French Artillery, 1789-1800
By Yves Martin
1) Organization prior to the Revolution: 1789-1790
It is quite ironic that the man, whose name became synonymous with French artillery predominance for the next 25 years of conflict, would die just prior to the events, which set in motion the French revolution.
Jean-Baptiste de Gribeauval, the general who so aptly reformed French artillery died on 5th May 1789. He left a branch of service well prepared for its duties and at the top of technological achievement.
The Royal Corps of Artillery was organized as follows:
7 permanent regiments:
La Fère, Metz, Besançon, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Auxonne, Toul, des Colonies.
The Corps consisted of:
98 companies of gunners
In total: 11085 men, 784 guns, and 224 howitzers/mortars
In addition, there were seven reserve regiments:
The "provincial" artillery regiments were associated geographically and organically to each standing regiment. This could add a further 9940 men. On 30th September 1789, these seven reserve regiments were disbanded, as were all provincial troops.
Seven regimental schools could provide 6 cadets per year, per school.
Technically, the Corps of Artillery was still part of the infantry branch of service. Under the title of Royal-Artillerie, it ranked 64th in the list of infantry units. It was only in September 1790 that the artillery became fully independent. Even then some confusion lasted almost throughout the entire period. Once the "amalgame" was put in effect, it resulted in all the former infantry regiments effectively disappearing - thus the artillery took the first rank in the army!
On 2nd December 1790, a decree stated the organization as follows:
7 regiments, 6 companies of miners, 10 companies of workers in total 9556 men. Additionally there were 8 companies of "invalid-gunners", an unspecified number of coastal artillery companies and the colonies artillery regiment.
Each regiment was organized into 2 battalions of 10 companies. Each battalion was subdivided into 2 divisions of 5 companies.
Each company "au pied de paix" (in times of peace) would include:
The staff of the regiment was:
All miner companies were located in Verdun, each being of 4 officers and 63 men. The companies of workers were organized along the lines of the artillery companies.
The sapper companies have been amalgamated into the seven regiments. Bombardiers and sappers now had the rank of gunner.
Another important point to note is that the artillery corps was to be supervised by 9 "inspecteurs généraux" (4 lieutenants-généraux, 5 maréchaux de camp), but none had the rank of first inspector. This officialized the disappearance of this rank whose last owner was Gribeauval himself.
In total, in time of peace, artillery had a theoretical strength of 8663 men and by pushing the company strength up to 100, it could field up to 15,600 men in times of war. Also, in theory this force could man 846 guns.
2) The Organization in 1791
The regulation of 1st April 1791 presents another stage in the evolution of the artillery - very much in line with other revolutionary period decisions.
Overall, the Royal Corps of Artillery comprised of:
8 artillery regiments
a) Artillery regiments
The name and the geographical "linkage" of regiments were dropped:
La Fère became 1st artillery regiment
Each regiment was to have 2 battalions and a headquarters. Each battalion would consist of 10 companies comprising: gunners, bombardiers and sappers all having the rank of gunner.
Each company was organized into two sections, themselves into two escouades (squads). The 10 companies of each battalion in turn were organized into two divisions of 5 companies each. The theoretical strength of a regiment was therefore 90 officers and 1,117 men.
b) Miner companies:
Each had 2 sections of 4 squads each. For each company: 68 men.
c) Worker companies
Each had 4 squads (2 per section). Each company: 59 men.
On 20 September 1791, the strength of an artillery company was raised to 79 men and the regiment totaled 1,607 men. This change was prompted by alarmist speeches made at the national assembly throughout the Spring and Summer of 1791.
3) The Organization in 1792
The year 1792 is the year major instrumental and innovative changes were made - some lasting much beyond the Napoleonic period.
a) Decree of 18 March 1792 - Law of 18 March 1792.
This law created gunner companies to serve along with National Guard units. These were actually the forerunners of the so-called "regimental" artillery.
