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"French 1791 Reglement" Topic

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Chad4718 Mar 2017 3:04 a.m. PST

Does anyone know if the above included instructions for the use of columns
to be used in assaults?

Art18 Mar 2017 3:15 a.m. PST

G'Day Pete,

Wrong Reglement for the use of action columns…in the reglment de 1791, the close column was only permitted to be used as a manoeuver column…

Download le reglement de 1776…the general principles were used for l'ordre perpendiculaire…or you can buy from George…if he is still selling…Meunier which was adopted dans l'ordre perpendiculaire.

Hope that helps

Best Regards

von Winterfeldt18 Mar 2017 3:15 a.m. PST

the regulations give you the tools to use and much important how to form the diverse tactical formations, how to march, how to fire, how to dress, how to wheel, how to form a line, how to form a column, how to form a square and then the regulations have a sort of brigade school as well, showing how to form battle lines etc.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 3:27 a.m. PST

As I recall, there was a major "wargame" involving the French troops earmarked for an invasion of England in 1778 (who ended up dying from disease on a largely Spanish fleet because they couldn't find anywhere to land), in which the two sides were required to use the two distinct fighting styles (linear on one side, columnar on the other). Both sides would have been using the 1776 Reglement. Rochambeau was apparently selected to command the Expedition Particuliere in 1780, based on his success leading the "linear" forces.

Art18 Mar 2017 4:21 a.m. PST

l'ordre perpendiculaire is both l'ordre profond et l'ordre mince, to include des lignes et colonnes accolees ensemble.

But if we were to do a game where Rochambeau used l'ordre mince en 1780 verse l'ordre perpendiculaire…he would be forced to comply and follow the general principles of l'ordre separe.

l'ordre perpendiculaire was only in its infant stages in 1795…

Brechtel19818 Mar 2017 4:46 a.m. PST

Marshal de Broglie and other French general officers, Rochambeau included, conducted a series of experiments, wargames if you prefer, in Normandy in the 1778 using both linear tactics and columns covered by skirmishers.

The Camp at Vaussieux in Normandy was the location and the maneuvers and critiques by the various generals are contained in a chapter in Robert Quimby's The Background of Napoleonic Warfare.

It was an interesting assemblage of officers for the maneuvers, and included Wimpfen, Durfort, Conflans, Gribeauval, the elder Guibert and his son. There were 44 infantry battalions, six dragoon regiments and a 'large train of artillery' which would have been the new Gribeauval pieces and ancillary vehicles.

Mesnil-Durand's method of using columns was experimented with, but they were found to be too large and clumsy and those who supported the linear system 'won' out. It was those who wrote and supported the 1791 Reglement which had very little on the employment of skirmishers in a major combat role. That would change when war came in 1792.

The book is highly recommended.

Chad4718 Mar 2017 5:10 a.m. PST

Thanks. I read somewhere that the Reglement included a reference to 'Colonne d'attaque'. Would this not be a column used for assault or was what I read incorrect?

Art18 Mar 2017 5:28 a.m. PST

G'Day Pete

In l'Ordonnance de 1791; the colonne par peloton, and colonne par division were only expected to close up when deploying into line, hence they were never used in an offensive role or defensive role.

l'Ordonnance de 1791 was almost distributed to the French Army without the inclusion of the colonne d'attaque. The Commission had never intended to adopt it, because it was not in accordance with the principles of l'Ordonnance de 1791 which only promoted the idea of deployed lines for combat, and limited the uses of a battalion in one column as the smallest basic body of troops for such formations.

It wasn't until the last moment, in order to satisfy the partisans of Folard and Mesnil-Durand, that the colonne d'attaque was accorded a place in the manual.

However, once the partisans were made happy, the editors of the Reglement de 1791 dismembered it and removed all of its innovations, leaving only a small portion in the manual which can be found in the Ecole de Bataillon, Cinquième Partie.

There is no distinction between a colonne d'attaque and a colonne par division, since l'Ordonnance de 1791 was based upon l'Ordre Prussien, and the Commission wanted a single column as the basic tactical unit to be a battalion, and not an attack column destined to spit into two demi-battalions.

Which left the attack column nothing more than a formation de manoeuvre and not an action column.

