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Skirmishing in I army corps under command of marshal Davout in 1811.

In September 1811, I army corps under the command of maréchal Davout was composed of the following regiments of infantry:

7e, 13e, 15e & 33e régiment d'infanterie légère
12e, 17e, 21e, 25e, 30e, 33e, 48e, 57e, 61e, 85e, 108e & 111e régiment d'infanterie de ligne

It seems that général de divison Charles Antoine Louis Alexis Morand is the author of an instruction, which in September 1811 served as the basis for the training of all the skirmishers in this army corps. The following letter was signed by Davout:

To the general Morand. Hambourg, 16th October 1811.
I have received, my dear general, your letter of 16th and the five copies of your project to teach the service of the skirmishers [tirailleurs] to all troops. It seems excellent to accomplish this task, and I will send it to all generals commanding a division of infantry, ordering them to use the rest of the season to exercise all companies in this. And, thanking you, my dear general, I ask you to send a copy of this project, of which you surely will have kept an original for yourself, to each of your generals and colonels, directing them to stick to it and exercise the troops in the future.
The companies of the voltigeurs are already familiar with these manoeuvers, it will be proper to exercise the centre companies with the companies of voltigeurs for the first time, it means a mixing of the fusiliers with the voltigeurs.
I will be obliged if you let me know of measures you have taken, and the progress of the troops in this training, made on different ground, which can only develop the understanding of the soldiers and the same of the officers.

On the same day, the following instruction was sent to the other division commanders of I army corps:

To the generals: Friant, Gudin, Dessaix, Compans and Barbanègre.
Hambourg, 16th October 1811.
We recognized that it was generally harmful to take a certain number of men by company, for flankers and skirmishers, and that it was preferable to take entire companies.
The companies of voltigeurs who are elite companies, cannot always perform this role without serious inconvenience, it has, therefore, appeared appropriate to me that in the case of the companies who could be used for the role, are trained for it.
As it is important for the sake of uniformity that there is some method to adopt, I send you, my dear General, a summary of the manoeuvres that I invite you to train the regiments under your orders to do, whether of light infantry or of infantry of line. I want us to benefit from the present season for training the troops.
Forward this instruction to each of the colonels of the regiments under your orders and one for each general of brigade; recommend that more copies are not made of it by the rest.
The companies of the voltigeurs are already familiar with these manoeuvers, it will be proper to exercise the centre companies with the companies of voltigeurs for the first time, it means a mixing of the fusiliers with the voltigeurs.
I will be obliged if you let me know of measures you have taken, and the progress of the troops in this training, made on different ground, which can only develop the understanding of the soldiers and the same of the officers.
(To the general Dessaix) It will be needless, my dear General, that you send a copy of this instruction to the 33e léger, as I send a copy to the general Barbanègre, so that he forwards a copy to it.

Manoeuvers for a company of Tirailleurs or Flankers[flanqueurs].

As soon at the captain of the company designated to scout a column or cover a line has received the order, he will take it to 200 paces [130 m] of the line or column; arriving at the center of the space that it must cover or scout, the captain will stop it and form the line of the tirailleurs in the following way.

Article 1.
Covering the head of a column or the front of a line.

The captain of the company of the tirailleurs, having stopped at the point where the reserve section must stay, will divide his company into three sections and will order:
Sections de droite et de gauche, par le flanc droit et le flanc gauche, à 100 pas sur la droite et la gauche – marche.
[Sections of the right and left, by the right flank and the left flank, to 100 paces [65 m] on the right and the left – march!]
At this command, the lieutenants will fall into march with their sections. The sergeant-major, two sergeants, two corporals, two drums or cornets, (if there are four in the company) will stay with the captain in the center section.
On arriving at points 100 paces [65 m] to right and left the lieutenants will halt their sections and will order, as follows:
The lieutenant, commanding the right section:
1. Premier et second rangs par le flanc gauche – gauche.
2. À 15 pas par file, prenez vos distances – marche.

[1. First and second ranks by the left flank – left.
2. To 15 paces
[9,75 m] in file, take your distances – march!]
The sous-lieutenant, commanding the left section:
1. Premier et second rangs par le flanc droit – droit.
2. À 15 pas par file, prenez vos distances – marche.

[1. First and second ranks by the right flank – right.
2. To 15 paces
[9,75 m] in file, take your distances – march!]
At this command, the files of the two first ranks of the right and left sections take their distances to 15 paces [9,75 m] and march until they meet.
The 3rd rank, the sergeant, the corporals, a drum or cornet, will stay in reserve with an officier.