Two guns could be attached to each national guard battalion. A company of 36 national guard gunners was organized to serve these. Any other existing gunner company then operating with or within the national guard was thus "reformed". The national guard gunner companies were under the orders of the battalion commander and were not an independent body outside of the national guard. Towns which raised national guard units were expected to provide weapons, uniforms, and ammunition for these troops.
c) Decree of 17th April 1792 - Law of 29th April 1792
This even more fundamental innovation is linked to the creation of horse artillery. Following an inspection tour on the eastern border, Minister Narbonne insisted on the importance of "flying artillery" for the Prussians and Austrians - the decree/law was the immediate consequence of this inspection.
Two companies were initially created in Metz by General Mathieu Dumas under the command of Captains Chanteclair and Barrois. The 1st was dispatched to the army of Luckner and the second to the army of La Fayette. The guns were 4 pounders and 20 pound howitzers. The men were poor riders but "had the devil in their body" as a contemporary observer wrote.
Given this initial dash, all other generals began asking for similar units; thus 9 companies of horse gunners were created. These were linked to the existing foot artillery regiments. Two companies were raised for each of the first two regiments and one for the 5 others. Each company had 76 men. In order to ensure that this change was made immediate, 645 men were transferred from foot to horse service within the artillery corps - these men being in turn replaced for foot artillery service.
d) Decree of 25th may 1792 - Law of 30th may 1792
In reality, the artillery was lacking about 3000 men to be at its theoretical strength It was proposed to levy 12 men per battalion in the infantry in order to complete the corps. This was based on the assumption that many veterans of the royal army had been effectively trained in gunnery either for sea service or in America.
4) The Organization in 1793
The horse artillery gradually gained in strength and its existence confirmed via several decrees.
On 21/2/93 a decree brought the total of horse artillery
companies up to 20 companies.
In addition several decrees continued to provide for replacements and transfers to ensure that the corps was up to strength.
On 21 February 1793, the project of creating regimental artillery was formalized. For each "demi-brigade", 1 company of foot artillery was attached, equipped with six 4 pounders. At the same time, the "amalgame" was set in motion bringing together into the demi-brigades, the battalions of the former Royal Army and the battalions of volunteers. In total this created 198 demi-brigades of line infantry and thus 198 artillery companies serving 1,228 four-pounder guns. In actuality this theoretical strength never probably was never reached, and the necessary equipment never pulled together for service. On 25th January 1798, this practice was to discontinued (with one notable exception for the Armee d'Orient - see below).
On 23 October 1793, the six companies of miners were transferred to the corps of engineers.
5) The Organization in 1794
On 2 July 1794, the horse artillery, previously attached to the foot artillery regiments was organized into full-fledged regiments: 9 light artillery regiments, each with 10 companies of 84 men.
6) The Organization in 1795
The law of 7 May 1795 was the first comprehensive reorganization since the start of the wars.
The artillery branch of service was composed of: Generals, troops, directions, schools and other establishments.
a) There were 20 generals in charge of both troops and equipment. Eight held the rank of general de division. Probably to be charged within each army of the command of the artillery for that army. Twelve were généraux de brigade, 8 of which being in the command of the artillery schools.
b) The troops:
8 foot artillery regiments
The regiment of artillery and the companies of workers linked to the colonies were merged into the standard army artillery (instead of being part of navy/colonies).
Each foot artillery regiment was organised as follows:
Staff: 17 men (12 officers, 5 men)
Each horse artillery regiment was composed of:
4 officers and 83 men.
The "Corps des Pontonniers" was created with the aim of building and maintaining the bridges on the Rhine (so strategically crucial for the Republic):
It was headed up by a "chef de bataillon" and had 8 companies, each of 12 officers and 72 men.
In addition this law allocated the inspection and the direction of services to 226 officers established in the arsenals and fortresses: 8 generaux de division, 12 generaux de brigade, 29 chefs de brigade, 33 chefs de bataillon and 144 captains.
