Napoleonic Infantry Battalion Structures

During the late 16th century, monarchs raised infantry units by granting a charter, or commission, for an individual to raise and equip a regiment.  This individual would become the colonel of the regiment, a title evolving from the Spanish for “column leader”, all funds for the regiment would be paid to him and he paid all expenses of the regiment.  Such a financial system could lead to regiments being money making concerns to their proprietors.  Regiments were originally organised into a number of companies, each commanded by a captain, again who often had a financial stake in his company, but in the 17th century a new sub-structure evolved.

Regiments of the 17th century were equipped with both pikes and muskets, since the pikes were needed to give the slow firing matchlock muskets protection.  These regiments were invariably organised with a central core of pikemen, flanked by two wings of musketeers.  These three tactical sub-groups of the regiment became known as battalions, and were commanded respectively by the colonel, a lieutenant-colonel and the senior captain (who became known as the major).

By the early 18th century, flintlock muskets had replaced matchlocks in all armies, and the need for pikemen had ceased.  Many armies retained the tactical sub-structure of dividing a regiment into three battalions, each of a number of companies.  As time went by, some variations of regiments of two or four battalions per regiment crept in.  In some nations, particularly the British, political reductions in Army strengths which could have led to complete regiments being disbanded, were ameliorated by reducing regiments to single battalions, thus keeping alive the colonel’s financial interest in them and providing a base for future wartime expansion.

Although many nations used multi-battalion Infantry Regiments, and these were normally allocated to the same Brigade, such Regiments were administrative formations.  The tactical formation level was the Brigade which could comprise anything from 2 to 8 battalions.  A Brigade might therefore comprise only one large regiment of 3 or 4 battalions, more often two regiments each of 2 or 3 battalions and sometimes up to 6 battalions from various regiments.  Brigades tended to be between 2,000 to 3,000 men regardless of the number of battalions in them, so that if battalions were weak then there would be more of them to the Brigade.  If battalions were very strong, as in the case of British guards, then it was normal to only have 2 battalions per brigade, but of course they could then operate by wings to create the tactical equivalent of 4 small battalions.  Brigade Commanders sometimes grouped battalions from different Regiments together for particular operational tasks as two examples, one French and one Austrian, from the Leipzig campaign indicate.

“The allied threat to Schönefeld had become so great that Ricard’s 11th Division had been moved to defend the village.  He prepared his advance with two battalions of the 142nd and one of the 50th Line Regiment in echelon, supported by the remainder of the battalions of these two regiments.”[1]

“As the Austrian grenadiers recaptured Dölitz, Lederer received an order from Schwarzenberg to send troops.  In response he sent two battalions. One from the Kaunitz and the other from the W. Colloredo Infantry Regiment to support Weissenwolf on the right bank of the Pleisse.”[2]

Two Prussian examples from the Waterloo campaign show the same ability to produce task forces of battalions drawn from several regiments.

“General Losthin, commanding the 15th Brigade, detached three battalions towards Frischermont and Smohain, to cover the right flank.  They were the 2nd Battalion of the 18th Regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Silesian Landwehr, followed by the 1st Battalion of the former regiment.”  [3]

“In the meantime, the Prussian battalions that had been detached for the protection of the left of the attack upon Planchenoit, namely the Fusilier Battalion of the 15th Regiment, and that of the 1st Silesian Landwehr, as also that of the 25th Regiment had turned the village.”  [4]

Although battalions were the primary tactical unit, this is not to say that multi-battalion regiments were never used tactically.  Battalions were the basic building blocks for higher formation tactics and Napoleonic generals (and their modern successors) assessed the number of battalions which they required for a particular operation, whether it be attack, defence or reserve.  More often than not they would then assign one or more complete brigades to each such task.  Sometimes groups of less than a complete brigade would be required and those nations which had more than one multi-battalion regiment in their brigades may well assign such a regiment to a particular task.  Although this happened frequently in such armies there are nevertheless many instances when tactical groupings did not follow regimental structures.

