Cavalry 1800-1815

(Part 3)

Heavy versus light cavalry.
Heavy versus heavy cavalry.
Cavalry fire a salvo at enemy.
Dismounted cavalry in combat (examples).
Horses, types, height, color and characteristics.
. . . . . . Horses for Napoleon's heavy cavalry.
. . . . . . Horses for Napoleon's light cavalry.
. . . . . . Types of horses in European armies.
. . . . . . Height of horses in European armies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"Two Mamelukes held 3 Frenchmen;
but 100 French cavalry did not fear the same number of Mamelukes;
300 vanquished the same number; 1.000 French beat 1.500 Mamelukes.
Such was the influence of tactics, order and maneuver."

- Napoleon

French cuirassiers
French cuirassiers.

Heavy versus light cavalry

Slash and cut required more space and time than thrust, for this reason it was more often used by light than heavy cavalrymen. The light cavalryman often fought as skirmisher, flanker or as part of small troop - in this situation there was quite a lot of space for his horse on both sides rear and front. He could turn his horse to the side, parry a blow, slash at the enemy to his side or cut at opponent passing him by. The heavy cavalryman fought in more compact and bigger formations. There was not much space for a slash or cut because his neighbours in the rank were very close to him (often the heavies rode in "boot-to-boot" formations). In this tight formation the best was a quick and deep thrust. The heavy cavalryman was taller, his arm and weapon longer and he could simply outstretch his shorter opponent. The height of the horse and armor were also helpful in this situation.

When two cavalrymen (one is heavy and the other is light) are attacking each other at a gallop and from the front the advantage is on the side of the heavy cavalry. There was however a risk for the heavy cavalry - it was sometimes difficult to retrieve fast enough the long saber from enemy's body when the horse moved at speed. Similar problem with the thrust when in speed had lancers. The cuirassier (or lancer) could have his hand badly twisted or even being thrown off his saddle. The very excited cavalrymen riding fast experienced this situation more often than seasoned troopers who could approach the enemy at steady trot. Sharpened edges of blade were also helpful - it was easier to withdraw from a body than if it was single edged.

When at gallop it was impossible for the light cavalryman to parry the thrust of the long saber and then cut : the opponent will be far out of reach. If he misses his parry he is dead on the spot. But if the light cavalryman decides not to parry but cut first he will have up to 10 cm of iron in his body before he can land his blow as the opponent's saber is longer than his own weapon. (For example French cuirassier's saber's blade was 97 cm long, while Austrian hussar's blade was only 84 cm long).

Gallop and fast trot would tend to promote the use of the thrust, while circling or almost stationary one-on-one fight promoted slash and cut.
When two opponents approached each other at the walk there would be a lot of circling and much depended on the agility of the horse and horsemanship of the man. The light cavalry was mounted on smaller and more agile horses, they made turns easier and quicker, their weapons were lighter and quicker to use in every direction. The light cav. enjoyed advantage in this situation.
But the result of fight between big bodies of heavy and light cavalry (not individual horsemen) depended on several factors. When both sides were formed in long lines or deep columns, "boot to boot", and attacked each other - in 6 out of 10 cases the heavies won and only in 2-3 cases (on average) the light cavalry was the victor. In any other situation the light cavalry had bigger chance of winning than the heavies. To increase the chances even more, the light cavalry had to charge in one or both flanks of heavy cavalry.

