Infantry Tactics and Combat
during the Napoleonic Wars.

~ Part 1 ~
"Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes !"
- Prussian King Frederick the Great

1. Muskets.
French line infantrymen in combat. 
Picture by E. Detaille, France. - - - Rate of Fire >
- - - Target Practice and Accuracy Tests >
- - - Musket's Accuracy in Combat >
- - - French Methods of Musket Fire >
- - - Prussian Methods of Musket Fire >
- - - Russian Methods of Musket Fire >
2. "The enormous din and rattle of 500 muskets
- - is completely beyond imagination." - Colonel Elting

- - - 1st, 2nd and 3rd Rank During the Firefight >
- - - Gun Smoke >
- - - Length of Firefight >
- - - Friendly Fire >
- - - Firefight on Pratzen Heights (Austerlitz's Climax) >
3. Bayonets.
- - - Comparison of Wounds Caused by Bayonets and Other Weapons >
- - - Bayonet Attack >
- - - Bayonet Fight >
- - - Masters of Bayonet >
4. Esprit de corps .
- - - Skulkers >
- - - Panic >

There was a common saying
that to kill a man required
expenditure of an amount of lead
equal to his weight.

In 1813-1814 many French troops were so hastily trained that
they couldn’t hit a cow’s backside with a banjo.

Musket With few exceptions, most armies in history have been built around a core of infantry. During the Napoleonic Wars, the infantry was armed with muskets, rifles, bayonets and short sabers. The primary weapon of napoleonic infantryman was smoothbore musket.
The muskets fired a spherical lead ball and could inflict a fearful wounds at close range when the ball flattened slightly on impact, smashing bones, ripping huge holes in muscles, causing massive bleeding and shock. Cartridges, already made up with powder and ball wrapped in greased paper, were carried in a flapped leather pouch with a slotted wooden interior, each slot containing a cartridge.

During the Napoleonic period the drill manual distinguished
several movements for firing a musket. To load it, the soldier:

  • - opened his priming pan (bassinet)
  • - plucked a cartridge from his giberne
  • - bit off the tip of the end containing the powder charge
  • - primed his musket by squeezing some powder into the pan
  • - closed it
  • - emptied the rest of the powder down his musket barrel
  • - rammed the rest of the cartridge down on top of it,
    using his iron ramrod (the cartridge paper served as wadding
    to keep powder and ball in place)
  • - he then cocked his musket and was ready to shoot

    French musket Charleville The most popular musket of Napoleonic Wars was the French 'Charleville' musket model 1777 (AN IX), with overall length 151.5 cm, (barrel length 114 cm), triangular bayonet 45.6 cm and a short saber. Some of the elements of the 1777 Charleville model are the finger ridges on the trigger guard, the brass frizzen, and the cheek piece carved in the stock's butt with a straighten frizzen cover and slightly different front band. The 1777 Charleville was considered by most Europeans as the best musket in the world. These smoothbore muskets were named after the armory in Ardenne, France. It was also distributed to the Americans, and later became the basis for the pattern of the Springfield Musket 1795. They are 60 1/2 inches, with a 45 inch barrel, and have "U.S." stamped on the butt stock.

    Ammunition to the Charleville Musket was kept in the black cartridge box. One white leather belt went over the left shoulder to support the cartridge box on the right hip. Other belt supported the short saber and bayonet. When the saber was taken away from some troops, the bayonet was transferred to the other belt. The natural color of the leather belts was buff, but they were whitened with pipeclay. The infantryman's cross belts were characteristic of the Napoleonic period. (Officers wore no crossbelts).

    During prolonged firing the soldier had often to clear the vent with a pin carried on his pouch belt, and clean the barrel which often fouled after 50 or 60 shots. Cartridges were spoiled by humidity. In wet weather men who failed to keep them dry, or to cap or wrap up their lock plates, were incapable of firing a shot.
    Ammunition was carried in cartridge box. It was called giberne and was carried by all infantry and cavalry. For campaign the cartridge box (or rather the large outside flap) was covered by 'white' fabric covers made of undyed linen. On the cover was painted regimental and battalion number.

    Rate of Musket Fire.
    The rate of fire depended on quality of weapon,
    training, and time taken for aiming.

    Prussian 11th Infantry Regiment.
Picture by Steven Palatka General Jomini wrote "This is important question of the influence of musket fire in battles is not new: it dates from the reign of Frederick the Great, and particularly from the battle of Mollwitz, which he gained - it was said - because his infantrymen, by the use of cylindrical rammers in loading their muskets, were able to fire 3 shots per minute more than their enemies." (Before 1730 all European armies used wooden ramrods, the Prussians were the first to adopt the iron ramrod.)

    The ratio of musket fire was 1-6 shots per minute, depending on quality of weapon, training and time taken for aiming. Marshal Maurice de Saxe wrote: "Light infantry should be able to fire 6 shots a minute, but under the stress of battle 4 should be allowed for." During firing the flint knocks the frizzen up exposing the priming pan and dropping sparks into it. The priming flares, making him flinch. The sparks pass through the touchhole to ignite the main charge.

    Target Practice and Accuracy Tests.
    The conscripts should "fire a few rounds
    so that they would know which eye to use in aiming."
    - Marshal Berthier

    Certainly there was no systematic training exercise in life fire, but rather shooting competitions. Napoleon's Grande Armee had target matches, bands played and prizes being given to the winners. The target shooting competitions for the entire army were not low cost affairs.
    Marshal Berthier (Napoleon's Chief-of-Staff) wrote that the conscripts should "fire a few rounds so that they would know which eye to use in aiming." The target was 5.5' x 21" (French) at ranges of 50, 100, 150 and 200 toises. In Dec 1806 Napoleon wrote to Eugene: "Give them target practice; it is not sufficient that a soldier knows how to shoot, he should shoot straight." In 1809 the Young Guard fired at targets 3 times per week.

    Target pracice was an annual affair where few rounds were fired "so the soldier could learn not to be afraid of the tremendous kick of his musket." (Nafziger - "Imperial Bayonets" p 30)
    "Training remained rudimentary. The new conscript might receive 2 or 3 weeks of basic instruction at the depot, but he would fire on average only 2 musket shots a year in practice." (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" pp 207-208)

    There were lead allowance for yearly exercises in life fire training.
    - British 'Rifles' - 60 rounds and 60 blanks per man
    - Prussian jägers and schützen (riflemen) - 60 rounds per man (in 1811-1812)
    - British light infantry - 50 rounds and 60 blanks
    - British line infantry and Prussian fusiliers (light infantry) - 30 rounds
    - Austrian line infantry - 10 rounds (in 1809)
    - Austrian line infantry - 6 rounds (in 1805)
    - Russian infantry - 6 and less rounds
    Britain was the wealthiest country with relatively small army. Excellent state of coffers enabled the British goverment to finance training of the troops (practice shooting) to a level the larger and poorer European armies were unable to reach. Austria and Russia were big countries, with massive armies, and with not so strong economies. Such were the shortages of ammunition in Russia that some line infantry battalions were trained to fire with clay bullets.

    By today's standards, muskets are not very accurate due to the windage (gap) between the projectile and the barrel. Depending on the type and calibre, it could hit a man's torso at up to 200-300 paces, though it was only reliably accurate to about 50-100 paces.

  • - In 1755 two companies of Prussian grenadiers fired at a target 10 paces broad and 10 feet high. At 300 paces they scored approx. 12.5 % hits and at 150 paces 46 %.
  • - In another test out of 720 French infantry, 52 hit the target of 3m x 100 m. At 200 m there were only 18 hits.
  • - At 160 and 320 yards out of 200 rounds fired at a large target, approximating the size of a formed infantry company, the following number of hits was obtained (Nafziger's "Imperial Bayonets" published by Greenhill Books 1996) :
    160 yards
    320 yards
    Old Prussian 1782 musket
    New Prussian 1809 musket
    British musket
    French musket 1777

    Musket's Accuracy in Combat.
    Napier claimed that in Spain he witnessed volleys
    fired by British infantry where out of 300 musketballs
    fired none hit the target.

    French light infantry
in combat. Picture by
Dmitrii Zgonnik 
of Ukraine One is firing totally differently in battle than on the drill ground. In training the pressure upon the infantryman was to give satisfaction to his officer, whereas the man engaging the enemy was of necessity pretty much on his own, and the pressure on him was to remain alive, if possible. The stress level on battlefield was tremendous.

    Don't believe every story written by the old veterans trying to impress their families and friends. Sergeant Wheeler of the British 51st Regiment of Foot left a very graphic account of a total annihilation of entire squadron of cuirassiers from one musket volley at Waterloo. He writes: "There were nearly a hundred of them, all cuirassiers. ... We saw them coming and were prepared, we opened our fire, the work was done in an instant. By the time we had loaded and the smoke had cleared away, one and only one, solitary individual was seen running over the brow in our front. One other was saved by Cpt. Ross from being put to death by some of the Brunswickers. I went to see what effectour fire had, and never before beheld such a sight in as short a space, as about an hundred men and horses could be huddled together, there they lay."
    Cpt. Ross however mentioned only 8 and not 100 cuirassiers killed. Ross wrote: "There were 12 horses and 8 cuirassiers killed on this occassion..." The remainder were dispersed, taken or simply fled.

