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Breaking infantry Squares

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 28th, 2016, 1:14 pm

The Russian army had been improving its artillery arm since Arakcheev took over as inspector of artillery in 1803 and Kiley intimates that officers in the Tsar's service were beginning to discuss updating artillery tactics. Perhaps the close support of Horse Artillery to advancing cavalry was a development of this new mindset.

What appears after further scrutiny of the incident is that there is some sort of disagreement as to how the artillery acted.
First Vandamme advances down from the high ground into an area covered by vineyards. Duke Konstantin, OC Imperial Guard who had pulled back after Miloradovich was defeated, attempted to stop him by pushing the Guard over a small but apparently defensible stream. His Jagers engaged the 4th Line Regiment which held its ground amongst the vineyards. According to Horne, Vandamme's subsequent forward development left the regiment exposed. Chandler and Castle agree that the 1st Battalion was then confronted by two batallions of Russian Guard Infantry which irrepressibly ran at them from 300 yards and forced them back onto their supporting 2nd battalion and artillery. The Russians were checked and fell back, disordered, to the edge of the vineyard and the 1/4th also reformed.
At this point the two authors I've checked disagree slightly upon the sequence of things. Castle says the Russian cavalry were now observed advancing through the broken ground. Prompting the 4th line to form square. Here he says the Russians unlimbered that half battery mentioned earlier and blasted them with canister. After which Konstantin personally lead two Guard squadrons forwards. The 4th delivered their volley and the first squadron turned aside.

Chandler disagrees and a few other Internet sources go along with him, suggesting a more dramatic scene. The Russian cavalry advanced through the vineyards, the 4th forming Square but as the Russians closed and took the initial volley the first squadron wheeled back to uncover the horse artilllery which unlimbered and fired with predictable results. Tres cinimatic, non?

Both agree the second squadron crushed the French Square thereafter, and with further support from reserves also broke the 24th which had been hurried forward to help. The 24th with no cavalry support found themselves between a rock and a hard place and received the Russians standing in line. Castle seems to have a more realistic description than Chandler but neither cite sources, because they're writing osprey books. All I can say for certain is that the artillery were moving forward with the cavalry and it's a very interesting look at combined arms work and how the scales could tip depending on the cards one side held at a given time.

It would be interesting to read something about the Russian artillery and their tactical doctrine. How common would it be for them to advance in between squadrons so they could be uncovered?

I'll check Digby Smith's Charge! When I get the chance, that has an chapter on Austerlitz.

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby DaveH » December 28th, 2016, 4:48 pm

In his hardback, Ian Castle uses Bigarre's account (the CO of the battalion). The text suggests that the Russian cavalry were initially halted and there was artillery with them, so when they saw the lone 1/4e battalion, it was easy for them to approach, put he infantry into square and then move aside to allow the artillery to get to work, before charging in themselves.

I am sure there were occasions on which large bodies of cavalry were being used as a guard for artillery as it was moved forward, (Austrian practice with its cavalry guns was to send a small escort with them). Then situations arose, where the cavalry could force infantry into square with artillery nearby to exploit the situation. However, the idea that horse artillery was moving around with large bodies of cavalry cannot right, given the weight issues, let alone problems with the ground.
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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 28th, 2016, 6:11 pm

Interesting. That suggests the 1/4e did not stop the Russians with their volley but rather the Russians deliberately shielded & then stopped to uncover their guns at something like 50-100 yards!!!

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Andrew » December 28th, 2016, 8:19 pm

Here is the account of the loss of his eagle by Major Bigarré who commanded the 4th at Austerlitz. It appears in the regimental history of the 4th Line. The 4th were in Vandamme’s division of Soult’s IV Corps. The regiment mainly consisted of Gascons.

Soult’s corps had seized the Pratzen heights and village of the same name. Bigarré picks up the story;

‘The marshal, noticing that there was a Russian column on his left that came out of Kremenwitz, had Vandamme informed to send a battalion from his division on to the left flank to observe it. General Vandamme ordered me to put myself at the head of this battalion and go to encounter this column. He told his aide de camp to accompany me. I was a little more than a quarter of a league [about a kilometre] from my division when Captain Vincent, who preceded my scouts, discovered on the reverse of a hill, a considerable mass of cavalry. It came at me at the gallop looking as if it was going to lead the column on the left. I continued my movement as quickly as possible however, to march in column of sections in order to be ready, in case of need, to form square. Once the direction had been given to chef de bataillon Guy, I went with Captain Vincent to see what this enemy column was doing. Hardly had we arrived on the summit of the hill which dominated the two rear slopes of the hill, than we saw it advance at the ‘grand trot’ to encounter us. I quickly turned towards my first battalion to get it to form square.