  • At Waterloo two regiments of light cavalry (German and British light dragoons) were ordered to attack "both flanks of the French cuirassier regiment". The attack on flanks together with superiority in numbers gave the Germans and Brits full success. But when the light cavalrymen attacked in line, head on, another cuirassier regiment the attack failed.
  • At Fere Champenoise the Russian hussars attacked the flank of French cuirassier division commanded by GdD Bordesoulle. The heavies were routed and fled in panick.
  • At Leipzig 1813, Austrian hussars advanced against a massive column of French heavy cavalry. The head of the column consisted of the elite 1st and 2nd Regiment of Horse Carabiniers (1er et 2e Carabinier-a-Cheval), suported by one cuirassier regiment. This heavy phalanx was so confident of victory that they didn't drew their long sabers and countercharged. The hussars (Hungarians) however were obviously not impressed with the big , iron clad lads mounted on strong horses. They advanced with great boldness and as a result the French giants fled when the Hungarians were only 100 paces away !
  • At Villa Franca the Brunswick hussars {Germans} routed the French 13th Cuirassier Regiment. (According to one of our visitors - Rémi B. - the sources vary on this one. In Suchet's memoirs is stated that the Brumswickers were driven back by the 24th Dragoon Regiment at the end of battle. Other French sources ("Victoires et Conquètes, book 22, p.309) state that the Brunswickers were almost destroyed.)
  • At Burkersdorf one Russian regiment of hussars and handful of Cossacks routed 6 regiments of French dragoons. The attack was against one flank of the dragoons. The French fled across a frozen lake and fields with the enemy hot on their heels. The commander of the dragoons , GdD Milhaud, was so shocked and ashamed that thought about suicide.
  • At Jena one regiment of French hussars hide its presence from the oncoming Prussian cuirassiers. The hussars attacked from the flank and routed the splendidly mounted big warriors.
  • At Wartenmburg (1813) GdD Beaumont's two entire brigades of dragoons broke 10 paces in front of only 6 squadrons of Prussian hussars (incl. the Death's Head Hussars) and few guns. The masses of green clad dragoons were either driven from the field by the Prussians or pushed on the Westphalian and Hessian cavalry.


    Polish ulan versus Austrian cuirassier

    Heavy versus heavy cavalry

    The more excited - and therefore riding faster - heavy cavalrymen experienced twisted hands while trying to retrieve their weapons from opponents' bodies more often than seasoned troopers. The veterans would often approach the enemy at the trot or walk and more precisely aim their points at enemy and more effectively parry the thrusts. They also enjoyed far better control of their mounts. But if the troopers were not battle-hardened and disciplined they would be morally broken by the sight of fast approaching danger; the hundreds of outstreched sabers, the massive noise of trumpets and battle cries, the clouds of dust, were more than enough for the senses and hearts of many troops standing still.

    Most often the heavy cavalry advanced against the enemy in slower pace than light cavalry. In 1809 French division of cuirassiers had followed at a trot and met the attack of the Austrian cavalry in so brilliant fashion that the French infantry halted to cheer them !
    At Alt Eglofshein the Austrian regiment of cuirassiers charged to within 100 paces, not failing to notice that the French horse carabiniers and cuirassiers "overlapped their line on both flanks." The horse carabiniers drew their weapons and delivered a salvo at 40 paces and immediately charged against the enemy.
    The impetously galloping Austrians received the volley and were attacked from the front (by horse carabiniers) and from both flanks (by the cuirassiers) ! It was enough for the Austrians and they fled. But it didn't take long before fresh Austrian cavalry arrived; the Kaiser Cuirassier Regiment and the Stipsich Hussar Regiment. They charged the victorious Frenchmen and stabilized the situation.


    Truly magnificent Baden Horse Guard

    Cavalry fire a salvo at enemy.

    Sometimes the cavalry received the attackers with a volley. Sometimes it worked and often it did not. One has to remember that not all horses were accustomed to battlefield conditions. Firing a single shot from a pistol, carbine or rifle could upset the horse (or several horses) and cause an instant disorder in the ranks. Firing by entire squadrons was even more risky business.
    The burning powder would sometimes pepper over horse' head and eyes throwing them into panic. Such things happened far more often than the cavalrymen were willing to admit in fear of ridicule.