These reserves must provide replacements to the line, reinforcements to the places attacked strongly, and the officers of the escorts who must never leave them: these escorts are intended to serve as rallying points and retirement points, will be of 6 men at least.
If a non-commissioned officer is detached in order to carry some orders to the skirmishers, he must always be accompanied by a fusilier drawn from the reserves.
The distances being taken, the lieutenants will have le pas ordinaire beaten or sound la marche.
At this signal, the files of skirmishers take 100 paces [65 m] forward.


The tirailleurs must always walk in pairs in order to give mutual assistance. They should fire only one after the other, so that one of them always remains loaded.
As much as possible, the line of the riflemen covering the head of a column, will describe the part of circle the head of the column of which would be the center.

Article 2.
Covering the tail of a column or the retirement of a line.

Same dispositions as the First Article.


In the retirement of a line, the cordon of skirmishers must be maintained parallel to the line.
The captain of tirailleurs company should never lose sight of the column or line: in the case where the ground would prevent it being seen, he will place some non-commissioned officers or soldiers, in such a manner manner to keep him aware of all its movements.
The pace of the tirailleurs is regulated to that of the column or the line.

Article 3.
Covering one flank of the column.

Same dispositions as the First Article.


The cordon of skirmishers being established, it will march by the flank together with the reserves whilst following the direction of the column.

Article 4.
Covering the two flanks of the column with one company.

The captain will divide the company in two section and will order:
1. Première section, en avant sur le flanc droit de la colonne – marche.
2. Deuxième section, en avant sur le flanc gauche de la colonne – marche.

[1. First section, forward on the right flank of the column – march!
2. Second section, forward on the left flank of the column – march!
On this command, the sous-lieutenant will take the 1st section to the approximately 100 paces [65 m] on right flank of the column.
The lieutenant with the 2nd section, to the same distance on the left flank.
The captain will follow the movement of the two sections, accompanied of his sergeant-major, a sergeant, two corporals, ten fusiliers and one or two drums or horns.
The sections having arrived at 100 paces [65 m] from of the column, will be halted and closed in line of tirailleurs in the manner prescribed in the 1st Article.


The flanks of the column being thus covered, the captain will take his escort to the most threatened points, from where he will send his orders to his lieutenants, either by a sergeant of his escort, or by the means of drum beats or horn calls.

Article 5.
Changes of direction.

At soon as the officers of tirailleurs detect a change of direction of the column or line, they will inform the tirailleurs by means of the horn calls or drum beats, and by sending non-commissioned officers to take their orders and to make sure that the movement is executed, they will have to go to the point at which the change of direction will take place.

Article 6.
Changes of front.

One of the lieutenants will go to the pivot on which the change of face will take place, and will make a horn call or drum beat until he observes that the movement of the tirailleurs takes place as prescribed.
While the captain will take his reserve to the new position that it has to occupy, will ensure through his non-commissioned officers of the exactness and regularity of the movement, the other lieutenant will support the wing which goes in front with his escort.

Article 7.

Not only will the riflemen have to be trained in the pas ordinaire and the pas accéléré; but also in the pas de course, because it is with the pas de course which they will have to make changes of direction, of front, and the task of clearing a wood, a village, and all circumstances where where they do not fear being charged by cavalry.
It is with the pas de course that they will have fall back on reserve peletons, at the same time the opportunity presents itself for cavalry to charge them, unless they are not able hide in a hole, a ditch, a hedge from where they will be able to fire on it from safety.
In open country, the riflemen will have to walk in the greatest order with calm, sang froid and silence; to reserve their fire and to be held ready to execute all the movements which will be ordered of them.
When one positions the rifleman on the sides at the head or tail of a column marching in open country, with not only the purpose of being informed of the movements of the enemy, but also to keep the skirmishers of infantry and cavalry distant so that they do not approach the column.
If the open country through which the column advances is furrowed with gullies and small hills or thickets, the riflemen will have to enter the gullies to clear them, to climb to the top of the hillocks, to turn and clear the thickets.
If one meets a house, castle, thatched cottage, the captain will send an escort sufficient to clear them, and if it is thought that the enemy is there, he will warn the commander of the column at once, will close up his line, and will take all necessary precautions to prevent being surprised or overpowered by a sudden attack.
If the tirailleurs have to pass through a village, the captain will march outside with his reserve and will take an advantageous position until the tirailleurs clear the village of which the principal routes will be occupied by his lieutenants and their escorts so that the tirailleurs can fall back on them where necessary.
If the tirailleurs march in woods where the ground is cut by ditches, cover of hedges, ruins, etc they will have to advance only with the greatest care, set ambush if they meet the enemy and benefit from all the opportunities which arise to give superiority and force it to give up the terrein to them.
If the enemy sets an ambush, it should be turned, by a few brave men dashing to the top of a rock, a ruin or an entrenchment, or by crossing a ditch behind which the enemy believed himself in safety, almost always succeeds in flushing him out and to make him sustain a considerable loss.
While advancing, the officers of tirailleurs must pay attention, not only on the movements of the enemy and their troops, but also to observe carefully the kinds of ground from which they can benefit in the case from a combat at the halt or a retirement, and to notice the resources which are offered, either for throwing up small bridges, or hasty entrenchments, if they were necessary.