If on the other hand a single battalion was required for a particular task commanders would not be inhibited in detaching one from its parent regiment.  At Waterloo, for example, the 2nd Nassau Regiment was part of Saxe-Weimars’s Brigade holding the Pappelotte/La Haye/Smohain complex but the 1st Battalion of that Regiment was detached to form part of the Hougoumont garrison some two miles distant from its parent regiment. [5]

Internally battalions were divided into a number of sub-units which did not normally operate independently (apart from when defending buildings or skirmishing).  These can be seen as the building blocks for firing and formation changing, however much of the internal organisation of the Napoleonic (or for that matter 18th Century) infantry battalion was dictated by both the requirements of administration and tactics.

Administration inside a battalion included making sure that the soldiers had frequent training to maintain their basic skills, were paid (not always that frequently), had all of their equipment in good order (with a recorded system of stoppages of pay to replace lost items), and discipline was maintained.  In all nations these matters were decentralised to the company level, where an experienced Captain, assisted by a small number of Lieutenants and Sergeants commanded establishments of between 100 to 200 men (in practice rather lower strengths of between 60 to 150 men formed companies in the field).

The concept of administrative companies had grown from the medieval trained bands owned by their captains.    In the 18th century the vestiges of this proprietorial system were still to be seen, with companies being treated as income generating machines for their commanders.

“The fundamental administrative unit of the Prussian army was still the old mercenary band, under its new guise of the company.  The weapons of the unit were considered to be the new commander’s stock-in-trade, for which he demanded 800 thalers when a new captain took over in his place.  Likewise the senior officers clung to the proprietorship of their companies, regardless of the altitude of their rank.”  [6]

By the beginning of the Revolutionary Wars this proprietorial system had for the most part been transferred to the regimental level but the delegation of administration within battalions to the company level invariably reflected the former practice.

In order to carry out formation changing drills and firing drills a battalion (of any nationality) needed to be divided into a number of tactical sub-units.  At the beginning of the 18th century there was little correlation between administrative, firing and manoeuvring sub-units even to the degree that they had three different nomenclature, administrative companies, firing platoons and manoeuvre divisions.  In 1709 for example the British had 13 administrative companies per battalion (one grenadier plus 12 centre) which were also the basis for movement but fired as 18 platoons (two grenadier plus 16 centre). [7]   By 1745 the British Army was operating as 10 administrative companies (one grenadier and 9 centre) with the 9 centre companies being restructured into 4 grand divisions (of 3 or 4 platoons each, depending on battalion strength) for firing. [8]  The grenadier company formed two additional firing platoons, bringing the total in the battalion to 14 or 18, depending on battalion strength.

During the same period the French army changed from 13 companies per battalion in 1703 to 17 in 1741, 14 in 1750, 9 in 1762, 6 in 1776 and back to 9 in 1791.

The discrepancy between administrative and tactical organisation of the battalion was of little consequence to the early 18th century battalion which marched to the rear of the battlefield as an entity, fired by complete ranks and did no manoeuvring on the battlefield, other than marching straight ahead as a complete battalion.  Later in the century more complex platoon firing systems and battlefield tactical manoeuvres were introduced and gradually most armies reorganised to have a better correlation between their administrative, firing and movement sub-units.

The British 1727 regulations, Bland’s “A Treatise of Military Discipline”, for example, divided the battalion into three grand divisions for movement purposes.  These comprised 3, 4 or 5 sub-divisions depending upon the strength of the battalion.[9]  For firing the battalion was divided into a number of platoons which varied depending upon total battalion strength and could be as many as 18 or few as 14.[10]  Neither the manoeuvre divisions nor firing platoons bore any direct relationship to the administrative company structure. [11]

By 1759 British regulations formally linked manoeuvring and firing elements of the battalion by having four grand divisions each of four platoons,[12] exclusive of the Grenadier Company and standardising on 16 firing platoons,[13] with the Grenadier Company forming an additional two platoons.

The 1764 British regulations finally linked administrative companies into this structure by using equalised companies (a concept which will be explained shortly) as platoons. [14]  Since there were 8 centre companies per battalion this created a structure of two firing platoons per grand division, with grenadier companies split in half and formed on the flanks if they were not elsewhere in converged battalions.  The creation of light companies in 1771 [15] saw the standardisation of the grenadier company forming on the right flank of the battalion and the light company on the left.

