Reviews: Military Books



Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars 1792 - 1815

Kiley, Kevin F.  Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars 1792 – 1815. London: Greenhill Books, 2004.  318 Pages.  ISBN# 1853675830. Hardcover. $35

Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars

In 1974, Major General B.P. Hughes wrote Firepower: Weapons Effectiveness on the Battlefield, 1630 – 1850.  For the past thirty years it has been the standard book on Napoleonic artillery.  It has been in and out of print for many years. Greenhill Books has filled this gap with its latest release, Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars.  Its author, Kevin Kiley, is a former U.S. Marine Corps artillery officer,  who served in the Persian Gulf War as a regimental fire direction officer. His background provides a unique perspective to the topic – for there are not too many authors who have a practical, first hand experience on what it is like to fire a cannon in combat!

Mr. Kiley approaches the topic from two angles.  The first part of the book examines the technical side of the artillery, while the second half of the book looks at its usage in a variety of battles.  In the first part, there are chapters on the development of the artillery; the strengths and weaknesses of the guns, carriages, and ammunition; the manning and firing of the guns; how the artillery was moved; and how a battery was organized and employed in combat.  One of the strengths of the book is that for each topic, the author provides information on most of the major combatants of the period.  Although much of the material is about the French, there is considerable amount on the British.  The Russians, Austrians, Prussians, and the Americans are covered also, but to a lesser degree.  The smaller nations, however, are only mentioned in passing.

Typical of Mr. Kiley's meticulous research are the two chapters about  the Herculean efforts of the early artillery pioneers, such as the Frenchmen Jean Baptiste de Gribeauval and the two du Teil brothers, the Austrian Joseph Wenzel Prince Lichtenstein, the Russian Alexei Arakcheev, and the British innovators  William Congreve and Henry Shrapnel.  Mr. Kiley tells of the battles they fought both with their own government and their fellow artillerymen, to modernize every aspect of their craft.  Surprisingly, many of them died prior to 1800 and did not live to see the guns they designed used so effectively in the turmoil of the first 15 years of the 19th Century.

The second part of the book looks at the great artillerymen of the period and the impact they had on specific battles.  Each chapter has a short biography of the individual and then describes a battle that his use of artillery was so outstanding that it was either the decisive factor of the battle or his conduct was particularly notable. Among those include are Senarmont's charge with the guns at Friedland, Austrian Colonel Josef Smola at Aspern-Essling, British Captain Ramsay at Fuentes d'Onor, Eblé bridging the Beresina in 1812, and Andrew Jackson at New Orleans in 1815.  Each chapter has a detailed map showing the deployment of the artillery in that particular battle.

Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars is lavishly illustrated with contemporary prints, many taken from an 1809 artillery manual written by a Frenchman for the American army. Mr. Kiley also uses the manual to show how gun drill was performed – providing the commands used and a detailed explanation of what exactly was meant by the command.  Additionally, there are numerous tables on a variety of topics – ranging from gun tube weights to range data to the equipment of Austrian batteries to the number of mules and horses used by the British in the Peninsula.

Mr. Kiley included 36 pages of appendices that filled with technical data.  In them you can find information on how French brass cannons were cast and bored, the deployment of British artillery units in the Peninsula, firing tables for French guns, how to convert weights and measures from the English to the French system, and pontoons.  There is even a re-print of Russian General Kutaisov's "General Rules for Artillery in a Field Battle."

Although  Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars is filled with statistical information on the guns, ammunition, and  carriages, used by the armies of the era, it is not a dry technical manual.  Mr. Kiley writes in a narrative style that places the reader on the ground with the gunners.  His vivid descriptions allows the reader to imagine what it must have been liked to maneuver and man the guns in a variety of situations – whether on the march or on the battlefield!  The contemporary line drawings are superb and greatly supplement the text. The scope and depth of information in  Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars 1792 – 1815 will satisfy both the serious researcher who is looking for technical information, while the lively narrative will appeal to the casual reader. 

Reviewed by Robert Burnham, FINS
Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2004

 

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