Napoleonic Infantry March Rates

This is a copy of an article which I wrote and had published in First Empire magazine October/November 1994 Issue 19.   My understanding of Napoleonic drills has improved since then, so I have added a section at the end to clarify a couple of matters.


(or – Form Square – by the Centre – Double March)

 Rod MacArthur UK

Various articles in First Empire during the past year have discussed Napoleonic Battalion formations and deployment drills. Some passing comments in these and letters to “Dispatches”, suggesting that the same pace should be used when in line or column, implied that virtually all wargame rules, from those I was first introduced to in Don Featherstone’s house in the early 60’s to those used when I umpired the Napoleonic Competition for the last two years at “Colours” are wrong. This intrigued me sufficiently to do some research and interpret this in the light of my own knowledge of drill from 30 years in the British Army.

The starting point is the Drill Regulations themselves. For all nations these were essentially the same as those of Frederick the Great and Napoleonic battles differed from those of the previous century due to a greater fluidity of tactical doctrine rather than radically different drill. All nations used a standard pace, British, Austrian, Prussian and Russian – 30″, with the French   and   their   closest allies using  2 metric feet (approximately 26.5″).   The various nations also had well regulated, and similar, march speeds for Ordinary Step, Quick Step etc. A summary of these with modern sources is as follows:


The British regulations were contained in the manual by Dundas entitled “The Rules and Regulations for Formations,   Field Exercises, and Movements of His Majesty’s Forces 1792” (hereafter referred to as “Dundas”.   On march rates Dundas makes it absolutely clear “Many different times of march must not be required of the soldier. These three must suffice, Ordinary Time (75 steps in the minute), Quick Time (108 steps in the minute) and Wheeling or Quickest Time (120 steps in the minute)”.

Dundas explains that all of these rhythms are to be inculcated into   the soldier by constant drill until he knows them instinctively. Plummets, defined as “musket balls suspended on a string which is not subject to stretch”, were to be used by the Adjutant, Sergeant-Major and Sergeants to regulate time. Dundas stated that drummers were only to be used to set the rhythm prior to marching off and forbade the use of “musick (sic) or drums to regulate the march” since this could interfere with the troops instinctive rhythm. He defined the use of each of these steps as follows :-

Ordinary Step (75 paces per minute).

“being the pace on all occasions whatever, unless greater celerity be particularly ordered, the recruit must be carefully trained and thoroughly instructed in this most essential part of his duty, and perfectly made to understand, that he is to maintain it for long periods of time together, both in line and in column, and in rough as well as smooth ground, which he may be required to march over”.

Quick Step (108 paces per minute).

“used in filing from line into column or column into line and by battalion column of manoeuvre when independently changing position. May occasionally be used in the column of march of small bodies, when the route is smooth, and no obstacles occur, but in the march in line of a considerable body it is not to be required, and very seldom in a column of manoeuvre, otherwise fatigue must arise to the soldier and more time will be lost by hurry and inaccuracy, than is attempted to be gained   by quickness”.

The Quickest Step (120 paces per minute).

“Chiefly to the purpose of wheeling. Also in this time should divisions [companies] double, and move up, when passing obstacles in line, or when in a column of march the front of divisions is increased or diminished”.

Later in his manual Dundas mentions running :-

“A company or division may occasionally run, a battalion may sometimes Quick Step, but the hurrying of a large column or of a body moving in front [presumably the latter is a reference to line] will certainly produce confusion and disorder. It is never to be risked when an enemy is in presence though it may sometimes be necessary when a post or situation is to be seized”.

Throughout these regulations Dundas makes it clear several times that whilst Quick or Quickest Step is used for changing formation, Ordinary Step should then be resumed. (eg when forming close column from column of march “ordering rear companies to Quick March into close column and successively to resume the Ordinary March”).

I have concentrated on the British “Dundas” regulations because I was able to get hold of an original copy. It is however my understanding that all other European nations used essentially similar regulations because they were all based on original Prussian thought. It is therefore my conclusion that the various Drill regulations, firmly rooted in the linear tactics of the 18th century, assumed that all movement of formed bodies on the battlefield, whether in column or line, was carried out at the Ordinary Step, with the Quick Step being used solely for transition between these formations.

