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"Overlapping lines" Topic

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Bill N14 Sep 2017 4:41 p.m. PST

In the 18th century two lines of troops approach each other. Because one force is stronger than the other, its line extends a few platoons beyond the end of the opponent's line. When the troops halt their advance to fire the troops in the overlapping platoons don't have troops in front of them. They are too far from the end of the opponent's line to shift their musket slightly to the left or right to hit their opponents.

So what do they do when the rest of the line opens fire? Do they shoot at nothing? Hold their fire? Bend forward so they can shoot towards the opponent's flank with the understanding they will have to re-orient themselves when their line advances again? With troops in more fluid formations you can assume they will re-orient, but is that what 18th century regular infantry would do?

wakenney14 Sep 2017 5:04 p.m. PST

The larger force would have to be much larger to cause the flanks to be out of range when firing obliquely.

PJ ONeill14 Sep 2017 10:23 p.m. PST

I think the last line of your first paragraph was rarely true. At effective musketry range, 50-70 yds at best, the angle of fire adjustment would be very small, 2-5 degrees, and easily made.

Hafen von Schlockenberg Inactive Member15 Sep 2017 2:31 a.m. PST

Someone posted here some time ago, I believe,that his experience in reenacting demonstrated to him how very difficult,tending toward impossible, it was for ranked infantry to fire in any direction other than straight ahead.

42flanker15 Sep 2017 4:39 a.m. PST

Would the company or battalion commander not wheel his men forward, as long as his floating flank was covered?

FlyXwire15 Sep 2017 5:25 a.m. PST

Bill N, here's a few TMP threads I remember touching on this subject:

TMP link

TMP link

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member15 Sep 2017 6:29 a.m. PST

42flanker has your answer, although I think PJ ONeill also has an appropriate observation – there was a reason that all armies had similar-sized battalions.

Early morning writer Inactive Member16 Sep 2017 6:37 a.m. PST

Similar sized battalions? They varied rather considerably in reality even within the British organizations which, arguably, were the most consistent. I think the refusing of a flank or bending forward maneuvers were not particularly common during the AWI. Not saying it didn't happen, just not as common as in later linear warfare.

A few platoons wouldn't much matter. A few battalions or regiments will make a difference. A good commander would then seek to maneuver his advantage in numbers to assault his opponents flank.

FlyXwire16 Sep 2017 7:23 a.m. PST

EMW points to the practice of the period, that in close proximity to the enemy (at musket range) the goal was to maintain battalion/regimental cohesion and linear alignment to the enemy, for the preparation of the final bayonet assault – "A few platoons wouldn't much matter" – and the ultimate goal being not to engage in protracted volley firing, but to close with the enemy and drive him from the field with cold steel. Furthermore, the issuance of orders to advance or refuse a flank during the stress of battle could and did lead to confusion in the ranks, and risked the complete formation falling back as a result, or attempting a partial, unintended advance (in disarray).

42flanker16 Sep 2017 9:51 a.m. PST

In the AWI, infantry tactics were indeed more modular, with both sides employing open order formations.

One of the more famous instances of a battalion wheeling forward- though not from an open flank, was the 52nd Oxfordshire LI against the Garde Impériale at Waterloo.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP17 Sep 2017 6:20 a.m. PST

I can only recall three instances of that happening but not in the AWI but the ACW and at Waterloo. Stannard's Vermont brigade near the Angle receiving Pickets charge. They left Stannard's Brigade without any unit in front of him. He promptly ordered his two regiments about 1,500 men to advance and pour flanking fire into the Confederates.

The Sunken Road at Sharpsburg was flanked by Caldwell's Brigade and they begin to pour fire into the flanks of the Rebels. An attempt to refuse the flank was misunderstood and resulted in the full scale retreat of the entire line.

"The final assault of the Old Guard Wellington watched and waited in the midst of one of his Guards brigades, veterans of earlier fighting against the French on the Iberian Peninsula. They were ordered to lie out of sight on the ground along the reverse slope of the battle-torn ridge and wait for the command to rise up in unison.

Marching on a front that was about 70 soldiers wide, the French were easily taken under flanking fire from the British line that overlapped them on both ends. They continued up the muddy, bloody, and body strewn slope. When they had approached to within 40 yards, the command rang out, "Stand up Guards! Make ready! Fire!"

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member17 Sep 2017 11:57 a.m. PST

Similar sized battalions? They varied rather considerably in reality even within the British organizations which, arguably, were the most consistent. I think the refusing of a flank or bending forward maneuvers were not particularly common during the AWI. Not saying it didn't happen, just not as common as in later linear warfare.

Actually, they weren't; look at British line battalions during the AWI, they were typically around 280-320 all ranks, which is fairly consistent (below that, they were "drafted" and the officers and NCOs sent home). A few regiments were at double-strength, but as we know, these usually operated as "wings" (eg the 42nd, sometimes referred to as "two battalions", but they weren't).

British units in Europe tended to be much larger at the 600-900 mark, similar to Prussian and those of most other European nations.

Personal logo Ironwolf Supporting Member of TMP17 Sep 2017 11:01 p.m. PST

My understanding of the period, the battalions did not all shoot at once?

The battalion would fire by platoons, companies and even divisions. So that there was always some of the command loaded, reloading or shooting.

So if a platoon, company or division had no target in front of them, or a terrain feature blocked their line of fire to their front. I don't think it would have been difficult for them to hold fire or adjust their angle and shoot towards an enemy with in their field of fire.

historygamer18 Sep 2017 6:42 a.m. PST

They would:

1. Hold their fire
2. Do a half wheel in (which is what the "flank" companies were supposed to do anyway, or
3. Fire at the oblique (about 30 degrees either way)

historygamer18 Sep 2017 6:42 a.m. PST

Also, if you were flanking an enemy battalion, you were half way to winning, if not more.

Bill N19 Sep 2017 9:18 a.m. PST

Thanks for the thoughts. This question arose when I was setting up some troops for pictures. My nominal British regiment is 32 men while a Continental is 24 so there is some overlap, and the question became what would the troops do if this happened in battle.

historygamer20 Sep 2017 7:07 a.m. PST

If it were me, I would count all the fire from the larger battalion, allowing for the larger battalion being able to quickly adjust their fire for such an encounter.

On a related question, if the two units went to melee, how would you handle that?

Lance Flint20 Sep 2017 8:06 a.m. PST

There is another option why an overlapping unit would not advance boldly further?
In so doing the advancing unit would run the risk of exposing its own flank to attack from an unseen enemy. Especially when a firing line was established the smoke could cause considerable visibility problems, and especially in America the dead ground and vegetation compounded this further.
Hobkirks Hill, or Second Camden, is a well documented case of both sides trying to outflank the other by extending its battle line.

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