Cavalry Tactics and Combat
during the Napoleonic Wars.

~ Part 1 ~
"Murat had drawn his saber and waved above his head.
The charge was sounded and 10.000 cavalrymen in seried ranks
set off at a trot, then gradually sped up with the front ranks boiling forward."
(Battle of Leipzig, 16-19 Oct 1813)

1. Introduction: Types of Cavalry [Heavy and Light].
2. Cavalry Weapons [Sabre, Lance, Carbine, Pistol]
3. Body Armor [Cuirass and Helmet]
4. Cut and Slash vs Thrust.
5. Organization and Tactics.
6. Cavalry in Combat.
French cavalry trumpets.
Projet de règlement sur l'habillement 
du mjr Bardin. Paris, Musée de l'Armée. Videttes >
Cavalry Skirmishing >
Firing Volleys by Squadrons >
Charging Into Villages >
In the Heat of the Night >
Mistakes On the Battlefield >
Cavalry Fighting Dismounted >
Cavalry Outflanking Cavalry >
7. Charge !
8. Mêlée.
9. Pursuit and Casualties.
10. The Best Cavalry.
11. Lancers.
Lancers vs Cavalry >
Lancers vs Cuirassiers >
Lancers vs Infantry >
12. Hussars' Glory.

NCO veteran's advice to young cavalryman:
"Parquin ... there is not much of the cavalryman about you.
Your accountrements are clean and
you handle your arms perfectly
but - have a fiercer eye, man !
Stare me down !
Terrify me, if you can !"
Parquin - "Napoleon's Victories" p 23

Introduction: Cavalry.
The word Cavalry comes from the French word chevalerie
and the Latin word caballus, meaning horse.

The force of impact generated by cavalry, provided it was engaged at the proper moment, was out of all proportion to its numbers. Had this not been the case, after all, governments would not have spent so much money on maintaining mounted troops, which represented a heavy cost to the national treasury. (- Alessandro Barbero, "The Battle")
The power of mobility given by mounted troops was recognized early on. Cavalry dominated until the technological changes made infantry more effective. The most famous cavalry were: Alexander the Great's Companion Cavalry, French, German and English knights, the intimidating Teutonic knights, Polish 'winged knights' (husaria) , Frederick the Great's cavalry, Hungarian hussars, Polish uhlans (lancers), Confederate cavalry, Cossacks, Circassians and Mongols. (all ext. links)

From the 1700s onwards, the use of muskets solidified infantry's dominance of the battlefield and began to allow true mass armies to develop. This is closely related to the increase in the size of armies throughout the early modern period; heavily armored cavalrymen were expensive to raise and maintain and it took years to replace a skilled horseman or a trained horse, while infantrymen could be trained and kept in the field at a much lower expense in addition to being much easier to replace. The demise of cavalry came in the First World War when cavalry was slaughtered by machine guns.

During the Napoleonic wars the cavalry consisted minority of the forces. Napoleon said that "overall the numbers of cavalry in the French army will be 1/6 the strength of infantry. In 1805 Austria had 305,000 infantry and 42,340 cavalry, ratio of 7.2 to 1.
In great battles the ratio was higher:
- in 1805 at Austerlitz the French had 58,650 infantry and 11,280 cavalry, ratio of 5.2 : 1
- in 1809 at Wagram the French and their allies had ratio of 4.88 : 1 (141,845 infantry to 29,025 cavalry)
while the Austrian ratio was 7,55 : 1 (113,800 infantry and Landwehr to 15,100 cavalry)
- in 1812 at Borodino the French and their allies had ratio of 3.1 : 1 (88,350 infantry to 28,500 cavalry).
- in May 1813 at the Battle of Bautzen the Russians had a ratio of 2.5 : 1 (40,350 infantrymen to 15,700 cavalry and Cossacks). Their allies, the Prussians, had 3,75 : 1 (23,500 infantrymen to 6,250 regular and Landwehr cav.)
- in 1813 at Leipzig the Russians had a ratio of 3.9 : 1 (101.0000 infantry to 26.000 cavalry, but excluding Cossacks !) while French had 3.5 : 1 (151,300 infantry to 41,300 cavalry)
- in 1815 at Waterloo it was 3.4 : 1 (53,400 infantrymen to 15,600 cavalry).

Heavy Cavalry.
The Iron Fist of the Army.

Saxon Garde du Corps, 
arguably one of the best 
heavy cavalry in Europe.
Picture by Steven Palatka In an economic sense, the heavy cavalry signified an enormous investment by its supporting state. The armor and the large horses were expensive. Heavy cavalry was composed of large men sometimes in defensive armour (French carabinier was above 179 cm tall, cuirassier 173 cm, dragoon 170 cm, while the light chasseur and hussar only 160 cm). The heavies were mounted on big and strong horses, but these were deficient in speed and endurance. These mounts were more sensitive to quantity and quality of food, and to weather. For all these reasons they were not made to pursue the enemy, frequent skirmishing or even to escort a convoy.

French cuirassiers vs Russian infantry. Their main role was a shock action on the battlefield. Cohesion and control were the goals to impose upon the enemy, and not to make individual combats. They charged in large, close formation, exchanging much of the mobility advantage for a massive, irresistible charge.

In compact formation the heavy cavalry enjoyed great advantage, they could outreach every opponent with their longer sabers, and their bodies were protected with armor.

When both sides approached each other in loose formation, the advantage was on the side of light cavalry. There was space and there would be a lot of circling, avoiding and maneuvering. The light cavalrymen (hussars, chasseurs, light dragoons) being better horsemen and being mounted on smaller but more agile horses made their turns quicker.

French cuirassier. In 1815 at Waterloo Gen. Dornberg decided to attack a single French cuirassier regiment with two of his own, the British 23rd Light Dragoons and the 1st Light Dragoons KGL. Dornberg outnumbered the French by 2 to 1. The two frontal squadrons of the French regiment were attacked on both flanks and routed. Dornberg's entire cavalry dashed after the fleeing enemy. But the French colonel, unlike his adversary, was holding two other squadrons in reserve, and these counterattacked and smashed the enemy. The British and Germans were remounting the slope in great disorder when another cuirassier regiment appeared and blocked their way. The French drew their sabers and awaited the enemy unmoving. "At the moment of impact, the light dragoons realized that their curved sabers were no match for the cuirassiers long swords, nor could they penetrate the French cuirasses. Seeing that his men were losing heart, Dornberg tried to lead some of them against the enemy flank. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 192)
General Dornberg writes: "At this point I was pierced through the left side into the lung. Blood started coming out of my mouth, making it difficult for me to speak. I was forced to go to the rear, and I can say nothing more about the action." (- Maj-Gen. Sir Dörnberg, commander of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade)

There were however several weaknesses of the armored cavalry. The armor required stronger men, and these men needed more powerful horses. It made them mighty warriors when in large and compact formations. But in one-on-one combats with a lot of space for horses they were very vulnerable. The heavy horses were unable to turn quickly and face the danger, and the heavy armor interfered with the movements of the man in saddle. These factors put the heavy cavalry in disadvantage. Many military men of experience stated that a rider who was unencumbered by armor could sit more easily in the saddle, and charge home with greater speed.
Cotton of the British 7th Hussar Regiment described a fight between a man of 3rd Hussar Regiment of King's German Legion and French cuirassier at Waterloo; "A hussar and a cuirassier had got entangled in the melee, and met in the plain in full view of our line; the hussar was without cap and bleeding from a wound in the head, but that did not hinder him from attacking his steel-clad adversary. He soon proved that the strength of cavalry contains in good swordsmanship ... and not in being clad in defensive armor .. after a few blows a tremendous fencer made the Frenchman reel in the saddle ... a second blow stretched him on the ground, amidst the cheers of the horseman's comrades, who were ardent spectators of the combat."

Light Cavalry.
The Ears and Eyes of the Army.

Hussar of Death 1792-3,
picture by Steven Palatka The light cavalry consisted of uhlans/lancers, light dragoons/chevuxlegeres/chasseurs, and hussars. Light cavalry was called upon to watch over the safety of the army, and they were constantly hovering in advance, and on the flanks to prevent all possibility of surprise on the part of the enemy. They were also designed for foraging and pursuit. On ocassion they could be used for shock action.

Austrian hussar in 1814 The light cavalry, and especially the hussars, were generally less disciplined than the heavies. The hussars were the most known and popular of all the light cavalrymen. The first hussars were formed in Hungary, and during the napoleonic wars almost every army had its own hussars. There were men who had been bad actors in the non-combat period, who as consistently became lions on the battlefield, with all the virtues of sustained aggressivenness.

In combat the hussars rode yelling most unearthly, cursing and brandishing their weapons. They had their own code - that of reckless curage that bordered on a death wish. When the battle was over they almost invariably relapsed again. The hussars were known for womanizing, hard drinking and causing all sorts of troubles.

One of the most effective in small warfare light cavalry were the Polish Krakusi Regiment (pronounced crack-oosee). In contrast to hussars there was nothing flamboyant about them. They were down to bussiness type of young men. The regiment was reviewed by Napoleon in 1813. They were mounted on hardy ponies and Napoleon called them “my pygmy cavalry”. They maneuvered, deployed, charged and ployed, all in a very fast pace. In the end of the review individual riders presented their skills.
Stones were placed on the ground and they came at speed, racing with one another and picking them off the ground. They fired at different objects with pistol or carbine, blowing them to atoms. They were the wizards of the saddle. In 1813 their officers gave commands by waving a handkerchief, in 1814 this function was performed by using a horsetail on a pike in the manner of the wild Tartars (see picture).
Napoleon called for the generals of the French cavalry and said: "look at these kids, they captured allied general, Cossack standard and dozens of prisoners. Who of you brought me a Cossack as prisoner in the last or this campaign ? ... I want 3.000 of such warriors !"

On light cavalry:
French hussars.
Picture by Keith Rocco, USA. - General Karl von Clausewitz: "The individual light cavalryman possesses an enterprising spirit, a confidence in himself and his luck, which someone who has always served in the line can hardly imagine. On the other hand, the light cavalryman is more respectful of danger in battle than troops fighting in close order."
- von Warnery: "For a soldier to be really a light horseman he must be able to turn his horse quick and short when in full speed, to raise up and catch anything from the ground."
- George R. Gleig: "Moreover, as the light cavalry are always employed, wherever the nature of the country will allow, at outposts, both men and horses are forced to acquire habits of vigilance, such as to be rightly understood, must have been both witnessed and experienced. The cavalry soldier sleeps, like his charger, with one eye and one ear always open. Both must be quick to perceive the first flash of a carbine, or the first blast of the trumpet; and both must be in a condition to take their places in the ranks, within a minute or two after the alarm is given.... Neither hedges nor ditches must offer insuperable obstacles to your progress..."
(George Robert Gleig - "The Light Dragoon")

Map: horse breeding regions. In white color horses for light and medium cavalry, in yellow for medium and heavy cavalry (borders from 2000)


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

Cavalry Weapons: Sabre, Lance, Carbine and Pistol.
"The saber was the traditional weapon of the cavalry."

The cavalry was armed with variety of weapons, it all depended on the type of cavalry. The light cavalry was armed with shorter and curved sabers, the heavy cavalry with longer and straight sabers or with pallash (broadsword). The lancers' primary weapon was lance. Most cavalrymen were also armed with pistols, carbines or rifles.

French light cavalry sabre and scabbard, 1802.
Photo from Military Heritage. Photo: French light cavalry sabre from Military Heritage >
The sabre first appeared in Europe with the arrival of the Hungarians in the 10th Century. The sabre gradually came to replace the various straight bladed cutting sword types on the battlefield. The Poles (16–18th century) used a specific type of sabre-like melee weapon called szabla. The sabre saw extensive military use in the Napoleonic Wars. In the American Civil War (1861-1865), the sabre was used infrequently as a weapon, but saw notable deployment in the Battle of Brandy Station. The sabre or saber usually had a curved, single-edged blade and a rather large hand guard, covering the knuckles of the hand as well as the thumb and forefinger. The length of sabres varied, and most were carried in a scabbard hanging from a shoulder belt.
The more curved saber the more effective weapon it was in situation where squadrons broke into small groups and where individual cavalrymen were passing each other from left or right, or coming from behind, and slash or cut was required. This weapon had its center of gravity "on the end of the blade" - which added extra strength to the blow. (But for exactly this reason it was not too handy weapon when it came to using the point.) The curvature of French light cavalry saber (AN XI) was 5,1 cm. For earlier pattern (AN IV) the curvature was greater and was between 6,0 and 6,5 cm.
Length of French blades:

  • Mamelukes' saber - 77.2 cm
  • a la husarde (1786) - 80 cm
  • a la chasseur (1801) - 89.1 cm or 90 cm)
  • light cavalry - 84.5 cm and 87.9 cm
  • a la chasseur de la Garde (XI Year) - 84.5 cm or 87 cm

    French cuirassier sabre and scabbard.
Photo from Military Heritage. Photo: French cuirassier sabre from Military Heritage >
    The heavy cavalry carried straight bladed sabre. The straight and long saber was best when used by well aligned bodies of troops, when the opponent was to the front. This long weapon was difficult to maneuver in tight or/and chaotic settings. The saber's heavy guard restricted the hand into the pointing position. The center of gravity of this weapon was "close to the garde" so it was easier to keep your arm outstretched to reach out toward the opponent. The narrow blade penetrated very deeply into the body. The man would lean forward with the saber extended, it made him a smaller target and in the same time gave him the greatest reach. With the center of gravity so close to the garde it was poor weapon for slashing and cuting. Its narrowness limited the blade's penetration. (Allies' heavy cavalry's broadsword was able to cut deeper and was more effective than French straight saber when it came to parry the blows.)
    Length of French blades:

  • cuirassiers and dragoons (before 1805) - 97.5 cm
  • cuirassiers and dragoons (after 1805) - 97 cm
  • a la dragons de la Garde - 97.5 cm
  • a la grenadiers de la Garde - 97.5 cm
  • Montmorency saber for carabiniers - 97.5 cm

    Prussian light cavalry sabre and scabbard.
Photo from Military Heritage. Photo: Prussian light cavalry sabre from MilitaryHeritage >
    Sabre adopted by the Prussians around 1812. It was nicknamed the "Blucher" sabre for General Blucher. It also found favour with the army of United States. The US dragoon pattern for the War of 1812 was identical to this sword except the scabbard was blackened. Thousands of muskets, carbines and sabres were shipped from Great Britain to finance the Prussia's war effort against Napoleon.

