a reply to: JoshuaCox
The Napoleonic era was one which could be considered something of a transitional phase, where war is concerned.
Thinking about war as a broader historical topic, it seems to have gone through many phases over the course of history. One can easily surmise, from
the behaviour of some of the more complex apes living on the world today, that war fought amongst proto-human populations in pre-history, probably
involved long periods of chest thumping, scat flinging, and eventually short, brutal conflict, fought with lumps of rock, bone, and bare hands. Social
groups would line up against other social groups, essentially rap battle for a time, and then go at it.
After a while, as tools developed, tactics changed. Armour became preferable. Shields would be carried, swords used. This changed warfare a great
deal, because now, with tactical accumen, a canny commander could see to the death of his enemies and the protection of his forces, by keeping his
battle line in good shape, by forming shield walls to draw the enemy in, where their numbers would count for less than they might otherwise. This
particular facet formed the basis of the hundreds and hundreds of years of combat to follow. The Vikings, Romans, Celts, even the Picts took a page
from that book, when forming close in battle strategy, to varying degrees. Little wonder then, that tactics at the unit level involved men in a group,
moving forward in ranks.
You see, war used to be fought in such a way, that in many cases two opposing sides would have full view of the other sides entire force, before the
battle commenced. They would line up, they would form up, and only once the battle was joined proper, would the possibility of a random melee come up.
And so it was right up until the development of the musket. Things changed quite a bit at that point. But not too terribly much. The low fire rate of
muskets and flintlocks, meant that it was still a legitimate tactic, to try and approach a firing line to get to proper grips with it, using sabres,
or bayonets. Those trying to suggest that muskets and other early firearms cannot have been all that inaccurate, because they were used for hunting,
may have forgotten a couple of key points. First, hunting is not war. If you miss game in the woods, it does not try to shoot you back. Second,
hunting with a bow was actually much easier at the time, because the speed at which one could loose a second arrow was greater, than the speed with
which one could loose a second ball round. Third, hunters with muskets approached their prey EXTREMELY closely, when compared to modern hunters using
more advanced equipment.
For example, it is said that at one point, during some sort of training routine, two companies of Prussian Grenadiers lined up to fire at a target
ten paces across, by ten feet high. At a distance of three hundred paces away, they only managed an accuracy of 12.5%. French Infantry also provide an
example of firing tests which show the weakness of the smoothbore musket (the more prevalent weapon at the time). 720 of them lined up to fire at a
three meter target, at a distance of about one hundred meters. 52 out of 720 of them hit the target. When the target was further out, at two hundred
meters, only 18 shots hit it. Because of their slow rate of fire, and by modern standards, appalling low accuracy, it was important to have ranks of
men, operating in cycles, firing, moving to the rear to reload, being covered by the man behind, who would fire, then move to the rear to reload, and
so on and so forth. The ideal circumstance would be, that your firing line would be deep enough that there need be no extensive gap between one man
firing and moving to the rear of the line, and another man firing right afterward. This tactic meant that fire could be sustained, providing a given
firing line with both the attack power to potentially devastate an opposing force by weight of fire, and offer suppressing fire in the event of an
assault on a held position, allowing more mobile elements to flank a pinned opponent.
The outfits worn at the time were largely irrelevant, because units did not move quickly, bogged down as they were by the necessities of musket
combat, the constant need to reload, stay in some sort of formation, and so on. They did not use asymmetric warfare tactics, rarely was camo used to
the greatest possible effect, war simply did not require it. You have to remember, that during this era, there were still certain cadres of officer
who would actually meet an opponent and duel them with sabres or rapiers in some cases, men who fought according to the duelists code for the most
part. It was a different business back then entirely, although many aspects were alike, the death, the fatigue, the traumatic stress, and so on. But
the actual motivation and methodology could not have been more different.
It was only during the first world war that many of the things we find familiar about warfare today, first really came into being. The tendency to
wear muted colours to make it difficult to be seen, advances in firearms, advances in artillery, armour and tactics to keep up with the improvements
in accuracy and efficiency of weaponry...
These days one serviceperson can carry enough ammunition, weaponry accurate enough, to do the work of ten men of the Napoleonic era, in terms of
their ability to lay down fire into an enemy position. For that reason, combat tactics have developed, units have to be hyper mobile, ready to move
under fire while returning it... Put another way, with the long guns of yesteryear, four rounds in six minutes could be fired, inaccurately over
distances of up to three hundred paces. Nowadays there are long guns which can unload ten rounds in ten seconds or less, with such accuracy that a man
might kill reliably at distances in excess of a thousand yards.
Tactics change as technology does.