  • At Wagram two Austrian cuirassier regiments fired a salvo at regiment of Saxon hussars and some lighthorsemen. Although this volley was delivered at 20-30 paces (actually only the troopers in 2nd rank fired) it brought little results. The outnumbered heavies were broken by the brave hussars and lighthorsemen.
  • In 1813 French 4 regiments of light cavalry and 2 regiments of cuirassiers moved to cut off the allied withdrawal. The Prussians closed on the French and received a volley, which "broke the lead unit - the East Prussian Dragoon Regiment." The Prussian dragoons fled "disorganizing a hussar regiment which was following them and was preparing to charge.
  • In 1809 at Wagram the regiments of French light cavalry commanded by Sahuc deployed and discharged their carbines and pistols at 10 paces at Austrian cavalry: Hessen-Homburg Hussar Regiment and one regiment of chevaulegers. Despite the volley at point blank the hussars closed and fought hand to hand.
    Napoleon's cuirassiers were not so well armed with firearms as were the dragoons, chasseurs or carabiniers. According to one inspection only troopers in 6th Regiment had cartridge boxes. The others kept ammunition in pockets. According to regimental inspections only 20 % had pistols.
  • At Weinberg Defile (1813) Prussian regiment of uhlans advanced against French regiment of chasseurs-a-cheval. The French stood behind a ditch and delivered a volley. It didn't halt the attackers as the French were also outflanked. The French commander of elite company called a challenge in German "Now come here !" The Prussian uhlans halted before the ditch, their officer drew his saber and responded "Wait a moment, I'm coming !" But in this moment the chasseurs of the elite company abandoned their spirited commander and fled at once.


    Light dragoon of King German Legion
    one of the best cavalry in Wellington's army

    Dismounted cavalry in combat (examples).

  • 1805 - at Elchingen the Austrian white clad cuirassiers attacked a village defended by French infantry. Despite musketry the heavies were able to penetrate it.
  • 1805 - French dragoons commanded by Exelmans attacked four times and captured the village of Hochenreich defended by Austrian infantry and dismounted Austrian dragoons.
  • 1809 - Archduke Charles ordered the Austrian infantry not to abandon a village when attacked by cavalry.
  • 1813 - near Gelnhausen French heavy cavalry and chasseurs dismounted and in skirmish order marched through vineyards and attacked the enemy with success.
  • 1814 - French dragoons dismounted and dashed into the town of Brienne in the midst of spreading flames. Soon the same did two regiments of Russian dragoons.
  • 1815 - near Frasnes the French "Red Lancers" dismounted and fired at picket of Nassauers. Other lancers moved on horseback and drove the enemy back.

    Horses, types, height, color and characteristics.

    Wars and battles caused heavy casulaties among cavalry horses. In 1812 the Grand Army had 80.000 horses in cavalry and 50.000 in trains. Other French armies had additional thousands of horses. Almost 177.000 horses were taken to Russia but only 1.500 returned ! In battle the horse was much bigger target for enemy's muskets than his master sitting on him and "ducking" when under fire. Also the rolling canonballs often broke horses' legs leaving the horsemen untouched. In 1809 at Wagram Nansouty's heavy cavalry division lost 600 killed and wounded men and 1141 horses. Montbrun's light cavalry division lost 280 wounded and killed men and 400 horses. France had thousands of horses but that was not enough and Napoleon depended on foreign horses, captured in conquered countries or purchased.

    Horses for Napoleon's heavy cavalry.

    German horse breeders and traders profited the most as Napoleon made massive purchases of horses for his heavy cavalry. The Prussian large mounts were also accepted. The northern part of France called Normandy was one of the world biggest horse-breeding areas (Studs of Le Pin and St. Lo produced high quality war horses.) Napoleon valued these mounts highly and during reviews often asked colonels how many horses from Normandy they have in their regiments.
    The highest quality mounts for heavy and line cavalry were in German states (Hananover, Holstein and others), France (Normandy), Prussia, and England.

    Horses for Napoleon's light cavalry.

    For light cavalry Napoleon purchased horses from almost every province of France but the best were from 3 provinces: Ardennes, Taubes and Auvergne. In 1806 many Prussian (Mecklenburgian), Syrian and Turkish horses were purchased. After victorious war in 1806 Napoleon dismounted Prussian cavalry, and in 1805 and 1809 dismounted the Austrian cavalry. Thousands of horses were taken from Saxon, Hannoverian and Spanish cavalry. Many horses were purchased or simply taken from Polish cavalry.
    The highest quality horses for light cavalry came from Hungary, southern Russia and Poland. These countries dominated light horse breeding in Europe in XIX Century.