The Reglement de 1791 do not described how an attack columns should be used, only how to form and deploy and issue firing if needed. The Commission purposely left out instructions on how to split one battalion into two demi-battalions to charge the enemy, or be used in a defensive role.

Hope this helps

Best Regards

Chad4718 Mar 2017 8:15 a.m. PST


Many thanks. Most helpful.


Rod MacArthur18 Mar 2017 12:18 p.m. PST

Chad 47,

A colonne d'attaque is just a particular company layout in a colonne par division.

When the 1791 Regulations were written, the French used 9 company battalions, but normally deployed their voltigeur companies, so leaving 8 companies in the battalion.

However, I think it is easier to understand the tactical logic if one considers the six company battalion which was adopted in 1808.

The colonne par division would have leading division: grenadiers right, 1st fusiliers left. Second division: 2nd fusiliers right, 3rd fusiliers left. Third division: 4th fusiliers right, voltigeurs left. It formed line on its leading division by each division in turn coming up on the left.

By contrast the colonne d'attaque had its leading division: 2nd fusiliers right, 3rd fusiliers left. Second division: 1st fusiliers right, 4th fusiliers left. Third division: grenadiers right, voltigeurs left. It formed line on its leading division by the companies moving simultaneously into line on both the left and right of the leading division, which was faster.

The colonne d'attaque was not therefore primarily designed as an assault column, but as a way of deploying from column into line faster. This reflects the original 18th Century doctrine of manoeuvring in columns, but forming into lines in order to fight.

Both colonne par division and colonne d'attaque were normally formed at half distance (ie with a equivalent distance to one company's frontage between each successive division). This was because it was the fastest formation to form a square from and battalion columns advancing towards an enemy were particularly vulnerable to being attacked by cavalry.

If assault columns were required, these would normally be formed from close columns (colonne serree) which had only one pace between successive divisions. The problem with them is that they can only form solid squares, which are relatively immobile.


Art18 Mar 2017 1:27 p.m. PST

G'Day Rod,

Nice to hear from you again…it has been a while…

You can't compare the Reglement 1791 with that of the 1808 organization…there are just too many discrepancies / changes in the general principles…

As an example…the battalion of 1791 was under the regle de peloton-compagnie…where as the battalion of 1808 was under the regles d'endivisionment. -major issues that hurt the sub-factions in a six sub-faction battalion. "…le regle d'endivisionment commencerent a s'embrouiller, parce que le reglment sur l'excerice ne fut pas modifie, comme il eut du l'etre pour entrer en harmonie avec les lois de la composition nouvelle."

When the battalion changed to six pelotons, the battalion was under the regles d'endivisionnement and needed three divisions when in column. Under the regles; this means that when a battalion was en colonne par division, the grenadier peloton could not detach itself, without going against the general principles (the endivisionnement of a fusilier and grenadier peloton was considered wrong by military theorist). Only one peloton from the 3rd division (the voltigeur peloton and a fusilier peloton) was permitted to detach en tirailleur . When the peloton was detached, it was the entire peloton en compagnie-division, which required the other peloton to become the 3rd division and remained centered behind the 2nd division.

In the Reglement de 1791 there are no means of forming an isolated battalion in an open square…it can only be done in a solid square, since it was based upon l'Ordre Prussien, the ligne de bataille was to form regimental squares…

In the reglement de 1791 a ligne could only change direction
in accordance to des evolutions de ligne, TITRE V.

For l'ordre perpendiculaire, a great body of troops no longer had to rely upon the evolutions de ligne, but were now using l'ecole de brigade from 1803 onward, but as we know didn't get officially published until 1814.

Now you find such formations as colonne par bataillon, colonne d'attaque par bataillon, colonne par regiment…and the list of differences go on and on…

As for a close column unable to form open square…here is my email address

Send me an email and I shall send you a document pertaining to how it is formed.

With all the documents you have sent me over the years…it's time to return the favor…

Best Regards

Rod MacArthur18 Mar 2017 1:57 p.m. PST

Hi Art,

I always like to think of regulations as a bit like a cookery book, they tell you all of the various things which you can do and how to do them, but not when.