    Generally the first salvo fired at close range caused far the greatest damage.
    For example in 1809 at Aspern one battalion of French 67th Line took cover behind the cemetary walls. When the Austrian infantry came closer the French infantry rose up and delivered a point-blank volley that broke the enemy in the instant and caused heavy casualties. The Austrians fled stumbling to the rear. Under favorable conditions some of Wellington's British and German battalions in Peninsula used to deliver one or two volleys and charge with bayonets. (There were also long exchanges of fire between the French and British/German infantry).

    Effectiveness of muskets was low due to several factors:
    - on windless day, the gunsmoke was so dense that the infantrymen could hardly distinguish friend from foe.
    - ball was not tightly fitted to the bore of the musket, it came out the muzzle at no generally predictable angle
    - misfires consisted of up to 20 %. According to Colonel Elting during prolonged firing the soldier had often to clear the vent with a pin carried on his pouch belt, and clean the barrel which fouled after 50 or 60 shots. Cartridges were spoiled by humidity. In wet weather men who failed to keep them dry, or to cap or wrap up their lock plates, were incapable of firing a shot.
    - line infantry was not taught to aim, but simply to point their muskets in the general direction of the target. (In the heat of battle the soldier often forgot that in close range it was necessary to point the musket at the feet of a target because the kick of the musket threw the barrel up, causing the ball to arc up, to pass over the target.)
    - stress. The experience showed that the niceties of regular volleys were impracticable on the battlefield. Quite often the musketry took place outside of the real killing zone. The sight of enemy continuing his advance was enough for some and they began blasting off as soon as they had loaded their muskets. It was contagious. Once individual soldiers fired their muskets (without the order from their officers) the others began firing too. Within moments the entire battalion was covered with smoke. The fast firing relieved anxiety and occupied troopers' minds and bodies. Some soldiers were so stressed that they loaded their rifles time after time but they never fired. (After one of the battle of Gettysburg the discarded 37,574 rifles were collected and sent to Washington to be inspected and reissued. Approx. 24,000 of them were still loaded, and 75 % of them had 2 to 10 rounds in the barrel.
    One rifle had been stuffed to the top with 23 rounds !

  • - According to R. Henegan the British infantry at Vittoria fired on average 459 rounds for 1 French casualty. (Henegan - "Seven Years' Campaigning in the Peninsula and the Netherlands", pp 344-345)
  • - Napier witnessed volleys fired by British infantry (in Spain) where out of 300 musketballs fired none hit the target.
  • - At Vittoria, the British infantry had on average 1 hit in 459 shots fired. I assume that the ratio for French infantry was lower, as they had much less training.
  • - Hughes calculated for Albuera, for several volleys at 100 yards the British achieved 5 % ratio of casualties.
  • - During one of the battles of the Revolutionary Wars, General Duhesme found his battalion firing at Austrian battalion at 100 paces. It was a lengthy firefight and Duhesme expected heavy casualties, he was however very surprised, there were only 3-4 men hit.
  • - In 1813 at Gohrde, 66 French infantrymen fired at 60-80 paces at Germans hiting 27 Hannoverians and Bremen-Verden (40 % hits). In this case the count is only for one volley at close range.
  • - In 1813 at Dennewitz, a single squadron of Prussian Brandenburg Dragoons attacked a French battalion formed in square. The infantry delivered volley at 30 paces killing 23 horses and 7 men, and wounding 18 horses and 21 men. It seems poor accuracy but the horse could take several bullets before falling dead. The number of hits was probably higher than actual casualties. Eighty dragoons were untouched by the musketry. Cavalrymen were smaller targets than horses, and they ducked under fire. It made them even smaller targets.
  • - Mark Adkin calculated the effectiveness of muskets at Waterloo. He wrote that in the prolonged fighting for Hougoumont "it took 224 French musket shots to secure a hit. This is not such a poor performance as it seems. Most defenders (Germans and British) were behind cover of some sort for much of the time, if only a hedge or a tree. The majority were behind brick walls."
  • - General Gassendi of the French army calculated that only 1 shot in 3.000 resulted in casulty.
  • - According to Guibert only 0.2 % of all shots hit the target. All shots means all shots, not only the battalion salvos at close range repeatedly described in many memoirs. Up to 15-25 % % of all shots were misfires, many troops fired at too long distance, some of the lightly wounded went uncounted, part of ammunition nominally fired was thrown away by soldiers etc. etc.
    (In 1876 in the Battle of Rosebud, Crook's troops, 43 officers and 1,000 other ranks armed with modern carbines and rifles, repulsed several charges made by 800 mounted Sioux warriors. The Indians attacked with "an enthusiasm for battle seldom seen." (- Gregory Michno) The battle raged for six hours, the soldiers had expended 25,000 rounds of ammunition, the Indian lost 102 killed and wounded. It gives a rate of 250 rounds/1 casualty.

    French Methods of Musket Fire.
    "The system of fire used by the French ...
    had been established by the Regulation of 1764.
    It was based on the 3-rank peloton (company)."

    French flag 1804, from According to George Nafziger "The system of fire used by the French ... had been established by the Regulation of 1764. It was based on the 3-rank peloton (company). The Regulation of 1791 had established a 2-rank voluntary firing system to supplement it, because fire from the third rank had proven impractical when the troops were wearing backpacks. In this situation the 3rd rank loaded muskets and passed them forward.

    The French infantry was taught to fire:
    - by peloton. "Fire by peloton was regulated by odd divisions. The pelotons fired successively in the order of their numbers: 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, ot 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th. The peloton pairs executed their fire by the half division, alternating their fire. Only the grenadiers (in amalgamated battalions) fired by entire divisions.
    - by division (two pelotons). The fire by division was executed in the following sequence: 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 4th and grenadiers. Demi-rang (half-rank) fire was started from the right.
    - by half-battalion. [NOTE: French battalion had 8 pelotons (companies) + grenadier peloton.
    Two pelotons formed division, and four made half-battalion.]

    - by battalion. Fire by battalion started with the first battalion, and the second battalion fired only as the first reloaded their weapons."
    - They were taught an advancing fire where the battaion would advance alternate peolotons, which would fire when they halted. The nonfiring pelotons would then advance.
    - One of the principal forms of musketry was fire by ranks. During this evolution, the 3rd rank stood 6 and one-half inches to the right and fired through the gaps in the two front ranks. In this system the 3rd rank fired first, then the 2nd rank fired and the 1st rank fired last."
    (Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia" p 19)

    Marshal Ney French Marshal Ney described the different modes of firing in his "Military Studies - Instructions for the Troops composing the Left Corps" in the section "Observations upon different modes of firing" on pages 99-101: "The firing of 2 ranks, or file firing, is, with the exception of a very few movements, absolutely the only kind of firing which offers much greater advantages to infantry ... Most infantry officers must have remarked the almost insurmountable difficulty they find in stopping file-firing during battle, after it has once begun, especially when the enemy is well within shot; and this firing, in spite of the command given by the field officers, resembles general discharges.
    It would be better, therefore, after the two first ranks have fired, to charge boldly with the bayonet, and by an act of vigour force the enemy to retreat. The German soldier, formed by the severest discipline, is cooler than any other. Under such circumstances he would, in the end, obtain the advantage in this kind of firing, if it lasted long... These observatons are of a nature to urge colonels... to prepare and drill their men to attacks by main strength... a French commander ought never to hesitate in marching against the enemy with the bayonet, if the ground is at all adapted to a charge in line with one or more battalions at a time."

    Prussian Methods of Musket Fire.
    The Prussian infantry of 1792
    used several different firing techniques.

    Prussian flag from The Prussian infantry of 1792 used several different firing techniques.
    - "When a battalion was formed by Halb-compagnien (half-companies) in line, fire was executed by the alternate firing of half-companies. The three ranks fired simultaneously. The first rank knelt, while the second and third stood upright. The fire began from the right.
    - A second form of fire used by the Prussians was by half-companies with the third rank taking a half turn to the right. This fire was executed when the battalion made half-turn to the right, but with the line not moving from its original position. The rest of the action was the same as firing by half-companes.
    - The third form of Prussian fire was the advancing fire. Here the half-companies marched towards the enemy. The right half-company stopped and fired first. Upon the signal of their officer, and without reloading, the right hand half-company shouldered arms and advanced. The next half-company would stop and fire when the first half-company caught up with the slowly retreating line, and so on down the line of the battalion."
    - The fourth method of fire was retreating fire. When advancing directly away from the enemy the first half-company (formerly on the left, now the right) would stop, turn about, and fire. When the fire was executed, the soldiers would shoulder their arms, about face and resume the retreat, catching up with the battalion. Each successive half-company would act in the same manner as the preceding half-company caught up with the retiring battalion. Again, there is no indication of stopping to reload.
    - There were also three types of an unusual firing method known as 'hedge' (sniper) fire. The first of these was a withdrawing fire where pairs of files would turn about and fire on pursuing hussars or skirmishers. This was intended as just enough fire to keep the harassing forces away.
    The second type of hedge fire was used when facing small groups of enemy infantry which were not sufficient to justify a battalion volley, but were sufficiently annoying to merit some response. In this latter instance pairs of files would advance 8 paces in front of the battalion, form in two ranks, fire, reform in three ranks, and return to the battalion." (Nafziger - "Imperial Bayonets" Greenhill Books 1996)

