Napoleon Series Archive 2005

Re: No. of skirmishers deployed by French commande

Michael,

Many thanks for your thoughtful resposne. I think that Ney and Reynier would have taken the precaution of deploying skirmishers in front of their columns of attack. Although the interesting anecdotes about Ney's communicatiosn with Massena on reaching the position, and his reponse to Massena's question "why have you not yet started your attack" (excuse the paraprase) does demonstrate his tendency for impetuous actions and also ,perhaps, his uncomfortable relationship with the army commander. But it still leaves us with the questions "how many (skirmishers)"? and "how are they deployed"?

I have visited the Bussaco position and its environs twice and have made some notes on my visits from both the French and allied perspectives.

I have walked up along the line of march taken by Maucune’s brigade of Marchand’s division. It is very difficult terrain, in many places one in four and often much steeper. And I have also explored the areas beyond Moura, through Sula, up towards Crauford’s position. The built and natural terrain of the latter route offers much in the way of protection for the allied skirmishers (and also those of the advancing French) the former none whatsoever (to speak of). But would also have affected the formations of the battalion columns.

I’ve always wondered how battalions, let alone divisions, maintained formation in such terrain. Although there is a definite saddle, it is clear from all accounts I’ve read that none of Simon’s and Ferey’s units reached it. Whilst Pack’s position is slightly more “forward” (of the crest) it is equally untenable (from the point of view of any troops in column “formation”, after having made a climb so steep, and wishing to deploy – in front of already deployed troops).

The line of march of Heudelet’s and Merle’s divisions was more circuitous but, for all that, perhaps less severe (than that adopted by Ney’s formation) although there is more in the way of broken ground and scrub (now and, I think, in 1810). It is at last more passable on foot. And the terrain in the positions reached by their respective leading formations did at least permit them to make some attempts to deploy. But again, after such a steep climb and exertions, with the resultant effects on their formation, how could they possibly have hoped to deploy properly and engage with the Anglo-Portuguese units?

I think you’re right in that “some of our thinking about infantry practice at this time might be a touch off-beam” and that “Strict close-order linear formations would have been virtually impossible”

In my view, it is only by visiting sites such as this that you are able to get a handle on the difficulties that the French needed to be overcome to even come into contact with the enemy let alone contest the ground they occupy.

The deployment of skirmishers would have helped (to counter the skirmish line of the allies and, once they had been cleared, would have taken some of the impact of the formed line volley fire). But how could they counter the battery fire? It is clear from all accounts that there are hardly any hits on Ney’s or Reynier’s respective divisional artillery units so they cannot have accompanied, and offered protection to, the infantry assaults.

Best wishes

Anthony

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No. of skirmishers deployed by French commanders
Re: No. of skirmishers deployed by French commande
Re: No. of skirmishers deployed by French commande