Saxon skirmishers. The “Third Rank” system?

Prior to the 1810 reforms, each infantry company was required to allocate one corporal and 8 men as skirmishers. These received rudimentary training in the role and seem to have operated in direct support of the parent battalion only. Initially, the intention was to equip these “schutzen” with rifles but this never happened. They continued to use the infantry musket in the skirmish role.

In 1808 the number of men in the skirmish platoon was raised to a corporal and ten men from each company. In 1809 the skirmishers were grouped into two provisional Schutzen regiments, supplemented with additional men from regimental depots. These provisional regiments operated independently from the parent regiments but the men returned to their regiments during peacetime. They retained the uniform of the parent regiment.

With the 1810 reforms, the light infantry regiments were properly established. It seems that the nucleus for these new regiments came initially from the skirmishers trained by the line infantry companies. I have been unable to find out whether the line infantry companies continued training new skirmish sections but the “circumstantial” evidence points to this. If one looks at the OOBs for the 1813 campaign in particular, there were two whole brigades without light infantry. A division without some form of skirmish cover would be very vulnerable to enemy skirmishers. It stands to reason that the old practice of training skirmishers at company and battalion level must have continued.

Judging by the numbers of men from each company allotted to the skirmish role prior to the 1810 reforms, the numbers of skirmishers in each infantry battalion (post 1810) cannot have been large. I would advise that you use no more than four skirmish figures per infantry battalion if you game in a 20:1 ratio.  This is the equivalent of 80 skirmishers per battalion in real numbers. These would have worked in direct support of their battalion. The practice of retiring from the front of the battalion and forming as a reserve behind the third rank during fire fights has probably given rise to the term “third rank system.” I am now sure that this is a “wargamers” term and was not known as such at the time.

The grenadiers were the elite troops of the Saxon army. They were veterans and could all skirmish if required. This is supported by reports of their actions in battle, particularly the battle of Kalish in early 1813.

One last point - Saxon battalions are usually represented on the wargames table by four companies of 8 figures in a 20:1 ratio. This would give a musketeer company a real strength of 160 men. In fact the strength of a musketeer company was around 200 men. Campaign attrition would reduce this number but we can afford four extra figures (80 men) in each battalion for the formation of a skirmish screen. These four figures should cover the front of the battalion as it advances and should then retire behind the battalion as it engages the enemy’s formed troops.

In the case of Grenadier battalions I would use 6 skirmish figures. They were veterans who could skirmish and were less subject to campaign attrition.