    Russian Methods of Musket Fire.
    "Each company had to have a list
    of the best marksmen." - Zhmodikov

    Russian flag from Zhmodikov described methods of fire used by the Russian infantry: "One had to try to train soldiers to load and fire their muskets at least 3 times per minute." The recruits were trained to fire directly forward and obliquely to the left and right by files. The first and second rank fired their first shots, file-by-file and then loaded and fired as quickly as possible. Each man in the second rank, having fired his musket, passed it to the man in the 3rd rank standing behind it, took his musket, fired, loaded it, fired again and then returned it to the man in the 3rd rank and took his own musket from him, and so on. Men in the 3rd rank did not fire at all. They only loaded muskets and passed them on to the second rank. This method was borrowed from the French and often caused confusion. The infantry was trained to fire volleys by:
    - by company,
    - by ranks,
    - by platoons
    - by files. The firing by files started from the right flank of the platoon or half-platoon.
    Soldiers were taught to cease fire with a drum signal. Soldiers were also trained to fire to the rear. ..." (Zhmodikov - "Tactics of the Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars." Vol II, p 9)

  • ~

    "500 men packed into front of 200 paces
    were able to throw 1.000 rounds per minute
    it shows rate like a modern machine gun
    and only fool can stand up.
    The enormous din and rattle of 500 muskets
    is completely beyond imagination."
    - John Elting, "Swords Around a Throne".

    "The enormous din and rattle of 500 muskets
    is completely beyond imagination." - Colonel Elting

    Concentrated firepower was essential
    because of the poor accuracy of the
    smoothbore muskets used during Napoleonic Wars.

    Polish line infantry open fire.  
Picture by Giuseppe Rava Picture: Polish infantry in firefight. By Giseppe Rava, Italy. >

    To modern man, long accustomed to repeating and automatic firearms, one, two, or even three rounds per minute is nothing to write home about. However, once one comes to grips with the idea of 600 men, packed into front of about 200 paces, able to fire anywhere from 1000 to 3000 rounds per minute, then the image alters drastically, even in the eyes of a modern soldier.
    Von Angeli described the fight for Baumersdorf in 1809 between the Austrians and the French 57th Line Regiment: "One exchanged musketry at very close range. The enormous din, as wave upon wave of musketry constantly erupted completely beyond the imagination. Evrything, even the thunder of the numerous cannon, seemed insignificant amid the raging storm of the so-called smallarms."

    The intricacies of the tactics demanded a high level of skill on the part of the soldiers. Drill developed by Maurice [of Nassau] and further extended by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden enabled maneuver and rate of fire unknown before. "This promise of tactical effectivenes lured French officers to the Netherlands and northern Germany, where they learned the great streess that the Dutch and Swedes placed on drill. ... Under the direction of Maurice of Nassau, Dutch infantry learned to maneuver precisely under fire. Although the square Spanish formations of 16th century could present a strong face to all four directions, they had done so at the cost of wasting manpower, for relatively few weapons could be brought to bear to the front.
    Formations were thus solid but innefficient. Linear tactics, such as those employed by the Dutch, made the most of manpower by facing all weapons to the front in relatively thin formatios. ... Linear formations claimed greater efficiency, then, but were more vulnerable if taken off guard." (Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle" pp 515-516)

    Concentrated firepower was essential because of the poor accuracy of the smoothbore muskets used during Napoleonic Wars. During firing in three ranks, "elbow-to-elbow", the infantrymen were struggling for space to load, aim and fire their muskets.
    Firing sometimes set tall dry grass or cornfield alight with burning paper from cartridges. In the flames many wounded perished.

    Such firefight sucked in other battalions.
    It all happened with or without the conset of their officers. For this reason it was important to have troops in reserve, far enough (but not too far) from the combat zone. The stress level during the firefight was incredibly high. (The stress during real combat is tremendous, for example during WW2 approx. 500.000 men were discharged from USA Army for psychiatric reasons. This is said that 101 psychiatric casualties per 1.000 men per year were recorded in the First Army (USA) in Europe. Source: Kellet - "Combat motivation" p 272)

    1st, 2nd and 3rd Rank During the Firefight.
    Most experts considered kneeling 1st rank good only
    for the infantry formed in square against cavalry.

    Napoleonic infantry was formed on 3 ranks. A 600-men strong battalion had 200 men in the first, 200 in second and 200 men in the third rank. The first two ranks loaded and fired, while - theoretically - the 3rd rank had to load their muskets and then give them to those in 2nd rank.

    In reality it was very difficult to keep them doing this under fire. They would become excited once the battle commenced and would blaze away through the first two ranks. Passing the barrels of their muskets over the shoulders of 2nd rank, the muzzles were very near the ears and heads of the first rank. The loud discharge, heat and powder so close to ears, head and eyes were quite disturbing for the first rank. Sometimes fingers and elbows were shot away, and if the bursting percussion caps were too close to the ears of 2nd and 1st rankers their eardrums could be damaged.

    Gouvion St. Cyr claimed that 1 in 4 casualties were inflicted by own 3rd rank. For these reasons they not suppose to fire.
    The Russian recruits were trained to fire by two ranks. The first and second rank fired their first shots, file-by-file and then loaded and fired as quickly as possible. Each man in the 2nd rank, having fired his musket, passed it to the man in the 3rd rank standing behind it, took his musket, fired, loaded it, fired again and then returned it to the man in the 3rd rank and took his own musket from him, and so on. Men in the 3rd rank did not fire at all. They only loaded muskets and passed them on to the second rank. This method was borrowed from the French and often caused confusion.

    Theoretically the men of 1st rank would be kneeling and firing - it gave more space for those standing in the 2nd rank. Some veterans (for example Tanski) declared that they never saw among the French troops kneeling and firing soldiers as was prescribed by instructions. If they were kneeling and firing it was difficult to get them stand up and advance. Kneeling soldier presented a much smaller target for the enemy and he wanted to keep this advantage as long as he could.
    Kneeling by the 1st rank when firing was abolished in the Austrian infantry already before the 1809 campaign.
    By this time kneeling in the Russian infantry as considered as idiocy.

    Most experts considered kneeling 1st rank good only for the infantry formed in square against cavalry.

    Gun Smoke.
    The smoke was sometimes so dense that the infantrymen
    could hardly distinguish friend from foe.
    In such situation there was little chance of sensing
    the other side casualties.

    "Burning black powder gave off dense grey-white smoke with a distinct bad-egg stink, and on a damp or still day the smoke hung about ..." (- Professor Richard Holmes)
    A high rate of fire produced massive clouds of smoke unless there was a strong breeze. The smoke was sometimes so dense that the infantrymen could hardly distinguish friend from foe. In such situation there was little chance of sensing the other side casualties.

    The smoke obscured all vision and aiming, that is picking out an individual target was virtually impossible. Until wind cleared the battlefield the soldiers knew little about their position in line or the situation.
    In 1805 at Austerlitz, two battalions of Austrian Grenzers opened fire on the French in Tellnitz: "Now a very murderous musketry fire began and the smoke was so close because of the fog that one could not see a single step. The battalions were completely wrapped in smoke, which made the operation more difficult." (Vanicek - "Specialgeschichte der Militargrenze ..." IV, p 112)

    Length of Firefight.
    The resolute Austrian Grenzers delivered a single volley
    and immediately attacked with cold steel.

    The length of the firefight varied, see examples below (from the shortest to the longest ones).

  • On 12th October 1813 at Smarje one battalion of Italian Guard appeared on Austrian flank and Oberst Milutinovich detached 1 1/2 company of Grenzers to face them. The resolute Austrian Grenzers delivered a single volley and immediately attacked with cold steel. Although Milutinovich was wounded his Grenzers drove the guardsmen away.
  • In 1813 at Kulm 4.000 French infantry stood near Schandau to receive Russian grenadiers. The French fired volley after volley exhausting their ammunition, then some fled while others surrendered.
  • "Though hotly engaged at the time, I determined to watch their movements. The 88th Foot [Irish] next deployed into line, advancing all the time towards their opponents, who seemed to wait very coolly for them. When they had approached to within 300 or 400 yards, the French poured in a volley or I should say a running fire from right to left. As soon as the British regiment had recovered the first shock, and closed their files on the gap it had made, they commenced advancing at double time until within 50 yards nearer to the enemy, when they halted and in turn gave a running fire from their whole line, and without a moment's pause cheered and charged up the hill against them. The French meanwhile were attempting to reload. But being hard pressed by the British, who allowed them no time to give a second volley, came immediately to the right about, making the best of their way to the village." (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 125)
  • According to Friederich, Herbstfeldzuges Vol. I, in August 1813 at Hagelberg, two Prussian battalions (of 3rd Landwehr and of 1st Reserve Regiment) advanced against the French. Behind them marched other battalions. The Prussians passed through the skirmish chain and deployed into line. The French line opened rapid fire. After 3 minutes of musketry the Landwehr battalion had enough and hastily withdrew, "carrying the other battalions back with them." The French advanced forward.
  • At Marengo one battalion of French 43rd and one of 96th Line engaged Austrian grenadiers at point blank. The firefight lasted 15 minutes, and according to General Rivaud half of the French was either killed or wounded. The Austrian grenadiers also suffered badly.
  • In 1806 during the famous battle of Auerstadt took place a lengthy firefight. The French and Prussians fired for 3 hours (!) before the Prussians noticed a reduction in the enemy's fire and advanced forward. The Prussians were down to 50 % of their strength but were able to break the wavering French.

