ARMIES OF THE 18 TH CENTURY

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1 ARMIES OF THE 18 TH CENTURY I. THE INFANTRY "Napoleon's got a bunch of the toughest, hammered down, ironed out roughnecks you ever saw, from generals down to buck privates. And he just said, "Sic 'em, boys." French infantry awaiting the order to attack at Austerlitz, Infantry was the backbone of an army, the battle line. The basic unit of infantry was the battalion of 600 to 1200 men. There were two types of infantry: a. Light Infantry: Could be dispersed in front of the battle line and used as skirmishers, or sharpshooters, to cause casualties in the enemy line and disrupt their formation. Light Infantry could also fight in the battle line as well. Few light infantry units were armed with rifled muskets, most had smooth bore flintlocks. b. Line Infantry: The bulk of the infantry in any army. They were meant to fight in 2 or 3 rank line formations and exchange volley fire with their enemy. 2. Battalions were subdivided into companies (4 to 10), 1 company of grenadiers, 1 company of light infantry, and 2 to 8 companies of line infantry. 9

2 a. The best troops in the battalion were assigned to the elite grenadier company. The grenadier company was often combined with grenadier companies from other battalions to form special assault units. Grenadiers usually wore distinctive headgear such as bear skin caps. b. The best shots and most agile troops were assigned to the light infantry company. During battle they were spread out on the flanks and in front of the battalion acting as sharpshooters. c. All other troops in the battalion were assigned to the line companies. All troops were armed with a flintlock musket and socket bayonet. 3. To move such units on the battlefield required rigid discipline. Drill, drill, and drill, and still more drill were the keys to success. Battalions used several types of formations in battle. a. Line: Usually of 2 to 3 ranks the line formation was used for exchanging volley fire with the enemy or assaulting a position. When formed the grenadier company was always on the right of the line, the position of honor. The line companies, 1 through 8, were positioned in numerical order to the left of the grenadiers. The light company, if when formed in line, was always on the left of the line. Note that Company Commanders are at the right flank of the first rank of their company. Spread out behind the formation is a line of Lieutenants and Sergeants to insure no one runs away or shirks from their duty. 10

3 Compare this painting to the diagram on the previous page. A British battalion assaults Breed s Hill in line formation. The grenadier company is on the right. b. Column: The column was a multipurpose formation. Battalions used it to move rapidly around the battlefield, assault enemy positions, or stand in reserve. There were numerous types of column formations however, the companies always stayed in 2 to 3 ranks. Line of march A 4 company battalion maneuver column. The companies are at half distance from each other. The usual distance between companies was equal to the length of the front of a company. This way each company could wheel right, left or to the rear to form line or square formations in any direction. 11

4 c. Square: Used to repel cavalry, the square presented a solid hedge of bayonets in all directions. The normal square formation was an open square as depicted below. In an emergency a closed square could be formed by simply having the companies close ranks. Larger formations, regiments & divisions, could also form square. Open square formation. The French used divisional squares with artillery at the corners to fight off cavalry charges in Egypt. 12

5 II. THE CAVALRY 1. Cavalry performed multiple roles including reconnaissance, security, pursuit, and escort duty. On the battle field cavalry was the "combat arm of decision." 2. The basic unit of cavalry was the regiment of approximately 2000 troops. Each regiment consisted of 4 squadrons (battalions) of two troops (companies). There were about 250 soldiers in a troop. Like the infantry, cavalry fought in both line and column formations. There were two types of cavalry: a. Light Cavalry: The most important tasks for the light cavalry were reconnaissance and security. They were the eyes and ears of the army commander. In addition to finding the enemy they had to block the enemy's reconnaissance. While there were many types of light cavalry (Hussars, Lancers, Chasseurs, and Dragoons), Hussars had a reputation for being the most daring and dashing of all. Troopers were armed with a curved sword, for slashing, and shortened musket for skirmishing. On the battlefield they secured the army's flanks, charged isolated enemy units, and pursued broken enemy units. Chasseur a cheval of the Imperial Guard A Hussar charging down a Russian soldier b. Heavy Cavalry: The heavy cavalry was only used on the battlefield. Their primary job was to charge and break infantry and other cavalry. While there were two types of heavy cavalry 13

6 (cuirassiers and carabiniers) they had the same purpose. Troopers were usually large men mounted on large horses. They were armed with a straight sword, for thrusting. In time troopers were equipped with metal breast and back plates (cuirass) to protect them from sword strikes. French Cuirassier The helmet and cuirasse. Prussian cavalry charge at the battle of Rossbach 14

7 III. THE ARTILLERY KING OF BATTLE 1. The basic unit of artillery was the company or battery. It consisted of 6 guns (Russian's used 12 guns), 4 cannon of one caliber and two howitzers. Initially artillery was very slow and once positioned on the battlefield, remained on that spot until the battle was over. As guns became lighter they could be moved around the battlefield. There were three main types of Artillery: a. Field Artillery: These were batteries used to support the line infantry. Their gun ranged in caliber from 6 pdr. through 12 pdr. b. Horse Artillery: Mobile batteries to accompany the cavalry and/or deploy quickly to different areas of the battlefield. To achieve mobility they were equipped with lighter guns, 3 to 9 pdr. c. Siege Artillery: Large heavy cannon, howitzers, and mortars used to destroy city fortifications. 2. Artillery batteries carried a variety of ammunition: a. Round Shot: A solid metal ball fired to strike the ground before the target and bounce through. Each time it bounced off the ground it threw up additional fragments of dirt and rocks. b. Canister: A can of light metal containing a charge of powder and several hundred musket balls. I went off like a shotgun shell spraying an area with projectiles. It was used for close defense against targets under 300 yards away. c. Shell: A hollow metal ball filled with powder. Fired by howitzers, shell was used to bombard targets. The projectile had a fuse and was "supposed" to explode above the target. d. Shrapnel: Designed by the British this was similar to shell however, the interior was filled with powder and musket balls. It was set to explode above the target. All types of cannon could fire shrapnel. 12lb Round Shot The breast plates of two heavy cavalry troopers pierced by round shot cannon balls 15

8 FREDERICK THE GREAT S OBLIQUE ATTACK 16

9 17

10 CONVERGING COLUMNS The Austrian s counter to Frederick s oblique attack was the use of converging columns. The army was subdivided into columns with each moving by different routes converging on the battlefield. Using multiple routes limited Frederick s mobility, a key to the oblique attack. Battle of Hochkirch The Prussian army is pinned in position by 7 Austrian columns. Note: The U.S. Army commonly used converging columns to fight the Indians in the west. The most infamous example of the failure of converging columns is the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Custer s 7 th Cavalry was massacred when he attempted to take on the Indians before the other supporting columns arrived. 18

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