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"Regiment vs Battalion" Topic

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Captain Sensible Inactive Member20 May 2018 2:43 p.m. PST

On Wikipedia, the large formations of British infantry units at Waterloo are listed as battalions which made up corps armies. If a company is about 100 men and a battalion is anywhere from 200 to 1,200 men, where do the regiments fit in? In the ACW, regiments seem to be about Napoleonic battalion strength and I've seen many references to British regimental colours.


ThePeninsularWarin15mm20 May 2018 3:06 p.m. PST

If it helps, the American and British systems are very much alike. The regiment/battalion term becomes interchangeable even though they do not actually mean the same thing. I'm sure some smug purest will come along and feed you complex double-speak, but if you accept that the two terms are more or less talking about the same organization for Anglo-American units, you'll understand it better.

When you deal with French organization, you'll see battalions are treated as smaller tactical units that are grouped together as a regiment. This isn't to mean all of the battalions of that regiment will be present at a battle or that the British never had two battalions of the same regiment on the field together (rare but it did happen) but that in general terms, the thought process is different.

The number of men in the unit is a different matter. Between detachments, sick etc, then the numbers would fluctuate in the field.

jdginaz20 May 2018 3:34 p.m. PST

No complex double-speak but the battalion ad Regiment are ot the same thing in either the S army of the Civil War or the British Army. At the time of the Civil War the Us regiment is made up of two battalions each of 5 or 6 companies depending on the number of companies in the battalion. But in part since there was a lack of experienced junior officers the battalions rarely operated separately.

As I understand it in the British army a Regiment could be made up of 2+ battalions that usually/often operated separately.

Camcleod20 May 2018 4:08 p.m. PST

In the British army a Regiment was normally made up of 1 and sometimes 2 Bns. and in one Regt. at least 8 Battalions (the 60th Regt.)
At Waterloo there were a few Regts. that had more than 1 Bn. present – the 2nd and 3rd Bns. of the 1st Ft. Guard – the 1st, 2nd and a portion of the 3rd Bn. 95th Rifles.
Companies were about 100 strong at maximum strength organized in 10 companies – the 4 Ft. Grd. Bns. were about 1000 strong. But a normal strength was around 500 to 800 per Bn.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2018 5:52 p.m. PST

Regiments in the British/US system of these years are administrative and not tactical units. Even if the regiment had more than one battalion in the field on a given battle, there wasn't a regimental commander coordinating them. They'd answer directly to a brigade commander, and might not even be assigned to the same brigade. So in the English-speaking world, prior to the latter half of the 19th Century, "regiment" was often just a shorthand for "battalion" and there was one less link in the organizational chain than was normally true on the continent. Individual English-speaking battalions--which might or might not be the only battalion of the regiment--reported to brigades which made up divisions, while in a French or most other armies, the battalion answered to a regimental commander who in turn took orders from a brigade commander. This wasn't universal, but it was the norm.

Hope this helps.

ancientsgamer20 May 2018 6:41 p.m. PST

2 battalions in theater
1 battalion in training/recruiting/depot

So for infantry, we talk battalions as the regiment was rarely all at war at the same time.

The term regiment in the U.S. has almost disappeared with exception of airborne divisions.

42flanker21 May 2018 12:28 a.m. PST

"I'm sure some smug purest will come along and feed you complex double-speak"

Gosh, I hope you're not going to be disappointed/

Brechtel19821 May 2018 2:22 a.m. PST

The term regiment in the U.S. has almost disappeared with exception of airborne divisions.

Are not the armored cavalry regiments still in existence?

In the US Marine Corps, the regiment is alive and well in the infantry and artillery.

ancientsgamer21 May 2018 3:13 a.m. PST

I am speaking Army only. Regiment in the Army has disappeared with exception of Airborne units.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP21 May 2018 3:14 a.m. PST

For ACW units you can think of the regiment as being the administrative organization (20th Maine, 5th Alabama, etc.) and the battalion as being the tactical organization. Except for a few US Regular regiments raised during the war, all the volunteers and the other regular infantry was organized on a 10-company basis with those companies normally operating as a single battalion on the field. Technically, any body of infantry of two companies or greater operating independently was a battalion, but regiments very rarely ever broke down into smaller groups (except when deploying skirmishers, of course) and if they did, any such 'battalions' had no administrative existence and they would disappear as soon as they rejoined the rest of the regiment.

williamb21 May 2018 7:41 a.m. PST

In the modern day US army regiments still exist though the battalions are split amongst different formations such as 1/66 armor, etc…. Returning to the original subject as noted, though some British regiments had multiple battalions they usually did not operate together. Many of the battalions at Waterloo were the second battalions of regiments. In the French army the battalions of regiments usually operated together with some exceptions.