The more fluid tactics which emerged by the commencement of the Revolutionary Wars required battalions to be able to manoeuvre on the battlefield in lines, columns and squares.  The ability to convert quickly from one formation to another was critical.  The structure of tactical sub-units became was an important factor in this.  By 1792 the British regulations were stating:

“The battalion is 10 companies (1 Grenadier, 8 Battalion, 1 Light).  The eight battalion companies will compose four grand divisions, eight companies or platoons [also referred to as divisions for manoeuvring], sixteen sub-divisions, thirty-two sections, when sufficiently strong to be so divided, otherwise twenty-four, for the purpose of march.  The battalion is also divided into right and left wings.” [16]

By the start of the Revolutionary Wars some nations (notably Britain and France) thus had tactical sub-units which were virtually identical to the administrative companies, however even for these there could be the need for minor adjustments.

Soldiers stayed on the roll of their administrative company unless they were formally posted to another, and this would normally only happen to officers or sergeants if they were promoted into a vacancy in another company.  Casualties, sickness etc could lead to inequalities in company strengths, which could only be corrected when a new draught of reinforcements arrived.  Battalion formation changing and firing drills however needed all tactical sub-units of the battalion to be the same size, so the practice evolved of making temporary attachments and detachments between companies to equalise strengths prior to a battle.  After the battle all troops would return to their parent companies.  This was the basis for the continuance of different terminology for administrative and tactical sub-units.   British regulations state:

“The companies must be equalised in point of numbers at all times when the battalion is formed for field movement” [17]

The term “company” is thus a reference to an administrative sub-unit in all nations.  The British called this same company sized element, once equalised, a “division” for tactical movement or a “platoon” for firing.  A half company became a “sub-division” and a double company became a “grand division”.  There is however a degree of inconsistency in the use of the terms within the 1792 regulations and sometimes “company “ is used when logic would indicate “division” is more appropriate.

French terminology uses company in the same administrative sense as the British but uses the term “peleton” for the tactical equalised equivalent of this, both for movement and firing. [18]  To the French a double company was a “division” and this difference in usage in British and French regulations has caused some misunderstandings.

Certain nations, namely Prussians, Russians and Austrians, used very large administrative companies, nearly twice the size of the British or French equivalents, but operated tactically as equalised half companies.  The Prussians called their tactical half company a “züg” and a Prussian division was 2 zügen (ie the frontage of a single company). [19]   The Russians used exactly the same system with 2 (tactical) platoons to one (administrative) company.  The Austrians combined both administrative and tactical terminology by having divisions of 2 companies (referring to the tactically equalised companies as half divisions) and half companies of 2 zügen (ie one Austrian züg is a quarter company, which can cause confusion when comparing Austrian and Prussian organisations).  [20]

The internal structure of all battlefield sub-units was similar, with most soldiers, including some officers and non-commissioned officers, being formed in a number of rows (ranks), normally with one pace between ranks.  Most nations used three rank formations during the Napoleonic era but a few, notably the British and their closest allies, using a two rank structure.  If the ranks are seen as horizontal then each vertical line of men in the formation is known as a file.  A few officers, NCOs and drummers would be positioned outside the close structure of rank and file.  Typical British and French company Rank and File structures are shown below (officers, sergeants and drummers not shown).



As can be seen a typical British company of 60 Rank and File in two ranks occupied exactly the same frontage as a typical French company of 90 Rank and File in three ranks.

Although not specifically stated, there is a clear indication in both drill regulations and recorded tactical practice that there was an optimum size for tactical sub-units.  This arose simply because the wider the frontage the longer it takes to manoeuvre, and so it was normal for Napoleonic infantry battalions to limit their primary tactical sub-unit establishments to some 150 men, which in 3 ranks gives a frontage of 50 men.  In practice strengths fell to some 75-90 men in the field thus giving frontages of 25 – 30 men.  British company strengths in the field were often weaker, at some 60 men, but because they formed in two ranks their tactical sub-unit frontage of 30 men was virtually identical to that of a typical French peleton.  Throughout the Napoleonic Wars there was a trend towards faster movement and smaller column frontages facilitated this.  A column formed on a frontage of a single tactical sub-unit was highly manoeuvrable because it could wheel quickly and stood less chance of being disrupted by obstacles on the battlefield than wider formations.

