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"The Feu d'enfer"
A brief history of Napoleon's tactic of the feu d'enfer and Lee's use of it at Gettysburg.

By: Dave White, 2nd NJ

Napoleon's artillery, tactically, was the beneficiary of an advancement in gun carriage design that made his guns much lighter and easier to move at a moment's notice, and advancement called the Gribevaul system that his opponents didn't have. This allowed Napoleon to quickly move artillery, resulting in whole new flexibility in the use of the artillery. While his opponents were stuck with artillery that acted as basically fire support for the infantry (like a machine gun in World War I) and that was parcelled out at the battalion level, Napoleon could mass his artillery at points on the battlefield to be used against specific points of the enemy line. A specific tactic was to bring all or most of his artillery to bear at a weak point of the enemy line, pummel that part of the line senseless, then attack that point of the line in strength to break the line. Infantry and cavalry following up the forces that broke the line would pour through that break, thus exploiting the split and giving pursuit to the broken enemy. With the enemy thus split, Napoleon could destroy either half of the enemy army in detail, if he hadn't already been offered the surrender of his opponent.

As people well know, the difference between firearms in the ages of Napoleon and the Civil War were vastly different. In Napoleon's era, smoothbores were accurate to about 50 yards, limiting the time that a force approaching a line would be under accurate fire. A defensive line might get off a shot or two at charging infantry before the attacker was able to close with the bayonet. In the age of the Civil War, rifles were accurate at several hundred yards, meaning that attackers were under accurate fire for a much longer time. While a Napoleonic soldier could cross the "killing zone" at the double quick in just a few moments, a Civil War era soldier attempting to do this would reach the end of the charge exhausted and in no condition to fight, assuming he wasn't hit at some point. Also, between Napoleon's era and the Civil War, advances in artillery were relatively minor compared to the advances in small arms. Accurate ranges for Napoleonic artillery were basically the same as Civil War artillery. Thus, Napoleon could mass his artillery at decisive points and bring it extremely close to enemy lines, within 100 yards, even, to batter the enemy lines. At this range, that artillery would have decisive effect and still be beyond the range of musketry.

In the age of the Civil War, artillery could not bring itself that close to enemy lines for fear of its crews taking fire from enemy infantry. At Gettysburg, Lee, trying to emulate the feu d'enfer, had to place his artillery up to a mile away, where it was too far away to have the same effect as Napoleonic artillery. Lee's artillery was thus innaccurate and ineffective at these ranges, and he was unable to break the Union lines with his artillery. Lee's infantry hit not broken defensive positions, as was necessary for this to work, but infantry that had endured a harrowing yet ineffective bombardment. Thus, in the center, they did not break.

2nd Regt N.J. Vol. Inf.
Company Street

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