Napoleon’s Equine Strategy in 1813
By Paul L Dawson Bsc Hons MA FINS
This study aims to establish how the mounted troops of Napoléon's army, the cavalry as well as artillery and equipment trains, were regenerated and maintained during the 'long' 1813 campaign between November 1812 and March 1814.
The Russian Campaign had swallowed up the French Army, and when Napoléon left Smongoni at the end of October 1812, the army that he had organised for the invasion of Russia virtually ceased to exist. To exploit this misfortune, Prussia immediately took up arms with Russia to complete the destruction of the Napoleonic Empire. Napoléon quickly realised that, at the end of 1812, he had only the broken fragments of an army. Yet from this desolation, Napoléon was determined to create a new army with both artillery and cavalry. To do so required horses, saddles and trained men, all of which in December 1812 France seemed to be short of.
To assess what horse’s the Empire had, Napoleon ordered a national census of horses in France, and allied regions, taken on 25 February 1813, revealed some 3,500,011 horses could be found in the 130 departments. Of these, some 1,268,909 were stallions or geldings 1,393,521 mares, and 837,581 young stock aged under four years. The census further notes that some 280,320 foals were born annually. Therefore, rather than lacking horses, France had a large pool of horses on which to remount the cavalry and very few came from Germany. The 'hoped' for horses clearly existed to remount the cavalry, which was a highly efficient organisation. The criteria for horses suitable for the military was as follows. The age of the horse upon reception was determined by its breed type and the area of the army it was needed. All foreign bred horses, and those from the Ardennes, Calvados, Dyle, l'Eure, Finistere, Manche, Meuse inferieure, Morbihan, Nievre, du Nord, Orne, Outre and Seine Inferieure were to be aged four years. Those horses which came from the Cantal, Correze, Puy-de-Dôme, Pyrénées and Haute Vienne and were to be at least six years of age as they matured later than the horses from the areas noted previously. The height of the horses and their prices were determined as follows in Table 1:
Table 1: Height and price of cavalry mounts.
From the table, it can be seen that the largest horses were assigned to the heavy cavalry, with a tight demographic of 2.5% variance. The Dragoon horses came from a wide demographic with 6.75% variance, and the light cavalry the smallest horses with a variance in height of 4.25%. The build or conformation of the horses for the Dragoons and light cavalry would have been small and stocky, able to carry large weights. This tight demographic of horse size and conformation was out of necessity, as horses were purchased to fit the military saddles, which were produced in a single size. It was easier to purchase horses to fit the military saddles, and fine tune the fitting with blankets, than to make every horse in the army a unique saddle. This would have reduced greatly the number of horses that were suitable for the army.
Two means to obtain the horses were used by the state: direct purchase or volunteered, more correctly conscripted. The numbers of horses obtained by each mode of acquisition is shown in chart 1 below. 212,671 horses were processed by the remount depots and the horses taken into the Army in three distinct phases: November 1812 to May 1813, June 1813 to October 1813, and November to December 1813. 80% were of French origin.
Chart 1: Origin of horses taken into the French Army in 1813
It is clear from Chart 1, that of the horses obtained, just over half all of horses taken into the French army in 1813 were volunteered some 130,753 horses. Of these horses that were volunteered, the vast majority were riding horses for the cavalry. These horses were already broken to ride, a process which takes from 18 months to two years. Not only was this a prudent move by Napoléon, it also saved a considerable amount of time in being able to regenerate the mounted arm of the Army. These horses were to be supplied to the Army with their saddles and harness which saved the considerable expense in making these items.
This giving up of horses to the state that the owners had no direct need for, principally by the middle and upper classes, resulted in the Army obtaining already trained horses with saddles and harness. This meant that men could be put into the field far quicker than if horses had to be trained. In addition, the horses cost the army nothing bar their upkeep, and importantly it did not rob the farmers or transport companies of horses which were vital to the economic well-being of France.
