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Breaking infantry Squares

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » June 9th, 2015, 2:47 pm

There's no reason to be particularly surprised, they are a large investment.
I do have two volumes, but I am buying them slowly, at the moment they are not to hand, when I can I will have a look and see, but if someone else could do this faster all the better. I'll look forward to seeing what you put together.

I have found that Napier quotes General Trant at length and seems to put it in April 1812 rather than 1811 as the link says. And that Haythornweight also mentions the affair, where he specifies that Trant commanded a division of Militia and was surprised by Marmont there.

Josh.
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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Senarmont198 » June 9th, 2015, 6:13 pm

Completely understand about the price of books. I spend my money (generally when allowed by my wife) on books and toy and model soldiers and have spent years building a personal library. I don't like ebooks, but Google Books has hundreds, if not thousands, of older, out of print and copyright books that can be downloaded.

I have at least 500 of those downloaded as well as many printed out, put into document protectors, and in one to three-inch binders for ease of use.

I finally broke down and bought Oman, most of them in paperback and now use them for research. I wouldn't consider them pleasure reading, but they are handy and great to have to hand.
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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » June 9th, 2015, 6:29 pm

I agree with you, printed books are much better & Oman is indeed rather heavy reading at times, my two volumes are paperback. I too have a large electronic research library, google books and Archive have been invaluable on many occasions. I also have a modest collection of model soldiers myself, but since model zone joined with WHSmith I've not been able to progress with it.

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » June 9th, 2015, 11:59 pm

I found this a good excuse to take a break from Waterloo research, so I hope you chaps don't mind that I had a look through Oman and Napier to see what was going on at Guarda. I was unable to find a digitalised copy of Parquin, so I don't have his view.

Trant's Division and Wilson's division of Portuguese Militia were positioned at Guarda, having moved there in response to Marshal Marmont's posturing against Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo and to cover the powder magazines stored along the Coa. Already Marmont had pushed back Alten's cavalry which retreated much to far from Ciudad Rodrigo and left everyone exposed.
The position was strong and situated on high ground, however with only 6,000 raw infantry and 6 guns it would be hard to hold. Nevertheless they maintained their position until the 14th of April and Trant toyed with taking advantage of Marmont's widespread dispositions and attacking Sabugal where he had made his headquarters on the 8th. The provincial commander, Baccelar, objected to and delayed the plan until it was no longer feasible, for his orders from Wellington forbade a general action and he was more interested with covering the numerous magazines in the area.
Meanwhile Marmont had prepared to advance over a wide front, splitting his force into flying columns, whose distance from each other had prompted Trant's rash idea. On the 12th Clausel's Division attacked Lecor at Castello Blanco and Marmont having heard that a corps of militia was on his flank, moved on Guarda to disperse it and so allow him to invest Almeida
The Portuguese at Blanco withdrew safely, Lecor withdrew destroying the magazines as he went, denying Clausel of his goal, he stayed two days and then withdrew, harried by Lecor as he did.
On the on the night of the 13th Marmont was in position near the hill of Guarda, it was the day when Trant had planned to attack Marmont. But the next morning Marmont attacked him. Having taken 400 cavalry and 2 brigades of infantry from his divisions, he easily stole a March and Trant takes up the narrative:

"Now it happened on this same night Marmont had marched from Sabugal to attack me at Guarda, he had at least 5,000 infantry... And 5 or 600 cavalry. My distrust of the militia with regard to the execution of precautions such as I had now adopted, had induced me at all times to have a drummer at my bedroom door, in readiness to beat to arms; and this was most fortunate in the case of the night of the 13th of April 1812, for the very first intimation I recieved of the enemy being near at hand was given me by my own servant, at bringing me coffee at daybreak on the 14th. He said such was the report in the street, and that the soldiers were assembling at the alarm rendezvous in the town. I instantly beat to arms, and the beat was instantly taken up by every drummer who heard it, Marmont, who at that moment was with his cavalry at the very entrance to the town (quite open on the Sabugal side more than elsewhere), retired. He had cut off the outposts without their firing a shot, and, had he only dashed headlong into the town, must have captured Wilson's and my militia divisions without losing probably a single man. I was myself first out of the town and he was not then four hundred yards from it, retiring at a slow pace. I lost no time in forming my troops in position, and sent my few dragoons in observation. When at a couple of miles distant Marmont drew up fronting Guarda, and it turned out, as I inferred, that he expected infantry."