However, over the years I have collected a lot of memoirs of the era and extracted "tactical snippets" from these. By cross referencing these with the regulations patterns begin to appear of certain manoeuvres being frequently used. A good example is the use of quarter distance columns by the British which I probably have over 50 references to demonstrate that this was the "default" battlefield formation.

As far as the applicability of the 1791 Regulations to the 1808 structure, the difficulty as I understand it is that there were no other regulations issued, so they just had to use them as best they could.

The British 1792 Regulations had some of the same problems, although the British did not fundamentally change their organisation. There is however the very useful British 1825 Regulations, the introduction to which states that they are largely a compilation of revised tactical practices which were adopted during the Napoleonic Wars.

Have you seen my new website, on which I have a section on Military Historical Research. link

I will send you an e-mail separately.

Best wishes


Allan F Mountford20 Mar 2017 10:57 a.m. PST

There are not actually that many examples of Column of Grand Divisions being used. Napoleon forbade his Battalions to use it once they reduced from 9 to 6 companies in 1808 if Voltigeur companies were skirmishing, as they normally were. Although British regulations do not seem to cover it, there is mention in Dundas that "close column will generally be composed of companies for the purpose of movement, but when it is halted, and is to deploy into line, it will then stand two companies in front and five in depth"; in other words a Column of Grand Division formation.

There is however clear evidence of British battalions forming Columns of Grand Division. Wheeler further writes of Salamanca "We broke into open column of divisions [companies] right in front and marched to the rear of the enemy…This was not a very agreeable job as the enemy were cannonading the whole length of their line, and our route lay within range of their guns. The fire at length became so furious that it became expedient to form grand division, thus leaving an interval of double the space for their shot to pass through."

This use of Grand Divisions to reduce casualties from artillery fire was one of the major advantages of the formation and would work equally well when advancing directly towards the enemy, rather than across their front as in Wheeler's description. This resulted from the potential halving of casualties from artillery fire, when compared to moving in a column of single companies, as any one artillery round-shot passed through only 3 lines of companies rather than 6. The potential firepower of the column of Grand Divisions is also doubled when compared to a Column of single companies although the various regulations imply that all columns should deploy into line before firing.

Rod – referring to your article on move rates.

A query: what do you mean by '…one artillery round-shot passed through only 3 lines of companies rather than 6.' Is this a reference to a French battalion organisation (I presume it is)?

Excellent article, by the way.


Art20 Mar 2017 1:04 p.m. PST

There are not actually that many examples of Column of Grand Divisions being used. Napoleon forbade his Battalions to use it once they reduced from 9 to 6 companies in 1808 if Voltigeur companies were skirmishing.

The only battalions that had no issue were the Young Garde…all pelotons were considered elite.

Then what is a colonne par bataillon…colonne d'attaque par bataillon…colonne de retraite…all three of these tactical golumns were used up until 1815…even at Waterloo…

When the peloton was detached, it was the entire peloton en compagnie-division, which required the other peloton to become the 3rd division and remained centered behind the 2nd division.

Then you have Napoleon's orders of March 1813…all en colonne d'attaque et colonne d'attaque par bataillon…

The colonne vuide used by MacDonald in 1809 was executed with battalions en colonne par divisions on the two flanks…

Later it would be published in updates that there are two ways in which a column with an odd peloton may form a carre vuide, as well as the original method…

1) doubling two sub-elements at either the front or rear of the column.

2) dispersing the odd peloton in the same manner as if it were a peloton of grenadiers

3) the column will form a close column to carre plein.

Therefore we can safely say that ART. 7 has nothing to do with a colonne par division requiring a certain number of pelotons, otherwise it was forced to form colonne par peloton in order to form a carre vide or carre plein.

The real reason it that an action column requires masse. In other words it takes at least nine ranks to have masse in an action coloumn…six ranks are merely two lines of three ranks doubled.

Even napoleon fudges the count in 1813:

Duben (20 miles from Leipzig), 13 Octobre 1813

Napoleon orders that the entire army is to form 2 ranks, whether it be en ligne ou meme colonne par division. He states that the third rank is irrelative (since they are now fighting mainly defensive battles -not totally useless as some suggest), and it shall give "the greatest advantage" for a battalion of 500 men, with the impression of a battalion of 750 men. This effect shall have a great impact, because the enemy will not know of this nouvelle ordonnance. One hour after the receipt of this order, everything must be arranged.