In total, the artillery branch of service had reached a theoretical total of 41,410 men of all ranks.
On 26th October 1795, 7 demi-brigades d'Artillerie de Marine were created, effectively putting the navy artillery to use as infantry regiments, something to be seen again later in 1813.
7) The Organization in 1798
In January 1798, the artillery attached to the demi-brigades was disbanded...except for the units leaving with Bonaparte for Egypt. Thus the Armee d'Orient was to keep throughout the campaign an organization which had long been made obsolete in Europe.
8) The Organization in 1799
A law dated 9 September 1799 laid out in great detail the final organization of the Artillery of the Revolutionary wars.
Artillery was composed of:
A specific staff: 226 officers
In all: 27,861 men
8 generaux de division, 5 of which with the armies in the
b) Foot artillery
Each regiment: 20 companies and a total strength of 1,888 men
2 captains (one 1st class, one 2nd class)
In total: 93 men
14 foot artillery companies were with the Armee d'Orient.
c) Horse Artillery
6 companies and a total strength of 466
Total: 10 men
1 captain (either 1st or 2nd class)
Total: 76 men
4 horse artillery companies were with the Armee d'Orient.
Each company: 4 officers and 83 men including 30 apprentices and 40 workers
One company was with the Armee d'Orient
e) Ouvriers Artistes
1,920 men divided into 32 brigades of 60 men each.
f) Pontonniers (bridgelayers)
There were two battalions. This actually doubled the number of men dedicated to this type of work within the armies.
Each battalion: 599 men. Staff: 7 men.
The battalion had 8 companies, each company:
1 Captain (1st or 2nd class)
Total 74 men
The school in Chalons had 3 commandants considered part of the specific staff (etat-major particulier). It also had 6 professors, 50 students, 1 sergeant and 80 gunners.
The other 8 artillery schools each had 2 professors, one "repetiteur" (junior teacher), 1 sergeant-major, and 489 second class gunners.
h) Other units etc.
There were 561 "employees" which covered mostly administrative chores: arsenal controllers, veteran masterworkers etc.
There were 13 companies of veteran gunners. In total 676 men - each company having 52 men, including 4 officers and 39 gunners.
There were 130 companies of Coastal Volunteer Gunners: 9,100 men - each company having 70 men including 3 officers and 55 gunners.
Some final corrections to this organisation were made through a supplementary law on 20th September 1799:
Each of the 160 companies of foot artillery saw its strength increased by
1 lieutenant en second
9) Organization in 1800
As the revolution came to an end, a final decision was made which was to have a lasting impact during the Empire: the creation of the train of artillery through a decree dated 3rd January 1800.
Up to then, the artillery train had been organized through private companies (a similar system prevailed in most of the rest of Europe). Bonaparte was one of the many generals who complained about this, as the actual service rendered by these private companies was of low standard.
The new organization called for battalions organized in 5 companies.
One being elite dedicated to the support of the horse
The elite company had 80 men (including NCOs) under the command of a marechal des logis chef, 2 marechaux des logis, and 4 brigadiers. The other companies had only 60 men.
Each battalion was under the command of one captain, one
"Artilleurs Francais 1720-1830" Carnet de La Sabretache; Numèro Special 1977.
General Susane. Histoire de l'Artillerie Française; Paris Reprint C.Terana 1992 (edition of 1874)
"L'Organisation Militaire Française 1789-1799" Parts 1 & 2; Carnet de La Sabretache; 4/1989 & 1/1990.
Notice Historique sur l'Organisation de l'Armée depuis la Révolution jusqu'a Nos Jours, Paris Imprimerie Nationale;1902.
I'd like to point out that the first source mentioned is a remarkable book published at the beginning of this century which lists ALL the laws, decrees etc. which resulted into changes in organisation of the French army ALONG WITH a full comment explaining why such changes were made. It's almost like having a good portion of the SHAT archives condensed in one book!