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"Gefreiter - corporal or senior private ?" Topic

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680 hits since 23 Nov 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Osage201723 Nov 2017 12:22 p.m. PST

Question about the Austrian and Prussian infantry.

Oliver Schmidt23 Nov 2017 12:43 p.m. PST

In the Prussian army, the Gefreiter did wear the private's uniform, not that of the Unteroffizier).

However, in the infantry (but not in the cavalry), he was allowed to wear the NCO's sword tassle until 2nd December 1809, when it was decided that henceforth newly appointed Gefreite in the infantry should receive only the privates' sword tassle. Those who already were Gefreite at that time, were allowed to continue wearing the NCO's tassle.

The payment of a Gefreiter was between that of the privates and the NCOs.

Therefore, in the Prussian army, I would opt for senior private.

Le Breton Inactive Member23 Nov 2017 1:31 p.m. PST

Russian Ефрейторъ / Yefreytor

--- 6 per company
--- same pay and uniform as rankers
--- not a separate rank, but instead a billet for a senior soldier who was deemed a candidate for promotion to corporal
--- temporarily peformed the duties of a corporal when there were insufficient corporals available
--- so "Senior Private", however "Lance Corporal" would be also appropriate

Martin Rapier23 Nov 2017 1:42 p.m. PST

In the post 1809 Prussian Army (and later Reichsheer and Wehrmacht) gefreiter, obergfreiter and stabsgefreiter are all enlisted mens ranks.

As noted above, they did sometimes perform the duties of junior NCOs.

Oliver Schmidt23 Nov 2017 2:12 p.m. PST

I think the Prussian rank of Ober-Gefreiter was introduced long after the Napoleonic Wars (in 1846 ?).

It was abolished in 1853 (§.7.):


and re-introduced I don't know when.

The rank of Haupt-Gefreiter must be even younger.

grenadier corporal24 Nov 2017 12:17 a.m. PST

For the Austrians: senior private with no distinctions at all, but occasionally charged with the duties of a corporal.
Till today the Gefreite is not a NCO, but a "Charge".
The NCO-ranks (then only Corporal and Feldwebel) have been heavily augmented since Napoleonic times. Today a Korporal is the second rank within the "Chargen", the NCOs proper starting with Wachtmeister – which would be the equivalent of o Napoleonic time Corporal.
Well, I'd better stop here …

Osage201724 Nov 2017 7:38 a.m. PST

So Feldwebel was equivalent to Sergeant in the Austrian infantry ?

But if so, then what was the name for Sergeant-Major, or Senior Sergeant ?

Prince of Essling24 Nov 2017 11:01 a.m. PST

Have a look at the very helpful Napoleon Series Forum article "A Table of Military Ranks by Country" produced by Jeff Lewis link

According to the table Austrian Feldwebel = serjeant major.

Le Breton Inactive Member24 Nov 2017 4:32 p.m. PST

Russian Фельдфебель / Fel'dfebel

--- can be called Company Sergeant Major, 1st Sergeant or Senior Sergeant in English
--- highest NCO rank
--- found in infantry and artillery units, 1 per company
--- in the artillery, aimed and commanded the first gun in the company
--- same uniform as other NCO's, higher pay, was a distinct rank
--- called Вахмистръ / Vakhmistr in the cavalry, 1 per squadron

grenadier corporal27 Nov 2017 12:10 a.m. PST

An Austrian CAVEAT to Jeff Lewis's list:
Oberstwachtmeister was an old title for Major – so an officer and certainly not the NCO-rank "Sergeant Major".
A "Fourierschütz" was an officer's servant, not a sharpshooter.
"Vice-Corporal" was not a rank, but a function: privates destined to become full corporals in case of need, ie war times.
The Regiments-Adjutant and the Bataillons-Adjutant were both junior officers.

Prince of Essling27 Nov 2017 9:35 a.m. PST

@grenadier corporal,
Many thanks – further info below extracted from Enrico Acerbi's excellent "The Austrian Imperial-Royal Army (Kaiserliche-Königliche Heer) 1805 – 1809: A Dictionary of K.K. Austrian Regimental Positions and Ranks" at link

Feld=Field Webel=(Wiebel) [10] administrative servant. Was the first NCO of the company in not mounted units and the supervisory for the inner duties in a company. This word comes from the Landsknechte period. Stood in the middle of the battlefield near the Banderuole (Banderols, ancient patrols equivalent of companies – German Fähnlein) in order to transmit the Landsknechte Hauptmann orders, on what the Gemeine had or not had to perform; also administered fees. Near the Feldwebel stood the Stellvertreter der Hauptleute (deputies of higher officers), since then called Lieutenants.