All Napoleonic troops had drills for forming columns two tactical sub-units wide but some nations used them more often than others for reasons explained in a later article.  No nations had drills for forming columns wider than two tactical sub-units because such a column would have been unable to wheel without breaking its frontage into separate elements, each wheeling in echelon. This wheeling by separate elements in echelon was exactly how lines “wheeled” and it is simply a matter of human ergonomics that the men on the outer wing of a rank with a frontage of more than 100 men cannot retain formation in a wheel at any Napoleonic marching rate.  Primary tactical sub-unit sizes are shown at below.


Although there was some variation in battalion strengths, it is noticeable that there was remarkably little variation in tactical sub-unit frontages, these being mostly in the range between 25 to 40 files.  This simply arose because it became obvious to all Napoleonic officers that such frontages produced the optimum size for manoeuvring, formation changing and firing.

The question that arises from this analysis is why some nations (eg British and French) had virtually identical administrative and tactical sub-units in their battalions and other nations (eg Prussian, Russian and Austrian) chose to have large administrative companies each containing two tactical sub-units.  An important factor was that large administrative companies achieved a more economic officer to soldier ratio as shown below.


The upper section of the table shows those battalions whose internal structure was such that their tactical sub-units were based on equalised companies.  The table shows full establishment figures since this is what determined such organisational decisions but in practice few units were at such full strengths.  This analysis indicates officer to soldier ratios in the companies ranging from 1:25 to 1:46, the average being 1:36.  The ratio of captains to soldiers in these same units varied from 1:78 to 1:166, the average being 1:119.

The lower half of the table deals with those battalions whose tactical sub-units were based on equalised half-companies.   In most cases the overall battalion strengths were similar to those in the upper part of the table but the officer to soldier ratios range from 1:37 to 1:63, averaging 1:47.  The difference is even more striking in the comparison of captain to soldier ratios which range from 1:148 to 1:225, an average of 1:185.

For nations with large armies, economising on the officer to soldier ratio made sense. This was particularly so for those who insisted on some pretensions of aristocracy amongst their officers, since this policy reduced the potential recruitment pool.  Such an attitude was particularly prevalent amongst the central and eastern European nations as exemplified by the following quote:

“In Prussia by 1789, there were 379 field-grade infantry officers; only two of them were commoners.  Frederick II preferred to employ foreign nobles than allow native commoners to enter the officer corps.  In Russia about 90 percent of the officers were aristocrats”. [21]

It is also highly relevant that most of soldiering is not fighting battles but the administration and training in between them.  This administration and training takes far more expertise than tactical battle drills and needs to be planned and supervised by experienced company commanders who were established as Captains in all Napoleonic Armies.  The reduced proportion of Captains to Soldiers in nations with large companies is very striking.  Although each company would carry out much of its own administration and training, once in battle each tactical sub-unit operated in very strictly controlled drills which junior lieutenants or experienced sergeants were perfectly capable of directing.  A typical structure for such a large company is that described by Captain Franz Roeder of the Hessian Lifeguards, who were organised with 4 large administrative companies, forming 8 tactical sub-units, in the 1812 campaign:

“From my own company I left at the depot 2 non-commissioned officers, 1 drummer and 29 soldiers; so that there now remained for the campaign: 1 captain, 1 first lieutenant, 2 second lieutenants, 1 sergeant-major, 1 sergeant, 1 quartermaster- sergeant, 9 corporals, 3 drummers, 1 fifer, 1 sapper, 10 schützen (sharpshooters), 150 soldiers, 181 men in all, to which must be added 4 wagon drivers or officers’ batmen, so that the total comes to 185 men.  Quite a respectable number of people for the captain to look after at the front.”  [22]

The question arises as to why the British and French did not use the same large company system and the answer is that they did not do so because they did not need to.  Although there were obvious economies (particularly in experienced Captains) in operating with large companies of two tactical sub-units such an organisation was clearly “second best”.  Conventional military wisdom today holds that soldiers fight best when led by the same officers who administer and train them.  Such attitudes were alien to armies raised in the tradition of Frederick the Great that the best soldiers were unthinking automatons. Close order tactics, and particularly the need for tactical sub-unit equalisation, reinforced this concept.  During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars the Prussian, Russian and Austrian armies, to a greater or lesser extent, still tended towards this 18th century view of the soldier, although it is fair to say that the Prussian army had adopted more enlightened views by the end of the Napoleonic wars.

