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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

“Line vs. Column," 8

(c) Emmanuel Roy-Créé à l'aide de Populus. Modifié en dernier lieu le 26.06.2007

“Contemporary battlefield examples”

Croebern-1813  Wolfgang Meyer

Major Sempronius Stretton of the British 40thFoot at Waterloo, who recalled how his battalion was in column when an incoming shot decapitated Capt. William Fisher and ploughed on to strike down more than 25 men, “the most destructive shot I ever witnessed during a long period of service”

Artillery support often played a part in the British ability to repel a column, and graphic descriptions of how a column ,could suffer include references to the Imperial Guard’s attack at Waterloo. An artillery officer, Lieut. George Pringle, recalled how a canister shot struck the advancing columns so that they waved, “at each successive discharge, like standing corn blown by the wind”, and Lieut. Frederick Mainwaring of the 51stdescribed the Guard as a dark mass into which “long lanes of light are seen through the black body”as ranks were cut down.

One of the best-known accounts of an attack in column is that written by Thomas Bugeaud later duc d’Isly and Marshal of France. He described how, as a column advanced, the men would become more excited, the pace would increase and the formation would become unsteady, men would hoist their shakos upon their muskets and cry “Vive L’Empereur” and “En avant”, so that their emotions had reached a peak before they reached the enemy.

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

(My note:) With the chaos of battle, smoke, noise, the confusion of enemy artillery tearing through the ranks and skirmisher fire, it is amazing that any troops were able to advance into the face of an enemy. Even though the column was initially and during the later periods of the Napoleonic Wars designed for lesser trained troops. It would still take a large amount of courage for one to take that first left step forward into the unknown!

“Eyewitness Account: French Tactics in 1807”
by Keith Raynor


This interesting letter, written by an anonymous German, gives evidence to the French Army's system of tactics employed during Napoleons ascendancy. Though the facts contained in the letter are sometimes at odds with actuality, there is nevertheless a thread of truth running through the contents. The main theme of the letter appears to be the combined use of Light Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry to break an opponents line at a given point; thus enabling the line Infantry to exploit the break and attack the opposition from the rear.

Whether he knew it or not, what our correspondent was attempting to describe, was the organization of a French Corps d'armee,and how it was used tactically on a battlefield. A Corps d'armee is usually described as an army within an army, consisting of three or four Infantry Divisions together with a Light Cavalry Division and several batteries of artillery. Usually a Light Infantry Regiment was attached to each Infantry Division ( 1 ). Each Infantry Divisional Commander had besides his Infantry Brigades, a battery of Medium field artillery ( 8 pounders ), whilst the Cavalry Divisional Commander had a battery of Light Horse artillery ( 4 or 6 pounders ). The Corps Commander also had a reserve battery of 12 pounders available to him.

A simplified theoretical description of a French assault on opposition ( bearing in mind no two attacks were usually the same ), was for the French artillery to soften up the point of attack with a preliminary bombardment. Skirmishers, consisting of the various Light Infantry would then advance, sometimes whole regiments being employed in this role. These skirmishes would weaken the enemies line with their fire so giving advantage to the following French columns of infantry, who on arrival near the enemies line would rapidly deploy from column into line themselves. A firefight followed, the French usual being supported by accompanying artillery, and if all went to plan, the opponents line would be broken. This tactical system meant French troops could be retained in more versatile column formations for longer, giving them greater flexibility than their opponents. It was also this system and not the rate at which the French Infantry marched, which gave them their reputation for speed in battle. These tactics were one of the ingredients which astonished, perplexed and had helped defeat France's enemies by the time the following letter was written.

Hamburg the May 5th 1807. Anonymous.

My Lord, An honest German stung and overwhelmed by the aspect of the misery and degradation of his Country, but who would think himself unworthy of, and past regeneration, if on the edge of despair even, he would not steadfastly look forward for better times --takes the Freedom to transmit, your Lordship the enclosed sketch of the actual organization of the enemies armies. The same is the result of an unintermitted Investigation, and also of occasional conversation, with some eminent, and most instructed French Officers. To draw good and solid knowledge from the enemy, is the first step and the easiest and surest way, towards hurting and weakening him. It is obvious, My Lord, that the system adopted by the French, will so long be triumphant, until their adversaries, adopt the same mode, and until they incorporate to their Forces, an equal number of clever and expert sharpshooters to answer the same purpose : as in such case, ( provided the chief command be likewise on an equal footing ) the Fate and success of battle could be ruled and mastered, or at least be reduced to be at the dependence of chance and fortune.

