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Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Well, that's the big question, isn't? Just because the image of the British square at Waterloo has become so iconic it must have been the same with every other nation? Or is it just this iconic image that overshadows everything else? Look at paintings of Borodino or the battle of the pyramids and all you'll find are pictures of squares with every rank standing, so ...?
My thinking is this, more than just a block of bayonets , some ranks would be firing , squares were planned and formed corner to corner , so the firing ranks were not firing at another square and inflicting casualties on their own troops, the front rank kneeling did not fire because reloading would mean standing and bayonets pointing up while loading ,thus weakening the strength of the square, the ranks behind could fire and load because they were standing and would always have the kneeling rank in front offering protection. ranks changing position ie swapping place would also weaken the square. A standing formation only offers the bayonets of the front rank, a kneeling front rank means both kneeling and standing bayonets are offered to the enemy. So in the absence of hard proof, which must exist, I will stick to what seems logical to me, but like I said, what a very good question.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

An excellent question; it hasn't been asked before, it's actually rather an important point, the answer is not obvious or readily discoverable!

Of course battle paintings may be unreliable for any number of reasons. Painters who actually served in the war, like Baron Lejeune, were rare. But, we have little else to go on ....

French kneeling at the Battle of the Pyramids (artist born 1846):

And that impeccable historical source, Leibig’s Extract of Meat Co. collectable cards:

We should not forget, however, that the square was not necessarily a static formation. Rather, infantry might advance in square where it was potentially exposed to cavalry. I would imagine that kneeling front ranks would only be ordered when the square was static and about to receive cavalry, assuming sufficient notice to so order. Squares, even stationary ones, would not, I suggest, have a kneeling front rank all of the time. This potentially affects depictions of squares.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Thats some good points Edwardian & some nice artwork there.

In terms of the British, Wellington was a defensive type of general most of the time. British squares & those of their allies would of had more static, hollow squares I believe. So kneeling ranks would of been present.

The French depending on commander could be offensive or defensive, so square formation could vary. I have seen & read sources suggest solid squares on the move, & static hollow squares with kneeling ranks. I think the French square at Garcia Hernandez that was broken was hollow with kneeling ranks.

Its the Russian, Prussian & Austrian armys that to me offer doubt. I am swayed to thinking a solid square that could move, was more their thing.

Good, interesting discussion this!!!

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

An interesting topic, although I sense that for those who are modellers/wargamers the issue is one to do with 'what looks right?' for my Napoleonic infantry units in their diorama/wargames formations, rather than the actualities of 'what actually happened'? A re-enactor on the other hand would certainly want to know 'what actually happened' in terms of drill etc.

I doubt that kneeling in square was a domain purely of the British/KGL units during the Napoleonic Wars, although I'd also observe that forming a well-ordered and closely-ranked square, possibly under fire and with cavalry looming, would take a fair degree of training and solid morale; and even more so, to arrange the ranks in that square in orderly lines of front rank kneeling, second firing, third loading and fourth to add depth and fill in the gaps. Less well-trained infantry might find this difficult to do, and a mass with bayonets pointing outwards might be the best that some conscripts might manage.

I do not have links to pictures, but for those who know it the huge panorama of Waterloo, which forms a part of the Museum/Lions Mound complex at the battlefield, does have some depictions of squares. Parts of the panorama are published in the book 'Waterloo' by the Commandant Henri Lachouque, and there is undoubtedly an image here of Nassau troops under attack by French Cuirassiers...and kneeling to receive. This looks to me to be as 'right' as a square of Highlanders or British Line kneeling to receive.

For all this, the wargaming fraternity will I am sure continue to favour most Napoleonic troops - be they French, Russian, Prussian or Austrian - in march or march attack poses...with the notable exception of British/KGL, who will be firing...and might even be kneeling!!