The approach had been long and steep and Marmont had only his cavalry close to hand. He had not realised how effectively he had surprised the enemy and so withdrew to await reinforcements. The Portuguese drew up on the heights behind the town. However on perceiving Marmont's infantry support he decided not to defend the place as he was too exposed to the enemy cavalry.
Just as Marmont was ready to attack he observed Trant drawing off his guns, and then the regiments began withdrawing in succession at the double down the steep road that ran down the back of the heights to Celecrico, covered by a single troop of Wilson's cavalry, supplied by Baccelar who was deeply reticent to spread his cavalry around. The retreat was made harder by the sudden downpour of rain that drenched everyone and spoilt the infantry's powder. They managed to cover 3-4 miles but due to poor visibility thought they had got away clean. However the face French cavalry were close at hand supported by the infantry.
Further ahead they passed through a "Wooded declivity" were the dropped down a steep slope to cross the river Mondego, as the Portuguese reached the Bridge of Faya Marmont observed disorder in the enemy ranks and ordered his escort and the 13e Chasseurs to charge. The first French Squadron scattered dragoon rearguard which fled mixed up with the French cavalry. Caught by surprise the infantry rearguard, the Oporto regiment, attempted to deploy and fire but their powder was spoilt, and at this instantly broke, about 200 gave themselves up as prisoners. Those behind them scattered for the cover of the slopes. The charge swept down on the Aviero battalion and the other units of the Oporto brigade broke successively, like a row of dominos. As the French rode amongst them they realised they were only peasants and staid their sabres, despite this some slipped on the hillside and drowned in the river and about 1,500 were cut off and made prisoner, however only about 100 were taken back with the 5 colours that were also then laid at Marmont's feet. The other prisoners were contemptuously let go. As Trant's brigade dissolved Wilson's Division had crossed the narrow bridge and showed front. The officers behaved well and the troops got across the river, and the 400 French cavalry did not see any point in wasting their glorious charge by pressing on recklessly.
The Baccelar burned a store of powder at Celerico and joined Trant as he fell back to Lamego. 2,000 men had scattered into the hills. Wilson stayed at Celerico until the day after the rout, when he withdrew at the advance of the enemy, prompting him to destroy the magazines there, however the French did not press him further than engaging his outposts, and he quickly returned to Celerico and saved much of the powder before it was lost. Marmont had heard of the fall of Badajoz and had withdrawn leaving the Portuguese to retake Guarda.

Wellington heard reports of this after they occurred and wrote to Trant telling him that Guarda was the most dangerous position in Portugal and that he would much prefer to have his advance Guard there instead. He nevertheless congratulated Trant on his wise decision to not hold the town and fall back. Berseford was scathing and praising in equal measure of the affair in his Orders for May 7, and forbade the militia to carry standards again until they captured an equal number of French colours. Parquin was mentioned in Marmont's dispatches.

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Senarmont198 » June 10th, 2015, 9:03 am

From Oman, Book V, 286-287:

'The Marshal, in his account of the affair, says that the Portuguese formed up on the heights by the town, apparently ready to fight, but drew off rapidly so soon as he had prepared for a regular attack on the position. Wise not quite in time, the two militia generals sent their men at a trot down the steep road at the back of the place, with the single troops of regular dragoons that they possessed bringing up the rear. It had now begun to rain in torrents, and Trant and Wilson having obtained two or three miles start, and being able to see no distance owing to the downpour, thought that they had got off safe. this was not the case: Marmont realized that his infantry could not catch them, but seeing their hurry and disorder ordered his cavalry-his own escort squadron and the 13th Chasseurs-to pursue and charge the rearguard of the retreating column. They overtook it by the bridge of Faya, three miles outside Guarda, where the road to Celoricl descends on a steep slope to cross the river. The leading French squadron scattered the forty dragoons at the tail of Trant's division, and rode on, mixed with them, against the rearguard battalion (that of Oporto). The militiamen, startled and caught utterly by surprise, tried to form across the road and to open fire: but the rain had dampened their cartridges, and hardly a musket gave fire. Thereupon the battalion went to pieces, the men nearest the French throwing down their guns and asking for quarter, while those behind scattered uphill or downhill from the road, seeking safety on the steep slopes. The charge swept downhill on to the battalion of Aveiro, and the other successive units of the Oporto brigade, which broke up in confusion. Five of their six colors were taken, and 1500 prisoners were cut off, while some tumbled into the Mondego and were drowned, by losing their footing on the steep hillside. Hardly a Frenchman fell, and not very many Portuguese, for the chasseurs, finding that they had to deal with helpless militiamen who made no resistance, were sparing with the sabre.(1) The greater part of the prisoners were allowed, in contempt, to make off, and only a few hundred and the five flags were brought back to Marmont at Guarda. The pursuit did not penetrate so far as Wilson's division, which got across the Mondego while Trant's was being routed, and formed up behind the narrow bridge, where the chasseurs, being a trifling force of 400 men, did not think fit to attack them. The French infantry had marched over twenty miles already that day, and were dead beat: Marmont did not send them down from Guarda to pursue, in spite of the brilliant success of his cavalry.'