    Friendly Fire.
    In 1809 at Wagram the white-clad Saxon infantry
    was fired upon by their French allies.

    The soldier's senses were overloaded by what was going on around him, he was anxious as all men are, no matter how poor or excellent troops they are. (I am talking about real combat and real soldiers and not about armchair generals' wargaming.) Stress does funny things to humans, stomachs knot and arses twitch. :-)

  • - Shortly before the Napoleonic Wars, in 1758 at Ticonderoga, Capitaine Trepezec led a group of 350 French light infantry and scouts. Near the Bernetz Brook they attacked British light troops and the famous Rogers' rangers. The French were fighting "from tree to tree" and created profoundly disruptive commotion not only among the enemy's light troops but also within the main body. In this chaos two columns of British infantry mistook each other for the enemy and fired on each other as fast as they could. Only night stopped the "fight". An officer of 60th Regiment of Foot wrote : "an extraordinary instance of 11.000 men being driven in and thrown into utter confusion by 350."
  • - In 1809 at Talavera, British II/87th and I/88th Regiment of Foot became so disordered and frightened after French attack that they fired at each other. Both regiments then took cover behind the 45th and 60th Regiment of Foot, reformed and the British division retreated, covered by cavalry. The British lost 440 men (incl. 100 who surrendered) while the French lost less than 100.
  • - In 1809 at Wagram, the white-clad Saxon infantry was fired upon by their French allies because the French confused the white uniforms of the Saxons with the white outfits of their Austrian adversaries.
  • - In 1811 at Fuentes de Onoro, the French infantry took their allies, the Hannoverian Legion, for an English battalion and opened fire on them. The Hannoverians with over 100 dead hastily retreated past the village.
  • - In 1815 at Waterloo, the Nassauers were fired upon by their Prussian allies because they were still wearing the French style uniforms. The shooting went on for at least 10 minutes (!) before the officers on both sides realized their mistake.
  • - Friendly fire happened not only to troops in close formation, also the skirmishers suffered. In August 1812 at Polotzk, two companies of the Russian 26th Jager Regiment were sent in skirmish order to drive the French out of the wood. The skirmishers were met with musket fire, charged with bayonets without firing and went through the wood. They halted on the edge of the wood and only then began firing on the French skirmishers standing in the open. The commander of 26th Jager Regiment sent two more companies to push the enemy even further. Unfortunately the newcomers were so confused in the wood covered with smoke that they opened fire on their own troops. The brave skirmishers suffered from enemy fire and from friendly fire for a half an hour.
  • - In 1815 at Quatre Bras, the Hihlanders mistook the Netherlands cavalry for French and fired. Williams writes: "There then occuredd one of those tragic incidents of war in which men die in error at the hands of friends. Seeing the Netherlands in blue (hussars) and green (light dragoons) galloping wildly toward the crossroads and hearing them shouting in French, the Scots of the 92nd and 42nd Highland along the Namur road mistook them for French and were ordered to open fire on them. Many horses in particular were brought down, as they presented the largest targets ... van Merlen was left to reflect with sadness on the losses his unit had suffered and with bitterness that more had been caused by their 'Scotch' allies than by the French."
  • - At Albuera, the British infantry fired in the backs of their allies, the Spaniards under General Zayas, before they realized their mistake. For a while the Spaniards were under fire from two sides: from the rear by the British and from the front by the French.
  • - At Waterloo, the counter-attacking British infantry (Picton's division) fired on their allies, the Belgians under the command of General Bylandt, whose uniforms resembled the enemy's. Shortly thereafter, having realized their error, they mistook French troops for Belgians and let them get away.
  • - in the very last stage of the battle of Waterloo, the British 52nd Light Infantry mistook 23rd Light Dragoons for enemy and fired. It resulted in great disorder and hesitation among the troops.

    Austerlitz's Climax - Firefight on Pratzen Heights.
    Approx. 3,000 Frenchmen stood in line
    and fired at 3.000 Russians.

    Kutuzov, left, and two monarchs.
Tzar Alexander and Kaiser Francis
in the Battle of Austerlitz, 1805. 
Movie War and Peace. The Battle of Austerlitz took place on the Dec 2nd 1805, exactly one year after Napoleon's crowning as Emperor of the French. Napoleon had been seeking a battle for a few days, which the Russians and Austrians were trying to avoid, since Kutuzov was awaiting the arrival of strong reinforcements. Pressed by the Tsar of Russia and the Austrian chief of staff the allied army decided to attack Napoleon. Their attack failed and Napoleon took the initiative in his own hands. Napoleon had strong centre, under Generals Vandamme and St. Hilaire climb the Pratzen Heights, the key position on the battlefield and smash the Allies. (see map below)

    Austerlitz's Climax Kutuzov and part of Russian staff rode forward with Jurczik's Austrian brigade. As they drew closer against the French center and began to deploy, the French placed 6 heavy guns behind the 36th Line Regiment (3 pieces on either end of the regiment) and waited. Both sides deployed in almost a mirror image of each other. On north flank Vandamme sent one battalion of 10th Light but the attackers wavered and the Austrian grenadiers counterattacked. The French were driven off to the northwest. Grenadiers' victory was short-lived as Boye's dragoons (part of 3rd Dragoon Division) charged and surrounded them. The grenadiers were captured "almost to a man". The Austrian VI/23rd Infantry instead of coming to the grenadiers' rescue they threw their muskets and fled in panic. (Goetz - "1805: Auserlitz" p 184)

    On the southern flank appeared Kamenski's brigade, the Russians were unaware of the situation further north. The French II/10th Light (750 muskets) exchanged volleys with two Russian battalions (total of 1,000 muskets). Both sides held ground however the Russians suffered heavier casualties than the French. More battalions drew into line adjacent to the ones already in firefight. Now came the dreadful battle picture. Generals were galloping hither and thither - the infantrymen were all in their places, and you might have heard the rattle of several thousand ramrods as they drove home and "thugged" upon the little globes and cones of lead. Now began to appear the countless flashes, and the long fiery sheets of the muskets, and the rattle of the volleys, mingled with the thunder of the guns. Approx. 3,000 Frenchmen stood in line and fired at 3.000 Russians. After 20 minutes of this firefight and after the Austrian brigade under Jurczik fell back the Russians began wavering.

    Russian General Langeron writes: "Soon, the French lines initiated a very sharp and very murderous fire of musket and canister upon the brigade of Kamensky which in a moment had many men rendered hors de combat. (Kamensky's brigade) answered with a less sharp and badly directed fire, the majority of our soldiers fired in the air ... in justice I ought to say that despite the superior number of the enemy, despite their little experience of war and the effect on them of an unforseen attack on their rear, despite the noise of gunfire, which many of them were hearing for the first time, they maintained themselves admirably for nearly 2 hours and in these two hours more than half of the two regiments were left dead." (Langeron - "Journal inedit de la Campagne de 105; Austerlitz" p 75)

    General Langeron General Langeron (see picture) arrived, placed himself at the head of Russian grenadiers and led them in bayonet charge. This attack was successful and one grenadier battalion captured 2 guns and almost reached Pratzen. St.Hilaire led counter-attack, he drove the grenadiers back, recaptured the guns and took the Russian positions. Langeron sent officer to Kutuzov asking for reinforcements.
    In the center Austrian Jurczik's brigade advanced against Pratzen. Thiebault ordered his infantry to hold their fire until the Austrians had closed to 30-40 meters.
    When the whitecoats drew closer the French infantry unmasked several cannons and opened a murderous fire. The Austrians were surprised and halted, unable to move forward one step. The French opened musket fire and charged with bayonets. Jurczik's first line (3 btns.) fell back, while his second line (2 btns.) counterattacked but without success. Jurczik was mortally wounded.

    General Vandamme GdD Vandamme (see picture) attacked Kollowrath and Miloradovich on the Pratzen Heights. According to Robert Goetz "for at least an hour, intense fighting raged across the entire length of the Pratzen Heights" Vandamme's divisional battery took active part in it firing canister at the whitecoats.

    The Austrians wavered and when few squadrons of French dragoons charged from the flank, they broke and fled. The dargoons captured hundreds of prisoners and sabered Austrian and Russian gunners. Once Kollowrath's northern flank was falling back, his center began crumbling. Around 11 AM Kollowrath ordered all his forces to withdraw.
    Vandamme's infantry rushed forward with a cheer. Once Vandamme's men crossed over the crest Napoleon lost sight of them. They were now advancing against the second line under the command of Miloradovich. They opened a heavy musket fire killing and wounding many Russians and some Austrians. Both sides held their ground and paused - for a while - to put order in their weary battalions. Vandamme renewed his attack after 11:15 AM and broke the Russians. They fled toward Zbishow.