‘This column, entirely composed of cavalry of the Russian imperial guard commanded by Grand Duke Constantine, formed up at extreme musket range from my battalion. It unmasked six pieces of horse artillery which, firing canister at the battalion, succeeded in disordering the ranks.

‘General Vandamme, seeing this battalion closely engaged, sent the 24th Léger Regiment to its support; but Grand Duke Constantine wanting to benefit from the isolation of my battalion, had it charged by two regiments of his column. This first charge did not penetrate the square because it was received at point blank range by a discharge of musketry; but a second, made by a third Russian regiment while the muskets were still un-loaded, passed through the square back and forth and sabred more than 200 men of this regiment. It was in this mêlée that a Russian officer seized the eagle of this battalion that was in the hands of a sergeant-major named Saint-Cyr, who received twelve wounds on the head and arms before he gave up this eagle. Two of his comrades, who had carried it before him, were killed, one by case shot and the other by a pistol shot. Chef de bataillon Guy and ten other officers were also killed or wounded in this action. Myself, I received more than twenty five sabre blows on the head, arms and shoulders, without being marked other than by bruises.

‘The 24th Léger Regiment, which committed the fault of deploying in the face of this numerous cavalry [presumably he means into line], was also overthrown by it. By a strange coincidence, one of the non-commissioned officers f my battalion, having picked up off the battlefield one of the eagles of the 24th, thinking that it was from his own battalion, no one noticed our own was missing.
...
‘I collected up the debris of my 1st battalion back into line of battle in Vandamme’s division, which, at this moment, moved onto the Pratzen plateau onto the Sokolnitz château. When the division descended to the Saint-Antoine chapel in the village of Angerd, I profited from this circumstance to take my revenge on the Russians by falling on them with my regiment at the moment when they passed through the village. The Moscow Regiment, commanded by Colonel Solimath, was made prisoner by my 2nd battalion and the 1st seized a company of grenadiers of the same formation and its two colours.’

It was only in the evening, as he entertained his prisoner, that Bigarré was informed of the loss of his eagle. He later received a message from Grand Duke Constantine, through a released prisoner from the 4th , that he now owned the eagle and that he would make it part of his bed.

When Napoleon learnt of the heroic action of the 4th that resulted in the loss of its eagle, he forgave it and presented it with a new eagle.

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 28th, 2016, 10:47 pm

Excellent timing as usual, Andrew.

That clarifies things a bit more. Rather impressive that the 1/4e was able to maintain their Square under artillery fire at 100-500 yards to see off the first charge, not least be reformed to participate in the rest of the battle. Though it mentions nothing of the Russian Infantry that Castle and Chandler say pushed them back initially (unless you edited that part to focus on the breaking of the Square).

From this it seems that the Russians both intended to advance their guns while forcing the isolated French into Square, and were repelled nonetheless by the Square until the 2nd squadron [Castle & Chandler] which Bigarré calls a 3rd regiment charged. Konstantin did feed in other fresh squadrons, according to the above, to charge the 24eme.

The action obviously has been reconstructed from several first hand accounts which none of my authors are forthcoming about. Chandler, must have looked at Bigarré for he mentions the 200 casualties and the masking of the guns. Neither author however put the two together in the books I've consulted. I suspect there is a Russian source or one that was able to quote the Grand Duke giving a "For Russia, God and the Tsar" or something before the charge.
For the immediate aftermath of the broken square Horne in "How far from Austerlitz" and Chandler in his Osprey Campaign quote short snippets by Napoleon's Aide, Ségur who had been sent forward from the staff and was apparently close enough to see the action. Berthier is also quoted by Horne as thinking the fleeing French were Russian prisoners nothing is cited for these that I can see.

I'm unaware of French Infantry practices, what is a "Column of Sections"?

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 28th, 2016, 11:05 pm

I found Ségur, it's pretty brief, amusing though. Memoirs of an Aide de Camp translated and in arichve. He puts the incident occurring some time after 1pm.

