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"With Zeal and with Bayonets Only" Topic


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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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carojon25 Feb 2018 2:18 a.m. PST

Just recently finished reading Matthew H. Spring's AWI analysis of British and Provincial troops on campaign in North America 1775 -1783.

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I've posted some thoughts about this very interesting and thought provoking book so if you would like to know more then just follow the link to JJ's

link

Jonathan (JJ)

Fatuus Natural25 Feb 2018 4:43 a.m. PST

An excellent review, thank you, JJ.

I think the first book I read on the War of American Independence – at about the time Mr Clough was teaching your class about it – was Robert Bass' biography of Banastre Tarleton, 'The Green Dragoon' (I found it in my own school's library, I believe), so I have always known that the popular American misconception of the British army in that war as 'stiff-backed automatons' was just a patriotic myth.

jurgenation Supporting Member of TMP25 Feb 2018 8:08 a.m. PST

Best book I have read on tactics of the AWI..great book…Oh and Go Leeds!!!!

hocklermp525 Feb 2018 11:13 a.m. PST

Excellent review of a truly outstanding book.

Bandolier25 Feb 2018 6:10 p.m. PST

A thoughtful review. I had a similar experience reading that book.
This should be compulsory reading for AWI gamers or anyone interested in the conflict.

Joes Shop Supporting Member of TMP25 Feb 2018 6:23 p.m. PST

Agreed!

Sean Kotch26 Feb 2018 2:16 a.m. PST

Ordered, thanks for the review.

Personal logo Ironwolf Supporting Member of TMP26 Feb 2018 4:57 a.m. PST

This book changed my entire view on how the AWI war was fought.

Virginia Tory26 Feb 2018 9:58 a.m. PST

A most excellent book. Has also changed reenacting a bit (at least on the Crown Forces' side).

Brechtel19826 Feb 2018 4:27 p.m. PST

An excellent book-well worth having and reading.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP26 Feb 2018 8:56 p.m. PST

I think the only thing I can quibble with is his insistance that light infantry wasn't used as light infantry, but instead shock troops. They certainly were used as elites but there are several instances where they were used as light infantry that he either overlooks or incoorectly describes in an effort to prove his point 'with zeal and with bayonets only.' [excuse the pun…]

carojon28 Feb 2018 6:04 a.m. PST

Hi chaps, thanks for your comments. I know I am not the first to highlight this work, and obviously not the only one to have had a few misconceptions challenged.

McLaddie, I didn't find the emphasis your comment would imply. I think the analysis on Light infantry was balanced with reference to General Howe's light infantry drill of 1774 and General Townsend's instructions to the light companies training on Ireland in 1772 and the author pointing out that the army did not forget all its hard won lessons from the French Indian Wars in his analysis of tactical training on page 246. I don't think that I read his conclusion as being they wern't used as traditional light infantry, more that they were not particularly good at performing that role and in time performed it less as the 'bayonet doctrine' came to predominate.

Cheers
JJ

42flanker28 Feb 2018 6:15 a.m. PST

The 'flank battalions' of Grenadiers and Light Infantry established by Howe in 1776 were all'élite' in the strict sense that the men were selected from parent regiments and both categories served as the spearhead of the army and, together with certain Line regiments, were regarded as the most effective, reliable units, who could be employed on a wide number of tasks.

As a result the specialist aspects of both categories began to blend. While the 'Light bobs' continued to form a screen ahead of the army and on the flanks, they also operated as shock troops. Similarly, while the Grenadier battalions continued to be composed of experienced and robust soldiers whose role was to close with the enemy and lead assaults, they also acquired something of the Light Infantry's dash and independence, resorting to 'loose files and American scramble.'

Clearly, the demands of fighting in closed, wooded terrain and farmland and the effective absence of cavalry as a threat, were both influential elements in that process.

As the war went on, a process of evolution combined with atrition meant that the most effective troops would learn to combine the key qualities of both Light Infantry and Grenadiers, foreshadowing the shedding of such specialised roles in the mid-C19th, as the range and rate of fire of infantry small arms increased. To some extent all troops had to become light infantry, or at least be able to operate as light infantry, in comparison with the European model and all had to operate as shock troops.

Virginia Tory02 Mar 2018 6:40 a.m. PST

It's interesting to note that the British Army regulations up through the Napoleonic Wars called for three rank lines. But two ranks was what was used in the field.

