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"War of 1812 Flank Companies" Topic


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17 Sep 2014 4:49 p.m. PST
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Comments or corrections?

stonypoint177911 Apr 2010 3:41 a.m. PST

Hello Again,
Did the American forces use flank companies in the same manner as the British? Was there a use of skirmish screen by U.S. Regulars?

The Gray Ghost11 Apr 2010 7:55 a.m. PST

I'm pretty sure We never had grenadier companies and I think there were light infantry regiments not detached companies.

vtsaogames11 Apr 2010 8:14 a.m. PST

I believe a couple regiments had grenadier companies, since it was the colonels choice. One regiment even had a third rank with pikes for a brief period. Some regiments had light companies, though never enough for converged battalions. US commanders had regular rifle regiments and plenty of volunteer outfits for skirmish work, like Tennessee mounted infantry and such.

I'm sure US regiments deployed skirmishers, even if there were not 'light' companies as such.

RudyNelson11 Apr 2010 8:14 a.m. PST

In the southern Front. very little mention of special 'flank' units in specific battles.

Being a core among a vast number of volunteers and militia, the regular infnatry themselves were regarded as 'elite units ' for assaults on fortifications or to act as a ready reserve.

The use of light companies vs rifle companies varied with commands. Riflemen and other scouts main purpose was in foraging and 'spying. Consolidated in rifle companies and battalions occured but was mainly a administrative formation. tactically on the battlefield, they functioned in small platoons rather than large companies or battalions.

RudyNelson11 Apr 2010 8:29 a.m. PST

Vtsao, comment on the mounted troops is quite true. They had titles like 'Mounted Gunmen' which reflects the fact that units were armed with a mixture of muskets and rifles. Tactically they were used to complete the circle in the standard encirclement movement used by Jackson. Some small formations were used as reserves in order to fill gaps or pursue the fleeing warriors. Mounted Gunmen/rifle troops/companies could number as few as 15 to 30 troops and seldom ever more than 60 men.

Georgia and Mississippi commands rarely used the 'Mounted Gunmen/rifles' term for formations.

County names for units may have included terms like rifles or Guardsmen or Grenadiers but these werre the choices of the Colonel or the community raising the company and did not really reflect an elite stauts or in some cases how an entire company was armed.
Such names are easier to be found on informational websites about a specific county rather than in any official records.

RudyNelson11 Apr 2010 10:58 a.m. PST

For the War of 1812 several Georgia cavalry units were called Light Dragoons included several troops of mounted riflemen. The Miss. command simply called several units Dragoons. So names or staus of units on the books may not indicate how they were deployed in battle. In the South!

Personal logo Florida Tory Supporting Member of TMP11 Apr 2010 4:32 p.m. PST

James Kochan is worth quoting on the subject of flank companies in the federal infantry regiments:

"Under the command of Eleazer Ripley the 21st Infantry evolved into a superb regiment that usually lived up to its colonel's high standards. When the elite flank company of light infantry disgraced themselves in a riot in May 1814, the now-BrigGen Ripley dissolved it and all other light companies in his 2nd Brigade of the Left Division, replacing them with a second grenadier company per regiment. The grenadiers were distinguished from the battalion companies by two chevrons on the upper right arm, red-tipped pompoms on their caps, and the practice of always wearing their overalls under the knee-length gaiters rather than outside, as worn by the rest of the companies on campaign. Grenadier sergeants alone were entitled to wear boots in lieu of gaiters, at their discretion. One honour accorded to the grenadiers was to escort the national standard . . . and regimental colours from the parade."

Kochan and Rickman, THE UNITED STATES ARMY 1812-1815, Osprey, 2000, p. 44, note C3.

This confirms not only the existence of both flank companies as regular practice (at least in the Left Division), but also the pattern of distinctives for the grenadiers. I haven't found a direct reference for the light company, but I use a green plume and yellow cord as Rickman shows for the rifles as my best guess.

One of the problems with inferring how the infantry battalions were organized internally is that, as Rudy noted, the sources simply don't go to that level of detail. I have found it is just as true in accounts of battles in the various Northern theaters.

But we can learn more from available orders of battle (OOBs). The largest concentration of light infantry I have found is provided by Fitzhugh MacCrae on the Histofig website

link

He notes that James Gibson's 4th Brigade of the Left Division consisted of 5 companies each of the 1st and 4th US Rifles, and the 26th Infantry Regiment. MacCrae notes that the 26th was a light infantry regiment in 1814. Kochan states that the unit was uniformed and armed as Rifles (p. 20) in 1814.

As a side note, Kochan also notes (p. 46, note G2) that the Light Artillery occasionally served as light infantry when they were fielded in an infantry role.

I also recommend consulting The Nafziger Collection of orders of battle at the Command and General Staff College web site to get a fuller idea of how light infantry and flank companies were distributed.

cgsc.edu/carl/nafziger.htm

Nafziger's 5 June 1813 Stoney Creek OOB (813UFAA), for example, lists 1 company of rifles and 3 companies of light infantry present with the US forces, citing Armstrong's NOTICES OF THE WAR OF 1812, 1840.