(1) 'There is an account of this rout from the French side in the Memoires of Parquin, of the 13th Chasseurs, an officer mentioned in Marmont's dispatch as having taken one of the flags. Parquin calls it that of the regiment Eurillas. There was no such corps: those which lost standards were Aveiro, Oliveira, and Penafiel. A lengthy account may be found also in Beresfor's Ordens do Dia for May 7, where blame and praise are carefully distributed, and the curious order is made that the disgraced regiments are to leave their surviving flags at hime, till they have washed out the stain on their honor by good service in the field.'

Note: Oman in in error assigning Parquin to the 13th Chasseurs a Cheval. He belonged to the elite company of the 20th Chasseurs a Cheval and was part of Marmont's escort.

Parquin's account has already been given, and it is in as much 'context' as can be provided as the entire episode as told by Parquin has been provided. it is an episode in the campaign and stands alone.
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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » June 10th, 2015, 11:00 am

Thanks Senarmmont.

It seems to me that the militia had time to form a square, being as they were on the march and could not see the enemy. When Oman says the rearguard attempted to form on the road, this probably refers to an attempt to form square, and the others behind it had no chance to do so before the French sent them running. Since neither Oman or Napier mentions squares, something that they would have reason to do so since Oman certainly had read both Parquin's and Marmont's report, and since Trant did not either, I think it fair to say that Parquin exaggerated how "Formed" the "Squares" were that they broke.
The militia of the Oporto brigade by all accounts seem indeed very poor soldiers, and even had they been able to form square it is dubious as to whether they would not have broken anyway as to maintain a square, steady troops are required.

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 25th, 2016, 10:52 pm

It might be fun over the break between Christmas and New Year to discuss the Square of the 4th ligne at Austerlitz. Castle paints it something like, that the French were first disordered by the Russian Guard Infantry, who were in turn driven back by concentrated artillery fire and musketry. As they fell back the 4th had reformed and seen two squadrons of the Russian Lifeguards advancing towards them. Grand Duke Konstantine had deemed them weak enough to chagre.They formed Square. However a half battery of the horse artillery, presumably advancing with the cavalry unlimbered and opened fire with good effect. Yet the French forced the Russian first squadron to wheel away with their volley fire. But the second ploughed on untroubled and met an unloaded and dishevelled wall of bayonets, which they cut their way into and captured an eagle. The 4th disintegrated and the Russians were then confronted by another French unit (24th or 25th I think), who met them in line and gave a volley before being overrun and ridden down.
Napoleon had arrived at this time and sent in his own cavalry, both he and Konstantine proceeded to feed in cavalry reserves until General Rapp finally gained the upper hand.

Seems like an interesting incident of a square breaking under a frontal charge and raises a few interesting questions. How necessary were loaded muskets to the integrity of a Square, not least.

Josh,
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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby jf42 » December 25th, 2016, 11:05 pm

Perhaps an important consideration might be that "dishevelled wall of bayonets." As we know, an infantry square tightly formed up to four rank deep, prepared to receive cavalry, then presented a good target for artillery, such as the half-battery of Russian horse artillery.
Last edited by jf42 on December 26th, 2016, 9:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 25th, 2016, 11:22 pm

Undoubtedly so, rather curious then given the state they must have been in as to why the first Russian squadron wheeled away at their fire.
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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby DaveH » December 26th, 2016, 7:16 pm

All armies found it most effective to fire a last volley at 20 paces and then stand with the bayonets out, so there is no morale effect from being loaded. Perhaps in this case, they thought their volley had seen off the cavalry, not realising there was a second squadron coming in (perhaps from a combination of mist and smoke), so they were dishevelled by being in the act of loading?

It is unusual (and perhaps the only effective way) to actually find artillery moving with the cavalry (another 'should have' from Waterloo), so that the sight of cannon may have unnerved them somewhat. The arrival of French artillery at Dresden was enough to convince a couple of Austrian squares to surrender - they could not load and fire due to the heavy rain.
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