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"Napoleonic Divisional Frontages" Topic

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dave836524 Oct 2021 8:56 a.m. PST

Is anyone aware of any studies that have analyzed the approximate frontage assigned to a division by the various combatants during the Napoleonic wars?

I came across a publication from the US War College from the 1930's that had some density charts, but it did not go beyond that.

Given the command and control problems that would arise from intermingled divisions on the battlefield, there must have been some generalized instruction (or even rule of thumb) related to how army and corps commanders deployed these formations.


von Winterfeldt24 Oct 2021 11:28 a.m. PST

Yes indeed, a good start

Foucart : Campagnes de Prusse et de Pologne, volume Pultusk et Golymin, pp. 443 onward

Allan F Mountford24 Oct 2021 12:21 p.m. PST

Link to vW's excellent suggestion: link

Also bear in mind the frontage would relate to the strength of the Division and the deployment doctrine that applied at the time.

Cdr Luppo24 Oct 2021 12:54 p.m. PST

you might also want to check Renard


basically you take the # of battalions, ask if they are at deployment distance or not (in mass – en masse), ask if they are in brigades side by side or brigades in line one behind the other to get the correct *interval* between Bns, regiments and brigades, and you will get a correct idea of the frontage in meters. beyond that there is the question of how may centimeters for each soldier in the tactical aggregation ! say from 50cm to 60cm depending on your source(s).

(Hi Hans Karl & Hi Allan ! ) ; )

best regards

dave836524 Oct 2021 4:56 p.m. PST

Thank you for the references!

Ah, si seulement je parlais français…

dave836524 Oct 2021 5:06 p.m. PST

On a slightly different note, thank you for the additional information, Cdr. I had a feeling that it was often determinative of the various factors you state. A good example of the variable nature would be Waterloo (always a terrible battle to hold up as an exemplar) where D'Erlon's I Corps was deployed in the same approximate frontage as Picton's division…


BillyNM25 Oct 2021 1:05 a.m. PST

D'Erlon was fighting more than Picton's Division when you include the garrison and supporting troops around La Haye Sainte, Bylandts Bde, and the Nassau troops facing Durutte. The entire Allied army was rather jumbled up at Waterloo so trying to look a their divisional frontage is really only useful to show how much they could vary. Compare this with the Allied divisional frontages at Salamanca where they were attacking and it'll be a very different story.

Allan F Mountford25 Oct 2021 1:49 a.m. PST

First paragraph from Foucart:
Multi-line training. – Strength and composition of the lines.
On September 20, 1806, the Emperor wrote to Marshal Soult:
"Take as a principle in all your formations in battle, either that you place yourself on two or three lines, that the same division makes the right of the two or three lines, another division the centre of the two or three lines, another division the left of the two or three lines. You have seen in Austerlitz the advantage of this formation, because a major general is at the centre of his division."
The same order was given to all the marshals.
In the order of October 11, the Emperor prescribed the provisions of the order of battle:
"The order of battle in general will be, for the marshals, to form on two lines, not counting that of light infantry; the distance of the two lines will be no more than 100 toises."
Infantry troops, like cavalry troops, must always be arranged on several lines staggered in such a way as to produce in the attack a succession of efforts or to collect in the retreat the troops last engaged.

von Winterfeldt25 Oct 2021 5:13 a.m. PST

a good idea for wargamers as well.

Mike the Analyst25 Oct 2021 12:43 p.m. PST

For British practice see Howie Muir's article on the order of battle:the customary battle array in Wellington's peninsular army in "Inside Wellington's Peninsular Army.

Mike the Analyst25 Oct 2021 1:08 p.m. PST

Also from Roy Muir's article in the same book P26 there is mention that at Salamanca that Cole's 4th division " was rather overstretched and forced to advance in a single line of battalions with no second line able to provide immediate support".
Cole's division was 2682 strong (Oman) to which should be added Stubb's Portuguese brigade, some 2550. Looking at the map in Oman that would suggest a frontage of half a mile of 880 yards

Martin Rapier25 Oct 2021 11:57 p.m. PST

Interesting that Napoleon specified two or three lines (and Clausewitz takes it as read that infantry deploy in at least two lines as a matter of course). Most Wargames penalise this sort deployment with convoluted interpentration rules and a disadvantage fir the second line if they get routed into.

A few give explicit benefits eg Shako

von Winterfeldt26 Oct 2021 4:32 a.m. PST

the two or three lines approach was very traditional and used also in the 7YW and even prior to that, so second line was a tactical reserve, in case you don't have it and anything goes wrong you are in a precarious position.

