Part 61: Q&A - November 27
Empire Total War: The Second 80 Years War quick online Q&A
Q: What was the point of infantry squares? Did it let the infantry surround enemies that broke through in melee?
A: An infantry square is a derivative of the schiltron formation, or perhaps of the tercio square formation. Both formations were designed to present the largest number of spear points in every direction possible to deter cavalry. These formations were squared or sometimes more circular so that they could not be flanked.
This was important in the 1700s, as cavalry were no longer a direct, frontal force. The relatively lightly armoured cavalry of the 1700s could no longer afford to take the hail of gunfire into a full frontal assault into a thicket of bayonets. However, around a flank, an infantry formation was nearly as vulnerable as a group of archers in the middle ages. Of course, while cavalry had always attempted to achieve the flanks, rather than a frontal charge where possible, the necessity of it was sharper in the 1700s and beyond.
The square formation of line infantry differed from previous formations in its relative density. Men were huddled much closer together in the formation, and the square was hollow. These difference compared to the schiltron were due to the gun. The dense frontage let more men fire their weapons by rank, and the hollow center let them maintain a more dense formation with fewer men across a wider frontage.
The square was only a defense against cavalry, and was intended to prevent the cavalry from making their way into the square. The horses often tried to stay away from the dense thicket of spikes, much as the older pike formations could. Infantry had more options in approaching a dense square, even when they themselves were armed with melee weaponry.
Other advantages of the square, were that the hollow formation allowed commanding officers a more commanding view of the situation. Squares were also helpful to protect cannon or injured soldiers. Injured men and barbers were able to huddle in the center of a square without exposure to enemy fire.
They were not meant to swarm men that broke through. The few situations where cavalry broke through squares often resulted in the destruction of the battalion, unless the men could plug the gap very quickly.
Thank you to caller Magnus who correctly pointed out that we used the frame "tetsudo" when we should have used "tercio".