And, of course, several units were converted en masse into light infantry.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP02 Mar 2018 9:09 a.m. PST

I don't think that I read his conclusion as being they wern't used as traditional light infantry, more that they were not particularly good at performing that role and in time performed it less as the 'bayonet doctrine' came to predominate.

carojon:
I thought the book was very good. I was simply disagreeing with one of the author's conclusions. At the end of the section on "the role of light infantry in America" starting on page 252, he concludes at the end of the section on page 262:

Although light infantrymen were sometimes trained to use trees as cover, on the battelfield they did not commonly perform as genuine skimrishers by utilizing their initiative to exploit the terrain to their advantage and to over come the enemy by means of accurate, independently delivered fire. Instead, like the grenadiers and line infantry, the light battalions' primary tactic was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes.

I just don't agree with that conclusion about the 'primary tactic' used by the British light infantry during the entire American Revolution.

FlyXwire02 Mar 2018 9:35 a.m. PST

As if – the primary tactic of the "light battalions" in [pitched battle] was to hustle the unsteady rebels…..

(however, certainly not to exclude the capabilities to perform scouting, flank protection, and the support role which British Lt. Infantry also conducted)

Perhaps also should be mentioned the superlative, specialist role many Tory units performed as Lt. Infantry (whether Ranger, Line, or Militia).

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP04 Mar 2018 9:18 a.m. PST

I have seen the different regulations and treatises for light infantry, starting with the SYW and the American theatre. Spring in his book is suggesting that the British ignored all the SYW experience and uses of light troops, created companies designated as light companies in response to the tactical challenges of the American landscape and then… primarily used them just like grenadiers and line infantry…

Here is an example of British light infantry action at Brandywine. While just one example, the light infantry actions are hardly those of bayonet charges. In the account, it seems that a company of grenadiers were treated more like light infantry than the other way around.

This is an account of the battle of Brandywine from an anonymous British Light Infantryman, possible from the 17th Regiment's company. As such it gives a worm's eye view of the action, and holds a number of interesting details that normally get left out of such narratives. In keeping with the spirit of the writing, I have not changed spelling, grammar or punctuation.--from the author, Mark Nichipor, Empire #11 Queries

"….Upon the Troops getting again in motion the advanced guard was composed of the 17th and 42nd Light companies and Capt. Evalts troop of mounted yagers…. having advanced less than a mile Capt. Evalt proposed charging a party of dragoons on the road, provided we secured his left flank.

-this was assented to, and the two companies quitted the road for this purpose to gain an orchard on the left flank; received a fire from about 200 men in the orchard, which did no execution; companies ran up to the fence and halted, as it was evident tho' the enemy fell back they were well supported.

-Lord Cornwalis Aid de camp came to order the advanced guard to halt. -looked back and saw the line nearly formed and presently advancing.

-Right of the road Guards – 2nd batts. B. Grens. left of the road Batts. of yagers. 2 Batts. of light infantry. 2nd line – Hessian Grens. on the right. -brigade of British on the left. -reserve Brigade of British.-

As soon as the line approached the advanced guard Lt. Col. Abercromby ordered the 17th light company to form on the right of the battalion, the 42nd, on the left. -As soon as the line came up to Dilworth Church the enemy opened fire from five field pieces; the church yard wall being opposite the 17th light company, the captain determained to get over the fence into the road, and calling to the men to follow ran down the road and lodged the men without loss at the foot of the hill on which the guns were firing. The hedge on the left side of the road much cut with the grape shot.

-by a bend of the hill had a view of part of the enemys line opposite the grenadiers and opened a fire from about half the company on it; no more being able to form on the space; presently joined by the 38th company some of their gallant soldiers wanted to ascend the hill immediately; objected as too imprudent; the 33rd company joined immediately afterwards, and the men of the three companies calling out up the hill; at their cannon, ascended the hill and had a glimpse of the enemys line as far as the eye could reach to the right and left.

-some firing might have taken place on the left, but as yet the heavy fire of the musketry was not begun.
-enemys guns too far back on the heights to annoy us, their line advancing on us, we were compelled to throw ourselves on our knees and bellies, and keep up a fire from the slope of the hill.

