Infantry 1800-1815

(part 3)

  • Speed of Infantry.
  • Bayonet Fight.
  • Attack, Counter-attack, Flight, Mixed Troops.
  • Squares Against Cavalry [size, type, maneuver, in action].
  • Acknowledgement, sources and further reading.

  • Wirtembergian jager.

    Speed of Infantry.

    Fields freshly cultivated or after rain were obstacles when a fast advance was required. In August 1813 at the battle of Katzbach (today Kaczawa River) the Prussian landwehr near Bellwitz struggled in deep mud "which sucked the shoes off the landwehr". Hedges and ditches were also obstacles for formed bodies of troops.
    If terrain permitted the infantry marched in columns and even in masses; artillery usually on the road or open terrain and infantry on both sides of the road or across the fields.

    The faster the infantry is advancing the less time is exposed to artillery and musket fire.
    Fast marching is also good for morale of troopers as they are preoccupied with vigorous physical activity and there is less space in their minds for fear.
    But the faster they march the more disordered they become. The more disordered the more out of control. The stress and excitement can be such that they will start running. Breath of some troopers can run short already after 50-100 paces [remember, before battle they spend days or weeks on long marches, often hungry and burdened by weapons and backpack]. Also not every every trooper was very brave and eager to fight. Many were brave, some were not. Some carried their backpacks [sometimes full of precious loot or just full of junk] others left the burden in the rear. Some were young and strong, others were older, or were wounded in the past and it made the run painful or just slightly more difficult.

    The fast march or run were very difficult or almost impossible for drummers to keep up with the troops. For this reason light troops had trumpeters instead of drummers.
    Remember that the speed of march for the light infantry was greater by approx. 15 %. It means if for example the line marched at 75 paces , the light troops at 87.5 paces per minute.

    The fastest on the battlefield were skirmishers.
    The slowest were troops formed in squares or long lines.
    Columns were between these two groups.

    Speed of French infantry:
    Pas ordinaire - 75 paces per minute
    Pas de route - 85-90 paces per minute
    Pas accelere - 100 paces per minute.
    Pas de charge - 120 paces per minute.
    Pas de course - 200-250 paces per minute.

    The French infantry, line and light, enjoyed reputation of being light-footed and agile on the battlefield.
    The Russian infantry was accustomed to long-distance marches but on the battlefield were considered rather clumsy (except their Guard, jagers and grenadiers).
    The German-speaking infantrymen (with the exception of their light troops) were strong but rather heavy-footed. .

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    Bayonet Fight.

    There were many bayonet charges during Napoleonic Wars but only few fights in open field. General Jomini for example wrote that he never ever saw a bayonet fight in open field between two formed bodies of troops, and he participated in several great battles. Other authors claim that only in 1805 at Amstetten great bodies of troops clashed in open field. [At Amstetten the French after lengthy firefight attacked with cold steel instantly breaking 4 battalions of infantry. Only 2 battalions of grenadiers held their ground and bayonet fight continued until "darkness fell." The French won.]
    The most often bayonet fights were between skirmishers or between troops fighting in woods, villages or redoubts. Bayonet fight in open field it was a different story.
    In open field often the sight of 500 bayonets glittering in daylight and coming closer and closer was enough to break the morale of enemy. If the attackers noticed any wavering they sped up their advance while those who passively waited now fled in panick without firing a single shot.
    Also if the attacking column was fired upon at a very long range it indicated weak morale of the enemy. Such fire caused no casualties and the attackers became bolder. In the same time the defender lost his cool seeing the enemy marching resolutely despite the fire.
    But sometimes both sides were very brave and determined and came to within 50 paces or less from each other. Then both sides delivered one or more volleys before one side had enough and fled while other pursued them.
    For example in 1814 at La Rothiere a column of Russian infantry suddenly met a column of Young Guard. At 30 paces both sides stopped thunderstruck and immediately delivered volley. The troopers in front ranks began hurling stones and insults at the enemy while the rear ranks pressed forward. Bruised and bleeding, screaming and moaning soldiers on both sides were determined to win but they didn't cross their bayonets. They stayed rooted to their places until additional two columns of Young Guard appeared on the nearby streets. Now the Russians fled.
    Such close encounters were very bloody affairs and many bayonet wounds were inflicted during pursuit. Not always the entire battalion fled, here and there were groups of the bravest soldiers who refused to flee and fought to death or surrendered (Maida). If they fought they were finished off by the enemy and this bloody job was done with bayonets and musket butts.
    The bayonet attack was a good thing against enemy who was deploying, even against good quality troops. For example in 1815 at Ligny a Prussian battalion delivered a volley at French battalion who attempted to deploy and to return the fire. The Prussians fired another volley and immediately attacked with bayonets threwing the French back.
    Even more advantageous situation for bayonet attack was when enemy was earlier bombarded by artillery. It was Napoleon who said these important words: "Columns do not break through line, unless with superior artillery."
    The French regulations from 1805 stated that bayonet attack is to be used "as a coup de grace against enemy that is disorganized by fire" and/or physically worn down.
    In Spain the attacking French columns were under fire from British artillery and sharpshooters, and then partially disordered by hilly and/or rugged terrain before the British infantry fired at them and attacked with bayonets.
    In open field wounds from bayonets were most often inflicted during pursuit or during attack on flank of enemy and not in frontal clash of two sides.

