Royal Prussian Army of the Napoleonic Wars

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A standard of the Prussian Army used before 1807

The Royal Prussian Army was the principal armed force of the Kingdom of Prussia during its participation in the Napoleonic Wars.

Frederick the Great's successor, his nephew Frederick William II (1786–97), relaxed conditions in Prussia and had little interest in war. He delegated responsibility to the aged Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, and the army began to degrade in quality. Led by veterans of the Silesian Wars, the Prussian Army was ill-equipped to deal with Revolutionary France. The officers retained the same training, tactics, and weaponry used by Frederick the Great some forty years earlier.[1] In comparison, the revolutionary army of France, especially under Napoleon Bonaparte, was developing new methods of organization, supply, mobility, and command.[2]

Prussia withdrew from the First Coalition in the Peace of Basel (1795), ceding the Rhenish territories to France. Upon Frederick William II's death in 1797, the state was bankrupt and the army outdated.

War of the Fourth Coalition 1806–1807[edit]

He was succeeded by his son, Frederick William III (1797–1840), who involved Prussia in the disastrous Fourth Coalition. The Prussian Army was decisively defeated in the battles of Saalfeld, Jena, and Auerstedt in 1806. The Prussians' famed discipline collapsed and led to widescale surrendering among infantry, cavalry, and garrisons. While some Prussian commanders acquitted themselves well, such as L'Estocq at Eylau, Gneisenau at Kolberg, and Blücher at Lübeck, they were not enough to reverse Jena-Auerstedt. Prussia submitted to major territorial losses, a standing army of only 42,000 men, and an alliance with France in the Treaty of Tilsit (1807).


Meeting of the reformers in Königsberg in 1807, by Carl Röchling

The defeat of the disorganized army shocked the Prussian establishment, which had largely felt invincible after the Frederician victories. While Stein and Hardenberg began modernizing the Prussian state, Scharnhorst began to reform the military. He led a Military Reorganization Committee, which included Gneisenau, Grolman, Boyen, and the civilians Stein and Könen.[3] Clausewitz assisted with the reorganization as well. Dismayed by the populace's indifferent reaction to the 1806 defeats, the reformers wanted to cultivate patriotism within the country.[4] Stein's reforms abolished serfdom in 1807 and initiated local city government in 1808.[5]

The generals of the army were completely overhauled — of the 143 Prussian generals in 1806, only Blücher and Tauentzien remained by the Sixth Coalition;[6] many were allowed to redeem their reputations in the war of 1813.[7] The officer corps was reopened to the middle class in 1808, while advancement into the higher ranks became based on education.[3][8] King Frederick William III created the War Ministry in 1809, and Scharnhorst founded an officers training school, the later Prussian War Academy, in Berlin in 1810.

Scharnhorst advocated adopting the levée en masse, the military conscription used by France. He created the Krümpersystem, by which companies replaced 3-5 men monthly, allowing up to 60 extra men to be trained annually per company.[6] This system granted the army a larger reserve of 30,000-150,000 extra troops[3] The Krümpersystem was also the beginning of short-term compulsory service in Prussia, as opposed to the long-term conscription previously used.[9] Because the occupying French prohibited the Prussians from forming divisions, the Prussian Army was divided into six brigades, each consisting of seven to eight infantry battalions and twelve squadrons of cavalry. The combined brigades were supplemented with three brigades of artillery.[10]

Corporal punishment was by and large abolished, while soldiers were trained in the field and in tirailleur tactics. Scharnhorst promoted the integration of the infantry, cavalry, and artillery through combined arms, as opposed to their previous independent states. Equipment and tactics were updated in respect to the Napoleonic campaigns. The field manual issued by Yorck in 1812 emphasized combined arms and faster marching speeds.[11] In 1813, Scharnhorst succeeded in attaching a chief of staff trained at the academy to each field commander.

Some reforms were opposed by Frederician traditionalists, such as Yorck, who felt that middle class officers would erode the privileges of the aristocratic officer corps and promote the ideas of the French Revolution.[12] The army reform movement was cut short by Scharnhorst's death in 1813, and the shift to a more democratic and middle class military began to lose momentum in the face of the reactionary government.