    Types of horses in European armies.

    The Arabian mounts were not as fast as European warmbloods but they were sure-footed. They were famous for elegance, toughness and almost legendary endurance. Arabian horses were very popular among officers and generals. Napoleon usually rode on Arabian ("Taurus" at Leipzig and "Marengo" at Waterloo). Napoleon encoraged the use of Arabians at the French national studs. Almost all European countries mixed their native mounts (coldbloods) with Arabians and getting new breeds (warmbloods). In 1800s the biggest studs of Arabians were founded in Hungary and Poland.
    Height: 14-15 hands.
    Most common colors: chestnuts, greys, bays, blacks. {Markings were common too.}

    Hungarian Lipizzaner came from Yugoslav town Lipice. This horse was bigger than Arabian and was well known in the Austrian army. The horse enjoyed a great reputation and even Napoleon obtained one Lipizzaner for himself. The French troops plundered much of the brood-stock from Lipizza and Piber.
    Height: 15-16 hands.
    Most common colors: greys and sometimes bays.

    Arabian-Hungarian Shagya-Arabian was a heavier horse for Austrian artillery.
    Height: 15 hands
    Most common colors: greys.

    Ukrainian Donski horse (from Don River) evolved in XVIII and XIX Century. It was most often used by Russian light cavalry and Cossacks. Also Austrian army purchased thse horses for light cavalry. This horse enjoyed a very high level of endurance, legendary indifference to food and weather and didn't demand any special attention. This horse was able to fend for itself in the most severe climate conditions. The Donski horse was a priceless mount for light cavalry although not too pretty as comparing to the Hungarian and Polish light horses.
    Height: 14-15 hands.
    Most common colors: chestnuts and browns, sometimes light bays.

    Polish horses were rather small and average and were mainly used by Polish cavalry, Saxon hussars and chevaulegers and Prussian light cavalry. Poland had big studs of military horses.
    Height: 14-15 hands
    Most common colors: bays and then chestnuts.

    Andalusian horse was called "the royal horse of Europe". Many famous war-leaders rode on Andalusians and many people consider the Andalusian as the most beautiful horse. This is friendly, docile, strongly build, brave (used for bull fighting) and of catlike agility. This horse was popular among officers and generals.
    Height: 15-16 hands
    Most common colors: 80 % of them are greys, 15 % bays

    French horse Comtois of Burgundy was used by the army of King Louis XIV and by Napoleon. Characteristic pof this horse: hardiness, endurance, good nature and easy to train.
    Height: 14-15 hands
    Most common colors: chestnuts

    French horse Auxois of Burgundy was a powerful one. This mount was a quiet and good natured, could be used also by artillery.
    Height: 15-16 hands
    Most common colors: bays and roans

    French horse Ardennais was a very popular horse in French cavalry.
    Height: approx. 15 hands.
    Most common colors: bays, chestnuts, roans.

    French horse Percheron was a powerful mount used by cuirassiers and heavy cavalry. By XVII Century attained wide spread popularity. In early XIX Century the French goverment established a stud at le Pin for the development of army mounts. The horse was docile, energetic and of big size.
    Height: 15-17 hands !
    Most common colors: greys, blacks, roans, bays and chestnuts.

    French horse Boulonnais of Flanders enjoyed a great popularity in every European heavy cavalry and among horse dealers. Napoleon purchased thousands of these horses for his cuirassiers.
    Height: 15-16 hands.
    Most common colors: greys, brown, bays, chestnuts.

    French Breton horse was a strong one and used by the army.
    Height: 15-16 hands
    Most common colors: chestnuts.

    Prussian horse Trakhener came from Eastern Prussia (today Poland). The Trakheners became Prussian army chargers and of quality unsurpassed in Europe ! They were either purchased or taken or both by Napoleon and other military leaders.
    Height: 16-17 hands.
    Most common colors: bays, chestnuts, blacks.

