Artillery Train of the Guard: 1800-1815
By Paul Dawson
The field artillery of the Napoleonic epoch was designed to be mobile. When French or troops of other nations marched across country, the guns moved with them. During battle, the guns were moved to assigned positions and then were switched from place to place, pulled back or sent forward as fortune demanded as the battle waxed and waned. The horse batteries went galloping off to support an advance or repel an attack. When they withdrew, they contested the field as they went. Movement was everything. The guns could fulfil their essential function only when they could be moved where they were most needed.
At the time of the Napoleonic epoch, such movement required draft animals--horses, mules or oxen. Mules were excellent at pulling heavy loads, but they were not used in pulling the guns and caissons of the field artillery. No animal liked to stand under fire. In the fury of battle, horses would shy and rear and flash their hooves; but mules carried their protests to the outer limits. When exposed to fire, mules would buck and kick and roll on the ground, entangling harnesses and becoming impossible to control.
An exception to the rule against using mules was their role in carrying small mountain howitzers. These guns were light enough to be broken down, with the component parts carried on the backs of pack animals. They had been developed for use in country that was mountainous and heavily wooded, with only trails or wretched roads. Strong, surefooted animals were needed, and mules were the obvious choice.
The Artillery Train of the Consular Guard, created by the order of 21 Fructidor Year VIII (8th September 1800) and was formed by Article 9 of the decree, to compose of one company command by a Captain and a Lieutenant, with one sergeant-major, three sergeants, one fourier (company clerk), 8 corporals, 80 drivers, two trumpeters and a master smith and a master saddle maker.
The decree dated 8 March 1802, altered the composition of the staff of the artillery, the Park and train. The train was altered under Article 4 to the following:
The organisation was changed on 19 Prairial an XI (8 June 1803). The organisation of each company then was:
The regiment was increased then to four companies on the 11 Brumaire Year XII (3rd November 1803). The artillery becoming more and more important its effective strength never ceased to be augmented up to the end of the Empire. Article 2 of the decree authorised that rhe regimental staff was to have 1 assistant surgeon, 1 assistant veterinarian, 1 master baggage driver. The park had 6 train troops attached to it, primarily 1 garde d’artilleire, 4 sous-gardes, and 4 drivers. Article 3 authorised that the regiment was to be commanded by a captain, and was assisted by an adjutant-major, a lieutenant, and an adjutant sous-officer. Each company had 1 lieutenant, 1 sergeant-major, 4 sergeants, 1 fourier, 4 corporals, 26 1st drivers, 72 2nd drivers, 2 master harness makers, 2 master smiths, 2 trumpeters and 196 horses.
Article 19 of the decree of July 29, 1804 organised the regiment as follows:
On 15th April 1806, the train was formed into one battalion and counted six companies. The staff comprised 1 captain commandant (Devarennes), 1 lieutenant-adjutant-major (Deroy), 1 sous-lieutenant quarter maitre (Monnin), 1 adjutant sous officer, 1 veterinarian, 1 master saddler maker, 1 master boot maker, 1 master harness maker, 1 master tailor, 1 master rope maker. Each company had 1 lieutenant, 1 sous-lieutenant, 1 sergeant-major, 4 sergeants, 1 fourier, 5 corporals, 68 drivers, 2 smiths, 2 harness makers, 2 trumpeters, so with the 8 men on the staff, the regiment had 510 men in six companies, with 220 horses in times of peace and 1000 horses in times of war .
The 24th October 1807, the Corps had two battalions, one active or principal and one a depot battalion, each having six companies. At the end of the same year another battalion, the 'batalion bis' or provisional battalion was created for service in Spain and which became, on 22 August 1808, the 13th Line Battalion, the Depot Battalion becoming the 13th 'Batallion Bis'. The decree of 12 April 1808 created the artillerie a Pied de la Garde, the corps being assigned the principal batallion and the Batallion Bis. The batallion bis was formed like their Ligne counterparts, and had 16 officers and 463 NCO’s and drivers, but was doubled, having 19 officers and 926 NCO’s and drivers.
In April 1809, the two battalions had twelve companies, to which three new companies were added in October to draw the regimental guns attached to the corps of Fusiliers, Tirailleurs and Conscrit. Entry into the guard was set at 1.678meters in height.
The officers in 1810 were as follows:
The decree of 4 May 1811 the train was to comprise a staff and six companies. Article 9 of the decree stipulated that the regiment was to conform to the decree of 29th January 1811, each company to have 1 lieutenant, 1 sergeant-major, 4 sergeants. 1 fourier, 4 corporals, 26 1st drivers, 134 2nd drivers, 2 smiths, 2 harness makers, 2 trumpeters.
On 10th February 1812 for the forth coming war with Russia, each company had an extra 10 2nd drivers assigned to them. At this time the guard had 196 guns forming 26 batteries. The regiment was commnded by Lieutenant-Adjutant-Major Montreuil, the 1st batallion was under the command of Pigniere. Baron Legnim, Colonel of Artillery was the colonel-major of the train, the chef du batallion was Leroy who acted as second in command. During the campaign in Saxony, the regiment had the following organisition:
On 10th February 1813, the Artillery Train formed a Regiment with three battalions of four companies. On 13th March a fourth battalion of the same composition was set afoot, but on the following 6th April, the 2nd Regiment of the Train was created, it became the first battalion of this new Corps. These two Regiments lasted to the abdication.