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

I would, while not outright exclude, treat every painting by non contemporary artists with some care. As I said, the image of the British square as become so iconic after Waterloo, that people who were not there easily might have been tempted to imagine every square must have looked like this. Some images that might proof the contrary:

Faber du Faur (eyewitness): Battle of Krasnoi, Russian infantry in square

Lejeune: Battle of the Pyramids

Brunswick infantry 1815 contemporary pictures:

Langlois 1789-1870, Borodino

Dighton, Waterloo, French Guard in square,_General_Advance_of_the_British_Lines_-_RCIN_407486_-_Royal_Collection.jpg

There actually is a good picture by Adolf Northen of the charge of the KGL dragoons at Garcia Hernandez that shows French infantry in square with front rank kneeling, but Northen while being an excellent painter whose works usually seem well researched, was not a contemporary (1828 – 28 May 1876). That's not to say the formation adopted by the French infantry in this case was not as depicted by him. This may well have been the case, but this was infantry that had served for some time in Spain and fought the British, commanded by officers (Foy and Clauzel) who had good knowledge of British tactics.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

In regards to Garcia Hernandez, based on the accounts of how the square of the French 6th Light regiment broke, by holding their fire too long they had horse & rider casualties fall into them. Due to one or two horses in particular, writhing & thrashing about on the ground, men were caught under the animals or knocked out of the way. This left a gap for the KGL dragoons to exploit.....which they did. They rode through the gap and that was the end of that square. Seeing what had happened to that square made the other French squares flinch once charged & in the end they broke & ran.

So this would suggest the French squares that day were indeed hollow to allow space behind the lines to ride into.

I think in general when making these potential "in square" sets, I would certainly do a 50/50 of standing & kneeling when it comes to the troops we know for sure who mainly, if not exclusively, used a hollow square with ranks kneeling....such as the British/KGL.
Same goes for the Portuguese & late war Spanish, as I said before, especially the Portuguese, due to undergoing reforms along British standards under General Beresford.

Brunswickers I think due to having also served alongside the British in the Peninsular would also be familiar with the British way of forming square. At Waterloo they were also right alongside the redcoated squares of the British, so may of followed suit seeing the effectiveness of the formation. With Wellington using a defensive holding strategy, they wouldn't of needed too much emphasis on mobility anyway. So a 50/50 of standing & kneeling is the way I would go for these fellows too. Or at the least a 60/40 ratio.

French is a bit trickier as there is evidence to suggest both forms of square were used. So for me, I would maybe do a 60/40 or 70/30 type split in a box between standing & kneeling. That way someone can create a standing square, but those who may wish to have a kneeling rank have at least a decent amount of kneeling poses too.

As for the Russian, Prussian & Austrians, its a tough one to call.
I suppose I would either make it a sort of 70/30 split or practically just all standing. I havent seen much evidence to suggest kneeling ranks for these guys, & I have been trying to find some evidence most of the day!!!!

The Nassauers I have thought of making in a standing square, but then that was mainly due to the fact that there was only the HaT Nassau set available and apart from a kneeling volitgeur pose, there wasn't any kneeling figures in the box anyway. There is evidence to suggest they didnt have kneeling ranks due to not being as well drilled, but then again, with Wellington nearby, would he of instructed them to form a square more along the British lines? After all he did need to take shelter in some squares from time to time!
If Strelets did however make a set of Nassauers, & they did indeed have plenty of kneeling poses, I would buy them and potentially do them as hollow squares with kneeling ranks. But then with there being 3 battalions in Kruse's contingent, I could always do a mix!

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

The Brunswickers at Waterloo were quite different from those that served in Spain. The Duke of Brunswick had to literally recreate his army from scratch, most were raw young recruits with very few veterans. You might wish to reread Mercers account of the campaign he had a quite vivid description of this lot and I think he said they faced the French cavalry almost frozen in place and stood like logs transfixed with fear the nco's having difficulty to fill the gaps in the square. While not being entirely conclusive this points more into the direction of troops standing rather than kneeling.
The Brunswickers in Spain were not exactly elite either, their ranks were filled with soldiers from other nations due to lack of replacements and they seem to have been known for a high rate of desertion and lack of discipline.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

I have read Mercers view of the Brunswickers before & I found it rather pompous to be honest!!
Sure he regarded them as unsteady, but plenty of other regiments in the allied line that day could also be described as unsteady, Wellington himself noted that even his redcoats were not those of the Peninsular.
In all the time Mercer and his troop were positioned with the Brunswick squares, they did not break. They stood firm, in fact they fired into the cavalry along with Mercers guns. If they had been as really bad as Mercer suggests, they would of likely broken, & Ney's cavalry would of made a dent in the allied line. No such thing happened. All the allied squares during the charge stood firm, although many took heavy casualties.
Only when moved nearer the crossroads when Napoleon sent in the guard, did the Brunswickers actually break, along with the Nassauers, which to be honest, even veteran soldiers had done the same when faced with the guard during the war. So no real shame there.

