Royal Prussian Army of the Napoleonic Wars

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 Upon Frederick William II's death in 1797, the state was bankrupt and the army outdated.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 1806–1807Edit

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 at 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 RussiaEdit

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 LiberationEdit

The Prussian, and later 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 Convention of Tauroggen became the starting-point of Prussia's regeneration. As the news of the destruction of the Grande Armée spread, and the appearance of countless stragglers convinced the Prussian people of the reality of the disaster, the spirit generated by years of French domination burst out. For the moment the king and his ministers were placed in a position of the greatest anxiety, for they knew the resources of France and the boundless versatility of their arch-enemy far too well to imagine that the end of their sufferings was yet in sight. To disavow the acts and desires of the army and of the secret societies for defence with which all north Germany was honeycombed would be to imperil the very existence of the monarchy, whilst an attack on the wreck of the Grand Army meant the certainty of a terrible retribution from the new armies now rapidly forming on the Rhine.[19]

But the Russians and the soldiers were resolved to continue the campaign, and working in collusion they put pressure on the not unwilling representatives of the civil power to facilitate the supply and equipment of such troops as were still in the field; they could not refuse food and shelter to their starving countrymen or their loyal allies, and thus by degrees the French garrisons scattered about the country either found themselves surrounded or were compelled to retire to avoid that fate. Thus it happened that the viceroy of Italy felt himself compelled to depart from the positive injunctions of Napoleon to hold on at all costs to his advanced position at Posen, where about 14,000 men had gradually rallied around him, and to withdraw step by step to Magdeburg, where he met reinforcements and commanded the whole course of the lower Elbe.[20]

The 1813 Campaign in GermanyEdit

The 1814 Campaign in FranceEdit

Hundred DaysEdit

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.[21]

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.[23]

Fearing that Napoleon was going to strike him first, Blücher ordered this army to march north to join the rest of his own army.[24] 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.[24] Its composition in June was:[25]

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

Total 25,000[26]

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:[27]

Organisation of the Royal Prussian ArmyEdit

Staff systemEdit

The Prussian General Quartermaster Staff (General-Quartiermeister-Stab) was initially established by Frederick William III in 1803. It was divided into three departments each corresponding with parts of the state. The Eastern brigade covering the territory east of the Vistula, the Western Brigade covering the territory west of the Elbe and the Southern Brigade covering the south of the kingdom. It was headed by a General Quartermaster (General-Quartiermeister) while a Lieutenant (General-Quartiermeister-Lieutenant) headed each brigade. This lasted until 1807 when the three brigades were merged. During peacetime they were to develop operational plans for defensive and offensive actions in any potential campaign. They were also to produce detailed maps. From 1808 they studied recent campaigns and considered potential future scenarios. In 1810 Frederick William decreed that staff officers serve with different branches so as to gain practical knowledge of soldiering. On mobilisation staff officers would then be distributed among the personal staff of generals in various commands.[28]

Frederick William III's generalsEdit

Army General HeadquartersEdit

Ranks of the Prussian ArmyEdit

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

Prussian Line Infantry Rank Modern U.S. equivalent
Feldmarschall General of the Army
General (der Infanterie/Kavellerie/etc.) General
Generalleutnant Major General
Generalmajor Brigadier General
Oberst Colonel
Major Major
Kapitän Captain
Leutnant/Premierleutnant/Oberleutnant Lieutenant
Fähnrich Ensign
Feldwebel Sergeant Major
Unteroffizier Sergeant
Gefreiter Lance Corporal
Musketier Private

The König could also serve as a military commander.

Organization of ArmyEdit

Royal GuardEdit

Infantry of the GuardEdit

The infantry of the Royal Guard consisted of four battalions. A Grenadier Guard Battalion (Grenadier-Garde-Bataillion) and three battalions which formed the Regiment of Guards. All members of the guards battalions were referred to as grenadiers while men in the grenadier companies were designated Flügel-Grenadieres. After the defeats of Jena–Auerstedt the Guards, along with the rest of the army were reorganised. Only one small detachment survived initially and it formed a nucleus of two new companies that were formed in January 1807. These were gradually built up and by 1809 it comprised three battalions. Two battalions formed Garde-Regiment zu Fuß augmented by Garde-Füsilier-Bataillon. In 1813 a second Guard regiment was formed from existing infantry and a sharpshooter battalion, Garde-Schützen-Bataillon of men from Neuchâtel[29]

The Grenadier Foot Guards wore an enormous plume in their shako. The shako badge was an eight pointed star with the Black Prussian Eagle. In common with the rest of the Prussian army the Guards wore dark blue double breasted coats. The coats had two rows of brass buttons. Collars and cuffs were in provincial colours.[30]

Cavalry of the GuardEdit
Artillery of the GuardEdit

Artillerie-Brigade - Major Willmann

6pfund. Garde Fussbatterie No. 1. - von Lehmann
12pfund. Garde Fussbatterie No. 1. - Kpt. von Witt
reitende Garde-Batterie No. 1. - Major von Willmann
reitende Garde-Batterie No. 2. - Kpt. von Neuendorf
Cossacks of the GuardEdit
Infantry of the LineEdit