    British heavy cavalry sabre and scabbard.
Photo from Military Heritage. Photo: British heavy cavalry sabre from Military Heritage >
    The curved saber of ligth cavalry was only 2-3 cm wide, the straight one was 3-4 cm wide, while the broadsword was 4-5 cm wide [!] The broadsword was used by Austrian, British, Prussian and Russian heavy cavalry and was a straight, single edged weapon. It was somehow old-fashioned weapon and was withdrawn from the Russian cavalry in 1809-1810, and from the Austrian chevaulegeres in 1802. The Austrian, British and Prussian heavies however kept this sword for a while. The British heavy cavalry sword (1796 pattern) was entirely modeled on the Austrian 1775-pattern sword.
    Using this clumsy and heavy weapon to thrust in high speed would be wrist-breaking. But it was an efficient weapon for cuting. The Russian heavy cavalry sword (also called by its German name pallash) was 4-cm wide and 90-cm long. According to Jean Binck the French cuirassier's saber (AN XI) was 97,5 cm long and only 2,7 cm wide at the middle. The French Guard chasseur's saber (XI Year) was 84.5 cm or 87 cm long, and 3.4 cm wide. Austrian hussar saber (1803) was 84 cm long and 3.5 cm wide, while cuirassier broadsword pallash (1803) was 84-88 cm long and 4 cm wide.

    Russian lances 
of the Napoleonic Wars.
Picture by Oleg Parkhaiev. On picture: Russian lances of the Napoleonic Wars, by Oleg Parkhaiev, Russia. The length of Russian lance was between 280 and 290 cm. It was modeled on the Polish lance. The pennant was called horonzhevka from Polish horagiewka.
    The original Polish uhlan' lance was 250 cm long and was introduced in 1789. The lances were made of straight-grained oak, with an iron point and crimson-over-white pennant. The European lances were between 250 and 290 cm long and between 3,2 and 3,6 kg heavy. The Austrian lance was the shortest, it had only 241-cm length. In Polish regiments only the front rank was armed with lances (and sabers). The second rank and NCOs caried carbines (and sabers). There was no fear that in charging those in the second rank might injure the horses and men in front. Initially the beaurocrats in the French Ministry of War insisted that both ranks of Polish lancers of Napoleon's Guard were armed with lances. It took some time and experience before the French decided that the Polish traditional way of using this weapon is by far superior. Impressed with the Poles Napoleon formed several regiments of French lancers.
    In 1813 the 125-men strong company of French lancers was armed as follow:

  • in 1st rank
    . . . . . . . 2 sergeants each with a saber and 2 pistols
    . . . . . . . 4 corporals each with a saber, 1 pistol, musketoon with bayonet and lance
    . . . . . . . 44 troopers each with a saber, 1 pistol and a lance
  • in 2nd rank
    . . . . . . . 4 corporals each with a saber, 1 pistol, and a musketoon with bayonet
    . . . . . . . 44 troopers each with a saber, 1 pistol, and a musketoon with bayonet
  • supernumerary rank
    . . . . . . . 1 sergeant-major, 1 farrier and 2 sergeants each with a saber and 2 pistols
    . . . . . . . 3 trumpeters, and 2 farriers each with a saber and 1 pistol
    . . . . . . . 9 troopers each with a saber and a carbine
    . . . . . . . 9 troopers each with a saber and a lance
    (Total of 125 sabers, 109 pistols, 57 lances, 52 musketoons with bayonets and 9 carbines.)

    The Poles would agree with the Cossacks that lance was the better weapon the poorer was the horsemanship of the opponent. The Cossacks even claimed than it was impossible to use lance against Circassians who were considered as one of the best horsemen in the world. (Today the Circassians live not far from the troubled Chechnya and Turkey).

    1777 Model Carbine or Musketoon
used by the French cavalry.
Photo from Military Heritage. On photo: French cavalry carbine from Military Heritage >
    The cavalrymen were armed with pistols, carbines, muskets, rifles and musketoons. For example the French dragoon was armed with musket, while the chasseur was issued carbine, etc. Lack of funds during peacetime resulted in situation where men lacked firearms, ammunition, cartride-boxes etc. During wartime some firearms were either lost, discarded during retreat or damaged. According to one inspection in French cuirassier regiments only in the 6th Regiment the men had cartridge-boxes. The others kept ammunition in pockets.
    French cavalry pistol introduced in 1801.
Photo from Military Heritage. On photo: French cavalry pistol from Military Heritage >
    According to regimental inspections only 20 % of cuirassiers had pistols. In 1813 the Polish chasseurs lacked carbines and were issued lances. In 1812 in Russia all cavalry armed with carbines and muskets was ordered to turn their firearms to newly raised infantry and militia. Only the flanker platoons kept their firearms.

  • ~

    "... Colonel Hrapovitsky ordered columns to form squares against the French cavalry.
    The cuirassiers made a vigorous attack but quickly paid a heavy price for their audacity.
    All squares, acting with firmness, opened fire and delivered battalion volleys ...
    The armour proved to be a weak defence against our fire and added no courage to them.
    The cavalrymen quickly showed us their backs and fled in disorder."
    (- Col. Alexander Kutuzov to Gen. Lavrov, after Borodino)

    Body Armor: Cuirass and Helmet.
    Armour was not confined to the Middle Ages,
    and in fact was used by troops until World War I.

    Armor of French carabinier and cuirassier. Photo: armor of French horse carabinier (left) and French cuirassier (right).
    Picture from website Sword and Stone >
    Most of the heavy cavalry wore body armor: cuirass and helmet. The cuirass was notoriously burdensome to wear, and demanded a strong man. In summer it was unbearably hot, which "might cause dehydration and heat exhaustion." (in "Kurze Beschreinbung und Heilungsart der Kranckheiten welche am oftersten in dm Feldlager Beobachet werden")

    The young cavalrymen thought much about their comfort rather than utility and purpose. During the Napoleonic Wars some cuirassiers even discarded their armor, for example in 1809 (Wagram Campaign). Such things actually occured already long before the Napoleonic Wars. "So unpopular had it become by 1638 that in that year, Louis XIII had to order aristorcratic officers to wear their armor or risk losing their noble rank. Louis XIV issued a similar command in 1675, demanding all officers to wear cuirasses, but the law was widely disobeyed. The only entire regiment still wearing any armor ... was the Royal Cuirassiers." (Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle" p 490)

    The veterans however knew very well why they carry the armor. They claimed that the cuirass saved them from "many a bullet and many a thrust." It protected against musket and pistol shots fired at longer range, generally above 30-60 paces. (The term bullet proof came from actually shooting them with a musket and marking the dent as ‘proof’ of the quality of the armor.) The armor protected the torso leaving open to attack only the neck, arms and face. This is harder to nail someone in a specific and small place than to simply waiting for any good opportunity to hit at large area.
    The front and back plates must be strapped down very tightly otherwise when a man falls from his mount the plate can easily be forced upwards, causing injury. During a hot day the thirst was a very unpleasant thing for the men baked in their armor. Among today reenactors the cuirassiers are the most dehydrated and sweating. Despite Wellington's scathing comments on cuirassiers, many Brits were greatly impressed with them and after Waterloo issued armor to the Household Cavalry. They still wear the cuirass today on the world-famous ceremonies in London. (

    The straight saber was used by heavy cavalry for stab and thrust, where the man had to lean forward to reach the enemy. This movement made his head very vulnerable and exposed to a cut by the enemy. For this reason they were issued helmets.
    Helmet protected the head from majority of blows, and only the most powerful cuts cut through it. De Brack saw in 1809 at Essling "some cuirassiers' helmets cut entirely through" by Austrian sabers. The helmet of Austrian cuirassiers, dragoons and chevaulegers was made of pressed leather taken from the shoulder of cattle. There were also stiff vertical frames to the sides and some strengthening round the rim for attaching the peaks. The leather helmets didn't do well against hard attacks from sabers, but resisted casual cuts well.

    Ernst Maximilian Hermann von Gaffron of the Prussian Silesian Cuirassiers describes combat with French dragoons in 1813 at Liebertwolkwitz: "The horse-tail manes of their helmets ... and the rolled greatcoats, which they wore over their shoulders, protected them so well that they were pretty impervious to cuts, and our Silesians were not trained to thrust nor were our broad-bladed swords long enough to reach them."

    The bearskins and shakos also protected from saber blows. De Brack wrote: "how many troopers have I seen killed because of having lost their headdress!" In 1809 during war against Austria one French cavalryman wrote "Chevillet's leather colpack cushioned the shock of saber blow who only stunned him when he was in the process of thrusting his saber point into enemy's belly."

    Greatcoat rolled in a horseshoe over the shoulder was also effective protection against thrust. It was customary for French and Polish cavalry to have their greatcoats rolled across upper body. Parquin: "I galloped off to rejoin the colonel who gave order for capes to be rolled and worn in bandolier fashion." Not only the greatcoat served as a protection but also the leather belts, and other parts of equipment. In 1809 a French cavalryman wrote: "Two saber blows hit me: one on the back, which was parried by my equipment and the other on the front I parried with my saber." Ernst Maximilian Hermann von Gaffron of the Prussian Silesian Cuirassiers describes combat with French dragoons in 1813 at Liebertwolkwitz: "The horse-tail manes of their helmets ... and the rolled greatcoats, which they wore over their shoulders, protected them so well that they were pretty impervious to cuts, and our Silesians were not trained to thrust nor were our broad-bladed swords long enough to reach them."

    French dragoons with a guide.
Picture by Meissonier. French officer de Brack: "The rolled coat may be considered a defensive weapon. The habit of rolling it, and crossing it over the chest, in view of an engagement, has three advantages: first, it clears the opening of the pistol holster; second, it allows the bridle hand to be carried nearer to the horse's neck, which facilitates the control of the horse; and, third, it protects the trooper.
    But the trooper must be careful of two things: first, to so roll and cross his coat as not to be constrainted by it, and, second, in a charge to avoid being seized by it, and unhorsed and captured. "


    In 1807 at Heilsberg Colonel Chipault of the 4th Cuirassiers
    had received 56 sabre cuts and recovered perfectly.

    Cut and Slash vs Thrust.
    "There were no wild swings, but thrusts and parries
    were made in such rapid succession that it was clear
    that two champions were facing each other."
    - Parquin

    Most blows were directed against opponent's head, right forearm and right hand. For this reason these areas required protection.
    - sabre's metal garde protected the hand
    - longer gloves worn by the heavy cavalry were made
    of hardened leather and protected part of the forearm.
    (French cuirassiers' gloves consisted of 2 parts: soft and hard. The hand part was soft for flexibility, while the forearm part was made of hard leather)
    - helmet protected the head
    (Before the helmets were introduced for the Austrian cuirassiers they wore protective iron crosses inside their tricorn hats.)

    Slash was very common in small war where would be a lot of one-on-one fights and circling as the horses had much space. The slash was most effective and easiest against opponent to your right side and therefore the men took their time continually circling until they saw an opportunity. The slash disabled or wounded the enemy rather than killed him. Slash required less physical force than cut. (The light cavalry used their curved sabers for slashing, while the strong, heavy cavalrymen used their broadswords for cuting.)

    Thrusting was up close and personal. Roman Legionnaires were trained rely upon the thrust in preference to cutting attacks. If someone attacks you with a knife, spear, lance or straight and long blade saber, know that you are dealing with someone who is not afraid of combat, and has the psychological mindset to back it up.
    A saber raised for a cut or slash left the body exposed to a thrust. The point reached the target faster than the edge because it traveled in a straight line, whereas the later had to move in a curved path. A parried point could be re-aligned faster than the edge as the thrust required less strength to wield.

    The cuts and slashes made often horrible wounds but they were not as deadly as the thrusts. Although historical accounts tell about cavalrymen taking numerous minor punctures and surviving, generally the thrust was more deadly than cut or slash. The thrust made a narrow wound but it was deep and damaging not only the surface and bones but also to the most vital organs (causing internal bleeding, infections etc.)
    A captain of British heavy dragoons wrote about the French using the thrust "It is worthy of remark that scarcely one Frenchman died of his wounds, although dreadfully chopped, whereas 12 English Dragoons were killed on the spot and others dangerously wounded by thrusts."
    The thrust was considered as more serious bussiness than slash or cut. In 1806 during the campaign in Poland a French hussar of 8th Regiment and chasseur of 20th Regiment dueled with curved sabers, according to Parquin: "There were no wild swings, but thrusts and parries were made in such rapid succession that it was clear that two champions were facing each other."

    Chlapowski described a combat in 1809 between cuirassiers and hussars: "... regiment of [French] cuirassiers which after one charge got into a melee with some Hungarian hussars. I was surprised to see when the Hungarians retreated that far more of their bodies were lying dead than French. The main reason for this was that the Hungarians slashed with their sabers, while the French thrust." (Chlapowski, - p. 63)
    One could deliver an effective thrust also with the shorter curved saber. According to Charles Parquin, Prince Louis of Prussia, the king's nephew was killed by a thrust to his chest delivered by French hussar Guindey. "Brushing aside Guindey's weapon, the prince struck Guindey a blow across the face with his saber. He was about the strike a second time when Guindey countered and ran him through the chest. Killed instantly the prince fell from his horse."
    Officer Chlapowski of Napoleon's Guard lancers, wrote that his lancers were also trained with the curved sabre to use the point. They typically inflicted many 'kills' while suffering only wounds and bruises from the wild cuts and slashes of the Hungarian hussars.
    (Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" p 68)

    When two cavalrymen are charging each other at greater speed the advantage is on the side of the cavalrymen with the longer, straight-blade sabers. In this short momemnt it was impossible for the light cavalryman to parry and then cut. The opponent could thrust and be far out of reach within a second. Although such situation gave advantage to the heavy cavalryman he rarely used it. There were two reasons for this:

  • - it was difficult to retrieve fast enough the blade from enemy's torso without having the hand twisted or even being thrown off the horse. To avoid these problems the thrust couldn't be too deep. Shallow thrust however was not deadly.
  • - to deliver an effective thrust one must lean forward. It exposes him to a cut ("he made a thrust at my groin I parried it off and cut him down through the head.") For this reason the heavy cavalryman was protected with helmet. Not every man was determined to allow the enemy to test his helmet :-))

    If the heavy cavalryman did deliver a quick thrust and the light cavalryman missed his parry he was at least wounded. This however was rare as vast majority of thrusts were parried. An English hussar wrote "I had a cut at one man myself, who made point at me, but which I parried." The thrust must be parried first before the cut is delivered ("he made a thrust at my groin I parried it off and cut him down through the head.")
    Thrust was prefered when the adversary was awkward or slow in delivering his attack, otherwise the cut was more instinctive blow and the men tended to cut even if their sabers were more suited to the thrust.