Some Nations, including the British, had an even faster 120 pace per minute Wheeling Step, with a variable pace-length, short on the inside and long on the outside to achieve the wheel, but again this was only used when changing formation. Most Nations had a “double” which was approximately twice their Ordinary Step (ie in the range 120-160 paces per minute) and in the British case this was identical to their Quickest or Wheeling Step. This double   was originally supposed to be used for charging, skirmisher movement and as part of obstacle crossing drills.

By comparison with today’s march speeds the Ordinary Step is very slow.   The current British Army Slow March, only used on ceremonial drill and funerals, is 65 paces per minute, most Regiments use a Quick March of 120 paces per minute (Guards is 116 with the Light Infantry, Greenjackets and Ghurkas being 140). The modern British Army double is a trot (jog) much faster than its Napoleonic predecessor. The 75 pace per minute Ordinary Step does however make complete sense in the context of 18th Century formal rigid battle lines. The various national drill regulations in force during the Napoleonic era were still based in the previous century and originally never envisaged lines or columns moving in anything other than Ordinary Step.

So much for the regulations, but what about actual tactical practice, for as John Cook pointed out in a recent article in First Empire, this is not by any means the same thing.

Napoleonic battles were more fluid and faster than 18th century ones.   The troops involved would however still have had to move at standard rates because the words of command, drummers cadences and the soldiers own training allowed no other way to operate. In other words whilst it might have been possible to move in column or line at Quick Time, 100-108 paces per minute depending on nationality, or even Double Time of some 120 -160 paces per minute, as opposed to the regulation Ordinary Time of 75 or 76 paces per minute, the drill system, let alone the Sergeant-Majors, would not permit other non-standard speeds.

In theory it would have been perfectly possible for a Napoleonic Battalion Commander to order his unit into Line, Column or Square (more on the latter later) and then to give the order to advance in Ordinary, Quick or even Double time. The questions are, was it practical to maintain formation at higher march rates, and is there historical evidence that such orders were actually given.

One highly relevant matter to consider was the obstacle crossing drill, which was the same for all battalion formations. Dundas stated that troops must march straight ahead, clearly to avoid impinging on their neighbours, but that if obstacles (ie trees, rocks, buildings, ponds etc) were met those troops unimpeded continued at the Ordinary Step, whilst those faced with the obstacle fell back (by sections), bypassed the obstacle, then regained their place in line by Quick Step. Clearly if the battalion was already moving in Quick Step this would be more difficult and if the battalion was doubling such a technique would be impossible and disorganisation would occur.

The Dundas regulations therefore see no need for troops to slow down when crossing rough ground or advancing through woods and battalions do not have to stop to reform after negotiating such obstacles provided they were originally moving in Ordinary Time. The regulations do not differentiate between light and dense woods but I suspect that British battalion commanders with experience from the war in North America would realise that only skirmishers could operate in dense woods without penalty.

When an entire Battalion has to cross a linear obstacle, such as a stream or wall, there would clearly be a need to reform (at the halt) on the far side. The Dundas regulations make no special comment on hills, and it could be assumed that troops moving at the Ordinary Step would be perfectly capable of continuing this same rhythm on gentle slopes. As far as steep hills are concerned I suspect that Napoleonic Troops would have used exactly the same system as their modern counterparts, by keeping the rhythm of the pace constant but by “stepping short”.   Dundas mentions both “stepping out (extending the pace)” and “stepping short” in the context of making minor adjustments to alignment, to allow for irregularities of the ground, whilst on the march both in Ordinary Step and Quick Step.

Before we consider the effect of faster movement on the various formations there is one other relevant matter and that is the space occupied by each soldier in place in the company. According to Dundas troops should be formed with each man (file) occupying 22″ elbow to elbow, with ranks in close order (one 30″ pace apart) or open order (two 30″ paces apart). Close Order and Open Order refer to the distance between the ranks and not to that between the files. Close Order was prescribed for firing (so that the second rank muskets could protrude beyond the front ranks) and Open Order would seem to have been used for movement. This reflects the fact that the men in the rear ranks need some clear space in front of them. It also helps to prevent them tripping over casualties in the front rank. As soon as the battalion turns right or left this space is reduced to 22″ per man. It is clearly impractical for soldiers to march any great distance this close to the man in front, and in the Dundas regulations formation changing, from all but closed columns, is carried out by companies, or sometimes by   half-companies, wheeling then marching into their next position. The soldier in this system normally marches straight ahead in his company line.

