Campaign Logistics

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> Campaign Logistics

an Essay by Dieter Müller completed with an example from a later period (Napoleonic) contributed by Digby Smith


Armies of this era required huge logistic services to maintain them during campaigns.

Il faut surtout penser à vos subsistances, car une armée est un corps dont le ventre est la base; a quelque beau dessein que vous ayez imaginé, vous ne pourrez pas le mettre en exécution, si vos soldats n'ont pas de quoi se nourrir.
“You must always keep in mind your supplies, for an army is a body whose belly is the base; whatever nice goal you might have imagined, you won't be able to put it into execution, if your soldiers do not have something to feed themselves.”
Frédéric II
Réflexions sur les projets de campagne, 1775

In this article we consider campaign logistics in Europe. They are mostly based on the situation of the Prussian establishment for two reasons:

  1. The Prussian army and its administration was probably the best regulated in the Seven Years' War era.
  2. The Prussian situation seems to be the best documented (at least in easily accessible sources).

We also give two examples. The first one is based on Heilmann's book “Die Kriegskunst der Preussen unter Friedrich dem Großen” from figures taken from Frederick's Campaign of Saxony in 1756. The second is an adaptation of figures taken from Napoléon's Campaign of Russia in 1812 and published in Digby Smith's book “ A View of the French Campaign in Russia in 1812”.

Each group of figures gives different yet complementary views of the supply requirements of an army. All things being relative, these calculations could be applied to most armies of the Seven Years' War.


Basic Considerations

In order to fight every army has to be fed; foodstuffs have to be procured, prepared and transported to the fighting man. Living out of the country was considered by the authorities only as a last resort because it was not a predictable resource, thus precluding systematic planning; it took time to gather the necessary amounts of victuals; it undermined discipline and offered chances of desertion. It also ruined the country (not a major consideration if enemy territory was concerned) and forced the army to soon move on to unexhausted areas. And it just did not fit into the rational mindset of the age; the ravages of the Thirty Years' War were not yet forgotten.

The system used during the Seven Years' War was articulated around organized supply from large centralized (in fortified towns or fortresses) and smaller decentralized magazines/depots closer to the area of operations. Of course there had to be and were exceptions. These magazines were filled via contract procurement, levies on own state's economy and, where at all possible, forced contributions by the civilian administration of an occupied territory. Supply to the field army was transported by horse-drawn wagon trains or preferably (due to its larger carrying capacity) where possible, river barge transport. There the river systems of the Elbe and Oder were advantageous to Prussian supply transportations.

The mainstay of food for the army at this time was bread. But this could not be kept for any time because it spoiled in a matter of days. Thus it was not feasible to furnish bread directly from a magazine (it would have rotted even before reaching the troops). Instead flour was brought to a field bakery established in the area of operation of the army and continuously baked on-site into the necessary amount of bread.

The functioning of this system was based on an uninterrupted supply of flour and made the army rather fixed in its relationship to a depot. Tempelhof in his "History of the Seven Years War" describes it in detail. He also made a calculation which shows that the army had to receive fresh bread every six days and (as the third day was supposed to be a rest day) could only make five marches from its magazine. It has been pointed out by later writers on the problem, that Tempelhof was too schematic (there were expedients to overcome these limitations; e.g. accumulating a supply of hardtack / Zwieback, loading even more on the soldiers, using flour supply wagons to transport bread instead of going back for more flour, etc.), but the "Five-Marches-System" has become a symbol for the inflexibility of operations during the age of Kabinettskriege / Cabinet Wars / Lace Wars / Guerres en Dentelle. But apart from this, the importance of magazines can hardly be overstressed. Taking an enemy's magazine could completely destroy its campaign plans and thus be as decisive as a victory on the battlefield (but without the glory...)

Furthermore, not only the men but also their horses had to be fed. The limiting factor there seems to have been the amount of oats necessary to keep cavalry and riding horses in condition. Even if the magazines had been able to store enough of this commodity, transporting it to the field still would have been problematic, requiring additional wagon trains and horses. So, in this case the reluctance to forage the country had to be put aside since "green" (directly from fields) and "dry" (already harvested and stored) forage was a major source of horse fodder. But this restricted the available seasons of campaigns. Beginning the campaign too late exposed an army to the risk that harvested oats might already have been partially used by the population. On the other hand, if the campaign was started too early, oats were not ripe yet and if foraged "green" were no better than grass. Campaigning usually started late in the year. The Austrians some years have started as late as August.