Allan F Mountford26 Oct 2021 8:12 a.m. PST

More from Foucart:
On the night of 23 to 24 December, Morand's Division attacked the village of Garnowo on three lines: the 1st composed of the 17th and 30th regiments; the 2nd of the 51st; the 3rd of the 61st. It was preceded by all its voltigeurs and by the 2nd Battalion of the 13th Light. This provision had imposed itself following the passage of the Wkra. At the very beginning of the engagement, the 4 regiments were placed one behind the other; but the 17th, having been driven back by the Russians and having exhausted part of its cartridges, was relieved by the 30th and formed the reserve of the first line.
On December 26, at the battle of Golymin, this same division was formed on two lines, one brigade per line, always preceded by its voltigeurs.
On the 24th, at the battle of Nasielsk, Lochet's Brigade of Friant's Division took the same order on two lines.
In the attack, the battle line of a division will always be composed of an entire brigade, the one that will be the first in the marching order and that will lead first to the battlefield. The division will almost never fight in adjoining brigades, except on the defensive in a position where it has established itself in advance. What the Emperor prescribed for the army corps, to make the same division do the right, the centre or the left of the two or three lines, cannot apply to the division.
If the corps marches on a single column, its leader will immediately engage the 1st brigade of the lead division, which forms the vanguard of the army corps, (Lochet's brigade on December 24), and will retain the second in support, then reserving to extend the line according to the turn of events, and as and when the troops of the 2nd division arrive. It is necessary, from the beginning of the affair, to fill a fairly extensive front, but still it does not exaggerate this front and it is above all necessary to always have a reserve ready to maintain the fight and to prevent a flank attack until the arrival of the following divisions, which may have been delayed in their march by any reason, as was Friant's Division on December 26.
That same day, Marshal Augereau kept Lefranc's brigade in reserve while waiting for the 2nd Division, of which he was to direct the two brigades successively.
If the corps marches in two columns, each column will execute the same deployment, directing a brigade in the front line. This confirms the opinion that, apart from the case of the defence of a position occupied in advance, a division will almost never take its combat order by brigades attached ('accolées', or 'side by side').

Allan F Mountford26 Oct 2021 8:16 a.m. PST

@Cdr Luppo
Please check my very rough translations!

Cdr Luppo28 Oct 2021 12:17 p.m. PST

Hi Allan,

i will try !! ; )

"Cole's 4th division " was rather overstretched and forced to advance in a single line of battalions with no second line able to provide immediate support"
>> there is a name for that, it is a Monotaxe … like Lannes Corps at Friedland in the morning.

best regards

Scott Sutherland29 Oct 2021 12:04 p.m. PST


WRT Foucart's statement "…The division will almost never fight in adjoining brigades, except on the defensive in a position where it has established itself in advance…."

It appears this may not be as absolute as Foucart implies and seems to contradict some of the ideas of Napoleon,

In Correspondence to Davout 26th November 1805 Berthier notes "In every brigade, the senior Regiment will be en bataille, The Second Regiment will be in colonne serrée par division; [with] The 1st battalion, to the right and to the rear of the 1st battalion of the senior Regiment. The 2nd battalion, to the left and to the rear of the 2nd battalion [of the senior Regiment];

If the division has a fifth Regiment, it will be in reserve, one hundred paces behind. A squadron, or at least a division [i.e. a half squadron], of cavalry, are to be behind every brigade, to be able to pass through the intervals and pursue the enemy if they have broken, and to face the Cossacks."

This is seen in St Hilaire's division at Austerlitz. Also at Talavera, Lapisse and Sebastiani's divisions – one uses brigades beside each other, the other uses them as front and rear.

I would think a policy of the two lines being the same Regiment would be preferable. Firstly, it places the regimental commander central to his troops, with the ease of support between battalions of the same regiment. In effect the regimental commander has authority over both lines can on his own initiative exchange battalions (which is better coordinated between battalions who are part of the same regiment), or move platoons up to support the front line.

This would naturally favor brigades alongside each other. As implied in the 1805 Correspondence.

This appears the be the purpose of temporary regiments in 1813, where these regiments are formed of full battalions from different regiments.

Is anyone aware of any other contemporary discussion which addresses the choice battalion layout within the Brigade.


Cdr Luppo29 Oct 2021 2:01 p.m. PST

Hi Scott,

what do you mean by "the choice battalion layout within the Brigade." ?

best regards

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP29 Oct 2021 3:07 p.m. PST

It appears this may not be as absolute as Foucart implies and seems to contradict some of the ideas of Napoleon

This is seen in St Hilaire's division at Austerlitz. Also at Talavera, Lapisse and Sebastiani's divisions – one uses brigades beside each other, the other uses them as front and rear.