In more modern periods the Feldwebel overlooked at the company organization, made the company's reports, administered the payments for the soldiers, and so on. In German armies the vice-Feldwebel were named Sergeanten or Unteroffizieren and often carried the bataillon's flags. This qualified the rank as similar to a current Sergeant-major. The Feldwebel were selected without taking into consideration seniority, only after the promotion from sergeants and non-commissioned officers. Practically he did, in the company, what the Adjutanten did in the regiment.

Since 1769 they were transferred in the Lesser Prima-Plana lists and so they acquired the right to voluntarily dismiss themselves from service, having a not mandatory Military Duty time.

In the Austrian army, as for the two etymologies, there were Feldwebel and Rechnung-Feldwebel (payments).

Austrian army Equivalents:

Light troops (Jäger) =Oberjäger
Cavalry =Wachtmeister
Artillery =Feuerwerker

Feldwebel in the Napoleonic times as well as before and after, is a rank, he is the highest ranking NCO within a company and there is always only one Feldwebel per company in peacetime. His equivalent in the French army is sergent-major. While in peacetime there was one Feldwebel per company during the wartime, after 1805, each company had one more Feldwebel (a more Zimmermann too). Since November 1, 1849, the second Feldwebel became mandatory also in peacetime, from that time assuming distinctive administrative tasks.


Obviously the important tasks assigned to a Fourier needed his personal body-guards. These were the Fourierschützen, in the Landsknechts armies called also Trabanten or Leibschützen. Sometimes they were present in stated amounts (i.e. 12 for the Obrist, 6 for the Hauptmann). During the time evolution, the necessity to act as body-guard began to be less important, so they became the real Fourier's helpers. Under the Prince Eugene rule their number was fixed in four per Company Commander (or Staff officer). There were also other service personnel in the Austrian army called Nachwuchs or Novizen, at that time. On 1726 the number of the Fourierschützen was lowered to two per Company Commander (or Staff officer). On 1767 there was only one Fourierschütz attached as a Fourier's aide. He had to help to find the quarters and expecially the officer's accomodations and services.

On 1771, during the peacetime, every officer and Fahnen-Cadett had one Gemeine at their service. These new Fourierschützen were called Privatdiener. They were free from the common military duties, in order to serve the officers. On 1779 also the Auditoren, the Rechnungsführern and the Adjutanten had their Privatdiener. On 1801 all the Staff officers, and the companies commanders (that is also the Capitain-Lieutenants) had a Fourierschütz at their service, while the other higher officers (Regiments-Caplanen, -Ärzte and Auditoren too) had their personal Privatdiener, who had the same wage and uniform [11] as the Gemeine. These soldier were often taken from the invalids or the partialy fit men. (from 1808 they were chosen among the half-invalids of the regiment). The Privatdiener on 1853 received the name of Offiziersdiener and were attached only to Higher and Staff officers.

1- Wachtmeister Lieutenant or Regiments-Adjutant
The first time this charge was observed was in a Verpflegs-Ordonnanz of 1648. He was the "factotum" of the regiment, the right arm of the Obrist Commandant, kept the regiment's lists, the services distribution, diffused the Chief's orders and, in battle, directly defended the Obrist. Dressed like an officer and mounted, he had the rank of the upper Senior Feldwebel. From 1769 his name changed to Regiments-Adjutant.

On 1803 they reached the rank of Fähnriche and, on 1807, they had to use a sabre only in face of the enemy and for personal defence. During the XIX century they gradually acquired the mansions of the Auditore and those of the Secretären; from 1861 they received also a governative (Ärarisch) horse for the duty.

2- Bataillons-Adjutant
This Charge was established on 1769, for the kombinierte-Grenadiers-bataillone. They served in the grenadier battalions in the same way the Regiments-Adjutant served the regiment. During the first Revolutionary wars period (1792-1801) they appeared also in the regular battalions Staffs. This became official (also for the peacetime) after 1803.

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