(For details see references a to d)


Example taken from Frederick's Campaign of Saxony in 1756

Heilman's figures which form the basis of the following calculations were themselves based on information originating Aus dem Feld-Etat von der ersten Armee des Königs 1756 (field situation of the King's first army in 1756) as signed off by Frederick II on July 7, 1756.

Units Unitary
a) Generals
His Majesty plus suite and adjutants - - 374 264
3 Field Marshals 66 22 198 66
2 Generals of Infantry 45 17 90 34
10 Lieutenant-generals (cavalry and infantry) 39 12 390 132
25 Major-generals (cavalry and infantry) 28 10 700 250
b) Field Commissioner (including finances, legal, medical, preaching services)
Altogether - - 237 10
c) Field Bakery and Field Magazine (including bakery wagons with 400 horses)
Altogether - - 705 775
d) Food Supply Trains (including 700 wagons/carts at 4/3 horses)
Altogether - - 2,837 938
Sub-total (a to d) 5,531 2,469
e) Army Corps
54 infantry battalions 122 814 6588 43,956
15 grenadier battalions 103 677 1,545 10,155
71 cuirassier and dragoon squadrons 197 185 13,987 13,135
30 hussar squadrons 134 118 4,020 3,540
8 artillery companies - - 178 1,155
Artillery staff, helpers and drivers - - 3,058 1,463
Feld-Jäger (mounted & foot) - - 206 349
Engineers - - 22 13
Sub-total (e) 29,604 73,766
Total 35,135 76,235

It seems that civilians (included in group “b” in the preceding table) could get forage rations but were not entitled to army bread.

The original list shows some 17000 'horse soldiers', but the grand total of rations adds up to 35000. Shows how heavily dependent armies then were on 'horse power'. Forage was a problem second only to food (if even that, because of the greater bulk and weight of 'rations').

Another example taken from Napoléon's Campaign of Russia in 1812

The initial figures provided for this campaign were for the support of an army of 300,000 infantry, 50,000 cavalry, 50,000 followers. We have adjusted these figures for the smaller armies of the Seven Years' War who also presented a higher proportion of cavalry. The following calculations are for the support of an army of 54,000 infantry, 21,000 cavalry, 11,000 followers. For such an army, support for one week would require:

  • Bread: each man required 1/2 lb (~0.23 kg) per meal per day, meaning about 900,000 lbs (approx. 410,000 kg) per week
  • Meat (beef or mutton): 1/2 lb (~0.23 kg) per day; allowing each bullock to weigh approx. 500 lbs (~225 kg) and each sheep to weigh approx. 50 lbs (~25 kg), meaning that each week the army would need more than 300 bullocks and 3,000 sheep, or about 300,000 lbs (approx. 135,000 kg)
  • Drink: each man received 1/2 pint of wine or spirits per day, meaning more than 300,000 pints (approx. 170,000 litres) or roughly 300,000 lbs (approx. 135,000 kg) per week.

Horses for cavalry, staff, regimental baggage, artillery, ammunition and commissariat must amount to 71,500.

  • Oats: each horse required 8 lbs (~3.63 kg) per day, making for more than 4,000,000 lbs (approx. 1,815,000 kg) per week
  • Hay: each horse required 12 lbs (~5.44 kg) per day, making for more than 6,000,000 lbs (approx. 1,830,000 kg) per week

The transport of all these provisions required carriage. Supposing the magazines 50 miles (80 km) in the rear and that each horse goes 100 miles (160 km) per week; it would require more than 46,000 horses for the transportation of food for this sole army. These additional horses must also be fed. It would therefore require more than 1,900 horses, to carry their food and drink and that for themselves. Oats for these at 8 lbs (~3.63 kg) per horse per day amount to nearly 2,700,000 lbs (approx. 1,220,000 kg) and hay, at 12 lbs (~5.44 kg) per horse per day is, per week, more than 4,000,000 lbs (approx. 1,830,000 kg).

