayed on his family coat of arms and stamped or cast on all Russian edinorogs thereafter. To our knowledge, edinorogs were limited in their use to the Russian army and navy save only for a brief period in the nineteenth century when they were also manufactured for the Austrian army.

Edinorogs had conical gun chambers and, as a result, were easy to load and could maintain a rate of fire of three to four rounds per minute with a range of 2–2½ miles with a high degree of accuracy for the period. More flexible than standard artillery, they could fire solid shot, grapeshot, bombs or carcasses. Edinorogs began to equip Russian warships in very limited numbers from 1769 on. Their use against both the Turks and Swedes in the wars of the 1770s, 1780s and 1790s produced useful, if debatable, results as well as howls of protest from the Swedes after Gogland, who charged that their opponents were violating the laws of civilized warfare with these barbaric and un-Christian weapons. A source of continuing controversy, they were regarded by their opponents as being of limited value, doubtful reliability, and equally dangerous to friend and foe in battle. Edinorogs were generally mounted on line of battle ships only during time of war, with one or two pairs mounted on each gun deck replacing long guns of approximately equal calibre. Contrary to what one might expect, these guns were not mounted at either the bow or the stern. Instead they were placed amidships. Their use was formally discontinued for a time with the Gun Establishment of 1805, but they were reintroduced in 1826 under Nicholas I and continued in service through the end of sail in 1860.

Most edinorogs fired hollow-core explosive ordnance as well as heavier solid ordnance. The guns were rated in terms of ‘poods’ rather than pounds and their effectiveness in combat is difficult to compare with more traditional long guns. A Russian ‘pood’ was a traditional commercial measure of weight consisting of 40 Russian ‘trade pounds’. The earliest 1767 model 1-pood guns had a barrel diameter of 7.2 inches and actually fired a 40-pound explosive (bomb) shell, or a 48-pound solid shot, although the early models were too fragile to handle the solid ordnance reliably. These guns were fragile in service and had fearsome recoils. The improved version, introduced in 1780, moved up to 7.7 inches diameter and fired a 44-pound bomb shell and a much heavier 63-pound solid shot. To confuse matters for the uninitiated, these larger guns continued to be designated as ‘1-pood guns’. To confuse matters still further, the Russian ‘trade pound’ was the traditional pound in use in Russia and weighed 409.5 grams metric and not the ‘artillery pound’ of 490 grams introduced by Peter I, and in use for both army and navy guns. This was almost precisely equivalent to the French ‘pound’ of 489.5 grams, but the similarity was entirely fortuitous. To complicate matters still further, edinorogs were not described in terms of the weight of solid ordnance fired by the gun as was the case with standard naval artillery, but by the much lighter weight of the hollow-core explosive ordnance. This made sense when the weapon was introduced as the raison d’être for the new weapon was the incendiary ordnance and not the solid shot which was of secondary importance. Using poods in place of pounds also made sense because the charges fired by the first weapons fitted neatly into 40 (trade) pound packages. The improved 1-pood guns introduced in 1780 fired hollow shells weighing 44 trade pounds, which converts into 39.6 English pounds or 36.77 artillery pounds; while 1-pood solid shot weighed 63 trade pounds, which converts into 56.7 English pounds and 52.5 artillery pounds. Russian students are quite familiar with this duality, and are frequently given to using one or both measures without clearly indicating which system is in use. Unless otherwise indicated, all references to edinorogs will be made in terms of trade pounds.

Edinorogs were eventually developed in a wide variety of weights, from ¼ pood to 1 pood, with even larger guns being used ashore. Edinorog bombs were spherical hollow devices and should not be confused with more advanced ordnance firing explosive cylindrical shells of the type developed in the 1820s in France.

‘That Devil Gribeauval’

Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval 1715–1789 and the Development of Artillery Systems in the Eighteenth Century

The middle of the eighteenth century saw great innovations and improvements in field artillery. Holtzman in Prussia, Liechtenstein, Rouvroy, and Feuerstein in Austria, and Gribeauval, Maritz, and their lieutenants in France designed, produced, and fielded field artillery systems that changed the face of warfare and led directly to the mass mobile warfare of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

The Prussians led in the 1740s with light, sturdy field pieces and the ancillary vehicles that gave them the advantage over the artillery of other European armies. The performance of the Prussian field artillery in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–8) prompted the Austrian Wenzel Liechtenstein to reform and improve the Austrian field artillery. The next major European war, the Seven Years War, saw the Austrians spring a nasty surprise on their traditional enemies the Prussians with their new field artillery system.