To make such formation changes on the wheel within a column one needs space between companies, ideally full deploying distance, because then it all falls into place relatively easily, but for well trained troops Quarter Distance could be used (ie the space between successive companies is reduced by three-quarters). This has the advantage that deployment drills are speeded up and is the minimum in which modified wheels can be carried out. One of the more important skills of the Napoleonic battalion commander was to be able to judge distances accurately and know exactly how much space his battalion would occupy in any formation. This same skill should be acquired by wargamers and reenactors.

French, and some other continental armies, seem to have used a distance of 2 metric paces (approximately 26″) between troops both in rank and in file. The soldier would then occupy exactly the same space whether he if facing his front or has executed a turn to left or right. The significance of this is that this makes it far easier to turn right (or left) and march to the flank, enabling formation changes in the “en tiroir” system. The penalty of course is that the firepower for any given frontage is slightly less than in the British system, quite apart from the 2 or 3 rank debate, since 6 British troops will occupy the space of 5 French. The company also lacks that elbow to elbow coherence which Dundas stresses so much.   Such “en tiroir” formation changes are essential if battalions are in close column because there is not sufficient space to wheel. The British, with their insistence on 22″ per man could not easily use close columns, although there is evidence that they did so occasionally, because they would have had difficulty in deploying from them.   French and Prussian battalions using the “en tiroir” system would not have had the same inhibitions. Close columns were of course much more susceptible to both artillery and musketry fire due to the density of the target.

Let us now consider each formation in turn:


Line could clearly move over the battlefield at the ordinary step of 75 or 76 paces per minute without penalty. This rate had been deliberately selected by the authors of 18th century drill manuals as the optimum to allow a steady advance without losing formation. Dundas makes it perfectly clear that this pace was to be maintained in rough as well as smooth ground, indeed that is undoubtedly why it is so slow. I would suspect that well-trained troops (ie drilled to the standard of British Infantry) could have sustained a faster Quick March of 108 paces per minute, or similar other national rates, without losing formation for limited periods provided the terrain was flat or only gently undulating with no rocks, bushes etc to interfere.   I do not believe that faster rates (ie 120-140 per minute doubles or running) were sustainable without losing formation and becoming disorganised. Such rates could only sensibly be used in a final charge for a limited distance.

Haythornthwaite states that the Austrians rarely employed their double of 120 paces per minute as it disordered formations. Sergeant Anton, of the 42nd Highlanders, records at Quatre Bras “We were ready and in line… and forward we hastened [through high cornfields]. By the time we reached a field of clover on the other side we were very much straggled”. Both Kincaid and Leach, of the 95th Rifles, describe the advance of D’Erlon’s Corps at Waterloo, in columns comprising successive battalions in line, as “steady” which compares to the more normal description of French columns advancing as “rapid”.   This suggests these French “lines” probably advanced at Ordinary Step rather than Quick Step.   Wheatley of the Kings German Legion records, at Waterloo, “Colonel Ompteda ordered us into line to charge with a strong injunction to Walk Forward until he gave the word.   When within 60 yards he cried Charge“.

The conclusion is that a Napoleonic battalion commander would know he could always advance in line at Ordinary Step, 75 or 76 paces per minute, but would only order a faster rate (ie a Quick Step of 108 paces per minute) if the ground was favourable or tactical necessity put speed at a higher priority than the risk of disorganisation.


This refers to a formation of a series of companies, each in line, arraigned behind each other. Such a formation is variously called a Column of March or a Column of Manoeuvre, depending on the position of the command element, but is entirely different to a Column of Route (more on which below). Such a column may be at Full Deploying Distance, Half Distance, Quarter Distance or Close, all of which refer to the decreasing distance between successive companies.

Dundas clearly expects all columns to march at the Ordinary Step in all normal   circumstances.   Although the Quick Step was originally designed in the 18th century drill regulations for use when deploying (ie during the transition from column to line, or vice versa), there is plenty of evidence of Quick Step (100-108 paces   per minute) being used by Napoleonic columns   when advancing.   Bugeaud’s famous description, in Oman, of a French column attacking a British Line makes it clear that this was at the Quick Step. It is also possible that columns advanced for limited periods at the double (120-140 paces per minute). Bugeaud speaks of “the Quick Step becoming a run” although he clearly indicates that this caused disorganisation “the ranks began to be mixed up” and undoubtedly this disorder contributed to the disintegration of the battalion once the British line began their volley firing.