-enemy repeatedly attempted to come on, but were always drove back by our fire altho' their General (Lincoln) very much exerted himself At this time a most tremendous fire of musketry opened from both lines.

-Looking back to see how far the grenadier line was off from which alone we could receive immediate support, to my surprize I saw close to me major Stuart of the 43rd whose regt. being at Rhode Island attended the army as a spectaor; recollecting the 43rd grenadier company was the left of their line, we persuaded Major Stuart to run down the hill and prevail on that company to hasten to our support; he did go, but before he could return, to my inexpressible joy, saw Captain Cochrane of the 4th company on my left throw up his cap and cry Victory.

-and looking round saw the 43rd company hastening to our relief;

-we dashed forwards passed the five pieces of cannon which the enemy had adbandoned and made some few prisoners, enemy running away from us, with too much speed to be overtaken.

-The men being blown we halted and formed to a fence, and were immediately joined by the 2nd grenadiers to our right His own battalion left away to the left; as soon as the men were fit to go on, out of gratitude to Major Stuart we desired to elect him our chief and ment to have gone on under his command, but before we could move Col. Abercromby galloped to us, and we joined the battalion. –
A british brigade got into action with the enemys reserve, which terminated the battle on the left.

-the column on the right as soon as our fire was heard, crossed the river and drove the enemy from their works.

FlyXwire04 Mar 2018 12:23 p.m. PST

McLaddie, what an immersive account of small unit combat. Thanks for taking the time to provide that here for us to enjoy!

This is the level of combat that I'm now gravitating towards presenting in my current AWI gaming, and actions that often occurred at the tip of the spear (with the advance guard elements), or during raids, forage missions, etc. (La petite guerre encounters).

I do think your reference above supports the premise Spring forwards though, where the large majority of the British Lights on the Brandywine battlefield remained together in Battalion formation, and to be used as formed, shock infantry (a rather blunt use for specialist infantry).

42flanker04 Mar 2018 5:20 p.m. PST

The Brandywine episode shows the 1st LI Battalion deploying as fairly standard infantry (for infantry under Howe during the Philadelphia campaign) with the 1st Grenadier battalion on their left deployed in similar fashion. Then, when they encounter the American infantry deployed in strength on Birmingham Hill, supported by a battery of guns, they respond like sensible Light Infantry and use the terrain to keep out of the field of fire of the guns and engage the infantry from cover- just as the Grenadiers were doing on the left.

Meanwhile, the Guards- THE GUARDS- were about to engage in some bush bashing in the wooded ravines on the right, as if they were damned bloody light infantry!

Each battalion was responding to the circumstances they found to their front- even if the Grenadiers had to pause to put on their fur caps before closing with the enemy.

historygamer05 Mar 2018 5:09 a.m. PST

Grens were on the Ligth's right. But you knew that, you just got your other "left" mixed up.

The thing I find interesting about the account of the Lights is how they apparently fragmented into company fights.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member05 Mar 2018 5:34 a.m. PST

I think this battle and Germantown suggest that they were typically operating in "grand divisions" of 2 or sometimes 3 companies.

42flanker05 Mar 2018 8:14 a.m. PST

Yep, other left. 'Straw foot, right foot'

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP05 Mar 2018 8:26 a.m. PST

I am rather surprised by this conclusion:

I do think your reference above supports the premise Spring forwards though, where the large majority of the British Lights on the Brandywine battlefield remained together in Battalion formation, and to be used as formed, shock infantry (a rather blunt use for specialist infantry).

First of all, the actions described by the author are an advanced guard composed of of the 17th and 42nd light companies and mounted Jagers with other companies supporting them during the actions, not whole battalions. Obviously these companies were supported by the battle line of battalions and at one point form with them briefly.

Second, the companies coordinated their actions with battalions that were of different regiments.

Third, they were out in front of the main line most of the time.

Fourth, their actions were both advancing [no bayonet charges are actually mentioned] and fire combat, though not described in any detail:

enemy repeatedly attempted to come on, but were always drove back by our fire

Fifth, the 17th and 42nd Light Companies didn't stay together in a 'grand division'. The 42nd operating independently or 'catching up' to the 17th at different times, as well as other companies coordinating with them, such as a company from the 38th.

The thing I find interesting about the account of the Lights is how they apparently fragmented into company fights.

