History, Strength and Organization of the French Cavalry.
Regiment, squadron and company.
Provisional Regiments of Cavalry.
Heavy and Line Cavalry [Cavalerie]
. . . . . . . . . Horse Carabiniers [Caraabiniers à Cheval]
. . . . . . . . . Cuirassiers [Cuirassiers]
. . . . . . . . . Dragoons [Dragons]
Light Cavalry [Cavalerie Légère]
. . . . . . . . . Lighthorse-Lancers [Chevau-Légers Lanciers]
. . . . . . . . . Chasseurs [Chasseurs à Cheval]
. . . . . . . . . Hussars [Hussards]
1813 - French Cavalry After Invasion of Russia.
Cavalry Links. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"One of cuirassier regiments developed a unique test for newly assigned officers.
You were given 3 horses, 3 bottles of champagne, and 3 'willing girls' -
and 3 hours to kill the champagne, cover the girls and ride a rough 20-mile course.
(Of course you could draw up your own schedule of events" :-)).
Hussar from GdB Lasalle's "Hellish Brigade" captures
Color of Prussian Queen's Dragoon Regiment - 1806
- by J. Girbal
"It would be better for us if he (Murat) was less brave and had a little more common sense."
- French general Savary
[on the defeat of Murat's much vaunted cuirassiers and dragoons
by Russian and Prussian cavalry at Heilsberg.]
"I considered our (British) cavalry so inferior to the French from the want of order, that although I considered
one squadron a match for two French, I didn't like to see four British opposed to four French:
and as the numbers increased and order, of course, became more necessary I was the more unwilling
to risk our men without having a superiority in numbers."
Mameluk of Imperial Guard
History, Strength and Organization.
In 1798 the cavalry consisted of: 2 carabinier, 25 cavalry, 15 dragoon, 22 chasseur and 12 hussar regiments.
In 1803, Napoleon had: 2 carabinier, 12 cuirassier, 30 dragoon, 26 chasseur, and 10 hussar regiments.
Napoleon said that "overall the numbers of cavalry in the French army will be 1/6 the strength of infantry. He increased the strength of cavalry in 4 different ways:
- by taking entire Polish, German, Italian, and Dutch regiments into the French army
- transformed the provisional regiments into permanent regiments
- increased the numebr of squadrons per regiment, from three to four, five, six and even more squadrons in some regiments
- formed new regiments.
The Napoleonic cavalry served in many regions of Europe. Napoleon's letter addressed on February 26, 1813 revealed the distribution of his cavalry. See table below.
|number of squadrons||in Germany||in France||in Spain|
|80 sq. of heavy cavalry||46||30||4|
|120 sq. of dragoons||57||16||47|
|45 sq. of lancers||25||20||-|
|144 sq. of chasseurs||83||36||26|
|71 sq. of hussars||44||14||13|
Colonel-général of all cuirassiers was Gouvion St. Cyr
Colonel-général of all dragoons was Baraguey-d'Hilliers
Colonel-général of all hussars was Junot
Colonel-général of all chasseurs-à-cheval was Grouchy.
Napoleon said that "squadron will be to the cavalry what the battalion is for infantry."
Squadron always consisted of 2 companies. The cavalry strength in battle was expressed in the number of squadrons instead of regiments or divisions.
Every squadron had 4 platoons. One of them was flanker platoon, they were the horse skirmishers. When recruits arrived the officers looked for men familiar with horses, who were better horsemen than others. These were selected into the flanker platoon.
The squadron was 75-250 men strong. In 1809 at Wagram were 209 squadrons with an average of 139 men per squadron.
On August 15th 1813 Napoleon had in his main army in Germany:
12.818 chasseurs in 67 squadrons (on average 9 1/10 officers and 182 other ranks per squadron)
7.203 hussars in 38 squadrons (on average 8 1/2 officer and 181 other ranks per squadron)
3.546 lancers in 20 squadrons (on average 10 3/4 officer and 166 other ranks per squadron)
7.019 dragoons in 45 squadrons (on average 8 1/3 officer and 148 other ranks per squadron)
5.789 cuirassiers in 40 squadrons (on average 8 6/10 officer and 136 other ranks per squadron)
Thus the strongest squadrons were of hussars and chasseurs and the weakest of cuirassiers, at least in August 1813.
