Napoleonic Infantry Tactics: A Quick Guide

published on June 30, 2020


in the Napoleonic Wars infantry thought

in close order packed together standing


but why present such an easy target for

the enemy first command and control

before radios orders had to be relayed

by shouted commands drums or bugles

difficult enough in the smoke and din of

battle almost impossible if troops were

scattered second firepower smoothbore

muskets were inaccurate beyond about 80

yards so volley fire firing on mass was

the best way to inflict physical and

psychological damage on the enemy third

morale soldiers were much more willing

to advance into danger or hold the line

if they did so together as a unit

urging each other on 4th defence against

cavalry scattered infantry were easy

targets for horsemen only by sticking

together could they fight them off the

basic tactical unit of infantry was the

battalion a French line battalion had in

theory 840 men but in practice nearer 5

to 600 our example here has 605 men a

typical strength for a battalion on

campaign the men were divided into 6

companies for Fusiliers companies and to

flank companies on the rights the

Grenadier made up of the tallest

strongest men often detached to form

elite all Grenadier units

and on the left the voltiguers

specialist light infantry used for

skirmishing in front of the battalion

skirmishers moved independently used

cover and fired at will to Harris and

unsettle the enemy while preventing

enemy skirmishes carrying out the same

task most armies also had specialist

light infantry units for this role such

as the British 95th rifles French

chasers appeared and Austrian and

Prussian Jaeger battalions the

traditional battlefield formation was

the line all companies formed up

alongside each other three ranks deep

line formation maximized the number of

men who could fire their muskets at the

enemy and limited casualties from

artillery fire but it was extremely

vulnerable to cavalry if it could be

outflanked and even for well drilled

troops it was difficult to keep the

lines straight while advancing across

broken ground

so for manoeuvre and attack Italians

usually formed a column of divisions

this was a more flexible formation that

allowed the battalion to advance quickly

though it presented a larger target to

enemy guns firing solid round shot that

would tear through several ranks and far

fewer men could fire their muskets at

the enemy theoretically there for the

battalion would deploy into light before

reaching the enemy but carrying out this

slow maneuver under fire wasn't always

possible or sensible so some commanders

kept their men in column relying on

momentum to break the enemy line

this was a risky tactic which often

works against raw troops but led to high

casualties when facing better trained

infantry like British redcoats a column

could be closed up quickly to provide

protection from cavalry or if there was

time could form a square with bayonets

fixed the battalion formed an all-round

defense that often resembled more of a

rectangle enemy cavalry could surround

the battalion but not break in as horses

weren't charged a solid wall of men and

steel but an infantry square was

extremely vulnerable to artillery fire

and could only move very slowly changing

quickly and smoothly from one formation

to another especially under fire

required training practice and

experience in 1809 the austrian army

began to use the battalion mass

formation crude but more suited to

hastily trained conscripts this was a

dense column with limited firepower a

huge vulnerability to enemy cannon

but it who quickly closed up to repel

cavalry using the same principle as the

square but without the complex drill and

was much more maneuverable

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