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"Why wasn't l'ordre mixte slower than line?" Topic

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969 hits since 22 Nov 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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4th Cuirassier22 Nov 2017 6:46 a.m. PST

Something that has always puzzled me is l'ordre mixte. Supposedly this formation combined the advantages of line (output of fire) with those of column (handiness). Yet the reality of l'ordre mixte is that you still have a line between two columns. Thus if it wanted to stay in that configuration the formation would have to move at the pace of the slowest, i.e. that of line. The line in question would probably move even more slowly than a line because it's effectively extended in length by the additional frontage of a column at each end. If it was important that these remain aligned, these would make it more cumbersome than one line.

Was its supposed advantage something else entirely, or was it as I've said and I've just not understood it properly?

Marc at work22 Nov 2017 7:06 a.m. PST

I would have thought that the advantage was speed, as the units had fixed positions relative to each other, so the commanders needed to worry less about leaving deployment space, coordinating the attack etc. And one line would have been easier to coordinate than an attack made up of several battalions in line – again, due to the pressure on each battalion commander. It would also allow the line more freedom to act with less risk of cavalry attacks, as its flanks were protected by units that were easier to deploy as squares – so maybe it improved confidence – which in turn would aid speed of deployment.

I think as wargamers we think of speed as mph, but in the real battlefield, "speed" would have included the necessary deployment/reaction time etc


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2017 7:11 a.m. PST

4th, have you ever marched in formation? My experience was the longer the line, the more time spent dressing ranks, and the more obstacles in your path. just because you took up more space. (I'll grant you most rules don't directly adjust for that.)
At regimental level, l'ordre mixte might be a tad slower than a single battalion in line, but it should be a lot faster and more maneuverable than a line of three battalions.

thomalley22 Nov 2017 7:38 a.m. PST

It should also give better "cover" for the line in case of a cav charge. Both flanks are already anchored, provided the columns hold.

4th Cuirassier22 Nov 2017 8:49 a.m. PST

@ Robert

Yes I have. Boy was it boring.

@ Marc

Taking the French 6-company organisation, three battalions in l'ordre mixte had a frontage two-thirds larger than a single line. That has to be more unwieldy than a line, unless of course the formation was a looser one than is usually portrayed diagrammatically. I.e. if it's just a line in the middle with a column to either side it's perhaps less hassle than a rigid structure of three.

N0tt0N Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2017 8:56 a.m. PST

It was only loosely closed as there always had to be passage of line lanes. As Marc pointed out, a line can move faster if the Officers and NCOs don't have to spend a large portion of their time watching the ends of the line for vulnerabilities (protected by flank columns).

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2017 9:41 a.m. PST

4th Cuirassier, you're shifting your meaning of "line." Three battalions in l'ordre mixte would have a frontage 2/3 longer than a single battalion in line--but just over half the frontage of that same three-battalion regiment in line.

And you're right. It was really boring. But at least I didn't have to do it through a bunch of small farms with fences and outbuildings, with people shooting at me.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2017 10:54 a.m. PST

Well, ah duh, do people now really think that the veterans back then were really really stupid because they didn't know ANYTHING about dialing "1" before the area code? Or the difference between a CMOS and a bipolar semi-conductor?

Just a wild guess. They might look at the terrain that they were going to approach the enemy over before they marched out. If it was NOT a good situation for the center line to have a pretty free approach, they would chose another place or method for the attack. Maybe running up a bunch of guns, or a covered approach march, or a thick skirmish screen taking advantage of some rough ground in front of the unprotected defenders, or a threat of a cavalry charge…… Just a wild guess in the dark.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2017 10:58 a.m. PST

A nice thing about the this formation is that the enemy opposing the line in the center, would be firing at the LINE directly in front of them, and NOT at the column, which was going to bother their neighbors. … So the columns had mostly, the outnumbered, scared guys in front of them (outnumbered 2-3 or 3-1) to oppose them, and only half the people to the side of the impact area to shoot at them. (From an angle and significantly screened by their own line and their restricted zone of fire to their front.

d88mm1940 Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2017 1:11 p.m. PST

I believe also that the order mixed was mostly used during the 'High Point' of Le Grande Armee. 1805-1807. The troops had trained for more than 2 years on the coast, waiting to invade Britain. After the casualties of the major campaigns of 1805, 06 and 07, more and more conscripts entered the ranks. I don't read much about order mixed during Spain nor Austria in 1809 and after.

evilgong22 Nov 2017 1:29 p.m. PST

I guess if you formed up in l'mixt you probably took care to have the line bits facing clear terrain and less in need of delays to dress the formation.

As others mention, the move capacity of the whole was perhaps a secondary consideration.

