The Line and Square
The foundations on which we built Empire
Are scarcely a secret to share
The offensive force of musketry fire
The defensive strength of the square.
The advantages of the musketry line
Are best learned mathematically
And not from one hundred metres in front
As Frenchie would no doubt agree.
The French they attack you in column
Of maybe 10,000 or more
Which stretch back for hundreds of metres
With 20 or less at the fore.
They pick their way over their stumblers
A mass of men crowded and dense
And plan that by pressure of numbers
To smash their way through a defence.
But a column will pay a terrible price
In pain and in death and in gore
That numbers are simply one device in
Mathematics of battle and war.
For the column as it advances fore
Fires from the front 20 men
While a line of a thousand muskets or more
Repays this again and again.
And speed of the sequence of volleys tell
The cycle of prime, load and fire
Three volleys a minute brings three spits of Hell
The thunder of King George’s choir.
And practice and drill and practice again
Makes firing come off as you planned
But all of the training and drilling of men
Can never teach them to stand.
And so the mathematics of warfare
Would counteract their column’s force
But the line would always be vulnerable
To a charge of the cavalry horse.
Then you looked kindly on the training you’d done
On the drillyard which helped you prepare
For making efficient manoeuvre upon
Hearing the order “Form square!”
When the lancers charged you stood and held line
Till signalled by bugle or drums
To break into square too early a time
Invited the wrath of their guns.
For a six pound shot hitting into the line
Would take out a redcoat or two
But 20 or more would go to Hell
If into the square one flew.
But once we were set and bayonets fixed
Or our pikes were driven in ground
There wasn’t a lancer in all of France
Wouldn’t swing his charger around.
And when they fell back from a failed attack
The bugles once more’d give the sign
Three volleys repeated as they’d retreated
A gift from King George’s red line.