Various contingencies of Campaign logistics

Conversion table
Various German unit of measure Metric system equivalent Remarks
1 Berliner Pfund 0,468 Kilogramm  
1 Wiener Pfund 0,560 Kilogramm  
1 Berliner Scheffel 54,9 Litres for flour: weighing 75 pounds
1 Wispel 1318 Litres i.e. 24 Scheffel
1 Metzen 3,4 Litre i.e. 1 / 16 Scheffel
1 Klafter (wood) 3,34 Cubic Metres  
1 Preuss. Meile 7,532 Kilometres i.e. 2000 Ruten
1 Preuss. Rute 3,766 Meter  
1 Preuss. Morgen 2550 Square Metres 180 Square Ruten

In the following sections, examples are taken from first-order sources and merely re-calculated to today's metric units.

Feeding an army

As pointed out above, at the time of the Seven Years' War, bread was considered the mainstay of army food (potatoes were not yet widely available but just two decades later the extensive forage actions during the War of the Bavarian Succession earned that conflict the sobriquet Kartoffelkrieg, i.e. "Potato War", reflecting a major change in emphasis on basic food). Of course, other commodities were necessary to balance the diet (meat, vegetables, spirits etc.), but once bread supply was assured, a commander could plan his future operation without particular feeding concerns.

For the Prussian forces a bread portion for one day was 2 pounds. Experience had shown that to bake 100 pounds of bread, 75 pounds of flour were needed (equating to 1 Berliner Scheffel). So for a (fictitious) army with an entitlement to 100,000 portions of bread, the daily requirement of flour was 2000 Scheffel (or in today's terms more than 70 000 kilogram / 70 tons).

The meat portion for those entitled (not e.g hussars, who obviously were expected to live off the country) was one half pound 3 times a week. Meat money was handed by the field commissariat to the company captain, who bought the meat for his company from a contractor or a sutler 'on the hoof' and had it slaughtered. Sutlers were also sources of salt, spirits, tobacco etc., and other necessities of daily life. Again, an army of 100,000 'portions' might have had an entitlement to meat of maybe 60,000 'meat portions' and thus 90,000 pounds (40 tons) per week (approx. 200-250 bullocks). The total requirement would have been higher because quite a number of those not entitled to Fleischgelder (money to buy meat) would have acquired some meat at their own expense.

Soldiers were expected to make common mess, the usual composition being based on tent communities. Cooking in the field was done in open cooking pits.

The Austrian army had significantly different victualling rates. They figured as daily portion half a loaf of bread (weighing 3 1/2 Wiener pounds; ~20% heavier than the Berliner) plus one half pound of meat. Taking into account the different pound-weights, the amount of flour to be magazined and transported is practically the same, but the herds of slaughter animals were more than twice larger than for the Prussians.

Compared to the Prussians, the Austrian soldier was off worse, because he had to pay for his meat ration; in fact, this actually acted as an inducement for desertion to the Prussian side, as noted by participants in the war (e.g. Archenholz, ref. e).

After victorious actions it was not unusual to reward the troops by distributing any captured victuals to them. Even such small favours were viewed as an enticement to future good behaviour by men living not far from starvation.


The company was the basic economic unit of the Prussian (and Austrian) armies (battalions and squadrons being the basic fighting units), in peacetime as in war. This was a surviving remnant of the earlier system, when military entrepreneurs raised units at their own cost and rented them out to monarchs at fixed sums. They were then the actual owners of 'their' regiments. The influence of 'owners' by the time of SYW had been much eroded in most states, 'ownership' becoming mostly just a honorary function. But there still existed the Kompaniewirtschaft (company economy): the company commander was paid a fixed sum for certain expenses and if he was thrifty (and lucky) he could keep the difference (of course, the state of his company was scrutinized closely at the next revue...). 'Owning a company' was the goal of every subaltern, because of the financial rewards accruing from it (staff officers kept 'their' companies also because the possible revenue was a significant part of their total remuneration). For the state this system made it possible to meet administrative needs with a minimum of personnel, at a fixed, calculable cost.

Coming back to campaigns, the company transportation requirements were met as follows. In Prussian service the company commander (captain / Hauptmann or Rittmeister) had the use of one wagon of his own for his personal effects including his tent. The company also had one wagon for company effects and one bread wagon for fetching bread from the field bakery and carrying 6 days of supply for the company. Subalterns had to do with pack animals; any wagon found to be used by a subaltern was to be burned. For NCOs and enlisted men there were 6 pack horses / Zeltpferde, used for camp equipment. Cooking kettles had earlier to be carried by the soldiers themselves, but during the Seven Years' War, they were loaded onto company tent pack horses. Other camp utensils had to be carried by the soldiers themselves, as was done for a personal 3 days bread allowance.