Memoirs indicate that many British and French officers took a more modern view of their relationship with their soldiers than was prevalent in the 18th century.  A few officers, particularly those involved in raising light infantry units, held visionary ideas regarding the need for soldiers to fight under the same officers who trained them, and also to do so in sub-units which promoted strong bonds of comradeship.  Colonel Coote Manningham, who raised the Experimental Corps of Riflemen stated that transfers between companies were not to be made unless absolutely necessary since:

“ Riflemen, being liable to act very independently of each other, and in numerous small detachments in the field, will feel the comfort and utility of their own officer, non-commissioned officers, and comrades with them, and the service will be benefited by the tie of friendship.” [23]

The British Army could have suffered from the same difficulties of recruiting sufficient officers as the Prussians, Russians and Austrians but it did not for two reasons.  Firstly it was always a small Army by Napoleonic standards (and all regular as opposed to raised by conscription), thus more easily able to find sufficient officers for its Regiments.  Secondly it did not actually rely on aristocratic backgrounds to the same degree as some other Napoleonic armies.  Most British Officers, apart from those in the Guards and some Cavalry Regiments, were from middle class backgrounds, albeit often from families with a tradition of military service as described in a recent study:

“It is often stated that Wellington’s army was officered almost entirely by the aristocracy and landed gentry, and that they bought their commissions.  These claims, however are wide of the mark on both accounts for in 1809 there were just 140 officers in the army who were peers or sons of peers and almost half were serving with either the cavalry or the three regiments of Foot Guards….The majority of Wellington’s officers hailed from the professional classes which encompassed everyone from the landed gentry to doctors and lawyers.” [24]

The introduction to a recently published set of memoirs of a Peninsular officer brings this home vividly:

“The belief persists and is still put about by otherwise reputable historians that the officers of Wellington’s army were scions of the aristocracy who obtained their commissions and their promotion by purchase.  George Hennell is an example of a far more common type of Napoleonic war officer.  He was the son of a Coventry ribbon manufacturer in a moderate way of business whose cousins were silversmiths in the City of London.  Two generations back his family was making a modest competence as linen drapers in Kettering.  Far from purchasing his commission, George went out to the Peninsula armed with only a letter of introduction to Major General Thomas Picton, the formidable Welsh commander of the Third, the “Fighting” Division of Wellington’s army.  He found Picton in the “Camp before Badajoz” and the general attached him to the Ninety Fourth Foot as a Volunteer.  Two days later that regiment took part in the storming of Badajoz and George distinguished himself to such an extent that within six weeks he found himself gazetted as an ensign in the Forty Third Light Infantry, one of the most sought-after regiments in the army.”  [25]

A further quote from the introduction to those same memoirs analyses the origins of British officers in more detail.

“During the Peninsular war 4½ percent of all new officers gained their first commissions as Volunteers.  This was a slightly smaller proportion than those promoted from the ranks (5.42 percent) and rather more than earned their commissions from the Royal Military College (3.9 percent).  The proportion who purchased their commissions was slightly less than one in five and in the infantry of the line (where an ensigncy cost £400) only 17 percent did so…..out of twenty-eight ensigns who joined the Forty Third after Hennell, only three purchased.  The largest number of new officers in the army either did so from the Militia or were given free commissions on the strength of a recommendation from someone holding the rank of major or above.”  [26]

The French had very large armies but solved their potential shortages of officers by a meritocracy that promoted capable men regardless of social background.  In French line regiments the proportions of officers to soldiers were similar to the British.  However the increase in size of the French Imperial Guard created a problem which was solved by emulating Prussian practice. By April 1806 the Old Guard comprised 2 regiments of Grenadiers and two regiments of Chasseurs, each of two battalions and internally organised as 8 companies per battalion.  By the end of that year the French Middle Guard of two regiments (Fusilier-grenadiers and Fusilier-chasseurs) had been formed. The Middle Guard regiments also had two battalions but each battalion was organised as 4 large companies, operating as 8 tactical peletons, as a way of allowing this expansion of the Guard with a more modest increase in the proportion of experienced Company Commanders.  In 1809 an even greater expansion took place on the formation of 8 regiments of Young Guard.  Although the Young Guard itself (two regiments each of Tirailleur-Grenadier, Tirrailleur-Chasseur, Conscrit-Grenadier and Conscrit-Chasseur) had a conventional French line structure of 6 companies per battalion, the massive increase in guards officers and NCOs was provided by simultaneously reducing the Old Guard.  The 2nd Regiments of Grenadiers and Chasseurs were disbanded (to be reformed in 1810-11) and their 1st Regiments, which had hitherto had 8 companies per battalion now had 4 large companies operating tactically as 8 peletons.  This reorganisation enabled 48 experienced captains to be posted from the Old Guard to the Young Guard to provide a nucleus for the latter.