Because of a shortage of qualified senior artillery and engineer officers, the French seconded qualified officers to the Austrian Army to aid its war effort. Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval was one of the artillery officers sent to help the Austrians and during his tenure with the Austrian army he served with distinction with the artillery arm, gaining valuable knowledge and information on the Liechtenstein system as well as distinguishing himself in combat with the Austrians against the Prussians. Gribeauval also reformed and trained the Austrian engineer arm, greatly improving its organization and efficiency, making the Prussian engineer arm a very poor second to the Austrian in the field and in sieges.

Innovative artilleryman, combat leader and commander, technical expert in artillery design and manufacture, all these describe Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval, the innovator and designer of one of the best artillery systems in Europe between 1740 and 1789.

Gribeauval’s scheme, which was first and foremost a field artillery system, the first official field artillery system developed in France, was designed for mobile warfare and would enable the French artillery to become the foremost artillery arm on the battlefields of Europe from 1792–1815.

Gribeauval was born in Amiens in 1715 of a family that had contributed both magistrates and soldiers to the service of the state. Fatefully, Gribeauval was born on the feast day of Saint Barbara (4 December), the patron saint of artillerymen.

Gribeauval joined the army as a volunteer in 1732, entered the artillery school at La Fère as a cadet in 1733, and was commissioned as an officierpointeur upon successful completion of the artillery course in 1735. One of his instructors at La Fère was the famous Bernard Forest de Bélidor, who had calculated that the ‘normal’ powder charges then being used for artillery pieces were too large and that they could be reduced by half without affecting range or accuracy. This important discovery would later greatly aid Gribeauval in the development of his field artillery system.

By 1743 Gribeauval had been appointed/promoted to commissaire extraordinaire in the artillery arm, and four years later became a commissaire ordinaire. Because of his developing expertise and technical knowledge Gribeauval quickly developed a reputation in all aspects of artillery, especially in the construction of ordnance.

In 1748, after combat service in the War of the Austrian Succession in both Flanders and Germany, Gribeauval designed a fortress gun carriage that was later copied throughout Europe. Gaining the notice of General Jean Florent de Vallière, hereafter referred to as Vallière père, the head of the French artillery arm who approved of his new design.

Gribeauval, however, recognized, as did other French artillerymen and many senior officers in the army in general, that the Vallière artillery system of 1732 was becoming obsolescent. The guns, gun carriages, and ancillary equipment were too heavy for rapid movement on the battlefield and could not keep up with a field army whose commander was intent on swift movement.

Most notably, the only standardization within the system was with the guns themselves, which were beautifully designed pieces with excellent range and acceptable accuracy. The design and construction criteria were not uniform throughout the arsenals and foundries. For example, wheels from Douai might not fit a gun carriage from another arsenal. And too many times the gun carriages and ancillary vehicles were constructed to suit the roads near that particular arsenal or foundry and might or might not work well on other roads. In short, uniformity did not exist nor did the interchangeability of parts. And the gun tubes were not yet uniform nor were they bored out from a solid cast gun tube, but from one cast around a core. Maritz’s new casting and boring methods were not yet adopted by the French Army, though they were by the French Navy, which had its own artillery organization.

Gribeauval was promoted in 1752 to captain and was given command of a company of miners. As the miners at this time were part of the artillery arm, artillery officers were at times given command of miner companies. That same year Gribeauval was ordered on an inspection trip to study the Prussian light artillery that had performed so well in the War of the Austrian Succession, and had given the Austrians so much trouble in the field.

The outstanding Prussian artillery officer Lieutenant Colonel Ernst Friedrich von Holtzman had developed a very mobile field artillery arm which Gribeauval was able to observe at first hand during manoeuvres and personally inspect the field pieces and ancillary vehicles. Gribeauval obtained plans for some of the Prussian field pieces and had one constructed for field tests when he returned to France.

