Tag: French History

BONUS CHAT WITH THE SIECLE PODCAST – BRITAIN AND FRANCE AFTER WATERLOO

Bonus episode of The Age of Victoria & The Siècle! Learn about the differences between how France and Britain experienced the years after Waterloo in a conversation between your host Chris Fernandez-Packham and David Montgomery, host of the Siecle Podcast.

We chat about the state of Britain and France after the battle of Waterloo, to around 1830. I really enjoyed this opportunity chat to a fellow history fan. British and French history is deeply entwined and getting perspectives of each was fascinating. If you haven’t listened to the Siecle, please do because it is covering the same period as the Age of Victoria, but for the French. It will increase your understanding of the C19th immensely and is also extremely enjoyable.

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EP011 Congress of Vienna pt 1 “A Brave old world”

Every European school child should have learnt about the Congress of Vienna. Seriously. It is actually possibly the most important series of events in modern history that no one has ever heard of. 

Honestly, how many of us have heard of it, or know what it was, or what happened? We should and not just because it is important or worthy. It is a fascinating tail in its own right. Who would rule France? Would there be a Poland? What about the Pope or the Prussians? Who would control the Baltic or the Mediterranean? Who would end up in power, and who would end up dead? Politicians and kings squared off. Devious spies, and clever diplomats faced imperial generals or experienced statesmen. Flattery, bribery and corruption vied with high minded principle. Hypocrisy warred with genuine optimism. Had they disposed a tyrant only to create new tyrannies? Clever, ruthless men like Talleyrand destroyed incriminating archives, attempting to shape history itself.

This is part one of the story of how the modern nations of Europe were born, who shaped them and why.

Join me and find out about the brave old world that the old elite of Europe were attempting to build.

EP010 EXIT NAPOLEON

Here end the Napoleonic Wars. The revolution is over. France is beaten and it seems Britain is set to take over power in Europe, and perhaps the world. Learn how France fell, how the political battles ousted Napoleon & doomed the Marshals, and the final triumph of the great British Napoleonic Army.

Email any questions to ageofvictoriapodcast@gmail.com

Episode 008 Waterloo Pt 3: The climax

The climax of the Battle of Waterloo. The fate of Napoleon, France and Europe hangs in the balance. The French seem poised for victory. Can a thin line of brave Scotsmen and the dashing British cavalry save the Allies from defeat?

This episode covers

The heroic Scots

The British Heavies and the Charge of the Greys by Lady Butler

The arrival of the Prussians

The massed French cavalry charges

The dire position of the brave 27 (Irish) Inniskillens

The last attack of the Imperial Guard

Total victory & total defeat.

A post script to a pair of brave soldiers.

Episode 006 Waterloo Pt1: Destiny dawns

The dawn of the day of Waterloo brings only fear, discomfort and suffering. This is the first in the Waterloo episodes series. It covers

  • The feelings of the men and a most important breakfast.
  • Why Napoleon felt he was onto a sure thing.
  • The weather and terrain.
  • The reasons why Waterloo was chosen, and how it compares to some other historical battles.
  • The mental state of senior commanders.
  • Deployment, tactics, plans and confusion.
  • The last grand review of the Armee Du Nord.

Waterloo can be a confusing battle, so maps are available on the website.

TRANSCRIPT: Episode 004 The Emperor marches to war

  1. Here we are then. The scene is set. It must be war. The politics, the philosophy and the cultures of the European great powers are now to be decided on the battlefields. In many ways this conflict was about far more than Napoleon, or even the ideals of the French revolution versus the Ancien Regime. This is the climax of a clash that defined Europe since the discovery of the New World. Would Europe be a land empire, ruled by the French, facing the mediterranean and projecting power to the old core of Western civilisation, into the Balkans and the middle east, or would the British Atlantic facing international empire triumph. That might sound outlandish, but some historians have certainly viewed it that way. Britain had financed Prussia and other nations to attack the French to conquer French oversea’s territories. William Pitt the Elder, a famous British politician had explicitly stated this aim “While we had France for an enemy, Germany was the scene to employ and baffle her arms.” meaning that Britain would arm and finance continental powers to weaken the French to seize French oversea’s colonies. Read More

Episode 005 Quatre Bras – the chance to change history

Europe was at war. The fate of nations and armies hung in the balance. As people made hard choices, Napoleon began his attack. He planned to beat the Prussians, but that meant Marshal Ney had to face the British and their allies. Here was a chance for swift and decisive victory, but was Ney the man to seize it?