Your Lordship will I hope pardon my retaining the shield of Anonymous. Your Lordship's candor will find the apology in my civil situation. A man of honor in a free country, there I too will not boggle [i.e.. hesitate] to show my face. I submit this sketch to your Lordship's strictest Inquiry, and powerful influence. Most happy, I Should be, nay, amply rewarded above my state of slavery, if I should experience to have furnished matter, to effect some good. With the most profound veneration I shall never cease to remain,

My Lord, your Lordships devoted Humble servant.
To the Right Honorable. Lord Viscount Castlereagh, etc, etc, etc,

A Look into the Modern Tactics of the French, being an outline and account of the newly adopted organization of the French Armies.

The Corps Elite of the French Land Forces, tho' well known actually to exist, has ever since its establishment been made an object of jealous secrecy by the French, and consequently a subject of curiosity and speculation of the military men of Europe. The nature and purport thereof has always been problematical, and yet it is evident that the French are, but with very few exceptions, merely owing to the new organization of their armies, the last uninterrupted Victories. The following sketch will it is trusted, throw a sufficient and adequate Light on this question, and on the mode, how they made it possible and practicable, continually to appear Victorious, on the stage of hazardous war.

Each Marshall of the French Empire has a body of Two Thousand men of sharpshooters ( Elite ) attached to his Corps d'armee. Such sharpshooters, all of which being expert and skilled men, are each armed with a small blunderbuss ( arquebuse ), and [ are ] always sure to hit their mark, at a distance of one hundred and fifty paces (2). In any cases, when the whole army is concentrating for a general battle, the several bodies of sharpshooters, belonging to the Corps of each Marshall, are formed into ONE separate Corps by itself, consisting together in sixteen thousand men ( Corps d'Elite ). Now, on whatever point, the Commander in Chief, is of intention, or thinks it best expedient, to break through the opposing army, on such point or spot this select corps of 16,000 men is always sure to be placed and posted, in two lines or Files, and according to the ground where the fight takes place, in one or two divisions. In most cases, the firing, kept up by this corps, thus placed, is but an irregular one, yet each charge or shot never misses its object, and within a few minutes the lines of the opposite side are shot down. Immediately after, when two, three, or four lines of the opponents have thus been disabled or killed in this manner, the Columns of Infantry and Cavalry of the French (previously placed behind and at the wings of the corps of sharpshooters ) instantly press and force forward thro' the openings, and speeding to the right and left, attack and take the neighboring lines of the opponents in the back.As it is, this body of sharpshooters of 16,000 men may within a short time destroy double the quantity, say an opposing army of 30 to 40,000 men.

Besides this select corps of sharpshooters, each Marshall commanding a body of Troops, has a certain number of skilled sharpshooters attached to each company of Infantry, composing the Regiments that form such body of Troops. The purport intended by these shooters, consists exclusively to shoot dead the artillery men at the guns, as also such Officers, as stand affront of the lines, but more particularly to aim at the Chief Commander of the opponents, being always sure to hit their mark at a distance of 150 Military paces.

But besides the Corps Elite of 2,000 Sharpshooters, and the sharpshooters attached to each company of Infantry, as has already been stated, each Marshall posses also, to the body of Troops which he commands ( besides the usual Field Artillery uncommonly strong with the French ) Two most select Batteries of Light Artillery ( Artillerie Volante ) which in point of quickness of motion, and expert dexterity at aiming, may be fully placed in the same rank and class, of the Corps d'Elite, above alluded to.These batteries of Light Artillery, are but seldom separated, but they are generally covered ( masque ) by Cavalry and Tirailleurs; they are always worked and employed, alone and independently, and so indeed a few general charges with cartridges and grapes, is sufficient, to destroy, in a short time, a whole Regiment. But, besides all this, each of the French Marshal's, does further possess, a corps of Chasseurs a Cheval; which have been found, may be employed with a deal of success, as well against Cavalry as Infantry. Each Marshall has still moreover a certain quantity of Voltigeurs ( kind of Rifleman ) which besides of their being expert and clever at climbing, and to leap with ease over broad ditches, and high moles, have also been taught and exercised to jump on a sudden, on the back of the horses, behind the horseman or cavalry and so being in full speed, carried to the spot where they are to fight, they here alight, and place themselves behind underwood, bushes, ditches or moles, to assist at the several particular engagements, when by dint of their safe and certain fire, they in most instances, procure the advantage on such occasions ( 3 ).

