The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Get Involved:

Facebook Twitter Email
The Napoleon Series > Military Information > Organization, Strategy & Tactics

French Artillery in 1807

By Paul Dawson

Friedland and the actions of General Senarmont are synonymous. However, what Senarmont wrote about his action when combined with other sources provides a confusing picture of the battle. In order to prove or disprove statements we must turn to primary sources that have no bias such as the number of guns issued to French army, the number or rounds per tube and so forth. .

The table below, drawn up by General Songis, dated May 7th 1807, was the organisation of the army for the forth-coming action at Friedland, and is an invaluable source for the artillery at Friedland. The table drawn up by Songis, demonstrates quite clearly that French artillery at this time did not have nice neat batteries of matching calibres of guns, or had either 8 or 6 pieces.

It also shows quite clearly how many guns Victors 1st Corps had and how many rounds of ammunition.

French Artilleryman circa 1807

The 1st Corps had 30 guns, 2 x 12 pounders, 6 x 4.6 howitzers, the remainder being 6 pounders. Senarmont apparently had 36 guns according to many sources. Unless he borrowed guns from other corps, he advanced with only 30 guns. If he held 6 guns in reserve that would leave two batteries of 12 guns.

For these 30 guns, Senarmont had at his disposal some 1,323 rounds for his 6 howitzers (roughly 220 rounds per tube), 624 rounds for his 2 x 12 pounders and 6,657 rounds for his 6 pounders, plus rather oddly nearly 2000 rounds for 3 pounder guns, of which 1st Corps had none (officially, but there may have been battalion guns not organised by the artillery, but assigned to the infantry regiments.) Therefore each 6 pounder and 12 pounder had just over 300 rounds.

Further research has shown that Senarmont did have 36 guns. Thirty guns were those manned by the line artillery, while the additional 6 guns, were 3 pounder guns from the regimental artillery attached to Dupont's troops. This explains their absence from the 'regular' artillery of the line. Three pounder field pieces would have had little or no effect. If Lauermas figures are to be believed, at 400 yards, of the 61 balls that make up the heavy cannister of a 3 poundr, less than 20 would actually hit the target. However, these tests, can bear little relation to what occured in reality, and the estimates must be lowered again. As for running out of ammunition, well in theory, each gun could fire for 300 minutes at one shot per minute, or 150 minutes at two per minute, so it would be possible to expend all the ammunition in nearly 2 hours of action. Of course we dont know at what rate Senarmont was firing and how long he remained at one range. But it seems unlikely that he would have run out of ammunition.

The organisation of the artillery before Friedland also demonstrates that the new An XI 6 pounder guns had not totally replaced the old Gribeauval System 8 pounder and 4 pounder. Production was stopped in 1808, and the Gribeauval system re-applied in 1810. Authors who have studied this period have assigned General Nicholas Songis as leading this committee. Songis retired from the army in 1809 and was replaced by General Lariboisiere, who headed the committee. Songis died in December 1810, and had been a friend of Bonaparte since the Army of Italy. He commanded the artillery in Egypt and the Consular Guard artillery at Marengo. He also sat on the AN XI committee. He was however over shadowed by Marmont and is buried in Parthenon, in Paris.

The Grande Armee in 1807 had 85 x 8 pounders and 19 x 4 pounders compared to 166 x 6 pounders. The 6 pounder was replacing the older system and was acting as a universal gun for foot and horse batteries. The army as a whole had 40 x 12 pounders, so the bulk of the artillery were medium guns rather than heavy. It is interesting to note that a year later, assuming that there were few changes to the composition of the line artillery, that the Guard had 48 12 pounders, the largest concentration in the Grande Armee. Also, when the committee, which created System An XI, sat many officers wanted heavier howitzers. So again it seems that the rather the new An XI gun becoming dominant the old Gribeuaval 5.6 was in use, 28 An XI, compared to 52 Gribeauval guns.

The table also shows the use of 8 x 3 pounders and 11 x 4.6 howitzers. One may assume that these 3 pounders were horse or battalion guns and may have been captured pieces as the Gribeauval system did not introduce 3 pounder, and the only 3 pounder in An XI was a mountain gun. Likewise the 4.6 Howitzers do not appear to be French in origin.[1]

Many authors who have dealt with French field artillery, have, in the main, tended to over simplify battery organisation, stressing that a foot battery would have 8 guns: 6 long guns and two howitzers; while a horse battery would have 6 guns: 4 long guns and two howitzers. This is a very general over simplification of what the organisation was actually like.

The Guard artillery was organized differently to that of the line, having originally been a company of horse artillery assigned to the Consular Guard. Unlike their line counterparts, guns were permanently assigned to the companies. Sometime after Austerlitz each company was assigned four 8 pounder cannons and 2 howitzers (this being on par with the horse artillery of the line) at Austerlitz they retained an eight gun battery of 4 8 pounders, 2 4 pounders and 2 howitzers. After 15 April 1806 the Horse Artillery Regiment was increased to three squadrons of two companies each. One squadron was classed as foot artillery, one company was armed with 12 pounder, the other 8 pounder.