This episode covers

Implications of being in the war zone

Position of the armies

Why Ligny and Quatre Bras were key battles

Detailed analysis of pre-battle events and orders

The Battle of Quatre Bras and a background on Marshal Ney

Consequences and the missing day.

Speculation on psychology of Marshal Ney.

Episode 004 Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte marches to war!

In the trouble world of 1815, there can be no peace in Europe. Napoleon must go to war. Join me in discovering how the storm clouds of war that had gathered over Europe finally broke.

This episode covers

An introduction to the position of the forces on 14 June 1815

How the armies began their open moves and the views of the key players.

A description of how the chaos of war was both tamed and unleashed.

Why Napoleon was making the best moves of the war and Wellington was making the worst.

The start of the battles, and confusion in command

Finally the crucial meeting on the eve of 16 June 1815, and how French gold opportunities were lost.

TRANSCRIPT Episode 002 Napoleon and the French Army in 1815

  1. This is the remastered version of episode 2. When I started podcasting, I was very much still learning about sound quality and editing. Looking back, I slightly shudder at how the early shows sounded. I have rerecorded some of the early shows to give new listeners a better experience. Content wise, they are pretty much the same, with some tweaks for clarity. 
  2. What price is too high for ambition? It can be a difficult question. Ambition has driven us throughout history. It can be what makes a person strive for aN education or a job. It has built monuments and civilisations. But it has limits. How far is too ambitious? Does it depend on who you are? Or are the consequences more important? Is it ok to let your ambition kill people? After all just becoming a President or a Prime Minister or a Tsar means you will end up having people killed. Someone has to do those jobs though. If you exclude one person for being too ambitious, how do you know that the next person will be up to the job? Isn’t a certain amount of ruthlessness and ambition exactly what’s needed in a great leader? What should people with incredible talents and ambition do? If you are an Alexander or a Caesar, that ambition is going to kill people, but you know that you are cut from another cloth to most people. Because if people like Alexander or Caesar aren’t ambitious, then how does civilisation move and evolve? Without Caesar, maybe Rome stays a Mediterranean power, and there is no modern France or Spain or Britain. There’s no Constantinople; perhaps even no Crusades or contact with China – so maybe the world never moves past the technology, social structures and populations of 1st century AD. Imagine a world that doesn’t change from then and try to imaging what that’s like.
  3. The Victorians absolutely had to deal with this ambition problem though. It wasn’t an academic issue for them. Cecil Rhodes, Charles Napier, “Chinese” Gordon, Abraham Lincoln were all people who had to put a large dose of ambition and a willingness to see people dead to achieve what they thought were larger goals. Throughout our period, the British Victorians were building an Empire as were the French, Prussians, Russians and North Americans. That often leads to some very uncomfortable questions, about who is building it and why. That leads me to another trait that these great men often have, and that’s “they have a self confidence you could bend iron bars around.” That’s going to be a key to understanding the Age of the Victorians right there, the almost insane self confidence we’re going to see again and again. Searching for the source of the Nile, or the Northern Passage, journeying up the Amazon or taking a handful of soldiers and scraped together forces against enormous odds in far flung parts of the world.
  4. Think about what’s the biggest gamble you’ve ever taken? Have you ever staked it all on a risky throw of the dice? When most of us say we have taken a gamble, we usually mean something mundane like trying a new restaurant or seeing a film or going on a date. Even the big stuff is usually fairly small in the grand scheme of things. Quitting a job, starting a business or moving house is rarely going to kill you, and even if it does that is limited to you and your family. What I think we all have in common is a sense of fear of the unknown and that moment where the urge to jump on a chance becomes unbearable.
