French Army Provisioning

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Food

Bread, the staple of the French army, was supplied by Munitionnaires who were privately contracted companies, hired by the government, in order to supply bread. The Munitionnaires counted thousands of men, 32,000 horses, and had an annual budget of 20,000,000 livres. These were in fact the companies that fed 280,000 men on the German front for six years.

The bread which was issued to the soldiers by the munitionnaires was cooked in brick ovens, and issued to the French soldiers every 4 days. The brick ovens were in fact disadvantageous when faced with armies having mobile metal ovens. This was because they obviously did not move, can take up to two weeks to build, and limited the marching distance of the army, and from there the army’s mobility. And worst of all, a brick oven was very costly in comparison to iron stoves. The bread was originally 24 ounces a piece, but an ordinance issued in 1758 theoretically increased it to 28 ounces. However, the munitionnaires did not increase the bread loaf size, because according to Belle-Isle, the minister of war at the time: “the bakers would have too much difficulty breaking the habit of preparing bread in this form.” In fact, the munitionnaires may have contributed to the retention of private contract systems, and the outdated lack of centralized government control. In fact, by the end of the war, the French government owed the munitionnnaires 15, 512,726 livres, and the munitionnaires were operating at a 30 to 60% loss financially.

Meat was also provided as well, at a quarter pound of meat per day per soldier, by companies similar in formation to the munitionnaires.

Horses and Forage

Horses in the French army were required to be large and strong, at a minimum of 4 foot, 9 inches at the wither for the cavalry. However, in practice, the quality of French horses was not very good, and in fact at mediocre quality at best. The horses for the artillery were so small and weak that one officer referred to them as “sheep”. Horses were supposed to be of different ages as well, so as to allow gradual replacement, but in practice the horses’ ages were often not discriminated for. Also, in theory, 250 livres were provided to buy remounts in the event of losing them, but in practice the officers found themselves short on horses, and shorter on budget, as a good horse cost at least twice the amount allotted for a remount.

In spite of these factors, and in spite of the very high mortality rate for horses, the French army was still able to provide sufficient levels of horses to keep the army running-barely. Luckily, there were also no epidemics of the glanders, which often killed many a horse in armies at the time.

As to forage, from October to June, the French army’s régies (privately contracted companies) was supposed to supply the horses with hay and oats as dry fodder, and for the rest of the year with grass as fodder. In practice, it was very difficult to obtain, and the army had to go to desperate measures to maintain enough horses for campaigning. In the winter of 1758-59, 20,000 horses, and 6 cavalry regiments, were recalled to France, to provide the army horses with enough forage and feed, without having to deal with spoiled supplies or the poor communications. This was a huge risk, as the lack of horses cut down on mobility, and scouting ability. Officers were also allowed to sell extra forage ration to the régies for 16 sous, in order to save on hay (in practice, as much as 21 sous per ration was offered to buy back the forage). And the use of hay was expressly prohibited during the summer, in spite of which the habit of feeding horses with dry forage in the summer was common among higher officers. In spite of this, shortages were common.

Spoilage was another problem: in September of 1758, 7,137 bales of hay were ordered to supply the horses from Metz. However, of that amount, only 2,255 bales of hay actually arrived, and much of this was so spoiled that they were thrown into the Rhine River. Poor logistical planning was also common; during the winter of 1757-58, the garrison in Hameln had to draw hay and wood rations from 30 leagues away, but a nearby garrison was well supplied, and had no need to forage. In another case from the same winter, the army in winter camp stored collected rations of hay and wood in forward areas, but drew everyday supplies from rear area depots. When the army had to withdraw, the hard earned rations had to be destroyed. Lastly, corruption and embezzlement were common.

References

Kennett, Lee; The French Armies in the Seven Year's War: A Study in Military Organisation and Administration, N.C., 1967

Acknowledgment

User:Ibrahim90 for the initial version of this article.