The British also seem to have moved columns at the double on occasions. Various accounts of Quatre Bras speak of Picton forming the 1st and 28th Foot in column and “rushing” forward to support the hard pressed 42nd and 44th Foot.   This hardly describes Ordinary Time and is probably pointing to a double rather than Quick Time. Wheeler, of the 51st Light Infantry, is quite specific writing of his unit at Salamanca “Our support being required on the right of the line we now moved on in double quick time….Almost fagged to death we arrived at our position”.

Doubling under fire is however clearly a risky business as was correctly identified by Dundas. It is also likely to reduce battle effectiveness, since doubling with a 59 lb pack with ill- fitting straps, as described by Sergeant Cooper of the 7th Fusiliers, must affect the subsequent rate of firing and loading; ask anyone in the British Army who did the old style Battle Fitness  Tests of a route march, in equipment much more comfortable than Napoleonic equivalents, culminating with firing on the ranges.

Column of Grand Divisions (French Column of Divisions).

This refers to a column in which the companies are two abreast. It may also be called a Column of Attack which is a reference to a particular layout of its companies, allowing a line to be formed simultaneously both to the left and right of the head of the column, instead of the normal system of being able to form only to one side, rather than an indication that it was actually an attacking formation itself.

Much of the problem of moving columns of Grand Divisions is identical to that of movement at faster than Ordinary Step in line. Again I suspect that it would only have been possible to move a column of Grand Divisions in Quick Time on very good ground.   The time taken to deploy from column of Grand Divisions to line is very similar to that of a column of single companies since the basic deployment distances would be maintained. In other words if a column of companies at Quarter Distance forms a Column of Grand Divisions at Quarter Distance not only would the width of each line of companies be doubled but also the depth between each line of companies would be doubled, thus maintaining the overall depth of the battalion.

There are not actually that many examples of Column of Grand Divisions being used. Napoleon forbade his Battalions to use it once they reduced from 9 to 6 companies in 1808 if Voltigeur companies were skirmishing, as they normally were.   Although British regulations do not seem to cover it, there is mention in Dundas that “close column will generally be composed of companies for the purpose of movement, but when it is halted, and is to deploy into line, it will then stand two companies in front and five in depth”; in other words a Column of Grand Division formation.

There is however clear evidence of British battalions forming Columns of Grand Division. Wheeler further writes of Salamanca “We broke into open column of divisions [companies] right in front and marched to the rear of the enemy…This was not a very agreeable job as the enemy were cannonading the whole length of their line, and our route lay within range of their guns. The fire at length became so furious that it became expedient to form grand division, thus leaving an interval of double the space for their shot to pass through.”

This use of Grand Divisions to reduce casualties from artillery fire was one of the major advantages of the formation and   would work equally well when advancing directly towards the enemy, rather than across their front as in Wheeler’s description.   This resulted from the potential halving of casualties from artillery fire, when compared to moving in a column of single companies, as any one artillery round-shot passed through only 3 lines of companies rather than 6. The potential firepower of the column of Grand Divisions is also doubled when compared to a Column of single companies although the various regulations imply that all columns should deploy into line before firing.

Movement of battalions in columns of Grand Divisions occupies an intermediate point between line and column in terms of risk of disorganisation if Quick Step was used. I suspect that wargamers use this formation far more frequently than historically justified because the penalties are not properly understood and therefore not incorporated into the rules. Companies were the size they were so as to be tactically manageable and nations who used large companies invariably manoeuvred by half-companies (eg the Prussian Zug). Double companies could not wheel so easily since the system of increasing the length of pace on the outside would become impractical (Dundas had a chart to show this increase) and some formation changing drills took longer. It was therefore a less flexible formation than is generally realised.

Ordre Mixte.

 Despite Napoleon’s alleged preference for this formation in many ways it was a throwback to the Revolutionary tactics   of necessity. Although tactically innovative, from the movement point of view this formation has all of the inherent problems of linear multi-battalion formations of the 18th century.

