The Cavalry- Man and Beast as one
By Dave Marks and Neil Fawcett
In Part 2 of our look at Napoleonic tactics we review the role of the cavalry, the mobile component of any army, and what can only be viewed as majestic when charging towards the enemy. Weve also roped in Dave Marks, author of the In the Name of Glory Napoleonic rules to help us out. Just as a point of reference: these articles are intended for the beginner to offer some insight and perhaps inspiration for a genre of gaming that can at times be quite off putting. Clearly they are not aimed at the experienced gamer - this was never their intent - and at times several elements of information is clumped together to simplify matters.
When I started this article I was looking for inspiration, something to help me visualise just what it was about the cavalry that made it so special, so feared. So I put on the now very old Waterloo movie that pitted Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as Wellington. This is 126 minutes of pure joy and whilst not the cinemas greatest achievement it is still a superb evenings entertainment.
So there I was scanning my way through the movie looking for the cavalry bits and ended up watching the whole movie from start to finish. The bit that captivates me the most is the massed cavalry charge into the waiting British infantry, which have formed square, and the look of horror on Napoleons face as his pride and joy are destroyed.
Another inspiration when thinking about cavalry, although not of this gaming genre, is the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. Futile, bloody, courageous and seriously flawed this is a magnificent demonstration of man and beast in unison. Nothing like watching Errol Flynn charging towards the Russian Guns! And then dying...
Meanwhile back to Napoleon and Wellington. I wont go through all the nations cavalry but will stick with the French and British by means of an illustrative mechanism.
When you compare the British cavalry to most other armies mounted corps it is worth remembering that they were the small in comparison. To be honest it was not until the middle of the Peninsular War that larger numbers were required. The harsh lands of Spain did not lend themselves too well for cavalry deployment and Wellington opted to ignore requests to increase his mounted numbers.
However, by late in 1811 Wellington was writing to Lord Liverpool asking for more cavalry. In 1809 the British Army had 3,134 cavalrymen in Portugal (roughly 13.5% of the whole army). There were some 2,969 cavalry at Talavera and 1,854 at Fuentes de Onoro. This number did oscillate and by May 1813 there were 8,317 cavalrymen taking part in the Vittoria campaign 10.2% of the overall army.
So what types of mounted troops were there? Well the boundaries are a little blurred but there were three key types of cavalry: the Household Regiments, two of Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards. Following these were the Dragoons.
The original intent of the Dragoons was that they rode into combat on horseback and then fought on foot as infantry. This is not something that happened that often (a shame because I own some very nice 15mm Dragoons on foot!) and so they remained mounted for battles.
The British formed its cavalry as a Division of a number of Brigades with two Regiments in each. Sometimes there were Brigades with three of more Regiments. The heavy and light Regiments were usually kept separate. The heavy cavalry were used for shock tactics with the light were kept for outpost duties, such as skirmishing, scouting and communication.
The Heavy Option
The senior of the heavy cavalry Regiments were named the Household cavalry and they were originally the guardians of the monarchy. As a result of this these units rarely saw combat, unless that is that the Sovereign was on the battlefield. Little action was seen by these troops. But in 1812 a decision was taken to send two squadrons of each of the three Regiments of Household cavalry to the Peninsular.
It is worth remembering that there is really no significant difference between Dragoon Guards and Dragoons. They are more or less the same. So when you see them on the battlefield dont get too excited when you see the words Dragoon Guards emblazoned on their stands.
As to their attire the heavies generally wore red, although the Royal Horse Guards maintained their blue uniforms. It is under the banner of heavy that we have the Life Guards, who were once referred to as fair and beautiful as lilies. Not the words Id attach to heavy cavalry, but there you have it.
The Light Option
There are times when you have to wonder whether the Light Dragoon was any different to the standard Heavy Dragoon, but the period being what the period is we have a named difference.
The Light Dragoons were formed in the early 1750/60s and were intended to maintain the shock capability of the heavy style cavalry but be able to fight was ground foot troops if needed. But as stated this rarely happened.
A cavalry Regiment is usually formed into two squadrons with each of these having two troops. The idea is two troops to form the depot squadron with eight more troops forming the four service squadrons.