That 'fragmented' suggests that somehow the companies fell apart rather than as expected. There is nothing written to suggest they were acting in an unusual manner or out of character…too independently or failing to support each other.

Glenn Pearce05 Mar 2018 8:28 a.m. PST

"the light battalions' primary tactic was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes."

I think when I first read that some 10 years ago that it caused me some concern. However, the passage further down cleared it up for me.

"In this bush-fighting, British bayonet rushes lost their potency; instead combats degenerated into the kind of indecisive and costly firefights"

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP05 Mar 2018 8:30 a.m. PST

"In this bush-fighting, British bayonet rushes lost their potency; instead combats degenerated into the kind of indecisive and costly firefights."

And yet, Spring presents bayonet rushes are presented as the primary tactic, regardless. And that is not what is seen in the example I gave in much more open terrain.

historygamer05 Mar 2018 9:00 a.m. PST

"That 'fragmented' suggests that somehow the companies fell apart rather than as expected."

You are assuming here I was referring to companies, which I never said. I said, the "Lights" – by which I meant battalions. SM got it right, I think, in that they were at least operating as Grand Divisions. They did lose cohesion as a battalion as, IIRC, some companies started acting independently, or at least that is the impression from the surviving accounts. Long and the short of it is the Lights were stopped cold and went to ground until the flanking Grenadiers rolled up the American flanks and freed them.

Interesting to note that one of the Grenadier battalions (2nd?) went on to fight further that night against Greene, but I don't recall any significant Light troops in that battle – at least not an entire battalion such as the Grenadiers.

Also, IIRC, the 17th Lights reformed into one of the Light battalions, thus ending their independent role as a covering force with the 42nd Lights and Ewald and his boys.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP05 Mar 2018 12:00 p.m. PST

which I never said. I said, the "Lights" – by which I meant battalions.

Yes, I wasn't clear… The battalions 'fragmented'? That it was neither planned nor part of the typical methods/uses of light companies?

Glenn Pearce05 Mar 2018 2:27 p.m. PST

Hello Bill!

"And yet, Spring presents bayonet rushes are presented as the primary tactic, regardless. And that is not what is seen in the example I gave in much more open terrain."

Well, both phrases that we have quoted are from the "Bushfighting" chapter. So the first problem I had to consider is what is bushfighting to an individual from the UK. I know to many of my friends in the UK it's pretty much most of the fighting in the early NA wars.

The other thing I considered is my favourite one, UK English vs NA English. Two different animals. I'm of course guessing here, but I think that you and I might have worded those phrases differently.

I think what Spring was indicating is that during the time frame that he is referring to all British infantry used the bayonet rush as a basic or primary tactic. He doesn't actually say that as he is only talking about light infantry at the time. In other words I don't think that he is trying to say that light infantry (basic) tactics were out of step with any other troops. They all got the same basic training.

The phrase that I quoted indicated to me that although light infantry was trained to use the bayonet rush, it rarely happened and instead ended up being a broken up fire fight due to the terrain.

Your example is of course outside of the scope of the "Bushfighting" chapter. It is, however, interesting to note that in more open terrain most British units of all types are engaging in fire fights. So just how prevalent was the primary bayonet rush. Maybe that's answered elsewhere in the book. It's been a long time since I read it.

Best regards,

Glenn

FlyXwire05 Mar 2018 7:14 p.m. PST

Advance Guard skirmishing wasn't meant to be a metaphor for the commitment of the main battle line (or its reserve), and I'm sure Spring never intended readers to considered them to be occurring as the same circumstance. Advance Guard skirmishing is meant to fix the enemy, and overcome him if possible, and if not possible, the main body elements could next be committed if general battle was joined (these are deemed separate battlefield echelons).

I believe the author's premise is that the bayonet rush was considered the decisive British tactic, and that decisive results were to be so directed to that ultimate aim (successful or not). I doubt Spring conveys that British Lt. Infantry never skirmished.

The quoted passage above refers to the "light battalions", not other, small, skirmishing elements – it's clearly stated so to read:

"Instead, like the grenadiers and line infantry, the light battalions' primary tactic was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes."

Indeed, the lt. bns. could be broken up into smaller elements and for different missions, or some companies never amalgamated into a battalion to start with, and the author never states otherwise.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2018 8:51 a.m. PST

I think what Spring was indicating is that during the time frame that he is referring to all British infantry used the bayonet rush as a basic or primary tactic. He doesn't actually say that as he is only talking about light infantry at the time.

