Stefan Jovanovich comments on Ambushes
Citing Clausewitz, Jeremy responsed to J.P with:
During a classic ambush those being ambushed only have two options. Die, or advance towards the attacking force quickly with a maximum expenditure of force.
Not so. In ambushes, as in all combat, people die, whether they retreat, stand fast or advance. What a platoon or a brigade should NOT do in a meeting engagement is advance towards the enemy "quickly with a maximum expenditure of force". The reason is rather simple: you do not know how large the enemy force is. Without that knowledge, advancing "towards the attacking force" can literally be suicidal. It was for Major General Kawaguchi's troops when they ran into the Marine 1st Raider and 1st Parachute Battalions south of Henderson Field, and it was for Custer at the Little Big Horn. (The conventional view of Custer was that he was "arrogant" - a kinder explanation is that he simply did not stop to make an accurate assessment of the size of the force he was up against.)
The proper tactical response to a meeting engagement is "the fan": the point holds and the column behind splits left and right to form an arc. That allows you to bring maximum firepower to bear. It also allows you to assess the size of the enemy's front.
As for Baron von Clausewitz, I am afraid his reputation is highest among those farthest from the battlefield. He is - like Machiavelli - an undoubtedly a brilliant figure, but he is also the guy not to ask how to destroy an attacking French column. The Baron's actual war experience was that of a 2-time loser: once against the French Revolutionary Army and once against Napoleon. That is an embarrassing detail (like the actual combat citations for John Murtha's purple hearts) that is always omitted from any discussion of his military words of wisdom.