    The cuts were delivered either diagonally or horizontaly and were aimed at the ear, face, head and forehand of the adversary. The cut was more instinctive blow than the thrust and in melees the men tended to cut even if their sabers were more suited to the thrust. The eastern type of saber was the best when used for powerful swinging cuts from horseback.
    Cuts often failed from the blade turning enough to make the blow one with the flat. "I, too, was wounded on the leg above the ankle by a Hungarian that day, but his sword twisted in his hand and the wound was not deep. But it was quite a blow and I felt it for many years." (Chlapowski, - p 68)

    There were numerous cases where cavalryman received many slashes or cuts and continued his fight. Cut or slash to man's (or horse's) face resulted in a lot of blood, and horrible wound but was not life threatening. At the battle near Lapochin Mjr. Potapov of Russian Soumy Hussars was surrounded by French chasseurs and received 7 wounds to his head before the hussars rescued him. None of these wounds was deadly. In 1807 at Heilsberg Colonel Chipault of the 4th Cuirassiers had received 56 sabre cuts. Only rarely enemy's head was taken off with a clean cut or slash but it made a life lasting impression. Authors would devote entire page to describe such single slash or cut.
    "I saw him (Wilson) engaged hand to hand with a French dragoon: I saw him - for I was by this time disabled by a severe wound, and stretched at length beside others of my suffering comrades - give and receive more than one pass, with equal skill and courage. Just then, a French officer stooping over the body of one of his wounded countrymen, who dropped at the instant on his horse's neck, delivered a thrust at poor Harry Wilson's body, and delivered it effectually. I firmly believe that Wilson died on the instant: yet, though he felt the sword in its progress, he, with characteristic self-command, kept his eye still on the enemy in his front; and, raising himself in his stirrups, let fall upon the Frenchman's helmet such a blow, that brass and skull parted before it, and the man's bead was cloven asunder to the chin. It was the most tremendous blow I ever saw struck, and both he who gave, and his opponent who received it, dropped dead together. The brass helmet was afterwards examined by order of the French officer, who, as well as myself, was astonished at the exploit ... " (George Robert Gleig - "The Light Dragoon")

  • ~

    "Squadron will be to the cavalry
    what the battalion is for infantry."
    - Napoleon

    Organization and Tactics.
    "... the victory will remain with the side
    having the last squadrons in reserve ..."
    - Jomini

    The French Ordonnance provisoire sur l'exercise et les manoeuvres de la cavalerie provides standard intervals and speeds for horses, and describe the tactical formations. Title III, Article VII, paragraph 404 states that two ranks of cavalry were 6 m deep. Title I, Article XII states that the ranks had an interval of 0.666 m measured from the tail of the front horse to the nose of the rear rank.
    The cavalry of the Napoleonic Wars was alwayz formed in 2 ranks. (See below).
    The interval between squadrons was 10 m, no matter what the formation.

    French squadron The basic tactical unit in cavalry was squadron. Napoleon said that "squadron will be to the cavalry what the battalion is for infantry." The cavalry strength in battle was expressed in the number of squadrons instead of regiments or divisions. The strength of squadron varied between 75 and 250 men. In 1809 at Wagram were 209 squadrons of French cavalry with an average of 139 men per squadron.
    Squadron was made of 2 companies each of 2 platoons.
    Several squadrons formed regiment, two or three regiments formed brigade and two brigades formed division. There was also a horse battery attached to the cavalry division.
    The French, Austrians and Russians also formed several cavalry corps.
    Commanders of French cavalry corps: Nansouty, Montbrun, Pajol, Latour-Maubourg, Grouchy, Sebastiani, Sokolnicki, Kellermann and others.
    Commanders of Russian cavalry corps: Golitzin (Gallitzin), Vasilchikov, Korf, Sievers, Borosdin, O'Rourke and Pahlen.

    Bavarian chevauxlegere, 
picture by Anton Hoffmann. Horses speed varies with their stride length, body build, and other factors. The so-called "natural" gaits are walk, trot, canter, and gallop (in increasing order of speed). Canter is smoother than trot. Walk is slow. Trot is more bouncy and is descibed as being two-time, this is because each stride taken by the horse has two beats.
    Cavalry could move faster than infantry and artillery. Generally, for a ride of several days on good roads, and with the same horse, you can expect to get 30-40 km without straining the horse. Very good horses can go 50-70 km per day. However, for such a feat they need perfect training, food and conditions.

    On the battlefield the cavalry would advance against the enemy in either slow, medium or fast pace.

  • walk - approx. 100 m/minute
  • trot - approx. 200 m/minute
  • gallop - approx. 300 and more m/minute

    The cavalry was formed either in lines, echelons or columns.
    Cavalry formations. The echelon formation was easier formation to manoeuvre, and the direction of the advance could be swiftly changed. There were echelons by squadrons, by regiments, by brigades and even by entire divisions.
    The rear echelon could be held back until the result of the first echelon's charge was clear. This could facilitate exploiting a weakness, attacking an exposed flank as the enemy moved forward to envelop the front echelon, or to cover a withdrawal. The enemy was hit by a series of successive shocks as the units hit home at intervals.
    On battlefield however not everything worked so smoothly. At Waterloo the echelon formation was partially used by the Union Brigade. One regiment (Scots Greys) started their advance echeloned to the left rear of another regiment but quickly came into line. According to Mark Adkin "there is good reason to suppose that the Scots Greys were intended to form a second line of supports, rather than being deliberately echeloned back - otherwise all three regiments would have been in echelon." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 231)

    Cavalry formations. The width of cavalry column varied between half-squadron, through squadron (most common) to multi-squadron.
    The French colonne serree was always formed by squadrons and never by companies - pelotons. The interval between squadrons was 10 m. The purpose of this closed column was to conceal the number of men.
    A charge in deep column was objectionable; its long flank exposed it too much to artillery fire and to the enemy's cavalry.
    Bulgarin wrote that in 1807 at Friedland the French cavalry tactics was different from the Russian tactics. Approx. 50 squadrons of French cuirassiers and dragoons attacked in slow pace, formed in three deep columns. One column attacked from the front and two from the flanks. The Russians (35 squadrons) attacked flanks and rear of these columns.
    In 1813 at Leipzig, Marshal Murat formed his numerous cavalry in the following formation: "... into one line of continuous columns of regiments ... either because he desired to make a great show, or that he held in contempt the weak force which he presumed to face him, he neglected to arrange any reserve." (Gleig - "The Leipsic Campaign" p 217) Other sources described Murat's formation as follow: in the front Bordesoulle's 1st Heavy Cavalry Division, behind was Doumerc's 3rd Heavy Cavalry Division, then Corbineau's 2nd Light Cavalry Division, next Chastel's 3rd Light Cavalry Division. Berkheim's 1st Light Cavalry Division was detached and stood behind Oudinot's Young Guard. It is not clear if Pajol's V Cavalry Corps participated in this charge or not. About half of the sources say he did.
    The French formed their cavalry in huge column in the battle of Liebertwolkwitz in 1813. Dr Seyfert writes: "Murat now threw in Milhaud's dragoons with L'Heritier's and Subervie's men in second and third lines. Approx. 5,000 cavalry advanced in an apparently invincible mass. ... At 2 PM Murat concentrated his cavalry for another assault. Milhaud's Spanish veterans were again at the head of the column. L'Heritier's dragoons behind them, then Subervie and then Berkheim. The assault went due south. Like a great, shining snake, the massive column of horsemen burst out of the smoke and bore down on the Allies. As the Russian ADC Molostof said: 'All shrank back from this glistering vision which embodied for us the magic that surrounded Napoleon's brows. The mass of riders, with the sun glancing from their weapons and helmets, formed one, huge, endless column which crushed all before it and hit the Prussians particularly hard."

    The streets of towns and villages forced the cavalry to fight in very narrow and deep formations. Here is one example from the British retreat to Corunna. “… at about 1 PM, with Colbert closing in on Cacabellos, Paget hustled his troops down the snow-clad hill and across the Cua to the safety of the western bank. Here, screened by the vineyard walls, his infantry fanned out into extended order, while the 6 guns of Carthew’s artillery battery were wheeled into position astride the road commanding the bridge. Moments later, Colbert’s troopers poured over the brow of the recently-vacated hill, pursuing the riflemen and hussars of Paget’s pickets into Cacabellos itself. It was in this point that, according to Cpt. Gordon, the 15th Hussars made a stand … ‘For some minutes were were so jammed together in a narrow street that it was impossible for either party to advance or retire. … Nevertheless, the flood of the French horsemen proved too much for Gordon and his comrades and they eventually broke, stampeding through the ranks of retreating riflemen (as well as panic-stricken staff officers out on reconnaissance) and making a mad dash for the bridge… Blakeney described the scene … ‘The situation of the Light Company [of the 28th Foot] was now very embarrassing, in danger of being trampled down by our own cavalry [hussars], who rode over everything which came in their way… for in their confusion the were firing in every direction … and we were so mixed up with them and our own cavalry that we could offer no formation to receive the enemy…’ As for Colbert’s men, though they had hacked down several British hussars and taken 48 riflemen prisoner … had been recalled by their commander in order to rally, prior to launching of another sortie.” (Summerville - “March of Death” p 125)
    And another example of cavalry using column for combat in a village. On May 25th 1813 at Seiersdorf, the French 1st Lancer Regiment, in march column, was just advancing into the village when it came into contact with the Cossacks. The lancers formed themselves into a dense column (serree) by half squadrons and pushed through the village. A Wirtembergian cavalry regiment also formed itself into a dense column of half squadrons and attempted to push through the village. It took however only few moments before the Germans fell back in great disorder with the Cossacks hot on their heels. The depth and density of the formation helped little as the lancers wildly fled before the enemy.

    Cavalry formations. Looked at from the front such a line, even advancing at a trot, presented a military spectactle that had few equals. This formation ensured the greatest number of sabres or lances were brought to bear on the enemy and the wide frontage helped in outflanking the enemy. But the longer the line the more difficult it was to control and it should be as short as possible, so as to reach an enemy in good order, and without fatiguing the horses.
    The charge in long line, except at short distances, and over even ground, usually the line had a tendency to form clumps or to break up, and degenerated into a charge by groups, or individual troopers, arriving successively. The longer was the line the easier it was disordered by obstacles (abandoned equipment, wounded men and horses, trees etc.) or by too fast riding. General Jomini: "Whatever order to be adopted, care must be taken to avoid deploying large cavalry corps in full long lines; for corps thus drawn up is very unmanageable ... This has been demonstrated many times." Only the most disciplined and driled cavalry was able to charge in a very long line called en murial or "wall attack". The attack began at a range of up to 1000-1500 paces from the enemy. The Prussian cavalry used this formation on few occassions before Napoleonic Wars where their cavalry was in their peak. Whatever regiments it came into contact with during the attack were swept away by its tremendous impetus and very intimidating appearance.

    Fig. 109: French Cavalry Regiment of 4 squadrons forming line from column. [Source: Nafziger - "Imperial Bayonets."]
    One of the methods of forming line from column was done by forming on the column's head to both the left and the right. Figure 109 shows how this was done. The longest march was made by the rearmost peloton. It advanced three full squadron lengths, plus two 10 metre squadron spacing intervals, did a quarter-wheel, transitted the lateral distance to the end of the line, and did a quarter-wheel to fall into position.
    If the regiment wished to perform the same manoeuvre and face to the rear it did as previously described and then advanced one peloton interval, did a 180 degree wheel, and advanced one peloton interval and fell into position.
    Fig. 123: Prussian Cavalry Regiment of 4 squadrons forming column by squadron. [Source: Nafziger - "Imperial Bayonets"]
    The Prussians had two basic columns, column of half-squadrons and column of squadrons. They had two intervals, open (geoffneten) and closed (geschlossenen or masse). The open column had intervals equal to the size of a Zug or squadron. It also had an additional 4 ft. between each squadron, be the column in Zuge or squadrons.
    The Prussians used two basic systems to ploy from line to column. In the first, when forming a column of squadrons or Zuge the manoeuvre elements filed by 2s to the flank where the column was to be formed and, thence, directly to the rear. Continuing in Indian file until the squadron or Zug had withdrawn to the depth of its position in the intended column, it would turn 90 degrees towards the final column's location and march to its final position.

  • ~

    "On the 15th July 1812 near Salamanca an English officer,
    riding behind the scouts of his army, caracoled his horse
    almost in front of French outposts.
    "What does that officer want ?" - inquired Marshal Marmont.
    Parquin: "My lord, that officer is evidently desirous
    of exchanging a few saber-cuts with one of us..."
    Parquin spurred his horse to a gallop and attacked him.
    He parried the cut and returned it by a point-thrust which
    felled the Englishman to the earth. (see picture below)
    Passing the blade of saber through his bridle he led back
    the horse into French line being welcomed by the hearty
    plaudits of Marmont and his staff."

    Cavalry in Combat.
    There was a law to not maneuver in front of enemy's cavalry
    - most often it ended up in a terrible disaster.
    Only few regiments attained the perfection of changing the formation
    at gallop without losing its order and in front of the enemy.
    In 1813 at Reichenbach the Polish Guard lancers attacked Russians,
    got under artillery fire, made half-turn and crushed enemy's cavalry
    without losing its alignment.