  5. In 1815, in what has to be one of the great gambles in world history, Napoleon left Elba with a handful of men to reconquer France. Now I can’t really imagine how Napoleon felt when he left Elba on 26 February 1815 and landed in France on 01 March 1815. I’m not going through the whole history of Napoleon. I’m going to assume that you know something about his rise from provincial nobody to revolutionary general to 1st Consul to Emperor of the French and master of Europe to exile on Elba. His return started what was known as the 100 days. With just 1,000 men, he invaded France. That has to be one of the most utterly self confident things anyone has ever done. Still, he was not leaping in the dark. The returned Monarchy had quickly wasted any goodwill it had, and it had treated the officers and men of the old Grand Armee disgracefully. The exiled aristocratic class had  been banished from France after the French revolution, but had returned and begun the usual aristocratic practice of extraction, rents and despotism. The old army and people of France were ready for help to fight the tyranny of monarchy, but people’s sentiments were mixed and many just feared the chaos of a new war.
  6. Napoleon was like a lot of the “great men” of history – he had a belief in fortune and some greater destiny. He felt he was marked out for greatness. And if you look at him, you can see why. He was unquestionably an intellectual genius who was one of the greatest military commanders in history. At his best he was nearly incomparable. He regularly appears in the top 5 military leaders in history. He also possessed a highly scientific mind, and a formidable legal brain. It is worth remembering as we evaluate him and Waterloo, that he was also the sole ruler of France at the time, responsible for all civil affairs in her borders and colonies. He also had to deal with all international diplomatic relations, re-order the constitution and economy, re-form and re-supply the military then at the same time fight a campaign against an international coalition determined to use the resources of their combined nations to destroy him. I think you will come to see that the surprise is not that Wellington with Prussian help beat Napoleon, but how amazing it is he came so close to actually winning.
  7. I’m going to quickly digress as I think we should put the issue of Napoleon’s height to rest. He was 5ft 4 inches in French Imperial measure, which was 5ft 7 inches in British Imperial measure. That made him of average height for France in the early 1800’s. A number of modern political leaders are also the same height. For comparison, the Duke of Wellington was probably around 5ft 10inches. A lot of the reason for the confusion was highly effective British propaganda that made him out to be small, physically weak, combined with the mistranslation over the height from French measure to British Imperial. Later on Tolstoy (who loathed Napoleon) called him [quote] “the undersized Napoleon” [end quote] as well as other unflattering descriptions. Dr Alfred Adler, a psychiatrist first proposed the Napoleon complex to describe short men over compensating with aggression, which has set the myth in stone.
  8. Now let’s have a look at France on the eve of Waterloo campaign in the year 1815. She was without a doubt the great power of the age. She had a large population and was agriculturally rich. Like Britain she was a predominantly agrarian society with the bulk of the population involved in farming or labour, but was behind in industrial terms. Unlike Britain, France was not a strong naval power. A focus on continental strategy, rather than blue water power projection combined with a series of naval defeats meant France was unable to challenge British naval dominance, which was absolute in 1815. This had a huge impact on French strategy. When naval historians and strategists talk about navies, they will try and define the role of the navy. Navies can be vital in securing trade routes, for costal defence, troop transport, commerce raiding and if capable of long campaigns far from the home base, they can be called Blue Water navies. That means they can project power whether military, commercial or diplomatic, a long way from the home country. That can make them tremendously powerful. The down side is that they are immensely expensive. Just putting a fleet to sea costs more than money; it requires materials to build the ship, often these are hard to obtain. The British had to import timber from the Baltic. It’s not just materials to build though, fleets need men and supplies. They need training, secure harbours, support vessels, and as Mahon noted in his immensely influential work “The Impact of Sea Power on History”, a huge merchant marine fleet to give depth. They also need an arms industry tailored to their specific needs that can keep replacement weapons and ammunition flowing. The upside of this is that if you have a powerful navy, you can do a lot of things that perhaps your opponent can’t. In 1815, Britain had that navy and Napoleon didn’t. Not only did Britain have that fleet, but it could do the lot. It was a blue water fleet and could strike anywhere, but it could also protect commerce, transport troops, raid enemy merchants and blockade enemy ports. Lack of a blue water navy had condemned France to a continental strategy, and they missed the opportunity to assume a dominant role in controlling the Mediterranean. The British fleet allowed a global network of trade, colonisation and slavery that brought immense wealth and power to Britain. This in turn meant the French couldn’t control trade routes or prevent British troop movements by sea. As soon as Napoleon returned, almost the first thing that happened was that the Royal Navy swept the sea’s around France clean of French shipping. Getting supplies and allies from overseas would be an immensely difficult task for the Emperor.