Both the Spanish and Portuguese had organisations which reflected the influence of Prussian émigré officers, in particular both using large administrative companies which split into two tactical sub-units.  The Spanish originally used a structure similar to the  Prussian 1797 organisation of three battalions per regiment, each battalion of 4 large companies, but later adopted battalions of 6 companies, similar to French practice.  The Portuguese originally had an unusual 7 company per battalion organisation which was only workable in the rigid linear warfare of the 18th century.  In 1802 they abandoned this and adopted a similar structure to the 1799 Prussian organisation of two battalions per regiment, each of 5 large companies. There are notes to some Oman appendices which confusingly imply that the Portuguese were still using a 7 company per battalion organisation in 1809, and many other historians have followed this. However the fact that the Portuguese army operated on a five company per battalion structure from 1802 is confirmed by General Foy [27] and Oman himself seems very clear in his detailed statement that:

“The Portuguese regular army….had received its existing shape from a foreign hand, that of the well-known ‘Conde de La Lippe,’ ie the German Marshal, Frederick Count of Lippe-Bückeburg, who had been entrusted with its command during the short war with Spain in 1762.  He it was who first gave Portugal an army of the modern type, modelled on the ordinary system of the eighteenth century, and showing many traces of adaptations from a Prussian original…..As he left it, the Portuguese army consisted of twenty-four regiments of the line, each forming a single battalion of seven companies and 806 men…..The short Spanish war of 1801-2 had revealed the complete disorganisation of the army.  Hasty measures were taken to strengthen it: in the moment of panic every infantry battalion was ordered to raise a second battalion, and though the number of companies was lowered from seven to five, yet as each of them was now to consist of 150 instead of 116 men, the total strength of each infantry corps was raised to 1,500 officers and men.” [28]

When the British took over the training of the Portuguese army in 1809 and modified Portuguese drill to British regulations, they continued this practice, since this meant that they could ensure that they had one British officer in each large Portuguese company to train and administer them.  Some modern amateur military historians have suggested that the Portugese operated by complete two battalion regiments, comprising a total of 10 companies.  There was in fact absolutely no problem at all for Portuguese units to use the British drill regulations by operating as 10 half-companies, each of a similar size to a British company, since such operation by half-companies was already enshrined in the former Prussian regulations.  This structure was confirmed by the new 1810 Portuguese Regulations ordered by Beresford which stated (in Part 3 page 95 – my translation) “Each company forms two divisions”.[29]   In fact the whole of Part 3 of these Portuguese Regulations is concerned with Battalions, and nowhere does it suggest operating by complete Regiments.

The Hanoverian army was reformed in 1813, and originally adopted the same eight company per battalion structure that the Kings German Legion had used prior to 1812.  When however a further 30 battalions of Landwehr were formed in 1815 there was some difficulty in finding enough experienced officers.  The solution was for these to be organised as 4 large administrative companies per battalion, most companies having one KGL officer and one KGL sergeant attached to supervise training.  Tactically these landwehr battalions could then operate as 8 half-companies, emulating the drill of their regular colleagues.  This concept mirrored that adopted for the Portuguese army in similar circumstances earlier.

The final organisational question concerning Napoleonic infantry is why there were so many variations in the number of tactical sub-units per battalion.  Even numbers are clearly desirable for symmetry.   A minimum of 4 tactical sub-units was necessary to carry out formation changing drills (eg forming square) but this would create a very small battalion with ineffective firepower.  Large numbers of tactical sub-units (eg the British 10 or Austrian 12) took longer to change formation than the same number of men organised into a smaller number of sub-units.  The optimum seems to have been 8, as used by the Prussians and Russians.