However, these horses were not used to the rigours of campaign life nor the noise and confusion of battle. Conscripting horses was a quick way of getting schooled horses and saddles into the Army, but not one which could not be repeated. These horses, unused to harsh or poor treatment by inexperienced riders, life away from the warmth of stables and regular consistent feeds, would not in many cases have had the necessary condition or stamina to survive the rigours of army life. This mode of obtaining horses rapidly, was however, a practice copied directly from the government of Robespierre.
The rich of Paris were also expected to make a contribution. Four cavalry regiments of the Guard were mounted on the 'luxury' horses of the city, some 2,615 horses being 'volunteered' to the Guard by the order of 3 January 1813. At this date, the Guard cavalry had 1,603 horses, of which 948 horses were with the various regimental depots, and had an additional 655 in the field with the Army. These 'luxury' horses allowed for the rapid regeneration of Napoléon's elite cavalry. The Paris municipal district was to provide 16,000 remounts, later increased to 22,000, for the Army as a whole.
In total 125,000 horses were obtained through the volunteering of horses to the state. So successful was this that 15,000 were returned to their owners. This was a prudent political move so as not to alienate the upper and middle classes from the state. 63,000 horses were delivered to the Army by August 1813, with the remaining 47,000 by the end of the year, to act as the mounts for the conscripts called up in September and October 1813. Some 10,000 horses were volunteered in December 1813.
As well as conscripting horses, the state purchases thousands of horses from horse dealers in France and Germany. In total the state purchased 81,918 horses, of which 62,268 animals came from France, and 19,650 from Germany, which fell well be a theoretical purchase of 43,000. Of these 81,918 horses, 67,704 were draught horses. Draught horses, being more specialised horses were by necessity harder to obtain. So much so that Mules were used in the place of horses from August 1813 onwards. No record is made of the levy or donation of draught horses to the Army in 1813. It appears that all the draught horses required by the army had to be purchased at significant cost to the state.
To provide mounts for the cavalry, Napoléon estimated in November 1812 that, by 1 January 1813, the remount depots in north Germany held approximately 15,000 horses out of 34,000 needed. However, rather than the 15,000 horses Napoléon imagined to be in depot, only 5,251 were present, as outlined in table 2:
Table 2: State of remount depots 1 January 1813.
The number of horses held in remount depots in the Duchy of Warsaw, Prussia and Westphalia held fewer horses than expected. For example, Warsaw had only 31 horses out of the anticipated 600. Clearly the number of horses Napoléon had to hand on 1 January 1813 was 10,000 horses less than the number he envisioned as being at the depots. General Bourcier at the end of January 1813 stressed that more horses would need to be obtained than originally thought, and the speed of getting horses from dealers to the depots was also slower than anticipated.
Napoléon planned to have a cavalry force of 64,000 horses and 66,000 men by June 1813. To ensure this happened, Napoléon set a time table for horse procurement. To meet it, General Bourcier advocated that German horse markets around Hamburg were used to provide new horses. Indeed Bourcier stressed the strategic importance of the French maintaining control of the horse breeding area around Hanover and Hamburg. This would have a major impact on the course of the spring offensive of 1813. On 26 January 1813, General Bourcier was able to note the following steady stream of horses into Hanover, including those he expected to arrive by the end of February 1813, illustrated in table 3:
Table 3: Flow of horses into Hanover, 20 January to 25 February 1813.
However, the table shows that there was a considerable back log in getting the horses purchased from the dealer into the depot. It is also evident that it would not be until the end of February 1813 that Hanover would hold the number of horses Napoléon thought were present on 1 January 1813. From this, it appears that the timetable for regenerating the mounted contingent of the Army was running perhaps two months behind Napoléon's original intentions. On 8 February 1813, Hanover had received 7,221 horses out of a purchase of 9,699 horses shown in table 4:
Table 4: Horses at Hanover, 8 February 1813.
