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screamingpalm
6th May 2005, 21:47
Ok, so to please the fanboys and those who care less about the actual historical significance of two-rank line I will start my own thread to respect the wishes of those who don't care about it.

This is another post for Khornish, as I am enjoying learning new things and you now have my curiosity up on the subject. I mentioned before about the regulations Colonel Dundas had written, and about that particular article I had been reading from First Empire (a monthly magazine I get from the UK). The reason I mentioned Dundas's regs was because in this period there was a great deal of bickering about the makeup of the British Army. Dundas was from the older school of thought that the army should train infantry in the way of the Prussians of the Seven Years War (Frederickian tactics). He was very critical of the concept and use of light infantry, and thought of them in a lesser supporting role. Then there were the supporters of the raising of light infantry, Sir John Moore, Lt Col Wesley (who had first hand experience of the changing tactics at Flanders where the French used waves of skirmishers), and many others. Out of all this there were written many regulations by different schools of thinking and I am wondring if this is why it is written in the regs you were talking about that the British Army's standard was three-rank line. I also wonder why the Foot Guards with such huge battalions would then form two-rank line, if this is the case, since surely they had enough men to form three-rank line as their battalions were often over 1000 men strong (almost twice a regular French battalion).

Khornish
6th May 2005, 22:39
The reason I mentioned Dundas's regs was because in this period there was a great deal of bickering about the makeup of the British Army.

Yes, there were apparently two major factions, one supported the "Prussian" style of warfare and one supported developments from the lessons learned in the AWI and other areas.


Out of all this there were written many regulations by different schools of thinking and I am wondring if this is why it is written in the regs you were talking about that the British Army's standard was three-rank line. .

The French Revolution began after the official adoption of the 1788 regulations. As the regulations weren't really put to use by the British Army until very late in the Revolutionary Wars (by Abercromby's forces in Egypt, 1801) this is likely indicative of the internal conflicts within the British Army over how best to proceed tactically and the slow process of overcoming stubborn Generals who thought they knew better.

The 3 rank line was used by the British Army prior to the regulations of 1788 and that itself was a process of development following the SYW and Marlborough's campaigns from much earlier.



Previous to the AWI the continental armies used more than 3 ranks, with some armies using as many as 6, if I remember correctly. I couldn't say how many ranks the British Army used as it's really outside my personal scope of interest. However, it may be something for you to check out on your own.


I also wonder why the Foot Guards with such huge battalions would then form two-rank line, if this is the case, since surely they had enough men to form three-rank line as their battalions were often over 1000 men strong (almost twice a regular French battalion).

I don't believe it can be said with complete certainty that all British infantry battalions which fought in the Napoleonic Wars formed in 2 ranks.

It stands to reason they would fight according to regulations, and the anecdotal evidence stating something along the lines of "we formed in 2 ranks" could very well be casual mention of something out of the norm. Or it could an indication that their unit's strength was so low that they had to form 2 ranks...meaning the author was indicating a higher level of danger, stress, and desparation, in order to impress the reader.

Having read several eyewitness accounts from the French side, I can't remember a single instance where the french author wrote " we formed line in 3 ranks". Instead they would just say "we formed line." [although I'm sure there must be french accounts somewhere that an anal retentive author would state "we formed in 3 ranks"]

Human nature being what it is, unless accounts specifically state the British formed 2 two ranks, then we can't immediately assume that, in fact, the British formed line in anything other than the regulation 3 ranks.

Also, various armies looked at the 3rd rank as something more than a line of troops standing around waiting to replace casualties in the front rank. Some armies called for the 3rd rank to reload the muskets for the front ranks. Other armies called for the 3rd rank to be used as skirmishers. Some armies did both on an as needed basis. So, it's possible that in some cases a battalion would form line in 3 ranks and would pull off the 3rd rank to some other task.