Article 8.
Tactics of tirailleurs for the attack on a village or a entrenchment.

Suppose a line of tirailleurs supported by its reserves and in the order which was described above, is advancing in front to attack a village, an entrenchment, a farm, a wood, a hillock etc.
It is probable that the enemy will attack on all the extent of his front, to deploy as much as possible to offer an equal resistance everywhere, but if the commander of the attacker has two good reserves and if he give the signal to his tirailleurs to dash towards the two ends of line at the double, to attack the flanks and rear of enemy with impetuosity, while he launches a reserve on the front from which the enemy has naturally withdrawn, to send help to his attacked flanks, there is no doubt that it will obtain a complete success. The second reserve, will only have to march to the support the first in order to take the enemy.
The same attack can be executed by reserves on the flank of the enemy while the tirailleurs, after having met in the dash on the center, attack the front of the enemy brisky.


One cannot encourage the the tirailleurs too much to commit the dash on the center of the line and flanks.
This operation can give great advantages in many circumstances; it must be studied carefully by the officers.

Article 9.
Formations against cavalry.

The reserves of riflemen must always march with the greatest care and be held ready to form a circle.
If the reserve are in line and the cavalry appears abruptly, the officer will order:
1. En arrière à droite et à gauche, formez la cercle - marche.
[1. In rear to the right and left, form the circle - march!]
On this command, the wings of right and left will retire until they meet.
If the reserve is in column, the officer will order:
2. Serrez la colonne - marche.
[2. Close the column - march!]
On this command, the sections will close up in mass, the files of the right and left will face the enemy. The tirailleurs of the line retire, and are placed on the angles of the column.

Article 10.
Passage of lines or replacement of tirailleurs.

If the captain judges it apposite to replace the section which forms the line of tirailleurs by that which forms the reserve, he will send men successively from his reserve to take the place of the tirailleurs and will rally to him those who have been replaced.
The lieutenants will take care that these replacements are done with order, care and intelligence.


The officers and non-commissioned officers who control the small reserves or escorts, will have to take care that the line of tirailleurs marches in the greatest order, and in the direction ordered; they must encourage the elan of charges and quick marches, maintain the pace and slow it down as much as they consider necessary during a withdrawal, to halt the line when they receive the order, to prevent soldiers leaving their post to carry the casualties; only the captain giving commands for this duty.

Article 11.

Movement. Horns. Drums.
Déployement. [Deploy] Déployement. La Breloque.
Ralliement. [Rally] Ralliement. Aux Drapeaux.
Retraite. [Retreat] Retraite. Retraite.
Marcher à droite. [March to the right] Marche à droite. La Grenadière.
Marche à gauche. [March to the left] Marche à gauche. The three beats [coups] of La Charge.
La Charge. [charge] La Charge. La Charge.
Marche lente. [Slow march] Pas ordinaire. Pas ordinaire.
Marche précipitée [Quick march] Marche précipitée La Charge with roll of drums [roulement]
S'arrêter. [Halt] La Messe. La Messe.


When designated for tirailleurs one makes less use of the drums in a marching column to avoid any confusion between the movements of the column and those of the tirailleurs: one will give the drum majors the order not to beat La Grenadière or the three beats [coups] of La Charge as long as the column is flanked by tirailleurs.
The horn calls and drum beats were selected among those of the ordinance so that they are general.

Luckily, this instruction for Tirailleurs by Morands has been preserved, as it was taken together with the rest of Davout's correspondence during the campaign in Russia in 1812. It has been printed on pages 6-11 of: "Materials from the Military (Training) Archives of the General Staff. The 1812 Patriotic War. Part II: Documents Seized from the Enemy. Volume 1: Outgoing Correspondence of Marshal Davout (from 14th October to 31st December 1811.)" which has been published by V. I. Charkevitscha in 1903 in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, only volume 1 was published. The above English translation has been made by John Cook.

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