In any case when a general battle is to be fought, the select corps of sharpshooters, the Chasseurs a Cheval, the Light Artillery, in short all what is calculated, or tends best to destroy, is drawn together, from out of the several bodies of troops of all the Marshals, to one concerting point, in order entirely to annihilate the center of the opponents. And it is by this mode only, and not by the exclusive courage, boasted of by the French, that the Fate of battles, have since the last two years been decided.It is finally to be observed that all the remainder of the French Troops ( except as above ) do only advance to prosecute, and to push the advantage so gained, but after the center of the opponents, has thus actually been broken thro'.

End Notes:

1.The Light Infantry were supplemented from March 1804 by a Voltigeur company being authorized for each Light Infantry Battalion; And further strengthened from September 1805 when a Voltigeur company was also authorized for each Line Battalion.

2. A blunderbuss would be of little use on a battlefield, particularly for skirmishing at a distance quoted in the letter. Nevertheless, they were to be found in the French army, " Another type of firearm occasionally issued to the French Infantry for counter insurgency or anti-guerilla operations was a bell-mouthed blunderbuss, loaded with a handful of loose powder and whatever hard objects were readily available. However the vast majority of soldiers used the 1777 Musket "( Chandler ).

3. Napoleons specifications for Voltigeurs called for strong, active men, able to march at the trot and to vault up behind a cavalry man. ( Elting ).

4. Works consulted : The Campaigns of Napoleon by D.G. Chandler, Tactics and Grand Tactics of the Napoleonic Wars by N. Zuparko, and, Swords around a Throne by J.R. Elting.

5.The Original letter can be found in the P.R.O. Kew. Reference number WO 1/1114.
Copyright The Discriminating General 1998

To Be Continued...

“Line vs. Column," 7

“Square formation (step 1)”
En carré 1
(c) Emmanuel Roy-Créé à l'aide de Populus.Modifié en dernier lieu le 26.06.2007

The square is a formation an infantry battalion will take be able to stand a cavalry attack. It is usually static (on the picture the figures are “walking”, although they should be holding their ground).

Forming a square, our battalion uses a platoon to form each one of its edges, the pennon’s guard, the drummers, the Major and the adjutants stand in the middle.

The battalion’s square is not specified in the drill regulation. There are two possibilities for forming a square, either form a column or from a line. 

The example above illustrates the formation of a square from a column “at half a distance”.

-The column stops and the Major orders to form the square. The first platoon will not move, it will be the front of the square.

-The 2nd and 3rd platoons split in the middle, their 1st sections turning to their right to form the right edge of the square,while their 2nd sections do the same to the left and form the left edge of the square.

-The 4th platoon closes with the square and makes a half turn on the spot.

“Square formation (step 2)”
En carré 2
(c) Emmanuel Roy-Créé à l'aide de Populus. Modifié en dernier lieu le 26.06.2007

 “Square formation (step 3)”
En carré 3
(c) Emmanuel Roy-Créé à l'aide de Populus. Modifié en dernier lieu le 26.06.2007

“Square formation (step 4)”
En carré 4
(c) Emmanuel Roy-Créé à l'aide de Populus. Modifié en dernier lieu le 26.06.2007

To Be Continued...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

“Line vs. Column," 6

“Column Tactics” Continued

J.) “Contrary to many interpretations”: 

French columns often do seem to have made significant efforts to deploy even as they were engaged. Examples may be found with two of the most famous French infantry attacks at Waterloo. Deployment under such fire was extremely hazardous, so there must be a suspicion that on occasion some commanders continued to attack in column, even though aware of its shortcomings, rather than risk stopping to maneuver. (My note: I have to disagree with P. J. H. here using the common sense applies rule, I believe he did not want to come off as anti-British as well as stated in the beginning of the article that the Peninsular view was not the main view, but then ends the article by reverting back to the Peninsula) (I personally maneuvered on the parade ground at Ft. Benning, GA in 1987 for hours in a company (battalion) size formation conducting all kinds of difficult formations, and executions without having to stop, it only took seconds when properly executed.) How do you explain the plate on the main slide showing units moving although I will admit extremely difficult under battlefield conditions, that’s why men drill so as to automatically execute without thinking
(30 seconds, or less)!)

(See column to square 1806 in video 26:30)

K.) “Terror of the Column”: 

Morale wise the effect upon the enemy of the sight of an approaching column must have been profound: the sight of masses advancing rapidly to charge either the line or the columns opposed to them, this effect is so great that often the enemy ‘gave way whenever a French column came within a certain distance of them, and the French generals never experienced much difficulty in bringing up their columns to this critical point’. Leaving aside the decision to deploy or not, it was rare that a column ever came so close to an enemy that bayonets were crossed (My note: Halt, but P.J.H. just mentioned previously in (I.) that the British always followed up with a bayonet charge, something doesn't smell right here. Maybe he should of stated the threat of a bayonet charge?), ‘a thing which has never been known, except partially, or where a dense smoke has brought troops unconsciously close upon one another…because either one or the other party has invariably given way before an actual contact has taken place…(My note: Definitely needs to be better represented on the wargames table!!!) the contest is merely a moral one –for long before they meet, one wavers… and is lost!

