Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics


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French Artillery during the Battle of Auerstadt 14 October, 1806

By Robert Burnham

French artillery assigned to the III Corps (commanded by Marshal Davout) of the French Grand Army on 14 October 1806 was divided into divisional batteries and the corps artillery reserve. Although the details on the infantry and cavalry order-of-battle are fairly well known, until recently the exact order-of-battle for the artillery was difficult to find. Sources are contradictory and few even agree on the number of guns. Even Marshal Davout's Operations du 3e Corps 1806-1807, which contains the official report from him to Napoleon, provides few details. The best source is David Chandler's Jena 1806 which is highly detailed but also leaves some gaps. This paper is an attempt to fill those gaps by examining both works and then reconciling the two. It will also briefly examine the role of the artillery batteries during the battle.

Order-of-Battle

The artillery order-of-battle for the III Corps was not uniformed from division to division, nor were the batteries the standard eight gun batteries. Most batteries were only six guns, while at least one battery was divided between two of the infantry divisions. The order-of-battle was:

1st Division Artillery (Chief of Artillery: Major Vasseras)

11th Company, 7th Artillery Regiment (5 eight-pound guns, 1 six-inch howitzer, and 1 gun of unknown size) [2]

1st Company, 5th Horse Artillery Regiment (6 four-pound guns) (Commanded by Captain Seruzier)

1st and 6th Detachment of the 1st Battalion of the Artillery Train [3]

 

2nd Division Artillery (Commander: Chef de Bataillon Villeneuve)

2nd Company, 7th Artillery Regiment (5 eight-pound guns and 1 six-inch howitzer)

Detachment from the 2nd Company, 5th Horse Artillery Regiment (2 four-pound guns)

3rd Detachment of the 1st Battalion of the Artillery Train

Either part of the 4th or 5th Detachment of the 1st Battalion of the Artillery Train [4]

3rd Division Artillery (Commander: Chief d'Esquadron Pelegrin)

3rd Company, 7th Artillery Regiment (5 eight-pound guns and 1 six-inch howitzer)

Detachment from the 2nd Company, 5th Horse Artillery Regiment (2 four-pound guns)

4th and 5th Detachments of the 1st Battalion of the Artillery Train

Corps Artillery Reserve (Commander: Colonel Geoffrey) [5]

2nd Company, 7th Artillery Regiment

3rd Company, 7th Artillery Regiment

15th Company, 7th Artillery Regiment

2nd Detachment of 1st Battalion of the Artillery Train [6]

1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6thDetachments of the 3rd Battalion (Provisional) of the Artillery Train

Artillery Operations during the Battle of Auerstadt

Few accounts of the battle of Auerstadt provide detailed and accurate information on the deployment of the French artillery. Even Davout's report contains inconsistencies. The following is gleamed from several sources.

About 06:30 hours on the morning of the 14th of October, the lead brigade of the III Corps crosses the Saale River on the bridge at Kosen. This brigade, from the 3rd Division, is commanded by General Gauthier and consists of the 25th and 85th Infantry Regiments, plus two eight-pound cannons from the 3rd Company of the 7th Artillery. The 25th Regiment leads the march. In the vicinity of the town of Hassenhausen, the brigade engages the Prussian Advance Guard, consisting of about 600 cavalry. The French deploys with the 85th Regiment on the left, the 25th Regiment on the right, and the two eight pounders along the road between the two regiments. Soon the Prussians are re-inforced with five squadrons of cuirassiers and a battalion of grenadiers. The cavalry is placed under heavy fire by the eight-pounders. The Prussians attempt to silence the guns by bringing up Captain Graumann's eight gun horse battery, but it is quickly scattered by the French fire. The battle rages for about ninety minutes as both sides continues to feed in arriving units. By 0800 hours, the rest of the 3rd Division artillery (3 eight pound-guns, a howitzer, and two four-pound horse guns) arrives and Gudin collects all of them and prolongs them forward on the right of the 85th Regiment. There he directs them to support the 85th Regiment. Soon the Prussians amass 25 squadrons of cavalry and make a furious charge, forcing the French to form squares. They are repulsed with enormous casualties.

About 8:15 the 2nd Division, commanded by General Friant, begins to arrive. Davout places them on the right of Gudin's Division. Although the Division has only eight guns, the commander divides them into three batteries. The first is commanded by Captain Chemin, of the horse artillery, and consists of two eight-pound guns. The second is commanded by Lieutenant Jaulte, and has two four-pound guns. The third has three eight-pound guns and a howitzer, and is commanded by Captain Jarry. The artillery fires in support of the division's attack against the village of Spielberg.

About 0930 hours, the seventeen guns of the Corps artillery reserve arrives and Davout places them on the heights between Speilberg and Hassenhausen, in expectation of a Prussian attack in this area. He also shifts the 3rd Division to the right leaving the 85th Regiment and two eight-pound guns to defend Hassenhausen.

