Discussion How many men across comprised a linear formation?

m14msgt

Private
Joined
Sep 15, 2015
Forgive me if this is not in the correct forum. I am trying to figure out how many actual soldiers would have comprised a standard infantry formation. I realize Col. Upton used a columnar formation which was three regiments wide by four deep, but how many men are we talking that would have faced the enemy? In other words, what would the total "frontage" of men been in line versus column formation?
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
I think column format is normally four men wide.

In line is going to depend on the size of the unit and how it's deployed. A full company of infantry is 100 and a regiment is 1,000 but they were rarely at full strength after much service. I think an infantry company usually fought in three ranks. A unit that needed to cover a lot of ground on the defensive might spread out to only two ranks or even one rank deep. So width depends on math.

Beyond the company level it varies a lot depending on space available and how much the commander wanted to keep in reserve. My understanding is an infantry regiment usually deployed all companies in line. Brigades varied depending on the number of regiments in the brigade and the tactical manual being used.

For example, at Chickamauga the AOT was still using 3 regiments up front and a 4th in reserve while the AOC had switched to two front and two rear. The tradeoff of wider standard frontage vs flexibility. And if you had 3 or 5 regiments, or 4 regiments and a battalion (demi-regiment), or one regiment was much larger or smaller than the others due to casualties...

Regular army units presumably also operated differently because instead of 10 companies = 1 regiment like volunteer infantry, the regulars also had battalions within a regiment (4 companies = 1 battalion, 3 battalions = 1 regular regiment?). Heavy artillery converted to infantry and permanently dismounted cavalry would have also been unusual sizes.

I'm pretty sure we have some members who know the tactical manuals better and can elaborate.
 

m14msgt

Private
Joined
Sep 15, 2015
I think column format is normally four men wide.

In line is going to depend on the size of the unit and how it's deployed. A full company of infantry is 100 and a regiment is 1,000 but they were rarely at full strength after much service. I think an infantry company usually fought in three ranks. A unit that needed to cover a lot of ground on the defensive might spread out to only two ranks or even one rank deep. So width depends on math.

Beyond the company level it varies a lot depending on space available and how much the commander wanted to keep in reserve. My understanding is an infantry regiment usually deployed all companies in line. Brigades varied depending on the number of regiments in the brigade and the tactical manual being used.

For example, at Chickamauga the AOT was still using 3 regiments up front and a 4th in reserve while the AOC had switched to two front and two rear. The tradeoff of wider standard frontage vs flexibility. And if you had 3 or 5 regiments, or 4 regiments and a battalion (demi-regiment), or one regiment was much larger or smaller than the others due to casualties...

Regular army units presumably also operated differently because instead of 10 companies = 1 regiment like volunteer infantry, the regulars also had battalions within a regiment (4 companies = 1 battalion, 3 battalions = 1 regular regiment?). Heavy artillery converted to infantry and permanently dismounted cavalry would have also been unusual sizes.

I'm pretty sure we have some members who know the tactical manuals better and can elaborate.
Thank you...I am just trying to give my college students a "visual" as to how many men would have been deployed in line formation, approaching their opponent.
 

Lampasas Bill

Corporal
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
An infantry regiment or battalion did not fight in three ranks, but in two, unless you include the rank of file closers, which consisted of the hand full of lieutenants and sergeants. In addition, a "column" could be of any width, for instance a column of companies would consist of companies formed in two ranks, and positioned one behind the other; a column of regiments, such as Upton used in his attack at Spotslvania, consisted of two-rank regiments formed one behind the other.
 

m14msgt

Private
Joined
Sep 15, 2015
An infantry regiment or battalion did not fight in three ranks, but in two, unless you include the rank of file closers, which consisted of the hand full of lieutenants and sergeants. In addition, a "column" could be of any width, for instance a column of companies would consist of companies formed in two ranks, and positioned one behind the other; a column of regiments, such as Upton used in his attack at Spotslvania, consisted of two-rank regiments formed one behind the other.
Right, so how many men (average) would a two-ranked regiment consist of?
 

Si Klegg

Corporal
Joined
Jul 13, 2018
Location
Bedford UK
On the parade ground, a full regiment, 10 companies of 100 men each, 1000 men in Line of Battle nominally, so a frontage of 500 men with another rank of 500 behind them.

Mid-war Federal say 25-30 men per company, a frontage of 250-300 men in two ranks. Confederate Regiment post Gettysburg, Murfreesboro etc., could be as little as 100-150 man frontage, which is why you started getting 'Consolidated' regiments after that time.

New high number Federal regiments coming up to the line prompted multiple catcalls from the low-number regiment Veterans such as 'Which Brigade/Division is this?' and 'The Johnnies will soon whittle you down to a manageable size.'

I recall Lt Chesley A. Mosman of the 59th Illinois railing against the utter stupidity of the Army before, during and after the Atlanta Campaign in 1864 when he was ordered to drill various companies of Regiments that had been particularly hard-hit that consisted of anything from 6-12 men!
 