Napoleon then goes on to say that a colonne par division (not colonne d'attaque formed on the center) gave a colonne a depth of six ranks and three more for the serre-files.

…and that is how he sold the idea of two ranks….

-remember that the colonne par division and colonne d'attaque formed on the center are not derivative in all roles.

Napoleon by means of including the serre-files into the equation of depth, he now meets the requirements for mass in any particular circumstance that require shock.

Rod MacArthur20 Mar 2017 4:49 p.m. PST

When I wrote my article on Squares and Oblongs it was some 20 years ago. It was of course mainly about British tactical practice, but I had not considered the later research which I did on British Converged Light Battalions which is also on my website as:

Back in the first half of the 18th Century troops marched to the battlefield in non-tactical Colums of Route (full distance at no more than a four man frontage), then wheeled into line. The entire multi-battalion line normally formed a single complete formation, with cavalry relegated to the flanks. This conversion from column to line took some time, and since the army was very vulnerable during this, such lines were normally formed at approximately enemy effective artillery range.

During the Seven Years War, Frederick the Great introduced the tactical practice of forming lines from the heads of columns, by "en tiroir" or "fantail" conversions, and these columns could therefore be at reduced distances (half, quarter or close columns). Such columns could march as semi-independent battalions, much closer to the enemy, before forming into line. Following the Seven Years War, all nations adopted such tactics. The consequence was that tactics became more fluid, but equally many more opportunities existed for cavalry to attack such battalions as they advanced in separate battalion columns.

The solution adopted by all nations was for these battalion columns to be in a structure which allowed them to form square very quickly. For the British this was quarter distance columns, which converted from 2 rank companies to 4 ranks sides of a square as explained in my Squares and Oblongs article. This worked perfectly well for British columns of 9 companies, with their light companies detached. However, it would only work for columns of Grand Division, on a two company frontage (equivalent to French Colonne par Division), if all 10 companies were present. This is because the first two Grand Divisions were needed to form the front face of the square, the third Grand Division to form the sides of the square and the last two Grand Divisions to form the rear of the square. If a British battalion formed a column on a two company frontage, but then detached its light company, it could no longer form square (or to be precise, could only do so by converting to a column on a single company frontage first, which would have been fatal if being attacked by cavalry).

The only example which I found of British advancing in Columns of Grand Division was that of the 71st Foot at Salamanca. However the 71st Foot was part of the 7th Division and both of their nominally British brigades were entirely Light Infantry, so they had no need to detach companies into converged Brigade light battalions, but could just use any of the battalions in the Brigade to perform that role. The 71st Foot therefore had all 10 companies in their Column of Grand Divisions, which worked.

The French had the same problem after 1808 if they detached their voltigeur companies, since a Colonne par Division of only two complete divisions, but with an odd company, was incapable of forming square (or incapable unless it converted to a column of companies first). That is why Napoleon issued his 1808 Directive requiring battalions to operate by peleton (company) unless all six companies were present, in which case they could operate by division (double company frontage).


Art20 Mar 2017 11:51 p.m. PST

G'Day Rod,

Article 7

Quand les six compagnies seront présentes au bataillon, on défilera et l'on agira toujours par division.

Quand les grenadiers et voltigeurs seront absents du bataillon, on manœuvrera et défilera toujours par peloton.

Deux compagnies formeront une division; chaque compagnie formera un peloton; chaque demi-compagnie une section.

It was once thought…as I…that the word "et" was a typo…it isn't.

Quand les grenadiers….."et"…..voltigeurs seront absents du bataillon…

It is about le regle d'endvisionmnnement et manoeuvre. I have already shown how a battalionn with 5 sub-factions may form square. The preferred method is that the remaining elite peloton (acting as a division) form two sides of the square par section, while the other two sides of the square are formed by divisions. Or each peloton forms one side of the square and the elite peloton forms on each courner as mention in l'Ordonnance.

Up until 1811 battalion Commanders were still attempting to detach skirmishers from the third rank while in colonne par division (as mentioned by Davout in 1811). To fix the problem and stay within the general principles, it was permitted to detach a fusilier peloton instead of the voltiguer peloton or grenadier peloton for skirmishing.

