How battalions/armies were organized in early modern warfare?

Dec 2016
123
Spain
How battalions/armies were organized in early modern warfare, I mean in 17th century and 18th century?

Let me to show you some fascinating paintings I have found about big battles of 17th century and 18th century:

The Siege of Presnitz, 1641
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Pieter_Snayers%2C_Le_si%C3%A8ge_de_Presnitz_1641.jpg

The Battle of the White Mountain near Prague, print, 17th century
http://static.habsburger.net/files/styles/large/public/originale/schlacht_am_weissen_berg_bei_prag_druck_17._jahrhundert_original.jpg?itok=P6LoCPaZ

Battle of Dettingen: 1743. 26000 french vs 25000 allies (Great Britain, Austria, Hannover)
https://www.nam.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2018-03/1004965_slice_0.jpg

Battle of Fontenoy: 1745. 50000 french vs 52000 allies (Great Britain, United Provinces, Hannover, Austria, Holy Roman Empire):
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/81/Battle_of_Fontenoy_1745_1.PNG

How all those battalions can be organized and being coordinated effectively?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,605
Dispargum
Those paintings are highly stylized, painted by artists who had other priorities besides accurately recording history.

Before the shooting started, there was a tendency for armies to deploy in neatly arranged formations. Once the shooting started, neatness became a lesser priority. Units advanced and retreated depending on circumstances and well-ordered ranks came under stress.

In peacetime, armies practiced deploying from marching columns into fighting formations. Systems of drill were designed to convey to each formation exactly where the commander wanted his men to go. Formations deployed in straight lines so that each formation protected the flanks of its neighbors. Battlelines often followed natural terrain features like ridge lines so that it was easy for a general to tell his officers to deploy their men along this line between points A and B. All officers read the same manuals and regulations so that it was easy to understand a commander's intentions through a few simple orders.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
With the regimental system, sometimes battalion, a unit of infantry/foot was typically broken down into 10 companies, each of roughly 100 men. Captains commanded companies, colonels commanded battalions and regiments. Those would be placed in brigades, then into divisions, then into corp, with each corp set up for independent operations but capable of being brought together as a larger field army. Artillery and cavalry regiments would be located at divisions and corps, often placed into their own brigades.
 
Oct 2017
169
Poland
How all those battalions can be organized and being coordinated effectively?
Indeed, when I look at how people imagine historical battles it makes a big contrast with actual 16-18th century battles. People took maintaining order very seriously and they were doing it with surprising ease. Someimes they were performing maneuvers they invented on the spot.


Those paintings are highly stylized, painted by artists who had other priorities besides accurately recording history.
Not true. While their paintings have many faults, they actually tried to accurately record history.


https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-35vts-sZB_M/S6DjOT810tI/AAAAAAAAABA/gMReRiRK1ZkKUSawvr0VquOo68C4-LMnACPcBGAYYCw/w1200-h630-p-k-no-nu/Lech1632.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/POL_K%C5%82uszyn_1610.jpg
http://www.muzeumwp.pl/dictionary/obraz-bitwa-pod-kluszynem-szymona-boguszewicza,515,maly.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9d/Shturm_Smolenska_1633.JPG
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-NXAdM8AdQHc/Uw8g9gSTlyI/AAAAAAAABTw/-VJ43fFtg_Y/s1600/triumf.jpg
https://www.mapsofthepast.com/mm5/graphics/00000001/magic/ITVI0001A.jpg
https://d-nm.ppstatic.pl/k/r/48/e5/5a8df0e3e8195_o.jpg?1519251683
https://i.iplsc.com/bitwa-pod-chocimiem-wg-giacomo-lauro-rycina/00062L7JBOLXVNL2-C116-F4.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1f/Dahlberg_batlle_of_Warsaw_1656.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/TredagarsslagetvidWarsawa1.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/Battle_of_Warsaw_1656_second_day.png
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Slaget_vid_Gnesen.jpg
 

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,520
Japan
Britain.
As said Britain tended towards 10 companies per battalion. 1 company being commanded by a captain, with 2 junior officers, 3 sgts, 3 cpls, 2 drummers and 70 privates. In wartime this would be increased to 100 privates and 4 sgts and 4 cpls. This is paper strength. In reality a company could be as small as 40 men. In a battalion 1 company out of 10 would be the grenadier company... the strongest, tallest or bravest men. This company could sometimes be detached from its unit to form part of a grenadier battalion. From the 1700s to about 1760 grenadiers were distinguished by their tall mitre caps.

Later this changed (1770s I think) so that there were 8 “line companies” 1 grenadier company and 1 light company per battalion. The light company was supposed to be made up of the smallest, quickest and cleverest men. About this time grenadiers started to wear bearskins hats. In America all manner of uniform modifications were made to suit the style of warfare there which didn’t happen in Europe.