Table 4. shows that a large number of the horses purchased for the depot in Hanover had not yet arrived. The depots at Berlin, Elbing and Glogau were in even worse state. These three depots held on 9 February 1813 only 1,573 mounts out of 11,661 horses purchased as shown in table 5:
Table 5: Horses yet to be delivered to Berlin, Ebling and Glogau depots, 9 February 1813.
Taken together, Tables 3,4 and 5 demonstrate that the process of getting horses from horse dealers in Germany, or from the various departments of France to where they were needed in Germany was running at a far slower rate rather than Napoléon desired. In general terms, it seems that when Napoléon ordered the purchase of horses, he assumed that the horses would be with the Army on the dates he stipulated. Reality was obviously different. On paper the flow of horses to the Army appeared to be quick and in large numbers. In reality, the process of obtaining horses was, not surprisingly, a lot slower. The physical number of horses with the Army on a given date was often far lower than Napoléon's imagined.
However General Bourcier was able to inform General Clarke, the minister of war, that the target for obtaining 64,000 horses by June 1813 had been met and exceeded by some 13,467 horses. The rapid rate of purchase enabled Napoléon to order on the 14 March 1813 that the cavalry force to be increased to 118,000 horses by July 1813. This target of 118,000 cavalry horses with the army was achieved by 15 August 1813. So successful was General Bourcier and his staff in obtaining horses, the state had obtained 126,283 horses for all purposes by 5 April 1813, their origins are shown in table 6 below:
Table 6: Horses owned by the French Army, 5 April 1813.
From that table we can see that the number of horses from Denmark, Jutland, Holstein and Mecklenburg was far lower than from France. General Bourcier hoped to obtain 43,400 horses from Germany by 5 April 1813, but he had only been able to obtain 20,050 due to the deteriorating political situation for the French in Germany. This lack of horses was to be made up by an increase in the number of horse to be obtained from France. These horses were to come primarily from the Champagne region, which represented the 14, 15 and 22 Military Divisions. To achieve this, Napoléon's orderly officer, Baron d'Hautpoul, was authorised on 20 March 1813 to reconnoitre Mainz and it's environs to assess the number of suitable draught horses in private hands, together with the provision of harness, saddles and equipment. He was also to reconnoitre Commercy, Nancy, and Mainz and their environs for horses, as Napoléon hoped to purchase 15,000 horses in the area. It seems, however, none of these draught horses materialised, mules put of necessity being purchased in their place.
Clearly, obtaining horses from Germany was harder than Bourcier and Napoléon anticipated. French influence and control over Denmark, Jutland, Holstein and Mecklenburg had been damaged by the Russian campaign, and as a result France had, for the first time, to look to its own resources to fuel the war. As a result, maintaining French influence in the Hamburg/Hanover area of Germany to control these horse markets became a key feature of Napoléon's strategy throughout 1813.
As well as relying on volunteered or purchased horses, France held large numbers of young stock, bred by the national and private studs to provide good quality cavalry mounts. The remounts held in France were the 'store' horses from previous years. In 1812, some 31,048 young stock were taken into the army. This was the pool of horses aged four being broken to ride and being taught the aids of the rider. The low numbers of horses sent to the army represent those horses whose training had reached a point where they could take their place in a cavalry or artillery train formation. The bulk of the horses listed as remounts in 1813 would not be suitable to join the Army until 1815. These were the future cavalry mounts. These horses were the traditional source of remounts for the armed forces.
In 1814, following the huge losses of 1812 and 1813, the number of horses needed to be taken into the army already broken resulted in the virtual abandonment of this system in favour of direct requisition of already trained and equipped horses, continuing that of 1813.
To conclude, France in 1813 had a large equine population from which to draw remounts for the cavalry and mounted troops from, and was able through conscripting horses, just as the British Government would resort to in the summer of 1914 to rapidly expand the mounted troops of the British Army, rapidly regenerate the mounted elements of the army quickly and cheaply. The rate of purchase of remounts between 1 November 1812 and 1 January 1814 is shown in table 7.
Table 7: Purchase of horses 1 November 1812 to December 1813.