    French officer Parquin vs
English officer in the Battle of Salamanca. With few exceptions, the Hollywood version of battle evokes images of the every man, fighting to death without asking any questions. The "good guy" always win over the "bad guy". The movies obscure the reality of battle that would put the "heroes" label in doubt.
    Battles are decided by various factors. The number and quality of men and equipment, the commanders, and the terrain advantages are the most decisive factors. Battles have shown that morale and the quality of troops are often more important than quantity. If there was a hesitation, defeat followed. That impulse alone put to flight a less resolute adversary.

  • In 1745 within moments 45 squadrons of Austrian cavalry deployed on a hilltop headed for the woods in the rear after being charged by only 26 Prussian squadrons ! The fleeing troops were out of action for the rest of the battle.
  • On 14-15th September 1813 at Lipa (Lippa) the Austrian infantry began a gradual withdrawal to a second position. During the withdrawal, the Italian cavalry (French allies) took advantage of this situation and launched an attack. However, half squadron of the Austrian Radetzky hussars pushed through the intervals in the withdrawing Austrian infantry and furiously drove back six (?) squadrons of the Italian cavalry (chasseurs-s-cheval) under General Perreimond. (Nafziger and Gioannini - "The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy 1813-1814" pp 52 and 265)
  • In 1812 at Borodino one squadron of Polish 13th Hussar Regiment advanced "en fourageurs" through bushes against a Cossack regiment led by Karpov-II. Although the hussars were in small groups the enemy hesitated and then fled.

    Eastern vs Western Cavalry.
    "Two Mamelukes held 3 Frenchmen; but 100 French cavalry did not fear
    the same number of Mamelukes; ... 1.000 French beat 1.500 Mamelukes.
    Such was the influence of tactics, order and maneuver." - Napoleon

    General Rapp leading Mamelukes
at Austerlitz 1805. Geography and tradition played role. Generally the more to the east the more common was the use of curved saber (instead of straight one). The men of steppes and plateaus of Eastern Europe and Asia spent their their lives on horses. Their mounts were smaller and more agile. The eastern cavalry however lacked discipline and firepower. Their battles were short and chaotic affairs where man fought against man or two. The situation in combat changed very quickly and required lighter and shorter weapons for quick blows or parries to the left, right or rear. The greater curvature enabled to deliver a cut or slash through the padded protection of the adversary or take his head off with little effort.

    The western Europeans charged in slower and tighter formations. When two large bodies of cavalry colided, only the men in front ranks were able to deliver blows. In such situations the best weapon was the long and straight saber. With it one could simply outreach his opponent.
    Mameluke vs Russian dragoon. Napoleon described this: "Two Mamelukes held 3 Frenchmen; but 100 French cavalry did not fear the same number of Mamelukes; ... 1.000 French beat 1.500 Mamelukes. Such was the influence of tactics, order and maneuver."

    Prussian king Frederick the Great admitted that the Germans don't make such good light cavalry as those from eastren Europe, Hungarians and Poles. He considered the heavy cavalry and the dragoons as types of cavalry better suited for the stronger and more disciplined Germans and Prussians.
    Before the Napoleonic Wars the difference between eastern and western cavalry began dissapearing. The westerners adopted some of the tactics and weapons of the easterners and formed their own 'eastern' type light cavalry; hussar and uhlan regiments. For example Napoleon had 45 heavy and 45 light regiments of cavalry. The 'eastern' type cavalry adopted some tactics of the westerners and were armed with modern firearms. The Polish uhlans or Hungarian hussars were as disciplined as any "western' type of cavalry.

    Videttes (Pickets).
    Cavalry videttes screened the army and gathered intelligence.
    They were the outermost ring in a series of human alarm bells.

    Cavalry scout reporting
to senior officer.
Picture by Lalauze. Good cavalry usage entailed sending out cavalry videttes to screen an army's advance and gathering intelligence. The videttes furnished the alert eyes that screened the army from enemy observation. Lack of videttes has sometimes led to great and humiliating surprises. Without videttes an army or corps commander would be at the mercy of his foe as the videttes were the first line of defense against a sudden enemy move, the outermost ring in a series of human alarm bells.

    Costello of the British 95th Rifles ( watched the videttes in action: "One of their videttes, after being posted facing English dragoon, of the 14th or 16th [Light Dragoon Regiment] displayed an instance of individual gallantry, in which the French, to do them justice, were seldom wanting. Waving his long straight sword, the Frenchman rode within 60 yards of our dragoon, and challenged him to single combat. We immediately expected to see our cavalry man engage his opponent, sword in hand. Instead of this, however, he unslung his carbine and fired at the Frenchman, who not a whit dismayed, shouted out so that every one could hear him, Venez avec la sabre: je suis pret pour Napoleon et la belle France. Having vainly endeavoured to induce the Englishman to a personal conflict, and after having endured two or three shots from his carbine, the Frenchman rode proudly back to his ground, cheered even by our own men. We were much amused by his gallantry, while we hissed our own dragoon ... " ( - Costello pp 66-67)

    Skirmishing Cavalry.
    Skirmishers screened their parent squadron or regiment.
    They fired upon the enemy and harassed him.

    Source: Nafziger 
- Imperial Bayonets Usually the horse skirmishers advanced in front of their parent squadron or regiment, fired and moved about a bit to reduce their target ability. They were able to prevent the enemy's troops from hiding behind trees and broken ground, looked for ambushes, or simply observed the enemy’s movements or intent. It was also quite good way to test enemy resolve at a specific point and gather information about his position as well.
    They fired upon the enemy trying to take a better position or forced the enemy to move slower or even halt and form squares. Ocassionally an odd charge would take place to drive the enemy horse skirmishers away. Sometimes these skirmish combats escalated and involved more troops.

    According to George Nafziger, the French cavalry did not designate specific cavalrymen as skirmishers, "but would detach pelotons into skirmish order". The Vistula uhlans (Polish unit in French service) however had troops specifically designed as flankers. Almost every Allies' squadron had approx. 10-20 men armed with rifles or musketoons who were trained as skirmishers (flankers).
    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 flankers moved in fast trot or gallop and the large spaces allowed for lots of individual movement.
    Usually the chain of flankers was formed 60 paces (French) in front of the squadron or regiment. The flankers operated in pairs - one flanker was in the front, standing and firing, while the second was on his left rear. They would alternate loading and firing. If necessary behind the chain of flankers was placed another peloton in formed order. It was the support or reserve troop.

    The regulations for British cavalry stated that "all firing best performed on the move and it is unnecessary to halt for that purpose only." It made the British cavalry almost inefficeint in skirmishing.

    In 1807 Russian A. I. Hatov wrote Obshchii opyt taktiki, a work devoted to the cavalry, its use in combat and its tactics. Hatov thought any firing from horse while standing as peculiar. The only accepted exception was when the flankers (horse skirmishers) used their firearms. Although their fire was known as being rather harmless they played important role of protecting the troops during march and on the battlefield from being harassed or disordered by enemy’s skirmishers. According to Hatov the firearms were given to the cavalry mainly to use on occassions when was lack of infantry or was a need to occupy an important position. (Hatov A. I. - “Obshchii opyt taktiki” 1807, Part I, p 186)

    Every Russian squadron had 16 flankers (skirmishers), which were posted, in the end files of every platoon. In hussar regiment all troopers were trained to function as skirmishers and sometimes they were used in big numbers like for example in 1806 at Pultusk and Golymin, or in 1812 at Kobrin.
    During the 1806-1807 campaign Löwenstern was sent with flankers of Soumy Hussars against French dragoons positioned in a wood near Makow. Löwenstern fired few pistol shots at a gray-hair dragoon. The French veteran responded with his own fire. Both however were unharmed and none was rushing to cross his saber with the opponent. Soon the trumpets sounded and recalled the flankers.
    Also the Russian dragoons and cuirassiers had their own flankers. In 1814 Grand Duke Constantine brought several cavalry regiments in the vicinity of Fère Champenoise where the French were retreating under the cover of their foot and horse skirmishers. Constantine sent forward flankers of Lifeguard Dragoons and Guard Cavalry Regiment (Chevaliers Garde, Kavallergarde) and they pushed back the French skirmishers.

    Cavalry Firing Volley by Squadrons.
    Firing by squadron was not an easy thing.

    Bavarian dragoons,
picture by Anton Hoffmann The carbine fire could be delivered in two ways: individually or by squadrons. Firing by squadron was not an easy thing. The horses never stood still in noisy environment making any aiming from the saddle close to impossible. Some horses came as replacement during campaign and were not accustomed to battlefield conditions. They easily got upset by the noise and discharges. In such situation the men were preoccupied with controling the horse rather than with loading and firing. Even worse, sometimes the burning powder would pepper over the horses throwing them into panick !

    There is however a difference between the cavalry actually receiving the attack at the halt, and the cavalry counter-charging after volley. Read the examples below.

  • Some of the cavalry fights on the northern part of the battlefield at Friedland were described in detail by Kornet F. V. Bulgarin of the Grand Duke Constantine Uhlan Regiment. One squadron of uhlans under Shcheglov stood near 2 light guns. This little cannonade went for a while before a column of French cavalry went out of the wood. The front of this column was not too wide but its depth was unknown to the uhlans. According to Bulgarin two squadrons of uhlans and one squadron of Lifeguard Cossacks advanced against the enemy. The uhlans moved in column by platoons (each squadron had 4 platoons) with intervals on the distance of platoon, passed through a village, formed by squadrons and then rushed forward with loud battle cry. Shcheglov rode in the front with outstretched saber.
    French dragoons delivered volley
and broke the Russian uhlans.
Battle of Friedland, 1807. The column of French dragoons halted and stood motionless like a stonewall [kak kamennaia stiena] waiting for the Russians. The dragoons from the second rank grabbed their muskets and began firing while these in the first rank drew sabers and waited. The charging uhlans first slowed down and then halted. The French sounded massive “En avant ! Vive l’Empereur!” and advanced forward en masse. The uhlans and Cossacks gave way before the sheer weight of the column. Their retreat was covered by flankers who opened fire on the pursuing dragoons.
  • Parquin described French cavalry firing by squadrons at Eylau (1807). "Colonel Castex now inquired if our carbines were loaded . On receiving an affirmative answer he gave the order 'Carbines, ready' - as in campaigning we had the practice of carrying those weapons at the hooks. He next ordered the officers to fall into place in the column and then did so himself. Meanwhile the huge mass of dragoons was steadily approaching us, still at a walk, Colonel Castex regarding them perfectly unmoved. Only when the Russians had approached within 6 paces of us did his voice ring out sharply: 'Fire !' The command was carried out by our regiment as steadily as if on parade. The effect of this one volley was terrific - almost the entire front rank of the Russian dragoons was mowed down. But scarcely a single moment did the enemy waver, for almost immediately the second line took the place of the dead and wounded and the conflict became general. Were it not for Captain Kirmann's presence of mind our regiment would now be in the greatest peril, for a swarm of Cossacks rushed against our left flank ... Nevertheless more than 100 men of the 20th Chasseurs were either killed or wounded. The Russians suffered a loss of at least 300 men, for the square of the 27th Infantry Regiment poured in on them a damaging fire as they were sslowly falling back." (Parquin - "Napoleon's Victories" p 68)
  • In 1809 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 2nd rank fired) it brought little results. The heavies were routed by the charging Saxons.
  • In 1813 French four regiments of light cavalry and two regiments of cuirassiers moved to cut off the Prussian 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 under Sahuc discharged their carbines and pistols at 10 paces at the charging Austrian cavalry. Despite the fire at point blank the Hessen-Homburg Hussar Regiment and regiment of chevaulegers closed with the French.
  • In 1805 at Austerlitz the Russian Guard Cavalry Regiment (Chevaliers Garde) and the Lifeguard delivered a volley at the charging French Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval and were ovethrown.
  • In 1812 at Ostrovno the French 16e Chasseurs withheld its volley until the Cossacks were 30 paces away. Despite the fire the enemy closed with the chasseurs and drove them back. Only the intervention of MdE Murat’s cavalry allowed the chasseurs to take refuge behind the 53e Ligne and in the ravive. The Russians attempted to go after the chasseurs but the steady musketry from the 53e Ligne repulsed them several times.
  • In 1809 at Alt Eglofshein the Austrian cuirassier regiment charged to within 100 paces, not failing to notice that the French carabiniers and cuirassiers "overlapped their line on both flanks." The carabiniers delivered a salvo at 40 paces and attacked from the front while in the same time the French cuirassiers attacked on both flanks. The Austrian regiment was pushed back before the Kaiser Cuirassier Regiment and the Stipsich Hussar Regiment arrived, charged and stabilized the situation.
  • "During Blücher’s retreat from Meaux to Soissons in March 1814, Colonel Nostitz attacked with 40 Cossacks a whole squadron of Vélites of the Guard on open terrain near the Bridge of Wailly. The Cossacks withstood the fire of the vélites, and then threw themselves upon them, and the whole squadron was defeated." (Prokesh - "Ueber den Kosaken ...")
  • In 1815 during the retreat of Prussian army after Ligny the Prussian cavalry met French cuirassiers on the road. Ltn. Hoeken wrote: "We had been riding at a trot for some time when suddenly we saw a line of French cuirassiers about 100 paces to our front. They greeted us with a salvo of carbine fire, and at that moment, our cavalry about turned and rushed away. Although officers and men were screaming for everybody to halt, attempts to stop the flight were in vain, until we all, myself included, got stuck in a swamp..." (Hofschroer - "1815: the Waterloo Campaign" p 327)
  • Lord Paget described part of the combat at Benavente: ( “We [British] attacked them [French] again, they again fired, by which they killed 2 and wounded 1 horse. They stood firm, we broke them, killed several, wounded 20 and took prisoners, 1 officer, 100 men and 50 horses.” (Lord Paget in Summerville’s “March of Death” p 54)
  • In 1815 after Waterloo, the horse grenadiers of Old Guard fired on command, dropped their carbines, drew sabres and charged. The British were routed and fled.
  • On 28 June 1815 Marshal Grouchy with four cavalry regiments made a stand near Nanteuil. The West Prussian Dragoons charged but the carbine fire drove them off. (The Prussians then brought up several cannons and opened fire on the French flank. This was followed up by a flanking attack from the Silesian Hussars which threw the French back through Nanteuil. Grouchy lost 60 prisoners and 2 guns.)
  • In 1813 at Dresden the Austrian infantry kept falling back, with their muskets useless during rain. The French dragoons followed them, loaded their firearms under their capes and fired into the enemy ranks. Two companies of infantry surrendered to the dragoons.
  • Chlapowski described one of the combats at Reichenbach:
    "We continued at a walk for another 300 paces, and I instructed both squadrons to go hell for leather as soon as I sounded the charge. They were not lower their lances, however, but should point them at the enemy's faces. ... We were perhaps 200 paces away when I ordered, 'Charge !' and in the blinking of an eye we were upon them. ... The melee lasted but a few seconds. From the moment we struck, the enemy fell into confusion and began to retreat, even including the uhlans who had no foe to their front. I did not see how many men fell because I had passed through their line so quickly. My squadrons had themselves become disordered and individuals were chasing after those of the enemy whose horses were weakest, and ordering them to dismount."
  • In 1812 not far from Smolensk, the Cossacks must have fired a hundred shots at the Polish Guard Lancers, but not one hit its target.

