Infantry formations

Effectively 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.


The column was favoured by the French for its manouevrability and the way it would maintain unit morale for longer periods under fire.

A French column would advance upon an enemy position and either overwhelm it with numbers or frighten the defenders into retreating.

It 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.

To add musket power the French developed the ordre mixte where two columns would flank and be supported by infantry in line.


The line formation offered a commander the best firepower at his disposal.

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.

While good against infantry, the line was weak against cavalry and troops caught in the open by horsemen would usually suffer horrendous casualties.


The 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.






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