In 1805-1807 (wartime) :
company of cuirassiers . . . . . . 3 officers, 1 sergeant major, 2 sergeants, 1 furier, 4 corporals, 1 trumpeter, 74 privates.
The company had 86 men and 90 horses (3 horses for the captain and 2 for each lieutenant)
company of dragoons . . . . . . .3 officers, 1 sergeant major, 4 sergeants, 1 furier, 8 corporals, 2 trumpeters and 1 drummer, 72 privates and 46 foot dragoons.
According to Decree issued on March 27th 1815 every company consist of:
1 captain, 1 lieutenant, 2 sous-lieutenants, 1 marechal-des-logis chef (sergeant major), 4 marechal des logis (sergeants), 1 fourrier, 8 brigadiers (corporals), 2 trumpeters and 58 dragoons, chasseurs, lancers or hussars, or 42 privates in cuirassier company.
The 1st Company in every regiment (except cuirassiers and carabiniers) was named Elite Company. Only brave, strong and seasoned men were accepted, and they rode on black horses.
Sometimes the elite company was detached from regiment and served as an escort to a marshal. If there was several regiments the marshal took only 15 men from every elite company. Sometimes this was not enough and instead the elite companies were used entire regiments of cavalry. For example in 1812 marshal Berthier and his headquarters were guarded by 28th Chasseur Regiment and Saxon light cavalry.
The colonels of cuirassier regiments decided to form elite companies but were reminded that they are elite. They received higher pay, were stronger and taller than other troopers, wore red plumes and epaulettes and had flaming grenade insygnia on coat-tails and saddlecloth.
Sappers were part of the Elite Company. They opened roads, improved campsites and guarded the regimental Eagle. Only hussar and dragoon regiments had sappers (1 sergeant, 1 corporal and 8 privates).
In 1809 Napoleon decided to send a reinforcements to Spain. In the city of Tours were assembled 6 provisional regeiments of dragoons and 3 provisional regiments of light cavalry for this purpose.
There were two regiments of Carabinier a Cheval, 1st and 2nd. In the first campaigns and in 1812 they rode on black horses. In 1813-1815 there were blacks, browns and dark bays.
In 1792 the French Ministry of War ordered that the Carabiniers must always be chosen from
seasoned and reliable soldiers. They were armed with straight sabers and pistols
In 1801 the strongest and tallest men and horses from the dissolved 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd
Cavalry Regiment were assigned to the horse carabiniers.
In 1803 the two regiments of the carabiniers were only 2 squadrons each.
In 1805 the carabiniers received dragoon muskets. They fought well in the 1805-campaign. They fought well in 1809-campaign too. However Napoleon and others noticed that the carabiniers suffered badly in the hands of Austrian uhlans and ordered to give them cuirasses. Now they were truly formidable soldiers and equalled the cuirassiers with the quality of their mounts, equipment, quality of uniforms and training. But they surpassed the cuirassiers
with the esprit de corps, height and strength of the men and prestige.
With the temporary absence of the Horse Grenadiers of the Guard, the 1st Horse Carabinier Regiement formed Napoleon's escort.
This is said that in 1809 they suffered serious casulaties from Austrian ulans and received armor.
In 1810 their long straight sabers were replaced with slightly curved sabers (a la Montmorency)
In 1812 the dragoon muskets were replaced with shorter cavalry carbines
At the Battle of Borodino the carabiniers classhed with the Russian cuirassiers, hussars and dragoons. In this battle they were defeated by Russian guard cuirassiers.
In the end of the battle they were defeated by Russian cuirassiers of the guard (Kavalergradski and Konnogvardeiski Regiment).
1813 - fought at Leipzig and Hanau. At Leipzig they were routed by Hungarian hussars.
1815 - The carabiniers fought well at Waterloo.