Coonewah Creek

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2018
Location
Northern Alabama
IIRC the specifics of Upton's attack...about 5000 men, 12 regiments I think...so 416 avg. per regiment...3 regiment front...each regiment deployed as normal in 2 lines...say 2.5 ft linear frontage per man...about 625 men made up the front of the column (I'd need to check the math), but if that's the way the column was deployed you'd have about 625-630 man column frontage covering a front of about 500 yards or so during the attack.
 

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
In the Gettysburg campaign, the "average" Confederate regiment consisted of 32 officers, 338 enlisted men and 18 slaves, based on my calculations. My rule of thumb is to regard 14 percent of the enlisted men as non-combatants, and excluding an additional average of 3 percent sick, the same regiment entered the battle with roughly 26 officers and 278 enlisted men. A line of battle typically being two ranks, and allotting 22 inches per enlisted man (as a rule of thumb that I found works fairly well for known examples) yields a battle frontage of 255 feet.

On the march during the same campaign, when battle was not imminent, a regiment typically marched in a column of "4s" (four men abreast) well-closed up and with an estimated two feet of separation plus one foot width allotted per soldier would extend nearly 250 feet in length, excluding the 3 percent sick who rode in the ambulances and the slaves who followed in the rear. Not counted are the four or five wagons for baggage/provisions and one or two ambulances assigned to the regiment, which were usually grouped in the brigade wagon train.

Here I have omitted mention of a few details for the sake of simplicity. For instance, the sergeant major, bugler and drummer were enlisted men who did not carry weapons and were typically not in the ranks either in battle or on the march. By the way, some officers were likewise non-combatants: surgeon, assistant surgeon, quartermaster, commissary officer and some detailed staff officers.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
My understanding is that the basic rule is that 6,000 men in line (which would be basically a fairly healthy division in the middle of the war) would be about a mile wide (i.e. about 1,700 to 1,800 yards).

It's a little hard to give exact numbers on the strength of a regiment because it varies so much. At the same battle (Gettysburg) you have the 69th New York with 6 officers and 69 men (who formed part of a tactical battalion with other regiments of the Irish Brigade), the 2nd New Hampshire (354 men on the field) and the 16th Vermont (661) - so if you stood them side by side, the first would be 22 yards wide and the third 200.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Probably just as important a metric is length of column. A marching formation of infantry in column of fours without any impedimenta or wagons would go past surprisingly quickly, but a complete corps with wagons and artillery would form a much longer column.

Taking for example the Army of the Potomac in November 1862:

1st Corps if infantry only: 18,000 men, 1,000 infantry per 300 yards in column of fours, so 5,400 yards, so about 3 miles.
1st Corps counting wagons and artillery: 11 miles, so a single weaker division like Meade's 5,000 men would also be 3 miles.
2,700 cavalry: 4 yards per cavalry rank, column of twos, so 2 yards per horseman, so 5,400 yards, so 3 miles.
The cavalry division, of about 6,000-6,500 cavalry and 4 horse batteries: 9 miles.

So in other words, these columns would all be 3 miles long:

18,000 infantry without artillery.
Meade's division of 5,000 men, with artillery and wagons.
A strong cavalry brigade of 2,700 men, without artillery or wagons.
A cavalry brigade of 2,000 men with guns and wagons.
 
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Mark Neuman

Cadet
Joined
Mar 27, 2019
I think column format is normally four men wide.

In line is going to depend on the size of the unit and how it's deployed. A full company of infantry is 100 and a regiment is 1,000 but they were rarely at full strength after much service. I think an infantry company usually fought in three ranks. A unit that needed to cover a lot of ground on the defensive might spread out to only two ranks or even one rank deep. So width depends on math.

Beyond the company level it varies a lot depending on space available and how much the commander wanted to keep in reserve. My understanding is an infantry regiment usually deployed all companies in line. Brigades varied depending on the number of regiments in the brigade and the tactical manual being used.

For example, at Chickamauga the AOT was still using 3 regiments up front and a 4th in reserve while the AOC had switched to two front and two rear. The tradeoff of wider standard frontage vs flexibility. And if you had 3 or 5 regiments, or 4 regiments and a battalion (demi-regiment), or one regiment was much larger or smaller than the others due to casualties...

Regular army units presumably also operated differently because instead of 10 companies = 1 regiment like volunteer infantry, the regulars also had battalions within a regiment (4 companies = 1 battalion, 3 battalions = 1 regular regiment?). Heavy artillery converted to infantry and permanently dismounted cavalry would have also been unusual sizes.

I'm pretty sure we have some members who know the tactical manuals better and can elaborate.
The infantry usually fought in two ranks, not three. When forming a column from a line, men would be ordered to count off by twos; at the command of right or left face, the twos would move to the right or left of the ones, so forming a column.
 

erns

Cadet
Joined
May 4, 2011
Location
West Point, Pa
In the Gettysburg campaign, the "average" Confederate regiment consisted of 32 officers, 338 enlisted men and 18 slaves, based on my calculations. My rule of thumb is to regard 14 percent of the enlisted men as non-combatants, and excluding an additional average of 3 percent sick, the same regiment entered the battle with roughly 26 officers and 278 enlisted men. A line of battle typically being two ranks, and allotting 22 inches per enlisted man (as a rule of thumb that I found works fairly well for known examples) yields a battle frontage of 255 feet.