    Cavalry Charging Into Villages.
    On rare occassion cavalry would find themselves
    fighting in a wood or village.

    On rare occassion cavalry would find themselves fighting in a wood or village. On 9th June 1800 the French 12th Hussars charged down the road to Casteggio (Italy), brushing away Austrian flankers and vedettes. The hussars got into village where stationed two battalions of light infantry. The attackers swept through the village and towards a stone bridge before Austrian hussars counterattacked. The French fled receiving musket fire from infantry hidden in the houses and behind garden walls.

    In 1812 after the battle of Krasne, Napoleon moved toward Smolensk. Murat ordered the regiment of Old Guard Lancers (Polish) to follow him at the trot and then ordered to charge right in to the village occupied by Russian jagers. The Poles suffered 10 killed and wounded before they reached the center of the village. The cavalry was unable to gallop in deep snow, they lost several horses to close range fire, came out the other side and formed up again. Napoleon was furious at Murat and sent a single infantry company (Old Guard Grenadiers) who took the village without a single shot. The Foot Grenadiers also freed several Poles who had been unhorsed and taken prisoner by the jagers. Chlapowski was greatly impressed with the Grenadiers, saying that they "stood as solid as a wall."

    In 1809, the Austrian cavalry charged into the village of Pordenone. Arnold writes: "The Hohenzollern Chevauxlegers crossed a ravine and found themselves at close quarters with the French infantry [35th Line] in the village [of Pordenone]. A Captain Martyn led an impetous charge up the street and captured 300 prisoners. His charge broke the French spirit, and soon the entire regiment surrendered." (Arnold - "Napoleon Conquers Austria")

    In the Heat of The Night.

    There were also cavalry actions conducted during the night. In August 1813 Prussian officer von Katzeler ordered his cavalry to annoy the French infantry under Marshal Macdonald. Major von Stutterheim took Prussian Brandenburg uhlans with one gun and Oberst-Lieutenant von Platen took 2 squadrons of dragoons. The cavalry attacked the French outposts at Rathkirch (west of Liegnitz) and stirred up the entire French camp. The Prussians kept it awake for the whole night.

    Mistakes on the Battlefield.
    The confusion in battle was often such
    that friendly troops attacked each other.

    The typical cavalry-vs-cavalry battle was a noisy, confusing and quick affair. The squadrons charged or counter-charged, pursued or fled - it changed from one moment to another. The confusion in battle was often such that friendly troops attacked each other. In 1814 in the Battle of La Rothiere the Wirtembergian chasseurs mistook Bavarian cavalrymen for French and attacked. (Wearing the distinctive 'raupenhelm' didn't help the Bavarians).

    In 1812 at Borodino the French cuirassiers attacked friendly Saxon heavy cavalry. The Saxons were pursued by the Russians and fleeing toward French lines. But the French took Saxons' white outfits for Russians' cuirassiers (white uniforms) and charged them.

    In 1805 at Austerlitz several French cavalrymen led a large group of Austrian prisoners when Russian dragoons charged. The Russians however instead of attacking the French they cut and slashed the Austrians ! Seeing this French Marshal Murat thought that the Russians must be "some friendly cavalry" (Bavarians ?) and ordered French artillery not to fire on them. After the slaughter of the Austrians the furious dragoons rushed against Murat and his staff !

    Cavalry Fighting Dismounted.
    "Opinions will be always divided as to those
    amphibious animals called dragoons."
    - General Jomini

    Belgian carabinier in 1815, 
source: Mark Adkin's book. During the decades before Napoleonic Wars only the dragoons were trained in infantry and cavalry duties. General Jomini wrote: "Opinions will be always divided as to those amphibious animals called dragoons. It is certainly an advantage to have several battalions of mounted infantry, who can anticipate an enemy at a defile, or scour a wood; but to make cavalry out of foot soldiers is very difficult. ...
    It has been said that the greatest inconvenience resulting from the use of dragoons consists in the fact of being obliged at one moment to make them believe infantry squares cannot resist their charges, and the next moment that a foot soldier is superior to any horseman... But it cannot be denied, however, that great advantages might result to the general who could rapidly move up 10,000 infantrymen on horseback to a decisive point ..."

    Picture: French foot dragoons, by Keith Rocco.

    During the Napoleonic Wars all cavalrymen were trained in some infantry duties. They were universal soldiers capable of fighting from horse and on foot. There were numerous cases where the cavalry dismounted and fought as infantry. Some of them are below:

  • In 1805 at Elchingen the Austrian cuirassiers dismounted and attacked a village defended by French infantry. Despite musketry the heavies were able to penetrate it.
  • In 1805 the French dragoons under Exelmans attacked four times before capturing the village of Hochenreich. It was defended by Austrian infantry and dragoons (who also fought on foot).
  • In 1807, a single squadron from the Russian Ingermanland Dragoons was dismounted and attacked the town of Mohrungen. Shikanov describes the attack on Mohrungen as executed by the Courland Dragoons. Firstly, 18 volunteers and 2 officers dismounted and crawled toward the French. They quietly removed the pickets and then entire squadron of dismounted dragoons attacked. Behind the dismounted squadron was another squadron, this one was on horses. They captured 350 prisoners and freed 100 Russian and Prussian POWs. They also captured numerous carts and wagons belonging to MdE Bernadotte and 12.000 dukats. In this action also participated Soumy Hussars although they were not the main assault force on the town.
  • In 1813 near Gelnhausen the French heavy cavalry and chasseurs dismounted and in skirmish order successfully attacked enemy in the vineyards.
  • In 1814 the 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.
  • In 1814 at Méry the French dismounted cavalry drove off several squadrons of Russian cavalry.
  • In 1815 near Frasnes the French Red Lancers dismounted and fired at picket of Nassauers. Other lancers moved on horseback and drove the enemy back.
  • Sir Oman writes: “… several squadrons of them [Lahoussaye’s dragoons] forded the river at different points, but unable to charge among the rocks and vines, they were forced to dismount and to act as skirmishers …” (Summerville - “March of Death”)
  • In August 1812 Chernishev with 5 Cossack regiments and 4 guns attacked the village of Weddin defended by squadron of 4th (Polish) Uhlan regiment, three (Polish) companies of infantry and 2 guns. The defenders were under Colonel Kostanecki. The ensuing battle raged for 11 hours (!) and Cossacks made 10 attempts to capture the village. Approx. 500 Cossacks dismounted to combat as skirmishers, but to no avail. (Nafziger and Wesolowski - "Poles and Saxons of the Napoleonic Wars" p 121)
  • In one of the small engagements of March 1807 the Russian Elisavetgrad Hussars dismounted to give support for the 21st Jagers (light infantry).
  • In August 1810 a dismounted Russian cavalry regiment participated in the Storming of Rushchuk defended by the Turks.
  • During the siege of Tarragona in 1811, Boussart ordered his cavalry to dismount in order to climb the Alcova Hill. They managed to chase the Spanish troops from their positions.
  • On July 11th (23rd) 1812 was fought a small battle at Saltanovka. The terrain was very wooded so General Vasilchikov dismounted part of his cavalry in an effort to capture the bridge.
  • In 1812 at Shevardino, the New Russia Dragoons and the Kiev Dragoons were fighting dismounted (v pieshem stroiu) supporting the foot skirmishers.
  • On August 16th 1812 the Russian Orenbourg Dragoons were in the rear guard of the retreating army. When enemy’s flankers attacked them, these dragoons dismounted and made use of their carbines. With the support of 2 horse guns they held off all attacks until evening and then withdrew in good order passing through the burning city of Viazma. (Bezotosnyi V. M., Vasiliev A. A., Gorshman A. M., Parhayev O. K., Smirnov A. A. - “Russkaia armiia 1812-1814” Vlados, Moskva 2000, p 107)
  • In 1813 at Kulm part of the Russian Guard Cavalry Regiment (Chevaliers Garde) dismounted, grabbed their firearms and fought for few hours supporting the foot skirmishers.
  • In 1814 at Brienne, two dragoon regiments from Panchulitzev’s 3rd Dragoon Division dismounted and together with infantry attacked Brienne. The Russians captured half of the town.
  • "The Emperor mounted a hillock a close to the village, from whose gardens a dozne or so shots were fired in our direction. A squadron of chasseurs-a-cheval were riding close behind the Emperor (for the Guard chasseurs were still far to the rear). The Emperor ordered me to take this squadron and clear the village. The chasseurs advanced rapidly, ignoring the enemy fire, dismounted and closed with the enemy. A few hundred Austrians surrendered." (Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" p 60, transl. by Tim Simmons)

    Cavalry Outflanking Cavalry
    If one can maneuver so as to attack the enemy in flank,
    his success will be almost certain.

    The flanks were the weakest points of cavalry line. If one can maneuver so as to attack the enemy's cavalry in flank, his success will be almost certain.

  • - at Burkersdorf one Russian regiment of hussars and handful of Cossacks routed six (6) regiments of French dragoons. Attacked from the flank the French fled across fields and a frozen lake. The commander of the dragoons, Milhaud, was shocked and ashamed and thought about suicide.
  • - in 1806 at Jena one regiment of French hussars hide its presence from the oncoming Prussian cuirassiers. The hussars attacked from the flank and routed the heavies with easy.
  • - in 1814 at Fere Champenoise the Russian hussars attacked the flank of French cuirassier division under Bordesoulle. The French - although superior in numbers - were routed and fled.
  • - in 1813 at Leipzig the French cuirassiers under Bordesoulle reached the fields north of Gulden Gossa. They advanced in a tight formation against the flank of the Prussian dragoons. According to Militair-Wochenblatt, 22. Jahrgang (Berlin 1837) the officers of Neumark Dragoon Regiement shouted "Dragoons ! Up at those cuirassiers, save the battle !" The Prussians wheeled and charged. The French halted and the men of first rank pointed their straight sabers toward the attackers. The Prussians continued their advance and the French began wavering. In about the same time the Russian Lifeguard Cossacks charged the French from one flank. The cuirassiers broke in the instant and fled toward their own batteries with the dragoons and Cossacks hot on their heels.
  • - In 1813 north of Leipzig, the French infantry was retreating from Eutritzsch when Blücher expressed a wish to attack them. GL Vasilchikov heard his words and responded “If your Excellency will permit, I will try with my hussars.” Permission was given and Vasilchikov issued orders. The 2nd Hussar Division (Ahtirka, Alexandria, Marioupol, and White Russia Hussars) led by Lanskoi swept proudly past, and then charged “with great determination” as wrote Blücher’s adjutant von Nostitz. Then they noticed several cavalry regiments, which belonged to the III Cavalry Corps under GdD Arrighi.
    Two hussar regiments struck the right flank of Arrighi’s cavalry. As the Prussian witness, Graf Henkel von Donnersmark wrote, they “went on at a cracking pace”. The French chasseurs and hussars fled, some galloped toward Leipzig itself, while others sought refuge on the other bank of the Parthe River. There they continued toward the positions occupied by the infantry and artillery of the VII Corps. The pursuit was long, reaching Leipzig itself. The hussars captured a half thousand prisoners and 5 guns. Von Donnersmark remarked that this attack was “one of the best that I ever saw Russian cavalry made.” The defeat of Arrighi’s cavalry shook morally the infantry on the other side of the river. The hussars suffered very light casualties up to this point but when they were returning from the long pursuit they got under fire from the French infantry.

  • ~

    "I make the squadrons charge at gallop
    only because then fear carries the cowards
    along with the rest - they know that if
    they so much as hesitate in the middle of the
    onrush they will be crushed by the reminder of the troop."
    - Frederick the Great to Comte de Gisors

    Chaaarge !
    In the British regulations for cavalry was stated
    that though circumstances of situation may prevent
    a line of cavalry from advancing, it should
    "never absolutely stand still to receive the shock,
    otherwise its defeat is inevitable."

    Charge of Prussian dragoons.
Picture by Becker. The cavalry charge was one of the most eye-catching sights. The dust thrown by charging cavalry was so thick and rose so high that it totally obscured the view. (In 1757 at Prague the movement of Prussian cavalry threw up great clouds which made the day seem "like the end of the world." One of the Prussians wrote: "the dust had prevented me from seeing more than four paces.")

    Cavalry charges were noisy affairs. Not only there were the sounds of the trumpets, and the constant beat of the hooves, but also the men were shouting and screaming. To keep the men quiet in such a moment was very difficult. Britten-Austin writes: "At one moment Murat makes the Prussian Black Lancers (?) charge down the main road at two battalions of Russian artillery and infantry, in squares on either side of it; and from his hight ground Thirion sees how 'this charge, made calmly at a trot, not proving successful, this cavalry retired as it had adcanced. It was the first time I'd seen cavalry charge at that pace and came back from it without any shouting and disorder." (Britten-Austin "1812 The March on Moscow" p 135)

    It was said that a commander should never order a charge or advance to the front without having previously sent out flankers (cavalry skirmishers) or even 1-2 officers to ascertain whether there were obstacles which had not been observed (ditches, wetland, fences etc.) Unfortunately in the heat of battle this rule was often ignored by commanders.