Colonels of 1st Regiment:
1805 - Prince C. Borghese
1807 - F. Laroche
1813 - F. C. J. De Bailliencourt
1815 - A. Roge
1803 - P. N. Morin
1807 - A. G. Blanchard
1813 - M.L.J. De Seve
1815 - F. Beugnat
Altghough the Saxon heavy cavalry suffered horrible casulaties in 1812 in Russia, their new troopers performed well in 1813. The horse carabiniers however, altghough also left Russia with badly thinned ranks, had their young troopers failing to live up to the reputation of previous years. Rilliet from the 1st Cuirassier Reg. witnessed the encounter between the huge horse carabiniers with long swords and Allies' cavalry at Leipzig.
"We were in column of regiments. The 1st Horse Carabiniers were in front and general Sebastiani was to the right of the regiment: all at once a mass of enemy cavalry, mainly Hungarian hussars, rode furiously down on the carabiniers. 'Bravo!' cried the general, laughing and waving the riding crop which was the only weapon that he designed to use. 'This will be charming; hussars charging the carabiniers."
But when the Hungarian hussars were 100 paces away, the 1st Carabinier Reg. panicked, turned about like primaballerinas ... and fled leaving behind their brave general!
They hastily rode back on to the 2nd Horse Carabiniers and both regiments hooved away.
The mass of giants protected by armor and mounted on big horses were pursued by the light cavalrymen !
It was such a disgrace that when after battle a group of carabiniers entered a farm seeking quarters, the cuirassiers from the 5th Regiment teased them: "If you want hospitality, try the Hungarian hussars!"
In the ranks of carabiniers served quite a few men from Belgium and Luxemburg.
The 25 understrength regiments of the l'Cavalerie were converted into 18 regiments. The first 12 received the strongest and tallest men and horses. Napoleon gave them body armor and they became the cuirassiers.
Thus in 1804 Napoleon had 12 cuirassier regiments. They rode possibly on blacks, browns and dark bays.
The 13th Cuirassier Reg. was formed in 1809 from the 1st Provisional Heavy Cavalry Reg.
The 14th Reg. was formed in 1810 from the 2nd Dutch Cuirassier Reg. Disbanded in 1814
The 15th Regiment was formed in 1814 by MdE Davout in Hamburg. They were disbanded in 1814.
In 1815 Napoleon had 12 regiments.
The cuirassiers were armed with straight long sabers and pistols. When in 1812 the cuirassiers received carbines they made considerable effort to avoid carrying them. According to one inspection only troopers in the 6th Regiment had cartridge boxes. The others kept ammunition in pockets. According to regimental inspections only 20 % had pistols.
According to Decree isuued on April 7th 1807 "From March 1st to December 1st the cuirassiers have to wear a mustache but must be clean shaven for the remaining 3 months." This regulation was until new one was issued on March 3rd 1809.
In the past the dragoons were considered as mounted infantry. During Napoleonic wars they were cavalry trained in foot service. They wore insygnia of elite troops, a flaming grenade on coat-tails and saddlecloth. However their horsemanship "was wobbly" and their swordsmanship was outmatched by almost every other types of cavalry.
In 1805-1807 the majority of dragoons served on the primary theater of war, Central Europe. Later on the majority served on secondary theaters of wars, in Spain and Italy. Many of the regiments serving in Spain lacked uniforms, horses and equipment. They were dressed in the brown cloth of the Capucines found in convents and churches, had difficulty in obtaining eppaulettes for their elite companies and chin straps from France. For lack of sufficient number of regulation sabers the old Toledo-swords with three edges were used. Many dragoons in Spain even grew beards.
They were armed with straight long sabers and muskets. Their muskets were longer and had longer range of fire than the light cavalry's carbines. In 1814 all dragoons gave away their long muskets for the infantry.
Dragoons' horses and men were shorter than carabiniers' and cuirassiers' and taller than hussars' and chasseurs'. Napoleon had big problems to find the right horses for his dragoons. In 1805 approximately 6.000 of them were without horses and were organized into 4 foot dragoon regiments. Their duty was to guard the artillery reserves and the baggage trains. After the 1805-campaign Napoleon mounted the foot dragoons on captured Austrian horses. Then after the won 1806-campaign Napoleon mounted the rest of the "walkers" on captured Prussian and Saxon horses.
