Ok, I saw a post on r/wargaming with a prompt that was just too juicy. There’s others in the post I’ll be stealing but this one should really be the lead for the series so here we go!
Can you discuss what makes the strategy, tactics, and feel of the Napoleonic battles different to those of other popular black powder era was such as ACW, AWI, French & Indian etc.dboeren on Reddit
Great question. The answer to this question is: Yes.
First, the feel of the Napoleonics. The awesome and terrible pageantry of 19th century warfare peaked early, and it peaked here. A well-painted Napoleonic army is an absolute joy on the table, and something that has to be seen to be believed. Regiments wore a bewildering array of brightly colored uniforms that contrasts sharply with later wars as uniforms became more drab.
These armies also featured very professional officers. Despite some of the reputations that came from the war, from Battalion command on up, there were few truly awful officers, and while some armies struggled to comprehend Napoleon’s way of war (Sorry Mack) there weren’t many mistakes due to poor soldiering. At the same time, command and control was basically writing a note and sending it with a rider to whoever was carrying it out. Many games model this quite well, with General d’Armee / GdB doing it particularly well.
Strategically and Tactically the Napoleonic wars come at a very interesting time. Infantry combat featured both fire and shock tactics, requiring different formations, changing formations and maneuvering under fire, intricate marching, timing, communication under the most dire circumstances, and situational awareness in a field covered by noise and black powder smoke.
Cavalry formed the apex of military strength, with the Heavy Cavalry of the Cuirassier, Carabiniers, and Heavy Dragoons being nearly unstoppable, with infantry forced into densely packed squares simply to defend themselves. Artillery could be devastating, being able to roll up and unlimber within canister range and unleash withering fire, especially in the tightly packed columns and squares of the more shock-oriented infantry formations. Infantry remained the bulk of most armies, and could deliver its own devastating attacks in close formation, or spread out in long lines to deliver impressive short-ranged firepower of its own, and with a good ruleset all of this is modeled quite well.
There are varieties among troop types. Line infantry differs from Light or Grenadier infantry, Guard troops often have their own rules, setting them apart. Conscripts often represent the most and least enthusiastic troops. Some are willing to die en masse leading the charge and some aren’t willing to even smell powder lest it affect their delicate constitution. Light cavalry darts around the edges, often struggling to make much impact, but presenting a real threat to exposed units, and forcing their enemies to account for them, battle cavalry presents more of a threat but lacks the fleetness of foot of their light brethren, or the strength to face heavy cavalry, which are the true monsters of the field. Artillery forms the last of the major components, dealing long range fire, in attack and defense, to support the line or create breakthroughs against vulnerable elements of the enemy army. Additionally, it comes in several varieties, foot artillery comes in regular and heavy batteries, you also have horse or light artillery which moves faster without sacrificing much in striking power, and Austrians get the Wurst artillery.
Which neatly brings me to national character. The armies of this era each has their own national flair, which I’ll go deeper into later but to give you an idea, in 1805 alone you have: A French army that consists of a mix of new, but well-trained and drilled soldiers, veterans from Italy, the elite Imperial Guard, and massive artillery. The Austrians have a much more ponderous army, with far less in the way of light troops and skirmishers to screen their movements and keep the enemy at arm’s length, but their units are large and their morale tends to be quite good. The Russians have equally large battalions, but their training is awful. This is mitigated somewhat by excellent morale and massive artillery batteries. Finally you have the Prussians who are slow, poorly led, and not that well supplied in support troops, but they do have high morale… until Jena…
So, I hope I’ve adequately answered the question presented by dboeren. I know I didn’t really compare the Napoleonic wars directly to the others, and perhaps that would be a good article for later on, but for now I think I’ve adequately covered what I wanted to.