Including riding horses for captain and subalterns, a total of 24 horses were allowed for one company.

Higher ranks were entitled to more comfort and thus to more transport capacity than lowly subalterns and captains (cf. Example taken from Frederick's Campaign of Saxony in 1756, above)

Prussian service probably was the most Spartan and strict in enforcement, when it comes to transportation entitlements.

Austria was a bit more lenient. There according to a Soldaten-Bagage-Ordnung of February 1758, subalterns were allowed a small pack-wagon with 2 horses (upper ranks accordingly). Also, tents were transported by wagon. This ordnance also tried to impose strict order in wagon trains, directly complaining that until then this had not been held. As an aside, it is reported that after Leuthen, 4,000 wagons of the Austrian army were captured.

Accounts (from enemy sources) give the impression that for the French army no particular importance was given to order when it came to amounts of baggage.

Field Bakery Organization

Baking bread for the army from flour brought from a magazine could be done in some civilian facilities in towns or villages, under contract or by more or less voluntary service, and was done so for smaller corps on detached operations for which an army field bakery would have been too large, more of an encumbrance than an asset, because it was a favourite target for enemy raiding.

Normally, a field bakery was established in a location where it could be covered by the army. A supply of water and particularly wood was an absolute necessity. The field bakery brought its necessary supply of baking oven material and gear in its own transport train. Most used in Prussian and Austrian service were iron frame supported ovens. These could be built up very much faster than normal brick ovens (3-6 versus 14 hours) by the masons on the bakery establishment and needed only half the amount of bricks (per oven: about 500 bricks, of average size, would have been a pile of 1 cubic meter). The heavy iron frames were transported on large 6-horse wagons; ovens could be torn down very fast if necessary by hitching horses to the front frame and pulling. Bricks were supposed to be collected locally; meaning, it was expected that some buildings would have to be torn down to meet the bakery's need.

One oven, when run to full capacity for 24 hours, could bake a maximum of 6 times 200 loaves of 6 pounds each. On normal use it was calculated to provide 5 loads of 200 Kommiss-Brote each day, which amounted to 3000 bread portions of 2 pounds each. 3300 litres flour (60 Scheffel) would have been used up, as well as 1 1/4 Klafter (equalling more than 4 cubic meters) of wood.

An army for which 30,000 portions were required usually was furnished with some 17 ovens. The field bakery then could produce 51,000 portions per day, or in two days enough bread for three days. This was necessary to keep the army mobile.

To build up a field bakery of the above size, and to run and supply, it the personnel needed would have been:

  • 17 master bakers
  • 255 bakers (at 15 per oven)
  • 17 masons and bricklayers
  • 72 drivers for 54 wagons
  • 30 supervisors and support personnel

For a total of about 390-400 persons with 290-300 draught and riding horses.

These men had sworn oaths of service but were no soldiers; they were members of the bakers' guild. In fact, there were occasions in the Prussian service where they went on strikes, when they had the impression they should be subjected to military discipline. They knew that they were needed and not as easy to replace at short notice as a musketeer was.

Surprisingly, it was possible to get along without any field bakery. This was demonstrated by the Russian army, where soldiers were simply handed flour. They used this to knead dough themselves, dig a hole in some sloping ground of a size to accommodate enough dough for one portion. They lit a fire in the hole and after it had burned out, put in the dough and just waited for it to be baked. Or better, they could bake it twice to suchari (hardtack) to make it more durable.

Flour Transportation Service

All that flour to bake bread would have to be brought to the field bakery from somewhere, usually not from local acquisition, but from some magazine/depot. Ideally, magazine and bakery could be located directly at some navigable stretch of water (note: even then horses would have been necessary for transport, to pull barges). Horses were an absolute necessity to pull the wagons in the usually established supply train (Prussia had experimented with oxen during the second part of the War of the Austrian Succession with deplorable results).