It is [I]possible that a general staff order to the various commands called for all units to form in 2 ranks at all times. It could even have listed the merits for doing so. However, if such an order ever existed, it certainly wasn't recorded in a public account by anyone who would have received the order nor was there a supplemental regulation given with such a stipulation. Wellington didn't leave behind any indication that he instructed his regiments to ignore the regulations and form up in 2 ranks regardless of battalion strength.

screamingpalm
6th May 2005, 22:59
I agree, that was partly assumption on my part. Actually I based the Foot Guards being in two-rank line from Carnage & Glory II, in which for the battle of Talavera (and other orders of battle) they were shown to be that way (you can also change this in that game however. Quite a detailed game). Might be a good question for me to email the author of the game as he is quite an expert on these things. I asked him some particulars on the 95th rifles one time and I received an unexpectedly detailed reply lol. Thanks for letting me bother you for more details, I figure if I dont get anything else from IG, at least I might learn something new (and have something to chew on until I get that Imperial Bayonets). :D

Cheers!

Khornish
7th May 2005, 01:06
Thanks for letting me bother you for more details, I figure if I dont get anything else from IG, at least I might learn something new (and have something to chew on until I get that Imperial Bayonets).

Not a problem. I have been reading whatever I could get on my hands on for the Napoleonic Wars for over 25 years and I certainly enjoy discussing one of the last major wars where hatred between that two sides wasn't a casus belli.

saddletank
9th May 2005, 01:17
Previous to the AWI the continental armies used more than 3 ranks, with some armies using as many as 6, if I remember correctly. I couldn't say how many ranks the British Army used as it's really outside my personal scope of interest. However, it may be something for you to check out on your own.

Marlborough deployed his infantry in 4, later 3 ranks. His opponents most usually the French, sometimes the Bavarians formed up in 6 ranks. This was in 1701-1705 and the infantry at this time was just "getting the hang" of a socket bayonet, deep formations were a hold-over from the pike and shot era where musket armed infantry fired by files and usually formed up at least 6 deep, sometimes deeper.


I don't believe it can be said with complete certainty that all British infantry battalions which fought in the Napoleonic Wars formed in 2 ranks.

It stands to reason they would fight according to regulations, and the anecdotal evidence stating something along the lines of "we formed in 2 ranks" could very well be casual mention of something out of the norm. Or it could an indication that their unit's strength was so low that they had to form 2 ranks...meaning the author was indicating a higher level of danger, stress, and desparation, in order to impress the reader.

Ouch, now you are getting in deeper. I always assumed that British infantry in this period formed 2-deep, and never 3-deep. I am a wargamer and I've pored over lots of old battle maps and measured out the frontages of infantry formations and it seems that if these were 3-deep they could not cover the frontage indicated on maps, hence the formations must have been 2-deep. Fuentes is a good example of this.

There is an account of a Highland battalion at Quatres Bras being approached in rear by French cavalry and the officer whose account describes this action states: "The battalion faced it's second rank about, fired a volley and the enemy withdrew". That one line reference implies to me that the unit wasn't in 2 ranks as a special formation but was in 2 ranks as a customary deployment.

To suggest there is implication that the British infantry formed 3-deep at most times but a 2-deep line was mentioned only when it was unusual is I think a false road to tread. Just becasue a historian, officer or regimental history does not specify a certain formation does not give us a remit to assume that at all other times the reverse was true.


Human nature being what it is, unless accounts specifically state the British formed 2 two ranks, then we can't immediately assume that, in fact, the British formed line in anything other than the regulation 3 ranks.

Except we do hear a lot of instances where the British are described in 2 ranks. I believe there is a record of this deployment at Talavera. At Waterloo when the French guard was repulsed, the Foot Guards were in 'reinforced line' at 4 ranks deep. I recall an account that stated that a 2 rank line could be reinforced by doubling it (i.e. doubling the depth of files from 2 to 4 ranks).