    Only Kamenski's brigade still kept fighting. The French brought up fresh 43rd Line and attacked Kamenski's one flank while Boye's dragoons charged against the other flank. Kamenski received support from couple of squadrons of Russian dragoons but it was too little too late. Almost surrounded and with 1,230 killed and wounded (!) Kamenski's brigade began withdrawal. The brave Fanagoria Grenadiers broke through encicrlement and moved toward Littawa.

    According to Robert Goetz the fighting on the Pratzen Heights had marked the climax of the Battle of Austerlitz. Sergei Mihailovich Kamenski-I demonstrated "excellent initiative, which was rare among allied commanders during the day of battle." (In June 1806 Kamenski-I was promoted to the rank of general-lieutenant). The good performance of the French made the Austrians' brave attempts futile.

  • ~

    "The bullet is stupid, bayonet is our comrade !"
    - Russian General Suvorov, 1796

    "Lads, shoot at everything French,
    and keep up the scare with bayonets!"
    - NCO of Russian grenadiers,
    Battle of Maloyaroslavetz, 1812

    "Lads ! Shoot and get at them !
    Haven't you got bayonets ?
    Go out and skewer the swine !"
    - Prussian Duke of Bevern
    to his infantry fighting
    against the Austrians & Croats
    in 1756

    Swedish infantry On picture: European infantry before the era of bayonet. The infantrymen were armed with long pikes and firearms. In the 1600s the Swedish infantry was considered as the best in the World. They were tall and strong men, disciplined, well-trained, and led by great generals. This picture comes from the movie "Potop" (The Deluge) 1974-5, directed by J. Hoffman. Time: 315 min. (short version 155 min.) This movie had an academy award nomination but didn't win.

    A bayonet (from French "baïonnette") is a knife - or dagger- shaped weapon designed to fit on or over the muzzle of a rifle or similar weapon. It is a close combat weapon. It was introduced to the French army at the town of Bayonne in France in 1647.

    The first bayonets were simple spear-like daggers with conical handles that were slipped directly into the musket barrel. An obvious disadvantage to these plug bayonets was that the musket could not be used as a firearm while the bayonet was in place. A solution was found with the development of the socket bayonet. This had a hollow socket that slipped over the outside of the musket barrel and had the blade off-set to the side. The weapon could now be loaded and fired with the bayonet attached.

    The invention of a bayonet transformed the weapon into a pike without detriment to its use as a firearm. Thereupon the pikemen disappeared and the infantry became uniform in character, all armed with the flintlock and the bayonet. A trial with badly-fitting socket or zigzag bayonets was made after the battle of Fleurus, 1690, in the presence of King Louis XIV. Shortly after the peace of Ryswick (1697), the English and Germans abolished the pike and introduced these bayonets. Loading was made easier by the invention of an iron ramrod, which was first adopted by the Prussian army in 1719.
    Napoleonic French Charleville bayonet 18th and 19th century military tactics included various massed bayonet charges and defences. Soldiers were instructed to direct the bayonet at the vulnerable points of the enemy's body: the throat, breast and abdoman. There were parries, thrusts, points and butt-strokes. In 1806 at Morungen the Russian Yekaterinoslav Grenadier Regiment used musket butts against French voltigeurs. The grenadiers said: "These shorties are not worthy of our bayonets" and drove them away just with musket butts, guffawing with laughter.

    Russian bayonets, musket, and rifle
of the Napoleonic Wars.
Picture by Oleg Parkhaiev, Russia. The bayonet has developed almost mystic prominence over the centuries. The charge of troops intent on carrying a defended post by bayonet was considered a heroic, undeniable act of courage which, once begun, must prevail.

    With the increase of fire power however the use of bayonet dramatically decreased. For example during During General Grant's bloody campaign against Confederate General Lee in 1864, Union medical directors recorded only 37 bayonet wounds. Of the several hundred thousand wounded men treated in Union hospitals over the course of the war, surgeons noted only 922 bayonet wounds.

    During 20th century the German army developed more types of bayonet than all other armies combined. There was undeniably psychological value to the infantry in carrying a bayonet, even if in practice it was seldom used. Bayonets continued to be commonly issued in the Second World War.

    Comparison of Wounds
    Caused by Bayonets and Other Weapons.

    The wounds from bayonets were most often inflicted
    during pursuit or during attack on the flank of the enemy.

    "As it turnes out, firearms and not bayonets caused the greatest amount of wounds on the battlefield. At Malplaquet, for example, the best evidence indicates that 2/3 of the wounds received by French troops came from the enemy's fusils, with only about 2 % were inflicted by bayonets. Of the men wounded by gunfire, 60 % had been struck in the left sde, the side facing the enemy as a soldier stood in line to fire himself.

    Looking at a larger sample of veterans admitted to the Invalides in 1715, Corvisier arrived at the following breakdown of wounds:
    French vs Russians in 1812 at Smolensk.
Picture by F. Neumann - 71.4 % from firearms
    - 15.8 % from swords
    - 10.0 % from artillery
    - 2.8 % from the bayonet
    Perhaps the figures for bayonet wounds are so small because bayonets may either have killed more effectively, and thus allowed less soldiers to survive to be admitted, or produced wounds that were more survivable without permanent maiming. It is also possible that bayonet charges proved their worth by driving defenders from their positions before the troops actually colided." (Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle" p 489)
    According to another sample taken (in 1762) in Invalides;
    - 69 % of the wounded were wounded by musket balls
    - 14 % by sabers
    - 13 % by artillery
    - 2 % by bayonets

    In 1807 during the war between France and Russia and Prussia, chirurg Dominique Jean Larrey studied wounded on one battlefield and found most were caused by artillery and muskets. Only 2 % of all wounds were caused by bayonets.

    The damage inflicted during "bayonet assault" was most often executed by bullets. Larrey studied one particularly vicious close combat between the Russians and the French and found:
    - 119 wounds from musketballs
    - 5 wounds from bayonets

    The wounds from bayonets were most often inflicted during pursuit or during attack on flank of enemy and not in frontal clash. Most men could more easily kill an enemy who was running away. Perhaps the sudden release of stress, when the enemy turned his back, so that he could be struck without risk, turned his emotion into elation and rage. But during pursuit the victorious troops became disorganized and vulnerable to counterattack.

    Bayonet Attack.
    The French regulations from 1805 stated that
    bayonet attack is to be used against enemy
    that is disorganized by fire,
    physically and emotionally worn down.

    Russian infantry in 1812. "The earliest French bayonet attack occured no later than 1677 at the siege of Valenciennes, where, after an enemy cavalry charge 'the musketeers, having put their bayonets in their fusils, marched at them and with grenades and bayonets, chased them back in the town.' In another use of the plug bayonet, dragoons beat back enemy forces at a river near the same town in 1684. ...
    As they have so often in their history, the French pictured themselves as particularly apt in the assault with cold steel. A belief in a special French talent in combat a l'arme blanche probably goes back as far as Merovingian times. The cult of the bayonet peaked late in the 18th century and again, with tragic consequences, just prior to World War I. Much of the language later assumed by advocates of the bayonet was already current in the 17th century. Writing in 1652, Laon expressed the belief that 'French infantry is more suited to the attack than to the defense.'
    French fusilier. The French never seemed to tire of contrasting their own energy in the assault versus their enemies' stolid nature, particularly when Germans were involved. 'The [German] infantry is constant enough when syanding fast, but it is not lively in the attack and cannot carry off a coup de main. Chamlay agreed in the superiority of the French infantry on the offensive, starting in 1690 ... The same confidence typified opinion in the War of the Spanish Succession ... No less a figure than Marshal Villars praised 'the air of audacity so natural for the French infantry ... is to charge with the bayonet ..." (Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle" pp 487-488)

    Attack with cold steel was popular not only in France. In 1777 British General Burgoyne wrote: "The officers will take all proper opportunities to inculcate in the mens’ minds a reliance on the bayonet; men of their bodily strength and even a coward may be their match in firing. But the bayonet in the hands of the valiant is irresistible."

    During bayonet attack the troops advanced either in silence or with noise. The sense of hearing has one of the most disturbing effect on men of all senses. The noise made by the attackers would most often intimidate and confuse the enemy. (In the ancient times the troops beat on the drums all at once and the sound produced was most eerie and terrifying. Or they roared while holding their shields in front of their mouths so the sound is much louder.
    Roman legionaries banged their swords on shields, or remained silent until the enemy came close and then raised an extremally loud battle-cry and threw their javelins at once.
    In 20th Century the USA troops in Korea commented on how scary was the Chinese tactic of using drums and bugles at night attack. It is far easier to cope with stress when doing something (firing, shouting, fast riding etc.) than standing and watching the enemy advance and passively enduring it. For example at Boudicca, when the Roman legionares slowly advanced in silence the Britons made a noisy and fast advance. The silence of the Romans was so intimidating that the Britons' confidence collapsed and they fled before any serious contact was made. The Spartans also enjoyed a reputation for a slow and silent advance with cold steel.)