The French pre-1808 battalion of 9 companies frequently detached its Grenadiers and so operated tactically with 8 platoons (as most of the illustrations in the 1791 Regulations show).  The move to 6 companies per battalion in 1808 speeded up battalion manoeuvring and formation changing, but at the cost of some loss of tactical flexibility.  This was particularly so if it was necessary to detach flank companies (hence Napoleon’s directive of 18th February 1808 requiring forming by peletons, rather than divisions, if flank companies were detached – which will be examined in a later article).  French Old and Middle Guard remained on 8 tactical sub-units per battalion throughout their life, even during the periods when they were organised as 4 large administrative companies.

It should be noted that many of the illustrations in the British 1792 drill regulations show 8, not 10 companies.  This arises because in the early part of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars it was normal for British battalions to detach their flank companies into converged “elite battalions” leaving 8 centre companies per battalion as Surtees, then serving with the 56th Foot, describes occurring in 1799 :

“At this time the flank companies of all those regiments destined for Holland were separated from their battalions, and formed into what are termed flank battalions.  That which my company was placed consisted of eleven light companies….The grenadier battalion was composed of an equal number of grenadier companies, and belonged to the same regiments to which ours belonged”.  [30]

The utility of an eight company per battalion organisation is reinforced by the fact that immediately after the Napoleonic Wars the British Army reduced from 10 to 8 companies per battalion whilst the French conversely increased from 6 to 8 at that same time.  Of all the major Napoleonic powers, only the Austrians seemed out of step with their use of 6 companies operating tactically as 12 half companies.


[1] Napoleon at Leipzig.  George Nafziger.  P227

[2] Napoleon at Leipzig.  George Nafziger.  P200

[3] History of the Waterloo Campaign. Captain W Siborne. P318

[4] History of the Waterloo Campaign. Captain W Siborne. P381

[5] Wellington at Waterloo.  Jac Weller. P135

[6] The Army of Frederick the Great.   Christopher Duffy.  P50

[7] The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough.  David Chandler. P96 & P117

[8] Like Hungry Wolves – Culloden Moor 16 April 1746.  Stuart Reid.  P35/36

[9] A Treatise of Military Discipline – 1727.  Humphrey Bland.  P60

[10] A Treatise of Military Discipline – 1727.  Humphrey Bland.  P68

[11] British Redcoat 1740 – 1793.  Stuart Reid and Richard Hook.  P24

[12] A Treatise of Military Discipline – 1759.  Humphrey Bland.  P62

[13] A Treatise of Military Discipline – 1759.  Humphrey Bland.  P74

[14] British Redcoat 1740 – 1793.  Stuart Reid and Richard Hook.  P29

[15] British Redcoat 1740 – 1793.  Stuart Reid and Richard Hook.  P31

[16] Rules and Regulations for the Formations, Field Exercise and Movements of His Majesty’s Forces 1792.  P66

[17] Rules and Regulations for the Formations, Field Exercise and Movements of His Majesty’s Forces 1792.  P67

[18] Règlement de 1791

[19] Reglement für die Königlich Preussichen  Infanterie 1788

[20] Exercitium für die sämmentliche Kaiserlich-Königlichen Infanterie, Generals-Reglement 1769

[21] From Flintlock to Rifle, Infantry Tactics 1740 – 1866.  Steven T Ross.  P18

[22] The Ordeal of Captain Roeder.  P35

[23] Regulations for the Rifle Corps.  Colonel Manningham.

[24] Wellington’s Regiments.  Ian Fletcher

[25] A Gentleman Volunteer.  The Letters of George Hennell from the Peninsular War, 1812–13.  Edited by Michael Glover.  P1

[26] A Gentleman Volunteer.  The Letters of George Hennell from the Peninsular War, 1812–13.  Edited by Michael Glover.  P2

[27] History of the War in the Peninsula under Napoleon.  General Foy

[28] A History of the Peninsular War, Sir Charles Oman, Volume II.  P207-209

[29] Instruccões para o Exercicio dos Regimentos de Infanteria – 1810.  P95.

[30] Twenty-Five Years in the Rifle Brigade.  William Surtees.  P4