The hardships of war in Spain, plus poor horsecare killed thousands of dragoons' mounts. For example in May 1811 the 3rd Dragoon Reg. had 139 mounts left out of 563 ! The 10th Dragoon Reg. had 233 horses out of original 535. The situation was so desperate that in 1812 was issued an order that all officers in infantry regiments have to give their horses to the dragoons. Several participants of war in Spain claim that they could smell the French cavalry from half a mile, due the sorebacked horses. The French light cavalrymen however took better care and lost less horses than the dragoons.
In February 1808 Napoleon gave each dragoon regiment 8 sappers. They wore red eppaulettes and bearskins but with no front plate.
In 1798 the Directorate had 15 dragoon regiments x 942 men each.
In 1799-1800 there were 20 dragoon regiments. After Marengo Bonaparte formed new dragoon regiments.
The 22nd Dragoon Regiment was formed from the 13th and 20th L'Cavalerie Reg.
The 23rd -formed from the 14th and 20th L'Cavalerie Reg.
The 24th -from the 15th, 21st and 22nd L'Cavalerie Reg.
The 25th -from the 16th and 21st L'Cavalerie Reg.
The 26th -from the 17th and 21st L'Cavalerie Reg.
The 27th -from the 18th and 22nd L'Cavalerie Reg.
In 1804 Napoleon had 30 dragoon regiments, but every regiment had 1 or 2 of its squadrons without horses.
In 1811 the 1st, 3rd, 8th, 9th, 10th and 20th Dragoon Regiment were converted into Lighthorse-Lancers.
In 1815 were only 15 dragoon regiments.
The 21st Dragoon Reg. -formed in 1800 from Piedmontese dragoons.
The 29th Dragoon Reg. -formed in 1803 from Piedmontese hussars.
Staff of 4-squadron regiment of cavalry:
1 Colonel, 1 Major, 2 Chefs d'escadrons
1 Quartier Maitre, 2 Adjutants Majors, 1 Aide Major, 2 Sous Aides, 2 Adjutants Sous Officers
There was an imitative creation of lancer regiments all across Europe (Russia, France, Germany) and even the British got around to it after Napoleonic wars.
Robust men are required to handle the lance on horseback. They also have to be quite good in horsemanship. The lance required that the cavalryman knows well how to wield it. For these reasons not every lancer is a good lancer.
There were never any lancers in the French army but a short time before the Russian campaign Napoleon wanted to oppose the Cossacks who were nimble, tough warriors. On June 2, 1811, he put out a decree in which the formation of 30 regiments of French chasseurs-lancers were indicated. But then on June 18 ordered the transformation of only few dragoon and chasseur regiments into lancers. The 1st, 3rd, 8th, 9th, 10th and the 29th Dragoon Regiment were converted to
1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Lighthorse-lancer Regiment.
They wore dark green coats with lapels in regimental colors, dark green breeches, short boots and helmet with a black crest. Every regiment had its elite company.
The 7th and 8th Lighthorse Lancer Reg. were formed from Poles, by conversion of the 1st and 2nd Vistula Uhlan Reg. They wore their traditional Polish style uniforms (no helmets). The 9th Regiment was made of Germans. It was formed by conversion of the 30th Chasseur Regiment. The Polish lancers from the Vistula Ulan Regiment and from the 1st Regiment of Lighthorse-lancers of the Guard send their troopers as instructors to the newly formed French lancer regiments.
During the campaign in Russia every cuirassier division was supplied with one squadron of lancers. In the following campaign the lancers were brigaded only with light cavalry.
The chasseurs were usually brigaded with the hussars. They were light/line cavalry armed with carbines, bayonets and slightly curved sabers. Actually in early campaigns they were armed with 2 types of sabers: a la husarde and a la chasseur. Both weapons were replaced by light cavalry saber Pattern XI. The bayonets were disliked by cavalrymen, they were used for digging up the potatoes and then threw away. But the chasseurs were made to pay "7 francs 50 centimes for them in the end of the campaign."