On the march during the same campaign, when battle was not imminent, a regiment typically marched in a column of "4s" (four men abreast) well-closed up and with an estimated two feet of separation plus one foot width allotted per soldier would extend nearly 250 feet in length, excluding the 3 percent sick who rode in the ambulances and the slaves who followed in the rear. Not counted are the four or five wagons for baggage/provisions and one or two ambulances assigned to the regiment, which were usually grouped in the brigade wagon train.

Here I have omitted mention of a few details for the sake of simplicity. For instance, the sergeant major, bugler and drummer were enlisted men who did not carry weapons and were typically not in the ranks either in battle or on the march. By the way, some officers were likewise non-combatants: surgeon, assistant surgeon, quartermaster, commissary officer and some detailed staff officers.
Tom - I thought I would throw you this observation regarding marching in column on the roads. For many years I took as gospel the idea that infantry marched in company order with four men abreast. Several years ago I read the entire transcript of the 72nd​ Pa Supreme Court of Pa case regarding their monument location. In the witness testimony I saw the following exchange which seems to indicate that the 69th​ (and perhaps the entire brigade) entered the Gettysburg area on Taneytown Road in a two company abreast marching pattern so that eight soldiers would form each perpendicular line (4 from a particular company and 4 different soldiers from another company. THIS ALWAYS PUZZLED ME ???

Let me give you the court testimony and see what you and others think it implies. Mr.Ker (Capt William W Ker) – Lawyer for the 72nd​ and orator at their monument dedication) cross-examining former Private Joseph McKeever (Co E 69th​ Pa) Q - Your company was the second company from the colors? A (From Joseph McKeever - – No, sir, it was the first company from the colors. Q- Did your company adjoin the colors ? A- Yes sir on the left Q- Where was company H? A - On the right of the colors Q- How were you formed : Where you formed . A and F, D and I, C and H, E and K, G and B in the usual regimental formation? A – Yes sir we were.

--- Tom – This seems to imply that the 69th​ came down Taneytown Road in a 2 company wide – 5 company deep formation and then (after much previous planning and practice) shuffled itself into a ten company standard battle line. What do you think ?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The usual reason for a column of fours would be related to the width of the expected roads (as in, that's why it would evolve). Given how much of the march to Gettysburg was done on pike roads, that might have affected things, especially as they broke away from their wagon trains.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
--- Tom – This seems to imply that the 69th​ came down Taneytown Road in a 2 company wide – 5 company deep formation and then (after much previous planning and practice) shuffled itself into a ten company standard battle line. What do you think ?

That is the standard column of divisions as proscribed in the manuals, and how divisions moved on the field. There were really 5 usual formations that were to be used:

1. Line (2 ranks)
2. Column of divisions (5 divisions, that is double-companies) one behind the other with a variable distance, but the length of the division line being standard, and half and even quarter that for close manoeuvers)
3. Column of companies (10 companies in line, one after the other)
4. Column of fours (for moving on roads)
5. Square.

Deploying from column of divisions to line, and ploying from line to column of divisions were the most practiced movements. See Casey's school of the battalion. The standard method of deploying is illustrated thus:

plate16.gif
 

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Tom - I thought I would throw you this observation regarding marching in column on the roads. For many years I took as gospel the idea that infantry marched in company order with four men abreast. Several years ago I read the entire transcript of the 72nd​ Pa Supreme Court of Pa case regarding their monument location. In the witness testimony I saw the following exchange which seems to indicate that the 69th​ (and perhaps the entire brigade) entered the Gettysburg area on Taneytown Road in a two company abreast marching pattern so that eight soldiers would form each perpendicular line (4 from a particular company and 4 different soldiers from another company. THIS ALWAYS PUZZLED ME ???

Let me give you the court testimony and see what you and others think it implies. Mr.Ker (Capt William W Ker) – Lawyer for the 72nd​ and orator at their monument dedication) cross-examining former Private Joseph McKeever (Co E 69th​ Pa) Q - Your company was the second company from the colors? A (From Joseph McKeever - – No, sir, it was the first company from the colors. Q- Did your company adjoin the colors ? A- Yes sir on the left Q- Where was company H? A - On the right of the colors Q- How were you formed : Where you formed . A and F, D and I, C and H, E and K, G and B in the usual regimental formation? A – Yes sir we were.

--- Tom – This seems to imply that the 69th​ came down Taneytown Road in a 2 company wide – 5 company deep formation and then (after much previous planning and practice) shuffled itself into a ten company standard battle line. What do you think ?
I will refrain from addressing this question since I feel unqualified, but I believe @67th Tigers has provide a good answer in post #19. I will say that when the Union Second Corps arrived on the field early on July 2, it initially deployed off the Taneytown Road in columns of regiments (grouped by brigade) and some brigades kept that formation for several hours.

On a long march, sources seem to agree that troops moved in a column of fours, but in moving around the battlefield it seems they kept their two ranks, not only to save time but also to minimize casualties from enemy artillery. For the latter reason it was safer to march in open order (spread out) rather than closed up while moving from point to point in a column on the battlefield.
 
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