Britain was late embracing the concept of the Hussar. The Hussar is a conversion of the Hungarian Hussar, light horsemen dressed in a style that differed from the Light Dragoon.
It was 1806 when the first changes were made, with the 10th Light Dragoons being changed followed by the 7th, 15th and 18th Light Dragoons. To be blunt the only real difference is in the uniform, although there is some speculation that the same esprit de corps is invested in the troops.
These troops normally all wear blue uniforms with differently coloured facings and a braided dolman (a waist length jacket) and a fur crested leather helmet. This helmet is named after Banastre Tarleton, who was the leader of the British Legion during the American War of Independence.
The French Cavalry
It has to be said that the French cavalry did suffer quite badly during the time of Revolution. A seemingly unmoveable devotion to the King left the cavalry poorly thought of by the people Louise turned to the cavalry for protection during his escape.
For this act they are commemorated in the song La Marseillaise as the accomplices of Bouille. One of the key reasons for this is the simple fact that more aristocrats than in any other branch of the army served in the cavalry.
It was a difficult period for the cavalry. But the following list will give you an idea of how it changed:
In 1793 the cavalry consisted of: 2 Carabinier, 27 Cavalry, 20 Dragoon, 23 Chasseur and 11 Hussar regiments
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
Now not content with having access to what he could command from France Napoleon also looked to increase his mounted troops by:
By consuming the Polish, Italian, Dutch and German Regiments into the French army
He increased the number of squadrons per Regiment, from three to four, five, six and some of the larger Regiments had even more squadrons
Formed new regiments
Horse Carabiniers [Carabiniers a Cheval]
Amongst my favourites of the French mounted troops are the Carabinier a Cheval, and there was two Regiments of them: the 1st and 2nd. They were probably the heaviest cavalry in Europe. In their first campaigns and in 1812 they rode on black horses. In 1813-1815 there used blacks, browns and dark bays.
In 1801 the strongest soldiers and horses from the dissolved 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd Cavalry Regiment were assigned to become horse Carabiniers. In 1803 the two Regiments of the Carabiniers were only 2 squadrons each in size.
Now in 1805 the Carabiniers received dragoon muskets. They fought well in the 1805-campaign and also during the 1809 Danube campaign. However it was noted that Carabiniers often suffered badly at the hands of Austrian Uhlans and it was ordered that they be given cuirasses. This move really did make them formidable soldiers on the battlefield.
The Carabiniers had a mixed record and indeed with the temporary absence of the Horse Grenadiers of the Guard, the 1st Horse Carabinier Regiment became Napoleon's escort. It is also said that in 1809, after suffering pretty serious casualties from Austrian Uhlans they received armour to help protect them.
Now when you see these lads bearing down on you on the battlefield chances are your heart will leap into your mouth and fear take over. Historically the 25 under strength Regiments of the l'Cavalerie were re-built and converted into 18 strong Regiments. With the first 12 receiving the strongest and tallest men and horses, and when Napoleon gave them body armour they became known as Cuirassiers.
So it is that in 1804 Napoleon had 12 Cuirassier Regiments to play with. Cuirassiers were armed with straight long sabres and pistols.
As has been stated the Dragoons were considered to be mounted infantry. Now during the Napoleonic Wars they were cavalry trained in foot service, but they had poor horsemanship and most other types of cavalry usually outmatched their swordsmanship. These were not great troops.
In 1805-1807 the majority of dragoons in Napoleons Army were serving in Central Europe, although they were moved around the various secondary theatres, Spain and Italy, and the ones in Spain often found themselves lacking uniforms, horses and equipment.
Around 1798 the French Directorate had 15 Dragoon Regiments with each of them composed of some 942 men in each. By 1799 this had increased to 20 Regiments. After the battle of Marengo Napoleon moved to form new dragoon regiments.
By 1804 Napoleon had 30 Dragoon Regiments at his disposal, but interestingly every Regiment had 1 or 2 of its squadrons without horses.
Light Cavalry [Cavalerie Légère]
The light cavalry was used mainly for reconnaissance, scouting, and the pursuit of an enemy after a battle.
Lighthorse-Lancers [Chevau-Légers Lanciers]
Not the best type of trooper in the French Army, and it has to be said that not all lancers are good lancers! The weapon is tricky and it needed a good soldier capable of handling his horse well and his weapon.
