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Subject: Jomini's Art of War
Godofgamblers    7/15/2009 3:33:08 AM
I recently stumbled upon this work on the net. You can read the book online here: h*tp:// It is a great primer for understanding Napoleonic war. I have never really understood the secrets to Napoleon's success; perhaps this book will enlighten me.
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jastayme3       9/30/2009 3:12:42 PM

Well, Wellington was a big fan of using reverse slopse on hills, both to portect his troops from unecessary fire and to hide his troop numbers. However....


Even at their best the rate of fire from cannons was not particularly high, nor was their aiming particularly accurate. recall also that most armies used a majority of solid shot that required a direct hit to be damaging. Colonel Shrapnel had just perfected the shell that would bear his name through the generations, even then his spherical case fragmentation device required great skill to cut the fuse to the correct length for it to explode over the hea dof advancing troops in order to spread the pellets below.


So really, the chief performance meter for napoleonic armies was rate of fire. The French developed the large phalanxed coloumn with supporting horse artillery which they betted could advance on, and break, any two file deep firing line before taking an unnacceptable number of casualties that would force the coloumn back.They were right for the most part.


At this point the success of British redcoats where others had previously failed becomes apparent. Draconian discipline and hour of drill had combined to produce in the british infantry a formidable firing line. The standard practice was to hold fire until within sixty yards, any further out was useless (as herald states)... other less disciplined european forces would have fired one volley uselessly by this point and would be reloading while the french advanced. Thus the British regiment would make their first volley count, their second volley would be discharged form the second file, and then the real trick of British musketry drill would come into play.... platoon fire. Firing by platoons allowed the British to relaod in quicker times, sicne they weren't constrained to the average pace of a regiment, or by the slowest man available, it was a less clumsy drill and thus afforded greater speed. As such a redcoat regiment could maintain firing rates of between 4-5 shots to the minute... more than double that of a Spanish regiment (for example).


Such a tactic required good judgement and nerves of steels form the commanding officer as well as very tight discipline form the redcoats in order to keep the rate of fire up. At the first signs of French wavering the British line would bayonet charge the french coloumn, which was usually enough to break the will of the coloumn and force the retreat. It was an incredibly succesful tactic. The French army's best hope wa salways to use it's vaslty superior cavalry to push line sinto squares, but even thent ehy were rarely succsesful.

Thanks for taking the time to type that out, Prometheus. One question though: how do you explain the victories of the French then. If the Redcoats had the best discipline, the best firerate, how is it that they and the Prussians and every other army in Europe was defeated by Napoleon often using raw conscripts. After the Russian campaign his army was made up of almost entirely raw recruits and Poles.... yet he still won consistently.....!

Napoleans conscripts simply weren't raw. Or rather he had enough good officers and non-coms to absorb them.
 The French army went through a bow-shaped curve in effectiveness. At the begining they were raw. As time went on they gained more experience and experience at the first was more of a gain then casualties were a loss. However they reached a point of diminishing returns at about the Polish campaigns and attrition started to kill more officers then the new experience benefited. At the same time their enemies, just after 1805 were starting on the same leap in effectiveness that the French had had in the 1790's .  And casualties among junior officers were reducing the French effectiveness. Moreover the increase in size in both armies had increased slightly beyond the level of command and control at the time toward the end.
The French army was probably at its peak effectiveness around 1805. The army that Wellington faced was full of raw officers and clumsy, because casualties among experienced officers combined with the hasty promotions to recieve new recruits had made for an army incapable of the subtle maneuvers used before. In effect the French Army was Apollo Creed at his best in 1805. It was Apollo
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