To continue ... the aim again is to try to gather actual battlefield examples of the result of British line and French column (or line.) General reading would have us believe that the line should shoot up the column then disperse it with a bayonet charge. But did this happen? Know more here will help determine whether Lasalle is a good representative set if rules. Or do I need to keep searching?
Tonight I've found the following helpful passages ...
- Historians still debate the kind of attack formations d’Erlon selected for this assault. In 2002, Holmes argued that he placed the columns of Quiot, Donzelot and Marcognet with a frontage of one battalion wide and twelve battalions deep in each column. This allowed a larger number of muskets to be fired compared with some columnar formations while still permitting a dense enough formation for shock tactics with the bayonet to be employed.
(HUH? One wide and 12 deep allows lots of muskets? I don't get that. And compared to what ... a column of march?)
- Interestingly, Durutte disobeyed d’Erlon by using a wider formation for his division on the right flank of the attack and suffered fewer casualties in consequence.
- D’Erlon’s I Corps advanced in 4 columns containing around 17,000 men in total. Historians are divided over what kind of attack column d’Erlon used for the assault but many believe he chose one of the older styles of formation when it would have been better to have adopted a newer more adaptable version, employing greater intervals between battalions and allowing it to manoeuvre into firing lines more easily. Assuming that he used the colonnes de battalion par division, these huge rectangular formations had a frontage of between 180 and 200 men and a depth of 8 to 9 battalions in about 27 ranks. Moving slowly in order to maintain their ranks, they advanced in echelon and presented an inviting target to artillery.
(HUH? So 4 columns at a depth of 8 battalions. That's 32 battalions. With a brigade of the 4th Division of being sent against Papelotte and brigade of 1st going against La Haye Sainte reduces I Corps attack to around 25 battalions. )
- Riflemen of the 95th Foot laid down a heavy fire from the gravel pit, supporting the musketry of Bylandt’s Brigade as the French reached the foot of the ridge.
- The 95th also abandoned the gravel pit as the French came up and withdrew to defend the hedges along the Chemin d’Ohain.
(So the French columns weathered the rifle fire and fire from the Dutch/Belgians and drove the regiments back. Not a surprise given the numbers and the weakened state of the Dutch/Belgians after their earlier losses and hits taken from the grand battery.)
- Donzelot’s Division had now reached the crest and halted within thirty paces of the Chemin d’Ohain to redeploy. The sunken road and the hedges that lined it broke up their formation and the men bunched instinctively as their officers struggled to get them past these obstacles to reform on the other side. Here they intended to form firing lines and they had practised this vital manoeuvre many times during incessant drilling.
(So the French are advancing in columns and then stopping to redeploy before advancing into musket range.)
- Donzelot’s officers did not see them until they stood, and the French tried frantically to complete the difficult manoeuvre of redeploying into line as they emerged from the hedgerows. Attempting this in the face of the enemy was folly as their overconfident advance had brought them too close.
(But the above intention is ruined as they are already in musket range from Pack and Best.)
- The redcoats now delivered a shattering volley at about forty paces, cutting down many of the French in the foremost ranks. Confusion set in among the French and, observing this, Picton ordered a bayonet charge ...
- ... British infantry standing in double ranks ...
(Yep the usual tactics BUT it was not usual for the French to be unaware of the British as they were in this instance. One question presents itself about the double ranks. References to the British standing in lines four deep in fear of cavalry charge become relevant here. One would assume this would make their usual line shorter and reduce the impact of the volley?)
- Marcognet marched his division past Donzelot’s right considering it unwise to redeploy at this moment. He had begun to pass the hedges and was advancing against a Hanoverian battery when he was confronted by the 92nd Highlanders, who opened fire. In their dense formation, the French could respond only with the muskets of a far narrower frontage than the British line, which was only two ranks in depth and far longer. Realizing they were at a disadvantage, the French began to advance after firing a volley, hoping to decide the issue with the bayonet but now the cavalry intervened.
(So the 92nd did not break the enemy and they continued to fire and advance. The issue was decided by cavalry. But why order the cavalry in? The logical conclusion would be that D'erlon's attack - despite taking casualties was pushing Picton back with a chance of breaking the smaller forces (note that the French were advancing with around 25 battalions and the Brits were defending with around 14 - including the 95th and Bijlandt. Where was Picton's other Hanoverian brigade?)
Another interesting note was that the napoleonistyka website notes that Picton's Division suffered 43% casualties. Given the ineffectiveness of the grand battery due to the muddy ground, reverse slope deployment and lying prone or crouching down, this means that D'erlon's attack is definitely doing significant damage. The high casualties would also be caused by the subsequent cavalry charges that were later endured of course.
Conclusions ... British fire alone doesn't break French columns. French often try to form line with the Brits. Was the Brit double line on the day crucial in reducing the impact of their fire? The French took disordering losses from the guns and were drained by the muddy ground on approach. The French were surprised by the close appearance of whole brigades. The attack wasn't broken by Brit infantry but by their cavalry. The superior numbers - despite all these other detrimental factors - still resulted in the Brits being pushed back and/or threatened with breaking.
No rules can account for all these nuances. Is Lasalle doing the right thing? I'm tempted to say yes but I still don't know.