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IProfile - Commanding Gloriana's Artillery

During the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547), England developed what may have been the most sophisticated ordnance in Europe; the very word "ordnance" was coined during this period, reportedly due to a typo in the spelling of in the "ordinance" that formalized the new system of artillery.  This was eventually inherited by his daughter, Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603).

 English artillery was under the control of the “Captain General of Artillery,” later renamed “Master of the Ordnance.”

The Master of the Ordnance was not only responsible for the manufacture and maintenance of cannon, powder, and shot, but also for the recruiting and training of artillerymen, for the supply of ammunition to arquebusiers and musketeers and archers (the longbow remained a weapon of issue for the English militia into the 1590s), and for many engineering duties as well

So there were a host of personnel under the command and supervision of the Master of the Ordnance. 

  •  Master Gunners, senior artillery officers for a particular post or command
  •  A Gunner, and Gunner’s Mate for every cannon
  •  Wheelwrights
  • Carpenters
  • Shipwrights
  •  Coopers
  •  Smiths
  •  Fletchers
  •  Masons
  •  Wainwrights
  •  Cable makers
  •  Pioneers

 

The smiths, carpenters, wheelwrights, and wainwrights (wagon makers) were needed to make the guns and their carriages, cable makers made the ropes necessary to haul the pieces, especially those to be fitted aboard ships by the shipwrights.  Masons and pioneers were needed to build or modify fortresses, castles, storehouses, and so forth, and coopers made the barrels necessary to store powder. .  

In addition to these personnel, if the Master of the Ordnance happened to go on campaign, he would also command infantry companies, as required, to protect the guns, a task more normally assigned to the master gunner of the army in the field.

To carry out his duties, the Master of the Ordnance initially had a very small administrative staff, just a lieutenant and some clerks, the numbers of whom increased over the years.  That's because, by Victorian times the Master of the Ordnance was responsible not only for artillery, engineers, and fortifications, but also for supplies, transport, hospitals, and a lot more, and yet was not a subordinate of the commander-in-chief of the British Army.  This odd situation came about because additional tasks kept being dumped on the Master.  Since he received a cut of all money that passed through is office, the Master was not likely to protest when a new task was entrusted to his care.  Nevertheless, by Victorian times it became clear that some of the muddle that accompanied military administration was certainly attributable to the highly jury-rigged arrangement that put the Master of the Ordnance in charge of all sorts of unrelated matters.  Reform eventually took hold.

There still is Master of the Ordnance, but the post is today largely an administrative one, similar to the Chief of Artillery in the U.S. Army.

 

IFrom the Archives - The Death of the Prince Imperial

The disastrous outcome of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) led to the overthrow of Napoleon III's "Second Empire."  Although the erstwhile emperor nursed hopes of returning to power, his health broken, Louis Napoleon died in 1873.  With his death, the hopes for a Bonaparte restoration in France rested with the Prince Imperial, Eugène Louis Napoleon, known to enthusiastic Bonapartists as Napoleon IV.  Born in 1856, Prince Louis had a golden childhood, and grew into a fine young man.  Like all Bonapartes, he felt the tug of a military career, and in fact was first under fire at the age of 14, while serving as his father's aide during the Franco-Prussian War.  So upon settling in England, his parents secured from their good friend Queen Victoria the young prince's appointment to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich.  Commissioned in the Royal Artillery, the traditional Bonaparte branch of service, Prince Louis was serving in garrison in early 1879 when the Great Anglo-Zulu War broke out.  He promptly volunteered for active service.  Despite the misgivings of the government, with Queen Victoria's support, he was permitted to go to South Africa

By all accounts, the young prince was a good soldier, "exceedingly fond of real work, and of sharing every privation and danger of his comrades. He was no feather-bed soldier. Anxious always to go out with patrols and on reconnaissance duty," though reportedly a little too bold.

On June 1, 1879, while on reconnaissance near Ulundi, the Prince halted his patrol for a short rest near an old kraal.  There are several versions of what happened next, such as this account, from Alexander Wilmot's  History of the Zulu War (London: 1880)

The kraal consisted of five huts, with a small stone enclosure, and was distant about 200 yards from the river.  In front there was an open space, on which fires for cooking had been made, but between the kraal and the river tambookie grass grew, five or six feet in height, with mealies and Kafir corn interspersed.  The party halted on the open space, and the prince gave the order to "off saddle " for an hour.  No sign of life was visible, except where two or three dogs furtively ran from the intruders.  Water was obtained, coffee made, the horses were turned into the grass and grain crops, while with a feeling of perfect security all lay stretched, resting, on the ground.

The hour quickly passed, and during that time, unknown and unsuspected, fifty Zulus crawled in ambush preparing to make a spring.  The position of the ground was most advantageous for their purpose.  A deep donga [gully] formed excellent cover, and out of that they crept along the water's edge, completely screened by the rank vegetation.  It was while they were thus concealed that one of them was seen by the Kafir sent to bring water to the Prince Imperial's party.  The Zulu burst out of his ambush and fled.  The Kafir returned and reported what he had seen.  Meanwhile the prince, looking at his watch, remarked, "You can give your horses ten minutes more."  What the Kafir reported had, however, made every one anxious to go, and the horses were caught and saddled.  All stood ready, and the prince examined the bit of his horse for a few moments.  Then came the words, " Prepare to mount! Mount! " and almost at the same moment a volley fired from forty rifles, at a distance of twenty yards, crashed among them.  At this time the party were standing in line, close to their horses, with their backs to the kraal and their faces turned eastward, the prince being in front and nearest to the Zulus.  Then with a tremendous cry, "Usutu!" and "Lo, the English cowards!" the savages rushed on.  The horses immediately swerved, and some broke away.  An undoubted panic seized the party ; every one who could spring on his horse mounted and galloped for his life.  There was no thought nor idea of standing fast and resisting this sudden attack.  The prince was unwounded, but unable to mount his charger, -which was sixteen hands high, and always difficult to mount.  On this occasion the horse became so frightened by the firing and sudden stampede, as to rear and prance in such a manner as to make it impossible for the prince to gain the saddle.  Many of the others saw the difficulty, but none waited or tried to give the least assistance.  One by one they rushed their horses past, Private Le Tocq exclaiming as he went by, lying across his saddle, "Depechez-vous, s'il vous plait, monsieur." *   The prince, making no reply, strained every nerve, but, alas ! in vain, to gain the back of his horse, holding his stirrup-leather with his left hand and the saddle with his right.  With the help of the holster he made one desperate effort, but the holster partially gave way, and it must have been then that the horse trod upon him, and galloped off, leaving his master prostrate on the ground.  The prince then regained his feet and ran after his friends, who were far in advance.  Twelve or thirteen Zulus were at this time only a few feet behind him.  The prince then turned round, and, sword in hand, faced his pursuers.  From the first he had never called for help, and now died bravely with his face to the foes, fighting courageously to the last.  It is thought that the Zulus hurled their assegais at him, and that he quickly fell dead, pierced through the eye by a mortal wound.

The death of the prince threw the British Army into turmoil, as blame was assessed, unfairly leading to courts martial for several officers and men.  As for the House of Bonaparte, the dynasty's hopes fell to Louis' cousin, Victor, who "reigned" as Napoleon V.

* LinguisticNote: At the time this would probably have translated as "Please make haste sir," though today it's more likely to be read as "Would you please hurry up sir."

BookNote: Although now over 45 years old, the late Donald Morris' The Washing Of The Spears: The Rise And Fall Of The Zulu Nation remains the most readable account of the Great Anglo-Zulu War.

 


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