Once the horses had been obtained they had to arrive in the combat zone and be united with a rider as well as all necessary equipment. The forward remount depot system of 1812 was highly successful and was expanded in 1813. In total, by the 25 April 1813, Napoléon had a cavalry force of 33,351, an increase of 30,000 in four months. Of the planned 58,400 horses to be ready by June, a report of 24 March reveals that 57,100 riders and horses had already been processed by the remount depots. 15,994 horses and riders were available for service, at the remount depots of Glogau, Hanover, Kustrin, Magdeburg and Brunswick. The number of horses processed at these depots is shown in table 8. These five depots had mounted and equipped 1,495 men in 10 days. The principle remount depots had obtained and equipped on average 596 men day between 1 March and 24 March 1813. This equates to a rate of 119 men a day per depot.14,290 men had been already mounted, equipped trained and with the Army by 1 March 1813. This rate was however not sustained, and in the next 30 days 7,361 men would be mounted and equipped, averaging 1,472 men per depot, at a rate of 50 men per day.
Table 8: Remounts processed, 1 to 24 March 1813.
General Bourcier's reports of 24 March and 15 April show that a total of 6,025 men had been mounted between 24 March and 15 April 1813. In the period 15 April and 25 April, a further 1,336 men had been mounted. By 25 April 1813, 39,254 men had already been mounted. Of these 13,900 were serving with the Army at Frankfurt on Main and with the Imperial Guard. Of this number, Napoléon estimated 20,000 were veterans. By 20 May 1813, the total number of men mounted and available for service with the Army had risen to 65,418. The depot at Hanover mounted 46 officers 2,335 men between 1 and 10 June 1813, some 238 men and officers a day. This rate was exceptional, in the same period, the depot at Dresden mounted 78 men and officers a day, Magdeburg 74 officers and men a day and Leipzig achieved 69 officers and men day, below the expected 120. Hanover averaged 144 officers and men mounted day from 12 June to 15 July. Overall the rate of remounting men on average had increased from the 50 men per day between 25 March and 25 April, to a 74 men per day in the period 20 May to 15 July. This was primarily due to better co-ordination with the regimental depots in France which sent clothing to the remount depots. This ensured that the equipment each conscript required upon arrival at the remount depot was present to be issued.
However, as we can see from tables 9, 10 and 11, the remount system was providing mounts slower than men were being taken into the depots. On 11 July 1813, Hanover depot had some 2,388 dismounted men. Conversely, on 11 July 1813 Hanau remount depot held far more horses than men, shown in table 9:
Table 9: Men and horses held at Hanau remount depot 11 July 1813.
The table shows that the depot at Hanau had a quicker supply of horses than men. This depot was close to the French border, and had good road communication, so it was quicker to get the horses purchased and 'volunteered' in France to the depot than the more outlying depot at Hanover. Of the 3,439 horses were taken into Hanau, 282 were sold as unfit for the Army. In the same period 49 horses died, a mortality rate of 5.6%. The increase of horses with the Army in the period January to 15 August 1813 is shown in table 10 below.
Table 10: Increase in horses with Grande Armée January to August 1813.
It shows that in the first stage of remounting the cavalry between January and April 1813, the flow of horses was greater than April to August 1813. A reason for this was that at the same time as purchasing horses for the army, between January and April 1813, 21,353 young stock were taken from governmental and private studs to training depots held in France. Table 11 shows the flow of these young stock from the training depots to the front line cavalry.
Table 11: Remounts taken from France to the Grande Armée.
The table demonstrates that of 21,353 store horses taken from the national and private studs into cavalry training depots, only 13,632 were sent to the Army. Clearly, the remount service was still training store horses as future cavalry mounts as the Napoleonic state began to crumble from November 1813 onwards.