The artillery of the Guard is troublesome in the Winter Campaign. Most sources agree that the Guard had 42 guns present during the campaign and at Eylau. As noted the Guard artillery consisted of 24 guns up until April 1806, thereby raising the question of where did the other guns come from? It had 51 in May 1807, all of which can be accounted for, so what happened between April 1806 and May 1807?

Foucart & Lechartier's careful review of the French Army Archives notes for the Guard during the Winter Campaign had: 20 pieces de 8, 14 pieces de 4, 8 obusiers (42 total); 4 Companies ARC de la Garde and 3 Companies ARC de la Ligne, under the command of Brigadier General Couin.

Nafziger's recount of this is "42 guns w/6 as horse." At Jena only weeks before the November 1806 - February 1807 Campaign began, the Guard is also noted by most histories as having 42 guns: 20 8 pounders, 14 4 pounders and 8 6" howitzers; further they note that there were 2 Guard "Volante" Squadrons (4 companies - 24 guns) with 2 foot artillery companies (2e and 6e) from the 1st Foot artillery Regiment and 1 company from the 6th Horse Artillery Regiment of the line, and were taken from Oudinots elite Grenadier Division. If these companies followed the notional batteries rules set out above it would give 42 guns, but the distribution of guns becomes muddled as it would require the old 1805 battery form (8 guns) for the Guard units, two strange foot batteries (10 guns each of 4 8 pounders, 5 4 pounders and 1 howitzer), and a normal horse artillery battery of 6 guns. An alternative distribution is to have 5 horse artillery batteries of 8 guns each (as Petre notes two guns from the Guard were "held in reserve" with the baggage train), or yet another assumption based upon Foucart is to say that the 4 companies of horse artillery assigned to the Guard had 4 8 pounder guns and 2 howitzers, while the 3 Companies from the line were two foot (2 8 pounders, 2 4 pounders, and 2 howitzers) and one horse battery (4 4 pounders and 2 howitzers). This yields the desired number of 8 pounder cannon, while inverting the howitzer and 4pounder.

However, by May 1807 the number of guns in the Guard artillery can be proved beyond doubt, and one wonders if this organisation took place before or after Eylau. This table also disproves Foucart in saying that the Guard had 4 companies of horse artillery assigned. It only had 1 assigned company of foot artillery and one of horse artillery, and totalled 51 guns, of these 6 were 12 pounders, 18 8 pounders, 16 4 pounders, and 11 howitzers. The Guard guns were organised into 6 6 gun batteries and the attached batteries into a foot artillery battery of 6 x 8 pounders and 3 x howitzers and a horse artillery battery of 6 x 4 pounders. Without Oudinots two batteries, the Guard had 36 guns, so evidently the two Guard foot artillery companies being formed in April 1806 reduced the need to borrow guns from the Line. When these two companies became active is open to speculation, but it seems logical as no 12 pounders are listed for Jena, that they became operational after Eylau.

The Guard also seems to have been issued more ammunition than the line. The Guards 6 12 pounders had 26 caissons, while the 6 x 12 pounders of the 3rd Corps had only 19 caissons. The 12 x 8 pounders of the Guard had 36 caissons, and the 12 8 pounders of the 6th Corps had 34 caissons. When one looks at the Guards 18 8 pounders, they had a total of 54 caissons a slightly more than average for the army as a whole.

To sum up, the organisation of the artillery of the Grande Armee in 1807 helps answer a number of questions about Friedland but also about the composition of the Guard artillery, which changed continually until 1808. It appears that it was not until 1813 that the line artillery had batteries using a single calibre of weapon and 1 calibre of howitzer. By this time the 6 pounder had been universally adopted in the Army of Germany, which replaced the 4 pounder and 8 pounder of the Gribeauval system. The French army in Spain retained the Gribeauval system. In 1815, the artillery reverted back to mixed gun batteries. The 4 pounders and 8 pounders were used again[2] along with the 6 and 12 pounders.


[1] There is however a howitzer in Musee dArmee which is neither Gribeauval or An XI in appearance, and is described as being a horse artillery howitzer. This may be one of these illusive pieces. The Army Museum at Graz, however does hold two French 3 pounder barrels on Liechtenstein system carriages, thought to be saluting cannon. The same museum holds a limber of Liechtenstein system which is almost identical to that of the French An XI system. Association Britannique de la Garde Imperiale owns a 3 pounder barrel cast c.1770 and is thought to be Austrian.

[2] Examples were taken from the field of Waterloo and are housed at the Royal Armouries Museum of Ordnance, Fort Nelson, Portsmouth, along with numerous 6 pounder and 1 x 12 pounder.



Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2004