The brigade was the next higher formation of command. In the British army it usually consisted of individual battalions from different regiments. This was also true of brigades in the American Civil War and most US army armored formations from WW2 on. US infantry regiments operated as a single formation in infantry divisions with no brigades during WW2. During the Cold War and later infantry and armored battalions from the same regiment were often in different brigade or higher units.

Going back to the Napoleonic Wars the later Prussian Brigade was the equivalent of the divisions of other armies. For other armies most brigades consisted of more two multiple battalion regiments. However for the 1812 campaign the French army had reorganized their regiments to consist of more than four battalions and many brigades were only one multiple battalion regiment.

I Drink Your Milkshake21 May 2018 8:04 a.m. PST

So did a French colonel (regiment co) actually go to the field or did they stay at the depot?

If they did go to the field im guessing they relinquish tact control to the general?

MajorB21 May 2018 10:12 a.m. PST

I'm sure some smug purest will come along

Only the purest purist need respond!!
That excludes me then … :-)

Marcel180921 May 2018 10:58 a.m. PST

Milkshake, yes the colonel usualyy took the field when the major part (most btns) of his regiment was deployed and he would lead them in battle. The Major would usually stay at home and lead the depot.

I Drink Your Milkshake21 May 2018 11:13 a.m. PST

Thanks Marcel!

Brechtel19821 May 2018 1:49 p.m. PST

Regiment in the Army has disappeared with exception of Airborne units.

Again, what about the armored cavalry regiments? Have they been broken up?

Brechtel19821 May 2018 1:52 p.m. PST

Regiments in the British/US system of these years are administrative and not tactical units.

Continental regiments were modeled on British regiments, but were commanded in the field by their regimental commander. Therefore, I don't see where the Continental regiment was only an administrative unit.

The same goes for American regular regiments in the War of 1812. The regiment was a tactical unit.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP22 May 2018 3:11 a.m. PST

Some of the confusion is in the terminology. A battalion in this period is a tactical unit. A regiment COULD be a tactical unit when it is treated as a battalion as it was in the British and American armies, or it might not be, as in the French.

In the American tactical manuals (which were generally copied French manuals) the instructions are divided into a series of 'schools'. There is the "School of the Soldier" which is about marching, the manual of arms, loading and firing, etc. Then there is the "School of the Company" which teaches all the methods and maneuvers that a single company needs to be skilled in. Next is the "School of the Battalion" which takes all the companies and integrates them into the battalion structure with all the vital battlefield maneuvers. But there is no 'School of the Regiment'. After battalion, the manuals move up to the brigade, division, and corps. The regiment is not a tactical unit except when it is also a battalion. Clear as mud, eh? :)

42flanker22 May 2018 4:36 a.m. PST

Except when two battalions of the same regiment were present on the field, in the British context a battalion acting as the representative of the Regiment that day was the Regiment, and would usually be referred to as the YYth or ZZnd rather than 1st YYth or 2nd ZZnd. It was nonethelss operating as an infantry battalion.

Thus, Colonel Inglis called out "Die hard 57th, die hard!" rather than, "Die hard, 1st Bn 57th (West Middlesex), die hard!"

N0tt0N22 May 2018 10:03 a.m. PST

Napoleonic Airborne and Armored Cavalry Regiments… Hrmmm… There are Regimental Combat Teams (RCT) still, right?

We need to recruit more purists. This place is getting downright platonic!

So, nine blind men walk up to the remnants of the 51st of the line…. <stop me if you know this one>

42flanker22 May 2018 3:23 p.m. PST

"Oh look, a talking horse!"- right?

Brechtel19822 May 2018 5:51 p.m. PST

A regiment COULD be a tactical unit when it is treated as a battalion as it was in the British and American armies, or it might not be, as in the French.

French regiments were also tactical units.

Lion in the Stars22 May 2018 6:30 p.m. PST

what about the armored cavalry regiments? Have they been broken up?

Mostly re-organized. 2nd ACR, now 2nd Cavalry Regiment, is organized as a Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which has 7 troops/battalions of various types under it. 3 Stryker, one Recon (RSTA, formally, and the traditional 'cavalry' role), one Pioneer/engineer, one Arty, and one support. Not counting HQ.

