‘In 1792, a short time before the declaration of war, M. de Narbonne, who had succeeded M. Duportail in the department of war, formed at his office a committee, composed of very intelligent and well-informed officers: thither he summoned the generals of the three great divisions of the army, and the principal generals and field officers of the artillery and engineers. He ordered them to inquire into and decide upon the use of the horse artillery. The result of this conference will be seen in the following section. We cannot give a more correct idea of the organization and importance of the horse artillery than by relating the result of this famous conference. The officers who concurred in the following results were unquestionably the best informed in the French army.’
‘They resolved as fundamental points:
1. That a numerous horse artillery, well-served, and always kept complete in men and horses, is the surest method of protecting the evolutions of a corps but tolerably trained, by supporting its attack by the bayonet, and of rendering almost nugatory, by positions taken opportunely and with celerity, the advantage that troops, better disciplined, might promise themselves from their superiority in manoeuvering.
2. That for the effective employment of this horse artillery, and for the regulation of its service, training, etc., it is necessary to provide it with better horses than field artillery usually has, so that it might be transported with the greatest swiftness to whatever place it may be required at; and that the artillerists may be able to follow their pieces, and begin to fire as soon as they are placed.
3. That, to accomplish this object, it is better that the artillerymen should all be on horseback, than if they even partly rode upon wursts or stuffed caissons, because accidents are less frequent, movements more easy, retreat more certain, and horses more easily replaced.
4. That, without excluding pieces of any calibre, it appears most advantageous to make use of eight and twelve pounders, and six-inch howitzers.
5. That it is useless to train the horse-cannonier like a dragoon, intended for cavalry manoeuvres; that this would be diverting him, to no purpose, from his principal object; that it is sufficient if he be well-seated on horseback, accustomed to mount and dismount nimbly, to guide his horse freely, without confining him to any particular rank in following the pieces, and leaving to his judgment the task of learning to know, and to execute, if required, the cavalry manoeuvres, in which he may happen to be engaged.
6. That the manoeuvre a la prolonge should be employed whenever the impossibility of maneuvering with traces* would force the artillerymen to renounce them, because the horses remaining harnessed while the pieces are firing, all the time that is lost in taking off or putting to the limbers, is gained for profiting by the position taken, and because ditches and rivers can, in the manner, be crossed with the greatest celerity.
7. That, in order to form at once a sufficient number of companies of horse artillery, without weakening the artillery regiments, it would answer at first to attach to each piece two intelligent artillerymen, and to take the remainder from other corps, and chiefly from the light troops. Upon these principles this establishment was organized in the French armies, which have reaped such great advantages from it in all their campaigns.’
Regarding the calibres suited to employment by horse artillery, it is noted in Louis de Tousard’s American Artillerist’s Companion that, ‘The horse artillery make use of the same calibres and carriages as the field artillery . . .’. Further: ‘Though the 8-pounder be the most preferable calibre for the general service of the horse artillery, still the 12-pounder may be employed very advantageously; for it is equally susceptible of celerity in its motions. Its weight is only 1800 pounds, consequently six or eight horses, if the ground be difficult, are more than sufficient to execute, in conjunction with cavalry or chasseurs, the most prompt and decisive manoeuvres.’
More on the development of French Horse Artillery:
The French horse artillery originally had some of the gunners individually mounted and some mounted on wursts. The wurst was probably introduced in 1791, not as late as 1793. It should also be noted that if the wurst was used to transport gunners, the ammunition load would be reduced by the aggregate weight of the gunners mounted on the caisson. The wurst caissons were lighter than the ‘usual’ caissons, but soon disappeared as a vehicle for mounted gunners in the French service and all French horse artillerymen were individually mounted by about 1800.
Louis de Tousard stated that both 8- and 12-pounders were suitable for horse artillery service and that the 8-pounder and 6in howitzer were adopted for use by the French horse artillery arm. Gribeauval did not introduce horse artillery because of the ongoing arguments with Vallière over the introduction of the new field artillery system, which Vallière opposed. De Vregilles, after recommending to Gribeauval that a French horse artillery arm should be organized, was told by Gribeauval:: ‘You witness the difficulties and enemies which my endeavours to destroy ancient prejudices have raised against me; at a future period we may execute your plan; digest and improve upon it; for the present it would be asking too much.’ Gribeauval did not shut the door on horse artillery, but advised its advocate(s) to be patient and it would come later.
See Louis de Tousard’s American Artillerist’s Companion, Volume II, Chapter II, pages 33-67. For the horse artillery conference information, see page 41.