The French Army never used lancers but shortly before the Russian campaign Napoleon wanted to deploy some troops who could 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.
Bold thinking indeed, and one that did not go ahead. Instead on June 18th that year he ordered the transformation of only few dragoon and chasseur regiments into lancers. These were the 1st, 3rd, 8th, 9th, 10th and the 29th Dragoon Regiments who were converted into the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Lighthorse-lancer Regiment.
They wore dark green coats with lapels in Regimental colours, dark green breeches, short boots and a helmet with a black crest. In turn every Regiment had its elite company. Now the 7th and 8th Lighthorse Lancer Regiment was formed from Polish troops, by conversion of the 1st and 2nd Vistula Uhlan Regiment who wore the traditional Polish style uniform (no helmets).
The 9th Regiment was composed 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 then sent their troopers to be instructors to the newly formed French lancer Regiments.
During the Russia campaign every cuirassier Division was supplied with one squadron of lancers.
Horse Chasseurs [Chasseurs à Cheval]
It was commonplace for the Chasseurs to be brigaded alongside the Hussars. They troops can be classed as light/line cavalry and armed with carbines and slightly curved sabres.
The chasseurs lacked the air of dash and recklessness of the Hussars, and no doubt were not as good horseman as the Hussars or Uhlans.
In 1798 the French had 22 Chasseurs Regiments. By 1804 24 had been formed, 31 by 1811 but by 1815 there were only 15 Regiments to be called upon.
At the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars there were 10 Regiments of Hussars that could be called upon. The hussars were armed with 2 pistols and employed a curved sabre to despatch their enemy. It has to be said that the French Hussar was confident cavalryman, considered themselves a better horsemen and swordsmen than a Chasseur or a Dragoon.
Cavalry of the Imperial Guard [Cavalerie de la Garde Imperiale]
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte ordered that each cavalry Regiment should supply its TWO best veterans into the Guard. These would form the elite of a small cavalry force. Then in 1807 he ordered that all cavalry Regiments will supply a total 700 of the bravest soldiers to form a cavalry Guard force.
The cavalry of the Guard consisted of several regiments. In 1805, during what you could call peacetime, each Regiment consisted of 4 squadrons of veterans and 2 squadrons of velites I guess we could call these soldiers the Young Guard. At times of war, however, and in a bid to aid campaigns each of these Regiments was divided into two distinct Regiments, and a Major then commanded each of these.
The troopers from the two squadrons of young velites were usually distributed among the veterans. What this equated to on the battlefield is that each company of horse grenadiers was composed of:
2 - Lieutenant en premier
2 - Lieutenant en second
1 - Marechal-des-logis-chef
6 - Marechaux logis
1 - Fourrier
1 - Marechal-ferrant
96 - Grenadiers or chasseurs
Regiment of Horse Chasseurs of the Imperial Guard
[Chasseur à Cheval de la Garde Impériale]
What can we say about these troops they were the top boys, the cream of the Army and Napoleons personal escort. They even had a nickname - The Pet Children.
Im passing over to Dave Marks, author of the very good Napoleonic rules In the Name of Glory, to give us his view of modelling cavalry tactics and effect on the gaming table. Before I do so Id like to quickly offer my views: to me cavalry are for smashing other cavalry, riding over and destroying artillery and making infantry very, very nervous.
Now over to Dave:
Napoleonic Cavalry and How to Use Them
This article will hopefully provided new gamers or existing gamers new to the Napoleonic period with a general overview to how cavalry operated and how these tactics can be applied in our tabletop engagements.
The cavalry of the Napoleonic period is generally split into two broad-based groups, namely Heavy cavalry and Light cavalry. Some rule sets for this period detail a third group - medium cavalry, and collectively put Dragoons into this category.
However, it is worth noting that for the majority of the Napoleonic wars the Dragoons were poorly mounted which greatly reduced their shock capability on the battlefield and so forced them to operate for the most part as Light cavalry.
Types of Cavalry
So what types of cavalry should be classed as heavy or light. Here are my thoughts:
These are big men on big horses capable of shock action such as:
Cuirassiers Many nations had these armoured troops. The most well known were the French Cuirassiers. These mounted troops wore a front and rear body armour and a steel helmet. The body armour was known as a Cuirass from which this type of troop derived its name. The Austrians also had Kurassiers although they only wore front plate body armour.