Mercer also sounds a bit of a hothead at times. He deliberately disobeyed Wellingtons orders to not engage enemy batteries, and upon doing so, then suffered return fire, taking casualties. At the very end of the battle, it is also said that he mistakenly opened fire on a Prussian battery, despite being told that it was indeed Prussian. We must also remember officers of the British army could be rather begrudging in their praise of their foreign allies.
Just look at the various transcripts of what happened to Bylandts brigade. Some say they basically turned tail & ran, some say that actually a proper fighting withdrawl took place.

At Quatre Bras the Previous day, when the French Cuirassiers broke the allied line, they were prevented from taking the crossroads by the Brunswickers in square. This again points to a group of men being far from the unsteady bunch ready to run, Mercer describes. If their squares were to break, you would think they would of then, as the allied line crumbled. So to be honest, I am not impressed by Mercer's opinion of the Brunswickers.

As for the Brunswick Oels during the Peninsular war, yes there was a high level of indiscipline & desertion, however at battles like Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca & Vitoria etc, they are also said to have given good service when involved in the midst of a battle. In between them though....ok thats a different story. But when it came to the heat of the action, they fought well. The bulk of the battalion remained part of the 7th Division throughout the Peninsular until the end in 1814.

So when it comes to the Brunswick squares themselves, at least at Waterloo, I am still inclined to believe that they were hollow & had a kneeling rank. As Alan pointed out before, if they were firing into the cavalry, they would of needed a rank or 2 kneeling so as to still fend of the horses, & then have the standing ranks behind them firing. Being a mobile body of men at that time was not important, instead holding the ground was.

If Strelets make a set with equal kneeling & standing poses, thats fine by me, but if they made a set of totally standing poses, I would be a bit put off. At the very least some kneeling figures could be included. I like the old HaT set, but when compared to Strelets sculpting, they certainly look average.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Yea super good question! One of those things that tons of PC games and such take for granted, but should not. So as has been alluded to already this is probably a multi-faceted question that depends highly on the specific Nappy year, faction, amount of training, etc., but I do have an idea that involves Freidrich (Frederick) der Grosse (Great) of Prussia for their perspective...

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Well my Frederick idea did not work out, but this page seems to have some decent info on the topic:

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Well my Frederick idea did not work out, but this page seems to have some decent info on the topic:
Thats basically the same link I listed above.
A nice interesting site that one.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Oh my bad!

Was interesting to note on that page that Prussia completely dumped the hollow square when the army was reconstituted in late 1812. Basically Frederick would have been mostly against the idea of a formation that was rather inherently immobile (or at least took time to set up/break down), as his whole doctrine was based on rapid advances at unpredictable angles. As you guys know Frederick's ideas were basically gospel for the 1806 Prussian forces. There are reports that a square was used in a desperation situation in 1806 against a combined arms French force at the Battle of Lubeck, but it is uncertain what type of square that was meant to be. It was also completely unsuccessful in a campaign that for the Prussians was, of course, a complete disaster.

So for the Prussians at least they would not have been big fans of it for the most part, or really any kneeling infantry at all. Frederick was even against the idea of trenches and fortifications unless it was a truly desperate situation, according to the small English translation of his Instructions for His Generals sitting in my room here. :grin:

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Yes I agree in terms of Prussia & Russia. Solid squares seem to have been the norm. I have seen zero evidence for a hollow square or kneeling ranks. Same probably goes for Austria.
So any defensive/in square set for these nations would have to take that into account.

