I've found the picture below on the TotalWar game series forum, but doing the reverse image search, shows that it is actually quite popular (however, I couldn't find the author or the title):

enter image description here

It depicts a Prussian line infantry unit marching towards enemy. My (actually pretty silly question) is: why is the soldier at the bottom left of the drawing shooting during the march without waiting for the command from the officer?

The Wikipedia article on line infantry says:

The soldiers were supposed to fire volleys at the command of officers, but in practice this happened only in the first minutes of the battle. After one or two volleys, each soldier charged a musket and fired at his own discretion, without hearing the commands of the officers.

Line tactics required a strict discipline and simple movements, practiced to the point where they became second-nature. During training, the drill and corporal punishments were widely used.

However, this scene takes place before the unit has "connected" with the enemy: the officer is in front of the soldiers and the front row is marching instead of kneeling. So why are the two soldiers on the bottom left already shooting/reloading after the shot?

Is it

  1. Artistic licence - such thing would never happen in a disciplined Prussian army (at least not so early in the battle), but it shows nicely how the line infantry works?
  2. Just two undisciplined soldiers that can't wait for the fight and shoot prematurely?
  3. Some sort of marksmen expected to shoot from the greater distance?

If indeed the 3rd answer is correct - was it a common practice to have such snipers attached to a regular unit? Were they armed differently than the rest of the squad? While the smooth-bore muskets are horrible to be used in marksmanship, there were already in use proper rifles, such as the German Jager rifle or British Baker rifle. I know about designated UNITS of sharpshooters (like the British Green Jackets), but this doesn't seem the case.

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    I originally thought it was an Osprey illustration, but searches pointed me towards these scale models. If this is the primary source, then historical accuracy wouldn't be as important as illustrating the wargaming capacity of the models.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 7:44
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    The artist gave all of the troops the same face! Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 14:12
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    You noted that it's weird that the guy would be shooting during the march, but the same holds true for the guy right behind him currently reloading.
    – R. Schmitz
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 14:35
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    This is a ridiculous picture.so did the guys in the foreground have to run ahead in order to be standing right by where the marching soldiers are now? and what's going on with the soldiers in the background, how did this line of battle get around them? it doesn't make any sense. they must have been added in as a response to feedback complaining there wasn't enough action in the picture. Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 19:14
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    The author of the picture is Alexander Yezhov (Александр Ежов). Sorry, no definitive source for that, but the signature in bottom-right corner says “А. Ежов” (A. Yezhov) and his other works are in the same genre and style.
    – Spc_555
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 20:56

5 Answers 5


why is the soldier at the bottom left of the drawing shooting during the march without waiting for the command from the officer?

He's waiting for a severe punishment from his sergeant.

In that period marksmanship was something rare. Muskets are notoriously inaccurate. Most muskets don't have sights (there was really no need for them), and especially the Prussian army fired from the hip.

The idea was to let an entire regiment fire simultaneously on an opposing regiment. Usually you hit something, if within range. Shooting at anything over 100 meters was hopelessly optimistic. Even if one regiment fired on another regiment.

The illustration is created with what is called artistic liberty. The uniforms are pretty decent, but the action is anything but. Why would a drummer walk in the front line? That's one musket less for shooting, and a more valuable target (the drummer) needlessly exposed.

Muskets in the era didn't have rifling. The bullet was round, fitted not too close in the barrel. A tight fit would help with the accuracy, but at the cost of reloading speed. Which wasn't particularly high to begin with. So, the musket couldn't be accurate. That's why it didn't have sights, or at best a front sight only. And it's the reason why entire regiments shot at other regiments. You needed that many muskets to shoot at such a large target in order to hit something.

Your main question was: did line regiments have designated marksmen?

Not really. Many regiments had a grenadier and light infantry company, which were elite. Or at least better than average. The light infantry you can see as 'marksmen', but most were armed with the same muskets as the rest of the battalion. Those infantrymen (I wouldn't call them marksmen) had the same limitations as other infantry, but they could aim at their targets.

There were specialized rifle companies and regiments, such as the 95th Rifles, 60th Rifles (British Army), Jaeger battalions in the Austrian and Prussian army and similar units with rifled guns. Those units were much better and sometimes used for sniping. They usually worked independent of line infantry units. Not as a part of the line infantry. French Voltigeurs were light infantry, not equipped with rifles but standard muskets. They were not riflemen, just better trained (?) regular infantry with a different title.

Those real riflemen (voltigeurs and Jaegers with non rifled muskets aren't riflemen) were elite units. Which automatically means: there were not a lot of them.

