Debate continues: Mesnil-Durand and Broglie

Thirty years after Folard’s first publication, his ordre found another ardent disciple: Francois-Jean de Mesnil-Durand, a French tactician who published his Projet d'un ordre françois en tactique in support of the ordre profond in 1755. It was through the work of Mensil-Durand that the ordre profond finally became a reality of the field. Based on Folard and Saxe’s precedent, Mesnil-Durand agreed that troops in column must not fire, but rely instead on the spirit of the system.[1] He proposed a system of deployment from and into column which would speed and simplify the process, allowing commanders to focus on his five principles of attack: superiority of numbers at the point of attack, concealment of the attack until the last moment, reliance on a vigorous charge and not on fire, concentration of attack to one point, and attack upon the centre.[2] Additionally, Mesnil-Durand answered critics of the ordre profond by publishing geometric proofs which he claimed demonstrated that the column was not only feasible, but ultimately a superior method to the ordre mince. Mesnil-Durand algebraically calculated that the column could maintain a superior level of accuracy and rate of fire while moving faster than line orders.[3] More importantly, he calculated that under fire, the column would lose fewer soldiers than the ordre mince, solving a major criticism of the ordre.[4] Though his proofs met some opposition, Mesnil-Durand won the favour of France’s top commander, Victor-Francois de Broglie, and the interest of the king, pushing the ordre profond closer to inclusion in the tactical canon.[5]
Mesnil-Durand was not the only reason the ordre profond gained ground in the mid-eighteenth century. The successful use of similar military systems by armies which the French had recently come into contact with suggested that deep-order tactical systems could be fruitfully employed. Infantry columns were being used with success in Russia. Due to the flat terrain and heavy presence of cavalry on Russian battlefields, especially in south-eastern Europe, Russian infantry successfully relied on square and column formations.[6] More significant, the American Revolution had demonstrated the power of free and motivated soldiers. On a tactical level, commanders in America – including LaFayette – found that small groups of fast moving and excited soldiers could win a battle, and consequently included infantry columns in their repertoire to house such soldiers.[7] It seemed to the French that the Americans were successfully employing the universal principles of warfare on the modern battlefield.[8] Finally, French losses in the Seven Years War prompted a call for change within the army.[9] Riding this discontent, by 1778 Mesnil-Durand and Broglie had won enough support for the ordre profond to put it to the test.

[1] Quimby, 211-212. Unable to find translated versions of Mesnil-Durand’s works, I rely upon extensive passages quoted by Quimby, Alder, and Colin, noting the bias which this may bring.
[2] Ibid., 220. These notably aligned very closely with the universal principles of war which the Ancients advocated, discussed above.
[3] Alder, 115.
[4] Ibidem.
[5] Quimby, 233.
[6] Starkey, 179.
[7] Ibid., 23. John Lynn, Battle, 186; Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier Lafayette, Memoirs, Correspondence, and Manuscripts of General Lafayette, Published by his Family, vol. 1 (New York: Saunders and Otley, 1836), 236.
[8] Julia Osman, “Ancient Warriors on Modern Soil: French Military Reform and American Military Images in Eighteenth-Century France.” French History 22, no. 2 (2008): 187. 
[9] Avant, 54.

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