In summary, between November 1812 and 15 August 1813, the remount system processed some 164,671 horses. This not surprising as at the start of 1813, France had some 3,500,011 horses listed in the 130 departments. 280,320 horses were being born a year. Clearly, the Napoleonic state was not on the brink of collapse after the ill-fated Russian campaign of 1812. The average remount rate between November 1812 and August 1813 equated to 16,467 a month. This amounted to some 1,647 men per depot per month. Moreover, even in the depths of winter and early spring, between 12 November 1812 and 20 May 1813 65,418 men were mounted, on average some 13,036 men per month. Of these, 56,918 were cavalrymen and 8,500 train drivers. This was a tremendous achievement whilst the French Army was still returning to France coupled with the political instability from the Mallet plot.
Between 20 May and 15 August some 82,217 more riding horses were processed. In addition, 20,213 train drivers had been equipped and mounted. This totalled some 102,430 men equating to 11,378 men being mounted a month. On average this equated to a remount rate of 1,378 a month per depot. However, between 20 May and 13 July 1813, the remount system was able to mount a staggering 2,800 men per depot per month. Between 14 July and 15 August, the remount rate dropped to 1,000 men per depot per month. This still left 14,000 horses and 20,000 conscripts from the class of 1814 that had yet to be sent to the remount depots under the timetable of 13 March 1813. The remount system was highly efficient and effective means of getting horses and men into the Army.
We must note that, in total of the 212,671 horses obtained between 12 November 1812 and 30 December 1813, 182,212 horses had been lost by 6 April 1814. This figure is some 29,580 horses more than the losses of 1812 campaign. However, of these losses, 27,000 or so were horses sold as unfit for the Army, and a further 25,000 were captured, making the total number of deaths around 130,000. Ironically, even taking into account these losses, the Grande Armée ended 1813 with 25,000 more horses than it started the year. Perhaps as many as 246,000 civilian owned horses were taken by the Allies to act as cavalry mounts and draught horses, along with 1.5 million cattle and sheep to feed the armies. Moreover, an estimated 1.2 million cattle, sheep, goats and ox died as the result of an epizootic infection. Despite these losses, France still had over 2,000,000 horses in the new year of 1814. France therefore could absorb these losses through the number of annual births, if one discounts the death of civilian horses. Clearly even after the losses of 1812 and 1813, France still had a lot of horses. However, the war, was using up the capacity of existing systems to provide horses to the economy and military, as well as draining France of trained and saddled mounts that could not be easily replaced. Horses, were a strategic need for Napoléon and the Army, which is why Napoléon endeavoured to retain the Prussian and Polish territories in the new year of 1813, as here were based his remount depots for the Army.
Archives Nationales Paris:
Series AF IV Maison de l'Emperour Box 1183 Cavalerie-Generalities-Remontes,
Series C2 Box 523 Situations 1812.
Series C2 Box 537 Situations 1813.
Series C2 Box 555 Situations 1814 .
Service Historique de la Défence Armée Du Terre, Paris
Series 2C Box 545 Depot General de la Cavalerie et des Remontes 1813.
Series AG Box 1m Concernant les Remontes.
Series C2 Correspondance Militaire 1813.
Series E31 Veterinary General Preval.
Series Xab Box 56 Garde Imperiale- Artillerie- Batteries.
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 AN, Ibid.
 Alexandrie, p. 329.
 Alexandrie, p. 329-330.
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 Napoléon 1er, Emperor, Correspondance de Napoléon 1er 33 vols. (Paris 1858-1870) XXIV, 368 (Hereafter Napoléon Correspondance.) Napoléon to Clarke 5 January 1813 Nos. 19422 . See also Napoléon Correspondance, XXV,122 Napoléon to Clarke 26 March 1813 No. 19672.
 SHDDT, Xab 56, Decree, 2 January 1813.
 The First Remount Department was formed on 16 November 1792. SHDDT, AG 1M fol. 1967, Questions Concernant les Remontes.
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol 650, Clarke to Bourcier, 5 January 1813. See also Napoléon Correspondance, XXV,122, Napoléon to Clarke, 26 March 1813 No. 19672.