I dare say though that light troops/Jagers, would of knelt down at times though, in the act of skirmishing definitely.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Russian squares were hollow, unless they were caught by a sudden attack of a foe on the march, then marching columns could build a solid square.
Suvorov's squares were of a battalion or regimental strength with 1-2 companies on each side and one inside as a reserve. They were primary battle formations to be used against "basurmans" (Muslims), as opposed to lines or columns, used against European armies.
Squares were attacking (!) formations, they were supposed to repel initial fierce charge of muslim cavalry and then counter-attack in this formation, hence no chance for kneeling line. Two rear lines were shooting, the front line used bayonets. This tactics was used in European wars as well, as it's depicted in here:

This is an episode of Borodino battle, when French cuirassiers are repelled by Lithuanian and Izmailovsky Leib-Guards regiments, standing in squares. At first they shot salvos at the approaching front line of cuirassiers, which routed in disarray and squashed subsequent lines of approaching cavalry and, after bayonet charge all cavalry was routed altogether.
This cavalry attack was repeated and repelled once again later this day.

Best regards,


Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

A-ha, thats some great info there. Really nice artwork too.
So as I thought, the Russian line wouldn't of utilised kneeling ranks so no real need for such poses in a Russian set. But the squares were hollow though.

Would the Prussians & Austrians of followed a similar method do you think Strelets?

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Roger W
A-ha, thats some great info there. Really nice artwork too.
So as I thought, the Russian line wouldn't of utilised kneeling ranks so no real need for such poses in a Russian set. But the squares were hollow though.

Would the Prussians & Austrians of followed a similar method do you think Strelets?
Yes, that's a useful insight into Russian tactics, so thank you Mr Strelets. And if I am not mistaken, the artwork you have attached is part of the magnificent panorama painting of Borodino in Moscow.

Re: hollow squares v. mass. A realisation that squares were defensive (most of the time, but maybe offensive in the Russian army!) and should also have allowed a degree of firepower against attacking cavalry, added to some simple maths, indicates that hollow squares would always be used where possible, subject to training of the troops themselves being up to the task of forming square.

A battalion of 600 R&F in hollow square would have between 100-200 men on each face, depending on whether the square was a perfect square or a rectangle. Given a four-ranks deep line on each face, that is a frontage of between 25 and 50 men, which is enough - certainly if doubled (two ranks firing) - to provide 50-100 firing muskets on each face, enough to give attacking cavalry something to think about.

A corresponding mass of 600 R&F might have a frontage of 30 men and a depth of 20 ranks. The frontal firepower would be max 60 muskets, the firepower to each side only 40, assuming ordered ranks and two ranks able to fire.

The hollow square simply has more firepower, and is less of an artillery target. Tactically, a better option.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

It's back to the point that Roger made early on in this thread.

Squares (or rectangles) were offensive (or at least mobile) much of the time; be it to retire or to advance in the face of a cavalry threat (if time allowed, or masse if not). Think Lutzen, Bautzen, Pyramids, Jena, Auerstadt, Eylau, anything across the Marchfeld. Entire divisions marching to the battlefield of Lutzen or some units in square covering the flanks of the remainder. This is the difference between the standing square and combination kneeling/crouching one that the paintings of Waterloo bring to mind. The latter are often associated with the British as they were so often fighting a defensive battle.

To quote from Nafziger:
"One of the many current misconceptions of the square is that it was a fixed formation, barley able to move. This is not true. When the Prussians retreated off the fields after their defeat at Jena-Auerstädt, their rear-guard was a Saxon grenadier battalion in square. It out marched the pursuing French infantry and held the French cavalry at bay. ... I the battle of Jena, in his memoirs Baron Seruzier, commander of the artillery of Morand's Division, III Corps (Davout), states, 'J'en étais là quand notre division, formée en carrés d'infanterie marchant au pas de charge, parvint à notre hauteur#'" (Nafziger 2009, p. 33). As Nafziger notes, such a rate was rare (hence 'I was there'), but is shows the clip at which they could move and that they could be as mobile as any other formation.

(Wargames rules that have static squares are missing a key element).

Regards, James

#My translation: I was there when our division, formed in infantry squares marching at the pas de charge (120 paces per minutes, per Nafziger) reached our head (of our formation, I presume as I do not have the original to get the context).

p.s. Also beware of making the mistake of the column v line myth that is derived largely from Oman and has been refuted again and again...

