Monthly Archives: September 2012

Victorian Warfare Supplemental: Scots Guards Lead the Royal Review

Victorian Warfare 1

I came across this video showing 5 companies of the Household Division reviewing for Queen Elizabeth’s annual birthday parade. Starting at around 1:12:00, the march around the parade ground is the most perfect visual illustration of Napoleonic battlefield maneuvering I could hope for. This is a column one company in frontage with each company formed in two ranks. At 1:20:30 you can see them deploy from column into line, and at 1:25:00, the Household Cavalry (cuirassiers) begin their march-past in full kit. I would point out that British heavy cavalry did not actually wear a cuirass during the Napoleonic period, though those of other nations generally did.

What you see in the video was the standard battalion column setup for the British army in the Napoleonic wars, though occasionally they would form four ranks deep if extra staying power was required (against a cavalry charge, for instance). A period battalion would also have an additional 5 companies for a total of 10, including one of grenadiers and one of light infantry. As stated in the previous post, they would deploy into line just out of range of enemy musketry.

These are not reenactors but actual fighting troops. The Scots Guards (who contributed the lead company) shipped out for Afghanistan just a few weeks after this was taken.

Victorian Warfare 1: Heirs of Napoleon


This will be the first in a series of posts on the evolution of warfare in the Victorian Period. While Queen Victoria actually reigned from 1837 to 1901, we will be more generally considering the period which began immediately after the Napoleonic Wars (1815) and came to a close with the First World War (1914). This relatively peaceful century may not have known the sort of continent-shattering wars that characterized adjacent eras, but it was a vital link in the chain of strategic, tactical, and technological evolutions which brought about the forms of modern warfare. Furthermore, the military affairs of the period are still commonly misunderstood. When referred to at all, the tactical systems in particular are referred to as “Napoleonic,” used in the sense of a derisive sneer synonymous with unthinking butchery of the common soldier.

The truth is not so simple. A more studied appraisal must conclude that Victorian military methods adapted to changing technological and social conditions no slower than those of any other period and, to make a more general point, that proposed revolutions in military matters should be greeted with skepticism. We are biased towards remembering the ideas like tanks or screw-propelled ships, that worked despite skepticism, over those like the all torpedo-boat navy concepts of the Jeune-École in France that failed despite institutional enthusiasm. Many new ideas sound better than they work when put to the ultimate test.

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