    Theoretically the troops were to begin their advance in slower pace and finish galloping. The slow pace helped to keep order in ranks but gave too much time to think about dangers. Often the men were so anxious that they quickly sped up, regardless of their officers' orders. De Rocca of the French 2nd Hussar Regiment writes: "When a regiment or a squadron of cavalry charges in line or in column, it cannot long maintain the order in which it sets out; the horses animate one another, their eagerness progressively increases, and the best mounted horsemen generally find themselves far before the others, which breaks the order of battle. The commander ... should be careful not to make long charges ..." (de Rocca, - p 76)
    Chlapowski of the Old Guard Lancers writes: "At about 7 PM, after a fierce cannonade, the Austrians launched a ferocious cavalry attack on us. Enemy hussars made a vigorous frontal attack on Piret's first brigade (8th Hussars and 16th Chasseurs), while a regiment of uhlans attacked it from the left flank. The enemy hussars had reached only 200 to 250 paces away from us, and were cantering along with shouts and hurrahs, when General Lasalle began to advance at a walk, then trot, and finally at a gallop so he hit the hussars at full tilt. A regiment of the second line wheeled to the left to engage the ulan regiment. The opposing sides got as mixed up together as shredded cabbage." (Chlapowski, - p 66)

    The gallop was a move which relieved anxiety.
    The fast pace however disordered the troops, gaps were created, horses in the center were squeezed out, slower horses and some cowards were far behind. Soon the troops changed into noisy hordes. If they met a well aligned troops advancing in a slow, steady pace they were lost. They were surprised at first at such coolness. The galloping squadrons do not reason these things out, but they know them instinctively. They understand that they have before them a moral impulse superior to theirs. They become uneasy, hesitate. Their hands instinctively turn their horses aside. Some of the horsemen go on to the end, but 75 % have already tried to avoid the shock. There is disorder and flight. Then begins the pursuit at a gallop by the men who attacked at the trot.
    Chlapowski writes: "We could see confusion breaking out in the Spanish army. They tried only one charge. Some regiment which looked like black hussars, which I had never seen before, drew particular attention to themselves. Their attack failed, and was doomed from the start as they had begun to gallop at 1,000 paces and so were exhausted by the time they had covered half this distance. A regiment of French dragoons was sent out against them, but advanced only at a walk, and seeing that they would not reach it, it halted and sent out skirmishers, who were able to catch up with a dozen or so of the more poorly mounted hussars. Yet each of these, whether wounded or dismounted, fought on to the death, which proves these were valiant soldiers but they lacked experienced officers." (Chlapowski - p. 43)

    Only the battle-hardened and disciplined troops managed to advance in slower, steady pace. They sped up gradually and kept good order until the very last moment when officers ordered them to gallop. Gallop was the winning intoxication gait with little time for second thought. Experience has shown that the best distance from the enemy to begin the gallop, is between 200 and 50 paces. This gradual increase of speed is very important, to prevent the horses from being completely blown on reaching the enemy.
    The British regulations suggested that on the charge being sounded the gallop was increased so long as the unit did not become disordered: the fastest horses were supposed to be held in check for the slowest so that all the line arrived together. Care had to be taken to ensure horses were not blown when they reached the enemy.

    Russian hussars at Kliastitzy 1812,
picture by Oleg Parhaiev. The moral effect of a mass charging in good order was of the greatest influence. Brave but undisciplined cavalry would be most often defeated by disciplined troops. "We have often seen fanatic eastern people implicitly believing that death in battle means a happy and glorious resurection. Despite being better mounted they give way before discipline."

    It is difficult to estimate just how many charges were decided without the two sides actually meeting. Expert on cavalry, Ardant du Picq, stated (with some exaggeration, just to make the point) that 49 of 50 one side hesitated, disordered and fled before contact was made. Approx. 75 % of the time this will happen at a distance, before they can see each other's eyes.
    Officer of the Grand Duke Constantine Uhlans, Faddei Bulgarin, wrote that only those who never actually participated in cavalry battle talk about two opposite masses or lines of cavalry clash with each other and fight until one side is annihilated. Bulgarin wrote that it was not so, usually one side attacked and the other retreated, then the victor and pursuer was counterattacked by second line or reserves and overthrown and pursued in its turn.
    Already in 18th Century, Mirabeau wrote that "veteran cavalry officers have told us that when two bodies of cavalry charge one another, it almost always happens that one party flees before the other can meet it. Saber blows are dealt only during the pursuit."
    Often they will get closer. Even in these few cases where both sides colided, there was no shock at full speed, but a halt face to face and then an engagement.

    Napoleon and French cavalry
at Friedland 1807. If both sides were of equal morale then the horsemen would pass through each other's formation and come out on the other side. Sometimes they would continue forward until were overthrown by the second line of enemy's cavalry.
    In 1809 at Aspern-Essling Lasalle's cavalry regiments broke the first line of Austrian cavalry, but "the Blankenstein hussars and Riesh Dragoons" took them in flank and "drove back in fearful disorder." The Austrian hussars captured quite a few men of the 24th Chasseurs.
    Costello of 95th Rifles writes: "... a loud cheering to the right attracted our attention, and we perceived our 1st Heavy Dragoons charge a French cavalry regiment. As this was the first charge of cavalry most of us had ever seen, were were all naturally much interested on the occassion. The French skirmishers who were also extended against us seemed to partiicipate in the same feeling as both parties suspended firing while the affair of dragoons was going on. The English and the French cavalry met in the most gallant manner, and with the greatest show of resolution. The first shock, when they came in collision, seemed terrific, and many men and horses fell on both sides. They had ridden through and past each other, and now they wheeled round again. This was followed by a second charge, accompanied by some very pretty- sabre-practice, by which many saddles were emptied, and English and French chargers were soon galloping about the field without riders. These immediately occupied the attention of the French skirmishers and ourselves, and we were soon engaged in pursuing them, the men of each nation endeavouring to secure the chargers of the opposite one as legal spoil. While engaged in this chase we frequently became intermixed, when much laughter was indulged in by both parties at the different accidents that occured in our pursuit." (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 67)

    According to du Picq "There were frequent instances when 2 lines of cavalry would confront each other without dudging, each waiting for the other to retire or to make mistake." It was the case where troops on both sides were of equal bravery and determination. In 1831 two Russian and two Polish regiments charged each other. When close enough to recognize faces they slackened their gait and after a while both turned their backs and retreated. Similar situation - according to Du Picq - can be observed between two dogs, cats or lions when the courage is equal. In 1812 at Villadrigo the French and British cavalry attacked each other and a prolonged fight (10 minutes!) took place. Then came one more French regiment "got around one flank and rolled the British up."

    In the British regulations for cavalry was stated that though circumstances of situation may prevent a line of cavalry from advancing, it should "never absolutely stand still to receive the shock, otherwise its defeat is inevitable." The French regulations also mentioned it. There were however numerous instances where the cavalry, especially the French, chose to receive a charge standing (and often firing a volley). The Poles shared similar view to the British. Officer Chlapowski of the Old Guard Lancers writes: "I was obliged to reform as best I could, 'Forward ! March !' otherwise they would have caught us stationary, which you should never let the enemy do."

  • In 1809 at Wagram, Montbrun's light cavalry division didn't move one inch when Austrian chevaulegers advanced against them. The charging Austrians hesitated, reined up and fled. Montbrun unleashed his chasseurs in hot pursuit.
  • In 1809 at Aspern-Essling approx. 2,500 French heavy cavalry (4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Cuirassiers) attacked the Austrian center defended by strong artillery and numerous light cavalry (uhlans, hussars and chevauxlegeres). The French heavies received canister and then encountered four cavalry regiments deployed in a very long line. The Austrians instead of countercharging remained stationary. Their impressive stance communicated great resolve, and the French wavered. Then, two Austrian cuirassier regiments crashed into French flank and sent them reeling backward. Major Berret received two lance wounds from Schwarzenberg Uhlans. General Durosnel was wounded and taken prisoner.
  • On 8th February 1814 at Pozzolo a squadron of Erzherzog Karl Uhlan Regiment returned and announced being pursued by the French cavalry. As soon as the French came within sight, GM Wrede's dragoon brigade and Erzherzog Karl Uhlan Regiment (4 sq.) were sent forward. In the head of the French force advanced 2 sq. of 1st Hussar Regiment. The French instead of counter-charging received the Austrians at the standstill and soon were driven back in great disorder.
  • "Our company, along with but half a troop of German Hussars, formed the advance. On turning a winding of the road, we suddenly came within sight of a party of the enemy's cavalry who formed the tail of their rearguard. Our Germans ... immediately charged them. The French, perceiving the number of our cavalry only equal to their own, instantly wheeled about and calmly awaited the attack. A very smart combat soon took place, and was supported by great resolution for some time on both sides, but terminated in the flight or capture of the enemy." (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 122)

    There were cavalry troops who seeing danger refused to charge.

  • In 1813 at Dennewitz the 2nd Uhlan Regiment (Poles) threw itself against squares of II, III and IV Battalion of 3rd East Prussian Landwehr Regiment and squares of 4th Reserve Infantry Regiment. The Prussians delivered volleys and the uhlans passed on and engaged the cavalry behind them. The uhlans were outnumbered, lost 102 men in this action and were fleeing. Marshal Ney sent orders to Westphalian Cavalry Brigade to support the Poles but the Westphalians refused. Furious Ney sent their colonel to Napoleon after "ripping off his epaulettes."
  • The British 7th Hussar Regiment Queen's Own was the "embodiment of dash and panache". On June 17th at Genappe (in Belgium) Lord Uxbridge wanted to give them a "taste of glory" - the hussars charged but each charge "was not in the favor of the 7th Hussars. Finally the 7th Hussars refused to charge the French lancers." At Waterloo the hussars also didn't charge the lancers and seem that they refused to charge into the flank of cuirassiers.

    Guard Lancers at Reichenbach 1813. During battle some cavalry regiments were kept in reserve, while others made numerous charges. In 1814 in the Battle of Craonne, Russian hussar division was so involved in fighting that all their generals were either wounded, injured or killed. The Pavlograd Hussars conducted 8 charges and despite the exhaustion of horses and men they formed the rear guard of the retreating infantry. They paid the heaviest price for their heroics - this is said that out of 900 men half were killed, wounded and injured.
    Below is a description of cavalry charges made by the Old Guard Lancers during a single battle. In May 1813 near Zgorzelec (Gorlitz), General Walther with all regiments of the Guard cavalry met the Russian rearguard at Reichenbach. Chlapowski writes: "When we had crossed the second ditch, we saw a line of regular cavalry beyond the Cossacks. After we had advanced 500 paces I could make out four squadrons: two of dragoons in the center, with one of lancer on either side. Once my squadrons had crossed the ditch and reformed into line, we began slowly to advance.
    General Lefebvre-Desnouettes arrived in a rush and said I should charge. But he did not say this as an order, and he added that he trusted my judgement. ... We were still about 500 paces from the enemy, so I said to the general, who was riding beside me: 'If you permit me to advance at a walk for another 150 paces, and then to move straight into a charge, I vow I can shatter the enemy's center.' He agreed and returned to the squadrons that were crossing the ditch behind us. ...
    "But shortly I saw a second enemy line approaching, all of them uhlans. I stopped my horse, and had only begun to restore order to the ranks when this line began a charge. I was obliged to reform as best I could, 'Forward ! March !' otherwise they would have caught us stationary, which you should never let the enemy do. ... As they charged, the Russian uhlans lost some of their dressing, but they still came on and broke into our line. They outnumbered us, and we should certainly have been beaten if Jerzmanowski had not come up with his two squadrons. He was the very best field officer in the regiment ... and with a fine, cool judgement. At just the right moment he struck the enemy from our left flank, having come up close at a walk to save energy for his charge.
    The uhlans retreated almost faster than they had charged. A dozen or so fell into our hands. ... The uhlans had disappeared, and our four squadrons reformed into line. We had advanced quite a way ahead of the Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval ... and so General Lefebvre-Desnouettes ordered us to halt."
    "Then another regiment regiment of Russian uhlans appeared ... and advanced toward us in line. But when it was still 500 paces away it broke into a gallop. Lefebvre-Desnouettes ... again wanted us to counter-charge. Jerzmanowski, who knew the general very well, told him there was no point in charging, as the enemy had begun to gallop far too soon; they would soon lose formation and would never reach us. Sure enough, their line shortly broke up, a few dozen pulled ahead and the majority began to slow down. Nobody came any closer to us than 100 paces. ... General ordered two platoons to form skirmish order and go out to meet them. They brought back half a dozen or more of the slowest horsemen. We discovered they weren't lances, but regular Ukrainian Cossacks. ... The Cossacks had retreated and were reforming a very long way away from us. This proved them to be very young recruits, whose officers were probably no better. ... Now General Walther appeared, and after complimenting us on our charge he ordered us to march off by platoons to the left and advance up the slope ... "
    The Guard Lancer Regiment then marched to Haynau and camped there until Napoleon arrived. Napoleon ordered the Cavalry of the Imperial Guard circle the town of Lignica (?) in order to catch any enemy that might still be retreating. Chlapowski: "As soon as my two squadrons had crossed, I led them rapidly out of the village ... When we arrived in the open again I saw four squadrons standing in line. So I turned my line to face them and just as we did so, they began to advance and their trumpeters sounded the charge. I advanced to meet them. ... They stopped, turned right around, and began to retreat just as we fell upon them. As might be expected, they routed.
    Their slowest troopers fell into our hands and we'd have captured more if their infantry had not been in column close by. ... We camped that night at the spot where we had captured these troopers. They turned out to be from the Prussian Guard Cavalry Regiment, and included hussars, dragoons, and a few Berlin cossacks, whose beards were longer than those of the Don Cossacks. ... On May 30 we went with Flahaut (Napoleon's ADC), on a reconnaissance toward Jaworz ... Flahaut climbed to the top of a windmill, from which he could see several Cossack regiments ..."

