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Light Company attacks:- ‘Formation of the Chain:’

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Light Company attacks:- ‘Formation of the Chain:’

Postby Iain » April 28th, 2017, 5:23 pm

Hi All !

I hope someone can help with a little information concerning the tactics used by the Light Companies at Waterloo. Perhaps our re-enactment friends can add their points of view ?

For this post, I’ll be targeting the Coldstream Guards and the 3rd Foot Guards during their attack on the southern wood at Hougoumont. (‘CG’ and ‘SG’) I need to know how they conducted themselves during their advance on the wood from the western kitchen garden.

For my research, I was lucky to have found Rottenburg’s ‘REGULATIONS FOR THE EXERCISE OF RIFLEMEN AND LIGHT INFANTRY, AND INSTRUCTIONS FOR THEIR CONDUCT IN THE FIELD.’ (first published in 1797 I think)
This is an extremely interesting document despite the fact that it was probably translated from German by someone working for an insurance company…., being totally ‘gobbledigooked.’
Being the main reason for this post !

Before adding a few quotes, I must remind you that both the CG and SG had about 95 men in each Company following Quatre Bras; so working together, we have nearly 200 men in the garden.
Divided into 4 platoons; (2 platoons = one company) the disposition upholds John Franklin’s map with the CG reserve platoon under the command of Captain Gooch to the north by the haystack…, while the other 3 platoons do the attack.
Before the attack, the 3 platoons are stationary and on their knees along the western hedgerow looking west onto the cornfield.
Just before the attack, speculation has it that they leave the garden to parade on the western lane.

Dashwood (SG) has the platoon nearest to the wood; Windham (CG) is in the middle with Standen (SG) in third place. (near Gooch)
Included in Standen’s platoon are Matthew Clay and Robert Gann. Both will be working as a pair…, Old Soldier and a Rookie together. I mention this as I believe it will help to comprehend some of the manoeuvres. At least…, I think so !

According to the SG ‘Company Returns’ dated 25 of June 1815, they have two Drummers called Charles Wilkins and John Brodie. These two Drummers fit in neatly for a Company consisting of two platoons, each with about 50 men.
Note: I do not have the CG Company Returns but it seems obvious that they too have two Drummers. (Buglers) As such, 4 Buglers in all !
I would like to thank ‘Hawaii’ Bob for the Returns. Aloha ! ;)

Please note that the Rottenburg text below explains an attack routine for one Company of 100 men. In this case, one section would be 25 men.
(2 sections = one platoon. Two platoons = one Company)
So our Light Company Guards in the garden that day were double the usual strength.


Of the Formation of the Chain and Advanced Guard:

“THE object of this branch of the duty of light troops is to scour a tract of country, by means of numerous and detached bodies, clearing the woods and enclosures of the enemy's posts, and in a word, (“in a word” ;) ) to establish a complete chain of your own troops, by occupying as far as circumstances will permit, every advantageous spot; taking particular care, however, that your own posts are stationed as to have easy communication, and the power of mutually supporting each other.”

“When a company of light infantry is destined to form the chain without any other corps to support it, the commanding officer signifies that one fourth of it, i.e. one half platoon or section, will remain formed as a reserve ; (Gooch’s CG platoon by the northern haystack) suppose for instance the fourth section is fixed on for this service ; 'in this case, the three first advance fifty paces in quick time; the order is then given to form the chain to the right or left, or as circumstances may require ; the signal from the bugle is immediately given, and the detachment extends in division of two files at ten paces distant from each other ; the fourth section remains formed. This disposition being made, the signal from the bugle is given to march. The chain moves forward in ordinary time, taking care to preserve the distance and alignment. The section of reserve follows at the distance of fifty paces, in order to give support to any part of the chain that may be attacked.”

“THE company is told off into four half platoons, or sections. The commanding officer, with the first half platoon, marches in front of the corps to which he forms the advanced guard, in the daytime five hundred paces, but in the night, or in hazy weather, three hundred only. The second section is detached two hundred paces in front of the first, and a party of a sergeant and six men is pushed on one hundred paces further, which forms the head of the advanced guard. The third and fourth half platoons are placed three hundred paces to the right and left of the first, and even with it, taking care to reserve as much as possible the above distance from it, and detaching one hundred paces forwards, and in an oblique direction to the outer flank, a non-commissioned officer and six men.”