Unit names are 'troops' instead of 'battalions' like in most other Stryker BCTs, though the RSTA unit is always a Troop, because it's a Cavalry Recon unit. For example, my friend's old unit, 1st Stryker BCT of the 25th Infantry division, has 3 battalions (each part of an Infantry Regiment, but no two from the same regiment), an Artillery battalion, that RSTA troop, an engineer battalion, and a support battalion.

As near I can tell, there's no actual troops assigned to an Infantry Regiment HQ in the US Army, the various battalions are all pieced out all over the place and commanded by the officer in charge of the Brigade Combat Team they're assigned to. 1st battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment is assigned to Ft Wainwright Alaska (bbrrrrr), while 2nd battalion is assigned to Ft Bliss, Texas. No mention of any location for 5th Infantry Regiment HQ.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP23 May 2018 3:19 a.m. PST

Brechtel198: It depends on how you define 'tactical unit'. I would define it as the smallest permanent body of troops that operates independently on a battlefield. By that definition a French infantry regiment (or Austrian or Russian or Prussian) with multiple battalions would not be a tactical unit since its battalions could be sent off on different tasks. Of course it's a hazy distinction because there were all sorts of special circumstances and units that don't fit into neat categories.

Le Breton Inactive Member23 May 2018 4:07 a.m. PST


By the definition you give, then I would agree with you. But by the usual way that this was done in the era, for the French and Russians, I wuld tend to agree with Mr. Brechtel.

The French *did* typically field a tactical command structure, commanded by a colonel, contolling 2 or more battalions of a regiment and reporting to a brigade commander (a "général de brigade").

There were indeed many variations – examples :
-- the practise in 1812 of having four or five battalions of the same regiment, commanded by their colonel, form exactly 1 brigade commanded by a general
-- the collection of 2 battalions of the regiment under the command of a major while 2-3 other battalions were tactically directed by the colonel
-- the creation of colonels en 2e to command provisional regiments made up of detachments from regular regiments

Yet fundamentally, the French thought that when 2 or more batallions of a regiment were employed together, a officer above the rank of chef de bataillon should tactically command them, and that a brigade commander (while capable of detailing orders batallion by battalion) woud typically command through this "regimental" headquarters.

Supporting this idea was that a brigade general was provided with only 2 aides de camp to relay orders, while the regiment would deploy (counting only those away from the depot) quite a larger staff presence. Even if one allocates the members of this staff engaged in battalion level affairs to the battalions, there are still tacticsl re-supply, signalling, elite reserve (sapeurs) and (late period, when available) artillery functions and personnel that acted only at the reigmental level of command.

Further, and admittedly in part due to the administrative rôle of regiment, the brigade structures were excepionally fluid, with the span of control and the assigned troops for a général de brigade changing at times each week or so at the direction of the division commander. The regimental commands were, by contrast, much more permanent, colonels typically changing only after thier loss or promotion.

So while, as you say, "battalions could be sent off on different tasks", if they were employed as more than single battalions, they usually had a tactical command level of the "regiment" sent off with them.

The Russian were similar, especially so in the early period where the regiments fielded 3 battaions together and there was no real standing "brigade" structure. Even late period Russians, using standing brigades of 2 regiments with 2 battalions of each regiment typically deployed together, made very little of the brigade level of command : it was a job for the senior regimental officer present, assisted only by 1 addtional adjudant (plus one taken from his own regiment). However, it was not uncommon for late period Russian divisional commanders to bypass *both* brigade and regimental command levels and to directly order battalions (of which there were 12 to a standard division) – and this more closely matches your defintion of the battalion as a tactical unit.

Le Breton Inactive Member23 May 2018 4:25 a.m. PST

"So did a French colonel (regiment co) actually go to the field or did they stay at the depot?"

Colonel was in the field. And for provisional regiments, made up of detachments, a "colonel en second" was appointed to command in the field.

The regiment's major commanded the depot (overall) and the the senior captain commanded the depot battalion (typically without elite companies)

The regiment's major en second (used only 1812 in Russia) was in the field, and commanded 2 battalions of the large 4 or 5 battlaion regiments, reporting to the colonel. Another "oddity" each of these large regiments was that they also formed a brigade (with a général de brigade in command).
[Majors en 2e were also appointed in small numbers to conduct régiments de marche – grouped detachments from various regiment's depots being sent to replenish their regiments in the field.]

The non-depot battalions were each commanded by a chef de bataillon.

This was for the 1st Empire. There were slight differences during the Revolutionary era and larger changes in rank names/functions under the Restauration.