Also, various armies looked at the 3rd rank as something more than a line of troops standing around waiting to replace casualties in the front rank. Some armies called for the 3rd rank to reload the muskets for the front ranks. Other armies called for the 3rd rank to be used as skirmishers. Some armies did both on an as needed basis. So, it's possible that in some cases a battalion would form line in 3 ranks and would pull off the 3rd rank to some other task.

Generally the 3rd rank of a line would not fire, there was too great a risk of harm to the front rank. I don't believe the 3rd rank was used to replace front rank casualties in mainland continental armies. If a regulation requires 3 ranks then a formation will stay in three ranks as long as it remains cohesive simply because the drill manouvres require it. Where reinforcement of a skirmish line is needed, whole platoons would be detailed off to perform this function, rather than parts of a platoon, simplicity of command and control dictates this.


Wellington didn't leave behind any indication that he instructed his regiments to ignore the regulations and form up in 2 ranks regardless of battalion strength.

Nor any indication to the contrary. I have found many instances from deployment maps where 2-deep was much more likely simply due to the frontage covered by a battalion.

Khornish
9th May 2005, 03:17
I always assumed that British infantry in this period formed 2-deep, and never 3-deep. I am a wargamer and I've pored over lots of old battle maps and measured out the frontages of infantry formations and it seems that if these were 3-deep they could not cover the frontage indicated on maps, hence the formations must have been 2-deep. Fuentes is a good example of this.

It us quite unlikely, for a number of reasons, that a battalion would extend its frontage beyond what was regulated.

I'm well into my 3rd decade as a wargamer and I, too, was under a lot of false impressions until further research caused me to doubt the coventional wisdom regarding the period.


There is an account of a Highland battalion at Quatres Bras being approached in rear by French cavalry and the officer whose account describes this action states: "The battalion faced it's second rank about, fired a volley and the enemy withdrew".

It would be interesting to get a very good estimate of the battalion's strength at Quatre Bras and to determine what other factors were operating within the battalion at the time.


To suggest there is implication that the British infantry formed 3-deep at most times but a 2-deep line was mentioned only when it was unusual is I think a false road to tread.

It would, however, be a more accurate to assume 3 ranks than to assume 2. The author's would write about what they knew, what they thought they knew, and in most cases dispense with describing what to them was a given.


Just becasue a historian, officer or regimental history does not specify a certain formation does not give us a remit to assume that at all other times the reverse was true.

I agree on the face of it. However, being that the regulations called for a 3 ranks, we must use that as our basis in the absence of further information.


Except we do hear a lot of instances where the British are described in 2 ranks. I believe there is a record of this deployment at Talavera. At Waterloo when the French guard was repulsed, the Foot Guards were in 'reinforced line' at 4 ranks deep. I recall an account that stated that a 2 rank line could be reinforced by doubling it (i.e. doubling the depth of files from 2 to 4 ranks).

Generally speaking about 50% or more of the British battalions in the peninsula were considerably under strength and would have been forced (by regulations) into forming 2 ranks any time they were deployed in line. A further study into the strength of the foot guards and as to whether or not a rank was told off as skirmishers or sent off as a detachment (which sometimes happened for many nations) would be something that probably hasn't been done in any great detail. A detailed look at the tactical deployments of all British infantry battalions would be in order, IMO, and I'd buy the book.


Generally the 3rd rank of a line would not fire, there was too great a risk of harm to the front rank...where reinforcement of a skirmish line is needed, whole platoons would be detailed off to perform this function, rather than parts of a platoon, simplicity of command and control dictates this.

Without digging for references, I'll just state that pulling the 3rd rank did happen and not a few times. Pulling a platoon/peloton/company would shorten the frontage. Elite companies, were they present in the TOE, were taken into consideration when determining the necessary frontages a battalion was expected to maintain.


Nor any indication to the contrary.[/QUOTE}

I would agree that absence of evidence does not prove an unsupported rule. However, we do have the regulations and any significant change to them, even unofficially would,by virtue of removing any confusion by unit commanders, have to be ordered in some kind of supplemental or general order.