At the time of the Seven Years' War, the Prussians initially used 4-horse provision wagons and 3-horse carts, each with one driver. Later, carts were not replaced after having been worn out or lost. Each wagon or cart carried 3 barrels of flour containing 6 Scheffel each, enough to bake 300 loaves of 6 pounds bread. A flour wagon train normally consisted of 50 wagons; needing 200 horses plus replacements and 50 drivers plus an average of 12-15 supervisors and support personnel. Such a train carried enough flour for 45,000 rations and this was the figure used for allocating flour trains to different armies. These trains were spaced out between magazine and field bakery to ensure an uninterrupted flow of flour, without accumulation or shortage.

Prussian personnel of the supply services - Source: Richard Knötel Uniformkunde

At the beginning, this system did not run smoothly: supervisors were inadequate in numbers and quality; drivers were not cared for, were fed and clothed badly; horses were overdriven; and wagons made in a hurry from green wood soon fell to pieces. It took some time to iron all that out, but later in the war the Prussian army had a good train service at its disposal, which then empowered it to make some remarkable marches and movements.

Other states used similar systems, probably with less order and regulation than the Prussian had.

Strong complaints about the corruption and rapacity of supply officials, personnel and contractors involved seem to have been common to all armies. Frederick himself writes about 'stringing up some of them like quail', but if that ever happened is not evident. And even so, replacement was always waiting in the wings...

Feeding the horses of an army

As pointed out above in the secion on 'Numbers', the amount of horseflesh that was part of the armies at the time of the Seven Years' War is just amazing. All those animals had to be kept in condition to perform the services expected from them, the first and most important point of concern being: food. The importance stems in part from the amount of food, particularly of oats required.

An army horse entitled to a ration of oat (not all animals were) would ideally have received 3 Metzen or a little above 10 litres per day.

Coming back to our fictitious army of 100,000 portions. It would probably have on its roster no less than 48,000 horses. Subtracting a third as being draught- or pack-horses would leave 32,000 animals to feed with oats. The daily requirement would have been no less than 6,000 Scheffel (close to 330 cubic metres) or more than 270,000 pfund / 125 metric tons. Transporting this amount by wagon would mean loading to capacity at least 100 train wagons or fully two normal wagon trains. As the rest of the horses could not be left without consideration (sources talk of feeding them other kinds of grain) another 50 wagons would have to be provided (N.B.: at this order of magnitude of the problem the 600 draught horses for these trains can safely be disregarded). The problem is even greater because horse rations included also hay, chaff and straw in considerable volumes and weights.

In order to follow the principle of being independent of the local resources, storing of horse fodder in magazines was tried, the rate being 2/3 capacity for flour or grains; 1/3 for horse fodder. But the main problem was still: transport capacity. It seems that provision of horse fodder from magazined resources was tried only if water transport was possible. Sources are silent on transporting it via wagon train; that shows up only in theoretical considerations. That then left the army very much dependent on the local economy.

The least forceful means of getting the locals to give up their property was to requisition the local existing authority to deliver (Ausschreibung) and leaving the details to them (same approach as for recruiting or levying money contributions called Brandschatzung). Reimbursement would have been left to the state authority in existence after the war, but at least there was a document to submit as evidence.

The fastest, most direct, efficient and thorough way was by (dry or wet) foraging. In dry foraging army detachments were sent out to villages and towns to collect (vulgo: "plunder") what had been harvested and still was left in barns and granaries. Probably for convenience local wagons and draught animals were also taken when returning to camp.

A forager with his pack. - Source: Rêveries de Maurice the Saxe

For 'wet' foraging, cavalry detachments were sent to pre-identified, promising areas, where oats or other grain was ripening. Riders went without saddle but armed with sickles and systematically gathered in the grain stalks. Packing them on their saddle blankets they led or rode back to deliver their harvest to a central authority in camp.

Both, dry and wet foraging actions had to be systematically planned as to location and possible enemy disturbances. Large armed escorts were deployed to preclude any unwelcome surprises and at the same time - always important - hinder desertion. It should be noted that many writers on the art of war, including Frederick II himself, gave detailed advice on foraging; it was a common expedient.