David F Brown

Marcus Brutus22 Nov 2017 1:32 p.m. PST

Interesting conversation. Based on the comments above it would seem that the line in l'order mixte could potentially move quicker than a normal line because it had its flanks secured on the columns.

grecian195922 Nov 2017 1:32 p.m. PST

It's like SMED ….internal time versus external time
So ,the smaller the internal central line is and the larger the 2 external side flank in column are supposedly the more efficient it is !
Which means Large flank columns and a smaller central line formation is the answer
Lean six sigma Napoleonics 😂😂

N0tt0N Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2017 2:17 p.m. PST

grecian1959 only for movement! Firepower injects another performance metric. Otherwise we go with Austrian massed columns or a phalanx! :)

grecian195922 Nov 2017 2:30 p.m. PST

😂 change management and flexibility whatever happens it's customer pull So those Russians want the French 12pdr belle filles to deliver on time and in full all the lead they can
By the caissons work with just in time inventory so all
Variants and wastes are eliminated

Three Armies Supporting Member of TMP22 Nov 2017 3:39 p.m. PST

I always thought it was more out of necessity than speed in the early Revolutionary wars it combined the demi brigades of les blanc and les blu?

Sparta23 Nov 2017 1:41 a.m. PST

We are overstating the reallife implications – l´ordre mixte was not a standard formation, certainly never an assault formation.

At the time the mental mindset of officers was that you either have the whole brrigade (or division/corps/army) in ordre mince – that means the thin line, with all batallions in line, or you have l´ordre profonde where all are in column with skirmishers in front or in between.

In the first case you can repell cavalry by fire because your represent an unbroken line, in the second case the individual batallions will fend for their own flanks by forming square or closed/massed columns.

L´ordre mixte was more a mental concept that the individual batallions would actually not conform absolutely with the overall order, but choose formation depending on the situation – which in essence is what separates Napoleonic warfare from the seven years war.

le Grande Quartier General Supporting Member of TMP23 Nov 2017 5:22 a.m. PST

Well stated Sparta

Rod MacArthur23 Nov 2017 8:34 a.m. PST

One of the main uses of Ordre Mixte the Napoleonic Wars, certainly by the British Army, was to use columns on the flanks of lines, to protect the line from being charged in the flank by cavalry. The British 4th Division did this at Albuera in 1811 as they advanced, with the entire Fusiier Brigade and a Portuguese Brigade in a line of seven battalions, with the LLL in a quarter distance column on one flank and a composite light battalion, also in quarter distance column on the other flank. These quarter distance columns could form squares in a fraction of the time which the battalions in line could have done.

There are plenty of other examples of this use of Ordre Mixte.


Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP23 Nov 2017 8:48 p.m. PST

Yes, agree with Rod M. To say it wasn't a 'standard formation' is misleading. Placing columns on the flanks of line formations was a common practice [as opposed to 'standard'] from the 1790's to 1815. The hollow squares we see in several battles after 1807 by several nations are nothing more than lines moving with open columns on each flank, ready to turn out when threatened by cavalry.

L'ordre mixte was as slow as the slowest element in the formation, i.e. the line for the reasons already mentioned. The pace of a column and line were always the same speeds. The line was less maneuverable…it couldn't go around obstacles as easily as columns and with a wider front, the more likely it was to run into them, hence the greater need for dressing lines etc. [which columns did too, just not as often]

Rod MacArthur23 Nov 2017 11:29 p.m. PST

Napoleonic troops, like modern ones, are drilled to march at a standard pace (30 inches for the British Army, then and now) and at a number of set speeds (75, 108 and 120 paces per minute for the Napoleonic British Army).

Line and columns could theoretically march at the same speed, but that gave problems for lines, due to obstacle crossing drills. Battlefields were littered with small obstacles. Columns could just wheel around these and continue at the same fast pace.

The obstacle evasion drill for lines is virtually identical for all armies. The line continues to move at the same pace, the blocked portion stops, forms a small column, wheels around the obstacle, then increases its pace to catch up and return to its place in the line. This is only possible if the line is moving at a slower pace than the column, and that is why Napoleonic commanders told their lines to move at a slower pace than their columns.

There is an article about this on my website:


This article was originally published in First Empire magazine in 1994, but was updated when I put it on my website.


huevans01124 Nov 2017 6:17 a.m. PST

Rod, I query whether columns could just avoid obstacles when your divisional formation would be a line – or two or three lines – of columns at a set deployment distance.

Could you comment / clarify?

Rod MacArthur24 Nov 2017 8:00 a.m. PST

I have originals of British 1792 Regulations, and reprints or photocopies of American Steuben and French 1791 regulations, all of which have diagrams showing lines using that obstacle avoidance drill. I also have reprints of Prussian regulations plus photocopies of Russian and Austrian regulations, so I will check those as well. I will scan the relevant diagrams, put them on my website and post a link to them.

As far as columns were concerned, the intention was that the column would just temporarily divert around the object and then return to their original place in the formation, relative to other battalions. It would not be able to deploy properly with an obstacle half way along its intended line.

Napoleonic tactics were more flexible in these matters than 18th Century tactics.


Rod MacArthur25 Nov 2017 9:20 a.m. PST

My deleted message above was a duplicate of the post above it. I have no idea how that happened.

Meanwhile, as promised, I have put a new article on "Obstacle Avoidance Drills" on my website. It can be seen here:



1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2017 1:19 p.m. PST

Rod, you wrote a great article.

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