Oman, in Wellington’s Army, claims that Albuera was “the only fight in the [Peninsular] war in which there is definite proof that the enemy fought in the Ordre Mixte”. Arnold (Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Winter 1982) refutes this and says the French did not advance in Ordre Mixte at Albuera.

Interestingly however there is at least one example of British use of a similar formation. Knowles, of the 7th Fusiliers, writes “Our Regiment advanced in line with the 23rd and 48th in close column on each flank”.

I suggest that it would be virtually impossible to move at other than Ordinary Step and still keep the entire formation of at least three battalions linked together. This was clearly the view of the authors of the 18th century drill manuals who prescribed the Ordinary Step for all movements of formations on the   battlefield.   Dundas states “2 or 3 battalions may occasionally deploy in the same manner as a single battalion but in proportion to the number of divisions [companies] does the difficulty of execution increase and at any rate the formation will probably be inaccurate and defective”.

Column of Route.

This formation, achieved by turning a line to the right or left then marching off in file, was not strictly speaking a battlefield formation but was normally used for marches between battlefields or in other non-tactical conditions.

Dundas states that Columns of Route should be in 6 files, if 3 ranks were used, or 4 files, if 2 ranks were used.   This indicates the inherent problem with this formation. According to Dundas troops should always be formed with each man (file) occupying 22″ elbow to elbow. The distance between ranks is either one or two 30″ paces. As soon as the battalion turns right or left this distance between ranks is reduced to 22″ per man.   It is simply not practicable to march at this spacing for any distance. By comparison the British Army today marches in “modern” open order with 36″ per man.   The solution was to “form fours”, if in two ranks, or “form sixes”, if in three ranks, by the simple expedient of putting the battalion in line in open order (ie rear rank stepping back one pace), “numbering off” and alternate files stepping back and to their right. When the battalion turned to the right (or left) to march off it would be able to do so with a comfortable distance of 44″ per man, which allowing for the soldier’s pack seems about right.

The “doubling up” of the original line formation in forming column of route also had the advantage of keeping the length of road the column occupied as short as practicable thus improving the speed which whole brigades or other higher formations could arrive on the battlefield. This system was clearly being followed in Hamilton-Williams’ description that at Quatre Bras “Picton’s men deployed quickly as they had only to march down the road, halt and turn right to be in line four deep”.

Dundas says that Columns of Route should normally march at the Ordinary Step.   Whilst this may seem very slow, for an infantryman with full kit it would obviously reduce fatigue. Notwithstanding Dundas’ views, all troops could probably march in Quick Step in Column of Route on good roads, without significant penalty. On a forced march, as in that of the Light Division to Talavera, they could alternately Quick March and Double, thus creating some fatigue, including casualties dropping out, but no disorganisation to the battalion structure.


Most wargames rules assume that squares are virtually immobile. Dundas however makes it clear that squares can move;   “when a square or oblong is to march by any one face, the side which is to lead is advanced, the colours move up behind its centre, the opposite side faces about, and the two flank sides wheel up by sub-divisions [half companies] so as to stand in open column.   The square marches; two sides in line and by the centre; and two sides in open column”.   Dundas also has more  complicated evolutions for a square moving diagonally, with all companies making a half wheel into an echelon formation.

There seems to be some evidence of squares moving without extending the side companies by the sides simply turning right and left, and marching off in column of route, whilst the front and rear faces of the square are moving in short lines of two or three companies.   There will however clearly be problems of distance between ranks on the flanks in doing so, as identified in the section on Column of Route above, and this is undoubtedly why the “Dundas system” does not allow for it.

The Napoleonic battalion so formed in a mobile square is no more cumbersome than a Column of Grand Divisions and has a smaller frontage than that since it will normally be formed in six or four ranks.   Major Forbes of the 79th Highlanders (Sibourne’s Waterloo Letters) speaks of the battalion being “formed and moved forward in square” at Quatre Bras. Wheatley of the Kings German Legion records that at Waterloo “an ADC galloped up and called for the 5th battalion to deploy and advance.   Colonel Ompteda said would it not be advisable to advance in square [due to the proximity of French cavalry] and not form line until closer to the enemy’s infantry”. The Light Division at Fuentes de Onoro withdrew across a plain whilst being harassed by French cavalry for several miles, for some of the time in close column of companies but also for some of the time in mobile squares. Hamilton-Williams states that the formation used by the final attack by the French Old Guard at Waterloo was in square not column as previously thought.