Nafziger, GF (2009) Imperial Bayonets. The Nafziger Collection, West Chester, Ohio, USA.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Of course the French know how to make infantry squares. In 1806 Davout crushed a Prussian army three times larger than his at Auerstaedt thanks to the squares. The same goes for the battle of the pyramids won by Napoleon over the Mamelukes. Noted that each time a classic infantry succeeded in defeating an elite cavalry.
In fact this formation is very well known to the French, they know very well that a cavalry charge cannot overcome a square and yet ... Ney's relentlessness at Waterloo is incomprehensible.
The question of the man kneeling is not just about infantry squares.
Some generals have also questioned themselves in the case of an army deployed in line.
From 1809, the Austrians even officially abandoned this.
Even the French have asked themselves the question.
Marshal Ney noticed that when soldiers put one knee on the ground, they had difficulty reloading their rifle in this position and that it was then difficult to ask them to get up because once lowered, they were safe from enemy fire.
These changes of position also slowed down the movement of troops.
Unlike the British army, which is all about defense (Spanish War, Waterloo), the French army is very mobile. I think during the last years of the Empire it was increasingly rare for the front row to drop to the knee.

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square

Agreed Wagram.

I believe the French were very adaptable when it came to tactics, based on the large pool of commanders they could pick from. So many amazing Marshals & Generals in the Grand Armee, each expected to command their own corps like a "miniature" army in itself & each with various experience & skill.

From my own reading over the years, I believe the French were capable of performing both sorts of square. A holding defensive sort like famously portrayed by the British, with kneeling ranks. Or a fully standing, more mobile version, like how Russia, Prussia etc utilised.

It is also true that many nations did not like troops kneeling, just as you point out.
I imagine for light troops & skirmishers/Jagers this may of been a bit more relaxed due to the way they engaged the enemy, utilising terrain a bit more etc, like a hunter/poacher would, which many such fellows in those units were previous to their military service.

I suppose in summing up, when it comes to potential "in square/defense" type sets (which I do hope are in the pipeline), sets representing Britain/KGL/Hannover or its close allies such as Portugal or Brunswick, I would basically do a 50/50 set of kneeling & standing.
Maybe for the Brunswickers a slightly smaller ratio of kneeling poses but I would still include a good few. My personal belief is still that they had kneeling ranks like their comrades in redcoats, due to the nature of Wellingtons strategy of holding ground to the utmost limit. Both at Quatre Bras & Waterloo. Not to mention knowledge collected by some from the Peninsular war.

France, Strelets could take their pick. Include both kneeling & standing, or just standing. As both would work. I would be happy with either. Alternatively, maybe a set of line in a more stationary square, and a set of guard infantry stood and more mobile? Or vice versa? Either way theres options there for France.

Russia, Prussia & Austria I would not include kneeling poses....unless they are for casualties or alike. I would do a range of poses all standing prepared for cavalry , some maybe firing & reloading, all designed in such a way to recreate a nice mini diorama of a square.

What is most important for a set of infantry in square, is the right numbers in a box & ratio of poses to create a square.
So for example a British/KGL set, should have a 50/50 split between kneeling & standing, so both ranks can be made, on all 4 sides.
With the other sets, who's men when in square stood only, again enough to properly make all 4 sides.
That way, no matter how many boxes someone buys, a square can be accurately recreated.

I have found this thread really enjoyable!!

Re: Napoleonic infantry in square


Interesting debate.

All Napoleonic armies used squares. Not aware of any authors who suggested the British drill was different to the practice of others re squares.

The Austrian Masse, a column which became a solid 'square' was specifically mentioned as it was different. Same with the British 2 deep line. I feel if there was only the British using a kneeling front rank in a square, it would have been remarked upon and praised by the more partisan British authors. But its not.

The strength of the square was not presenting a flank or gap to the oncoming cavalry. A solid wall of men with baynots would deter most horses and riders from closing. Not sure standing or kneeling makes much difference to that. Although more difficult to run away if your kneeling I guess! Square stays firm, it sees off the horse, wavers or not well formed and its in trouble.

Plenty of examples of Cavalry riding down squares as well as them repelling attacks.