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 700, Report General Bourcier, 2 June 1813.
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 AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 740, Report General Bourcier ,27 January 1813. See also AFIV 1183 fol. 823, Report, 18 August 1813; AFIV 1183 fol. 837, Report, 13 December 1813.
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 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 301, Bourcier to Clarke, 1 January 1813.
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 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 302, Bourcier to Clarke, 31 March 1813.
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 302, Clarke to Bourcier, 14 March 1813.
 AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 823, Report, 18 August 1813
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 SHDDT, C2 545 fol. 317, Clarke to Bourcier, 5 April 1813.
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 Napoléon Correspondance. XXV, 111, Napoléon to d'Hautpol, 20 March 1813 Nos. 19744 .
 AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 823, Report, 18 August 1813.
 AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 1182, Report, 24 June 1813. See Also AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 1182, Report, 18 July 1813.
 1,000 were mules.
 2,000 were mules.
 Compiled from SHDDT C2 545
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 371, Bourcier to Clarke, 24 March 1813.
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 371, Bourcier to Berthier, 6 April 1813. See also SHDDT, C2 545 fol. 371, Report 15 April 1813.
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 371, Bourcier to Clarke, 25 April 1815.
 SHDDT, Ibid.
 SHDDT, Ibid.
 SHDDT, C2 fols. 135-166, Napoléon to Bertrand, 10 March 1813.
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 SHDDT, C2 545 fol. 701, Bourcier to Clarke, 15 July 1813.
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 701, Bourcier to Clarke, 1 July 1813. See also SHDDT, C2 545 fol. 701, Bourcier to Clarke, 11 July 1813.
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 701, Bourcier to Clarke, 11 July 1813.
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 701, Bourcier to Clarke, 11 July 1813.
 AN, AFIV 1183 fol.1182, Report 21 April 1813. See Also AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 823, Report 18 August 1813.
 AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 1182, Report 21 April 1813. See Also AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 823, Report 18 August 1813; AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 828, Report 20 November 1813; AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 1569, Report 5 March 1814.
 AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 1182, Report 21 April 1813. See Also AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 823, Report 18 August 1813; AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 828, Report 20 November 1813; AN, AFIV 1183 fol. 1569, Report 5 March 1814
 SHDDT, 2C 545 fol. 500, Lauriston to Napoléon, 17 May 1813.
 AN, C2 537 fol. 752, Situation 25 September 1813.
 AN, C2 fol. 565, Situation report, 25 April 1813. See also AN, C2 fol. 565 Situation report 15 August 1813; AN, C2 fols. 704-708 Situation reports 5-15 November 1813.
 AN, C2 fol. 536 Situation report 25 April 1813. See also AN, C2 fol. 565 Situation report 15 August 1813; AN, C2 fols. 704-708 Situation reports 5-15 November 1813.
 AN, C2 fol. 536 Situation report 25 April 1813. See also AN, C2 fol. 565 Situation report 15 August 1813; AN, C2 fols. 704-708 Situation reports 5-15 November 1813.
 Uffindel, p223. The department of the Aisne lost 6,000 horses, 7,000 cattle and 30,000 sheep to the allied armies. A further 40,000 would perish as a result of epizootic infection. If this pattern in Aisne is similar to the other 40 occupied departments in 1814, the figure of horses loses would be around 246,000.
 However this assumes a number of factors concerning these horses. France had over 3 million horses available for use with the army that all the horses in the census aged over 4years met the requirements laid down for horses by the army. Criteria of age, height, build, come into effect restricting the potential stock available for the army as did the concurrent demand placed on the same horses by the economy- horses were needed for both agriculture, transport and industry. Further restricting the number of available horses are the number of horses broken to ride. In 1827, Charles Dupin estimated that about 3.5% of the horse population of France were suitable for the army, in 1812 being around 70,000 horses. Charles Dupin Forces Productives et commercials de la France (Paris: Bachelier 1827) p. 111.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2013
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