  9. Napoleon was in a difficult position politically when he returned to France. He instituted important reforms, and established a civilian government. He was the Emperor, but his position was precarious, so the civilian authorities had considerable power. Napoleon had to topple the monarchy and set up a new government, then fend off the various invasions. That was not the time for full on ballot box democracy. It is a mistake to view him as a dictator at this stage though. He actually had somewhat less power than he did before his previous exile, and would rely more heavily on the civilian government.
  10. Napoleon in 1815 was not the same Napoleon who had repeatedly thrashed the powers of Europe in 1800-1806. He was older, fatter, slower and less energetic but the Emperor was not to be taken lightly. He was still renowned as a master of war with a glittering list of victories that went from Spain to Russia, from Italy to the Baltic and from the Danube to the Nile. He was not invincible as the disasters in Spain and Russia had proved, but his final defence of France in 1814 had been brilliant. Napoleon in 1815 had a serious problem though. He needed one thing above all else and that was time. He needed it because the powers at the congress of Vienna had declared him an outlaw and would form the 7th Coalition. He had put out peace feelers and appeared to be genuinely willing to work within an international framework. The war was not the Old World of Europe against France, it was against Napoleon. He needed time to get his veteran soldiers to return to the colours. He needed time to levee new recruits. He needed time to re-write the constitution, and completely restructure the economy, he needed time to get his Marshals to return to him and he needed the former prisoners of war who had been returned to be re-enlisted. That was a real problem for Napoleon because he knew that time was a double edged sword. The longer he waited, the more troops and supplies his enemies could put in the field against him.
  11. In an unfortunate stroke of timing, Napoleon had returned to France during the international Congress of Vienna. The former combatants had gathered to create what they claimed would be a new European order of peace and security. It would also just happen to re-establish the old aristocracies, especially in France because hey we’ve seen what happens when you put the people in charge, they actually want to try to run things and distribute land fairly, have an even handed legal system, abolish privilege and all kinds of non-sense. Luckily we can fix all that and oh crap Napoleon is back. Didn’t we just get rid of him?
  12. So the representatives of the European powers assembled at the Congress of Vienna issued a declaration outlawing Napoleon and agreed to place armies of at least 150,000 each in the field to oppose him.
  13. The Coalition Powers agreed on a coordinated invasion of France to start on 1 July 1815.
  14. Britain and Prussia would assemble their armies in Belgium (a territory recently acquired by United Kingdom of the Netherlands)
  15. The Russians would assemble an army and advance through Germany towards the French frontier
  16. The Austrians would assemble two armies and advance on the French frontiers
  17. The troops of Bavaria, Baden, Wurtemberg, and Hesse, would assemble their troops on the upper Rhine under the command of the Prince of Württemberg.
  18. Now try to imagine that you suddenly have to arrange to defend an entire country after you’ve just overthrown the government. You have to cover the frontiers, plan a strategy and set the victory conditions you want to achieve, create an organisational structure, move troops by horse, cart and foot, and work using only hand drawn maps. If you lose, it might cost you your life and your country could be conquered or broken up. A lot of us struggle to organise a routine office move, so try to conceive of the scale of the task that Napoleon has here. When he took over government on 19 March 1815 from the debased and despised Louise XVIII he inherited the standing army of just 46,000 combat ready troops. By the end of May Napoleon had managed to raise this to 198,000. Think about how difficult some companies find it to recruit even a handful of low level staff and now scale it up to the massive numbers Napoleon needed. He needed boots, uniforms, horses, reserves, gun limbers, carriages, bandages, food, muskets, ammunition, maps and a huge array of other supplies. To give you another idea of the scale of the challenge, remember that Napoleon didn’t just have to defeat the British & Prussians in Belgium. He had to prepare for an expected Spanish invasion, an expected British naval landing in Southern France, guard the Swiss and Italian borders and the frontiers of the Prussian/German states. The Allies could potentially field 989,000 men against him. 