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    Alternative interpretation, we're seeing the two adjacent units. The drummer and piper are actually in the interval between two units. Note that there is a reloading soldier behind the shooting soldier.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 5:04
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    They actually call it “artistic licence" (artistieke vrijheid?).
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 5:42
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    @BruceWayne In general, yes, many muskets were actually only marginally better than modern handguns in terms of accuracy. And even if it wasn't for that, you don't care about accuracy of individual soldiers when using volley fire tactics because the goal is to just put a very large amount of metal in the air traveling towards the enemy at high velocity and let probability kill enough of them to scare the rest off (and you can see the same with modern soldiers providing suppressing fire, especially with stuff like an SA80 or M249, albeit for slightly different reasons). Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 14:52
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    @AustinHemmelgarn Just want to point out that modern handguns are mechanically far more accurate than muskets. Their poor accuracy results from how hard it is to precisely point something so short. Jerry Miculek can somewhat reliably land hits with a pistol at 1000 yards. youtube.com/watch?v=jJ3XwizTqDw I don't think anyone could do that with a musket.
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 16:36
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    @Ryan_L a traditional musket definitely not, although the same is true of most modern mass produced handguns (you need a gun built for that kind of accuracy, and most modern handguns are not because they assume you're not engaging a target beyond about 50m). The gun used in that video was designed for long range shooting and Miculek still got at least a little lucky simply due to the ballistic limitations of the ammo. Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 16:56

This picture is from a boxed set of figures (Zvezda's Prussian Grenadiers of Frederick the Great) and is illustrating the figures within. It shouldn't be taken as an accurate representation of the subjects in action!

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    This is the correct answer. Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 2:52

Expanding on Jos’ answer:

This is a modern military illustration of a weapons system in action. This is not a great example: line infantry is only shown in battle line march and fire. The ancillary musicians are at the front to allow reenactors and modellers better view of their different dress and kit. The man firing and the man loading also illustrate the diversity of the weapons system. Ideally they would also be shown in rout, retreat, square, bayonet charge / receipt, charge column and column route march. However the illustrator has failed to depict the full some diversity of the system.

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    I would argue against "illustrator's failure" vs "publisher & public interest". I'm sure the illustrator could have done it, had the author and publisher of the book asked them to.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 6:58
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    The goal isn't to illustrate tactics, but to illustrate diversity within a single frame. - I think this is another place where H:SE is better than most other historical resources. Thank you for adding context in a place where I think it is very valuable.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 11:43
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    Yeah, "failure" seems a bit much, but it seems pretty clear the illustrator wanted to show that they do more than march around in pretty lines.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 13:38
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    I’m judging it against the variety of war memorial art where weapons systems have had the diversity of their uses depicted in a single frame: against the high standards of the genre of which this is an example. It is a high ask. It it is one that I’ve seen achieved. Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 19:14

Picture is plausible with certain limitations

It is usually assumed that infantry organization in Napoleonic times was based on regiments (and cavalry on squadrons) . Although mostly true, it should not be taken for granted that all companies in a regiment were uniformly armed, trained and equipped.

For example, in British Army during Napoleonic wars each regiment would have nominally one company of light infantry. Russian Army usually did have uniform infantry regiments (grenadier, musketeer or jager, with jagers(hunters) being trained as light infantry) . However, they would occasionally deploy parts of musketeer or grenadier regiments as skirmishers, when circumstances pressed them to do so. Prussian Army, most interesting in this case, stood somewhere between British and Russian system. They too had dedicated jager regiments, but they usually dispersed them throughout the army in battalion or company formations. Interestingly enough, their musketeer or grenadier regiments did have their own platoon or company of Schützen which were specially trained sharpshooters.

Picture in question therefore could be plausible, with skirmishers accompanying line infantry, with one possible flaw: jagers(light infantry) usually had different uniform then grenadiers. In this case soldier kneeling is clearly wearing grenadier hat, while jagers usually had much less colorful uniforms and hats, to remain hidden in forests. Therefore, he is not a jager, but grenadier like rest of them, maybe specially selected (Schutzen) and trained to act as skirmisher in case jagers are not available.


I don't know what historical time the picture refers to. Most of the answers assume the Napoleonic era. However, according to Alexander Pushkin's depiction of a Battle of Poltava (Canto the Third, line 159)

> The marksmen fill the scattered brush.

the marksmanship was a common tactics as back as 1709. Pushkin was a very accurate historian. In any case, by the time of writing (1828) the mention of marksmen did not surprise anybody.

Russian original:

> В кустах рассыпались стрелки

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