Debate begins - Chevalier de Folard

In the above, I have stressed that the ordre profond was not a radically-conceived or under-supported movement. Instead, deep-order tactics were designed to have practical outcomes for the ancien régime armies, and gained the support of a wide audience. Yet despite this support, the ordre profond was not immediately incorporated into the French tactical canon. Instead, as will now be examined, the idea underwent decades of debate. Opposition to the ordre profond was not usually ideologically based, as is sometimes alleged.[1] Well-versed in military scholarship, tacticians expressed a number of practical concerns with the ordre profond. [2] These concerns were widely shared and expressed. Recent scholarship by Sandra Powers has demonstrated the presence of a wide circle of book-sharing between European and American military philosophes, including copies and annotations of authors varied from Polybius to Vegetius, and Folard to Frederick. A copy of Drummond de Melfort's Traite sur la Cavalerie, for example, was annotated by and passed between the Duc d’Orleans (advocate of the ordre profond), Marshal Castries, Montmorency-Laval, Lauzun, Rochambeau, and George Washington.[3]  Consequently, the ordre profond was a well-known point of contention in France’s academic and military circles, and was debated on an accordingly large scale.

Even during its infancy, the ordre profond was reasonably high-profile. Though initially confined to theory, the ordre profond’s first major proponents, Jean Charles Chevalier de Folard and Maurice de Saxe, were both extremely influential. Not only were they major military figures in France during their lifetimes, but their publications received a great deal of posthumous attention. The system began with Folard, who published his Nouvelles D' écouvertes sur la guerre dans une dissertation de Polybe in 1724. In it, Folard proposed a 24-30 man wide by 46 man deep column to be used on the battlefield in every circumstance.[4] He suggested that the “manner of fighting by column is  . . . superior to all others,” and that France’s battalions knew “neither how to attack nor defend themselves . . . because they [fought] on so little depth that they [could] easily be pierced and broken.” [5] Claiming that depth would maintain French morale while dashing the enemy lines, Folard took specifically from Polybius’ doubled phalanx, even claiming to have improved upon it.[6] He believed that deep-order formations promoted the ultimate solidarity between soldiers, and rejected the notion that firearms could or would break troops in column formation, stating that it was “morally impossible that a column could ever be broken.” [7] Most, including Saxe, agreed that Folard went “too far,” particularly in his claim that “all ground is proper” for the column.[8] Nevertheless, even Frederick the Great encouraged all his officers to read Folard, though notably he informed them it contained “diamonds in a dung heap.” [9]

[1] James R Arnold, “A Reappraisal of the Column versus the Line in the Peninsular War,” The Journal of Military History 68, no. 2 (April 2004): 537.
[2] Starkey, 212; Powers, 787-788.
[3] Ibid., 788; Powers also notes that between 1770-1772, the Encyclopedie Militaire, a journal devoted to the military debates of the time, was widely popular in Paris, and devoted particular attention to the works and achievements of authors and generals such as Saxe, Folard, Montecuccoli, and Frederick. Ibid., 783.
[4] Quimby, 28, 31.
[5] Folard, quoted in Quimby, 30.
[6] Folard specifically stated that the column “has the solidity and the impulsion of the doubled phalanx, of which Polybius speaks, without having its weaknesses.” Jean-Charles de Folard, Nouvelles d’ecouvertes sur la guerre dans une dissertation sur Polybe (Paris: Jean-Francois Josse, 1726), 200. 
[7] Folard, quoted in Quimby, 30.
[8] Saxe, Memoires sur L’Art de la Guerre, 3; Folard, 200.
[9] Frederick the Great, quoted in Quimby, 40.

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