The Prussian attack is made about 1000 hours with two divisions (Schmettau's and Wartensleben's). Schmettau attacks north of Hassenhausen and is unsuccessful. Wartensleben attacks south of the village and all but crushes the 85th Regiment and the two guns, which are forced to fall back. The French are in danger of having their flank turned when the 1st Division, commanded by General Morand, arrives. The 13th Light Infantry Regiment, which has two four-pound guns attached to it, moves in support of the 85th Regiment. The rest of the Division moves to support the two regiments. The Division's eight-pound battery is split, with a section on both flanks of the Division. After beating off five cavalry charges the flank is finally secured. Davout then orders the artillery to be placed in the center of the division.

About 1130 hours elements of the Prussian 1st Reserve Division, commanded by General Von Kalkreuth, attacks the French left flank again. Davout sees their movement and orders Morand to move the 30th Regiment and his foot battery to support the 17th Regiment. The combined fire of the two regiments and the artillery are too much for the Prussians and they begin to fall back.

About 1230 hours Davout orders his Corps to attack. Morand places his artillery at the base of a windmill that sits on the high ground overlooking the battlefield. This allows them to catch the retreating Prussian infantry in the flank. On the right flank of the French line, Friant sets up his forces to pound the other flank. Soon the Prussian crack under the pressure and their lines disintegrates. For the artillery the battle is over. Towards the evening, the Corps artillery chief orders the detachment of the 2nd Company of the 5th Horse Artillery, which supported the 2nd Division during the battle, to re-unite with the rest of its company in the 3rd Division.

Artillery casualties are fairly light. In the 1st Division, Captain Seruzier, commanding the horse artillery, was wounded twice. In the 2nd Division, the foot battery had five soldiers wounded, mostly from small arms fire. Additionally one eight-pound gun was dismounted. The two-gun horse artillery detachment had two men lightly wounded by musket fire, while two horses were wounded and one killed. The artillery train suffered more, with three soldiers wounded and twenty-one horses killed. In the 3rd Division, one artillery lieutenant was killed and one wounded. (Interestingly, Martinien's Tableaux Par Corps et Par Batailles des Officiers Tues et Blesses Pendant les Guerres de L'Empire (1805-1815) does not list them as casualties.)

Ammunition expenditure was heavy. The 2nd Division reported that by the end of the battle it had fired two-thirds of its ammunition.

In his report to Napoleon, Marshal Davout specifically mentions several of the artillery officers. " . . . General Hanicque, commandant of the artillery of his corps, whose excellent dispositions contributed much to the success of the battle." Davout also mentions Colonel Charbonnel and each of the divisional chiefs-of-artillery by name. The exploits of Captain Seruzier, of the 1st Division, must have been superb, because he was mentioned twice and called "fearless."

Conclusion

The organization of the 3rd Corps Artillery assets seems to be unorthodox, but yet it allowed the commanders immense tactical flexibility. Both the Corps and Division commanders organized them to be the most effective. The designation of batteries appeared to be an administrative label, rather than a tactical organization. Guns were maneuvered by two-gun sections and attached or detached to a unit as necessary. For example, in the 3rd Division the lead brigade had a section of eight-pound guns attached to it. (In a way this made sense, since it gave the brigade some heavy firepower, while at the same time would allowed Gudin to use the more mobile four-pound guns as an artillery reserve.) In the 2nd Division, Friant completely ignored the administrative organization of the batteries and divided the guns into three tactical "batteries". He even ignored the horse and foot artillery distinctions and had the horse artillery detachment serve as the crew for two eight pound guns, under the command of the horse artillery commander. Likewise, the four-pound horse guns were crewed by the foot artillery and commanded by a lieutenant. There is no record why he did this, however it may have been to place the heavier guns under a more experience officer. In the 1st Division, at the beginning of their counter-attack to relieve the pressure on Gudin's left flank, the Division's eight-pound battery was split in two and placed on both flanks of the attack. (Davout eventually ordered it to be consolidated in the center.) Although these practices were unusual, they worked and thus contributed immensely to the French victory.

After-Action Report

The following is the after-action-report submitted on the night of 14 October by the 2nd Division artillery commander to his division commander.

Report by Chef de Battalion Villeneuve, Commander of the Artillery of the 2nd Division, to General Friant. 14 October 1806

The division artillery was divided into three batteries; the first of two pieces of eight served by the horse artillery and commanded by Captain Chemin; the second of two pieces of four served by the foot artillery and commanded by Lieutenant Jaulte; the last of three pieces of eight and a howitzer, commanded by Captain Jarry.

These batteries were placed in the front, on the orders of the commanding general and they had to change their positions to follow the enemy movements and occupy successive positions that they were obliged to abandon. Towards the end of the combat, the light artillery pieces were reunited, by the order of the general-in-chief, with those of the 3rd Division and did not return that evening to the park of the second.

