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""“Line vs. Column,"Conclusion"" Topic

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1,680 hits since 27 Nov 2011
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Grognard178927 Nov 2011 7:06 p.m. PST

The conclusion of "Line vs. Column". Enjoy,



Sparker Inactive Member27 Nov 2011 7:35 p.m. PST

Thanks Chris, thats quite an epic, and very thought provoking…

RazorMind27 Nov 2011 9:09 p.m. PST

Nice Blog, a good read sir.

Grognard178927 Nov 2011 10:11 p.m. PST

Thanks for the comments! I intend to keep updating those post with more & more material over time. Cheers,


DeanMoto Inactive Member27 Nov 2011 11:28 p.m. PST

Nice post – I particularly liked the quote about the French at Salamanca – a battle I plan to game with Black Powder soon. Best, Dean

MichaelCollinsHimself28 Nov 2011 2:38 a.m. PST

Good work Chris!
Good to know you`ll continue to add to it, because it`ll also spark off some more discussion and comments i`ve no doubt :)

WKeyser28 Nov 2011 4:51 a.m. PST

Very intresting, if you have access or can find some of the Early Empires, Eagles and Lions published by Rafm, there where numeous discussions on this.

Quite a few examples of French officers saying that they where in line but the British officers facing stating that they where in column, the most famous is of course Maida in 1806. But a number of French observations, which might be worth getting your hands on.

campaigner Inactive Member28 Nov 2011 6:00 p.m. PST

Brilliant blog and fantastic video. Very inspiring.
I have writtine an article some time ago now on the mixed order and recognised many of the sources though some material was new to me. The anonymous letter to Lord Castlereagh was new. I liked the way you set out the different viewpoints and arguments. But the "conclusion" is left up to the reader. Great image materials showing the formations and manourves and lovely images of the regulations. Well done!
Perhaps you'd like to see some nicely painted figures on my web to shwo my gratitude for having such a good time on your blog: link

all the best.

Grognard178928 Nov 2011 8:15 p.m. PST

Thanks to all who've commented. I will continue to keep updating those post as I find more material and dig through all of what I have. I've merely scratched the surface of this issue I believe. One thing I have learned is the shear mass of it all (French formations). I believe as wargamers we have a tendency to 1 to 1 everything on the tabletop, which makes everything match up nicely, but in reality commanders knew where and how to apply the mass formations effectively against their enemies. How to accurately depict this on the tabletop is I believe the issues we all face. There are some who have mastered this and do it well, and others (myself included) who are still learning. I have however seen games on both sides of the issue and must say I'm tired of the same old, same old. (Attack/Defend) Not enough maneuver room (ground & figure scales don't match, etc…). I'm always on the lookout for new & innovative ideals! Cheers,


Grognard178928 Nov 2011 8:16 p.m. PST


Great figures! If only I had the resources to start another scale. Cheers!

Grognard178928 Nov 2011 8:19 p.m. PST


Thanks for the tip! I've been interested in collecting them, but always hesitate when I see them offered piecemeal as I'd hate to keep buying the same ones. I did however pick up an old copy of their rules set, and am hoping they incorporated some of those ideals? Cheers,


ghost02 Inactive Member29 Nov 2011 8:08 a.m. PST

Fantastic series. Cleared up a lot of misconceptions I had about colums. The bit about them as a method to approach and deploy into line was great.

Good job my friend, good job.

Rod MacArthur29 Nov 2011 2:20 p.m. PST


I am not quite sure that your premise that "we can never be sure what tactics actually made it from the drill book to the battlefield is correct".

I have all of the drill books of the major combatants and by cross referencing these against "tactical snippets" culled from many memoirs, one can determine the main tactics used. I have spent 20 years doing this for a book which I hope to finish one day.

I would dispute your analysis of the British firing in two ranks with their first rank kneeling. This was true when the British used 3 ranks, first kneeling, second standing, third standing and "locked up" by taking a half step forward and sideways so firing over the shoulders of the second rank. All nations discovered that it was difficult to get the kneeling front rank to reload and stand up again, particularly important in the faster Napoleonic era compared to the 18th century. The British dispensed with the kneeling front rank, other nations fired with only the front two standing ranks, with various options for using the third rank.


Rod MacArthur30 Nov 2011 7:18 a.m. PST


On re-reading my post above, it sounds too critical. Actually your blog is brilliant and in my view 99% correct. I just picked up on a couple of minor points where I would disagree, but no one is perfect.