Other cavalry units in this category although they did not wear armour were still capable of shock action were Carabiniers, (in 1809 French Carabiniers wore armour similar to the French Cuirassiers although the curass and helmet were brass plated) Grenadiers a cheval, British Household cavalry and Heavy dragoons, French Empress Dragoons and Gendarmerie dElite.
These are general purpose mounted troops capable of scouting and pursuit such as Hussars, Chasseurs a cheval, Line dragoons, light dragoons, Chevau-Legers and Cossacks.
When building your cavalry units bare in mind that historically the French had more Chasseurs a cheval units than Hussars, although this is very rarely depicted on the table top. I think the reason for this is that Hussars uniforms are dashing, different colours and look great where Chasseurs a cheval uniforms are for the most part fairly plain green.
Another type of mounted troops that are often put in with Light cavalry is Lancers. Lancers are, as the name implies armed with a lance, although lancers of the Austro-German states were reffered to as Uhlans. Lancer units consist of the French 1st (Polish) and 2nd (Dutch) Chevau-leger lancers of the Imperial Guard, Lanciers-Gendarmes dEspagne, Lancier de Berg, Saxony Prinz Clemens Uhlans, Austrian Uhlans, Brunswick Uhlans, Prussian Uhlans, Russian Uhlans and lance armed Cossacks. Britain did not have any Lancer unit until after the Napoleonic wars.
So how do you use cavalry on the tabletop? Well battles did tend to have distinct phases. First there was the artillery bombardment to soften up the enemy. They more or less happened as follows:
1st cavalry phase - Suppression of the enemy cavalry
This consisted of seeking out the enemys cavalry with your own. The object here being to reduce or destroy its effectiveness giving the winner greater control of the battlefield. Its a bit like having air supremacy in World War II.
Historically there are only a few recorded instances where light cavalry defeated heavy cavalry and so you should check that the rules you are using reflects this.
Much depends on how successful the 1st cavalry phase is. If you have managed to gain the upper hand now would be time to launch a massed combined armed assault on the enemy using Infantry, supported by cavalry and artillery. Cavalry was assigned its own artillery, this being the lighter more mobile Horse artillery.
When we play our games I have found the few players do the historical thing and only use their horse artillery in conjunction with their cavalry. Most players use their horse artillery totally independent from their cavalry to long rang snipe at the enemy and why not. It may not be history but its great fun.
Having said that, you could view this phase of the battle can be seen as the middle game. You have to get your infantry to take and consolidate, (hold) the enemys position. And while your infantry and artillery are trying to achieve this objective you cavalry should used to protect them from any remaining enemy cavalry that may be roving the field. But it is not all defence action for the cavalry.
2nd cavalry phase Assault
Once your infantry and artillery has weakened the enemy by firepower, the enemy should now have a low morale or is shaken, (depends on the rule system being used). This is a great time to charge your heavy cavalry units at these faltering units and finish the job.
But what do you do if your cavalry is faced by an infantry square? One good plan is to halt the cavalry in charge distance or the square, but out of musket range of the infantry. Bring up your artillery and pound the square until it breaks and then attack the fleeing infantry with your waiting cavalry.
3rd cavalry phase Pursuit
If the infantry routs and is therefore moving much faster than your own infantry that is maintaining order, this would be a good time to send in your light cavalry in pursuit. If the pursuit is successful then the enemy unit will either be destroyed or have to flee the battlefield because of being prevented from rallying.
One last thing to remember is that you can use your cavalry to force the enemy infantry into square. This is good for tying down enemy units and limits their movement across the gaming table. After all if the units are in square then they cant come to the aid of their friends. This is not such a big problem for the pining cavalry because of their movement rate.
Well I hope that this has given you a general overview of how Napoleonic cavalry operate. All the best and happy gaming.
Next Time: In the next article in this series we'll be taking a look at Artillery. I have an uncanny ability to locate my artillery in the wrong place on a battlefield...so I'll be looking forward to getting someone who knows what they are doing telling me where I should and shouldn't locate my cannon!