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At the 31:20 juncture of Episode 20 in total (Episode 10 of Season 2) of the AMC TV show Turn, because the British infantry march slowly in formation (rather than running) to leave the battlefield at the Battle of Monmouth, several soldiers needlessly perish after easily being targeted and shot with muskets of the Continental Army soldiers, but who cease fire after 1 or 2 minutes after the British start leaving. This TV has been adjudged historically inaccurate; so is the above accurate?

If so, is not marching under retreat stupid, unreasonable? Did the importance of formation and order outweigh the value of human life?

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    Absoutely. Look up events at Landshut on April 16, 1809, and the road from Quatre Bras to Mont St. Jean on June 16-17, 1815, for examples of successful fighting withdrawals by Napoleon's Bavarian allies and Wellington's AngloAllied army before Waterloo. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 2 '16 at 15:57
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    Timere, I am not sure what you know about military history ,but maintaining order and discipline saves lives. (Part of why Custer lost at little big horn is that he was unable to maintain unit integrity). A rout costs you more losses than an orderly retreat. Just as a note: Turn is not a documentary, nor is it even good history. It's a drama made for profit (and it's succeeding). – KorvinStarmast Jul 2 '16 at 16:08
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Armies would "march in formation while retreating" if not routed.

Maintaining formation was all important in a retreat. Most casualties were caused by armies falling apart and individual men being "picked off" by the enemy, usually cavalry, not in the battle itself. Hence, the sacrifice of a "few" men marching in order was considered necessary for the army to remain coherent and not be routed.

Retreating armies marched at "double time" (speed), that is 6 mph instead of 3 mph. Pursuing armies (other than cavalry) could not advance at such speeds without risking falling into disorder. Which is one reason why most orderly retreats were successful.

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It depends...

While on TV it is dramatic for a commander to order a retreat, the proper command in the British Army is to "retire" (opposite to advance).

This would require a well ordered march away from the enemy.

Even a retreat would be reasonably ordered - although, not necessarily following a specific command. Retreats are generally a unit deciding for itself to pull back.

Retreats, however, quickly become routs - which are the more familiar "every man for himself" and "run fast" disorderly retreat.

  • I agree with this. An orderly retreat should be done "under fire" (meaning your own fire) provided you're being attacked and your positions over run. I can't think of many instances where the British were dug in and then proceeded to attack though. They mostly stayed in Cities and Towns and viewed anyone "in the countryside" as the enemy (and anyone from Boston and New England of course.) So it's quite possible when being attacked as at Monmouth that an order was given to form up......that would be in preparation for an attack and incorrect order. Not saying that is what happened in there tho. – Doctor Zhivago Jul 2 '16 at 18:32

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