[QUOTE=saddletank]I have found many instances from deployment maps where 2-deep was much more likely simply due to the frontage covered by a battalion.

Even the most accurate battlefield map cannot give us exact unit positions. At best they can rely on the recollections of participants, which, over time, become muddled and thus less than completely reliable. Most maps showing battalion positions for Napoleonic battles were created decades after the actual events.

Yes, it is entirely possible that an expert map maker could make a map 100% accurate. Yes, it is possible that a map made a year or two after the battle could be quite accurate. However, the probabilities would, by the principle of human falability,have to be quite low.

I am entirely open to the possibility that the entire British army of the period described operated in 2 ranks based on orders of Wellington or some other general. However, without hard evidence such a position is unsupportable and therefore not a sound foundation from which to make various arguments about the capabilties of the British army during the period.

screamingpalm
9th May 2005, 04:28
There are however advantages of a longer frontage. Having an enfilade or partial enfilade had its advantages.

I think this is another case where some historians argue, because some are taking the literal written word of a regulation, which may have been written with 3-ranks because of a personal taste for what the make-up of the British Army should have been at the time (Colonel Dundas). Dundas had written many regulations, and there were good things that came from them, however, like I mentioned he was from one side of a debate at that time for which direction the Army should go.

This is partly speculation on my part, but the reason I think this way is in my current readings, I have found many other arguments/contradictions on other issues. And this is all from 4 issues of the same magazine. :)
-Two articles on Gribeauval. One praising him as the innovator and father of the French artillery of the Napoleonic Wars. A second article saying that he got too much credit and basically copied the Austrian artillery, etc, etc. Both are good articles, both make valid points. Just different points of view.
-Another article talking about General Zieten's message to Wellington on 15 june 1815. This talked about when exactly Wellington received Zieten's message about the impending French attack. If it was earlier as some claim, he would have been guilty of negligence! It is an interesting article which concluded by the author that he was innocent and received it later, a good read nonetheless.

Here is a paragraph from one of those issues (First Empire, issue 81, page7) that I found interesting....

By 1808, as Sir Arthur Wellesley and in command of British forces in Portugal he had come to terms with beating the French tactic of assault by intimidating column. He kept his lines in dead ground during the opening softening up artillery barrage, moving them forward as two deep lines (which became de riguer) to meet the column with a heavy front of rifle marksmen to kill off the French officers and gunners and throw forward skirmishers to thwart the disrupting attempts of the voltigeurs. The new light regiments acted like a sharp edge to blunt and wound the French advance.

So, my point is after all of this, is there were written many regulations in this period...not only by Dundas. Also some authors and historians take things more literally than others. 3-rank line may have been in some regulations, but how much that means I can only speculate. This article that references de riguer may have some kind of other significance, such as forming these two ranks out of the norm as a staff order perhaps (from the article it sounds like 2-ranks were the norm, but I may be reading that into it). At any rate I have something new to dig into and research! :D

Khornish
9th May 2005, 05:35
There are however advantages of a longer frontage. Having an enfilade or partial enfilade had its advantages.

Yes, absolutely. However, one doesn't risk a battalion's cohesion to do it. All formation evolutions required time, an extended frontage would increase that time. For the sake of time I'll not explain this in further detail. I fear we're already losing a great deal of interest in the other forum readers.


I think this is another case where some historians argue, because some are taking the literal written word of a regulation, which may have been written with 3-ranks because of a personal taste for what the make-up of the British Army should have been at the time (Colonel Dundas). Dundas had written many regulations, and there were good things that came from them, however, like I mentioned he was from one side of a debate at that time for which direction the Army should go.

It would really depend on how accepted it was for British line officers to ignore official regulations. Regardless of their personal feelings about the regulations, I doubt most officers would set such a bad example for their men.