Grognard178930 Nov 2011 9:46 a.m. PST


As noted from the start "Any and all errors are my own". I have to agree with you about the British line and kneeling and admit I did not even start to decipher their system as much as I was attempting to do so with point of view of the French system. My first DRAFT was entitled "Column vs. Line For Dummies, Actually myself". So I don't think anyone can be entirely to critical more than myself. Once again I'm always willing and ready to learn! Look forward to your work one day. Cheers,


Duke of Plaza Toro Inactive Member30 Nov 2011 4:30 p.m. PST

A fascinating, and (in my view) a long misunderstood subject this. Well done to Grognard1789 for attempting to pull all the strands together into a combined analysis. A very interesting read.

1815Guy30 Nov 2011 8:31 p.m. PST

A nice blog, and a good read.

I do think Brent Nosworthy had it right, with his "columns in waiting" and lines not liking to stand against pressed attacks, even when the attackers are in undeployed field columns (except the Brits, of course!!!).

There is always the chance of an ad hoc charge to take advantage of changes in the defence line, even while waiting in column. Even the Brit "pro-line" doctrines did it occasionally.

You might also like to have a look at Marshal Ney's standing orders to the French troops in 1809 for consideration of motivation not to fire but to charge in – admittedly with troops who were not well trained, but also against troops who were at least as badly trained, and certainly worse led.

One thing seen a lot in wargames is flank to flank field columns rolling up together to gang up on a single line.

Imho this should invite disorder on the columns – there should always be a suitable interval for deployment between the columns, as OMan stated in his later correction for "Column vs line at Maida." (I see you have listed this as 31 on your bibliography)

An interesting topic that will run and run Im sure.

One extra snippet if I could pull out the pin and toss this in to the discussion: in 1815 Wellington got the columnar doctrine allies training up to deploy in 2 deep line. Why would he do this if he thought column was so good?


Having said that, Ompteda's KGL was stood in column at Waterloo, (takes up less space on a dense battlefield???) and sent out to attack in column, only changing to line at La Haye Sainte, at the last minute and just in time to get ridden over and destroyed by French cavalry…..

There are a lot of column formations. Open or closed, full or half intervals, columns by company, or division, or even Divisional column. There was even that weird thing D'Erlon did at waterloo as his new "anti-brit" tactical column took the field for the first time. And the last, as it happened….

(btw, the quote is "they came on in the same old style")

PS – great gaming room. Ligny looks like it was a fun game. Ive subscribed to your blog,much of interest in it. well done!

Rod MacArthur01 Dec 2011 2:55 a.m. PST

"Having said that, Ompteda's KGL was stood in column at Waterloo, (takes up less space on a dense battlefield???)"

All of the British battalions at Waterloo initially formed in quarter distance columns, because it was their default formation. It was best for movement and from this they could easily form line or square as required.

British Peninsular war memoirs are littered with references to being in quarter distance column (ie where the distance between successive companies was one quarter of the frontage – therefore 6 paces for a 60 strong company with a frontage of 24 paces). It is mentioned more times than any other formation.

The British 1792 regulations specifically recommend this formation for movement when there is any enemy cavalry threat (because square can be formed from it in no more than 20 seconds).


MichaelCollinsHimself01 Dec 2011 4:23 a.m. PST

Are Marshal Ney's standing orders to the French troops in 1809 somewhere on googlebooks?

Rod MacArthur01 Dec 2011 4:47 a.m. PST


My hard copy (Empire reprint) of Marshal Ney's memoirs Volume 2 has the "Instructions for the troops comprising the Left Corps" as the last section of it, which I presume is waht you mean.

It is available as a free download here:



MichaelCollinsHimself01 Dec 2011 5:11 a.m. PST

Yep, thanks… i`ve got both volumes of Memoirs and separately those instrucions. A.K.A. "Military Studies", but these were compiled about 1804-5.

MichaelCollinsHimself01 Dec 2011 9:49 a.m. PST

If you take a look at de Vernon`s "Treatise on the Science of War and Fortification" (English translation by Michael O`Connor is available on google and Kessinger Publ.), you`ll see that also leading to the conflicts of 1805 that the French authorities have more faith in their infantry`s capabilities.. See pages 99-102 which give a " sketch of the conflict of different arms" and of an "order of battle".
In this, French troops are expected to perform formation changes and manoeuvres close to the enemy; forming columns and deploying and ploying once more, there`s more tactical flexibilty expected from them.
But I suspect however, that there was less control in practice and in any case for very practical reasons, tactical methods were best kept simple: either their columns would break the enemy`s already weakened lines, or that they resolved to advance and deploy to line and slug it out with opponents who proved to be stronger than they had anticipated.

MichaelCollinsHimself02 Dec 2011 12:01 a.m. PST

…that`d be volume 1 of de Vernon b.t.w.

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