Company allocation per battalion was as follows:
The regimental organisation was as follows:
The 2eme Regiment comprised two batallions of six companies, the organisation being the same as the first regiment. The organisation lasted until the first abdication in 1814.
The new Imperial Guard, organised by decree of the 8th April 1815, comprised a squadron of the Artillery Train with nine companies of which one was of the Young Guard. The regiment was commanded by a chef d’escadron, the staff being 1 capitaine-adjutant-major, 1 lieutenant-quarter-maitre, 1 lieutenant d’habillement, 2 surgeons, 2 adjutant sous officers, 1 veterinarian and three assistants, 1 trompeter major, 1 master saddle and harness maker, 1 master boot maker, 1 master tailor, 1 master breaches maker, 1 master armourer and spur maker. Each company had 1 lieutenant, 1 sous-lieutenant, 1 sergeant-major, 1 fouriers, 8 corporals, 3 master smiths, harness makers, 2 trumpeters, 40 1st drivers, 72 2nd drivers. The regiment had 48 riding horses for the officers, 136 riding horses for the workmen, NCO’s and trompeter and 1600 draft horses. The regiment was disbanded on 1 December 1815.
Marco de Saint Hilaire in the 1840’s wrote this about the artillery of the guard and its character:
It is easy to forget that the field artillery was almost as a dependent upon horses as the cavalry if not more so. Gibbon held that a battery of six light guns needed 110 horses to take the field, and an even larger number would be required for a battery of mounted artillery. As the principle motive power for the guns, they were a prime target for the opposing force; disabling the horses meant that the guns were at risk of capture. Horses, like the soldiers who depended upon them, were also subject to the rigors of disease, poor rations, and the too-often squalid living conditions of an army camp. The death toll has never been calculated, but the cost of the War in horseflesh was surely enormous. Horses were required to pull the enormous weight of the cannons and ammunition; on average, each horse pulled about 700 pounds. Each gun in a battery used two six-horse teams: one team pulled a limber that towed the gun, the other pulled a limber that towed a caisson. The large number of horses posed a logistical challenge for the artillery, because they had to be fed, maintained, and replaced when worn out or injured. Artillery horses were generally selected second from the pool of high quality animals; cavalry mounts were the best horses. The life expectancy of an artillery horse was under eight months. They suffered from disease, exhaustion from long marches (typically 16 miles in 10 hours), and battle injuries. The capacity of a healthy horse to pull a load was affected by a number of factors. Chief among these was the nature of the surface over which the load was being hauled. A single horse could pull 3,000 pounds 20 to 23 miles a day over a hard-paved road. Gassendi noted that on a road a convoy of artillery could cover 0.94miles in roughly an hour, and that a horse carrying 75.6kg and drawing 315kg could travel on average 20miles a day. The weight dropped to 1,900 pounds over a compact earthen road, and went down to 1,100 pounds over rough ground. The pulling ability was further reduced by one-half if a horse carried a rider on its back. Finally, as the number of horses in a team increased, the pulling capacity of each horse was further reduced. A horse in a team of six had only seven-ninths the pulling capacity it would have had in a team of two. The goal was that each horse's share of the load should be no more than 700 pounds. This was less than what a healthy horse, even carrying a rider and hitched into a team of six, could pull, but it furnished a safety factor that allowed for fatigue and losses.
As their lives and guns so often depended upon their horses, artillerymen were disposed to accept without excessive grumbling the regulations for their care. The trumpeter would sound stable call after reveille and roll, and water call after breakfast. The same routine for the horses would be repeated late in the afternoon. Morning and afternoon drill also meant a workout for the horses, after which they needed to be walked to cool down, curried, and probably watered again. There were always sick horses requiring care, and those who died requiring burial.
One driver was assigned to each pair of horses, riding the on (left) horse and holding reins for it and the off horse. Skilled riders were required for this service, which combined the daring of the cavalry troopers with the precision teamwork expected of the artilleryman. Drivers were could be issued with a leg-guard, an iron plate encased in leather and strapped to the right leg to prevent the limber pole from injuring them. Each driver had two horses and their harness under his care.
Each rode the left horse of his team and was held responsible for the feeding, watering, and grooming of the team. They were usually picked for this duty because of their knowledge or skill with the animals. During battle they brought the ordnance into position under the direction of the Sergeant, who was the platoon guide and was mounted individually. The caisson drivers were directed into position by the chief of line of caissons, frequently taking position under hostile fire. Keeping the horses calm during battle and removing harness from downed horses was a skill of the drivers often used. The drivers had to be alert at all times in case the ordnance had to be removed from its position in haste, the ear ever waiting for the trumpet call to march. However, once the foot artillery battery line was established the drivers would often dismount and lay on the ground with their reins in their hands, depending on the amount of hostile fire being received. This was not possible with horse artillery which would change positions rapidly, and in some cases so did foot artillery batteries.
