Home Forums Horse and Musket Napoleonic Instances of skirmishers driving off formed infantry?

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  • #199703
    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen
    Participant

    I was reading a book and got to wondering:
    Could skirmishers actually prevail over formed infantry in a prolonged firefight in the right circumstances?

    So I turn to you lot: Im looking for any instances where the fire from skirmishers manage to force formed infantry to withdraw.

    Please note I am not looking for speculation on whether this could happen, or arguments for why it totally could or could not. I am after whether there are any instances where it DID happen.

    #199733

    In wooded and rough terrain, it probably happened all the time.  It is very difficult for formed troops to do much cohesive maneuvering at anything above company level so they cannot easily bring their concentrated firepower to bear, certainly not a whole battalion.

     

    Skirmishers would never get themselves into a prolonged firefight, if you define such as being under say a hundred paces distance, so formed infantry must either advance to drive them off, absorb the hits, or withdraw…all depending on officers, training and elan. Exchanging  long  range fire with the skirmishers in their dispersed target formation while presenting a dense target themselves was ultimately a losing proposition for the formed troops.

    Mick Hayman
    Margate and New Orleans

    #199734
    Avatar photoSkip
    Participant

    Possibly infantry that’s green or disorganized, in a already weakened situation.  But the skirmish line in this time couldn’t keep up a fire rate that their triple or better odds isn’t going to move the skirmishers back.

    #199735
    Avatar photoOotKust
    Participant

    No.

    #199741
    Avatar photoGuy Farrish
    Participant

    The 95th Rifles at Tarbes, 20 March 1814, are supposed to have advanced in massed open order (whatever that was) on Harispe’s Division defending either side of a windmill near Orleix and driven it off. How much was due to their shooting and advance and how much to Harispe realising he was about to be outflanked by 6th Div and Somerset’s cavalry is moot.

    The 95th did not follow up Harispe’s withdrawal, leaving that to others which suggests they were not in good order and Harispe’s Division was intact and under control.

     

    #199744
    Avatar photoMr. Average
    Participant

    I believe the Mohawk and Iroquois did it in the French and Indian War, but it’s probably not exactly what you mean.

    #199745
    Avatar photoThomaston
    Participant

    The 95th Rifles at Tarbes, 20 March 1814, are supposed to have advanced in massed open order (whatever that was) on Harispe’s Division defending either side of a windmill near Orleix and driven it off. How much was due to their shooting and advance and how much to Harispe realising he was about to be outflanked by 6th Div and Somerset’s cavalry is moot. The 95th did not follow up Harispe’s withdrawal, leaving that to others which suggests they were not in good order and Harispe’s Division was intact and under control.

     

    I was going to bring up Sharpe, but I guess we’re all going by historical examples. Come to think of it I can’t think of any in movies either. Seems like its actually the threat of close combat that actually breaks formations, the famous bayonet charge and stuff like that. I am often wrong though especuially when it comes to non-fiction.

    #199754
    Avatar photoWhirlwind
    Participant

    Maybe, yes but there seem to be a few different concepts bundled up in the OP.

    From the Waterloo campaign, there were occasions when formed attacking infantry seem to have been stopped by skirmisher fire, and then retired – but this does not neessarily include a ‘prolonged’ firefight. Ensign Standen of 3 Foot Guards reports something like this happening in the Waterloo Letters, just outside of Hougoumont. I feel sure I have read something similar happening to some of Picton’s infantry at one point at Quatre Bras, and also to some of the Prussian Infantry at Ligny (Wagnele).

    There were occasions when defending infantry were forced back by skirmishing fire, although in the the occasions I am aware of, there was always another factor – as Guy mentioned above, flanking units threatening seems the main one. There is an account of Frasnes by Field mentioning this, with dismounted Guard Lancers(!) driving back Nassauer infantry. At Quatre Bras this seems to have been on the brink of happening to 27 Jager and 5 Militia, when the Dutch 7th Line arrived to stabilize the situation.

    I could probably find some more specific examples if you need them.

    The most often cited example might be the fight of Lannes’ infantry and Grawert’s infantry at Jena, where the French prevailed after a very long period, with some authors claiming that the Prussians stood in line for two hours and lost the firefight against Lannes’ troops in open order around Vierzehnheilige. However, I have some concerns about the accounts of this and it isn’t clear to me whether the retreat was caused by the casualties or by the flanks giving way as the French extended their line.

    #199756
    Avatar photoMartinR
    Participant

    I suspect at Jena, Lannes troops still had supports in column, close support artillery etc. It depends what you mean by “skirmishers “. An entire Corps fighting with its first infantry line in open order is very different to a couple of flank companies popping away.

    As for Sharpe, well we know his Chosen Men routed an entire French infantry brigade. We saw it on TV! But even they were standing on a hill, quite close together and were supported by artillery /rockets and “cavalry”.

     

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #199765
    Avatar photoWhirlwind
    Participant

    I suspect at Jena, Lannes troops still had supports in column, close support artillery etc. It depends what you mean by “skirmishers “. An entire Corps fighting with its first infantry line in open order is very different to a couple of flank companies popping away.

     

    Entirely agreed on all points here: Lannes definitely had artillery support, as did the French in most of the Quatre Bras instances above.

    It is quite hard to think of a perfect example which satisifes all the initial condition and has no possible confounders, but I will have a further think.

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