The Iron Cross, introduced by King Frederick William III in 1813.
Prussian hussars in the Battle of Leipzig, 1813.

The reformers and much of the public called for Frederick William III to ally with the Austrian Empire in its 1809 campaign against France. When the cautious king refused to support a new Prussian war, however, Schill led his hussar regiment against the occupying French, expecting to provoke a national uprising. The king considered Schill a mutineer, and the major's rebellion was crushed at Stralsund by French allies.[13]

French invasion of Russia[edit]

The Franco-Prussian treaty of 1812 forced Prussia to provide 20,000 troops to Napoleon's Grande Armée, first under the leadership of Grawert and then under Yorck. The French occupation of Prussia was reaffirmed, and 300 demoralized Prussian officers resigned in protest.[14]

During Napoleon's retreat from Russia in 1812, Yorck independently signed the Convention of Tauroggen with Russia, breaking the Franco-Prussian alliance. Stein arrived in East Prussia and led the raising of a Landwehr, or militia to defend the province. With Prussia's joining of the Sixth Coalition out of his hands, Frederick William III quickly began to mobilize the army, and the East Prussian Landwehr was duplicated in the rest of the country. In comparison to 1806, the Prussian populace, especially the middle class, was supportive of the war, and thousands of volunteers joined the army. Prussian troops under the leadership of Blücher and Gneisenau proved vital at the Battles of Leipzig (1813) and Waterloo (1815). Later staff officers were impressed with the simultaneous operations of separate groups of the Prussian Army.

The Iron Cross was introduced as a military decoration by King Frederick William III in 1813. After the publication of his On War, Clausewitz became a widely-studied philosopher of war.[15]

Wars of Liberation[edit]

The German General Staff, which developed out of meetings of the Great Elector with his senior officers[13] and the informal meeting of the Napoleonic Era reformers, was formally created in 1814. In the same year Boyen and Grolman drafted a law for universal conscription, by which men would successively serve in the standing army, the Landwehr, and the local Landsturm until the age of 39.[16] Troops of the 136,000-strong standing army served for three years and were in the reserves for two, while militiamen of the 163,000-strong Landwehr served a few weeks annually for seven years.[17] Boyen and Blücher strongly supported the 'civilian army' of the Landwehr, which was to unite military and civilian society, as an equal to the standing army.[18]

The 1813 Campaign in Germany[edit]

The 1814 Campaign in France[edit]

Hundred Days[edit]

Main article :Military mobilisation during the Hundred Days
Prussian Army (Army of the Lower Rhine)

This army was composed entirely of Prussians from the provinces of the Kingdom of Prussia, old and recently acquired alike. Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher commanded this army with General August Neidhardt von Gneisenau as his chief of staff and second in command.[19]

Blücher's Prussian army of 116,000 men, with headquarters at Namur, was distributed as follows:

German Corps (North German Federal Army)

This army was part of the Prussian Army above, but was to act independently much further south. It was composed of contingents from the following nations of the German Confederation: Electorate of Hessen, Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Duchy of Oldenburg (state), Duchy of Saxe-Gotha, Duchy of Anhalt-Bernburg, Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau, Duchy of Anhalt-Kothen, Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, Principality of Waldeck (state), Principality of Lippe and the Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe.[21]

Fearing that Napoleon was going to strike him first, Blücher ordered this army to march north to join the rest of his own army.[22] The Prussian General Friedrich Graf Kleist von Nollendorf initially commanded this army before he fell ill on 18 June and was replaced by the Hessen-Kassel General Von Engelhardt.[22] Its composition in June was:[23]

  • Hessen-Kassel Division (Three Hessian Brigades)- General Engelhardt
  • Thuringian Brigade - Colonel Egloffstein
  • Mecklenburg Brigade - General Prince of Mecklenburg-Schwerin

Total 25,000[24]

Prussian Reserve Army

Besides the four Army Corps that fought in the Waterloo Campaign listed above that Blücher took with him into the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Prussia also had a reserve army stationed at home in order to defend its borders.

