Here are some indicators that the French light infantry was superior to the British infantry, line or light, in 1793 and 1799. It also describes accurately the French tactical system as it was evolving and being employed. All but one of the accounts following are primary sources from people who were present...
‘The enemy from the crests of the sand-dunes kept up a constant and destructive fire, while he was himself sheltered by their folds from the guns of the British…The loss of the enemy in killed and wounded was probably small: but the disadvantages under which the invaders fought necessarily exposed the three brigades…engaged to a serious loss of men; and a large proportion of the superior officers of the staff fell under the aim of the…riflemen. Two Lieut.-Colonels and avout fifty men were killed on the spot; and Lieut.-General Sir James Pulteney, five field officers and nearly 400 others were wounded.’-Sir Henry Bunbury, A Narrative of the Campaign in North Holland 1799, remarking on the landing at the Helder.
‘…We soon got intoa smart fire from the enemy’s riflemen, which we found was the only description of troops, except for a few artillery, that we had to contend with…They had greatly the advantage ovcer us in point of shooting, their balls doing much more execution than ours; indeed it cannot be wondered at, for they were riflemen trained to fire with precision…’-William Surtees, Twenty-Five Years in the Rifle Brigade, remarking on the Battle of Bergen on 19 September 1799.
John Watkins, the Duke of York’s private secretary, remarked on the use of terrain by the French infantrymen:
‘…most favorable to the French mode of making war…Our system…and favorite weapon were now of little use. The movement of solid lines, and the imposing aspect of a charge of bayonets, oculd not be injurious to troops scattered over an immense surface, and frequently acting in small detached bodies, which alternatively occupied and abandoned the eminences, and were always protected by the long and mischievous shots of lurking riflemen. The principle of the latter was only to fire, hide, or run, as self-preservation, assisted by skill and enterprise, dictated.’-John Watkins, A Biographical Memoir of York.
‘…Previous to general action the fire of Tirailleurs, and Chasseurs, or Marksmen is of the greatest importance. The French have derived prodigious advantages from these descriptions, by unsteadying columns and lines, when deploying, previous to an action. These troops thrown out, cover and mask movements, while they annoy the enemy beyond all calculation.’-John Macdonald, Instructions for the Conduct of Infantry.
The following description seems as if it’s a preview of Jena thirteen years later…
‘At the Battle of Hondschoote in 1793…one formation of the Duke of York’s army, deployed in the usual three-deep lines, had suddenly come under attack from numerous ‘Tirailleur-haufen’ who, using hedges and ditches for shelter, poured a lethal fire into the exposed, serried ranks of their adversaries. In keeping with the principles outlined abovce, the Hanoverian general in command of the allied corps ordered his troops to advance with the bayonet. This they did, only to see their opponents retire, firing all the time, to a second line of covered positions. Eventually, the decimated allies retreated to their original position, at which the French skirmishers moved forward to harass them once more. This pattern of events was repeated several times until the allied contingent finally retreated altogether. The French tirailleurs sustained very few casualties in the action; the allies’total loss, on the other hand, was some 2650 rank and file, 100 officers, and three cannon.’-David Gates, The British Light Infantry Arm 1790-1815, 52.
The author of the following doesn’t seem to believe the French commanders to be ‘obtuse’. Interestingly, most of the first-person accounts use the term ‘rifle’ or ‘riflemen’ in their description of the French tirailleurs. That may be due to the accuracy of the French infantrymen armed with muskets, and why the British introduced a rifle unit to their army afterwards.
‘The French, since the Revolution, have so successfully introduced such a new military system, that it becomes impossible to oppose them effectually, by any other mode than adopting one founded on similar principles. They send a number of riflemen in front of their line to annoy their adversary, and conceal behind them the different movements of their columns; nothing can be effected against this disposition, but by opposing light troops to light troops.’-Baron Gross, Duties of an Officer in the Field and Principally of Light Troops, London 1801.