One thing I have been trying out in my latest solo battle is Column of Attack. Maurice of Saxony thought well of it and felt it suited the French temperament. I believe it was used a lot more in the period than one might realize. He certainly seems to have used it during the War of the Austrian Succession and advocated it in his Reves.
I have instituted a house rule. Bearing in mind that my standard unit size is 6 stands, I have decreed that a Column of Attack is 3 stands wide by 2 stands deep. It may move at line infantry speed (not column of march speed.) It gets the +1 charge bonus on the first turn of melee. The front rank of three stands fights as a small unit (-1) with immediate support from the rear rank (+1) over and above the normal melee support restrictions. (Or in other words its smaller frontage is compensated for by its "punch.")
This formation is best used by infantry for attacking entrenchments and Built-Up Areas. So far I have only tried this with infantry units, but I am contemplating using it for cavalry as well. This may help out my situation, as, despite having a 9-foot table to work with, I find the cavalry regiments are often stacked up one behind the other waiting for their turn in battle. I know that in Napoleonic times the cavalry unit usually attacked in two lines deep, 150 feet apart.
Hmmm. I'm not sure. It would be really interesting to read what de Saxe actually said about these formations. Does anyone have a source or link?
Personally, I would avoid infantry "attack columns" in this period unless it is necessary for a particular scenario (e.g., an infantry assault into a breach or narrow defile) in which case, by all means, a specific scenario rule could be devised. It is not something I have come across in the admittedly few 18th Century rules I have either (which must say something?).
Whilst I am aware Maurice de Saxe experimented with columns, I have to admit I have no information about the exact nature of these. Nor was I aware that they were used as "Columns of Attack". I once read however that these were formations composed of two battalions. I have no idea if this was side by side or in successive lines but my gut feeling is not to think of them in the Napoleonic sense.
It is my understanding that even Napoleonic columns were not intended as assault formations except under special circumstances. Ease and speed of manoeuvre was the primary purpose of most French Napoleonic columns with those that turned into an assault being the result of ignorance of the intended purpose of the formation, a conscious or last minute decision or loss of control of the column in the face of a wavering enemy (Guibert's treatise on tactics intended the column as a means of moving rapidly to the point of attack, where it would deploy into line and open fire, followed with a bayonet advance but, for whatever reason in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, was often driven straight at the enemy lines). Successful advances by Napoleonic Attack columns tended to be preceded by the wearing down of the defenders strength, morale and command structure by an often relentless weight of fire from a skirmisher swarm and/or artillery barrage (and so when the attack went in, usually the defenders had had enough and just legged it). Napoleon himself is said to have stated, "Columns don't break through lines unless with superior artillery."
General de Guibert wrote, "I will tell you the story of almost every attack in column. As the column moves forward and draws near the enemy the officers give the word 'close up'. The mechanical and sheepish instinct which leads every man to move nearer to his neighbour because he thinks that by doing so he shelters himself from danger makes the men only too willing to obey the command. The men crowd one another and the ranks get mixed; very soon only the front rank and the outside files have any freedom of movement. The column has become a tumultuous mass incapable of evolution.”
Even though you say de Saxe thought columns suited the French temperament better, rightly or wrongly, the above loss of order doesn't seem very mid-18th Century to me. And if it was so effective, it leaves me wondering why were "attack columns" not used more often before the Revolutionary Wars? I don't know but this makes me wonder if de Saxe's columns were formations that benefitted manoeuvre and morale, rather than actual assault (as in bayonet charge) formations. So, to represent a French 'battlefield column' of the WAS:
I would simply form the unit into a double line (just like cavalry in the game). I would not break it down into two small units. This, of course, means it will be subject to the same disadvantageous +1 artillery modifier as cavalry in double line but, being one unit, not subject to Grazing Fire.
Until I get more information, I would not apply the charge bonus because I think the formation was designed more for manoeuvre and morale plus you would simply be turning the game into more of a Napoleonic and not a SYW or WAS game.
To reflect the greater ease and speed of manoeuvre, I would treat all French infantry units in this formation as "foreign" (thus formation changes such as column into line will use up less of a move).
When firing, I would treat it as a small unit to reflect the reduced frontage.
