A Further Thought on Casualties and Replacements

by Rob Morgan

On campaign, if your 43rd Foot, 9th Light, or vaunted Spandau Fusiliers suffer substantial casualties, what do you do? Do you simply use them anyway in your next table top encounter, ignoring the units battered history? Does that Regiment vanish from the Order of Battle, its remnants scattered as replacements into the old rival 42nd or the little known 91st? Or do you follow Napoleon Bonaparte’s method of reinforcing existing units by distributing recruits and reserves, carefully retaining the esprit de corps of the survivors they join up with?

During the 1806 Campaign against the Prussians, Marshal Kellerman, Duke of Valmy, who commanded the French Reserve Army, was entirely dependent on conscripts. Bonaparte would not allow the bad practice, as he saw it, of forming entirely new units from new recruits. Horse and Musket period wargamers should perhaps remember that Kellerman held the view, and the results in battle seem to support it, that he could train a raw man into a reasonable soldier in just one month, including instruction in musketry and target practice. Much of what the conscript soldier learned was acquired on the march to join his new regiment, there were provisional battalions created for the journey, and broken up on arrival at the army.


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1 Response to A Further Thought on Casualties and Replacements

  1. George Banic says:

    Hi Rob,
    A very good leading question in your latest post. It’s one I’m actually going to have to find an answer to in the near future as I almost have enough figures painted and based to start playing my army level campaign (circa 1870). Actually, I probably have enough now to make a start, so maybe my answer will be at hand shortly!

    I intend using a bit of Imagi-Nations in my campaign to allow some freedom of action and break some significant mental biases I have with my knowledge of the FPW, so whilst the uniforms and geography are historically accurate, the nations and leaders have been changed to reflect a parallel universe which has a much more level playing field for the armies taking the field than was the case in our timeline. This gives me scope to try out a lot of ‘what-ifs’ in my games.

    One of these ‘what-ifs’ was if some of the lessons learnt from the ACW had been applied by the various European armies taking the field in 1870. One of the key ones I want to try out is the different approaches taken by the CSA and USA in maintaining the fighting strength of their formations. It will be interesting to see what differences (if any) will manifest on the tabletop with one side comprising a combination of whittled down and amalgamated veteran units alongside large units of fresh conscripts, vs the other side retaining its units in the field and feeding in a constant stream of recruits to flesh out the veteran/elite cadres.

    I have seen various rules that use an averaging of unit quality when one or more units are amalgamated to form a larger combat unit, so an ‘elite’ cadre fleshed out with ‘raw’ conscripts might end up with an average quality of ‘trained’, or maybe ‘veteran’ depending on the respective ratios combined. Again, other rules have mechanisms to test the morale of a raw unit when it first comes into actual combat, where it will either be brittle and hunker down or flee after suffering a reverse (as generally expected) or it may surprise all (and probably itself) by showing an unexpected level of resilience and continue to attack with élan.

    So my off the cuff answer at this stage is that I will probably be using all of the examples you mentioned! That said, you have given me a timely reminder to put a bit of thought and effort into detailing how I’m going to manage battle and campaign losses and replacements, so there will probably be a more detailed answer in due course.

    I’m keen to hear any suggestions/mechanics for tracking combat and campaign losses, the effect on troop quality from amalgamations or influx of different quality troops, and the treatment of morale/esprit de corps in such situations, noting I make a distinction between level of training/competence and a unit’s morale/will to fight.

    Are there any generally accepted rules of thumb or rough ratios for when a unit should drop a ‘quality’ or ‘morale’ level, after amalgamation with other troops? Conversely, how much ‘leavening’ of higher quality troops is required to elevate the quality of a raw/inexperienced unit to a higher level, either experience/competence or morale? I think the answers to these questions will lead to the answers to some of Rob’s questions, at least as far as what avenues we tabletop generals will be following to maintain the fighting ability of our ‘armies’ during the rigours of a tabletop campaign.


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