3 musketeer battalions, 2 Grenadier companies was the content of one line infantry regiment until the reorganization in 1808, when 1 Grenadier Battalion, 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 Jäger as Emperor Napoleon didn't believe riflemen an effective fighting force. In the Prussian army the rifle regiment was known as Feldjäger-Regiment (field huntsmen) and consisted of three battalions each with four companies. This regiment recruited amongst, hunters, their sons and rangers. Prior to 1808 men who had served honourably in the Feldjäger and were discharged from service had the right to be employed in the royal forests. In 1806 the individual companies were distributed amongst the different army corps. After the defeats in the later part of that year nine companies were reformed. In 1808 three new battalions of four companies were formed.

Volunteer RiflesEdit

Detachments of volunteer riflemen were created to accommodate men of the educated middle classes with an opportunity to serve but without having to serve alongside the notorious lower classes. these became known as the Freiwillige Jäger-Detachements. They would be attached as companies and squadrons to infantry battalions and cavalry regiments that didn't have their own rifles.

Landwehr infantryEdit

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 inexpensive 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 LineEdit

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 cavalryEdit
Light cavalryEdit

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 cavalryEdit
Artillery of the LineEdit
Foot artilleryEdit
Horse artilleryEdit
Artillery TrainEdit

Formations and tacticsEdit


Foot(Line Infantry) Fusiliers Grenadiers Jagers

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

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

Each company is headed by a Kapitän, all of equal rank, however in the event of the Hauptmann's death, the chain of command (in battle) would be as follows: Kapitän 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 guidonsEdit

Bands and musicEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Citino 2005, p. 110.
  2. ^ Citino 2005, pp. 108–109.
  3. ^ a b c Citino 2005, p. 128.
  4. ^ Craig 1964, p. 40.
  5. ^ Craig 1964, p. 41.
  6. ^ a b Koch 1978, p. 183.
  7. ^ Craig 1964, p. 42.
  8. ^ Koch 1978, p. 181.
  9. ^ Citino 2005, p. 130 cites Walter 2003.
  10. ^ Craig 1964, p. 46.
  11. ^ Citino 2005, p. 130.
  12. ^ Koch 1978, p. 186.
  13. ^ a b Koch, pp. 190–191.
  14. ^ Craig 1964, p. 58
  15. ^ Citino 2005, p. 143.
  16. ^ Craig 1964, p. 69
  17. ^ Koch 1978, p. 216.
  18. ^ Craig 1964, p. 70
  19. ^ Maude 1911, pp. 228–229.
  20. ^ Maude 1911, p. 229.
  21. ^ Bowden 1983, Chapter 2
  22. ^ Georg Dubislav Ludwig von Pirch Archived 2007-08-15 at the Wayback Machine: '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'
  23. ^ Plotho 1818, p. 54.
  24. ^ a b Hofschroer 1999, p. 182.
  25. ^ Plotho 1818, p. 56.
  26. ^ Chandler 1981, p. 30.
  27. ^ Plotho 1818, pp. 36–55.
  28. ^ Schmidt 2011, pp. 98–99.
  29. ^ Schmidt 2011, pp. 110–111.
  30. ^ Smith 2015, p. 211.


  • Bowden, Scott (1983). Armies at Waterloo: A Detailed Analysis of the Armies That Fought History's Greatest Battle. Empire Games Press. ISBN 0-913037-02-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Citino, Robert M. (2005). The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich. University Press of Kansas. p. 428. ISBN 0-7006-1410-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Craig, Gordon A. (1964). The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640 – 1945. London: Oxford University Press. pp. 538. ISBN 0-19-500257-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Koch, H.W. (1978). A History of Prussia. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. p. 326. ISBN 0-88029-158-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Hofschroer, Peter (1999). 1815: The Waterloo Campaign: The German victory, from Waterloo to the fall of Napoleon. 2. Greenhill Books. ISBN 1-85367-368-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • von Plotho, Carl (1818). Der Krieg des verbündeten Europa gegen Frankreich im Jahre 1815. Berlin: Karl Freidrich Umelang.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Chandler, David (1981) [1980]. Waterloo: The Hundred Days, Osprey Publishing.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Maude, Frederic Natusch (1911). "Napoleonic Campaigns" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 216–236.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Schmidt, Oliver (2011). Armies of the Napoleonic Wars. Pen and Sword. pp. 98–99, 110–111.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Smith, Digby (2015). Uniforms of the Napoleonic Wars. London: Lorenz Books. p. 211.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Walter, Dierk (2003). Preussische Heeresreformen 1807–1870: Militärische Innovation und der Mythos der "Roonschen Reform". Paderborn: Schöningh. OCLC 249071210.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link) — dissertation of the University of Bern (2001)

Further readingEdit