As for cavalry, I don't think any further rules are necessary - I can't see why an extra (triple) line of horse bases will be any more effective than a double line. If your table is too small, you could try reducing the measurements by using the measurements from the next scale down table (see page 56)?
I am using the column of attack to assault a fortified position.
As a trial, I have two infantry wings to my French army. They were required to attack a set of field fortifications. The right wing did so in line formation, got nowhere, did 1 total hit of damage to the enemy, and got severely mauled. The left wing broke through into the fortifications in their second wave attack. They were unfortunately thrown out again before the third wave (held up by the retreating first wave) could come in to support them.
I personally think it was a great success and I intend to incorporate this into my rules.
I have a biography of Maurice that discusses his "Reveries" in great detail, and specifically mentions his belief that the French characteristics best suited the offensive, and in his mind the best way to do that was with columns of attack. Unfortunately I cannot locate the book right now or I could quote from it.
There is a slippery slope using battalion assault columns. It is a problem with many Napoleonic rule sets: the invincible high speed phalanx. Battalion columns moved more easily than deployed lines. During the SYW most nations only used them for moving, not for fighting and thus the infantry was not happy fighting in such a formation.
If you decide that your infantry is trained to use such a formation, a problem waits to be exploited. Mass several columns together. This huge formation moves at column speed and puts superior numbers into an assault. I've seen more than one set of Napoleonic rules where such a formation is formidable, way more than such formations proved in actuality. First, the reason columns moved faster was they didn't have such a long line to keep ordered. Put several columns together and you've just recreated the long line. Second, such a mass formation made one enormous target. The question then arises of how do you define such a mass formation and how do you prevent it from having more power than it should, all without making overly complex rules?
But then you guys won't have this issue because you are proper gentlemen of the age of reason and would not think of exploiting loopholes like some unwashed sans-culotte.
I was drawn back into this discussion by the most recent post. Having done a fair bit of research recently into Napoleonic tactics and how these evolved, I found Westmarcher's post very convincing (and very informative). Any attempt in a set of wargames rules to represent assault columns as some kind of battering ram quickly ends up in trouble, which rather satisfyingly matches up with reality - the reality being that they weren't anything of the sort, and could be used as such only against poor troops and/or those that had been weakened by previous combat, especially artillery preparation.
As a test, during a battle I used both line formation and my house rules column of assault to attack a fortified position. See my blog for a full battle report: wordpress.com/post/anachronisticwarmonger.com/87 The column of assault I used for a six-stand 24-figure battalion was 3 stands wide by 2 deep. Moving at a column speed of 12 cm instead of 10 (they didn't have to be so particular about keeping formation) as per the rules was not much of an improvement in speed. Any advantage was made up for by the fact that they were a column target for artillery. In melee I allowed them to fight as a small unit (three-stand front line,) but with automatic supports (the second line.) They received a charge bonus on the first turn of combat. On any subsequent turns of melee (if any) the rear rank would move up to engage the enemy (if possible,) making it a full-sized unit but without that extra support. No charge bonus second turn.
If you read my battle report, you will note that the units attacking in line formation got nowhere, caused 1 total casualty to the enemy, and lost half their force due to fleeing from the field. The attack in column formation broke into the enemy fortifications and caused considerable casualties to the defenders before being driven off due to a poorly-coordinated attack. They also lost about half their units leaving the engagement, but did drive off one enemy unit. This indicates to me that the Column of Assault is a better formation for attacking a strong position. I'm not sure that I would use it in open battle, however. (Must try it some time.) This is a "house rule" I'm definitely going to leave in.
If I was going to create a multi-battalion column I would - as per standard use in the 18th and 19th Century - have each battalion deployed in line formation, one behind the other. In this formation I would not allow them the column bonus to movement - they're in line! I'd also hate to think what would happen when the leading battalion broke and fled - right thru the following battalions! (Or should I consider them as a single unit for morale purposes?) Myself, I'd be inclined to have two or more battalions in Column of Divisions (two companies wide) side-by-side. If one flees, it won't demoralize the other.
As a matter of interest, according to David Chandler and other sources, everyone used columns during the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars. Units would use a column formation to get into range of the enemy, then deploy into line formation for the ensuing fire-fight. Whether they deployed into line within the range of the enemy or just outside of it is a matter of conjecture, and may have been dictated by the preference and judgement of the commanding officer.