Command status for continuous columns and march columns

Today we would like to discuss another aspect that has been slightly changed in the 4th Edition: march columns and continuous columns management. Now, units in march column formation share some of the advantage of the continuous columns. Following a question from the forum, we would like to discuss such advantages and provide some examples of the rules application.

The new ruleset still makes a difference depending on whether the units are following the track of a road or not. If they are following the track of a road, the rules assume that it is an easier task to command them for the built-in unit commanders (which are always included in the units’ stats). The main change in this situation is that not only continuous columns but also single units in march column formation can follow the track of a road without necessarily being in command. This change was introduced because it was reasoned that it was a slight contradiction to allow two brigades to follow the track without higher command supervision, but not to allow a single brigade to do the same. If a single unit should be punished for the lack of command, two (or more) units trying to act with some degree of coordination without a superior officer being present should be penalized too. Moreover, units were capable of following the track of a road without a high coordination degree in many historical accounts. Hence, in the 4th Edition, single or continuous columns can follow the track of a road without being in command. Of course, deploying them in order of battle is another sort of thing and still requires a higher commander (or the initiative of the built-in commander if the appropriate optional rule is used).

In cases where the units are not following the track of a road, continuous columns still have an advantage because they only need one direct commander (which should be the commander of least one of them) to move the complete continuous column without further penalizations, and that general does not need to check for command status. Note that a single unit in march column formation must be in command of its direct commander, but the commander does not need to be in command himself.

After discussing the rules about these formations, we can show how to apply them. First of all, these rules are helpful for outflanking moves, which are nevertheless still difficult and risky manoeuvres. Sending a single unit and breaking up continuous columns is now easier than before. Moreover, the new optional rule 10.4 The command step optional rules (in page 80) regarding the initiative of the built-in commanders makes possible to deploy units in march column formation without their direct commander being present (despite being still more difficult than under the appropriate chain of command because of the lack of a direct commander). Historically some of this outflanking manoeuvres were stuck when trying to deploy because the lack of orders. Now, this kind of movement is a challenge in Napoleon's Battles, but it is possible to deploy units out of march column formation without a direct commander. Remember that it is still a risky business to bring these columns close to the enemy without close supervision from their direct commanders.

Also, the change regarding the command of single units in march column can be used to bring back routed units to the line of battle (mainly if 10.3 Rally Step Optional Rules at page 79 is used), and to bring reinforcements from the reserve to the line of battle.

The aim of these rules about deploying continuous columns is to allow some degree of flexibility in their use. Here we present some examples about how it could be done in the quickest way assuming there is no threat from the enemy.

In our first example, we have a continuous column of four units following the track of a road. As long as they remain in march column and follow the track, they don’t need a commanding officer, but if the players intends to deploy in column formation, they will need a commanding general.

First turn: The two heading units (which are in command) change from march column to column formation. From now, as they are no longer part of a continuous column, they will need to check their command status each turn. As units 3 & 4 are still part of a continuous column within the span of their commanding general, they can follow their movement in march column. Remember that the only difference we have if the units are not following a road is that the general is mandatory in the previous turns (when all the units were in the continuous columns).

Second turn: All units are inside the span of their commander, so all them can move normally (applying the usual rules for command and control). Units 1 & 2 can make way by moving (they already are in column formation), while units 3 & 4 can change formation without any special rule for continuous columns.

Sample 1

Second example: this shows and alternative quicker way to deploy out of the continuous column, but that leaves the formation more vulnerable that the one discussed before. In our first turn the leading units break the column and move out of the road (they need the general nearby to do so), while the rest of the units follow the road and catch up with them (the general is only needed for moving the backward units if they were not following a road). In the next turn, the whole formation is under command and may be moved normally (generally to deploy in column). This is a bit riskier, since the leading units are still in march column and cannot defend the formation against enemy attacks.

Sample 2

All this considerations have been made using the standard rules. Brigades not following the track of the road and out of command could use the optional rule 10.4 The command step optional rules at page 80 or 11.4 force marching at page 85 in order to deploy faster.

There are many combinations depending on the units' sizes, the terrain, the army’s command structure of the units that form the continuous column, etc... But in summary, typical divisions can be deployed in two turns (almost independently of the size and quality of the units or the command radius of the general). Deploying continuous column without a direct commander is slower, but possible. In any case, upper echelon commanders could be attached (at least to two brigades) to get more brigades in command helping to deploy faster.

All the above descriptions are quite accurate to what the historical records tell us about these outflanking manoeuvres and march column deployements.