As to the amounts to be won by foraging, there is an example calculation by Tempelhof (much copied without change by later writers). It goes as follows: considering a territory of one square mile (or 56 square kilometers)

  • One half may be unusable for agriculture: forest, stony terrins, streams, built up areas, etc.
  • One half may be usable for agriculture, of this:
    • One third is left fallow
    • One third is growing rye or wheat
    • One sixth is growing other 'summer fruits'
    • One sixth is growing oats (Doing all the calculations, this made for 1852 Morgen for oats)

At a yield of 5 Scheffel oats per Morgen: 9260 Scheffel oats can be foraged at harvest time.

The army counting 48,000 horses considered previously has a daily need of 6,000 Scheffel. Thus, foraging one square mile would cover its needs for 1 1/2 days. The other 12,000 animals could be fed with some of the other grain growing in the area...

No thought is expressed in Tempelhof's example on how the farmers in the foraged area were to survive until the next harvest, or if they even were left any seed corn. It may also be doubted that much paperwork with the farmers was involved...

It is evident that armies could not stay for long in one area if they were not in the near vicinity to an established depot. The reluctance to depend on the local resources in this case was easier overcome because straw anyway would have to be collected locally; it was a very important commodity not only for horse care but also as bedding material for the soldiers themselves.

Medical services

The medical system of armies in the XVIIIth century cannot be expected to be better than what was generally accomplished.

The state of medical knowledge at that time was deplorable. In general doctors believed in Galen's bodily-fluids-system and their main means of adjusting the balance of these fluids were bleeding and purging. Nowadays it is obvious that this could not have worked very well to restore the strength of a body suffering from fever and wounds.

The system also suffered from the divisions between doctors (a title stemming from Latin "doctus", i.e. "studied") and Feldschere (surgeons) who were often considered to merely be jumped-up barbers and fairground quacks. They at least had a minimum of anatomical knowledge and could amputate a limb very fast. If they had had even an inkling of sanitation, they could have saved many more poor souls. Naturally their attempts to extract projectiles from body wounds were mostly bound to be fruitless and only increased suffering.

The great killer was gangrene, against which red-hot irons could not help either.

Field hospital were makeshift establishments where on could only hope for a pile of straw and some medicus coming along once a day to replace bandages. Whoever could, avoided them by paying for private accommodation and treatment.

Long after the war, the one-time Prussian hussar officer Warnery initiated a heated discussion by stating in a book that the king had ordered his medical service to take care that not many cripples survived in order not to burden the (practically non-existent) veteran support system of the state.

This was vociferously refuted by partisans of Frederick. Can it be that Warnery was right for the wrong reason? Frederick at some juncture told his chief medicus not to cut off arms and legs by the dozen. It can be argued that amputating before gangrene set in could have saved quite a number of those 'dozens' concerned.

To sum up: The less said about medical services during the Seven Years War, the better. Those who did not have a need of these services were the lucky ones.


This section deals only with the logistic aspects of marches. Concerning their influence on operations, the articles on respective campaigns should be consulted.

Marches in the XVIIIth century were considered an art in themselves. There were all kinds of theoretical differentiations according to purpose and direction. The distinction made here is only between Kriegsmarsch (roughly, tactical march) and Verlegungsmarsch (route march).

For a tactical march the assumption was that at short notice contact with the enemy might be made. As it clearly was impossible to go forward (even straight ahead) for more than a few hundred metres over broken ground, the main consideration was to make it possible to assume battle order in the shortest possible time from the chosen marching order. Just turning right or left while in order of battle and marching into the direction now faced would have meant that at the point of contact with the enemy in front, just 3 muskets could have been brought to bear; not a very desirable situation in the age of linear tactics... A compromise between breadth of advancing front and depth of column had to be reached.

The first part of the solution was to march in several columns on (more or less) parallel roads not too far apart for mutual support; the obvious choice being for each column to correspond to one line of the order of battle with an additional column for the wagon train.

The necessary evolutions between a marching order and a battle order which were proposed and discarded after or without trials; or finally (or temporally) adopted could and did fill volumes. Details are not important here; but common to all considerations is the significance of keeping the marching troops free from any interference by baggage wagons or animals. These were relegated either to the end of the column or preferably to a baggage column of their own.

