Sunday, November 27, 2011

“Line vs. Column," CONCLUSION!

The myth example that needs to be corrected!

It should be remembered that the majority of manœuvres on the battlefield by all armies were conducted in columns of one type or another, and that attack in column was frequently successful. Without the formation, it would have been difficult for any army to maneuver at all on the field of battle. As Napier noted, “well managed columns are the very soul of military operations”

The French line is frequently overshadowed  by the column, but the three deep line was very effective. At Salamanca 1812 for example, the British  commented on the French three deep line firepower as “..murderous... the heaviest fire I have seen...” Each French Marshal had his own favorite formations; Lannes used both column and line, but the line predominated; Soult seemed to prefer column, Davout used both but the column predominated, while Napoleon preferred a mixture – column – line – column.

The pure truth of the matter is that we really do not know exactly what drill techniques were used by whom, or at what times. While we have drill books that show us what the theory was, there is little evidence of how much of this was actually translated into practice on the battlefield. Perhaps even worse, we do not know what battlefield practices never made it to the drill books! As a result we are faced with the necessity of arbitrarily defining a table-top drill system that is based on our view of what actually happened. What follows is a workable system that will provide you, as a tabletop commander, analogous problems in terms of time and distance to those we feel the real world commander faced during this period. It is not a “faithful reproduction”. It is a playable, rational “impressionistic interpretation” of drill in the Napoleonic period. It may also be played at several different levels of sophistication to match the taste of your gaming group. (Chef de bataillon, Scott Bowden, p. 63, 1995)

The reality!

                 Therefore, I can’t really can’t say of Major Heinrich Wundenberg`s account exactly what type of formation his unit was in, but only offer up the examples presented here as a possible plausible explanations. Wundenberg only states;

"In the morning of 7 September we started forward, ....Our artillery
batteries advanced, firing in particular at the entrenchments of
Borodino. Continuing this for a little while and having caused losses
to the enemy, closed columns of infantry advanced to capture the
fortified positions. But the Russians stood like walls and repulsed the
attack for they are very brave, especially behind fortifications.
The Westphalian infantry, drawn up near the Poles, was
ordered to take Borodino, towards which our battalion, as light
troops advanced in loose order at the head of the column. I had tightly
rolled up my greatcoat which was tied to my chest under the left arm –
we always carried them with us as the carts with our kit bags were not
always at hand.

During this attack, which the Russians beat off, I got shot on
the chest. The ball hit the rolled-up coat, which it did not penetrate, and I
escaped with only a bruise on the chest. The cavalry on each side launched
great and bloody charges. It was murder of a terrible kind that day until, at
about three o’clock in the afternoon, our artillery, with it’s superior rate of
fire, had destroyed the fortifications which were the stormed by our columns.
We took Borodino. Our cavalry now came galloping to the front, forming
a line some distance in front of us. Then our artillery moved up as quickly as it
could, forming a battery of 90 guns to the rear of the cavalry, all loaded with
canister with a range of 700 paces. As soon as the battery was formed the cavalry,
which had acted as a screen, retired. Kutuzov had drawn up all his infantry into a
storming column in front of the forest to break through our center. The Marshals
therefore asked Napoleon to order into action the Old Guard, which had been
waiting all day, to beat off Kutuzov’s attack.  But Napoleon did not want to risk
them at this time and relied on the battery of 90 guns; he never used us for
manoeuvering in dangerous situations.

When the Russian column had advanced to within canister range, our
battery opened fire so that the earth trembled, mowing down the Russians in
masses. It did not take long before the column began to waver, hesitated to
advance and quickly retreated back to the forest, so that the battle was won." 

Wundenberg, Heinrich, and Hopkinson, Charles, and Henderson, John, ed's. My Military Experiences 1806-1816: by Major Heinrich Wundenberg. England, Newcastle upon Tyre: Roger Booth Associates, 1991. p 9 – 10, .