As far as I can understand…, we have without doubt Gooch’s CG platoon formed in a 3-rank formation by the northern haystack and positioned there as a reserve platoon. (50 men) While the other 3 platoons line the hedgerow !
“Stayed there for a long time” wrote Clay !

Now… Macdonnell on his charger by the NW corner signals the attack.
The three Buglers sound the attack for their respective platoons !
Immediately, Dashwood runs ‘five hundred paces’ into the wood with his platoon hard on his heels. He’s obviously using the lane heading towards La Belle Alliance ! (“5 hundred paces” or a distance proportional to the depth of the wood and the complications of the terrain)
The other two platoons follow !
Gooch’s reserve platoon advance in formation half way along the lane to the western door but they go no further; and do not participate. (there just to help out if need be)

Now…, here’s the tricky bit !
Dashwood stops and his men overtake him while forming two ranks. (they were perhaps already in two ranks in the lane. ??)
The ranks then continue marching and space themselves out into (let’s say) 4 different groups, (“in Chain”) then turn to their right to face the Enemy.
Note: They also have the Enemy to their rear but the French are on an ‘advance mode’ and moving quickly north towards the orchard.*
When in position, Windham CG then overtakes Dashwood’s platoon before doing the same ‘in chain’ manoeuvre further along the lane.
Every group keeping themselves close enough to communicate…, but not too close ! (whistles are also being used at this stage to maintain discipline)

Now; because the wood is not that long, there would not be enough room for Standen SG to advance, so, with a signal from Macdonnell, he positions himself on the grassland near the southern haystack. Again, probably in two ranks (Old Soldier and Rookie) along the patchy hedgerow bordering the wood. (this grassland will be the start of the ‘killing zone’)

I’ll stop there for the time being in order to remain focused on the advance and the positioning.
Later, I’ll post another Rottenburg text relative to the firing…, which is really ‘double-Dutch’!

Any contradictions welcomed.
Thanks for reading…, Iain.

PS* With the French being beaten back from the orchard by Saltoun, they’d eventually find themselves back in the eastern part of the wood. This could have been one of the reasons for the retreat of both Companies. (not just outnumbered in the south western part of the wood)
Speculation of course…, but not to be discarded !
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Re: Light Company attacks:- ‘Formation of the Chain:’

Postby Josh&Historyland » April 29th, 2017, 11:06 am

I'm not familiar with the speciphic details in this only that the guards advanced into the wood a short distance before meeting renewed French resistance and were forced to withdraw.

Not to muddy the waters of course but there was more than one drill manual available at the time, and I think that there were newer treatise's available by waterloo than the one you quote. If there is a question I didn't find it but this seems a comprehensive list of drill manuals for light infantry.

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Re: Light Company attacks:- ‘Formation of the Chain:’

Postby Iain » April 30th, 2017, 6:02 am

Hi Josh…, and thank you !

The more and more I delve into the Waterloo conundrums, the more I understand that the Re-enactment groups can be a vital source of information…, focusing as they do !
As are the Model-Makers !

Having looked briefly at the contents of that site; and as you say, there’s more than Rottenburg out there !
Nonetheless; I’d like to defend the above attack, pure and simply because it’s how we'd have done it today. (except for the ‘In Chain’ bit)

The CO would order a left flanking attack, meaning that the platoon to the left would run forward and secure a 90° firing position. (also in line, but staying together undercover) HQ plus its right flank platoon (‘by the haystack’) then creates a devastating crossfire situation.

Of course, not having these other documents I’m unable to compare, but with the tactics being roughly the same for the past 200 years, I doubt if these additional documents could provide any valid, alternative.

Josh…, do you know of a similar forum for the Coldstream and Scots Guards ? I’m a member of the CG Facebook group but Fb is not the same !

Thank you Josh…, Iain.
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