    The biggest cavalry charges.
    The biggest cavalry charges made by Napoleonic cavalry:
    1. Leipzig 1813 - Marshal Murat with 92-104 squadrons against Russians and Prussians
    2. Borodino 1812 - Marshal Murat with 81-98 squadrons against the Russians
    3. Eylau 1807 - Marshal Murat with "80 squadrons" against the Russians
    4. Dresden 1813 - Marshal Murat with 54-62 squadrons against the Austrians
    5. Waterloo - Kellermann & Milhaud with 49-68 sq. against the British, Germans, Ducth and Belgians.

    The biggest cavalry charges made by Allies cavalry:

    Charge of French hussars in Austerlitz in 1805.
    Picture by Keith Rocco, USA >>

  • ~

    Cavalry "charges resolve themselves into mêlées".
    - Ardant du Picq

    1807: French cuirassiers 
vs Russian Life Guard.
Picture by Viktor Mazurovsky. Picture: French cuirassiers and Russian Life Guard (heavy cavalry) in melee in 1807. Picture by Viktor Mazurovsky, Russia.

    "The shock chest to chest - le coup de poitrail - is a chimera, for the constitution of horses renders it impossible and the instinct of men and horses prevents it. In a charge on eof the two sides either does not reach the enemy or does not wait for him. If the two sides meet, the horses pass in between one another and there os a melee." (Wilkinson, Spenser - "The French army before Napoleon; lectures delivered before the University of Oxford ..." p 64)

    According to Ardant du Picq the cavalry "charges resolve themselves into mêlées". Melee was a series of individual matches and depended upon individual horsemanship and swordsmanship. Each man passed his opponent to the left or right, cuting, thusting, slashing or blocking the blows. He attempted to present his right side (which was under cover of his sword) to his adverary, and sought to gain his weak side, the left one. The unfortunate fellow who could not manage his horse fast enough was lost. If the man was tired, clumsy or wounded, his blows occassionally ended up on his horse's head or neck.
    Russian officer Löwenstern described a melee at Golymin in which he was struck at face by his oponent’s horse’s head ! :-) As he was turning a horse head covered with foam hammered his face with such strength that he thought a cannonball hit him. Löwenstern was unsaddled at the instant and profusely bleeding before being rescued by his comrades.

    Most melees lasted only few minutes. Generally the larger bodies of troops were involved the longer the melee lasted. The melee could be a small one, involving only 2 squadrons or as big as 100 squadrons ! In 1812 at Borodino there was a huge melee in the last stages of the battle. The squadrons charged, went into melee, pulled out, reformed and charged again.


    Pursuit and Casualties.
    The most killing in cavalry combat
    happened during the pursuit.

    Russian cavalry defeated French cavalry near 
Katzbach River, 1813. Picture by Parkhaiev. When hostile cavalries meet each other, there is usually but small loss on either side. Only in few cavalry battles the casualties were heavy.

  • On July 8th 1812 seven Polish cavalry regiments fought with 16 Russian regiments (four regular cavalry, eleven Cossacks, and one infantry). The cavalry battle raged for 6 hours (!), the Poles suffered 600 killed and wounded, Russian casualties are unknown. Such casualties in cavalry battle were considered as heavy.
  • At Waterloo the British Union Brigade and Household Brigade suffered very heavy casualties during the cavalry battle with French lancers and cuirassiers. The French attack practically wiped out the Scots Grays, of the 24 officers who had taken part in the fight, 16 were killed and wounded. Colonel Hamilton body was found the next day, missing both arms and with a bullet in the heart. The two other regiments of Union Brigade suffered approx. 600 dead and wounded out of 1,000 men, a percentage that makes the famous charge at Balaklava pale in comparison. In the elite Household Brigade of the squadrons that had charged in the first line, fewer than 50 % turned back. The whole action took less than one hour.

    In cavalry combat a certain number of troopers were usually dismounted; but the colliding masses somehow rode through each other, allowing but little time for the exchange of thrusts and cuts. The most killing happened during the pursuit for several reasons:

  • the pursuer doesn't have to look in his victim's eyes, and it appears to be much easier to deny an opponent's humanity if you can stab or shoot them in the back and don't have to look into their eyes when you kill them.
  • the opponent has changed from a fighter to prey who must to be pursued and killed.
  • fleeing man can be attacked from the left side and unable to parry the cuts and slashes as his saber is in right hand.

    Sometimes only the fleeing troops suffered casualties, not those who pursued them. In 1813 the French Guard chasseurs pursued Austrian hussars without any loss, but the enemy lost 200 men. Closer and/or longer pursuit led to heavier casualties and greater disorder.

    Theoretically the pursuit was well concentrated action: smaller troop chased the enemy, whilst the bigger troop was to follow so that any enemy reserves or counter-attacks could have been met by a formed body. In 1813 at Reichenbach the Polish Guard lancers broke the Cossacks and sent only their skirmishers in pursuit. The regiment followed them in close distance. Such behaviour, however, was not common. Once the cavalry has been committed to combat and pursuit the chances of stopping it belonged in the realms of pious hopes. Men will pursue the enemy as long as they are able. Often the pursuing and fleeing troops took themselves out of the battlefield as it happened in 1805 at Haslach-Jungingen. (French dragoons were broken and pursued by Austrian 2 cuirassier and 2 lighthorse regiments.)

  • ~

    The Best Cavalry of Napoleonic Wars.
    Chase me, ladies, I'm in the cavalry

    Saxon Garde du Corps at Borodino, 
picture by Mark Churms Generally the Frenchman was an inferior horseman and swordsman as comparing to the British, Prussian and Austrian cavalryman. So why did the French cavalry won in so many engagements ? One factor was certainly their superior organization, at high levels, to most of their opponents. The French command structure and organization made it more likely that a French cavalry had reserves available, and the ability to direct them to exploit a break in the enemy line or plug a gap in their own, or counterattack the victorious enemy. Their discipline and tactics of using larger formations impressed even the enemies of France.
    Wellington wrote: "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."

    According to military historian, George Nafziger, the best cavalry were:
    First tier cavalry: Saxony (read below), Poland, France, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt
    Second tier cavalry: Prussia, Russia, Britain and Northern Italy
    Third tier cavalry: Austria, Wirtembergia, Bavaria, Hesse-Kassel, and Westphalia
    Fouth tier cavalry: Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Naples
    (Source: George Nafziger - "Imperial Bayonet" 1996 p 192)


    At Quatre Bras an officer of the British 28th Foot
    recalled that when his unit was in square
    a French lancer was sent forward to plant his lance
    with its pennon in front of the battalion as a marker
    for his unit to charge on."
    Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 154

    The Lancers.
    The Poles had fueled a "lance craze" that swept the armies of Europe
    and inspired tens of regiments to clad in outfits modeled
    on the uniform of the Polish uhlans.
    The Polish Guard lancers knew how to fight and they intended to do just that.
    It was Napoleon who said: "These men only know how to fight !" after
    they charged in their usual impetous, stormy fashion at Somosierra.

    Napoleon's Polish Guard Lancers
in combat. Picture by de Job, France. The Poles used to say that every commander loved the lancers for their looks, but not every man wished to carry the heavy weapon for all year long. The lance was traditional weapon of the Poles. First the Polish legendary Winged Knights (husaria) used it with great success against their enemies. Husaria's lance was approx. 5 m long. They attacked frontally smashing everything on their way. The times changed and the Winged Knights were replaced with uhlans (ulani) - armed with 2.5 m long lances. During march the weight of the lance bore down on the stirrup, where its lower end fitted into a small 'bucket'; carried on the march slanting back from a small sling around the rider's arm.

    Mastery with lance required training and strong hand. "It took a lot of extra training to produce a competent lancer. A British training manual produced some years after Waterloo stated that he had to master 55 different exercises with his lance - 22 against cavalry, 18 against infantry, with 15 general ones thrown in for good measure." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 247)
    Giving lances to poorly trained men didn't make them good lancers, they were 'men with sticks' not uhlans. Lancer was a formidable opponent. Before World War I Mr. Wilkinson "have watched and recorded hundreds of competitions between men equally experts in the use of their weapons but lance won by the every large majority of them."

    Napoleon and Murat watching duel between 
Polish lancer and 2 Guard dragoons In 1809 in Vienna, Polish NCO Jordan of Guard Lighthorse, called upon dragoons of Napoleon's Old Guard, to "fight" him. Two battle-hardened veterans stepped out, he unhorsed both. (see picture -->)
    The friendly duel was watched by Napoleon, Marshal Murat and several French generals.
    Napoleon was impressed with the Polish lancers and ordered the formation of nine regiments of lancers in his army. In the memoirs of Waterloo, the French lancers, galloping at will over the battlefield, sending saber-armed cavalry fleeing before them, and calmly stopping to finish off the wounded without even having to dismount, appear as an image of horror. Wyndham of the Scots Grays saw the lancers pursuing British dragoons who had lost their mounts and were trying to save themselves on foot. He noted the ruthlessness of the lancers' pursuit and watched them cut their victims down.

    The Poles had fueled a "lance craze" that swept the armies of Europe and inspired tens of regiments to clad in outfits modeled on the uniform of the uhlans. The Russians increased number of uhlan regiments from 5-6 to 12 and armed their 12 hussar regiments with lances. The Austrians increased from 3 to 4 regiments and the Prussians from 1 to 8 regiments. All lancers were uniformed in Polish style and design. Even the British formed their own lancers styled on the Poles. Uhlans were also formed in Italy and Spain.

    Right: the legendary charge of British lancers at Balaklava, October 25th 1854. Their uniforms closely resembled the dress of the Polish Vistula uhlans.
    Left: German lancers in 20th Century. In 1914 the German Army included nineteen uhlan regiments, and there were eleven regiments of uhlans in the Austro-Hungarian cavalry. The Russians also had cavalry armed with lances. Uhlan units took part in the massive cavalry battle at Komarow of 1920, the last pure cavalry battle in history. In the period between the world wars, the Polish uhlan units were reformed. They employed infantry tactics: the men dismounted before the battle and fought as infantry using modern rifles, field guns and light tanks.
    The story of heroic Polish uhlans attacking German tanks during WW2 is a myth. On Sept 1st 1939 at Krojanty part of Polish 18th Uhlan Regiment successfully charged German infantry battalion resting near woods but then got under heavy machine gun fire and withdrew. According to General Heinz Guderian this charge impressed the Germans and caused a wide spread panic among the staff and infantry. The same day the German war correspondents were brought to the battlefield together with two journalists from Italy. They were shown the battlefield, the corpses of uhlans and their horses, as well as German tanks that arrived to the place after the battle. One of the Italian correspondents sent home an article, in which he described the bravery of the uhlans, who charged German tanks with sabres and lances. Although such a charge did not happen and there were no tanks used during the combat, the myth was used by German propaganda during the war. One film even showed a cavalry charge on tanks, with Polish uhlans (in German helmets and uniforms) using their lances against tanks.
    (The Polish Uhlan Brigades were equipped with anti-tank guns such as 37mm Bofors wz.36 (exported to UK as Ordnance Q.F. 37mm Mk I) that could penetrate tanks' armor. At Krojanty they just made a surprising attack on resting infantry and withdrew before machine guns.)

    British 16th Lancers 
in 1914 Left: German SS Geyer Cavalry Division in 1942. The Division saw action on the Eastern Front, in areas such as Briansk, Viazma and the mighty Battle of Moscow.
    Right: British 16th Lancer Regiment in 1914.
    In 1914 at Moncel the British 9th Lancers attacked Prussian Guard Dragoons. Lancers' casualties were 10 killed and wounded compared to heavy losses suffered by the Prussians. The 9th (Queen's Royal) Lancers was originally one of the dragoon regiments and served under Wellington in Spain. "After 1816 they became Lancers, on the model of the celebrated Polish Lancers, who rendered Napoleon such devoted service."

      French officer de Brack on lance.