Eventually 1800s all 10 companies would have the same head dress on Campaign with the grenadiers having shoulder wings and white plumes, and the light company having shoulder wings, green plumes and bugle horn cap badges.

Exceptions- fusiliers. A fusilier battalion. Was made of 9 fusilier companies and a grenadier company. They added light companies at the same time as everyone else. They had a unique headdress (small grenadier caps/ later bearskins) but they stoppped wearing this on campaign in the 1780s.. by the American War the title was traditional but they were basically a line unit.

Highlanders- initially they were actually used as light infantry until the 1770s. Up to the 1760s they didn’t even receive training in how to march or fight in line as they were intended to skirmish, scout and raid. As such they varied in how many companies they might have in a unit and had no official grenadier company. After the seven years war they were standardised into 10 company establishments, with grenadier and light companies added. The battalion was commanded by a lieutenant Colonel, and could be split in to two wings (left/right) under the command of a major.

Rifles- Rangers - by which I mean the “american” rangers and not the Connaught or Royal Irish varieties (who were line infantry). Rangers and later rifles were all light troops so they had no grenadier companies.

Light Infantry - dedicated light infantry regiments are raised in the early 19th century. They had 10 light companies.

I’m not knowledgable on 17th century I’m afraid. In the 18th century the battalions were formed into brigades. It was not common for British battalions of the same regiment to serve together ... the regiment was a tactical formation in many armies, in Britain it was administrative.
 
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Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,520
Japan
France.
As my interest lies in the seven years war and Napoleonic wars I can only vouch for the French during those periods.

French battalions fluctuate in organisation over your period.
In 1719- 9 companies. (8 fusiler and 1 grenadier)
1734- 16 companies (1 grenadier 15 fusilier)
1749 - 13 companies. (1 grenadier, 12 fusiler)
1757- 18 companies (1 grenadier, 17 fusilier)
In this period a French company was 31 privates, 8 NCOs and 2 officers.
A regiment was not fixed, most had 2 or 4 battalions. These would usually serve together.

By the Napoleonic wars
1799- 8 fusiler companies, 1 grenadier
1805 - 7 fusiler companies, 1 grenadier and 1 voltiguer (light) company.
1807 - 4 fusiler companies, 1 grenadier, 1 voltiguer.
A company had 120 privates, 8 corporals, 4 sgts, 2 junior officers and a captain. Companies were not really tactical elements, they were administrative. Peletons (platoons) were tactical units.

A regiment was usually 3-6 battalions strong. Of which 2-4 would serve together and 1-2 would serve as a depot unit.

Exceptions-
Legre (light) Regiments. - these match line regiments in all respects except that grenadiers were called carbiniers, fusiler were called chassuers. They function though basically as above average line infantry.

Foriegn Regiments. - in the seven years war each foreign regiment had its own organisation, I’ll not list them all but they had varying numbers of companies and battalions... by the Napoleonic wars though they match native French units in organisation of the battalion though were often smaller in regimental size often being only 1-2 battalion sized formations.
 
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pikeshot1600

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
9,966
Edric Streona mentions the 17th century above. There was little standardization at the time. Some armies were composed of individual companies and some of larger formations (administrative and tactical).

Around 1600 the Dutch army of Maurice van Nassau was mostly composed of infantry companies 80-100 strong and cavalry companies (cornets) of about 65-70. The infantry company ideally was supposed to be 150 but other than at the muster such strength was rare. Companies commanded by nobles, like the Nassauer, or other senior officers, could be up to 200 men.

These companies, particularly the infantry, would be combined to form larger units as needed. There were no specific strengths for these units. As was usual elsewhere, the senior captain, or another officer of standing would be placed in command.

As the Dutch army was mostly involved in siege operations and in defense of towns and fortifications, the company was an effective unit for them. By the 1620s companies were formed into regiments mostly of 4 to 6 companies. These regiments were temporary and usually of one battalion. AFAIK the company still remained the most common administrative unit.

As had been the case since the later decades of the 16th century, regiments of Walloons and Germans, as well as British, in the Army of Flanders had varying strengths as well as some differences in organization. The Spanish and Italian tercios were about 1200-1500 men in (usually) ten companies, but that was sometimes modified due to their mission and different tactical needs. The Spanish had little cavalry in the Low Countries but what they had tended to be companies of light horse about 100 strong.

At the very beginning of the 17th century, English troops tended to be organized much as were the Dutch. The English companies in Dutch service were supposed to be about 150 men, minus dead pays of 10%, but they rarely reached those numbers. In many cases that was due to the peculation of the captains who were more interested in pocketing the pay of nonexistent soldiers than in military objectives.