    The French regulations from 1805 stated that bayonet attack is to be used "as a coup de grace against enemy that is disorganized by fire", physically and emotionally worn down. This was achieved by:
    - artillery fire
    - difficult terrain, obstacles
    - surprise

    Austrian infantry There were some differences in regulations between the French, Prussian, British and Russians, but basically it was about weakening the enemy, physically and emotionally, before contact was made. For example the British in Peninsula were usually deployed on reverse slope, safe from artillery and musket fire, while the advancing French troops were exposed to the full effect of cannonade and were exhausted by marching uphill, through a broken terrain. The enemy was invisible. In such situation the French failed more often than not, so did the British in similar situations.
    For example in 1812 at Salamanca, Pack's Brigade failed with the attack on the hill of Greater Arapile. "Pack's brigade had a significant ... numerical advantage (2.600 men compared to 1.800 infantry plus gunners). ... Climbing a steep slope slows the advance, depriving it of momentum and making the men breathless and disordered. ... Clearly the task was beyond Pack's brigade, and the decision to launch the attack, whether made by Wellington or by Pack, proved a mistake." According to Ltn. Ingilby of British Artillery ("Diary of Lt. Ingilby R.A. in the Peninsular War and Waterloo campaign") Wellington's infantry at Arapile "... advanced to within musket shot of the crest of the hill, but were suddenly driven back and overwhelmed by the fire of the French, who had screened their force on the slope of the opposite side of the hill."

    Sometimes the French attack uphill, against all odds, was a success. Colonel Waller, (British 2nd Division) witnessed a French attack against Picton's "Fighting Division" in 1810 at Bussaco: "At this moment were seen the heads of the several columns, three I think, in number and deploying into line with the most beautiful precision, celerity and gallantry. As they formed on the plateau, they were cannonaded from our position and the regiment of Portuguese... threw in some volleys of musketry into the enemy's columns in a flank direction, but the (Portugese) regiment was quickly driven into the position ... the (French) columns advanced in despite of a tremendous fire of grape and musketry from our troops in position in the rocks, and overcoming all opposition although repeatedly charged by Lightburne's Brigade, or rather the whole of Picton's Division, they advanced and fairly drove the British right wing from the rocky part of this position.")
    The British however broke many French attacks in the mountainous Spain and Portugal. Big role in success played their tactics. (

    During the Napoleonic Wars there were very many bayonet attacks.
    It was especially effective against enemy being in the process of deploying. In 1815 in the Battle of Ligny, a battalion of Prussian infantry delivered a volley at French battalion. The French attempted to deploy and to return the fire. The Prussians fired another volley and attacked with bayonets throwing the French back.
    Below are several examples of bayonet attacks:

  • - In 1815 at Ligny, one battalion of Prussian 19th Infantry moved through the village and deployed from column into line. They sent forward skirmishers but these were quickly driven off by French skirmishers. A single French column advanced against the Prussian line. Mjr. von Bünau's battalion opened fire while the French column attempeted to deploy into line to return the fire. The Prussians delivered a second volley and charged with bayonets. The French fled. In another part of the village the Prussians charged a French column and both sides got to within 50 paces from each other. Suddenly the Prussian commander lost his horse and fell on the ground. The Prussians fled.
  • - In 1813 at Kulm, one French battalion and one of Russian Lifeguard Izmailovsk advanced against each other. Both units were formed in columns and were covered with skirmishers. Although the French skirmishers pushed back the Russian skirmishers it made no impression on the Russian column. The guardsmen "marched with the bayonet, a loud urrah ! preceded this, their commander rode ahead; the French turned and fled." The Russians caught up with a large number of the French near a brook among brush "where the French, having crowded, fell on one another." Officer Shimanski wrote: "Here I saw, for the first time how they were punished by bayonets." (Memoirs of L.A.Shimanski)
  • - In 1812 at Borodino, when the French pushed Russian Lifeguard Jäger Regiment out of the village and behind Kolocha River, the 1st Jäger Regiment went into action. Its front battalion was formed in line, while 15 paces behind was another battalion formed in attack column. The line having run up at the narrow oblong mound fired volley at the French. The French bevildered by the fire were in confusion. The second battalion (in column) half-wheeled to the right and rushed from behind the first battalion. After a volley by the head of column they charged with bayonets. The French fled across the river but many were exterminated.
  • - In 1814 at La Rothiere, a column of Russian infantry suddenly met a column of French Young Guard. At 30 paces both sides stopped thunderstruck and immediately delivered volley. The troopers in front ranks began hurling stones and insults at the enemy while the rear ranks pressed forward. Bruised and bleeding, screaming and moaning soldiers on both sides were determined to win but they didn't cross their bayonets. They stayed rooted to their places until two columns of Young Guard appeared on the nearby streets. The Russians fled in disorder.
  • - John Burgoyne wrote in "Life and correspondence of Burgoyne" : "The French regiment came up the hill with a brisk and regular step, and their drums beating pas de charge: our men fired wildly and at random among them; the French never returned a shot, but continued their steady advance. The English fired again but still without return ... and when the French were close upon them, they wavered and gave way.
  • - An English officer described a clash between elite British Fusiliers and the French: "The French regiment formed close column with the grenadiers in front and closed the battalions ... They then advanced up the hill in the most beautiful order without firing a shot ... when about 30 paces distant our men (British) began to waver, being still firing ... The ensigns advanced 2 paces in front and planted the colors on the edge of the hill and officers steped out to encourage the men to meet them. They (British) stopped with an apparent determination to stand firm, the enemy (French) continued to advance at a steady pace and when quite close the Fusiliers gave way: - the French followed down the hill on our side."
  • - In July 1812 at Salamanca, Cole's British division [III/27th Foot, I/40th Foot, I/48th Foot, I/7th Royal Fusiliers, I/23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Brunswick Oels, coy of V/60th, and Portugese brigade] was routed by Clausel's French 2nd Division. The French 25th Light and 27th Line attacked while the British line hesitated and stood firm for a moment. Then the British broke and fled. An unknown British officer gave strength of the French two regiments at absurd number 12.000 men.
  • - According to Captain Bonnet, in 1812 at Borodino his battalion was deployed into line and waited for the enemy. The Russians came in a deep column covered with skirmishers. The French marched forward without firing a single shot. Such resolve communicated quickly and impressed the enemy. The men in the head of Russian column hesitated, wavered and halted. The rest of the column halted too. Despite being hit by cannonballs and canister the French line continued its advance. The Russian column broke and fled without any attempt to deploy into line and fire.

    Bayonet Fight.
    "I have seen melees of infantry in defiles and in villages,
    where the heads of columns came in actual collision
    and thrust each other with the bayonet;
    but I never saw such a thing on a regular field of battle."
    - General Jomini

    The majority of bayonet attacks ended up with one side fleeing before any contact was made. Usually it was an attack, a charge, but there was no bayonet fighting. The actual bayonet fight most often took place not in an open terrain but in:
    - village (Eylau, Leipzig, La Rothiere, Ligny),
    - wood or garden, broken terrain (Spain)
    - in fighting for redoubts (Borodino 1812).

    There were only few bayonet fights between large bodies of troops in the open. These were cases where the defender’s musket fire having failed to prevent the attacker from closing, was compelled to yield his ground after the attacker closed with him. In each of these three instances described below, the Prussian infantry were on the defensive, could not stop the attacking French with their defensive fire, stood their ground and fought it out with cold steel until finally being compelled to retire. The first action involved part of Morand's Division during fight on 14 Oct 1806. The second action involved a battalion of the 48th Line in the same battle, and the third action on the same day at Jena where one of the battalions of the 16th Light was involved.
    There were of course other few cases. In 1807 at Eylau, Chef de bataillon Jouardet was wounded during bayonet charge that occurred when the musket fire of the 16th Light failed to halt the attacking Russians. Bayonet fight ensued and he was wounded. On 31 August 1813 at San-Marcial, Spanish infantry led by Freire and Longa defeated French infantry. The Spaniards delivered a volley and charged with bayonets. After a short resistance the French fled. In 1805 at Amstetten, the French after lengthy firefight attacked with cold steel and broke 4 Russian battalions. Only 2 battalions of grenadiers held their ground and bayonet fight continued until "darkness fell." The bayonet melee drove all sanity and order from among the troops. The French won. (Bowden - "Napoleon and Austerlitz")

    Bayonet fights between individual soldiers and small troops were more common than between battalions. For example, there were numerous bayonet fights in Peninsula, between the French and British-German troops. Individual soldiers, group of soldiers and even entire companies charged and fought with cold steel. The British sources give numerous examples of their superiority in this type of combat, and the French authors make exactly the same claims about their own troops.
    The Russians also were convinced that they were the masters of bayonet. Britten-Austin gives an excellent example of Russians predilection for bayonet: "The Russians' resistance astounds everyone. Defying their officers' orders merely to stand firm, the Russian light infantry in the cemetery can only be restrained from counter-attacking by blows with the flats of their officers' swords. 'Major-General Tsibulski, on horseback in full uniform, told me he couldn't keep his men under control. Over and over again they after exchanging a few shots with the Frenchmen in the cemetery tried to throw them out of it at bayonet point." (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 194)

    Russians in bayonet charge in 1813, 
picture by Parhaiev Generally the larger the units were the lesser probability of bayonet fight. Bayonet fights between large bodies of troops in open field were rare. Only when bravery AND CIRCUMSTANCES were equal the actual bayonet fight took place.
    And circumstances were not equal most of the time: one side received better artillery support than other, cavalry threatened one side, etc. These factors are conveniently omitted in many memoirs.