This is partly speculation on my part, but the reason I think this way is in my current readings, I have found many other arguments/contradictions on other issues. And this is all from 4 issues of the same magazine. :)

Historians, both professional and amateur, will be able to argue about the details for eternity. Until and unless primary sources are uncovered that would give the answers sought.


-Two articles on Gribeauval. One praising him as the innovator and father of the French artillery of the Napoleonic Wars. A second article saying that he got too much credit and basically copied the Austrian artillery, etc, etc. Both are good articles, both make valid points. Just different points of view.

I'm guessing the latter article was written by Dave Hollins from the UK. As biased as he is against the French (and American authors who regard the French primary sources) I find his argument quite creditable. I think Gribeauval was able to combine a number of elements from various sources and make a decent system out of it, much like Napoleon.


-Another article talking about General Zieten's message to Wellington on 15 june 1815.

If Napoleon had won that battle, it would have mattered more, I think. :)


By 1808, as Sir Arthur Wellesley and in command of British forces in Portugal he had come to terms with beating the French tactic of assault by intimidating column. He kept his lines in dead ground during the opening softening up artillery barrage, moving them forward as two deep lines (which became de riguer) to meet the column with a heavy front of rifle marksmen to kill off the French officers and gunners and throw forward skirmishers to thwart the disrupting attempts of the voltigeurs. The new light regiments acted like a sharp edge to blunt and wound the French advance.

Yeah, this has been pretty much the same theory since Oman first wrote his work on the Peninsular War. It all goes back to which school of thought the author supports as well as the references used.

Like I've said previously, it's quite possible that 2 ranks became the primary line formation, but there's no hard evidence to support that contention.


At any rate I have something new to dig into and research! :D

One of the things I love about reading history is that the more we know we realize there's more we don't know.

screamingpalm
9th May 2005, 05:57
Yes, absolutely. However, one doesn't risk a battalion's cohesion to do it. All formation evolutions required time, an extended frontage would increase that time. For the sake of time I'll not explain this in further detail. I fear we're already losing a great deal of interest in the other forum readers.

True, was just pointing out that there were advantages.



It would really depend on how accepted it was for British line officers to ignore official regulations. Regardless of their personal feelings about the regulations, I doubt most officers would set such a bad example for their men.


Yes, I would rather doubt a line officer could be so bold, but perhaps it was a General staff order to maintain 2-ranks during the course of the war by Moore, or Wellington. Can do much less than speculate on this.


Historians, both professional and amateur, will be able to argue about the details for eternity. Until and unless primary sources are uncovered that would give the answers sought.


Infact in First Empire there are many examples of this, sometimes downright brutal lol.


I'm guessing the latter article was written by Dave Hollins from the UK. As biased as he is against the French (and American authors who regard the French primary sources) I find his argument quite creditable. I think Gribeauval was able to combine a number of elements from various sources and make a decent system out of it, much like Napoleon.


You would be correct sir! :D



If Napoleon had won that battle, it would have mattered more, I think.


Hehe, you should see just how much these historians truly argued over this. Article was by someone named Gregory W. Pedlow. An interesting, albeit funny read on this heated debate.

Khornish
9th May 2005, 08:30
You would be correct sir! :D

Yeah, I thought so. :rolleyes:

Dave has been hammering on a few American authors about this for, geez, it must be a few years now. He's done some good work for Osprey and a lot of good research from the primary Austrian sources.

However, he does come across, in may ways, as a snobbish sort of fellow. So, when you read his stuff, just go with it.


Hehe, you should see just how much these historians truly argued over this. Article was by someone named Gregory W. Pedlow. An interesting, albeit funny read on this heated debate.

That's one of the reasons I don't read a lot of historical periodicals. Many are used as ego boosting/deflating platforms and I'm not interested in such "discussions."

I don't mind a good, logical debate about history, but we didn't call our opponents names or question their intelligence when I was on the debating team.