In 1757 Gribeauval was promoted to lieutenant colonel of infantry and that same year was seconded to the Austrian Army, as war had come again to Europe and France and Austria were now allies against Frederick the Great. The Austrian Empress Maria Theresa had requested personnel support from France because of a shortage of senior artillery and engineer officers in the Austrian service. This was despite the significant artillery reforms done in Austria by Liechtenstein which completely revamped the Austrian artillery arm in an attempt to make it at least the equal of the Prussians they had faced in the previous war.

Gribeauval’s service in Austria was exemplary and distinguished. He served at the Battle of Hastenbeck and at the capture of Minden. He earned promotion to Oberstleutnant in the Austrian army in 1759. Distinguished service at the siege of Neiss the same year resulted in his being created an Austrian general officer, General-Feldwachtmeister, the equivalent of a French lieutenant general and he was noted as a ‘général de bataille … commandant de l’artillerie, du génie, et des mineurs’. Gribeauval was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Maria Theresa by a grateful Empress. Gribeauval’s sovereign, Louis XV, agreed with the honours and gave his consent to the promotion.

Under the overall command of Marshal Loudon, Gribeauval directed the siege of Glatz and took the city by a daring, well-planned and well-executed coup de main. Gribeauval’s most distinguished service with the Austrians, however, was his defence of Schweidnitz, as the commander of the Austrian artillery and engineers in the garrison. Frederick himself was present and was impressed by Gribeauval’s technical skill. While the garrison of Schweidnitz was finally forced to capitulate, they had inflicted 7,000 Prussian casualties at a loss of only 1,000 Austrians. After the siege Frederick attempted to entice Gribeauval into his service, but he refused and when the war was over he returned to his duties in the French Army.

It is noteworthy and a great compliment to Gribeauval that he was considered an equal to his Austrian comrades in the artillery arm and was considered as a ‘collaborateur’ (equal colleague) of Prince Liechtenstein. Gribeauval had contributed to the improvement of the Austrian artillery arm and his work with the Austrian engineers gave them a firm technological footing as well as a definite organization and place in the Austrian Army that they had not previously enjoyed.

Even before his return to France, Gribeauval was chosen by the French Minister of War, the Duc de Choiseul, to work at revamping and reorganizing the French artillery arm and developing and implementing a field artillery system. Gribeauval probably began work on his new artillery system before he left Austria for France. What he wanted was a simple system of light, accurate field pieces that would emphasize mobility, hitting power, interchangeability of parts, and be of a modern design. Gribeauval wanted a field artillery system designed to fight the next war, not the last. Gribeauval was ordered to prepare a report on the Austrian artillery arm and submitted it to Choiseul, who was satisfied with the content and told Gribeauval to proceed with his planning and development.

Choiseul was not only Gribeauval’s patron in this endeavour, he was also his partner, as would be the innovative Swiss gunfounder Jean Maritz. Gribeauval was undoubtedly chosen for the task of revamping the French artillery arm because he had served with the Austrian artillery in combat and had closely observed the Prussian field artillery before the war. He was the only French artilleryman who had knowledge of both systems, which allowed him to develop a better field artillery system than either of those two powers.

Gribeauval, with Choiseul’s sponsorship, began the reform of the French artillery arm. His new designs – the gun tubes themselves, a new field artillery carriage design, and new ancillary vehicles – made the French artillery up to date and eventually the best in Europe by the outbreak of the French Revolution.

Gribeauval and Choiseul were confronted with one very large problem in the person of Joseph Florent de Vallière fils, the son of the originator of the Vallière artillery system and the Ordonnance of 1732. Vallière fils was the current Director-General of the French artillery and opposed Gribeauval’s new system vehemently, and the argument was long and bitter. Gribeauval officially tested his new field guns at Strasbourg in 1764, and their overall performance was just as good as that of the older, longer, and heavier Vallière pieces. The argument, however, divided the French artillery into the pro-Vallière faction-known as the rouges because of the traditional colour of the French artillery uniform (the waistcoats and breeches were red, the coats blue) and the pro-Gribeauval faction-known as the bleus because of the new uniform introduced by Gribeauval which was all blue, not just the coat. Initially, with the support of various general officers who not only wanted the artillery reformed but the entire army, and the Minister of War, Gribeauval’s new system was adopted by the French Army on 13 August 1765.

