British Army in the Napoleonic War??

Rembrandt said:
Does anybody know about the British Army line infantry in the Napoleonic War. Was it like the French and could act as Light Infantry? I also read some accounts of the British Army being slow moving because they were too reliant on their supply system and were not capable of living of the land. I just wanted to confirm if this was true as the site I got it off was probably quite biased.
The short answer to your questions are :

1. Yes. Lots of people know about the British army in the Napoleonic wars...

2. Gosh what a lot of assumtions.

- How much of the French army could truely operate as "Light infantry at any point between 1793 and 1815? Are you considering the ill disciplined leveee en masse of 1793-6 the same as Napoleons Grande Armee of 1805-7 or ther Marie Louse's of 1814?

- Who were the "French Army's skmirmishers? The French had "Light Infantry" Regiments - which seem to be used interchangably with line infantry. They also had one Voltigeur/Terelleur company per battalion, implying that 1/6th of a battalion was skirmishers. Some claim that "any" French soldiers could be allowed to operate as skirmishers. But were they trained to do so? Could the be trusted not to desert?

- What do you mean by "Light infantry"?

+ A rabble without the discipline to operate in formation?
+ Highly trained soldiers with the skills and inner displine to
operate independently?
+ A fancy name and an excuse for officers to wear hussar

3. For what its worth the British Army had four types of light infantry in the Napoleonic wars.

- Light companies of Infantry battalions, trained to operate as Skirmishers. 1/10th of their strenght.
- Light infantry Battalions. Musket armed Regiments such as the 43rd and 51st of foot trained to operate according to Sir John Moore's principles as individuals and not part of a closely drilled mass, but quite capable of operating in close order.
- Rifles sharp etc 60th and 95th foot armed with rifles. Also trained by Moore and capable of operating in close or open order, but with the ronger range of rifles.
- Locally hired tribesmen in India

By the late Napoleonic wars British treoops could deploy 1/6 - 1/4 soldiers as skirmishers.

4. What is the evidence that the British Army was "Slow Moving " during the Napoleonic Wars? Any Army could move fast - if it didn't care how many people droipped out of the march ;)

You have asked complex questions which betray a lack of knowledge. Try reading a few books. I suggest:

1) The Osprey Series on British and French Army
2) Books on armies of the time by: Christopher Duffy, Paddy Griffith, David Chandler,Phillip Hawthornwaite, Colonel Rogers and Gunther Rothenburg
3) Supplying War Martion Van Crefeld. This will inform your views about supply and movement.
Wellington's army moved slower than the French because he made a positive decision NOT to live off the land. It was the way that the French stole all the peasants' food that alienated them, and led to a vicious guerilla campaign which tied down thousands of French troops just to guard their lines of communication.

Jac Weller's books are brilliant, if you're interested in Wellington's armies.
Wellington's manoeuvre plan was based on keeping Massena's LOCs as long as possible, whilst keeping his own relatively short.
During the Napoleonic era, each infantry regiment consisted of ten companies, eight centre and two flank.
The flank companies comprised one of Grenadiers, and one Light, giving each regiment a Light capability.
It was also not unusual for the Light companies to be detached from several different Regiments and formed into purely light units.
Read 'Rifles' by Mark Urban, cracking book, good insight into the formation of the theory of light infantry and the inner workings of light infantry regiments during the Napoleonic conflict era. Well worth a look.

Cheers Easy!
Rembrandt said:
All I know is that apparently all French professional line soldiers were "trained" as light infantry - though not to the same extent as the actual line infantry.
THis is one assumption I was challenging.

What evidence have you seen that makes you think this? What was the "Light infantry training" that "ALL" French infantry did?

Light infantry work requires a high level of skill as soldiers need to be able to think, operate independently and shoot. These were not the norlan requirements of line infantry who were drilled to do as they were told and only required to point their weapons inj the general direction of the enemy ;)

In the C18th armies recruited their "Light troops" from people who naturally had the fieldcraft and marskmenship to carry out the scouting and skirmishing roles. The Austrians recruited Croat bandits. Some German states raised "Jaegers" from hunters. The Brits and French in America and the American Revolutionaries recruited frontiersmen and indians.

Most of the Napoleonic levies were peasant farmers or town boys who would need to be trained. What is the evidence that the French carried out the level of training that Sir John Moore introdiuced for Light Troops?

The British weren't necessarially slower than the French. It was a matter of choice. Every army could make forced marches and live by looting -but at a cost of stragglers and deserters. The French military revolution wasa to have sufficient numbers of troops that they didn't care about losing a proportion of troops. (Extreme exampleis the invasion of Russia. Napoleions half a million men had shrunk by 50% by Borodino. )

In the Peninsular, where the Brits lived within their supply chain -and avoided antagonising the civilian population. When the British Army wanted to to it could carry out some remarkable feats of marching. e.g. The Light Division before Talalvera and Sir Eyre Coote in India. If you really want to look into historic marchs then I can recommend an old book called "The Art of Marching" by Colonel Furze. This analyses the performance of marching from ancient times to 1900.