  19. I think you are beginning to see that far from some of the Victorian myths of Wellington “The Iron Duke” thrashing Napoleon at Waterloo and stopping the tyrant, in fact it was highly unlikely that Napoleon would succeed.
  20. Napoleon acted with characteristic brilliance. He carefully formed armies and smaller corps to cover the various trouble spots. He had a choice between a protracted defence of France, or to go on the offensive and try to defeat his enemies in detail before they could join up against him. By taking the fight to them he hoped that significant military victories would force them to the peace table. It is important to understand that everything Napoleon now did was to try to turn military advantages into diplomatic victories. It was a huge gamble though. It had failed utterly in Russia where he won battle after battle but his enemy simply refused to negotiate. Now he was fighting an enemy that wanted to destroy him personally. Some of the Coalition, such as Blucher, hated him and wanted him dead. They would no more negotiate with him than the Allies in WW2 would have negotiated with Hitler. It was all or nothing for most of them.
  21. Napoleon made things more difficult by making some fateful decisions. Ones that would perhaps doom him. He appointed one of best Marshals, Louis-Nicolas Davout, as his Minister of War. He was perfect for the role, both talented and loyal. His upright character and stern discipline meant he was utterly reliable. He was the right man for the job, but his presence as a marshal in the Waterloo campaign could very well have changed the course of history. Davout was a supreme military commander, arguably as good as Napoleon at the tactical, operational and theatre levels. His army corp was always the most disciplined and well supplied of the French forces.
  22. Had Davout commanded the field at Waterloo instead of Ney, there would have been no blunders with unsupported cavalry charges, nor would the infantry have been allowed to plod in so many of their attacks. If he had commanded at Quatre Bras instead of Ney, he would have understood why the battle was so important and the need for decisive action – something seemingly absent from Ney’s rather slow actions of the day. It is one of the great might have been’s that Napoleonic history buffs have discussed since then.
  23. The other killer mistake for Napoleon was appointing Joseph Fouché as his Police Minister and de facto spymaster, and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord to Foreign Minister. Both were ruthless, brilliant and utterly self centred with no scruples. Both had betrayed masters before with promises that they were acting in the best interest of France. Both were only absolutely loyal to themselves. Fouche quickly made himself indispensible, but Napoleon both mistrusted and somewhat feared him.
  24. On the upside Napoleon had many of his veterans. He had some capable marshals, who if not of the calibre of Massena, Lannes or Berthier his much missed Chief of Staff, at least included the Bravest of the Brave Marshal Ney and the formidable Marshal Soult. The Marshals are a fascinating group. Some of them had amazing careers. Indeed if not for Napoleon, some of them would be historical super stars but with the Emperor present they were always outshone. Soult’s position was especially interesting because rather than being given a corp or army command, he was appointed to the role of Chief of Staff. It was a role he was highly unsuited to, despite his strong performance in the Peninsular Wars. He was not tactically brilliant in the field like Napoleon or Massena but he was disciplined, courageous, a capable field commander, and a great organiser of armies. He had won a number of notable victories and had been instrumental in some of the Emperor’s successes. He had even had experience as a Chief of Staff in Spain. As an army commander he was highly respected by no lesser general than Wellington himself. In 1838 he represented King Louis-Philippe at the coronation of Queen Victoria. By then he was Duke of Dalmatia, and was pleased to hear cries of Vive Soult from the London crowd. He met his old adversary Wellington, who is said to have seized his arms and said “I have you at last”, a tribute to his difficulties fighting the wily Marshal in Spain. The evidence for this is a little slim, and might be from a fanciful painting, where the words are uttered by General Hill, not Wellington. Sadly, unlike Breathier, Soult struggled to translate Napoleon’s high level instructions into concrete detailed orders. Poor staff work dogged the campaign. Where Berthier ran a disciplined, efficient staff at a cracking pace, Soult was more leisurely. Berthier would send 3 messengers with the same order to ensure it reached the intended recipient, whereas Soult would only send one. It was also remarked that Soult used low quality horses and officers for the staff. It is unlikely that Berthier would have allowed the debacles of Grouchy or D’Erlon wandering aimlessly at crucial moments.