In the reglement it is permitted for an elite peloton to form as a division on it's own, either at the head or rear of the column and center on a division. It is for that reason 4 fusilier pelotons and one elite peloton could still form 3 divisions.

What was not acceptable was that if in colonne par divisions, and the voltieur peloton was deteched to skirmish, that it left a single fusilier peloton on its own to become a division, while the grenadier peloton was forced to still form division with a fusilier peloton.

It was for that reason and others, it was best for a fusilier peloton to detach en tirailleur, leaving the voltgeur peloton to form a division on its own.

When there were only 4 pelotons left in the batalion, a colonne par division was merely what the French called a ligne double….which has no mass in acting as an action column.

Best Regards

Rod MacArthur21 Mar 2017 3:47 a.m. PST


As I see it a French battalion in Colonne par Division, marching forward at half distance (ie one peleton distance between each division), forms a square by the front division halting to form the front face of the square, the second division splitting into two peletons, each of which wheels outwards to form the sides of the square and the rear division marches forward (the distance of a peleton, about 24 paces) and about turns to form the rear of the square. It is very quick, less than 20 seconds to form square for a well drilled battalion.

If the battalion has only two complete divisions, and one "spare" peleton, then the only way that can work is for the column to be at quarter distance and the single peleton to be in the middle between the front and rear divisions. That peleton could then split into two sections and wheel outwards to form the sides of the square. However it is not a formation which I have ever seen described in either the 1791 Reglement or in any memoirs.

I remain convinced that any post 1808 French battalion which detached its voltigeurs as skirmishers then manoeuvred by peleton, not divisions, as instructed to do so by Napoleon's 1808 Instruction.


4th Cuirassier21 Mar 2017 6:12 a.m. PST

@ Rod

I have been reading your article about battalion structures and came across this:

No nations had drills for forming columns wider than two tactical sub-units because such a column would have been unable to wheel without breaking its frontage into separate elements, each wheeling in echelon. This wheeling by separate elements in echelon was exactly how lines "wheeled"

How would this work exactly?

My assumption was that battalions in line pivoted on either end. So a battalion of 600 men in 2 ranks at 2 feet frontage per man would have been about 200 yards from end to end.

For this formation to wheel 90 degrees to (say) the right, the chap at the right of the line stays put, and turns on the spot to his right. The chap on the left marches around the perimeter of a circle whose radius is 200 yards. A quarter of the circumference of such a circle would be a distance of 314 yards (pi x 2 x 200 / 4, which simplifies to pi x 100).

If the line were able to pivot about the centre instead, then it would have its left end marching 157 yards clockwise and its right end doing an about-turn and also marching 157 yards in the opposite direction.

What would the actual practice have been?

Rod MacArthur21 Mar 2017 7:03 a.m. PST

4th Cuirassier,

My very batterered copy of the British 1792 Regulations contains a section (page 199) on "Changes of Position of the Battalion from Line by the Echelon March of Companies" and this is covered in detail in Sections 154 onwards.

There are a number of plates showing this wheeling by individual companies from one end of the battalion or from the centre of the battalion. For example plate number 80 which shows a line wheeling clockwise on its centre. The five companies to the right of the centre about face and individually wheel backwards (in echelon) to their new position then again about face to form the line. Those companies to the left of the centre just wheel individually forwards and march to their new position. The two centre companies are obviously in position first, then each successive company arrives in turn to the right or left of them.

I think that the British 1792 Regulations are still available as a free Google download, although I seem to remember that the electronic version which I have did not have the diagrams, which are all at the end in my actual copy.


4th Cuirassier21 Mar 2017 7:33 a.m. PST

So each company would just march in a straight line to its intended position?

Rod MacArthur21 Mar 2017 3:16 p.m. PST

4th Cuirassier,

If you think of a line wheeling forward by an angle of 30 degrees. To start the process, each company wheeled simultaneously and individually to the new 30 degree angle of the line. The first company was then in its correct position and did not need to move any more. Each one of the other companies then marched forward. Those closest to the first company would have a short march. Those at the other end of the line would have a longer march, so the new line formed sequentially, and was fragmented (and therefore highly vulnerable) until it had completed the process.


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