An even more interesting example is his 31 July 1813 OOB for the New York Militia in Mooers Division (813UGAC), quoting Crawford's PUBLIC PAPERS OF DANIEL D. TOMPKINS, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK 1807-1817, 1898. The Division included "light infantry, grenadiers and riflemen" detached from their parent militia regiments. This confirms that the New York militia also had flank companies.

His 14 July 1814 OOB (814UGAA) lists detached companies of the 1st US Rifles with the 6th District (North & South Carolina, and Georgia) and the 9th District (Right Division). The 24 August 1814 OOB for Bladensburg (814UHAD) lists companies of Navy Yard Rifles, Baltimore Rifles (Maryland state militia), and James City Light Infantry (Virginia militia).

One observation: the listings of detached rifles and light infantry companies in the brigades are not sufficient in number to account for all the flank companies, so I conclude that it was not a universal practice to detach the light infantry. My suggestion is that the American practice was more like the then current British or French practice, than the earlier practice in the American Revolution.

Both vtsaogames and Rudy noted the prevalence of volunteer units (foot and mounted) in the Southern theaters to serve as spies, scouts, and skirmishers. Not surprisingly the OOBs lack mention of detached federal rifle and light companies, unlike the practice in the Northern theaters. Though not direct confirmation that such detachments didn't occur, it at least supports the idea.

Rick

GarryWills12 Apr 2021 5:36 a.m. PST

Does this thread, although 10 years old, represent our best understanding of the flank companies in US Infantry Regiments 1812 to 1815. i.e. a grenadier and a light company with minimal uniform differentiation and variable use as flank companies between regiments?

Thanks

Garry

Vincent the Librarian13 Apr 2021 9:56 a.m. PST

Garry- pretty much so as far as we know. There was no "official" drill book/organization for either the US Army, or the militia. I think it is safe to assume that army leaders and organizers would look at European models, either French and English although probably leaning to English (because of the language barrier to learning French unless well educated). Drill books were not state secrets and could be purchased and sent back to the states, although as far as we know, none have survived. I would also think that state/local militias, unless under the command of a wealthy colonel, would probably fall back to the Revolutionary drill books, organizers just using their old war-time experience and memories.

GarryWills13 Apr 2021 10:43 a.m. PST

Thanks Vincent, I am just painting up some 30 year old Minifigs 15mm figures, which, as ever, has made me realise how much I don't know. Difficult to believe that the distinctions for the flank companies are unknown.

Thanks again

Garry

Vincent the Librarian15 Apr 2021 8:22 p.m. PST

You have to remember that most of the time, US regiments were spread out guarding the frontier or manning fortifications at major ports. The USA had a deep distrust of standing professional armies. The regiments were also deeply under-manned most of the time throughout the war. The USA probably also counted on militia to act as light troops (that old frontier hunter myth).

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP16 Apr 2021 4:33 a.m. PST

In addition to elite companies, General Winfield Scott 'introduced' regimental pioneers, one per company, into the units of the 'Left Division' that would distinguish itself in the battles on the Niagara peninsula in 1814.

The Orderly Book of the 25th Infantry Regiment states the following:

'Commanding Officers or Infantry Regiments in both brigades will cause immediately to be designated in each Company under them an active, robust, intrepid private soldier to be known & respected in future as a pioneer of such Company…Commanding Officers will also select from the Corporals of the Regiment one in each to be known as Corporal of Pioneers. Such Corporal to have the immediate Command of the pioneers of the Regiment whenever they may be detached.'

'Pioneers are to be exempted from all ordinary duties and details…They are to be furnished…with the proper tools…to be handsomely cased in leather and worn & slung over the shoulder. The whole…are to be supplied with a linen apron suspended from the neck & to reach below the knees. The Corporals each to carry one handsaw and one felling axe. The first pioneer of each regiment, the same. 2d, 3d, and 4th pioneers, a felling axe and spade each. The 5th& 6th pioneers, a spade and pick ax each. 7th, 8th, 9th, & 10th pioneers, should there be as many companies present with the Regiment, the necessary tools in due proportion.'

The US pioneers were definitely patterned on the French infantry sapeurs, who were combat engineers, and fulfilled the same function. They were also considered elite troops.

IronDuke596 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2021 6:13 p.m. PST

Further to the above; during the Montreal campaign in the Fall of 1813, Brigadier-General Izard gathered the light companies of his brigade into a light battalion that screened his brigade in front of De Salaberry's Canadian militia and fencibles at Chateauguay. After Hampton's army retreated back into the United States, Izard ordered the light companies to return to their home battalions.

Izard's journal does not indicate whether or not he had grenadier companies.

In my study of the Chesapeake campaign, I discovered that the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. militia regiments incorporated elite companies. These elite companies tended to be trained, uniformed and equipped better than their line brethren. Also, the type and number of elite companies varied between battalions in the same state. Some battalions had two light companies, some one of each (light & grenadier) and some had three elite companies.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP22 Apr 2021 4:44 a.m. PST

Excellent posting-well done.

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