    In 1807 (Napoleon war against Russia) chirurg Larrey studied wounded on one battlefield and found most were caused by artillery and muskets.
    Only 2 % of all wounds were caused by bayonets. (!)

    Larrey also studied one vicious fight and found 119 wounds from musketballs and 5 from bayonets.

    {The ratio of wounded/killed from bayonets was probably even lower
    because some soldiers instead of taking prisoners bayoneted them,
    or bayoneted the wounded after musket fire, or bayoneted those on the ground
    to freely "search" their pockets. It means some part of wounds from bayonets
    was not inflicted in combat.
    Of course there were battles with higher ratio of wounds from bayonets (Borodino, Eylau)
    and battles with lower ratio of bayonet wounds (battles in Spain and Italy).}

    Attack, Counter-attack, Flight, Mixed Troops.

    The seeds of fear and panic are always present in every troop so long as they are in the midst of physical danger, the form of which changes from moment to moment.
    Also the men will run if they see others running and not understand why. In these natural tendencies lie the chief dangers to battlefield control and the major causes of panic. Since panic gathers volume like a snowball, I think we can take it that every large panic starts with some very minor event. But even among fleeing troops are those who are willing to fight. These lads usually attached themselves to other battalions which were coming up. It led to some troops being mixed in battle.
    In 1813 at Kulm, 3 battalions of 10th 'Silesian' Landwehr Regiment and supported by artillery broke and fled before the 12 battalions of French infantry (6 btns. of GdB Revest's brigade and 6 of GdB Quiot's brigade) were able to close with them. [The Landwehr was supported by 11th Reserve Infantry Regiment and the French by small troop of cavalry.] The Landwehr seeing the pounded by artillery but still advancing French fled in panick. They ran to the rear and disordered battalion of 2nd 'Silesian' Infantry Regiment. Prinz August grabbed the flag of the Silesians and shouted "Whoever has a true Prussian heart, follow me !" He was able to rally several hundred infantrymen and Landwehr and with a loud "huuurraaaah !" attacked the French.
    In 1813 at Dennewitz at afternoon the Prussian 3rd and 4th Brigade were mixed up on the battlefield before their officers were able to put order.
    In 1815 at Ligny a Prussian battalion shouted "hurraahh!" and attacked the French throwing them back and across a brook. The victors were halted by artillery fire and immediately counter-attacked by reformed French infantry.
    The Prussians were driven back at bayonet point.
    Then the French were halted in their pursuit and thrown back with fury. The Prussians pursued them until artillery halted them and they were also pushed back. Meanwhile the bravest of the fleeing troopers from other battalions joined both sides. The regular battalions became battle-groups where the bravest men from several battalions fought together.
    In 1813 at Dresden the Austrians from 1st Gradiscaner, Ist Battalion of Wallachian-Illyrian and 2 companies of Ist Battalion of Deutsch-Banat Regiment found themselves mixed up during battle.
    In 1813 at Dennewitz the Prussian 3rd and 4th Brigade became completely mixed up. At Battle of Weinberg Defile the Prussian 2nd and 7th Brigade became entangled while executing a deployment into battle formation.

    Often those who started the run, and thereby spread the fear which started the panic, had a legitimate or at least a reasonable excuse for the action. For example an officer was hit and the next he was running for a first-aid station in the rear without telling his own troop why he was getting out. They took out after him and the line broke. Others who hadn't seen the officer make his dash saw someone else in flight. They too ran. It all happened in a flash as fear is contagious. Other men nearby become stampeded by the appearance of flight.
    In such situation the officers and the bravest lads (if there are any) have to stand in the path of flight, command the men to turn back and don't hesitate to manhandle them or to threaten the others with sabers. If the enemy is not in a close pursuit there is some chance to stop the flight.

    During pursuit the victorious troops became disorganized and vulnerable to counterattack. For example at Wagram the 24e Legere broke the Austrians and pursued them. The victorious French had scattered "in small platoons" and groups and then was suddenly attacked by Austrian infantry of second line. The Austrians {Argenteau Infantry Regiment} captured the regimental Eagle and easily broke the small pockets of French troops.