In Germany, the Emperor had only temporary formations of troops raised as needed and disbanded often at the end of a campaign or the conclusion of a war. Formations had to be recreated in very inefficient fashion and paying for them was always a struggle. The army of "Austria" dates from 1618 after which some regiments were retained around which to rebuild an army. Infantry regiments tended to be between 1000 and 2000 and cavalry regiments were rarely more than about 300.

By the 1630s and 1640s, Austria, Bavaria and France had some permanent infantry regiments, mostly of one battalion. These tended to be much reduced after about 1650. The Swedish form of Government (1634?) established a number of regiments, usually of two battalions or "eskadron," very many of which remained part of the army until a reorganization and reduction in the 1920s!

Cavalry could be regiments as in Austria or individual companies and squadrons as was the case in France. In the 1660s the French cavalry was composed of 66 squadrons, some of which could be amalgamated or increased to regiments of 2-3 squadrons. Many others were also raised for the wars of Louis XIV.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
281
USA
I'm going to ignore your timeframe for a bit and go all the way back to the 16th century and the end of the 15th century to the Swiss and Landsknecht mercenary regimients that all this is largely based on (Swiss officers were invited to Germany to organize the first landsknect regiments, landsknecht officers were invited to Spain to organize the first tercios, etc.).


First off i want to clarify that especially early on there was usually a pretty big difference between administrative organization and the actual tactical organization you would see on the battlefield. Companies and regiments/tercios were primarily administrative divisions while battles/battalions referred to divisions on the battlefield, usually defined by a single body of infantry or a single pike square. So for example if you were out and about and saw an enemy pike square in the distance you would say "hey, there's an enemy battalion over there." even though you might not be sure whether the square was technically made up of a whole regiment, half a regiment, or multiple regiments merged together.


The basic building block of the army was the company, usually between 100-400 men give or take. Initially among the swiss each one would be made out of militia levied together from a single community so that they already knew each other, and among later mercenaries and professional armies the soldiers of a company would still march together, camp together, train together, and generally get to know each other pretty well over time. Each company during the 16th century would usually include 3 "great officers" (a captain, an ensign, and a lieutenant), a number of support officers including a quartermaster, a clerk, a surgeon, a priest, various musicians, a cook, etc., one or more sergeants who served to assist the captain and ensure his orders were carried out (the rule of thumb I've sometimes come across was 1 sergeant for every 100 troops or so), 2 or more corporals who in turn served as assistants to the sergeants, and occasionally further ranks of sub-officers who served as assistants to the corporals and so on.


The captain was the overall authority of the company and the one who controlled the purse strings. He was responsible for ensuring that his company remained at full strength at all times and that all the troops under his command were properly equipped, paid, fed, and trained. The sergeant's job was often mentioned as one of the most difficult and most important. He was responsible for making sure the captain's orders got put into practice and in general dealing with the micromanagement side of command. So if the captain ordered the troops to get in formation it would be the sergeants job to run around beating everyone on the head with their halberds until they had all formed neat, orderly rows and files. The bulk of training would often be left to the discretion of the sergeants and their sub-officers to teach each individual soldier how to handle and fight with his weapon and where his place was in a formation. In combat, the sergeants would typically be stationed behind the pike square or patrolling around the sides in order to execute any men seen attempting to flee. Among most armies the sergeant was more likely than others to be a soldier with significant military experience already and at times even specifically someone of common birth. If the company's actual captain ended up being some teenager with an influential father and the lieutenant he chose wasn't much better, then it might be up to one of the sergeants to offer helpful advice and help pick up much of the slack.




Multiple companies would be combined into a single regiment (perhaps around 5 companies per regiment, though the exact number could vary quite a bit). The regiment was commanded by a colonel, essentially a "captain of captains" who performed largely the same roles that a captain did but at a higher scale, ensuring that all the companies in a regiment were properly paid, provisioned for, and up to shape in general. He similarly had overall command of the regiment in battle assisted by an elected sergeant major (again serving as essentially a sergeant for the entire regiment). The colonel/regiment generally became the primary go-between the companies themselves and the general, monarch, or other authority and typically formed the basis of the military enterprise system.



A monarch who needed new soldiers for a campaign could find or promote a colonel and say "here's a whole bunch of money, go use it raise a new regiment." The colonel would then recruit a number of captains, give them each a sum of money in turn and tell them to each go recruit a new company. The colonel would then be responsible for working out deals and hiring other subcontractors to help ensure that the regiment remained adequately supplied with weapons, armor, and provisions.


---


Translating all this to organization on the battlefield however could get pretty complicated. While soldiers would be drilled to fight both as a company and as a whole regiment, and while there would usually be some attempt to keep each captain near the troops of their own company, in practice disease, desertion, injury, etc. while on campaign would always leave individual companies with wildly differing troop strengths and wildly differing percentages of arquebusiers, musketeers, armored pikemen, unarmored pikemen, and halberdiers than what they were supposed to have on paper. So when multiple companies needed to be merged into a single uniform pike square they would never really together neatly like lego pieces.


