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"British infantry in 3 ranks?" Topic

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von Winterfeldt15 Jul 2022 11:45 p.m. PST

Conventional wisdom denies this – but reading the excellent book by R.N.W. Thomaa – No Want of Courage – The British Army in Flanders 1793 – 1795, Helion Press, page 76 –

A longs section on battalion formation and tatcis, relating to the use of a third rank, was contained in a general order of 27th od July ( I guess 1794) – unfortunately the author is not providing any specific source on this while he otherwise uses extensive material from NAM (I guess National Army Museum).

I very highly recommend this book, there it shows how and army is run and the huge task to do it.

42flanker16 Jul 2022 12:49 a.m. PST

Sunday, Head Quarters Rosendal,
27th July 1794.

British Orders.

His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief orders
the formations of the battalions of infantry of the army
under his command to be in three ranks, but with the
following regulations, which are at all times to be ob-
served :

When the battalion forms for action, the third rank
is instantly to be formed into two divisions, and two
ranks, each under the command of an officer.

When the army or corps to which the battalion be-
longs is in two lines, those divisions will form on the
rear of the centre of each wing of their battalions at
the distance of fifty paces.

When there is no second line, the two divisions
joined together, a captain is appointed to the command
of them ; and being then in one body, it forms a re-
serve each to its own battalion, at 200 paces in the rear
of the centre ; in this manner these divisions form a
reserve or second line, which may be used either in
lengthening the first line by being carried to either
flank, or as a corps-de-reserve to strengthen any point
may be necessary.

When a battalion is ordered to march, the two divi-
sions formed from the third rank will join again as
expeditiously as possible, being always on the march of
a column, disposed of as a third rank, unless it be on a
short march of manoeuvre to right or left, in which case
these divisions will move in column in the same direc-
tions, preserving their relative situation to the battalion.

As this may require a little practice to render it
familiar to the regiments, his Royal Highness desires
that the general officers, and officers commanding bri-
gades, will see that they are trained to it at roll-calling,
or other occasions or theory of exercise. "

From Memoir of General Graham: with notices of the campaigns in which he was engaged from 1779 to 1801 (1862)

von Winterfeldt16 Jul 2022 2:27 a.m. PST


Thank you very much for this very fast and detailed response.

42flanker16 Jul 2022 2:42 a.m. PST

You are most welcome. I've been putting this out on TMP from time to time since I came upon it back in 2015 but it never seemed to attract much attention.

johannes5516 Jul 2022 3:26 a.m. PST

This reserve division isn't it the same as the Austrians of the FR period did?

von Winterfeldt16 Jul 2022 4:51 a.m. PST

Yes, in fact almost identical

Mollinary16 Jul 2022 6:11 a.m. PST

Doesn't this still leave the standard tactical formation as a two deep line, either supported by two two deep lines at 50 paces to the rear of of each flank, or a single two deep formation some two hundred paces behind the battalion? In all cases the formations are two deep.

von Winterfeldt16 Jul 2022 10:21 a.m. PST

but what was before that date, in 1793 – three ranks?

johannes5516 Jul 2022 2:17 p.m. PST

wasn'the official reglement 3 ranks?
AFAIK there was an order in the AWI that british infantry fought in 2 ranks

McLaddie16 Jul 2022 10:23 p.m. PST

There are another points here. First, Dundas' British Regulations of 1792 stated three ranks, with commentary on the use of and apparent preference for two ranks among British officers, particularly those who fought in the AWI. [Though that was nearly two decades before and the Regular Army had been reduced to only 43,000 total after the AWI. Lots of veteran officers weren't in the military any more.

Second, according to Scharnhorst and other Prussians, during that time [1794] the Prussians had the same practice, often using the third rank as skirmishers. The Austrian General Coberg did the same thing with the third ranks in 1794. So, it was common practice with the third rank during the Revolutionary Wars.

Third, generals in the field were 'allowed' to create their own general orders for the army which is what 42flanker provided an example of. Wellington issued army orders in 1807 and 1809 [IF I remember the dates correctly] requiring infantry to form in two ranks. So, while the official British regulations called for forming in three ranks, CinCs could and did issue orders counter to the Regulations. It was seen as a CinC's prerogative. This is true for all the Continental Armies and you see them issuing orders which change the SOPs detailed in their regulations.

Chad4716 Jul 2022 10:30 p.m. PST

I am not at home at present so cannot include the extract, but in a recent work on the 1793-95 campaign there is reference to instructions to adopt the Austrian practice in the use of the third rank. The author speculates that this may have already been introduced in the Guards brigade in that campaign. Hope that is of use.

Chad4717 Jul 2022 5:34 a.m. PST


The extract referred to line units. The author of the book simply suggested that the instruction may have already been given to the Guards but provided no evidence to support that

Paul Demet23 Jul 2022 12:05 a.m. PST

There is an earlier general order in the orderly book included in the Papers of Maj Gen Charles Barnett, 3rd Foot Guards, 1786-1803 (National Army Museum 1985-12-15):

Estreux 1st June 1793: "In the present situation as no Attack of Cavalry is to be Expected, the Troops will be Drawn up Two deep till further orders"

This was issued when the Duke's forces were much smaller than in the summer of 1794

Trajanus23 Jul 2022 4:44 a.m. PST

As I recall, Dundas was pretty rude about the use of two ranks in America.

Seeing it as some kind of outlier that need to stopped forthwith! 😀

I've often wondered if he had served in America if his ideas on two ranks and Light Infantry would have been different from the Prussian perspective he got first hand.

Trajanus23 Jul 2022 4:51 a.m. PST

As I recall, Dundas was pretty rude about the use of two ranks in America.

Seeing it as some kind of outlier that need to stopped forthwith! 😀

Mark J Wilson02 Aug 2022 6:19 a.m. PST


So on campaign he tried to change the drill book, by making things more complicated. How did that campaign go?

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