there were three types of infantry formation, the column,
line or square. Each
had an important part to play in battlefield tactics and required
lengthy drilling so it could be adopted quickly while in combat.
column was favoured by the French for its manouevrability
and the way it would maintain unit morale for longer periods
French column would advance upon an enemy position and either
overwhelm it with numbers or frighten the defenders into retreating.
lacked firepower - only the front ranks and troops on the
outside could fire and if a column moved against in-line infantry
that could not be cowed - most British troops, for example
- then the column was likely to be the one to break.
add musket power the French developed the ordre mixte where
two columns would flank and be supported by infantry in line.
line formation offered a commander the best firepower at his
Infantry units would form lines - three for French and most
continental armies, two for British - enabling all available
muskets to be fired at the enemy.
The two-rank line favoured by Britain gave a wider front while
the three-rank system reportedly often led to those in the
front being accidently shot by those in the rear.
good against infantry, the line was weak against cavalry and
troops caught in the open by horsemen would usually suffer
square was the battlefield refuge for infantry being attacked
by cavalry and would present a hedge of bayonets to ward off
the mounted killers whose best options then became to employ
lances or cavalry firearms.
On order to form a square, the well-practised infantry would
form an oblong with the front ranks jamming their musket butts
into the ground to begin the process of building an almost
impregnable hedge of steel.
It was rare for cavalry to break a square, but if it happened
- as at Garcia Hernandez -
then the infantry were sure to die.