Glenn: He says in the section on Light Infantry:

" …on the battelfield they did not commonly perform as genuine skimrishers…Instead, like the grenadiers and line infantry, the light battalions' primary tactic was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes."

Seems pretty specific to me.

I believe the author's premise is that the bayonet rush was considered the decisive British tactic, and that decisive results were to be so directed to that ultimate aim (successful or not). I doubt Spring conveys that British Lt. Infantry never skirmished.

FlyXwire: I agree with what you say about Advance Guards and Lt Battalions being broken up into smaller elements with different missions--that is what you see in the example I gave.

The British, indeed, most European nations saw the bayonet charge as a 'decisive' tactic--bringing an engagement to an explicit conclusion. However, stating that the bayonet rush was the 'primary' tactic is stating that is was the basic/most often/first choice tactic used whether decisive or not.

42flanker06 Mar 2018 9:55 a.m. PST

It would interesting to compute how many general actions, or at least major contacts, between British and American infantry allowed the British to give one volley and go in with the bayonet as the model suggests, rather than an exchange of fires which was only brought to a resolution after a more sustained expense of powder.

historygamer06 Mar 2018 11:08 a.m. PST

So in some instances, one unit would fix with fire while another maneuvered, perhaps using a charge bayonets, to a flank. That is essentially what happened at Birmingham Hill.

On another matter, I just was given a reference by the great Todd Braisted, regarding General Howe reducing the brigades from four regiments to three so that the senior Lt. Colonel could command the reduced brigade. Interesting.

Glenn Pearce06 Mar 2018 12:49 p.m. PST

Hello Bill!

I just had a quick flick into the book and I think Spring supports his position.

Pg 223: 2nd Btn Lt Inf, they returned a volley and then charged

Pg 225: Colonel Simcoe (Queens Rangers), always inculcated and acted on against riflemen ….was to rush upon them

Abercrombie, he ordered his troops to charge them with the bayonet: the light troops not only dispersed them instantly but drove them for miles over the country

Pg 230: Simcoe on the Queens Rangers again "They were instructed not to fire, but to charge their bayonets with muskets loaded".

Pg 237: "When the Light Infantry were running up in line to charge the rebels"

So I have no trouble accepting that the primary tactic for all British troops "was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes." I just don't see any reason to exempt light infantry from this tactic. Especially when they seem to have been good at it.

Best regards,

Glenn

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member06 Mar 2018 2:00 p.m. PST

And let's not forget "No Flint" Grey at Paoli, where he commanded a Light Infantry battalion, as well as his own brigade. Forgive me if my memory is faulty, but I have a feeling that Major Maitland asked for his unit to be exempted from Grey's pre-battle order to remove any loads from the men's muskets and personally guaranteed that his men would attack with the bayonet, rather than halt to fire.

Fatuus Natural06 Mar 2018 2:30 p.m. PST

The story about Maitland and his Light Infantry battalion can be found in T. McGuire, Battle of Paoli, pp. 93-94

link

42flanker06 Mar 2018 4:10 p.m. PST

Paoli Tavern was slightly different because the attack was made in darkness and:

"It was represented to the men that firing discovered us to the Enemy, hid them from us, killed our friends… by not firing we knew the foe to be wherever fire appeared, and a charge ensured his destruction, that among the Enemy those in the rear would direct their fire against whoever fired in front, and they would destroy each other."


Major John Maitland put it to General Grey that, "The whole of the battalion was always loaded, and that if he would only allow them to remain so, he would be answerable that they did not fire a shot. The General said that if he could place that dependence on the battalion they should remain loaded but that it might be attended with very serious consequences if they began firing. They remained loaded."


Lieutenant Hunter, Light Company 52nd Regiment. 2nd L.I Battalion.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2018 5:34 p.m. PST

Glenn:

If I present an equal number of examples of British Light infantry engaged in not rushing with the bayonet and firing instead, particularly the light companies acting as light infantry as in the example I gave above, will that establish anything?

Certainly, British officers did use light infantry battalions as elite/shock troops on occasion and that one of the tactics used by light infantry as light infantry was the bayonet rush. The American Light Infantry battalions did the same. [The same tactic was used during the SYW such as the Highlanders and during the Napoleonic wars by the British and other nations.]