Captains Chemin and Jarry conducted and directed their batteries with much sangfroid, intelligence and bravery that one would expect from old soldiers. Lieutenant Jaulte conducted and directed with the same and same success and deployed on this occasion a zeal for his duties to the same degree. He had his horse killed under him.

The 2nd Company of the 7th Regiment of Artillery had a sergeant and four cannoneers wounded as much by the fire of the musketeers as the cannons. This NCO, named Claret, is recommended in all the reports.

The 2nd Company of the 5th Regiment of Horse Artillery had two men lightly wounded by the musketeers, two horses wounded and one killed.

The detachment of the 1st Battalion (Principal) of the Artillery Train had a marechal-des-logis and two soldiers wounded; twenty-one horses killed and two that were sent to General Gudin.

The foot artillery lost sixteen muskets and eight haversacks.

One must commend in general all of the personnel of the artillery who did well in these circumstances.

One piece of four and one of eight was dismounted, and two-thirds of the ammunition was consumed. An officer has gone to the park of the reserve to obtain spares and replacements.

Bibliography

Chandler, David G.: Jena 1806: Napoleon Destroys Prussia Osprey Military Campaigns Series #20; Osprey Publishing, London; 1993.

Davout, Louis N.: Operations du 3e Corps 1806-1807: Rapport du Marechal Davout, Duc d'Auerstaedt; Ancienne Maison Michel Levy Freres, Paris; 1896.

Etling, John R.: Swords around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armee; MacMillan, New York; 1988.

Griffith, Patrick: French Artillery; Almark, London; 1976

Haythornthwaite, Philip: Napoleon's Specialist Troops; Osprey, London; 1988.

Hourtoulle, F.G.: Davout le Terrible; Editions Copernic, Paris; 1975.

Martinien, A.: Tableaux Par Corps et Par Batailles des Officiers Tues et Blesses Pendant les Guerres de L'Empire (1805-1815); Editions Militaires, Paris.

Petre, F. Loraine: Napoleon's Conquest of Prussia - 1806; Hippocrene Books, New York; 1977.

Rogers, H.C.B.: Napoleon's Army; Hippocrene Books, New York; 1974.

Wilkinson-Latham, Robert: Napoleon's Artillery; Osprey, London; 1975.

Wise, Terence: Artillery Equipment of the Napoleonic Wars; Osprey, London; 1979.

Notes

1.) The III Corps' Chief of Artillery was General de Brigade Hancique; Colonel Charbonnel was the Artillery Chief-of-Staff.

2.) Chandler reports that there was a horse artillery company assigned to the 1st Division but does not provide unit identification. He lists under the Corps artillery the 1st Company of the 5th Horse Artillery Regiment, but in his list of artillery pieces, there are no light guns. The 1st Company was most likely assigned to the 1st Division. Chandler also lists that there were 7 four-pound guns assigned to the division. Davout, however, lists the light company as having only six guns, while the other company had seven guns. Unfortunately he does not list the size of the guns. It was probably another eight-pound gun or a six-inch howitzer.

3.) The assignment of the artillery train detachments is suspect. Colonel Etling, in his book Swords around the Throne, states that each battalion of the artillery train was organized into six detachments, five organized to support foot artillery companies, while the sixth would support a horse artillery company. Each detachment was commanded by a sergeant major. Unfortunately he does not state which detachment supported the horse artillery. Davout does not mention specific detachments other than that each division had two detachments from the 1st Battalion of the Artillery Train. However, Chef-de-Bataillon Villeneuve, Commander of the 2nd Division's Artillery, specifically states in his after-action report to his division commander on the night after the battle that his division had only one detachment, from the 1st Battalion.

4.) The 3rd Division had assigned to it the 2nd Company of the 5th Horse Artillery Regiment. This company had 4 four-pound guns. Prior to the battle, half the company was attached to the 2nd Division prior to the battle. Villeneuve reports that they returned to the 3rd Division the night after the battle.

5.) The Corps Artillery Reserve had 17 artillery pieces and was commanded by Colonel Geoffroy. Although the Chandler states that these 17 pieces included 6 twelve-pound guns of Austrian origins, 8 eight-pound guns, and 3 six-inch howitzers, he does not list which company had which guns. The most likely organization was one company had the twelve-pound guns and one howitzer, while the other two had four eight-pound guns and a howitzer each. The Austrian twelve-pound guns are interesting. Colonel Etling says that Napoleon began to equip his units with captured Austrian guns in 1806, while Terence Wise in his book Artillery Equipment of the Napoleonic Wars, says that in 1807 of the 48 guns in Soult's Corps 42 were Austrian pieces. So it is possible that these guns were Austrian guns. (Davout does not mention them.)

6) It is unclear which of the five detachments of the artillery train assigned to the Corps Reserve (2nd of the 1st Battalion and the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6th Detachments of the 3rd Battalion (Provisional)) supported which company. Most likely two of them carried the equipment of the artillery artificers and pontoons of the bridging company.

 

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