    To understand the effect of moral of the attacker vs that of the defender you have to understand the moral effects that would happen between two forces about to fight.
    Colonel Ardant du Picq wrote in "Battle Studies": "In battle ... The victor has often lost by fire more than the vanquished ... (but) Moral effect does not come entirely from destructive power, real and effective as it may be. It comes, above all, from its presumed, threatening power, present in the form of reserves threatening to renew the battle, of troops that appear on the flank, even of a determined frontal attack."

    General Antoine Henri Jomini (1769-1869) served in the French and Russian armies and participated in numerous battles. He wrote that he never saw a bayonet fight in open field between two formed bodies of troops. Jomini: "In fact, in real combats of infantry I have never seen any thing but battalions deployed commencing to fire by company, and finally by file, or else columns marching firmly against the enemy, who either retired without awaiting the columns, or repulsed them before actual collision took place, or themselves moved out to meet the advance. I have seen melees of infantry in defiles and in villages, where the heads of columns came in actual collision and thrust each other with the bayonet; but I never saw such a thing on a regular field of battle."

    Masters of Bayonet: Grenadiers.
    "... it was advantage to have big soldiers
    who could make good use of the bayonet,
    but nowadays the cannon does everything
    and the infantry often cannot get to grips with cold steel..."
    - Frederick the Great

    Prussian grenadier in 1713,
picture by Knotel Grenadiers were originally soldiers who specialized in throwing grenades. "The earliest references to these grenade-throwing soldiers are from Austria and Spain. ... However, the great King Louis XIV, of France finalized the concept of the Grenadier as an official type of soldier and company throughout his army ... By 1670, 29 of Louis's regiments had grenadier companies. Shortly after France's lead almost all of Europe went grenadier crazy. ... " (- Robert Sulentic)
    "In 1666 list of ammunition that Le Tellier wanted amassed in magazines, he called for 140,000 two-pound grenades. These bombs could also be potent against cavalry when pitched at the horses' feet, as d'Aurignac advocated in his treatise of 1663. The grenade dictated that grenadiers carry particulr arms and wear distinctive dress. They were among the first troops to receive flintlock weapons, and they also carried hatchets to be used against obstacles in siege warfare." (Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle" p 455)

    Spanish grenadiers defeating British troops
in the Battle of Pensacola, 1781. The height of the European vogue for grenade-throwing heavyweight infantry was in the 1700s.
    British grenadiers defeating 
American revolutionary forces.
Picture by Percy Moran "The fashion passed soon enough, for the grenades were cumbersome, triccky to ignite, and ... only marginally less perilous to the thrower than to the target. However the grenadiers themselves survived in virtue of being elite troops in their own right, and they were marked out by their stature, their swarthy complexions, their bristling moustaches, their arrogant demeanour, their grenadier marches (characterised by alternate passages on the rim and the skin of the drum), and their grenadier caps ..." (Duffy - "Instrument of War" Vol I p 234)

    During the Napoleonic Wars every army had grenadiers, these were troops more suited for assault with cold steel than others. They were the tallest and strongest men. Tall man has longer arms and can outstretch his opponent armed with the same weapon. But not only physical stamina and height mattered in bayonet fight. Bravery and discipline were even more important. For these reasons Napoleon, Frederick the Great and others required from their grenadiers being battle-hardened men, selected only from the bravest soldiers. Nobody messed with them.

    In 1812 at Borodino, Westphalian infantry met Russian grenadiers marching with fixed bayonets. As one of the Russian officers recalled: "When they saw us, they melted down as quickly as snow in the spring !" In 1813 at Teplitz the skirmishers of 2nd Grenadier Division allowed the French skirmishers to come up close to them and then, they charged with bayonets driving the enemy away.

    Hungarian grenadiers. The Hungarian grenadiers (<-- see picture) of the Austrian army were considered as being very good fighters and is not surprising that they gripped the enemy imagination. Often a defeated party of Austrian infantry was likely to be reported as battalions of those mustachioed Hungarians. For example in the official report after the battle of Engen (May 1800) the French claimed to have pushed 8 battalions of the Hungarians out of a wood, although there was none.

    French General Kellerman claimed to have captured 6.000 Hungarian grenadiers at Marengo, yet there were at most 3.000 in the last phase and none were Hungarian.

    Russian grenadier by Courcelle, France. In 1805 in the Battle of Austerlitz, several battalions of Russian and Austrian infantry attacked the village of Sokolnitz. French Colonel Pouget estimated the enemy strength at "12.000 Russian Grenadiers."

    Not only the French had vivid imagination. Some British authors promoted the French line grenadiers into the grenadiers of Imperial Guard. According to Sir Oman's "A History of the Peninsula War" Vol IV at Fuentes de Onoro the British defeated the Imperial Guard, which is a pure fiction. The same author places the French Guard in the Battle of El Bodon.

    The grenadiers were the tallest and strongest infantrymen. They were at least 5'3" tall and such men consisted only small part of the male population. "According to calculations made in France in 1778 only 1 Frenchman in 30 stood 5'3" or more tall, while a stipulated height of 5'3" would have required a population base of 79,000 souls to produce 400 men." (Duffy - "Instrument of War" Vol I p 197)
    Height requirements for grenadiers:

  • - Russian grenadier: 177.84 cm (2 arshin and 8 vershok), physically strong and healthy, good marcher and shooter, with no disciplinary problems.
  • - Austrian grenadier: 175 cm, veteran of at least 1 campaign, brave, good shooter.
  • - French grenadier in 1791: 173,5 cm, approved merit, with 2 years' service
  • - French grenadier in 1808: 173,5 cm tall, with 4 years' service, and at least 2 campaigns
  • - French fusiliers-grenadiers of the Middle Guard: 173.5 cm, with 4 years' service in the Young Guard.
  • - French grenadiers of the Old Guard: 176 cm, with 10 years' service, and at least 3 campaigns.
  • - Polish grenadiers: ?
  • - Swedish grenadiers: ?
    French grenadiers of Napoleon's Old Guard (Many veterans of the first battalion of 1st Grenadier Regiment of the Old Guard had 184-cm height and participated in up to 20 campaigns. Approx. 30 % of them were awarded with Legion d'Honneur for bravery. The were called the Oldest of the Old.)
    In 1814 Chateaubriand saw them: "I do not believe that human faces have ever worn such threatening expressions. These Grenadiers covered with scars, these conquerors of Europe, were forced to salute an old king, a veteran of years and not of war ... [some] drew the corners of their mouths into grimaces of scorn and rage ..."
    Mr Hayden writes: "More dreadful-looking fellows I had never seen. They had the look of thoroughbread, veteran, disciplined banditti."
    With the number of cannons and infantry firepower steadily increasing the role of grenadiers decreased.
    In 1812 in the Battle of Borodino, the French artillery heavily bombarded Vorontzov's 2nd Converged Grenadier Division. When asked where are his grenadiers, Vorontzov sadly replied: "All are over there, lying dead."


    PHOTOS: Grenadiers of 20th century.
    Right: German Panzer-Grenadiere of World War 2, Eastern Front
    Left: British Guard Grenadier, parade in London.

    Comments from visitors:

    M. Townsend (UK): "One point which may or may not be of interest, the last British battle where bayonets were used, was during the 1982 Falkland's war. The Scot's Guards were given the order to fix bayonets before charging Argentine positions on Mount Tumbledown."

    D.Murray: "The Highland infantry fixed bayonets and fought hand to hand with a Shi’ite militia in Iraq in 2004. At least 20 militiamen were believed killed in more than 3 hours of fighting."

    M.Lee (China): "Sorry for my poor English. The Japanese infantrymen did kill with bayonets my people. You can find on the net pictures of smiling soldiers conducting bayonet practice on chinese male prisoners."

    Prayer Before the Battle of Raclawice. 
Picture by Chelmonski. K.Filipkowski (Poland): In the Kosciusko Uprising the Polish farmers were armed with war scytes (they lacked muskets and bayonets). In the battle of Raclawice they overthrew Russian infantry (armed with muskets and bayonets) and captured several cannons. The blade of the scythe was transformed so that it extended upright from the staff. These troops were called kosynierzy from kosa scythe.
    On picture: the scythe-armed farmers pray shortly before the furious charge. In the right upper corner officer of the regular army.
    (Poland was not the only country where war scythes were used. In the 1685 battle of Sedgemoor, James Scott, First Duke of Monmouth, fielded a massive 5000 strong peasant unit armed with war scythes.)

  • ~

    History is filled with stories of the self-will and determination
    of a poorly supplied army maintaining morale to the very end.

    Esprit de corps .
    Panic gathered volume like a snowball.

    Picture: Highlanders in combat, by Dmitrii Zgonnik of Ukraine.