However, that isn't the same as suggesting that light infantry units' 'primary tactic' while acting as light infantry [not formed troops] was the bayonet rush. That, I think, is pushing it to support Spring's "primary" thesis and the title of his book. That requires some statement to that effect from British commanders or some statistical analysis of lots of encounters.

Glenn Pearce08 Mar 2018 12:33 p.m. PST

Hello Bill!

Very interesting. I don't see them acting as "formed troops" or "light infantry". I see them as light infantry that can perform any task. I also believe that all British infantry was first trained how to fire and use the bayonet. I consider these their "primary or basic tactics". Once mastered I imagine the light infantry then would enter an advanced training stage where all phases of light infantry tactics are learned. So although called "light infantry" I think those tactics are not their primary ones. Their primary tactics are the same as all British infantry, which is the use of firearms and the bayonet. Light infantry tactics are secondary. Looked at it that way Springs comments make perfect sense to me. The really interesting thing to me is that the light infantry seem to be very good with the bayonet. It seems that their light infantry training embellished their bayonet skills. Sort of kicked it up a notch.

Best regards,

Glenn

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 1:47 p.m. PST

Glenn:

Overall, the issue I raised is a on section of one chapter. However, the point is the light infantry operations as skirmishers. Spring states:

…on the battlefield they did not commonly perform as genuine skirmishers… Instead, like the grenadiers and line infantry, the light battalions' primary tactic was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes.

Now, from his section it is clear he isn't talking about battalion-sized, close formation actions, but skirmish actions. Whether you see light infantry 'skirmish' tactics as secondary or not is beside the point. The question is how they operated as skirmishers. Spring's assertion was that bayonet charges were their primary tactic as skirmishers. I disagree. I haven't seen that in what I have read. Just a point of disagreement. As I stated, to actually establish that as the 'primary' tactic one would have to have some contemporary stating as much or do a statistical analysis of all available accounts. In the latter case, you'd have to see it as not only the first tactic used in a skirmish, but also be true in more than 50% of all recorded skirmishes.

I think that, logically, there would be no point to creating light infantry companies only to use them just like line and grenadier companies. This is particularly true when the British had a lot of experience with light infantry tactics during the French and Indian Wars.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member09 Mar 2018 2:47 a.m. PST

I think we need to define what we mean by "skirmishing" in the context of the AWI. We are all, as wargamers at least, familiar with it as a Napoleonic term, conjuring up an image of "clouds" of men in loose formation (it actually wasn't that simple) preceding the close-formed bodies of troops who would constitute the primary assault force. In the AWI, the "looser" formation often was the primary assault force and any close(r)-ordered bodies of troops following up were there to provide a rallying point if things went belly-up, or provide some extra "oomph" if the enemy proved stubborn or cavalry appeared.

What the light infantry battalions did, certainly in the first three years of the war, was provide a well-trained formation to carry out very specialised activities such as advance-guard duties, which other units could not. Once on the battlefield, their role could still be to handle specialised activities – the "petite guerre" stuff – and to deal with their enemy counterparts (for this reason, the handful of riflemen in each company were often pulled together and led the advance. However, once in a full-blown battle, they would inevitably end up engaging the enemy – and there is no reason why they would not do that in the same manner (if somewhat better) than line troops.

42flanker09 Mar 2018 3:04 a.m. PST

Much of the experience of light infantry tactics acquired in the Seven Years War had effectively been lost by the time light companies were added to infantry battalions in 1770-71. Some Colonels were more interested than others in developing this resource. Experimental exercises were still being carried out on the eve of the American War, to see how light infantry companies might be combined to form units of light infantry. These measures depended on the enthusiasm of individual officers, not least William Howe who provided san important link with the experience of the 7YW. Consequently the effectiveness of light companies, engaged in the opening actions of 1775, having been combined on an ad hoc basis, was variable.

Meanwhile senior officers of certain line regiments were using their American experience to train all their men in 'bushfighting' and to operate as skimishers, notably the 33rd & 42nd RHR, who would be grouped with the Grenadier and LI battalions as Howe's shook troops under Cornwallis.