    Prussian horse of Mecklenburg was a typical cavalry mount known for speed, toughness and spirit. These horses were used by Prussian, German and French cavalry.

    German horse of Frederiksborg enjoyed numerous exports which seriously depleted the stock.
    Height: 15-16 hands
    Most common colors: chestnuts

    Hannoverian (German) horse was used by light artillery and heavy and line cavalry. It was probably the most successful warmblood in Europe. The Hannoverian breeding industry has existed for 400 years ! Even today this horse excel in equestrian disciplines of jumping and driving.
    Height: 16-17 hands
    Most common colors: bays, browns, blacks

    Holsteiner (German) horse was developed in northern Germany (Schleswig-Holstein is considered as one of the most successful breeding regions in Germany). Their reputation was such that only in 1797 almost 100.000 horses were exported ! This horse has a good character, is fast and strong. Napoleon purchased many Holsteiners. The famous Saxon heavy cavalry and guard rode on Holsteiners.
    Height: 16-17 hands
    Most common colors: bays and browns

    Height of horses in European armies.

    According to order issued on October 28th 1802 the horses for French cuirassiers and dragoons were to be between 15 1/4 and 15 1/2 hands tall (154.3m-158.3 m).
    After the war in 1805 the minimum regulation height for horses were relaxed, even for the cuirassiers. But when Prussian and Austrian horses were captured and new territories were annexed the requirements were heightened. (By today's standards the Napoleonic war horses were rather small.)
    In 1812 the height of horses was as follow:
    - cuirassiers and carabiniers - . . . . 155 cm - 160 cm
    - dragoons and artillery - . . . . . . . . .153 cm - 155 cm
    - chasseurs and hussars - . . . . . . . . 149 cm - 153 cm
    - lighthorse-lancers - . . . . . . . . . . . . .146 cm - 150 cm
    - Polish uhlans - . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .142 cm - 153 cm
    - Polish Krakusi - . . . . . . . . . . . . peasant ponies above 137/142 cm

    The minimum height of horse in Austrian cavalry:
    - the cuirassiers and dragoons on at least 15 hands 1 inch tall mounts
    - the hussars, uhlans and chevaulegers rode on at least 14 hands 1 inch tall horses.

    The size of Russian horses:
    - the cuirassiers on 14.35 - 14.85 hands tall horses
    - the dragoons and ulans on 14.1 - 14.35 hands horses
    - the hussars on 13.85 - 14.35 hands tall mounts.

    The size of British cavalry horses:
    - in the 2nd Dragoon Regiment "Scots Grey":
    48 % of the troopers rode on 15 hands tall horses, and 36 % on 15 1/2 hands tall.
    - in the 10th Hussar Regiment (in 1813):
    46 % of troopers rode on 15 hands tall mouts, and 24 % on 15 1/2 hands tall.


    Eye-catching uniform of Saxon lighthorseman,
    standard bearer

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND SOURCES :
    Brent Nosworthy - "With Musket, Cannon and Sword: Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies"
    Ch. Duffy - "Military Experience in the Age of Reason."
    Gunther E. Rothenberg - "The Napoleonic Wars (History of Warfare)"
    John R. Elting - "Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grand Armee"
    Brent Nosworthy - "The Anatomy of Victory"
    David G. Chandler - "The Campaigns of Napoleon"
    Rory Muir - "Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon"
    Charles Parquin - "Napoleon's Army: the military memoirs of Charles Parquin"
    Vincent J. Esposito, John R. Elting - "A Military History..."


    Heavy cavalry during Napoleonic Wars.
    Horse Carabiniers in sky blue jackets (2nd uniform) in Russia
    Courtesy of Nick Mozhak, Russia.


    Heavy cavalry in the past: on the left Polish "Winged Knight" (Husaria) and Teutonic Knights on the right
    Courtesy of Nick Mozhak. Plastic figures made by Italeri.

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