There is no evidence that any of these historical examples were at a movement rate less than Ordinary Time. The simple fact is that a square cannot move any slower than at the Ordinary Step because there was no slower speed in the drill regulations.   A square will therefore move at exactly the same speed as a line or column on the same ground conditions. On good ground it could probably move at the Quick Step for short distances without penalty. The order to halt and form a stationary square from the “Dundas mobile square” would be far faster than creating a square from line or column. If a the square had not deployed its side companies, as would seem likely in the French Old Guard example, the order to halt and face outward would be achieved in seconds, although some “closing up” might be necessary. The real penalty for moving in square is not in speed of movement but in the presentation of a very concentrated target.


Dundas makes it clear that if light troops are formed with their parent battalion they should move at exactly the same rate as their line counterparts. He goes on to say “Light companies, in such cases as demand it, will march in Quick Time but in order with files loose but not too open”.

The reference to “loose files” may need clarification. Dundas makes it clear that all line infantry, whether static or mobile, should always be “elbow to elbow” at 22″ per man, and that this direct contact is essential for company integrity.   If the distance between files is “loosened up” (ie for skirmishers) then this is “extended order”.

Dundas says “all movement of the light companies [when deployed], except when firing, advancing or retreating, are to be in the Quick Time. The light companies are not to run unless directed and in that case they are only to move at that pace in which they can preserve their order”. The reference to advancing and retreating is clearly intended to ensure that the light company remains at a constant screening distance from the main body.

He goes on to mention a battalion of light infantry, clearly a reference to an ad-hoc grouping of several battalion light companies, since this instruction preceded the formation of true light battalions, and says such a battalion “may occasionally be ordered to run, for the purpose of anticipating an enemy going to occupy any particular post, but in doing so the utmost care is to be taken that confusion does not ensue. Running must generally be in a column”.

Kincaid, Simmons and Leach frequently refer to skirmishers “doubling” and it is clear that in practice they habitually moved at the Quick Step, as per the regulations, but on the evidence of the many diarists of the Light Division doubled (ie moved at 120 paces per minute) or ran far more frequently than Dundas envisaged.


Well, there you have it, regulations based on 18th century slow moving multi-battalion lines adapted to allow Napoleonic battalions to operate more flexibly and with brigade or battalion commanders choosing the appropriate formation, and most importantly, the correct speed of march, for the particular situation. The decision to move at faster than the Ordinary Step would be a calculated one and a battalion commander who, by doing so, put his battalion into sufficient disorder as to need to halt and dress his ranks would justly have his professional competence doubted (wargamers and reenactors please note). Such a decision would only be justified if greater speed was necessary to reach a particular objective, as Dundas makes perfectly clear.

Gratton, of the 88th Connaught Rangers, describes how   it was done at Salamanca. “Wallace’s three regiments advanced in open column until within two hundred and fifty yards of the ridge held by the French Infantry….The calm but stern advance of Wallace’s brigade was received with beating of drums and loud cheers from the French…. Packenham, who was naturally of a boiling spirit and hasty temper, was on this day perfectly cool.   He told Wallace to form line from open column without halting [to minimize casualties from skirmisher fire whilst deploying]. They speedily got footing on the brow of the hill, but before they had time to take breath, the entire French Division…ran forward to meet them,…belching forth a torrent of bullets….The brigade, which till this time cheerfully bore up against the heavy fire they had been exposed to without returning a shot, were now impatient…Packenham, seeing that the proper moment had arrived, called out to Wallace “to let them loose”. The three regiments ran onward, and the mighty [French] phalanx, which but a moment before was so formidable, loosened and fell in pieces”.

The description of “a calm but stern advance” seems to indicate the battalion columns moving at Ordinary Step, deploying into line at the Quick Step without halting, probably continuing their advance in line at the Ordinary Step (Gratton mentions that their muskets were still at the rest at this stage) then breaking into a run for the final charge.


Having started this article from a wargame perspective it seems appropriate to finish with lessons for wargamers from this. In my view these are:

Movement Rates.