In addition to considerations about the enemy and terrain, this meant that the size and shape of individual pike squares and how they should be supported by the available shot might not be fully decided on until literally right before the battle, with the sergent major quickly performing arithmatic and consulting tables of square roots to determine the correct number of ranks and files for a given number of soldiers.


Additionally, infantry tactics for most of the 16th century generally stuck with medieval traditions by preferring to form just 3 pike squares or "battles", supported by shot: the Vanguard, the Main Battle, and the Rear Guard. The exact number sometimes varied between 2-5, but it would generally end up being just a small number of squares regardless of the overall number of troops. If an army had only one regiment of infantry ready to fight, then it might need to be divided into three parts. If the army instead had many regiments, then multiple regiments would need to be combined together to make just three very large squares.


It isn't until the late 16th century that you start to see a growing preference towards instead dividing infantry into a larger number of much smaller pike squares ("battalions"=little battles) arranged in a staggered checkerboard formation inspired by descriptions of the ancient roman triplex acies. Contrary to what's often claimed, this didn't really increase firepower at all, rather the intent was to be a much safer and more conservative form of fighting. Though small battalions were individually weaker, the rout of a single battalion isolated by a large gap on either side was considered less likely to collapse the entire army like the rout of a whole battle would. The large gaps between the pike battalions in the second row provided plenty of room for the first row to retreat if needed, bringing any disorganized pursuers suddenly face to face with two fresh battalions. Then even if the second row happened to be overthrown, the battalions in the third row were in position to serve as rearguard and hopefully preserve the rest of the army by conducting a fighting retreat. "By which order it should seeme, fortune to abandon them thrice before that they should be quighte vanquished."


Robert Barret includes some illustrations to help show the difference between a force divided into "battles" vs "battalions" starting on page 83:








Each battle/battalion might look something like this with varying scale:




Example demonstrating the deployment of Maurice of Nassau's "Dutch Brigades":





Since individual battalions in theory could now rely more on their reserves to protect their flanks and rear rather than their overall depth they started to become shallower, eventually settling on a fixed number of ranks rather than bothering with square roots all the time. And the overall size of a battalion started to become fixed as well, making it much easier to mesh with the system of companies, regiments, etc.




Edit: For further reading European Warfare 1350-1750 by Tallet and Trim is a pretty good one.
 
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Apr 2018
281
USA
Those paintings are highly stylized, painted by artists who had other priorities besides accurately recording history.

Before the shooting started, there was a tendency for armies to deploy in neatly arranged formations. Once the shooting started, neatness became a lesser priority. Units advanced and retreated depending on circumstances and well-ordered ranks came under stress.

In peacetime, armies practiced deploying from marching columns into fighting formations. Systems of drill were designed to convey to each formation exactly where the commander wanted his men to go. Formations deployed in straight lines so that each formation protected the flanks of its neighbors. Battlelines often followed natural terrain features like ridge lines so that it was easy for a general to tell his officers to deploy their men along this line between points A and B. All officers read the same manuals and regulations so that it was easy to understand a commander's intentions through a few simple orders.
It sort of depended. For the pike and shot period you could end up with sort of a mix of both. The pikemen themselves ideally needed to remain as steady and as well-ordered as possible since once the enemy saw the standards and upright pikes in the middle of the formation start to move erratically and get tangled up on each other it was taken as a sign of weakness.



At a distance, some or all of the battalion's shot could be ordered to advance forward and spread out to skirmish and take advantage of available cover. Once the enemy infantry got closer though the shot would need to fall back and combine to form two deep "sleeves" on either side of their pikemen firing volley after volley, one or two ranks at a time, into the flanks of the approaching enemy then retreat to the rear to reload. According to Thomas Styward writing in 1581, arquebusiers and musketeers drilled to fire with counter-march volleys actually preferred to fight that way, since they only had to withstand at most one shot from the enemy at a time before retiring to safety in the rear. I think it's more the case that after rate of fire improved to the point where the countermarch was no longer necessary that musketeers switched to more often just a single massed volley followed by individuals reloading and shooting as fast as possible while standing in place.
 
Dec 2016
123
Spain
Thank you for your replies, they are very informative. hborrgg I would like to know which book is that of Robert Barret, the figures are really helpful. I have never seen a "simulation" or a figure of a real battle of those periods, that's the reason I find difficult to imagine how the warfare was, contrary to medieval period, there are tons of movies and drawings depicting a battle of a medieval period and I can get an idea since medieval warfare seems to be simpler.