The forming of a square of foot soldiers in a battle is a defensive manoeuvre which I researched for my story The Lost Love of a soldier as Paul calls his men into a square during the battle. But again when I was at the reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, I developed so much more of a depth of the concept behind the things I’d learnt from books.
Firstly the former colonel who led our tour of the battle sites at Waterloo explained the power of a square of foot soldiers (known as infantry). He described it like the game – Paper – Scissors – Rock. Think of a line of foot soldiers firing their guns as paper. Now sometimes paper is a good thing, because if you have a line of foot soldiers walking towards you, you need to expand so you can fire at more men in that line. Equally a line of men is harder for the cannons to hit.
Actually a quick aside fact which I think I have mentioned in a previous post, is that of course Wellington made his paper stronger by also placing the men behind the ridge of a hill, so that those firing cannons couldn’t see them.
But going back to the paper – scissors – rock. In the imagery of that game the cavalry are scissors. If the cavalry ride at a line of foot soldiers, the foot soldiers stand no chance of surviving, The cavalry charging at a line of men on their horses will be able to cut down every man, even musket fire would not have held them back due to the speed of a charge.
During The Battle of Quatra Bras when the canon fire ceased the English commanders knew it meant that Marshall Ney was about to send his cavalry in on a charge. The canons would never fire while their own cavalry went into the field, because the cannon fire scared the horses and meant they would not obey the commands of their riders. The English officers called the foot soldiers into squares, their shouts running along the line as I described in The Lost Love of a Soldier. The foot soldiers quickly pulled back and gathered into groups as a square, or probably in reality more of an oblong.
The Prince of Orange who led the Dutch though thought he knew better and said to the men near him, “What are you doing?” When they told him the order had gone out to form square, he told them not to be so stupid, that the cavalry were not coming, and that they should open back out into a line. They were following the Prince’s order and opening back out as the cavalry raced over the hill and swept in against them.
You can see the foot soldiers closing into squares when the cavalry ride in, in this video of the reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo,
An eye-witness account from a foot soldier in the 33rd recalls the call “Cavalry! Cavalry! For heaven’s sake form square!” then he described the charge as it passed his regiment who were in a square… “they passed us at full gallop and dashed on into the 69th… they were cut down like hay before the scythe…” The 69th were decimated, and their colours (their flag) captured.
A square of foot soldiers then in the game of paper scissors rock, is the rock. In all of the history of their use, the cavalry were only ever known to break through a square of men once.
I talk in The Lost Love of a Soldier of the gunners who had been firing the cannons running back into the squares for safety, which was an order directly from Wellington, and you can see here that some of the English officers, are also in the centre of the square. However our tour guide was saying that in reality Wellington’s order for the gunners to run back was flawed, because it meant their ammunition for the cannons, and the cannons themselves would have been left at risk of capture. However they could not have remained with the guns which were on the ridge before the foot soldiers as they would have been cut down easily.
During the Battle of Waterloo the onslaught of the cavalry on the allied squares lasted for two hours, and this was the period the cannons were silent; which I mention Ellen noticing in the city of Brussels in The Lost Love of a Soldier to give my readers a real sense of being in that period of history, yet, I didn’t know why then.
If you read my last post, about the impact of combat on Marshall Ney, these two hours of continual attack of scissors against rock, when Marshall Ney who ordered the charges was a very experienced and skilled leader who would have known a cavalry charge was not successful against squares, is further evidence of his personal death wish, and in those two hours none of the allied squares were broken into.
Here’s another video from the reenactment in Belgium in June 2015 showing the cavalry swarming about a square, remember there were only 6,000 reenactors, there were roughly 70,000 in the allied force, and 70,000 in the French force in the actual battle.
If you would like to read my fictional story set around the lead up to the Battle of Waterloo, then now is the time to do it, Harper Collins have put on some amazing deals this month to commemorate the battle. In one country the deal only lasts two weeks, though, I have not put the amounts as they are different in different countries, just click on the cover of The Lost Love of a Soldier in the side bar to find out your great cut price deal.
If you would like to see all the pictures and videos of Waterloo 200 which I will share on my Facebook page, click Like on the Jane Lark Facebook link in the right-hand column.
Look at all the book covers in the side bar to see the fictional stories I write… especially the limited time offer for Magical Weddings, which contains my story,
The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel