December 10, 2012
Historic Paradigm Vs. Modern Might The French Army under Napoleon is considered one of the mightiest armies to have marched on this earth. Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769. He was a French military and political leader in the last half of the French revolution, and to some, the best tactician history has ever seen. Napoleonic tactics were used until far after they became impractical. They were used in the American Civil War, the Austro-Prussian War, and the Franco-Prussian War. Today, however, a new type of warfare is being fought. Automatic weapons and body armor have revolutionized the battlefield. The American military is perhaps the world’s greatest fighting force. But how does it stack up to the French Army under the command of Napoleon? Napoleon’s infantry was the strong base of his strategic pyramid. Infantrymen were superior in numbers to the cavalry and artillery units that made up the Emperor’s army. Moving all of these soldiers was quite a challenge. There were only about three formations that Napoleonic soldiers moved in. A column formation would be used to move soldiers down a road or across a field. This formation was an easy target for artillery, so it was only used for traveling when out of range of the enemy. The line formation was used to have as many muskets as possible able to have a sector of fire on the battlefield. This was the main war-fighting formation for Napoleonic infantry. When this formation was used, the platoon had more firepower and a wider area on which to wreak their destruction in the form of lead mini balls. The downfall of this formation was that it was vulnerable to attacks by cavalry. The third formation was the infantry square. This formation was used to protect against charges by cavalry. It was composed of about five or six lines of infantry in a rectangular formation. If Infantry was a direct threat, the formation could easily shift to a line formation and meet the oncoming threat. This formation was slower than a column, but it was effective in staving off cavalry charges as there were no flanks to charge.
Each Napoleonic soldier wore a brightly colored uniform so that they could be seen through the fog black powder and haze on the battlefield, and could therefore be directed to their objective. This was a downfall as well because the enemy could clearly see their targets. These soldiers fought shoulder-to-shoulder, firing in volleys, one line firing while the other reloaded. The weapon of choice for the Napoleonic Army was the smoothbore flintlock musket. The range of this weapon was fairly short as the barrel was not rifled, only able to hit people sized targets at about 50-60 yards. Also, it could only be fired every twenty seconds or so by the fastest reloader. This severely affected the ability to put rounds down range, and often invited cavalry charges in between reloads. Napoleonic soldiers had no body armor to speak of, which meant that rounds either went all the way through their target, or rattled off of bones and through vital organs. Medicine was not very advanced at this point in time, and receiving a wound to a limb would most likely result in an amputation. The surgeons used dull or crude implements to perform these surgeries most of the time, resulting in severe blood loss and infection of the amputation site. Only about seventy-two percent of men that received wounds and had to have amputations survived.
In the modern military, the infantryman is still numerically superior to armor (modern cavalry) and artillerymen. Two main formations are used when these soldiers are moving. A squad wedge is used when the formation is out in open terrain. It spreads the men out and allows all weapons to be pointed forward or in the direction of travel. This type of formation drastically lowers casualties compared to the Napoleonic style. The wedge is divided into two fire teams, Alpha and