Prussian Grenadiers of IR12 Erbprinz von Hessen-Darmstadt in field march, respectively carrying (from left to right): an axe, a spade, a pick-axe and tent-flask - Source: Kling, C., Geschichte der Bekleidung, Bewaffnung und Ausrüstung des Königlich Preussischen Heeres

Anything necessary for action at short notice - obviously weapons and ammunition, but also bread ration, parts of camp equipment, personal items - had to be carried by the soldiers themselves, which could contribute to a heavy load ( which was not carried in an anatomically optimized pack, but rather in various bags and knapsacks attached to cross-belts).

Drinking water, during resting halts, was strictly forbidden, it being assumed to be unhealthy. Marching under these circumstances (in shoes switched, day by day, from right to left foot and vice versa) along so called roads (more ruts than level patches) under strict supervision (falling out was considered as an attempt to desertion) was a very fatiguing practise. Add to this inclement weather, either a long dry spell when dust clouds would choke them, or rain wetting the trail and leading to wheels and feet churning it into quagmire: it is not surprising that soldiers could die from exhaustion on forced marches.

Reserve ammunition was carried on battalion artillery wagons, which followed the battalion guns; company bread supply, on the company bread wagon; other company-owned items and pack animals for subalterns and tents were in the train column under the supervision of the General-Wagenmeister assisted by the General-Profoss, who had summary judgement capacity against disorderliness.

In principle, route marches followed the same rules, except hat they were applied more leniently. Soldiers were not expected to march in step, they carried their gun butt on top on their shoulders; they were allowed to speak and smoke. But on the downside: when marching long stretches where recourse to fresh baked bread was not possible, they had to carry additional portions of bread or hardtack. Often in such a situation, each battalion was ordered to acquire a number of additional country wagons for the same purpose, which were then added to the baggage of each of its companies in the train column. Also riding-, draught- and pack-horses were likely to be overstressed by additional loads.

During peacetime, marches were limited to 2 1/2 to 3 'miles' (19 to 23 km). During campaigns, no such fixed limits could be applied. Taking the figures quoted in one of the few journals dealing with such mundane matters (Barsewisch, ref. i), it is found that march lengths on the 124 days jotted down varied from 1 to 4 1/2 'miles', with a mean of 2 1/2 and a median of 3 Prussian miles. Barsewisch also states that on the day of the battle of Torgau his battalion marched 3 'miles' (23 km) before joining in the battle...

There were also marches where the army was billeted on the villagers and townspeople along the road, like e.g. during the fall of 1757 when the Prussians marched from Rossbach towards Leuthen. Then the inhabitants had to provide not only bedding, but also food, and in addition were each expected to give his guest a small amount of money (where this was to come from is not stated).


The normal goal of any march was not a battle - but a campground, even though it was stated that a campground should be considered always as a possible battleground.

Scene illustrating different types of tents, colours, stacks of arms and their covers in a Prussian camp (the boy in the foreground is a grandson of the 'Alte Dessauer' when he joined his grandfather's regiment in 1740) - Source: Menzel, Adolf: copy of an oil-painting in Dessau

Finding a good campground was the task of the quartermaster-general. This was considered part of the higher Lagerkunst (art of castrametation), a link to an entire book on the subject is suggested in the references (see ref. g). Logistic aspects to be taken into account were among others: space enough to pitch tents and accommodate animals and wagons, cooking pits, sutlers and camp followers, latrines; availability of water and firing wood; forage possibilities and lack of hiding places for deserters.

The quartermaster-general set out before the army columns with an appropriate escort. He was also accompanied by fourriers from the marching companies. When he had found a place that fitted the purposes, the quartermaster-general measured the appropriate distances and fourriers marked their allocated spaces using camp flags.

Disposition of the camp of a Prussian battalion in 1743
N.B.: In this plan the company of grenadiers is encamped with its parent battalion. During the Seven Years War, this would not be the case since all companies of grenadiers had been converged into converged grenadier battalions - Source: Prussian regulations

When the column had marched in, their fatigues were not over yet.

First, guards were detailed off; they were posted in several rings around the camp to exclude any possibility of enemies approaching unnoticed, and of soldiers deserting... If necessary, they erected small outworks to cover posts. The lucky ones not assigned to guard duty were then free for the usual camp chores: erecting tents, getting bedding straw and fire wood, getting water, maybe meat, digging cooking pits and latrines, caring for the horses, cleaning weapons and repairing equipment, and finally cooking meals for the kettle community. Much of this was performed under close supervision (desertion attempts always being anticipated).

