"I got a clear impression that he'd cheerfully send off a regiment to be butchered if it served his purpose. He wouldn't think twice about it, either. he called soldiers "interchangeable parts."
—John Jakes, North and South (Cap 5)
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Attack penalty versus heavy cavalry, buildings
Line Infantry are the next step of evolution for Musketeers. They are stronger, faster on foot, and quicker to train and also do not suffer from the issue of having a minimum range, thus allowing them to form a "line" from which their weapons, being flintlock muskets, can then be brought to bear on their victims en masse.
This makes for an ideal "grunt spam unit" which can be used to fill out your ranks quickly should the need arise, but remember that these tend towards being medium infantry, not specialised units unlike the powerful Grenadiers, or the swift-footed Marksmen. They are now more than capable of holding their own against melee units, but can easily be mastered by artillery, or in battle if confronted by Grenadiers. In which case, one should remember to escort these units with other units, especially a mix of ranged and melee cavalry, as well as artillery and/or Marksmen. Cannon and Marksmen can be deployed to kill enemy buildings, artillery and infantry by way of counter-fire, whilst the Musketeers can be used to protect them against light cavalry. For dealing with heavy cavalry, either Grenadiers, Regimental Pikemen or cavalry of your own will suffice.
Improvements in the quality of firearms, artillery and ammunition resulted in changes in how armies of the Early Industrial nations of the West were deployed in combat, and the long spate of gunpowder wars that roiled Europe from the 15th century onward saw various changes and improvisations to how infantry were organised for combat. In pre-gunpowder days, it was common for men to fight in multirank formation, both to maintian morale as well as integrity if faced with melee attack. A phalanx of the Hellenistic Era could have as many as eight ranks, to capitalise on the use of pikes as a shock melee weapon — a direct descendent of this more ancient era in warfare was the Spanish tercio. While this may have been useful in an era when melee fighting was the norm, in later centuries it proved to be untenable for such a formation would be highly vulnerable to gunfire, whilst being incapable of fully using the potential of guns on the battlefield.
To resolve this issue, musketeers were eventually commanded to march in lines of shallower depth, with as many as four ranks. Thinning the lines and spreading them out now meant that armies armed with guns could now have more weapons trained on the enemy, as opposed to having men and their weapons bottled up at the back, unable to see and fire into the enemy. The low rate of fire of musketry still necessitated the need for more than one line of men — once one rank had fired, it could then pause to reload, and let the second rank fire. Done right, a continuous wall of shot could be continuously unleashed on the foe. The additional third rank, which was occassionally used in the Napoleonic Wars, then could deploy as a reserve that could defend in the event that cavalry attacked the first two lines, or provide a third wave of musket fire in addition to the firepower of the first two ranks.
The virtue of using thinner but wider lines was demonstrated at the Battle of Nieuwpoort in 1600 during the Dutch revolt, where Maurice of Nassau's shallower lines helped to beat back the more formidable Spanish tercios, and more markedly at Rocroi (1643) and at Alcacer Quibir (1578) where tercio-style formations were broken by the use of more spread-out firearms saturating the field with concentrated fire. By the Napoleonic Wars, this number had been shrunk down to three — and in certain cases, sometimes two. While this was effective against massed infantry, it left the men at the mercy of faster and more flexible cavalry, which could easily outrun the infantry and then execute a flank attack from the side where there would be fewer guns and thus less risk of being shot down. To counter this threat, cavalry were deployed on the flanks, or innovative commanders would use the terrain to block off flank attacks by cavalry. In some cases, poorer nations often used pikemen for this task of picketing.
Alternatively, infantry battalions could be deployed instead as multirank columns. Columns had the advantage in that they were more mobile, maintained unit cohesion and several columns marching together could deploy into squares in the event of a cavalry attack, but it still had the same issues as mentioned before with more ancient and thicker battle formations, so shrewd commanders would sometimes go for mixed formations — with select groups of soldiers ordered to march in columns for speed and shock value, supported by other regiments deployed in line. Eventually, the increased lethality of artillery and the introduction of more effective breech-loading weapons (as well as the decline of melee weapons for infantry battles) during the First World War depleted the value of marching in formation in infantry combat.
- Infantry Tactics and Combat during the Napoleonic Wars
- Napoleonic Guide, "Infantry formations"