  25. Marshal Ney was another interesting choice. In his prime before 1812 he had been a fierce fighter and an exceptional winner of battles. After 1812 and the epic retreat from Moscow where he earned the title “Bravest of the Brave” he was not quite the same fiery genius. Napoleon writing with some hindsight said of him [QUOTE] “Admirable for his bravery and stubbornness in retreats, he was good when it came to leading 10,000 men, but with a larger force he was a real fool. Always first under fire, he forgot about troops who were not under his immediate command” [END QUOTE]
  26. When Napoleon marched north to confront the Coalition on 12th June, Marshal Ney went as a civilian and in disgrace having betrayed his Emperor then the Bourbons. He had been enticed by the Emperor to defect, and the troops cheered the decision of the beloved marshal to join the Emperor. Certainly it is likely that Napoleon had one eye on public opinion when he recalled Ney. Still he never really brought Ney back into the inner circle. Napoleon probably never forgave Ney for leading the marshals revolt that originally deposed the him.
  27. Ney was eventually summoned to join the Emperor on campaign. It was at short notice and Ney departed France with only 1 staff officer. Finally at a meeting with the Emperor on the road to Charleroi on the 15 June 1815, he was suddenly appointed to command of the 1st & 2nd Army Corp with 2 regiments of light cavalry of the Imperial Guard and 8 regiments of Kellerman’s heavy cavalry. This gave him a command of 50,000 men and 72 guns. These figures would not stay constant as brigades and divisions were abruptly shifted to command area’s as necessity dictated. It was a curiously spur of the moment appointment at a crucial moment in the campaign. Ney did not distinguish himself in terms of tactical or strategic ability on during the Waterloo campaign but his bravery was all that could be asked of a hero of France. Sadly, we will see it was an order of Ney’s to D’Erlon that probably doomed Napoleon before Waterloo was even fought. In fairness to Ney, being given command of an army on the march on the eve of a critical battle is a hellish task. He would have had to find out where, on the confused roads of Belgium, his troops, officers and supplies were, meet his officers, take control of them and begin his planning. He had to do this with horse messengers and hand written notes. I think for all his faults, history is often unkind to Ney. He was placed in a very difficult situation and the sight of Ney at the end of Waterloo is a display of courage almost unequalled on either side.
  28. The last of the Marshals was Grouchy. He was a brave cavalry leader who had impressed Napoleon at Wagram but had remained an overlooked general. His unexpected elevation to Marshal caused immense jealousy from his subordinates. Grouchy had never been good at getting the best from his officers and this appointment inflamed the hatred that Vandamme already had for his superior. Worse he had no experience of leading infantry or combined forces and his main achievements had always been under the command of the more capable Marshals like Davout or Lannes or when he was directly under the control of the Emperor.
  29. The whole myth of the disciplined British against the brave, dashing but undisciplined French became a Victorian myth but one that perhaps contained a good deal of truth. Certainly there are accounts that suggest that most troops and junior officers were fanatically loyal to the Emperor. A good number were veterans or former POW’s who were thirsty for revenge, many the victims of torture in captivity. The senior officers were more conflicted and many feared that the Emperors return meant France was destined for yet more wars. I’m not sure if they considered that actually committing wholeheartedly to Napoleon was the best chance for the French Republic to not just survive but thrive. The senior generals and marshals were in some ways disliked. They were seen as old and disloyal. Men who had owed everything to Napoleon yet had betrayed him. The return of Ney and Soult to the cause was welcome, but the army was not exactly a cohesive force. It has been described by many historians as being like a fine but brittle sword. It was the best army Napoleon had commanded for years and was filled with veterans, but at the same time it didn’t have the deep discipline and trust. It hadn’t had much time to practise together to develop real bonds of trust between the men, and the essential small unit cohesion that helps troops know what their fellows are going to do without having to be told.