The French were probably better at living off the land than the Brits Austrians or Prussians because they were more used to it. But they lived within the same physical and logistic constraints.
Skinn_Full said:
Read 'Rifles' by Mark Urban, cracking book, good insight into the formation of the theory of light infantry and the inner workings of light infantry regiments during the Napoleonic conflict era. Well worth a look.

Cheers Easy!
I second that,it's an excellent and informative read...Swift and Bold
The French did do some remarkable marches, the channel to southern Germany springs to mind. You should also think of the logistics of marching an army. A days march was about 13 miles. If your army stretches over six miles by the time the last unit is moving the front is stopping for lunch. Think of the distance a marching man takes up then multiply that by the number of files and you can see that an army takes up a lot of road.

The French re-enforcements into Russia and Poland were trained on the march. March, set up camp, train, sleep, for six days and rest on seventh.
Pteranadon said:
Light infantry work requires a high level of skill as soldiers need to be able to think, operate independently and shoot.
What? At the same time?? Truly they are indeed unusual infantrymen! :wink:
Living off the land is it? It was stealing, pillaging and and 'requistioning'.

Somebody has already said this so I am just nudging it home.

The French did not live off the land at all, what were you thinking of? Mobile farmers?

They took by force from the people who DID live off the land and those same people turned on their French oppressors and drove tham back and defeated them as much as did the British Army.

This was a deliberate French policy, the deliberate British policy was NOT to 'live of the land'. Any British soldier that did 'live off the land' was treated very harshly.
Rembrandt said:
You're right they were just general assumptions and the French Line Infantry was most likely not up to the task of "professional" skirmishing. I do however fail to see why the French would be any better at living off the land than the Germans or British.
As tazzers points out "living off the land " means stealing from the locals. This is a skill that has to be learned.

- Overcoming the inhibitions about mistreating the civilians and leaving the peseants to starve.

- The secrets of where farnmers might hide their food supplies.

- How to extort information, money and food.

Christopher Duffy, in his book "Austerlitz" said that the Austrians tried to make their troops live off the land in 1805, but they simply didn;t know how to do it. They hung around in "Amiable clumps" They werent; any good at extortion.

There is a reason for this. Britian and Germany were devastated by marauding soldiers in the C17th. The number one principle of the C18th armies of the age of reason was keeping the military under control, no threat or repeition of the Civil wars and minimising the opporuinites for desertion.

The French Revolutionaries invented the national ideological view view that the state/ revoilution came first and civilians should make those sacrifices in the name of liberty equality and fraternity. They weren't too bothered about the wastage levels as their army was conscripted from the whole population. French soldiers learned to loot in order to survive. This did bring them a high degree of mobility at the cost of a high wastage level.
Maybe the french were all given training in light infantry tactics but that didnt stop their generals from bunching them all up into unwieldy columns to attack. Granted this had been effective for them up to a point but not when facing the massed fire of British regiments in line (and also later on the Spanish and Portugese once they had been retrained and given British officers)
The French column tactics were a function of the weapons available and the quality of the men they had to use them. Think how hard it is to move a group of men around in line (advance in review order springs to mind), compared to moving a column in which only the ones at the front need to know where they're going. The French had conscription, so why waste time training? The British were volunteers, and had very limited numbers, so they had to spend the time training their troops or they would be defeated very quickly.

Same detail with the clouds of skirmishers that the French used. They weren't all 'professional' light infantry, or Voltiguers. They were there to prevent the opposition's skirmishers from damaging the head of the column. Quantity has a quality all of it's own, as I read somewhere. Put a battalion of half-trained conscripts as skirmishers into a football-field sized area, against a company of Light Infantry, and the 'professionals' are bound to be pushed back, by weight of numbers. Even if only a quarter of the conscripts know what they're doing, that is still 2-3:1 in numbers. Then the column is free to advance.

The opposition, in their thin line, will be overcome mainly by morale effect, rather than by the physical shock of the column contacting the line. That's why only the British, and their close partners who trained as much and as hard, could beat the French columns (I'll gloss over the Russian campaign, as I know next to nothing about that).
There has been a debate on line v column for at least 250 years. The debate abotu the effectiuvness of either in the Napoleonic wars since the last shots at Waterloo. ;)

There are some misconceptions

- The French didn't always use column formation for attack. The British didn't always use a two deep line for defence or attack.

- There is a differnece between manouvring in column and being surprised, by say, a line of infantyrmen just over the crest of a hill and fighting in columnas a matter of choice.

- There is a difference between what the drill books said units should do and how the armies actually fought . (See Paddy Griffith's book Forward into Battle for a discussion on the British linear tactics)

- Some battles were fought on such a huge scale and with such large artillery support that by the time the "columns" advanced there wasn't much opposiiton.

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