    Squares Against Cavalry [size, type, maneuver, in action].

    The square was a formation of infantry during Napoleonic wars wherein the center is unoccupied and the infantrymen were standing shoulder to shoulder and presenting an unbroken line, 3 or 6 ranks deep. Sometimes in the corners of the square would be posted light guns.
    The infantrymen would present rows of bayonets to ward off the cavalry. The square gave the infantry a much better chance of surviving the cavalry charge.
    Whenever infantry officers saw that enemy's cavalry is moving forward and making preparations for attack they started forming squares. Such movements of cavalry were already noticed at quite great distance, approx. 1 - 1.5 km. through field glasses.
    According to French regulations from 1791 if the infantry was in line (3-rank deep) it sould be able to form square in 100 seconds. But if they were in attack column (colonne d'attaque) 30 seconds were enough . Square could be also formed from column with full or half intervals. Actually to form a square was much easier from a column with intervals than from line.
    The Austrians formed their battalions in so-called divisionsmasses. Two companies broke into 4 half-companies, aligned themselves behind the other, and closed their ranks up to about 3 feet between the half-companies.

    It was generally expected that average trained battalion will form a hollow square in 2-3 minutes. Under battle conditions the same infantry will need up to 4 1/2 - 6 minutes. To form a square from 2 battalions took approx. twice longer time. The well-trained and accustomed to battle conditions infantry needed shorter time than average troops. Generally the bigger squares required longer time to form than smaller ones. To form a square of equal faces took up to 2 times as long as forming an oblong. (see below: hollow square, hollow oblong, solid square/closed column)


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    Square (hollow square),
    each side of the square is 3-ranks deep.


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    Square (hollow square),
    each side of the square is 6-ranks deep.


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    Square (in fact this is oblong, or hollow oblong).

    Square (also called solid square or closed column)

    The bigger squares moved slower and were clumsier than the small squares but were more difficult to break for cavalry than small squares.
    The development of the attack column during the Revolutionary Wars introduced a solid square (or also called closed column). Differing from the hollow square, the closed square was a dense formation, formed by having the companies closing the intervals and having the men on the sides and the rear turn to face outwards. If the cavalry was too close to form a hollow square the infantry formed the solid square.
    The hollow squares were formed on 3 or 6 ranks and often in checkboard formation with guns in intervals. In 1811 Davout instructed that the distances between squares should be 120 paces.

    The squares were able to move on the battlefield. In 1813 at Kulm French brigade of infantry commanded by general Duhesme formed in 2 squares marched against Unter-Arbesau. At Lutzen the French 20th Infantry Division commanded by GdD Compans was formed in one square and advanced against enemy troops near Starsiedel. In the same battle French infantry (six brigades of infantry) formed in 6 squares marched toward fighting zone. In 1815 at Waterloo much smaller squares formed by French "Middle Guard" attacked British, German and Dutch troops.
    Squares could move forward or retreat, but it was difficult to maneuver with it.
    The bigger the square the slower the advance but greater strength. The bad thing about them was their sensitivity to artillery fire. The squares were clumsier than columns, advanced slower, it means that they were exposed to artillery fire for longer time.
    One could always form a solid square instead of hollow one. It moved faster, was easier to form but it was so compact that one hit could kill up to 8-12 men, instead of 6 for hollow square.
    Sometimes the French infantry formed against cavalry 6-rank deep double line. It was used by some battalions in 1805 at Austerlitz. See below:


    In 1790s in Egypt the following groups of squares were formed against the little disciplined but very determined Mamelukes:

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    Often in the corners of such squares were light guns.

    According to several authors there were cases where actually infantry spend the night after battle sleeping in squares. For example some French battalions after the battle of Shevardino (1812), and at Bautzen (1813) in the fields around Klix ("slept in squares by division" !). It prevented any aggressive cavalry to make a surprise attack in the night.

    Acknowledgement, sources and further reading.

    Brent Nosworthy - "With Musket, Cannon and Sword: Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies"
    Gunther E. Rothenberg - "The Napoleonic Wars (History of Warfare)"
    John R. Elting - "Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grand Armee"
    George Nafziger - "Imperial Bayonets: Tactics of the Napoleonic Battery, Battalion and Brigade as Found in Contemporary Regulations".
    George Nafziger - "Napoleon's Dresden Campaign."
    Brent Nosworthy - "The Anatomy of Victory"
    David G. Chandler - "The Campaigns of Napoleon"
    Rory Muir - "Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon"
    Vincent J. Esposito, John R. Elting - "A Military History..."
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