  30. EDIT FROM HERE
  31. The French troops were mainly line infantry. The typical French Infantryman was armed with a smoothbore, muzzle loading musket and carrying a knapsack.
  32. Muskets are accurate at up to around 50 yards, but could still kill at up to 300 yards. A good shooter with a musket could reliably hit a man sized target at 50 yards, but at 300 yards aiming was pointless. Soldiers simply fired into the mass of enemy on the principle it would hit something. Crucially, the musket was reliable, relatively quick firing, easy to produce in large numbers, and study enough to use in hand to hand. A blow from the butt of a musket could crush a man’s skull. Muskets were primitive compared to the highly accurate rifles and machine guns of later armies, but as historian John Elting wrote: [QUOTE] “In their own time they made and broke empires; they won, and nailed down, the independence of the USA. Together with the Roman short sword and the Mongol composite bow, they rank as the greatest man-killers of all-history.” [QUOTE] 
  33. Most French infantry carried the ‘Charleville’ musket (fusil d’infanterie) model 1777 (AN IX), with overall length 151.5 cm, (barrel length 114 cm), and a triangular bayonet. It fired a French musket ball of .69 calibre using a flint lock. It was so popular that it was widely copied. The French version 1766 was so highly regarded it was the basis of the iconic American Springfield Musket 1795. Ammunition was cast to an approximate size, and there were no interchangable machine parts so standardise replacement parts weren’t typically available, so repairs needed an experienced gun smith. The quality of gun powder was variable and Napoleon would refuse to release gun powder producers for active service as their work was too valuable.
  34. The flintlock musket revolutionised warfare. They were powerful, large calibre weapons, and getting hit by one was almost certain to put a man down, even if he later recovered. They easily shattered bones, and shredded organs as the soft lead balls deformed on impact.
  35. To increase accuracy, mass volleys were used on the principle that quantity of fire would make up for low quality accuracy. This created a lethal kill zone at around the 50-150 yard mark and a danger zone at up to 300 yards, but it required intense discipline. Debates ranged in military circles about the best formations. Napoleon and the French adapted many of the best practices from other nations and perfected them. 
  36.  Lack of production facilities for muskets and ammunition limited the supplies. Training was also of increasingly low quality. In contrast inBritain, the industrial revolution and imperial trade networks meant plenty of ammunition was available. British troops trained for far long. 
  37. There is a misconception that the French fought in large columns, but this is not true. The French used the 2 ranks formation at a tactical level at close range. At a larger level the various lines would combined to form the Attack Column. The attack column is not the same as the long deep marching column. It was more a rectangle formed by the individual companies of soldiers not a solid mass of men marching in a deep mass like you see on a parade ground or on the road. 
  38. The columns were supported by screens of skirmishing troops that picked off enemy officers and covered the advance. A small volley might be fired on the way in and attacks were usually supported by heavy artillery fire and cavalry wherever possible, with columns trying to cross the lethal fire zones created by the lines of enemy troops.
  39. The precise formations varied throughout the Napoleonic wars. The highly trained French army of 1805 was able to adopt various formations that were beyond the abilities of the army of 1815, which didn’t. the training to adopt complex formations. Losses of high quality officers and NCO only exacerbated the problem. As the French infantry abilities decayed, the army relied more heavily on artillery and cavalry.
  40. Napoleon especially loved the heavy cavalry. Big men, on big horses with full cuirasses and heavy straight swords. A well timed charge by the Cuirassiers could smash enemy lines or shatter enemy counter attacks. He was careful that his Marshals and Generals ensured that the Heavy Cavalry didn’t charge unsupported by infantry or artillery. Napoleon developed the concentrated heavy cavalry doctrine and their use as a breakthrough force throughout his career, but they were supposed to be integrated rather than charging unsupported.
  41. The French also used various light cavalry, dragoons and lancers. Lancers were especially feared as they could under the right conditions reach past the bayonet wall of an infantry square and spear the men, especially if it was too wet to fire muskets. The British military were so impressed with the lancers that they adopted them for cavalry, although later reports on combat effectiveness in India were mixed. Dragoons would sometimes find themselves burdened with carbines and bayonets, whilst some light infantry officers and dragoons would be given rifle carbines. 