Though they were not 'up front', the drivers and horses were still killed and wounded, and rounds shots passing close to a battery would cause consternation among the drivers trying to control horses just in rear of the main battery line. The only drivers that were not usually with the battery in battle were those that drove the traveling forge and battery wagon. This equipment was usually in the rear of the army on the march.
The horses were worked hard and long, but it had to be so. A battery racing to catch up with a retreating enemy or to gain a position of advantage had no room for gentle treatment. The stakes were high, and the horses paid the price. The alternative might be defeat. A man on a long, hot march, pushed beyond what his body could bear, might drop out temporarily and catch up with his company later. Horses had no such choice. Harnessed to the limbers, they pulled until they fell or, as happened in most instances, until they harmed their bodies beyond healing, and then were shot becoming the drivers and artilleryman’s next meal.
Mud or dust seemed to plague every movement of troops. Of the two, mud was the greater problem for the artillery. Dust created great discomfort, but little more. While an artilleryman might find it difficult to breathe and intolerably itchy in the suffocating dust, the guns and caissons could still be moved. Mud, on the other hand, often made movement impossible. Sinking below their axles in holes full of clinging muck, guns and caissons could be moved only with superhuman effort, the men pushing at the wheels and extra horses pulling on the traces. Sometimes guns and caissons were simply abandoned to the mud. During the 1813/14 campaign, teams were often doubled to draw guns into position.
A battery moved at the same speed and covered the same distance, as did the troops to which it was attached. This distance could be anywhere from a few miles to 20 or 30 miles a day. When a battery moved independently, it was not limited by the movement of the troops and was thus free to cover as much ground as it could. All in all, there was not a great deal of difference in the distance travelled. Such gains as there were resulted from the absence of thousands of marching infantrymen, supply trains and other units cluttering up the roads. The battery was then able to travel without long delays due to the inevitable traffic jams caused by jostling troops.
The prescribed rations were not always available. Sometimes, especially as the war went on and areas were picked clean by the opposing armies, severe shortages of grain and hay developed. At other times, there was available grain and hay but they could not be delivered to the batteries needing them. Water for the horses was a problem that demanded an adequate solution every day. While in camp, a battery would discover the nearest creek or pond and routinely water the horses there. On the march, water had to be found at the end of each day. If the water was any distance, as it often was, the timing of the watering was critical. The guns were immobile if the horses were absent. Usually, only half the horses would be sent to water at any one time. This meant that in an emergency some movement might be achieved, but with only half the horses present, the battery was at a distinct disadvantage. In spite of the care given to artillery horses, the animals still perished at an astounding rate. Many died of disease or were put to death because of exhaustion. Many more were killed alongside their battery mates in battle.
The official colours of horses for the 8 pieces in every battery were to be as follows:
The ammunition wagons for every cannon and howitzer were equipped in a similar manner.
 French cavalry and artillery never moved at the Gallop, the Au Gallop noted in manuals was in fact equivalent to the canter. References to the cavalry moving at the gallop probaly have translated au gallop as gallop, rather then the correct canter. Au Charge was equivalent to the gallop. Cotty in the 1832 supplement to the artillery dictionary recomends that battle field movements be carried out at the trot, and the gallop in excepional circumastances (Cotty H 1832 Supplement au Dictionaire artillerie Paris).
 SHAT XAB60
 Journal Militaire AnX
 Fallou L 1934 Train d’artillerie de la Garde Imperiale 1806-1815 in Le Passepoil, volume 14 p 29.
 SHAT Xab 78/126
 SHAT Xab 78/206
 SHAT Xab 60 and 79/75
 Gibbon, The Artillerist's Manual, p. 363.
 Gassendi J B 1819 Aide Memoire volume 2 Pp925-927
 Gassendi J B 1819 Aide Memoire volume 1 p377 also Gassendi J B 1819 Aide Memoire volume 2 pp 925-927 for a fuller description of the horse used by the artillery train, also Tremmeling J pers comm 29th August 2006. Gassendi recommended that the horses be large, solid and strong animals, 4 to 9 yrs of age and measure 1.45m to 1.62m at the shoulder. Mules were to be 1.39m to 1.59m at the shoulder, and to be 3-10yrs old. The horse artillery riding horses were to be 3-5yrs of age and 1.529m to 1.57m high at the shoulder the draft hores to be 1.48m to 1.52m tall at the shoulder, each animal to cost 360-460francs. The riding horses for the horse artillery it was recommended to come from Calvadoes, La Dyle, L’Eue, La Manche, La Meuse, L’Ourte, L’Orne and La Seine. The train horses were to be from Ardennes, la Central, La Correze, Le Finistere, Le Morbihan, La Nierve, Le Nord, Le Puy-de-Dome, Les Pyraness, La Haute-Vienne.
 Cotty H 1832 Supplment au Dictionoire artillerie Paris
 Gassendi J B 1819 Aide Memoire volume 2 pp 927-8
 Gassendi J B 1801 Aide Memoire Chez Magimel Paris.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2006
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