This consisted of:[25]

Organisation of the Royal Prussian Army[edit]

Staff system[edit]

Frederick William III's generals[edit]

Army General Headquarters[edit]

Ranks of the Prussian Army[edit]

In order, lowest to highest, the general infantry ranking system of the era is as follows:

Enlisted: Rekrut- soldier in training, no net pay. Soldat/Gemeiner- Trained Infantryman, Modern Private. Gefreiter- Veteran infantryman, no command, slightly higher pay. Equvalent to modern Lance Corporal.

NCO: Unteroffizier: Sergeant, note the rank skips from Gefreiter to Unteroffizier, meaning there are no corporals. This became a problem in lower-level organization. Fixed in the 1860s by the introduction of the "OberGefreiter."

FeldWebel: Sergeant Major, oversees entire regiment and day-to-day operations.

Officers: Fanentraager: Equivalent of Ensign. This man is in charge of the Colour Guard and acts as a file-closer, keeping the line steady. Officer-in-Training.

Leutnant/PremierLeutnant/OberLeutnant: Lieutenants. The latter two would, in the company, have higher pay and seniority, but equal responsibilities in overseeing their company's performance.

Kapitaan: Captain, Company Commander.

Hauptman: Major, Battalion Commander

Oberst: Colonel, Regimental Commander ...



FeldMarschall: Army Commander

Koenig: King- sometimes a leader, himself.

Organization of Army[edit]

Royal Guard[edit]

Infantry of the Guard[edit]
Cavalry of the Guard[edit]
Artillery of the Guard[edit]
Cossacks of the Guard[edit]
Infantry of the Line[edit]

3 musketeer battalions, 2 Grenadier companies was the content of one line infantry regiment until the reorganization in 1808, when 2 musketeer battalions and 1 fusilier battalion formed one Line infantry regiment.


Musketeers were the usual Line Infantry in the Prussian Army; they were organised in Battalions which consisted in four companies of Musketeers and generally a platoon of Schützen (Carabiniers, élite light infantry).


Translated as "Hunter," the Austrian army first used these riflemen for scouting the dense forests of central and Northern Europe. The Prussian Army used riflemen to great effect during this era, taking advantage of skirmish tactics and easily picking off enemy officers and NCOs. The French had difficulty countering Jaeger as Emperor Napoleon didn't believe riflemen an effective fighting force.

Landwehr infantry[edit]

These were the first totally organized form of conscripted musket-armed militia. Invented by the Russians, expounded by the Austrians, refined by the Prussians, and perfected by the British, line militia were an inexpencive alternative to normal line infantry. Militiamen received lower pay and poorer equipment than other units. Coupled with poor discipline, these men were unreliable in the heat of battle but may be utilized as a competent screening or reserve force.

Cavalry of the Line[edit]

An instruction of 6 March 1787 set the strengths of the categories of cavalry regiment as follows:

Cuirassiers - 37 officers, 80 NCOs, 11 trumpeters, 660 troopers, 60 supernumeraries Dragoons - 37 officers, 75 NCOs, 16 trumpeters, 660 troopers, 60 supernumeraries Hussars - 51 officers, 150 NCOs, 30 trumpeters, 1,320 troopers Garde du corps (Life Guards) - Three squadrons strong, with 24 officers, 48 NCOs, 8 musicians and 522 troopers.

Heavy cavalry[edit]
Light cavalry[edit]

Prussian light cavalry consisted of Hussars. The standard size of a Hussar regiment was: 51 officers, 150 NCOs, 30 trumpeters and 1,320 Troopers

Landwehr cavalry[edit]
Artillery of the Line[edit]
Foot artillery[edit]
Horse artillery[edit]
Artillery Train[edit]

Formations and tactics[edit]


Foot(Line Infantry) Fusiliers Grenadiers Jagers

A typical Infantry battalion of the era would consist of Four companies (Kompani) in the following formation:

[ 1 Fusiliers ] [ 2 Musketeers ] [ 3 Musketeers ] [ 4 Grenadiers ]

Each company is headed by a Kapitan, all of equal rank, however in the event of the Hauptmann's death, the chain of command (in battle) would be as follows: Kapitan 4,1,2,3.