  42. The artillery, referred to as guns, were the key to French tactics, as Napoleon said [QUOTE]Great battles are won with artillery. [END QUOTE] Yet a persistent issue for the French was lack of quality artillery pieces with plenty of ammunition.
  43. The French often requisitioned older guns for costal defence and Napoleon focused obsessively on his artillery. He and senior officers had done a vast amount of work to standardise and improve the artillery to make it world class. It suffered dreadfully in Russia and never truly recovered. It seems clear on reflection that British Artillery was of a consistently higher manufacturing quality, but sometime less effective.
  44. Uniforms varied widely depending on the time period, the whims of the local colonel, the vagaries of supplies and the interference of various re-organisations. Campaign clothing was often tattered and dirty, a world away from the formal regulation clothing worn on parade. The organisation of the Imperial Guard was kept separate and it acted in some ways as an independent army which drew higher and pay and was fed the best rations.
  45. The combined discipline of the French army, the battlefield brilliance of the fighting marshals, and the genius of Napoleon in bringing the maximum force against a limited point of his enemies’ lines and shattering them had allowed the French to become in 1805 the finest army in the world. The Emperor focused on fast movement, pinning attacks to the front whilst attacking the flanks and the rear and the ability to move his army corps in a dispersed fashion only to quickly converge at key points. Above all the Emperor was adaptable, expertly selecting the right tools and formations for whatever challenge was presented. He preferred an offensive campaign to allow him to deal early knockout blows against his enemies, overcoming the logistical shortcomings of the French field armies by winning the war before supplies became an issue. Too often the French army relied on the brilliant leadership insane bravery to make up for serious organisational difficulties.
  46.  Whatever the short comings, Napoleon had to fight. He would teach the coalition how the Master waged war. He had achieved the impossible by seizing the throne and assembling the armies. Now he moved so fast that the coalition still believed he was in France, when he was actually marching to divide the British and Prussians. His goal was to destroy the Prussians, then the British before they had time to react. He nearly succeeded.
  47. Before I go though, I hope you are getting a sense of how tough and brave and powerful the French Army under Napoleon really was. The French have been the butt of some appalling jokes, and US President Bush referred to them as “Cheese eating surrender monkeys” This is a gross slur on an extremely brave and hard fighting nation. The French under Napoleon routinely displayed incredible courage under fire, and conquered most of Europe. The repeated charges of the British squares by the French Heavy Cavalry alone was valour of the highest order, and the British respected them immensely for it. Throughout much of her history France was regarded as the pre-eminent military and social power in Europe. Join me next time to find out about the famous British army of 1815 under the legendary Duke of Wellington.

Episode 002 Napoleon and the French Army in 1815

In this episode I indulge my passion for Napoleonic history, and explore my fascination with Napoleon. I cover the great gamble of his return from exile, his struggles, the options available to him, and that magnificent instrument of war…..the French Army.

This show covers

  • The benefits and cost of ambition.

  • Napoleon’s gamble to retake the French throne.

  • The position of France, and the role of navies. 

  • Rebuilding the French army, and what strategy to use?

  • Davout, Ney, Soult and Grouchy – the Marhals.

  • The musket; the infantryman’s best friend, and killer.

  • How to form up to die.

  • The cavalry – The Big Boots

  • The artillery – Napoleon’s daughters

  • The Emperor’s first moves.

Thanks for your listening. I hope you enjoyed the show. If you want to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at ageofvictoriapodcast@gmail.com, follow me on twitter @ageofvictoria, visit the website at www.ageofvictoriapodcast.com. The show also has a facebook page and group. Just search for Age of Victoria. Don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes, it takes less time than making a coffee. If you want to support the show on patreon, just click here, or you can go to Patreon and search for age of victoria podcast or my name.

The transcript for this episode can be found at

http://www.ageofvictoriapodcast.com/transcript-episode-002-napoleon-french-army-1815/