Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval (1715-1789) was known for his successful efforts to reform the artillery arm of the French army during the 18th century. He introduced changes that revolutionized the use of artillery—changes that were later adopted by the American army. Gribeauval also campaigned for reforms to improve the living and working conditions of French soldiers.
Jean Baptiste de Gribeauval was born on September 15, 1715 in France. He joined the French army in 1732, and was promoted to the rank of officer within three years. During the Seven Years' War, which lasted from 1756 until 1763, Gribeauval was attached to the Austrian army as a general of artillery. Between August 6 and October 9, 1762, he defended Schweidnitz against Frederick the Great. Gribeauval was intrigued by the use of artillery that he had observed in Austria. Returning to France as a lieutenant general, he attempted to use the knowledge he had gained in Austria to improve his country's obsolete and chaotic artillery system. Gribeauval met with resistance from government officials when he tried to apply what he had learned in the field. In 1765, he began to consider implementing standard specifications for guns, designating guns according to their use, and ensuring that the army used lighter guns for greater ease of handling. Gribeauval also explored the possibility of harnessing horses in an improved pattern in order to transport more equipment and hiring more trustworthy drivers. He was responsible for improving the hardware which helped French guns to be mounted and used more effectively.
Implemented Artillery Reforms
In 1776, Gribeauval was assigned to the position of general of artillery. In this capacity, he trained younger officers, including Napoleon Bonaparte, and was able to implement his artillery reforms on a broad scale. He increased the wages given to soldiers and improved the living quarters of lower-ranking men. In addition, Gribeauval was able to standardize the caliber of cannons and increase their mobility by reducing tube lengths and weights. He also introduced the howitzer, which was commonly used by other armies of the time. Gribeauval designed waterproof ammunition wagons that were lighter than their predecessors. He developed specialized training for officers that incorporated aspects of career management. Gribeauval's reforms made the French army a leader in the use of artillery. It remained a superior European fighting force into the nineteenth century.
Gribeauval's reforms left the French army with a surplus of good, but outdated weapons, including the Valliere guns. The outdated supplies were secretly sent to assist the American colonists in their struggle against the British. Gribeauval's artillery reforms indirectly affected the fledgling American army. One of Gribeauval's proteges, a man named Philip Tronson du Coudray, had assisted in secretly shipping the outdated Valliere guns to America. Coudray was being considered to be the general of artillery and ordinance in the American army. Ultimately the American Congress chose the British general Henry Knox for the position, but several officers who had been trained by Gribeauval later served in the fledgling American army. One of the most influential of Gribeauval's proteges was Louis de Toussard. Many of Gribeauval's artillery reforms were adopted by the American military, and remained in effect until after the Civil War. They continued to play a role and influence the U.S. military through World War One.
Gribeauval died on May 9, 1789. His book, Tables des Constructions, was published in 1792. He is remembered as an innovative military leader who introduced many needed reforms that made him a leader in artillery development.
Further Reading on Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval
American Revolution, 1775-1783, An Encyclopedia, edited by Richard L. Blanco, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993.
Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, David McKay Company, Inc., 1966.
Dictionary of Biography, Past and Present, edited by Benjamin Vincent, Gale Research Company, 1974.
Dupuy, Trevor N., Curt Johnson, and David L. Bongard. Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.
Keegan, John, and Andrew Wheatcroft. Who's Who in Military History, From 1453 to the Present Day, William Morrow & Co. Inc., 1976.
Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary, May, 1995.