“History of French Tactics”
LT COL. Paul Gideon Joly De Maizeroy (1718 – 1780);  “L’ordre Profonde” Columnar Deep Formations

Baron Francis Jean de Mesnil-Durand (1727 – 1799);  “Tactics, Solidity, Security of Flanks, Speed, Plesion = 768 Inf 24 across x 32 Deep, Supported by 96 = 2 Platoons (48ea) of Grenadiers, and a small unit of 50 Horse Grenadiers, (Beginning of Corps Development Theory)

Marshal Brogolie “Camp at Vaussieux, 1798”;  “Drilled to Mesnil-Durand’s ordinance” (Results were not impressive, Hard to maneuver) 8 maneuvers over three weeks, liked L’ordre Profonde better

Jean du Tiel, “Published; Treatise on Artillery” Served with Napoleon under brother Joseph in Artillery

Gen. Jean Baptiste de Gribeauval (1715 – 1789);  “Redesigned French Artillery system; lighter, more mobile

Jacques Antoine Hippolyte Comte de Guibert (1743 -1790);  “Educated by Father who served on Brogolie’s staff & Choiseul (War Minister) 1700 -1770) “Essay on Tactics” 1772 “L’ordre Mixte” (Move in one formation, Attack in another), “Règlement de Aout 1791”

1.)  “Military Illustrated” Magazine #136, “Napoleon’s Columns in Action”, Philip J. Haythornthwaite,  pgs. 18-23.

2.)  “Tradition Magazine” Hors Serie No 19, “L’Infanterie Napoleonienne 1791 – 1815, Alain Pigeard, 2001.

3.)  “1806 Documentary
This documentary is about the twin battles of Jena and Auerstadt, which were often said to mark the peak of Napoleons military career. at minute 05:35), 2007.

4.)  “Histoire de Jouer”

5.)  “Les Voltigeurs de la Garde”  (c) Emmanuel Roy - Créé à l'aide de Populus.Modifié en dernier lieu le 26.06.2007.

6.)  “Carnage & Glory II” Nigel P. Marsh, 2006.

7.)  “Chef De Battalion” Scott Bowden & Jim Getz,  The Emperor’s Press, 1995.

8.)  “The Column Line, and Square, Battle Manual” Fred H. Vietmeyer & Judson T. Bauman, Copyright F. Vietmeyer, 1973.

9.)  “Napoleonic Army Organization, Circa 1812” Fred Vietmeyer,

10.)  “Ecole Du Soldat, Règlement Concernant L’Exercise De L’Infanterie Du Premier Aout 1791”  Brigade Publishing, 1996.

11.)  “Règlement Concernant L’Exercise Et Les Manoeuvres De L’Infanterie Du Aout 1791” 1791.

12.)  “Manuel D’Infanterie, Ou Resume De Tous Reglemens, Decrets, Usages, Et Renseignemens Propres Aux Sous-Officers De Cette Arme, A Sa Majeste Le Roi De Westphalie” Chez Magimel, 1813.

13.)  “French Napoleonic Line Infantry 1796 - 1815”, “Emir Bukarhi, Almark Publishing Co. Ltd., 1973.

14.)  “French Revolutionary Infantry 1789 – 1802”, Terry Crowdy, Osprey, 2004.

15.)  “French Napoleonic Infantryman 1803 -15”, Terry Crowdy, Osprey, 2002.

16.)  “French Napoleonic Infantry Tactics 1792 -1815”, Paddy Griffith, Osprey, 2007.

17.)  “My Military Experiences 1806 -18 16, by Major Heinrich Wundenburg 1788 - 1870”, Charles Hopkinsin & John Henderson Napoleonic Association, 1991.

18.)  “Battle: A History of Combat and Culture”, John A. Lynn, Basic Books, 2003.

19.)  “The Bayonets of the Republic, Motivation and Tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France 1791-94”, John A. Lynn, University of Illinois Press, 1984.

20.)  “Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon”, Rory Muir, Yale University Press, 1998.

21.)  “A Guide to Napoleonic Warfare, Maneuvers of the Battery, Battalion, and Brigade During the First Empire As Found in Contemporary Regulations”, George Nafziger, Privately published, ?.