After eating and cleaning mess kit, there may have been a chance to visit the sutlers (if some small coins were still in your pocket), get some spirits, smoke a pipe.

When darkness fell, it was time for Zapfenstreich (fire extinction). Then soldiers crawled into their tent (shared with 4 to 6 comrades in arms, according to what state ran the army). Prussians did not have to sleep on their coats, as some others did: they were provided with a common ground-blanket and another covering blanket. If a man had to go to the latrine thereafter, he had to work his way past the tent senior who was sleeping near the entrance (again: desertion...).

Such a camp was never silent; sleeps may have been deep, but if so probably only from exhaustion.

And the next dawn was not far away. There was no let-up until the end of campaigning for the year an going into winter-quarters.

All this happened in the most stringent environment: discipline was enforced very strictly, even brutally; clothing was not adapted to any extremes (no overcoats or gloves during inclement weather; nor lightening during hot spells) and replaced only after the end of campaigning; hygienic conditions were absolutely inadequate and reasons for enduring all this for most of the men involved were incomprehensible. Even going into winter-quarters could not be relied on: see the additional hardships of winter campaigning, which occurred for example in Saxony in the winter of 1759-60.


While a rare few (officers all) had chances to cover themselves with glory, some even got rewarded not only with orders but even materially; for the vast majority of people of both sexes involved (seldom voluntarily) the Seven Years' War was a time of hardship, suffering and all too often it shortened their lives dramatically.

The uniforms certainly were colourful; but they did not look so good after a season's campaigning. The paintings from the XIXth century show heroic acts and hit soldiers fall spectacularly; ripped off limbs do not show up; not even blackened faces from biting off bullets...

Train drivers (Knechte) are non-persons, as are those scoundrels of commissary officials: they are wiped from the slate to make room for important deeds.

As Bertold Brecht wrote:

“Der junge Alexander eroberte Indien. Er allein? Cäsar schlug die Gallier. Hatte er nicht wenigstens einen Koch bei sich?”
“Young Alexander conquered India. He by himself ? Caesar beat the Gauls. Had he not even a cook with him?”

References and sources

a) Geschichte des siebenjährigen Krieges: In einer Reihe von Vorlesungen, mit Benutzung authentischer Quellen authentischer Quellen, Band 1 , pp. 53 and following

b) Tempelhof, Georg Friedrich von: Geschichte des siebenjährigen Krieges in Deutschland zwischen dem Könige von Preussen und der Kaiserin Königin mit ihren Alliirten als eine Fortsetzung der Geschichte Lloyd, J. F. Unger, Berlin, 1783-1801 , Band 1, pp. 190 and following

c) Cancrin, Georg Graf: Ueber die Militairökonomie im Frieden und Krieg und ihr Wechselverhältnis zu den Operationen, Petersburg, 1820, 2 Bände

d) Richthofen, Emil Karl Heinrich von: Der Haushalt der Kriegsheere in seinen militairischen, politischen und staatswirthschaftlichen Beziehungen, Band 1, Berlin, 1839

e) Archenholz, Johann Wilhelm von: Kleine historische Schriften, Carlsruhe, 1791, dort: Gemälde der Preußischen Armee vor und im Siebenjährigen Krieg

f) Weinberg, Johann / Schrapel, Johann:, Gründliche Anweisung zu dem, was bey einem zu errichtenden Feldkriegsmagazin... Leipzig, 1791, 2 Bände

g) Müller, Ludwig: Königl. Preuß. Ingenieur-Majors nachgelassene Schriften, Erster Band, enthaltend die Lagerkunst, Berlin, 1807

h) Medicus, Heinrich: Was ist jedem Offizier während eines Feldzugs zu wissen nöthig, Carlruhe, 1788

i) Barsewisch, Ernst Friedrich von: Von Rossbach bis Freiberg 1757-1763, Krefeld: Rühl, 1959

j) Anon.: A View of the French Campaign in Russia in 1812, Swansea 1813

k) Heilmann, Johann: Die Kriegskunst der Preussen unter König Friedrich dem Grossen - Volume 2, Leipzig und Meißen, 1853; starting from p. 312

l) Smith, Digby: Armies of 1812, History Press, 2009, p. 171


Dieter Müller for most of this article and Digby Smith for the example from Napoleonic time.