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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Breaking infantry Squares

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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Andrew » January 1st, 2017, 3:45 pm

Josh&Historyland wrote: The succeeding squadron doing the butchers work, which again suggests an interesting dependence on loaded muskets. Josh.


Waterloo is a good example of how cavalry avoided charging a square whose muskets were loaded and used various stratagems to get a square to waste its fire so that they could then charge with more chance of success. The experienced French cavalry commanders soon realised that the well-formed, solid British squares, with their disciplined firepower, offered them no chance of breaking them by main force.

In his history of the KGL, Beamish gives an example of how the French tried to draw a volley;

‘...having observed how much the infantry reserved their fire, they sent out skirmishers, who, to provoke a volley, rode close to the squares and killed or wounded many with their carbines…’

As one charge followed another, the allied squares realised that there was a danger that they would start running out of ammunition. At first orders were given to hold fire until the French cavalry were fully committed to the charge, but then it was realised that the French clearly felt that a square was more vulnerable once it had fired and that the firing of a volley was more likely to provoke a charge than deter it. A British officer observed this,

‘In many instances, individuals left their ranks and rode around the squares, with the intention of drawing fire on themselves to enable the cavalry to charge with a greater probability of success.’

Eventually, the squares were ordered not to fire at French cavalry skirmishers who took pot shots at them with their carbines. The result was effectively a stalemate; the French would not charge until the square fired, and the square would not fire unless the cavalry charged. This strange phenomena is well described by Captain de Brack,

‘Then a voluntary truce, so to speak, was reached between the combatants due to the complete exhaustion of the troops. Half of our squadrons dismounted in half musket range. The Intendent-general, d’Aure, can testify to this fact for, with his usual bravery, he came to visit us during this particular episode.’

Captain Gronow recalled,

‘Our men had orders not to fire unless they could do so on a near mass; the object being to economise our ammunition, and not to waste it on scattered soldiers. The result was, that when the cavalry had discharged their carbines, and were still far off, we occasionally stood face to face, looking at each other inactively, not knowing what the next move might be.’
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Re: Breaking infantry Squares

Postby Josh&Historyland » January 2nd, 2017, 3:45 pm

Which makes me wonder if the Russians in 1805 sacrificed their first squadron to draw the fire of the square and wheeled away rather than being driven off. Certainly such skirmishing antics don't get much press in the prominent histories.

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