Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Artillery of System An XI

The Findings of the 1801 Committee on Artillery

By Paul Dawson

In 1774, the Ministry of War  ordered that the arsenals should have always ready all that was necessary to form 8 field equipments and 3 complete siege equipments. This material was in existence in 1792 when war broke out. It was soon found to be insufficient and, notwithstanding the somewhat irregular activity of the factories, foundries, and improvised arsenals, the French armies depended on prizes taken from the enemy as their principal resource. Thus the army which crossed the Alps in April 1796, only possessed 30 guns. A few months later it had nearly 1200, of which 600 were field pieces. This was a problem for the French, because other than the guns used in the Spanish army,  the other foreign guns were 3, 6, and 12 pounders.  The French 4 and 8 pounders  could not therefore utilise the  ammunition found in conquered places.

A Gribeauval 12 Pound Gun and Limber


What ever the merits of General Gribeauval’s artillery reforms of the 1760s, the experience of the revolutionary wars of France, led a group of influential French artillery officers to be critical of the equipment they were using. The main complaint was with the 4 pound  and 8 pound guns. The 4 pounder  was deemed to have a too small a calibre to be effective and the 8 pound  to be too heavy for its range.

Marmont, in the 1800 campaign noted several problems with the artillery system then in used. General Griois in his memoirs (book 1 pages 128-130) also had criticisms. (At the time, Griois was a capitaine-en-seconde on the staff of the 4e Regiment Artillerie-à-Pied, he took his regiment over the Great Saint Bernard Pass and was placed on the staff of the artillery in Milan on 21 June 1800.)  Marmont raised his concern about the existing artillery equipment to Napoleon directly in Turin during September 1800, and argued for a reduction in the different calibres of guns in use. To this end, Napoleon formed a Committee of Artillery on 29 December 1801, and was charged with improving the equipment and material of the artillery arm in the most advantageous way possible. The committee was presided over by General d’Aboville, the First Inspector of Artillery.  Its members were Lamartillere, Marmont, Andreossy, Eble, Songis, Faultrier, and Gassendi.

Antoine-Francois Andreossy, (1761-1828), was one of Napoleon’s oldest colleagues, like many of the committee members, and other senior artillery officers. As well as an artilleryman, he was a diplomat, who was born at Castelnaudary, in Languedoc, on the 6 March 1761. He was of Italian extraction, and his ancestor Francois Andreossy (1633-1688) had been concerned with Riquet in the construction of the Languedoc Canal in 1669. He had a brilliant career at the School of Artillery at Metz, obtained his commission in 1781, and became captain in 1788. On the outbreak of the Revolution he adopted its principles. He saw active service on the Rhine in 1794 and in Italy in 1795, and in the campaign of 1796-97 was employed in engineer duties with the Army of Italy. He became chef-de-brigade in December 1796 and general-de-brigade  in 1798, in which year he accompanied Bonaparte to Egypt. He served in the Egyptian campaign with distinction, and was selected as one of Napoleon's companions on his return to Europe. Andreossy took part in the coup d'etat of the 18th of Brumaire, and on  6 January 1800 was made general-de-division . Of particular importance was his term of office as ambassador to England during the short peace, which followed the treaties of Amiens and Luneville. Andreossy repeatedly warned Napoleon that the British government desired to maintain peace but must be treated with consideration. His advice, however, was disregarded. When Napoleon became emperor, he made Andreossy Inspector-General of Artillery and a Count of the Empire. In the war of 1805, Andreossy was employed on the headquarters staff of Napoleon. From 1808 to 1809, he was French ambassador at Vienna, where he displayed hostility to Austria, which was in marked contrast to his friendliness to England in 1802-1803. In the war of 1809, Andreossy was military governor of Vienna during the French occupation. In 1812 he was sent by Napoleon as ambassador to Constantinople, where he carried on the policy initiated by Sebastiani. In 1814, he was recalled by Louis XVIII. Andreossy now retired into private life, till the escape of his former master from Elba once again called him forth. In 1826 he was elected to the Academic des Sciences, and in the following year was deputy for the department of the Aude. His numerous works included the following: On Artillery (with which arm he was most intimately connected throughout his military career), Quelques idees relatives a I'usage de I'artitterie dans I'attaque et . . . la defense des places (Metz); Essai sur le tir des projectiles creux (Paris, 1826);  On Military History, Campagne sur le Main et la Rednitz de I'armee gallo-batave (Paris, 1802); Operations des pontonniers en Italie . . . 1795-1796 (Paris, 1843). He also wrote scientific memoirs on the mouth of the Black Sea (1818-1819); on certain Egyptian lakes (during his stay in Egypt); and in particular the history of the Languedoc Canal (Histoire du canal du Midi, 2nd ed., Paris, 1804), the chief credit of which he claimed for his ancestor. Andreossy died at Montauban in 1828.

Jean-Jacques-Basilien Gassendi, perhaps one of the better-known committee members was the second oldest member of the committee and was a contemporary of the Toussard brothers. He was Capitaine of the La Fere Regiment in 1782, but was under the orders of Lieutenant Bonaparte. Also a lieutenant at the same time was the future General Lariboissiere.  Gassendi was director of the siege train at Toulon, holding the rank of Chef du Bataillon. He crossed the Great Saint Bernard Pass and fought at Marengo, being made General-de-Brigade in September 1800, and then Inspector General of Artillery in 1805. He was a Councillor in 1806;  he was made a Count of the Empire in 1809, a senator in 1813. He was disenchanted with Napoleon at the First Restoration and was dismissed from the Chamber of Peers in 1815 by the returned Emperor. Gassendi returned to the Chamber of Peers in 1819, as was fitting for a member of the Ancienne Regieme aristocracy. He died in 1828. [One cannot help but wonder if Gassendi’s disenchantment with Napoleon from 1814 onwards helped to colour his views on the System An XI, which were published in his 1819 Aide Memoire for Artillery Officers. As a member of the new regime, he had to be critical of the Empire or face persecution by the ultra royalists].

The task faced by the committee was immense, as they had to completely redesign the artillery by critically examining Gribeauval’s system and then evaluating any changes to the system. The theoretical research began on 11 January 1802 and ended on 31 July 1802.

General Fave was commissed to carry out the work and offer his opinions to the committee, and reported that changes were needed. His principal faults with Gribeauval were:

1)      Changing barrel position quickly fatigues the gun crews. Therefore new pieces, which could be moved on the prolonge with out changing position, were required.

2)      Moving the ammunition box quickly fatigued the gunners and made lifting the carriage onto the limber cumbersome. Moving the ammunition box to the limber would make this task less fatiguing.

3)      If the guns crews could ride on the carriage, the foot artillery could deploy at the same speed as the horse artillery. Moving the ammunition chest could facilitate this.

4)      The 4 pounder gun  was mobile but it lacked the ‘hitting power’ of the 8 pounder. He proposed to replace the 4 pounder with a new piece but keep the 8 and 12 pounder guns.

General Gassendi was critical of this report, and was opposed to any changes to Gribeauval.  He appealed to Napoleon, who became involved in the discussions.  Napoleon’s view is highly informative in the way that the committee should think:

“The artillery should have but 4 calibres, the 6, 12, 24 pounders. and the 5½-inch howitzer. In this way we abolish 4 calibres. We should add 3 pounders. for mountain equipment. In abolishing the Rostaing guns, we get rid of stubborn beasts not worth the trouble they give.  3 pounders should be a minimum caliber”




Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2004


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