The centre companies have fairly simple roles, holding a straight line and simply firing until told to do something else. The Fusiliers have a far tougher job. Employing clever and quick-minded men, fusilier companies often screened the battalion in a spread-out formation, Unlike the shoulder-to-shoulder dressing of typical line infantry. Grenadiers, in contrast, were large, fearsome men with a brutal reputation and a powerful charge. Depending on supply of powder and explosives, they were not always issued grenades. The role of a grenadier is to fire quickly and charge as shock troopers, routing and breaking enemy formations with sheer force.

Common battle formation:

  [ 1 F   U   S   I   L   I   E   R    S ]
                                   [  4         ]
                                   [ Grenadiers ]
[ 2 Musketeers   ] [3 Musketeers ] [            ]
[                ] [             ]




Imperial Prussian Army uniforms consisted of a variety of colors. The Regimental colors determined the colors of one's cuffs and color.

Standards and guidons[edit]

Bands and music[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Citino, p. 110
  2. ^ Citino, pp. 108-9
  3. ^ a b c Citino, p. 128.
  4. ^ Craig, p. 40.
  5. ^ Craig, p. 41.
  6. ^ a b Koch, p. 183.
  7. ^ Craig, p. 42.
  8. ^ Koch, p. 181.
  9. ^ Dierk Walter. Preussische Heeresreformen 1807-1870: Militärische Innovation und der Mythos der "Roonschen Reform". 2003, in Citino, p. 130.
  10. ^ Craig, p. 46.
  11. ^ Citino, p. 130.
  12. ^ Koch, p. 186.
  13. ^ a b Koch, pp. 190-1.
  14. ^ Craig, p. 58
  15. ^ Citino, p. 143
  16. ^ Craig, p. 69
  17. ^ Koch, p. 216
  18. ^ Craig, p. 70
  19. ^ Bowden, Scott, Chapter 2
  20. ^ Georg Dubislav Ludwig von Pirch: 'Pirch I', the use of Roman numerals being used in Prussian service to distinguish officers of the same name, in this case from his brother, seven years his junior, Otto Karl Lorenz 'Pirch II'
  21. ^ Plotho, Carl, p. 54
  22. ^ a b Hofschroer, Peter (Vol. 2) p. 182
  23. ^ Plotho, Carl, p. 56
  24. ^ Chandler, Waterloo p. 30
  25. ^ Plotho, Carl pp. 36-55.


This article incorporates information from the revision as of January 25, 2006 of the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blackbourn, David (2003). History of Germany, 1780-1918: The Long Nineteenth Century. Blackwell Publishing. p. 544. ISBN 0-631-23196-X. 
  • Clark, Christopher (2006). Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600–1947. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard. p. 776. ISBN 0-674-02385-4. 
  • Fulbrook, Mary (1983). Piety and Politics: Religion and the Rise of Absolutism in England, Wurttemberg and Prussia. Cambridge University Press. p. 223. ISBN 0-521-27633-0. 
  • MacDonogh, Giles (2001). Frederick the Great: A Life in Deed and Letters. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 436. ISBN 0-312-27266-9. 
  • Reiners, Ludwig; Translated and adapted from the German by Lawrence P. R. Wilson (1960). Frederick the Great, a Biography. New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons. p. 304. 
  • Ritter, Gerhard (1974). Frederick the Great: A Historical Profile. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 207. ISBN 0-520-02775-2. 
  • Summerfield, Stephen (2009) Prussian Infantry 1808-1840: Volume 1 Line and Guard 1808-1814, Partizan Press, ISBN 978-1-85818-583-5
  • Summerfield, Stephen (2009) Prussian Infantry 1808-1840: Volume 2 Jager, Reserve, Freikorps and New Regiments, Partizan Press, ISBN 978-1-85818-584-2