The chasseurs were capable of dismounted action (like dragoons.)
The chasseurs lacked the air of dash and recklessness of the hussars, and probably they weren't as good horseman as the hussars or uhlans. But their functions were varied and ardous. They were particularly suited to reconnaissance duties and most often formed parts of advance guard or the rear guard. Their tasks were to harass the enemy force and impede his manoeuvres so that he gained no advantage. They were also trained to change rapidly from column into line and to change front and fall on enemy's flanks. Some regiments were also trained for several months (at least in 1805) to handle the guns. But according to Charles Parquin of 20th Regiment of Chasseurs "we never had the opportunity of using the talent which we acquired."
Many of the chasseurs were reckless bravados, in one of the battles of 1809 an officer of 20th Regiment dismounted so that he could go a little toward the enemy in order to relieve nature. When he was standing with his legs apart and facing the Austrians, a cannonball hit him killing on the spot.
In 20th Regiment served Charles Parquin, in 23rd the famous Marbot. Both men wrote interesting memoirs.
In 1798 the Directorate had 22 chasseurs regiments
In 1804 - 24 regiments
In 1811 - 31 regiments
In 1815 - only 15 regiments.
Six regiments of chasseurs were formed from foreigners:
The 16th Regiment - Belgians.
The 19th - Swiss, later of Italians.
The 26th - formed in 1802 of Italians.
The 27th - formed in 1808 of Belgians and Germans.
The 28th - formed in 1808 of Italians.
The 30th - formed in Feb 1811 of Germans, in June became the 9e Regiment de Chevau-Legers-Lanciers.
The 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th Regiment don't have their regimental histories in the official French Ministry of War list. These troops were (at least in the very beginning) assigned as companies to guide duties with the staffs and commanders. Later on however they served as any other regiment. For example the 23rd was with Marbot in Russia and was one of the strongest outfits.
Squadron (two companies) of chasseurs in Colonne par division :
Trumpeter Trumpeter Trumpeter Trumpeter
Trumpeter Trumpeter Trumpeter Trumpeter
Caporal Sergeant Sergeant Sergeant Caporal Sergeant
Caporal Caporal Caporal Caporal
Caporal Sergeant Sergeant Sergeant Caporal Sergeant
Caporal Caporal Caporal Caporal
The hussars were armed with 2 pistols and curved saber each, and considered themselves as better horsemen and swordsmen than chasseurs and dragoons. Bragging, smoking a pipe, drinking, and duelling - these were their funs. The hussars were probably the least disciplined and the most flamboyantly dressed part of every army. There was a saying: "The hussars were loved by every wife and hated by every husband". They liked to sing songs that insulted dragoons and considered themselves distinctly more dashing than chasseurs
In 1798 the Directorate had 12 hussar regiments x 942 men each
In 1804 - there were 12 hussar regiments
In 1815 - only 7 hussar regiments existed
In the beginning of the Napoleonic wars were 10 regiments of hussars.
In 1803 the 11th Hussar Regiment was transformed into 29th Dragoon Regiment. In 1810 this unit was reraised from Dutch 2nd Hussar Regiment.
In February 1813 the 12th Regiment was reraised from the 9th Bis Hussar Regiment (detached squadrons).
Between January and December 1813 existed 13rd Regiment. This unit fought well and suffered heavily. It was disbanded and its remnants were put into new 14th Regiment formed in Northern Italy in 1813. Majority of them were Italians. The 13th Regiment was reraised in January 1814 from hussars of Jerome Bonaparte.
Famous colonels of hussars and their regiments:
In 1792 the 6th Hussar Regiment was commanded by Colonel Grouchy, and in 1799 by Colonel Pajol.
Before the Ulm-Austerlitz campaign the 7th Hussar Regiment was commanded by Colonel Rapp.