Consequently, the light infantry battalions formed by General Howe in Nova Scotia in 1776 had no set doctrine with which to prepare for the forthcoming campaign and when they went into action in New York. Clearly the LI battalions had tremendous esprit de corps but do still seem to have been making it up as they went along, as the narrowly avoided debâcle at Harlem Heights suggests.

I think the point is that, to take an early, example the British Grenadier battalions, the 33rd and the 42nd, together with the Queen's Rangers and the Light Infantry, were all encouraged to be flexible in how they operated.

I'm trying to to think of an occasion when the LI of 1776-78 ever operated 'simply' as skirmishers, i.e. as an adjunct of the main body of troops.

The degree to which Howe's LI battalions were seen as 'skirmishers' per se, or were judged more effective than other units in skirmishing, surely changed as the challenges changed, from the capture of New York, through the confused, occasionally bloody, petit guerre in the Jerseys, to the Philadephia campaign in which the LI operated as one might expect, as flank and vanguard for the army, but also as shock troops.

It seems to me that, as time went on and tactics evolved to meet the challenges, the criterion simply became one of whether a battalion was effective or not. Some units like the jägers, the Queen's Rangers and some light infantry were also capable of operating independently from or ahead of the army, in a range of roles all of which went beyond that of simply being skirmishers.

historygamer09 Mar 2018 5:53 a.m. PST

McLaddie:


You posted this quote from the book:

"Instead, like the grenadiers and line infantry, the light battalions' primary tactic was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes."

Then you state:

"Now, from his section it is clear he isn't talking about battalion-sized, close formation actions, but skirmish actions. "


I'm confused as the quote from the book states "battalions" but you then said it is clear "he isn't talking about battalion-sized, close formation actions…."

But the quote said "battalions." Did you have something further to add to that then to support your statement?

My own take is that the Lights were troops of high morale, though in a crunch I think I'd rather count on the grenadiers to get the job done.

I am not clear on what training was expected of the Lights when they re-stood up those companies just before the war.

I do recall from reading Ewald that at some point during the occupation of NY (post 1776) they hadn't sent the Lights out in a while and that the Lights were getting frustrated with that loss of income/food/etc. Makes one wonder why they weren't sending them out.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP09 Mar 2018 9:41 a.m. PST

Historygamer:

I was afraid if I cut up the quote, it wouldn't be clear. The entire quote was:

Although light infantrymen were sometimes trained to use trees as cover, on the battelfield they did not commonly perform as genuine skimrishers by utilizing their initiative to exploit the terrain to their advantage and to over come the enemy by means of accurate, independently delivered fire. Instead, like the grenadiers and line infantry, the light battalions' primary tactic was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes.

Italics are mine. Read Spring's chapter on "Bush Fighting". He gives examples of the training that light infantry were given, then nowhere actually describes how or if it was used other than light troops deploying in extended lines.

Ewald has some great comments about the British light infantry actions. One of which is that British commanders at times didn't know how to use them effectively in the early part of the war. Spring makes the same point.

The AWI went on for eight years. The British tactics in 1780 were not those of 1776. Both sides learned changed how they did things concerning light infantry.

historygamer09 Mar 2018 9:51 a.m. PST

Thanks for the clarification. :-)

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member09 Mar 2018 12:19 p.m. PST

Read Spring's chapter on "Bush Fighting". He gives examples of the training that light infantry were given, then nowhere actually describes how or if it was used other than light troops deploying in extended lines.

Riedesel remarks on how he put on a "field day" for the benefit of Burgoyne and his fellow commanders, to show how the Brunswickers were capable of (I think) "tree fighting". Given that his troops were mostly line infantry, it seems likely that this type of tactic was adopted by all British troops in Canada, not just the flank battalions.

The AWI went on for eight years. The British tactics in 1780 were not those of 1776.

Spring refers to a memo written by Phillips, post-Saratoga, but before his campaign in the South, which was circulated to Cornwallis and others, in which he discusses various combinations of close and open orders and why one would use them.

Glenn Pearce10 Mar 2018 9:24 a.m. PST

Hello Bill!

"As I stated, to actually establish that as the 'primary' tactic one would have to have some contemporary stating as much"

It seems that Simcoe is on board with this "always inculcated and acted on against riflemen ……was to rush upon them" and "They were instructed not to fire, but to charge their bayonets with muskets loaded." Can't think of a better contemporary.