In complex rule systems there could be a maximum of 5 march speeds, Ordinary, Quick, Double, Run and Rout, the latter not being mentioned in any regulations for obvious reasons. National variations may also be catered for. In simple “Fast-Play” rule systems these should be reduced to 3 : Ordinary, Quick/Double and Run/Rout with national variations being averaged out.

Whether complex or simple rules are being used these same speeds are applicable to all infantry of all types, light and line, in all formations; column, line, square etc. In other words if a line is moving at the Ordinary Step and a Column at the Quick Step, when the order is given for the line to speed up it can only do so to the Quick Step. It will then be moving at exactly the same speed as the column and not at some strange hybrid speed. A double for a line is exactly the same speed as a double for a column.

Skirmishers should use exactly the same Quick Time, Double or Run speeds as other troops. They will just do so more frequently.


All formations should be able to move on good and difficult terrain (ie light woods, marshes, cornfields, ploughed fields etc) at the Ordinary Step without penalty.

There may be some very difficult terrain (eg dense woods) which only skirmishers can enter without penalty.

The more linear the formation the greater penalty, in terms of disorganisation, at progressively higher march rates. In other words Columns of Route suffer least, with penalties increasing through Single Columns, Double Columns and Squares, to Lines. This occurs because wider formations are more likely to hit minor obstacles and the normal obstacle crossing technique, which enabled constant march speeds to be maintained, cannot operate so effectively at higher march rates.

Such penalties should apply even on good ground, because the wargames table is not detailed enough to show the many small obstacles, including casualties, littering the battlefield, and should be more severe on difficult terrain.

Skirmishers should only be affected at the highest speeds (ie when doubling or running on difficult terrain).

The wargamer, like the real Napoleonic commander, should select appropriate march rates for the formation and terrain. It should particularly be stressed that the penalty for faster movement, especially with more linear formations, is disorganisation and not any decrease in speed of march. Some wargamers may claim that variation in movement rates in their rules reflect the need to halt and reform in some formations. If this is so they are merely condemning all of their wargame battalion commanders as incompetents who moved their troops too fast for the conditions.

Players may choose to halt and reform units to remove such disorganisation but this should be their choice, as it was for the Napoleonic Battalion commander. Disorganisation penalties should be sufficiently severe to discourage the use of inappropriately high march rates for the formation and terrain.

The only direct reductions to movement distances should occur on steep hills (stepping short) and crossing linear obstacles (streams, walls etc) where a compulsory reforming of ranks will be necessary before movement can resume.

Disorganisation points should be cumulative and make deployment and combat more difficult. In extreme cases the formation will disintegrate (ie a line running for more than a short distance will lose cohesion and cease to be effective until reformed).

Casualties should not cause disorganisation, apart from in extreme cases, because there were good drills for closing up. Casualties will however clearly affect morale.

Well trained (ie higher class) units should suffer less from disorganisation than inexperienced ones. They will therefore be able to march at consistently faster rates in any given terrain.

Final Word.

If the thoughts above were put into wargame rules one effect on the player is that he will be faced with the choice of moving his troops more slowly towards the enemy than most current rules allow, suffering more casualties in the process, but remaining in good order, or moving at higher march speeds to minimise casualties but risking disorganisation.

This was of course exactly the dilemma of the Napoleonic battalion commander. Dundas was quite clear in his views that “more time will be lost by hurry and inaccuracy than is attempted to be gained by quickness” and “the hurrying of a body moving in front will certainly produce confusion and disorder. It is never to be risked when an enemy is in presence”. He was clearly a very cautious man. Few wargamers, and perhaps few successful generals, are quite so excessively so.


I wrote this article over 20 years ago.  There is one matter which I think would be improved with a little more explanation and one which is wrong, and needs correction.

The first is in regard to the use of “plummets” to regulate the pace of marching.  This was of course a parade ground technique to inculcate march rates in recruits, just as a pace stick was used (and still is today) to ensure recruits always take a 30 inch pace.  Neither were used on the battlefield, but the constant repetition on the parade ground would make march rates and length of pace absolutely instinctive.

The second point is that my description in this article of the way in which “fours” and “sixes” were used to form Columns of Route is completely wrong.  A correct description of the drill is in my article Basic Formations and Movement Drills.