At Jena-Auerstadt campaign this regiment was commanded by the famous cavalryman, Colonel Colbert. In 1814 Colonel Marbot took them.
General Lasalle was colonel in the 10th Hussar Regiment.
In 1806 before the battle of Jena the Guard cavalry had not yet arrived in time and the 1st Regiment of Hussars had acted as the Emperor's body guard.
On February 1st 1813, the Regiment of Chasseurs a Cheval of Old Guard had 260 survivors, the Regiment of Grenadiers-a-Cheval 127, and the Polish 1st Regiment of Lighthorse-Lancers 125.
The 2nd Regiment of Lighthorse-Lancers (Dutch) had only 31 survivors! A few months earlier, on July 1st 1812, this regiment had 1.152 men.
The Regiment of Dragoons of Imperial Guard had 120 survivors.
The 5th Regiment of Cuirassiers had 40 officers and 918 other ranks present for duty on June 15th, 1812. On February 1st 1813 only 11 officers and ... 8 other ranks.
Mny cavalry regiments ceased to exist.
It is estimated that 175.000 excellent and trained horses of cavalry and artillery were lost in 1812 in Russia (!!!). Despite such horrendous losses suffered in 1812 Napoleon decided to continue his fight. He turned to every possible resource at his disposal that could produce manpower, and do this quickly. The rebuilding of the cavalry in 1813 was more dificult than infantry and artilery. Shortages of trained cavalrymen, officers, NCOs and war horses were critical. Promotions were rapidly handed out and temporary squadrons were formed. These temporary squadrons and even entire regiments were without esprit de corps and elan. They comprised of companies of different units thrown together for short period of time. They were neglected by the administration and very disliked by generals.
There were 15.000 volunteers with 20.000 horses, mounted and equipped at their own expense. These 20-26 years old men came mainly from noble and wealthy families but were hardly enthusiastic for military service and soon many deserted. They formed new regiments named Life Guard but because of the desertions it was changed to Honor Guard. The rest of the army called them "the hostages". :-)
The squadrons of Young Guard built its ranks from true volunteers from the area near Paris.
Many former officers, NCOs and retired veterans joined the cavalry of Old Guard. In the beginning of April 1813 general Bourcier gathered 10.000 battle-hardened veterans from 60 regiments spread across the countryside. (Archives du service historique, C2 704.)
The cavalry centers were in the cities of Magdeburg and Metz.
Horses were coming in huge numbers from northern Germany.
The 2nd Regiment of Lighthorse-Lancers "Red Lancers" accepted 500 Parisians with horses. They were volunteers and Frenchmen. In the past years it was a Dutch outfit but in 1812 in Russia it melted down to 31 men.
Most of the new soldiers in cavalry were volunteers (not so in infantry !) and their officers and NCOs were eager to serve. Most of the NCOs and officers were veterans of earlier wars.
The shortage of horses, NCOs and officers affected the speed and quality of training. The young privates had difficulties with remaining in saddles. They didn't really know how to properly care for their mounts and many horses were no longer serviceable.
During Armistice was more time to train the troops and many sshowed dramatic improvements in their maneuvers, especially the squadrons of Young Guard. However the squadrons of Honor Guards didn't respond well to discipline and were still disliked by the rest of the army.
Carabinier officer's armor during war in 1812
Musee l'Armee, France
Cuirassier in 1809
Cuirassiers captured the Great Redoubt at Borodino, 1812.
Painted by Vereshchagin.
Wounded French cuirassier and a Polish girl, 1806-7.
Painted by Wojciech Kossak
The Epic Retreat in 1812, horse carabinier and cuirassier.
Painted by Wojciech Kossak.
Cossacks making sign of cross while seeing dead corpses of French soldiers, 1812
Napoleonic cavalry lost their best horsemen and mounts in Russia.
Painted by Wojciech Kossak.
French lancers 1815
1790s - Campaign in Egypt.
French hussar on a camel.
Painted by W. Kossak
Light cavalrymen during the retreat from Russia, 1812
Painted by Wojciech Kossak.
Cuirassier during campaign. Wojciech Kossak