Today, I want to discuss the idea of columnar assaults during the Seven Years War. This is a somewhat controversial topic, as it is usually asserted that attacks by columns were not a feature of the Seven Years War period, but only appeared with the advent of Revolutionary/Napoleonic Warfare. There is no question: during this later period, troops used a greater variety of column formations at the battalion, regimental, and division level. However, this post demonstrates that the Austrians did attack in columnar formations during the Seven Years War. These formations were not only "march formations" which took the unit to the battlefield, but used within musket range of the enemy troops.
This post does not look at the most often cited example of a attack in column during the Seven Years War: the abortive French infantry attack at Rossbach. This is a clearly unintentional use of the column, born out of dire necessity. Likewise, I do not tap into the extensive theoretical debate regarding the use of columns from Folard on. Rather, in this post, I look at battles where the commanders made a conscious decision to engage enemy forces, whether in column or not. At the battles of Moys, Hochkirch, Maxen, and Landeshut, the Austrians used a variety of successive linear and column formations in order to approach and attack the enemy positions. At Adelsbach, the Prussians did the same. In each of these situations, circumstances and the terrain conspired to make attacking in a deep formation the most effective way of combating the enemy. At Moys, Hochkirch, and Maxen, the Austrians attacked on a battalion frontage: what we might call battalion columns, or successive linear waves. At Landeshut, a single Austrian Grenadier battalion attacked in a column of companies. At Adelsbach, the terrain forced the Prussian troops to approach the enemy position in a column.
At Moys in 1757, Christopher Duffy has clearly demonstrated that the Austrians employed a successive linear attack. The Austrians arrayed their battalions in seven "columns" of three battalions each, separated by 100 yards. Within each "column" the battalions had 200 yard intervals between them. This allowed for flexibility, as the orders explained: "if a first-line battalion suffers heavy losses, or falls into disorder, we will file it off to the left or right, and replace it with the battalion behind." This columnar, or successive linear assault would form a model for the Austrians during the war, as they attacked using columns with a battalion frontage again at Hochkirch and Maxen.
At Hochkirch, the novel method of approach and attack meant that different officers had immediate tactical control of sectors of the battlefield, thus, some of the attacking "columns" formed into line of battle earlier, while others persisted in a columnar formation. The Austrian veteran Cognazzio asserts that this was altogether too much to ask of the troops, and that his component division within his battalion was a mongrel force of collected men: "Grenadiers, Fusiliers, Hungarians, and Germans... [I] placed them together in rank and file, and brought the line into being." Cognazzio asserts that in the heat of the fight, flexibility was the only thing that allowed for the creation of a "well-closed line." So, at least in some instances, it seems that the columns of Hochkirch were intended to deliver men to the area of action, rather than a formation by which to actually conduct an attack.At Maxen in 1759, the situation is rather different. Here, the depth of the "battalion columns" of the Austrians was significantly increased to twelve battalions. Led to the attack by the grenadiers of the army, two Austrian battalion columns approached the enemy positions. The Austrian official report cites that they were greatly supported by an artillery bombardment, and seeing that: "Such a swift, sustained, and well-placed fire had caused great damage to the enemy lines, and that they were beginning to waver, the assault was allowed to go forward. It happened that the infantry were in battalion columns." The same source continues, asserting that the battalion columns were not formed into a wider battle line until the Prussian position on the heights was broken.
|Detail from, The Attack at Maxen, by Franz Paul Findenigg|
|The attack on the Kirchberg at Landeshut, 1760 (circle added)|
Detail from Jaeger's Plans von Zwey un Vierzig Haupt Schlachten
|The Prussian approach at Adelsbach, |
Raspe, Plan von der Affaire ... am 6. July 1762 bey Adelsbach,
|The successive linear attack ,as at Moys|
|The column of battalions attack as at Maxen|
|The column of companies attack as at Landeshut|
|A Prussian column of march by platoons, opened.|
 Quoted in Prussia's Glory, 97.
 Duffy, By Force of Arms, 129-143.
 Jakob Cognazzio, Geständnisse eines Oesterreichischen Veterans, (1790) Volume 3, 47.
 Ibid, 48.
 J. G. Tielcke, Beytraege zur kriegs-kunst und Geschichte des Krieges, (1775) Volume 1, 30.
 Ibid, 31.
 Duffy, Instrument of War, 405.
 Duffy, By Force of Arms, 233.
 Johann Christian Jaeger, Plans von Zwey un Vierzig Haupt Schlachten, Treffen, und Belagerungen, (1790) 124-125.
 Prince de Ligne, Melanges militaires, litteraires, et sentimentaires, (1796) Volume 16, 124.
Gabriel Nicolaus Raspe, Plan von der Affaire ... am 6. July 1762 bey Adelsbach, legend entry E.