"I think that, logically, there would be no point to creating light infantry companies only to use them just like line and grenadier companies."

It's my understanding that it actually was one of reasons. The heavy/line/grenadiers were felt by some to be too cumbersome in the wooded terrain of North America. Amongst other benefits/duties/tactics it was thought that creating light infantry (light clothing, equipment etc.) that they could also perform the traditional tactics faster since they were less encumbered. From the get go some saw the light infantry as multi-purpose. Thus the term "light infantry".

However, it seems that were truncating what Spring is actually saying. He qualifies his paragraph by saying that "the light battalions' primary tactic was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes." To me he is clearly only referring to "unsteady rebels". I honestly can't think of a better tactic to use against an unsteady enemy.

Best regards,

Glenn

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 2:26 a.m. PST

To me he is clearly only referring to "unsteady rebels". I honestly can't think of a better tactic to use against an unsteady enemy.

Hi Glenn:

Well, yeah, particularly when the enemy didn't have bayonets themselves. And Simcoe is speaking at the beginning of the war with his newly raised light infantry regiment. Spring's chapter on the light infantry provides a lot of examples of light infantry training…which was actual skirmish operations, not bayonet charges. He even has a section quoting a light infantry officer saying "The woods rendered our bayonets of little use."

His chapter doesn't support his conclusions. Just my take on this one aspect of Spring's very solid work.

Alexja Inactive Member11 Mar 2018 5:31 a.m. PST

purchased it last week and i pleased with it so far 10/10

FlyXwire11 Mar 2018 5:50 a.m. PST

The Queen's Rangers were being instructed specifically in bayonet charges mid-to-late war.

The following excerpt, dated to when the Queen's Rangers were stationed in New York during the winter of 1779, is from James Hannay's book the History Of The Queen's Rangers, which can be downloaded online (the following on pg. 146-147) -

link

"During the winter the corps was constantly exercised in the firing motions and charging with bayonets, upon their respective parades. As the season opened they were assembled together and trained to attack a supposed enemy posted behind fences, a common position of the Americans. They were instructed not to fire but to charge bayonets with their muskets loaded. The light infantry and Hussars were put under the direction of Capt. Saunders, who taught them to gallop through woods, and, acting together, the light infantry learned to run by holding the horses' manes. The cavalry were also instructed, as the infantry lay flat on the ground, to gallop through their files. The captains of companies were forbidden to teach their men to march in slow time, and the orders were, "to pay great attention to the instruction of their men in charging with the bayonet, in which case the charge was never to be less than three hundred yards, gradually increasing in celerity from its first onset, taking great care that the grand division has its ranks perfectly close and the pace adapted to the shortest men.""

This was drill taught and practiced, and as Glenn Pearce already noted for us in one of his posts above, was referenced to in Spring's book to support his work.

42flanker11 Mar 2018 5:58 a.m. PST

Is there not a distinction to be made between Light Infantry as a class of footsoldier who, in theory, was selected and trained to operate in a manner distinct from standard infantry of the time, and skirmishing as a description of one way of engaging the enemy, in which light infantry may be expected to specialise? That is to say, fighting in small groups, loosely formed, with no primary expectation of forcing a decision on the grand scale. This might occur whether light troops are raiding, on reconnaissance, on outpost, or screening a column.

Howe's light infantry battalions, together with the Queen's Rangers and the Jägers, engaged in all these activities but I would argue none of those categories applied to the action at Birmingham Hill during the battle of Brandywine Creek. The Light Infantry, the Grenadiers, the Guards, all in the first line of Howe's attack, each advanced with the expectation that they would close with the enemy and either destroy him or drive him from the field, which I would say is the role of 'standard' infantry, or 'shock' troops if you like. The fact that the Light Infantry shook out into loose formation with two companies put in advance, and went to ground at the foot of Birmingham Hill, doesn't negate that.

That, to me, explains Spring's observation-
"on the battlefield they did not commonly perform as genuine skirmishers… Instead, like the grenadiers and line infantry, the light battalions' primary tactic was to hustle the unsteady rebels into flight with vigorous bayonet rushes."

(Perhaps the more conditional phrase would have been less problematic: 'to attempt to hustle')

By the way, re. references to certain light companies that were not incorporated into Light Infantry Battalions but remained independent entities, I am not sure that happened, did it- (at least not in the north)?

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