Napoleon Bonaparte and the 12 pounder Gribeauval Cannon & Limber

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Sunday, 2nd July 2017

Add a man who became widely recognised as the most brilliant military commander in all of Europe to “arguably the best artillery system in Europe at that time" and you find yourself with an almost unbeatable combination.

Napoleon Bonaparte was serving as an artillery officer in the French army when the Revolution broke out in 1789.  As one would expect, his rise in the ranks didn’t come from defeating foreign nations, but through battles with his fellow Frenchmen. 

In October 1795, Napoleon famously ordered artillery pieces to be strategically placed in the streets of Paris in response to an uprising by the royalists.  Although his manpower was outnumbered 6 – 1, it took Napoleon’s Republicans just 2 hours to defeat the rebellion. 

In “a whiff of grapeshot”, they had no answer for the canisters of grapeshot fired at close range, leaving hundreds dead and their revolt in tatters, effectively bringing an end to the French Revolution. 

Having made a name for himself Napoleon continued his rise through the ranks, leading his first military campaign against the Austrians and Italians at the age of 26. 

Winning almost every battle he went on to conquer half of Europe.  His ambition and public approval inspired him to greater heights and he became the first Emperor of the French in 1804.

As an artilleryman, his success was in no small part thanks to his preference for using the Gribeauval system which was "arguably the best artillery system in Europe at that time".   

The artillery piece that formed the mainstay of all his campaigns throughout the Napoleonic wars was the 12 Pounder Gribeauval Cannon, which he fondly referred to as his belles filles (beautiful daughters). 

This gun was designed in or around 1793–1794 under the Inspector of Artillery Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval.

The Canon de 12 Gribeauval fired a round shot that weighed in at 12 French pounds which were 35.81 grams more than the English equivalent at the time.  All field pieces had similar velocities but the 12-pounders had the superior firepower and greater range.

Napoleon’s demise came on Sunday, 18 June 1915 at the Battle of Waterloo where he was defeated by armies led by the Duke of Wellington and the Price of Wahlstatt. 

This ended Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French and saw him exiled to the Island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean In October 1815.  It was here that he dictated his memoirs and passed away on 5 May 1821. 

It was his wish to be buried on the banks of the Seine River, but instead, he was laid to rest on St Helena in the Valley of the Willows.  In 1840, Louis Phillippe I secured permission from the British to return Napoleon’s remains to France where, after a state funeral, he was entombed in a crypt at Les Invalides in Paris.


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