The Russians, by the way, were more complicated.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP23 May 2018 5:03 a.m. PST

I think it's a matter of terminology. Obviously battalions, whether singly or as one of a regiment have higher level commanders over them. This is true all the way to army level, and yet you don't consider an army as a 'tactical unit'.

I think another way of looking at this is that a 'tactical unit' is the lowest level of "decision making". An army commander gives his corps their orders, but the corps commanders decide how their units carry out those orders. Likewise with division and brigade and even regimental commanders. At each level they are (generally) allowed to maneuver their subordinate commands as they see fit, as long as their orders conform to the overall schemes of their superiors.

But it generally stops at the battalion level. This is the lowest level of tactical decision-making. Battalion commanders control their formations and direction of march (again conforming with the plans of their superiors). But company commanders do not. Companies were just cogs in the larger machine of the battalion. Where a company went and what it did was all spelled out precisely by the tactical regulation. Company commanders are NOT making any decisions, they are simply carrying out the battalion commander's orders. Obviously skirmishers are a different matter, but by this standard, the battalion is the basic 'tactical unit'.

Le Breton Inactive Member23 May 2018 7:23 a.m. PST

"the battalion is the basic 'tactical unit'"
Oh yes, I do agree : "the" basic unit.

But also, I would agree with Mr.Brechtel : "French regiments were also tactical units."

So, as you say, likely "it's a matter of terminology."

Le Breton Inactive Member23 May 2018 7:24 a.m. PST

For the "more confusing" (late period) Russians ….

1st Chief's Battalion
--- 1st Grenadier Compnay – Regiment Chief Officer General + selected Captain
--- 1st Musketeer Company – junior Major + Staff Captain
--- 2nd Musketeer Company – Captain
--- 3rd Musketeer Company – Battalion Commander Major + Staff Captain

2nd Replacment Battalion
--- 2nd Grenadier Compnay [detached] – senior Captain
--- 4th Musketeer Company – Battalion Commander Lieutenant-Colonel + Staff Captain
--- 5th Musketeer Company – Captain
--- 6th Musketeer Company – junior Major + Staff Captain

3rd Commander's Battalion
--- 3rd Grenadier Compnay – Regiment Commander Colonel + Staff Captain
--- 7th Musketeer Company – junior Major + Staff Captain
--- 8th Musketeer Company – Captain
--- 9th Musketeer Company – Battalion Commander Major + Staff Captain

4th Reserve Battalion
--- 1st Recruit Company – Battalion Commander Lieutenant
--- 2nd Recruit Company – Sub-Lieutenant
--- 3rd Recruit Company – Sub-Lieutenant

Confusing variances :
--- the rank of Staff Captain was between Lieutenant and Captain
--- Majors, Lieutenant Colonels and Colonels were termed "Staff Officers" – holding the rank conferred hereditary nobility on the family of the officer if it did not already have this, and so a degree of "social slection" tended to inhibit the promotion of new Majors, leading to vacancies
--- Captains and all lower ranked officers were termed "Over-Officers" – holding the rank conferred life nobility on the officer ("Under-Officers" were NCO's)
--- a regiment might have a honorary chief instead of an actual one (a member of the imperial family, a allied head-of-state, etc.) – in some of which cases there was an additional over-complement colonel or lieutenant colonel
--- an officier could be posted to a function before promotion to that function's established rank – a chief officer might have the rank of colonel, a regimental commander might have the rank of lieutenant colonel or major
--- a major's function might be filled by a captain on an interim or "acting" basis
--- the chief officer might be a senior general called to command a division, corps or army and thus not be present in the field with the regiment
--- standard brigades were formed from the 1st and 3rd battalions of 2 regiments – the senior officer present would be the brigade commander and not serve with his regiment
--- a replacement brigade was fielded from the six 2nd battalions of a divison (without their grenadier companies) – the senior officer present would be the brigade commander
--- two combined grenadier battalions were fielded from the six 2nd grenadier companies of a division – a major would be assigned to command each of these
--- the divisional recruit depots formed of the six 4th battalions of a division were commanded by a major drawn from one of the division's regiments
--- senior adjudant and some other staff positions at the corps and army levels were filled by majors drawn from regiments
--- there were routine vacancies due to delays in new appointments, illness/wounding, permitted leaves, special assignments, etc.

The combined effect of the above would typically be that of the Chief and seven Staff Officers per the establishment of a regiment, only 4-6 would actually be in the field : 1 regimental commander, 3 battalion commanders and perhaps 1-2 "spare" majors . Thus the companies were effectively commanded by their Captains and Staff Captains.

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