22.)  “A Treatise Upon the Regulations of the French Infantry, by Gen. de Bde. Meunier, George Nafziger, The Nafziger Collection, Inc., 2000.

23.)  “The French Republican Army 1792 - 1815, Vol. I The Infantry”, George Nafziger, GFN, 1997.

24.)  “The French Republican Army 1792 - 1815, Vol. II The Infantry”, George Nafziger, GFN, 1997.

25.)  “Writings on the French Napoleonic Art of War, B Marshals Bugeaud & Ney, & the Baron De Jomini”, Brent Nosworthy, Ad Signa Publishing, 2003.

26.)  “Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies”, Brent Nosworthy,  Constable & Company Ltd, 1995.

27.)  “The Background of Napoleonic Warfare: The Theory  of Military Tactics in Eighteenth-Century France”, Robert S. Quimby, Columbia University Press, 1957.  

28.)  “A New Principle of Tactics practiced by the Armies of the Republic of France; Illustrated and Recommended to be practiced by the Regular and Militia Armies of the United States”, James Simons, From the Press of Timothy & Mason, 1797.

29.)  “Fighting Techniques of the Napoleonic Age 1792 -1815, Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics” Various, Thomas Duane Books, 2008.

30.) “Tactics and Grand Tactics of the Napoleonic Wars”, George Jeffrey’s, Ed. By Ned Zuparko, The Courier Publishing Co. Inc., 1982.

31.) “A Reappraisal of Column Versus Line in the Peninsular War - Oman and Historiography, James R. Arnold" link
Copyright The Discriminating General 1998

Other References:
The base for all study on the tactical deployment of the Napoleonic French infantry, the “drill regulation regarding the training and the maneuvering of the infantry” of 1791 ( « règlement concernant l’exercice et les manœuvres de l’infanterie » du 1er août 1791) can be downloaded for free on the French National Library’s website, at : Of course it is in French, but I don’t know if any English translation of this text exists.

Available on the same website I can suggest taking a look at the two following books amongst all those proposed, once again only for those who can read French I am afraid :- “The art of warfare, or exhaustive work on the training of infantry, cavalry, cannons, piques and explosives”, published in the year I of the republic (« L’art du militaire, ou traité complet de l’exercice de l’infanterie, cavalerie, du canon, de la bombe et des piques »)- « The anecdotic, politic and military history of the Imperial Guard” (« L’histoire anecdotique, politique et militaire de la Garde Impériale ») by Marco de Saint-Hilaire, published in 1846 

-Tableaux synoptiques des manoeuvres d'infanterie, par un major d'infanterie. Strasbourg, post-1810.- Instruction concernant les manoeuvres de l'infanterie. donnée par l'Inspecteur général de l'Infanterie de l'armée du Rhin. Strasbourg, 1809.- Règlement concernant le service intérieur, la police et la discipline de l'infanterie. Du 24 Juin 1792, l'an 4.e de la Liberté. Paris, an VII.

Other books I used in my researches :
- « La Campagne de 1814 au jour le jou r», Jean-Pierre Mir
- « La Garde Impériale et la Campagne de 1814 », Jean-Pierre Mir
- « 1814 - La Campagne de France », Jean Tranié and J.C. Carmigniani
- « Uniformes et Armes des soldats du 1er Empire », Liliane and Fred Funcken
- « La Garde Impériale », Volume 1, André Jouineau and Jean-Marie Mongin
- « «The Waterloo Companion », Mark Adkin

On the web, a very nice and clear explanation of the regulation above mentioned (well… in French) on the site of the reenactment group of the 8th Line Regiment

Finally, I can recommend you the site of the “Austerlitz 2005” project, for which Mr Jakub Samek is the secretary. This site is available in English, and keeps tracks of the last developments of this project which will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the famous battle, and in which numerous reenacters should take part, already more than a thousand of them are registered !

Instruction concernant les manoeuvres de l'infanterie, donnée par l'Inspecteur général de l'Infanterie de l'armée du Rhin. (édition 1809)

On this same site at the following page :  you will find some illustrations of the above mentioned drill regulation.