A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Friday, 27 May 2016

Sieges - The French Siege Train in the Peninsular War

One of the fortress gates at Almeida
My previous post identified the 25mm scale model I propose to use for Napoleon's 24pdrs in his siege train in Spain. So the next obvious question I have to ask myself is, "How many of these will I need?", which leads on to a pile of more general questions about what the siege train consisted of in real history.

Having thought about it for a while, I have decided that a rather pleasant way to educate myself on this topic is to re-read (and this time complete!) Donald D Horward's wonderful Napoleon and Iberia, with extra detail and nuts-and-bolts OOBs and equipment lists supplied from an ebook of Belmas' Sieges which I have here.

I am still assembling the bits and pieces to set about this, and am doing some preliminary poking about - just to get a feel for the subject. The French siege train is not brilliantly documented, unless you really dig for it. Horward's book is concerned with the French sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida in 1810, but if you look up the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo on Google all you will find is Wellington's successful siege in 1812.

In 1810, the French force before Ciudad Rodrigo consisted of Marshal Ney's (augmented) VI Corps, comprising the three infantry divisions of Marchand, Mermet and Loison, with a minimal cavalry force of one small light brigade under Lamotte, and with VI Corps' own artillery, commanded by General de Brigade Charbonnel, of 3 foot companies and 2 of horse - that's one foot battery for each infantry division, one horse battery for the cavalry and one horse battery as a reserve.

Charbonnel - commander of VI Corps' own artillery
In addition, attached to Ney, was the siege train of the Armée de Portugal, arrived from France, and equipped with 50 guns.

General Eblé - in charge of all the artillery of the Armée de Portugal,
including the siege train 
Here's the French OOB:
Belmas gives a lot of detail about the siege train - including the returns of it's commander, General Eblé - this covers how many roundshot and shells were fired, how many kilos of powder used, how many gabions used and so on and so on. For the moment, I shall merely note that the 50 guns consisted of 10 canons de 24, 7 canons de 16, 12 canons de 12, 8 obusiers (24pdr howitzers, I deduce from the returns of consumption of ammo), 4 mortiers de 12p, 3 mortiers de 8p, 4 mortiers de 6p and 2 pierriers (did they really fire rocks?). Again, I'm feeling my way here, but I gather the mortars are measured in pouces, so that a mortier de 8p is an 8-inch piece (approximately).

The siege train has seven identified companies of Artillérie à Pied - I have no idea (at this stage, anyway) whether these were kept as distinct "battery" units, or whether the personnel were mixed. Seven companies would be a sensible way of organising 50 guns anyway, so I have assumed that the artillery of VI Corps was available over and above the 50 pieces of the siege train.

I was surprised at the high proportion of 12pdr guns in the siege train - this suggests that the 7 companies might break down into something like:

2 batteries of heavy siege guns (24pdrs and 16pdrs), 2 of 12pdrs, 1 of howitzers and 2 of mortars. Adding a large sprinkle of wargamer's licence, I propose to make that 3 units of big guns (at 2 gun models per unit), 1 of howitzers and 2 of mortars. I already have plenty of 12pdrs with my field army, if they are needed - this would also make the French siege train a bit smaller than the Allied one.

That's a first stab, so I should order a further 5 of the big MALA3 castings from Miniature Figurines for my 24pdrs. I may change my mind again, once I get another chapter further into Horward. This is the sort of little project I like - books with post-it tabs sticking out everywhere, lots of scribbled notes - excellent.

The siege train of the Armée de Portugal didn't last very long - it was captured as part of the 158 French and Spanish guns taken in Ciudad Rodrigo when Wellington took the place back in 1812.


  1. To answer your question about stone throwing mortars - I've tracked down a reference - Christopher Duffy in "Fire & Stone" pages 162 - 163.

    "Among these murderous devices the pierrier took pride of place. This was a special stone-throwing mortar that was invented, or re-invented, by Vauban....he had loaded stones of about the size of a fist into 12- and 13-inch mortars"

    "Stone-throwing mortars were soon being manufactured by gunfounders all over Europe.."

    1. Thanks for that - appreciated - nasty things!