"I had hardly returned, and re-assured the Emperor as to what was going on in his rear, when in front of him began the attack of [Tsar] Alexander's horse guard. It was so impetuous that Vandamme's two battalions on the left were completely overwhelmed ! one of them indeed, covered with blood, and having lost its eagle and the greater part of its arms only got up to run away at full speed. This battalion was that of the 4th regiment, which almost passed over us, and Napoleon himself, our effort to arrest it being in vain. The unfortunate fellows were quite distracted with fear and could listen to nothing ; in reply to our reproaches for thus deserting the field of battle and their Emperor they shouted mechanically " Vive L'Empereur while they fled faster than ever." Napoleon smiled pitifully ; then with a scornful gesture he said to us : " Let them go, " and retaining all his calm in the midst of the affray, he despatched Rapp to the cavalry of the guard."

https://archive.org/details/aidedecampnapole00segu

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Andrew » December 31st, 2016, 9:37 am

Josh&Historyland wrote: Though it mentions nothing of the Russian Infantry that Castle and Chandler say pushed them back initially (unless you edited that part to focus on the breaking of the Square)...

I'm unaware of French Infantry practices, what is a "Column of Sections"?


I did not edit Bigarre's account. There is no mention of 'infantry', although he talks of a Russian column and then the guard cavalry. I interpret this as the first column being infantry, but he does not even hint that they came into any sort of engagement with it.

I believe that a French company/peloton was split into two sections; although there are translation problems here. Accepting that this is right, I presume that rather like the British four deep line at Waterloo, this allowed the battalion to get into square quicker than from the more usual formations. Thus, the peloton frontage would be of a section (half-peloton) rather than the more usual full peloton frontage. Not being a 'drill pig', I cannot answer for this!!

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 31st, 2016, 10:39 am

Interesting about the Infantry, but I suppose rather irrelevant since the topic is about breaking squares. I get the impression the answer will be found in other sources.

The formation sounds something akin to close column of companies or quarter distance I believe the British could also use a half company frontage if necessary.

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » January 1st, 2017, 2:30 am

I checked in Uffindel, Smith and Fisher and they only support the basic facts. That of the RIG Infantry driving back Vandamme's exposed left, and being halted by reserves. And an effective cavalry charge that once more caused some worrying moments and then developed into a general melee of dramatic proportions.
It may in fact be that the Infantry attack occured rather earlier as the French were descending the heights and thus didn't happen quite as fluidly as may seem. Chandler in Campaigns of Napoleon only mentions the 4e and 24eme after the Russian Infantry attack, which he pinpoints as being repulsed as mentioned above, and Napoleon directing Vandamme to incline his right to put pressure on them and the two fated regiments were sent to cover it. Funny the tricks Osprey books can pull on a narrative.

At any rate I'm quite satisfied from the French account that the Russians advanced a battery screened by the cavalry, who drew aside and let the guns do their work, yet were still repulsed by the volley of the 1/4e when they charged. The succeeding squadron doing the butchers work, which again suggests an interesting dependence on loaded muskets. Note as well how the Russians rode back and forth through the 4e, who sustained 200 and 400 casualties and their eagle. A very adroit example of the use of Horse Artillery.

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Andrew » January 1st, 2017, 1:41 pm

As far as it reflecting an effective use of horse artillery, it is very similar to the French horse artillery that fired on the Nassauers at Waterloo, protected by a unit of cuirassiers; although the Nassauers were in column rather than square.

Captain Weiz of the 1st Nassau Regiment wrote,

‘Two guns unlimbered in front of the 1st Battalion at a distance of 200 to 300 paces and started at once to cover us with case shot...The cavalry stationed at the side of the guns gradually moved closer, yet stayed at enough of a distance from these to avoid obstructing their line of fire. The 1st Battalion’s situation became ever more perilous with each moment, and extremely so, on its front the two murderous guns, and finally on its right side, 100 paces away at the most, the cuirassiers who waited for signs of disarray in our ranks to charge the battalion; that disarray threatened to happen any minute now under the increased cannonade of case shot.

‘The first rounds from the two guns went too high and caused no losses to the battalion; all the more terrible were the following ones. From now on, so many men were levelled by each shot that it took superhuman efforts by the officers to have the dead removed and to close the ranks and to keep them closed.’

Eventually, the battalion commander, fearing that his unit would be wiped out, decided to dash at the guns and take them. Weiz continues,

‘After the battalion had advanced some forty paces, it received two more rounds of case shot which levelled the major and his horse and many soldiers. The resulting disarray and gaps in the ranks caused an unforeseen halt before order could be restored and the ranks closed...’

Ordered to retreat and retake their original position in line, two companies were left behind. The fate of these two companies, about 140 men, was predictable,

‘Barely had they found themselves separated from the others when they were already surrounded and attacked by cuirassiers...There now started a most severe and bloody battle...In a final thrust this little troop was totally overrun and dispersed.’

The 1st Battalion took no further part in the fighting.

I am sure that there was a similar case where a couple of Kielmansegge's squares were driven back by close range artillery fire from guns protected by cavalry.

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