(Napoleonic infantry rarely crossed bayonets. This seems to contradict many rules systems where units slam into each other frequently on the battlefield. Column or line matters not, if the opposing side does not break and delivers short ranged fire.)

(See terror of column 1806 video 32:05)

1806_engl by Chretzel

L.) “Reasoning behind the column”: 

Men in column felt more secure than those in line; those at the front were reassured by the supporting troops at their rear, and those at the rear felt safe by the ranks in the front forming what amounted to a parapet to shield them from enemy musketry.

“Column Facts”

Battalions were meant to deploy in fixed widths. (Co’s & Peloton's) all French battalions used the peloton as the tactical unit, whereas the Company was an organizational unit. However, peloton's were distinctly ad-hoc and soldiers were quite frequently and regularly transferred from one peloton to another, whereas they weren't transferred from one company to another. The idea was to keep the number of men in each peloton as equal as possible. The reason for that was so that, for example, when forming column of companies (i.e. a frontage two peloton's wide) the column would have a roughly equal number of files in each rank.

French Co’s 1791-1808 3 ranks, 1808 –1815 2 ranks (Especially after 1813 due to losses in manpower)

Frontage widths were always maintained no matter how many ranks. (I.E. Plugging the gap, later ranks would merely walk forward to plug any holes occurring in the line.)

(Ex. If units were under strength;
I--50--I    The 3rd Rank were the skirmishers in may countries.

Within the battalion, men were organized into companies: nine per battalion in the French army until 1808, when a reorganization reduced it to six (one grenadier, one light, four line). In the Austrian army battalions had six companies; in the Prussian, four; and in the British, ten. Confusingly a pair of companies were often referred to as a division, so that a battalion in a “column of divisions” had a front of two companies. This had nothing to do with the higher formation of a division (which usually contained several brigades; ten or a dozen battalions), though it has been suggested –not very plausibly –that confusion over the terms was responsible for d’Erlon’s monstrous formation at Waterloo.

A battalion would form column on a front of one, or more commonly two, companies, giving it a front of around fifty to eighty men, and a depth of nine to twelve men, depending on the number and strength of the companies in the battalion. It would thus be thirty to sixty yards wide and between twelve and fifteen yards deep, when the companies were closed up for an attack, making it more a stubby line than a ‘column’. Sometimes, however, a number of battalions –perhaps a whole regiment, or even more –were deployed behind the other, greatly increasing the depth of the column while its front remained limited to two companies. Such a formation had little to recommend it, except in a defile or when the terrain otherwise compelled the advancing troops to attack on a very narrow front. Open columns, with large gaps between successive companies enabling them to swing out and deploy into line or square, were widely used for maneuvering at a distance from the enemy, even by the British; but they were not suitable for close combat, having none of the compactness and cohesion of a closed column, nor the firepower of a line.

In general the column –particularly smaller battalion columns –had many advantages. With their narrow front and without the need to maintain perfect alignment with their neighbors, they could advance far more rapidly and over much rougher ground than infantry in line. Their officers and NCO’s were concentrated so that they could more easily set their men a prominent example or maintain pressure from behind as circumstances required, while the press of comrades to front and rear must have encouraged the men, far fewer of whom were in the exposed front ranks immediately facing the enemy. The flanks of the column were far less vulnerable, for by filling the gaps between companies with officers and NCO’s, while men on the outer edge of each company faced outwards, it could quickly convert into a solid block, less secure than a properly formed square but still capable of resisting all but the most determined cavalry. Alternatively a proper square could be formed more quickly and easily from a column than from line. For all these reasons columns were ideally suited for use by poorly trained troops making an attack.

(“Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon”, Rory Muir, p. 68., 71)

Which columns were in fact used at different times and in different circumstances is not entirely clear... but we do have examples of specific names of these columns being used in accounts of certain battles.

In general however there would seem to have been a trend towards the adoption of the column of divisions rather than the column of attack because it was found to be easier to use and control.

The column formed on the centre would seem to be preferred as a formation to perform a passage of line in chequer board array. In this, the battalions in each line would have deployment intervals between them, and so would have been closer together than they are depicted in the diagram that is page on 16.

Otherwise the battalions in each line would have an interval of a battalion, or more between them! Even in chequer board array a division would still be required to maneuver as a body of troops, so it would not be done to allow battalion commanders to disregard the movements of the other battalions in their line.