Still the long argument was not over. Vallière and his supporters pressed their case and once Choiseul was manoeuvred out of the War Ministry, the Gribeauval System was proscribed and Gribeauval and many of his supporters were either silenced or dismissed. However, over the next few years, the arguments resurfaced and Vallière fils died. Support for the older artillery system faded, and Gribeauval’s designs were finally reinstated. Gribeauval was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of St Louis in 1776 and was made First Inspector-General of Artillery on 1 January 1777. Gribeauval and his subordinates were able to continue their work and both the field artillery and siege pieces first saw employment and combat with General Comte de Rochambeau’s expeditionary force that deployed to North America in 1780 and were decisively employed in the York-town campaign in the autumn of 1781 which forced the capitulation of Lord Cornwallis’s army to the French and Americans effectively ending the War of the Revolution and guaranteeing the independence of the new United States.

The reforms instituted and carried out by Gribeauval affected every aspect of the French artillery arm. The first complete field artillery system in France was created with new gun tubes, gun carriages, and ancillary vehicles, along with equipment and innovations that improved gunnery, ballistics, production of guns and vehicles, and made changes in organization, uniforms, training, education, and artillery doctrine. In short, with two exceptions, Gribeauval covered field artillery ‘from muzzle to butt plate’ and created the system that would carry the French through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

The two exceptions Gribeauval did not address were, first, the introduction of horse artillery, which he apparently intended to add to the new field artillery system once it was finally approved and any official or semi-official opposition was ended. Horse artillery was eventually introduced into the French Army in 1792 following the recommendations of Minister of War Louis Duportail. Second, the artillery train was not militarized and the dubious employment of civilian artillery drivers was retained. This would finally be remedied by Napoleon in 1800 as First Consul of France. The new artillery train was an efficient military organization that would be constantly expanded as the artillery arm grew larger over the Consulate and Empire.

The material and technical changes instituted by Gribeauval were impressive. Windage was reduced to a standardized minimum; screw-in gun vents were introduced; the prolonge and bricole became standard pieces of equipment for each gun crew. A new, simple hausse sight was developed that could be used with little training and could be kept mounted on the piece when firing. Brass wheel housings were manufactured to reduce friction when the piece was being moved, especially by manpower, and gave each piece a mechanical advantage, even though the new gun carriages were heavier than their foreign counterparts as all were equipped with an iron, instead of the usual wooden, axle. That was a major technological step forward.

Organizational, educational, and artillery uniform changes were also instituted. Gribeauval not only improved the technical education of French artillery officers, but also now had the non-commissioned officers school-trained as well. The French artillery was organized into permanent companies and regiments with new dark (or royal, and later imperial) blue uniforms. French artillery officers were educated not only in the traditional subjects of mathematics and technical drawing, but were also taught tactics, infantry as well as their own, and infantry/artillery cooperation was emphasized to them.

Gribeauval was an outstanding artillery officer who designed one of the most innovative and complete artillery systems in the history and development of artillery. He insisted on rigid production standards so that the gun tubes and all the vehicles from gun carriages to limbers to caissons were all built to the same standard. The parts were interchangeable within the ‘three calibres’ and the technical drawings that were distributed to all of the production facilities, the famous ‘Tables of Construction’, were finally published together in 1792, three years after Gribeauval’s death. While they were published posthumously, they were the product of Gribeauval’s work, which is why his name is on the publication.

As noted previously both the field and siege pieces of the Gribeauval System were taken to North America by Rochambeau and the French Expeditionary Corps and were used in combat at the siege of Yorktown. The system proved itself before the beginning of the Wars of the French Revolution and though Napoleon wanted the system replaced in 1802–3 by the new Système An XI, circumstances dictated that only two field pieces of that system, the 6-pounder and the 5.5-inch (24-pounder) howitzer, were produced in any numbers. What these new field pieces did in actuality was to supplement the Gribeauval System and not replace it.