“French Column of Attack, 1806”
This video does a great job I feel of visually representing a French attack during the 1806 period. Watch at 20:36 on (to see specifics);
“Division of Attack formation”
|“1984 Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies,” Brent Nosworthy, Constable & Company Ltd, 1995, p. 133.”|
“3 Divisions attacking with the bayonet”
|“Writings on the French Napoleonic Art of War, B Marshals Bugeaud & Ney, & the Baron De Jomini”, Brent Nosworthy, Ad Signa Publishing, 2003, p.13.|
F.) If the columns strength was its ability to move rapidly and retain its formation, its weakness was in firepower. The simplistic view of “line vs. column” concerned the number of muskets which could be brought to bear. The theory can be summarized as thus: consider two Bn’s, each 800 strong, the attacker in “column of divisions” 9 ranks deep and the defender in two-rank line. Only the leading two ranks of column could fire at the enemy (say 180 men) whereas all 800 men of the defending Bn could fire on the column, and not just upon its head: the flanks of the line could shoot at the side of the column and might edge forward to better accomplish it. The result would be a gross mismatch in which the column would be devastated by the musketry of the line.
(This theory was propagated by Sir Charles Oman's lectures on the “firepower theory” in 1907)
G.) If true it would show a tremendous lack of aptitude for the French commanders in preserving a system so outmatched and which failed so regularly, at least against the British: (“I.E. driven off in the same old style”). It is unlikely, however that French Commanders usually intended not to be so overpowered by the enemies fire, but having used the column for rapid advance, intended to deploy into line and engage with musketry; indeed in attacks involving more than 1 battalion column, it was usual for columns to advance with sufficient space between them to allow such deployments, unless the terrain precluded it.
(My note: Many wargamers make this mistake, realizing to late that they cannot properly deploy, or fudge this later so as to make proper room)
H.) Column attacks were mounted successfully during the French Revolutionary Wars, when some French troops were so ill-trained that they could operate effectively only in column (though this often can be overstated, as linear tactics were used successfully at this time also), and further successes were achieved during the Napoleonic Wars. Most French attacks were preceded by clouds of skirmishers whose sharp shooting, coupled with supporting artillery fire, might shake the enemy so severely that they were almost ready to give way before the advancing column actually came into action.
Watch at 07:36, 09:27 & 14:52 on (to see specifics);
1806_engl by Chretzel
If the battalion has only three divisions (company of divisions), the first should be deployed and the two others should place themselves in column by subdivisions behind its wings. Three cases may occur;
1) The enemy gives way.
2) The enemy stands without flinching, and awaits you boldly or marches unhesitatingly to encounter you.
3) Your troops stop or turn back, with more or less panic or confusion. If the enemy runs away before you reach him, he will run quicker than yourself, and you could not overtake him. (My note: Some wargames accurately portray this) You must therefore send out one of your extreme companies as skirmishers against him, for the purpose of harassing him with a sharp fire, and follow closely with the remaining companies, watching carefully both of your flanks, lest they be turned or lose the support of the adjoining battalions less successful than yours. Let your advance be prudent, and always take precautions against any charge of your cavalry of the second line, or the reserves of your adversary. Before sending out your skirmishers, you may sometimes order the front of your column to fire a volley.
“Writings on the French Napoleonic Art of War, B Marshals Bugeaud & Ney, & the Baron De Jomini”, Brent Nosworthy, Ad Signa Publishing, 2003, p.13.
I.) Frustration for the French in the Peninsula, was uncertainty as to when to deploy from column to line, arising from Wellington’s concealment of his main body of troops on the reverse and leaving his skirmishers on the front of the ridge in plain view. As French columns advanced they would face artillery & skirmish fire as well. And the sudden appearance of the British, moving over the crest to meet it, took it by surprise and precluded its proper deployment as a storm of musketry swept away the head of the column, and the succeeding British bayonet charge then induced the remainder to break & retire.
Not all Peninsula actions followed this pattern, of course, but the “reverse slope” tactic was used where/when possible.