    Despite the intangible nature of morale, improvements in material factors (such as remuneration, food and shelter) can improve the morale. However, history is filled with stories of the self-will and determination of a poorly supplied army maintaining morale to the very end. Morale of troops can benefit from:
    - Adequate quantity, and quality of food, and shelter
    - The quality of military leadership and training
    - Having a volunteer military, as opposed to a force made up of potentially less motivated conscripts

    Not all men are equally brave, even within the same battalion there are the bravehearts, the cowards and those in between. Colonel of US Army S.L.A. Marshall showed how many soldiers, in the heat of combat, exhibit "posturing" which is identical to behavior exhibited throughout the animal world. The idea is to look and sound aggressive without actually attacking to kill. In combat this might mean shooting without aiming, wildly, over the enemy's heads, shouting, etc. To the casual eye (e.g. watching archival combat footage) this looks like true combat, but it's not. Marshall discovered this behavior through interviews with countless US soldiers who admitted (with much guilt) what they had done.
    During the Napoleonic Wars the soldiers behaved no different. Some were eager to fight, some were not, and some just "followed the crowd."

    Surprise played an important role on the battlefield. Even the fine troops when surprised could be broken. In 1805 at Austerlitz, the French I/14th Line Regiment advanced to occupy Pratzen. As they neared the village, the "battalion was surprised by the sudden appearance" of Russian battalion (Novgorod Musketeers) "rising from the ravine ... and opening fire" on the French. "Taken completely off guard, the I/14th Line broke and fled in the direction of Puntowitz" with their colonel riding after them. (Goetz - "1805: Austerlitz" p 155)
    Obviously not all troops panicked when surprised. Another example from Austerlitz. The fog was heavy and when French columns were sighted, the Russian infantry mistook them for their jagers or "other troops wanted to retire on them, and dared not to fire at all, but remained standing in best order ... Only when the enemy, formed in masses, approached to approx. 20 paces did they notice the fact that they were mistaken and threw themselves against them in a desperate manner and with exceptional bravery." (Mahler - "Tagebucher ans dem Jahre 1805" p 519)

    Fighting enemy to the front and to the side could also break morale of the best troops. Flank attack holds special qualities and more often than not will break the enemy. In 1809 at Teugen, the French 57th Line Regiment (nicknamed 'The Terrible" for their bravery in combat) brushed enemy's first line away and descended into a hollow ground. They then climbed again and showed up in front of main line of Austrian infantry. It was still quite a great distance but the Austrians and French opened artillery and musket fire.
    Several roundshots and canister hit the columns of 57th but didn't break their morale. The French deployed from columns into lines to respond with their own musketry. The French lines advanced, stopping to fire "every 25 paces." The musketry became very intense and the lines halted. Both sides were firing as fast as they could and the 3rd Line joined the fight. As it went on the French 10th Light appeared on Austrian flank. This surprise, and not the lenghty firefight broke the spirit of Austrians who hurriedly abandoned their positions.

    Taking the wounded to the rear
    was a favorite skulker activity.

    During lengthy musketry the infantry battalion would shrink toward its center and gaps appeared in the line. The gaps were caused by casualties and by cowards taking cover behind their braver comrades. Often the 3-rank deep line degenerated into a disordered "column".

    The falling of the dead, and the moaning of the wounded caused a great deal of additional stress. A man who fell threw all his neighbors into great deal of confusion. Taking the wounded to the rear was a favorite skulker activity. Five wounded walked to the rear by 2-10 troopers weakened the line and its power fire. It must be a problem in every army, including Napoleon's famous Grande Armee. (Ancient Romans decimated their cowardly troops.)

    In 1809 the Emperor issued orders prohibiting leaving the ranks under the excuse of carrying the wounded. The strict directive stated that no one could leave the ranks to succor the wounded.

  • - In 1815 at Waterloo, Lt. Wyndham of the Scots Greys came across 5 or 6 Scottish soldiers who were carrying 1 (one) of their wounded officers to the rear. A French shell came and fell near them and destroyed nearly the whole party. The commander of the Netherland troops, Prince of Orange, was wounded and carried to the rear by 8 Hanoverian soldiers. General van Reede wrote: "That the prince was carried away from the battlefield lying in a woollen blanket and as I believe carried by 8 or 10 Hanoverian soldiers ... "
  • - In May 1813 at the Battle of Bautzen, behind the Russian infantry was posted a screen of Cossacks, whose function was to act as military police and stop any skulker or frightened individual.
  • - In 1815 at Waterloo, in the end of battle, the British-German-Netherland cavalry took up positions behind the infantry squares, to prevent the soldiers from being seized by panic and running away. Their horses' muzzles almost touched the backs of the infantrymen in the rearmost ranks. In the square formed by the British III/1st Foot Guards the sergeants were standing behind the privates, levelling their pikes to compel them to remain in formation.
  • - In 1812 at Borodino, Kutuzov noticed that many men left the ranks under pretexts of helping the wounded or lack of ammunition.

    Panic gathered volume like a snowball.

    Bavarian infantry in combat.
Picture by Dmitrii Zgonnik
of Ukraine. The situation on battlefield was fluid and fast moving, men were under tremendous stress and troops could be overcome with panick in any moment. Often those who started the run, and thereby spread the fear, which started the panic, had a legitimate or at least a reasonable excuse for the action.
    For example, an officer was hit and the next he was running for a first-aid station in the rear without telling his own troop why he was getting out. They took out after him and the line broke. Others who hadn't seen the officer make his dash saw someone else in flight. They too ran. It all happened in a flash as fear is contagious. Other men nearby become stampeded by the appearance of flight. Only if the enemy was not in close pursuit there was chance to stop the flight.

    Panic gathered volume like a snowball, although among the fleeing troops were always those who were willing to fight. These lads usually attached themselves to other battalions, which were coming up. It led to some troops being mixed in battle adding more to the chaos.

  • - in 1813 at Kulm, Prussian 10th Silesian Landwehr and 11th Reserve (total 6 btns.) fled before French battalions were able to close with them. They ran to the rear and disordered battalion of 2nd Silesian Landwehr. Prinz August took the flag of the Silesians and shouted "Whoever has a true Prussian heart, follow me !" He was able to rally several hundred men and with a loud "huraah !" attacked the French.
  • - In 1814 at Berg-op-Zoom, the British 55th and 69th Regiment of Foot advanced in the dark then suddenly broke and fled in a wild panick.
    52nd Foot According to Geeorge Nafziger "not a shot was fired at them, nor was a single Frenchman seen." (- "Imperial Bayonets" 1996 p 164)
  • - Costello described panic in the British Light Division that occured during a siege. "Here a very strange panic occurred, that might have been attended with most disastrous effects. ... when a general alarm and outcry was raised in the division that 'The French were upon us'. In a moment I started up, and seized my rifle. The different regiments were assembling in the greatest disorder, while the general cries of alarm on all sides induced many to feel a terror that was, perhaps, never felt in battle. ... After a short while the panic ceased: we all looked foolish enough at the great ado about nothing, though some attributed the cause to French spies having got among us, others to some bullocks grazing by ..." (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 70)
  • - Chlapowski described panic among the French soldiers of Marshal Davout's superb corps during foraging.
    Marshal Davout.  The Iron Marshal. Chlapowski writes: "At midnight we were woken by a great uproar from behind Marshal Davout's corps on the right. The Emperor and all his staff mounted up and he sent some of us off in the direction of the shouting. We came back over the next half to three quarters of an hour with reports that many of our soldiers were running about without their weapons, shouting that Archduke John was upon us. But the Emperor was not disturbed by these stories ... It turned out that this nonsense had been started by French soldiers foraging for food and hay in the night, who had run across some Bavarian soldiers doing the same thing, and on hearing them speaking German had fled in panic spreading the rumor which had eventually reached us." (Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" p 87, translated by Tim Simmons)

  • Sources and Links.

    Lahoussaye - "1814"
    Barbero - "The Battle; A New History of Waterloo."
    Beskrovniy - "Materials of Russian Military History", Military Publishing House of The Armed Forces of the USSR, Moscow, 1947. Chapter 11. The War of Year 1812. The Manual For Infantry Officers
    In the Day Of Battle. (quoting from "The Centenary of the War Ministry",
    S.Petersburg, 1903. Volume 4)
    Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns"
    Nosworthy - "With Musket, Cannon and Sword: Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies"
    Nosworthy - "The Anatomy of Victory"
    Rothenberg - "The Napoleonic Wars (History of Warfare)"
    Elting - "Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grand Armee"
    Nafziger - "Imperial Bayonets: Tactics of the Napoleonic Battery, Battalion and Brigade
    as Found in Contemporary Regulations".
    Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia" 1998
    Chandler - "The Campaigns of Napoleon"
    Muir - "Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon"
    Esposito, Elting - "A Military History..."
    Adkin- "Waterloo Companion"
    Zhmodikov - "Tactics of the Russian army in Napoleonic Wars"
    Picture of Bavarian infantry by Dmitrii Zgonnik of Ukraine.
    Picture of French light infantry in combat by Dmitrii Zgonnik.
    Pictures of French Bayonet.
    Chess News: Who's afraid of the Bayonet Attack?
    "I bayoneted people. It was me or them"
    French musket Charleville.
    Prussian musket 1809.
    British musket Brown Bess.
    Brown Bess Musket Misconceptions.
    American Kentucky Rifle.
    The Kentucky Rifle.

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