I agree with Scott. I think there is an expectation, both from current military doctrinal practices and the wargamer hunt for the one way it was done, that we can miss how different the approach to formation deployment was during this period:

1. There was far more leeway for Divisional commanders to choose formations, and obviously at Austerlitz and Talavera, experienced officers chose to have one division with whole brigades in supporting lines and others with brigade battalions line supporting lines for the brigade instead. There must have been some reasons/advantages for that decision.

2. There wasn't a single doctrine laid down for the whole army. Each general had the freedom to establish his own methods--within reason. That is why you see so many 'instructions' written by various generals in various armies over this period.

3. Regulations and such typically only went as high as the regiment or perhaps a brigade. [Most regulations would speak of 'eight battalion' forces, if then] Above that level, you find many 'general orders' where commanders are defining how their army will act.

4. The regulations and the formations they were built on were a presentation of different tools the commander could use, rather than a statement of how everyone should do it. There was a recognition that there needed to be flexibility when facing combat.

5. That attitude that anything above the regiment was realm of 'military genius', something that couldn't be put down in some sort of system, though many tried, like Jomini.

Anyway, there certainly were formation conventions that an army followed at the divisional and higher commands when there were no orders to the contrary, and folks have described them, but these were set down by the commander[s] rather than something that was across a nation's forces with some doctrinal force.

Mike the Analyst29 Oct 2021 3:43 p.m. PST

Interesting the Ney in his Military Studies considers a division of 12 battalions in one it two lines. Regiments are mentioned but interestingly Brigades don't seem to feature.
At Auerstadt you see regiments committed as they arrive rather than a whole division formed up in an array. The flexibility of the units making up 3rd corps is probably down to the high level of training and discipline.

Allan F Mountford30 Oct 2021 12:57 a.m. PST

I am assuming Foucart is writing specifically about 1806 and 1807 rather than the whole of our period.

von Winterfeldt30 Oct 2021 3:07 a.m. PST

Though I agree that Foucart is writing about the 1806/07 period – the general battle layout of a division would be two or three lines, as specified.

Auerstedt – was a battle by pure chance where both opponents clashed while on the march, so there was no time to form a division in their traditional battle order, the felixibilty would be for all corps and not only the 3rd corps.


Mike the Analyst30 Oct 2021 3:48 a.m. PST

vW, I have seen it spellt with an e, a, ae and a with an umlaut. That being said there is an argument for calling it the Battle of Hassenhausen

I thought that the Prussians did take the time to deploy their divisions which gave the French some time to consolidate their position.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP02 Nov 2021 1:52 a.m. PST

Isn't it usually the winner who gets to choose the name? The battle of Blenheim is so called even though there's no such place (although there is a Blindheim). Waterloo was so named because Wellington figured most English speakers would be unable to pronounce Belle Alliance or the like.

The French would have pronounced Hassenhausen "Assen'ausen", so this might have been reason enough to go with Auerstädt.

The one I always find slightly mysterious is Austerlitz, a place that appears no longer to exist.

Allan F Mountford02 Nov 2021 2:46 a.m. PST

Austerlitz was renamed Slavkov u Brna.

Scott Sutherland07 Nov 2021 12:08 p.m. PST


Cdr Luppo

what do you mean by "the choice battalion layout within the Brigade." ?

Is there any contemporary document or doctrine which defines what choices or decisions the commander favours to deploy the battalions? The Talavera cas in particular – why did each Division Commander choose a different brigade/battalion layout. Was there a perception that one was better than the other and if so, why?

I'm hoping someone may have found a comment which explains these short of anomalies.


Cdr Luppo11 Nov 2021 1:29 a.m. PST

Hi Scott,

You can check the debate on those questions in RENARD' s book

the debate between Rogniat and Marbot-Rocqancourt and the comments by Renard .. also comments on the choice by the Prussians to fight with brigades side by, not one behind the other.
also some higher reference to the linear school vs perpendicular school etc.

i do not think it's a question of one dispositive being "better" than the other.
simply more suited to a tactical situation or more suited to the "ideas" of the commander in charge

as for the regiment engaged as a single tactical aggregation .. if you break that unit in two like you suggest, then i believe it is no more a tactical aggregation ! ; )

best regards (if you can send me a pm with your mail i forward you the full excerpt in French).

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