      Q: Is the lance a very effective weapon?
      A: Its moral effect is the greatest, and its thrusts the most murderous of all weapons.
      Q: In war, should the use of the lance conform to the directions contained in the regulations?
      A: No; as a general rule the trooper must consider himself the centre of a circle whose circumference is described by the point of his weapon; but the lancer must limit his points to the half-circle in his front, and cover the rear half by the "around parry."
      Q: Why?
      A: The points are certain only so long as the nails are up and the forearm and body control the direction of the weapon. Where these two indispensable conditions do not exist, points which the enemy might easily parry, and which might disarm you, should not be risked. The very least objection to thrusts thus hazarded would be their uselessness, and, in war, uselessness is the synonym of ignorance and danger.
      Q: What then are the "points" to which one should confine himself in action?
      A: The "right-front" and "left-front" points; the "right" and "left" points against infantry; the "right," "left," and "around parries."
      Q: But, should the hostile cavalry follow and press you closely?
      A: Use against them the "right," "left," and "around parries," which become powerful offensive movements, when properly employed. In fact, the point cannot fail to reach the man, or the head of his horse, and the weight of the arm doubling the force of its impulsion, the enemy will be at once overthrown, or the horse be immediately stopped by the thrust.
      I have witnessed a hundred illustrations of the truth of this, and, among others, may cite the case of the intrepid Captain Brou (now Colonel of the 1st Lancers), who, while near Eylau, in a charge which we made upon the Cossacks, believed himself already master of one of them, whom he had taken on his left side, and who held his lance at a "right front;" but the Cossack, standing up in his stirrups, and executing rapidly an "around parry," threw the Captain to the ground; his horse was captured, and he would have been made prisoner also, but for a courageous and skilfully executed charge made by Major Hulot, then commanding the 7th Hussars. I saw the Captain's wound dressed, and his shoulder was gashed as though cut with the edge of a sabre.
      …. I have seen old Cossacks, charged by our troops with their short weapons, face and await them firmly, the point of the lance not to the front, because they judged from the boldness of the attack that their points would be parried - and that once closed in upon they would be lost - but with the lance to the right front, as in the first motion of "left parry," then responding to the attack with a "left parry," brush aside the attackers by this movement, volt to the left, and find themselves, in their turn, naturally taking the offensive by pursuing the enemy on his left.
      Q: How should lance thrusts be made in action?
      A: I repeat, the lance must always be held with the whole hand closed upon it, the fingers upwards, and no movement requiring the fingers to be held downwards, should be attempted, because the weight of the weapon may cause it, if parried by the enemy, to escape from the hand.
      … To carry the hand to the rear only to thrust it forward again, is both useless and dangerous. Your point will always have enough spring, strength, and reach to traverse the body of a man.
      … In campaign an officer should frequently inspect his lances, and see that they are kept sharp and well greased. Wounds made in the body by lances kept in good condition are almost always mortal. I have seen troopers of our army receive as many as twenty wounds, made by Cossack lances, without dying of them or even being disabled.
      Q: To what do you attribute that?
      A: To the inferior quality of the Cossack weapons, to the little care taken of them, and, above all, to a cause worth while to explain. The lances of the Cossacks who used to fight against us were not shod at the butt end, so, when the lancer dismounted, to avoid leaving the lance lying on the ground, he stuck the point into the soil, and thus blunted it. Hence you will remember that, under no pretext, are you to stick the point of your lance into the ground, and that it would be a hundred times better to throw it on the ground than to keep it standing up at such a cost.
      The French lance needs improvement; the ash of which the staff is made is so heavy that it makes it difficult to handle, and, when carried in the socket, injures the horse's withers. The wood does not, by its strength, compensate for this disadvantage; for being cut in blocks and the grain crossed, it breaks easily and in a way that makes repairing difficult.
      Another fault is the too great size of the pennons which present to the wind so large a surface that the staves are quickly bent, so that points cannot be made as accurately as they should be; quickness and lightness in handling them are diminished, and on the road the horse and the lancer's arm are uselessly fatigued by the constant backward pressure.
      To correct these faults, in route marches the pennons should be removed, and attached only when it is desired to make ourselves recognized by friends or enemies; to shift the lance alternately from the right boot to the left, and frequently to remove it entirely from the boot, so that it may be carried by the lancer himself.
      The rolled coat may be considered a defensive weapon. The habit of rolling it, and crossing it over the chest, in view of an engagement, has three advantages: first, it clears the opening of the pistol holster; second, it allows the bridle hand to be carried nearer to the horse's neck, which facilitates the control of the horse; and, third, it protects the trooper. But the trooper must be careful of two things: first, to so roll and cross his coat as not to be constrainted by it, and, second, in a charge to avoid being seized by it, and unhorsed and captured.
      Although to lose one's arms is, generally speaking, a shame, yet there is one case where a lancer is excusable for losing his lance - that is, when he has run it clean through an enemy.
      Several times, I have seen lances so well used that the weapon, caught between the ribs, after having penetrated the shoulder blade, could not possibly be withdrawn; the dying man, convulsed with pain, carried away by his horse, drew along with him the lance and the lancer vainly struggling to disengage his weapon. At Reichenbach, the bravest lancer of my regiment was killed under similar circumstances, in disobedience of my orders, through a misunderstood, stubborn sense of honor. In vain I called out to him, "Your lance is well lost"; he did not believe me, and being cut off from his comrades, was overwhelmed by numbers, and killed.
      Near Lille, a young soldier of the same regiment found himself in a similar condition; I made him abandon his lance. The Prussian whom he had run through fell about 50 paces from the spot where he was wounded; we retook the ground which he had been obliged to yield for a few minutes, and my lancer having dismounted to recover his lance, succeeded in doing so only by carefully pushing it through in the same direction in which it entered.
      At Waterloo, when we charged the English squares, one of our lancers, not being able to break down the rampart of bayonets which opposed us, stood up in his stirrups and hurled his lance like a spear; it passed through an infantry soldier, whose death would have opened a passage for us, if the gap had not been quickly closed. That was another lance well lost. “

    Lancers vs Cavalry.
    Lance was the most dangerous in the
    first contact during line-vs-line combats.

    Scots Greys routed by
French lancers in 1815.
Picture by Brian Palmer. Lance was the most dangerous in the first contact during line-vs-line combats. The long weapon allowed cavalrymen to wound or kill an enemy armed with shorter weapon first. Once the enemy had got past the point of the lance then the lancer was vulnerable. General Jomini wrote that lance is the most aggressive weapon as one can simply outreach every opponent.
    Jomini writes: "Much discussion has taken place about the proper manner of arming cavalry. The lance is the best arm for offensive purposes when a body of horsemen charge in line; for it enables them to strike an enemy who cannot reach them; but it is a very good plan to have a second rank ... armed with sabers, which are more easily handled than the lance in hand-to-hand fighting when the ranks become broken. It would be , perhaps, better still to support a charge of lancers by a detachment of hussars... the advantegeous use of lance depends upon the preservation of good order..."

    De Rocca described how lancers were defeated: "... they [Spaniards] marched in close column; at their head were the lancers of Xeres. This whole body began at once to quicken their pace, in order to charge us while we were retiring. The captain commandimg our squadron made his four platoons ... wheel half round to the right. This movement being made, he adjusted the front line of his troop as quietly as if we had not been in presence of the enemy. ... The Spanish horse, seized with astonishment at his coolness, involuntarily slackened their pace. Our commandant ... ordered the charge to be sounded. Our hussars, who in the midst of the threats and abuse of the enemy had preserved the strictest silence, then drowned the sound of the trumpet as they moved onwards ... The Spanish lancers stopped; seized with terror, they turned their horses at the distance of half-pistol-shot, ... our hussars mingled with them indiscriminately ..."
    But more often than not the lancers routed the hussars. In 1815 near Gosselies the excellent French 1st Hussars met Prussian 6th Uhlans and 24th Infantry. The uhlans attacked and drove the hussars back in disorder, only to be attacked in turn by French lancers of Pire's division. Heinrich Niemann of 6th Uhlans writes: "By command of Gen. Ziethen we engaged the French; but it was nothing more than a feint; they retreated before us."

    Polish 7th Uhlans attacked by
Russian Kiev Dragoons in 1812 at Mir.
Picture by Ezhov, Russia. Disadvantages of lance:

  • - the preservation of good order was a must for the lancers. It was however difficult to keep order during charge, as abandoned equipment, trees and bushes, falling horses, stress and over-excitement could put the riding men into disorder. It was one of the reasons why not all cavalry were lancers, and not every uhlan charge was successful.
    The regulations for Saxon cavalry recommended an unusual attack against the lancers. It was called a la debandade and was executed in the widest intervals and only by the hussars (excellent horsemen and swordsmen) or cuirassiers (with body armor). The wide intervals allowed them to get behind the lancers. It was assumed that the effectiveness of the lance was reduced because the target was not concentrated and the lancer would have to constantly aim his lance at a moving target rather than just point it forward.
  • - in a melee where one has to parry blows from the left, right and rear and do it quickly the lance was too long and too heavy. In such situation many lancers discarded their weapons and fought with sabers. It happened in 1809 at Wagram where the Austrian uhlans threw away their lances after being attacked by Polish Guard lighthorsemen (not yet armed with lances).
    According to the Journal of Prussian 1st Leib Hussar Regiment: "When a lance-armed cavalry is charged home and when the melee begins, it is lost when opposed by any other cavalry armed with shorter arms. Proof for this is given by the attack of the regiment on the 2nd and 4th Polish Lancers at Dennewitz. Both regiments belonged to the cream of the French army. They were defeated easily, we took 10 officers and 120 others prisoner, the battlefield was covered with dead, and we had not a single serious casualty caused by lance stabs. The shorter cold steel arms are, the more secure and deadly. French cuirassier and dragoon swords are definitely too long, and maybe even our own sabres are."
    (There are several problems with this story. At Dennewitz was present only the 2nd Uhlan Regiment, the 4th Regiment was with Dabrowski's corps. The single unit (2nd Uhlans) faced not only the Prussian hussars but also infantry. George Nafziger wrote in his "Napoleon's Dresden Campaign" (p 260) "...the Polish cavalry operating with Bertrand's IV Corps threw itself through the skirmish line and attacked the formed infantry behind them. The Prussian 4th Reserve Infantry Regiment formed square, as did three battalions of 3rd East Prussian Landwehr Regiment. The Poles then passed on and were engaged by Tauentzien's cavalry... The 1st Leib Hussar Regiment also joined the attack. The Poles were crushed, losing 9 officers and 93 men..."
    Thus the casualties were inflicted not only by the hussars but also by 6 battalions of infatry and by Tauentzien's cavalry. Ney sent orders to the Westphalian Cavalry Brigade to support the Poles but the Westphalians refused. Furious Ney sent the colonel of the Westphalians to Napoleon after "ripping off his epaulettes."

    Lancers vs Cuirassiers.
    Lance's point couldn't penetrate the armor.
    Some of the Polish veterans however
    used lances as battering rams
    - striking at tops of opponents' helmets
    with force.

    French lancers captured 
Austrian cuirassiers.
Picture by Lalauze. When in 1809 Napoleon's horse carabiniers suffered heavy casualties from Austrian uhlans he gave them armor. Lance's point couldn't penetrate the armor.
    In 1812 at Shevardino, the lancers fought with cuirassiers. Thirion writes: "General Nansouty orders the Red Lancers of Hamburg to charge the Russian cavalry and throw it back. This regiment flew to the attack, delivered its charge and fell on the enemy with felled lances, aimed at the body. The Russian cavalry received the shock without budging, and in the same moment as the lance heads touched the enemy's chests the regiment about-faced and came back towards us as if in its turn had been charged. We, the [French] 2nd and 3rd Cuirassiers, thought this is a poor show, and moved briskly forward to support them and repulse the enemy cavalry." Britten-Austin add "... nothing can induce them [Hamburg lancers] to launch a second attack."

    In 1813 in the Battle of Leipzig the Austrian Sommariva Cuirassiers went into action against Berkheim's French lancers. The lancers broke and fled closely followed by the Austrians. A Saxon officer recalled the event as follow: "When we [Saxon cuirassiers] reached Berckheim, his men were mixed up with the enemy in individual squadrons, so that there were Austrian units to the north of the French lancers. We Saxons had only just come up wwhen Berckheim rallied his men to face the ever-increasing enemy pressure. But they could not stand even though Berckheim - bareheaded, as his hat had been knocked off - threw himself into the thick of the melee. He was also swept back in the flood of fugitives ... Despite this chaos, we stood fast and hacked away at the Austrians. Shortly before they charged us, the Austrians had shouted to us to come over to them; we ignored them. However, we were overpowered and broken. The chase now went on at speed, friend and foe all mixed up together, racing over the plain."
    Antoni Rozwadowski of Polish 8th Uhlans described fighting with Russian cavalry at Borodino: “On that day (Sep 5th) the 6th Uhlans formed the first line, and we the 8th were formed in echelon” when Russian dragoons attacked. According to Rozwadowski the soil was dry and a huge, thick cloud of dust made his 8th invisible to the enemy. The Russians continued their advance against the 6th before the 8th attacked the left flank of the dragoons. The enemy fled in disorder. After this action the 8th and 6th Uhlans moved to a new position behind a wood. The regiments were now formed in column, one after another and only the brigades stood in echelon. Soon the uhlans noticed Russian cavalry again charging against them. At a long distance the enemy looked similar to the dragoons just recently defeated and the Poles rushed forward certain of victory. When both sides were closer the uhlans realized that these “dragoons” were cuirassiers and the 6th fled toward the 8th. The 8th became disordered and both regiments fled and broke the Prussian hussars who stood in the rear. Only the next cavalry brigade who stood in echelon to the Poles counterattacked and threw the Russian cuirassiers back. (Rozwadowski Antoni - “Memoir” Biblioteka Zakladu Ossolinskich, rekopis 7994)

    Only few lancers were able to deal with armored cavalry. In 1813 at Leipzig, Polish 3rd, 6th and 8th Uhlan Regiment, mostly veterans, didn't shy away from the cuirassiers. Near Auenhain Sheep-farm the three regiments charged numerous times against six Austrian and two Russian cuirassier regiments. The Poles pointed their lances at cuirassiers' faces, necks and groins. (According to P. Haythornthwaite "lance can be aimed at a target with greater accuracy than a sword.") They also used lances as battering rams - striking at tops of opponents' helmets with force.

    Lancers vs Infantry.
    "a cavalry charge against infantry in square
    would be thrown back 99 times out of 100."
    - Mark Adkin

    Quatre Bras: the French lancers attacked
the 42nd Highlanders. Black Watch Museum, Dalhousie Castle in Perth. According to Mark Adkin "a cavalry charge against infantry in square would be thrown back 99 times out of 100." Simple mathematics was against the cavalry when they attacked a square. An average strength battalion with 600 men formed a square 3 ranks deep, this meant that on one side were some 150 soldiers, all of whom could fire and contributed bayonets to the hedge. They covered a frontage of about 25 m (50 men x 0.5 m). The most cavalrymen that the enemy could bring to face them were 50 in 2 ranks (25 men x 1 m). But only the men in first rank could attack at a time, some 6 muskets + bayonets confronted a single lance or saber.
    The man with saber could not strike the infantrymen behind the bayonets - he did not have the reach.
    A lancer had a better chance although he was still outnumbered by 6 to 1. Either the lancer or his horse was far more likely to be spiked than he was to inflict any damage at all."

    In 1812 at Borodino and in 1813 at Leipzig masses of lancers and uhlans were unable to break a single square. However, if the infantry was not in square formation the chances increased for the lancers. In 1811 at Albuera one regiment of Polish uhlans and one of French hussars, demolished the entire British brigade, captured several Colors, several cannons, and hundreds of prisoners. I know only few cases where the lancers broke infantry formed in square.

  • In 1813 at Dresden the Austrian square repulsed French cuirassiers but surrendered without a fight to lancers. Another square also repulsed cuirassiers but broke when 50 French lancers attacked them. The frustrated cuirassiers joined the lancers and together finished off the enemy.
  • In 1813 at Katzbach the lancers were called after the 23rd Chasseurs was repulsed. The lancers came and broke the square, inflicting heavy casualties on the Prussians.
  • In 1813 at Dennewitz one squadron of Polish 2nd Uhlan Regiment attacked Prussian battalion of 3rd Reserve Infantry Regiment. The infantry was formed in a column with skirmishers as its screen. The uhlans routed the skirmishers killing several and attacked the column. The Prussians were "savagely handled". The 2nd Uhlans also broke 2 other squadrons at Dennewitz.

  • ~

    Hussars' Glory.
    The Daredevils in Combat !

    Majority of the brute and intimidating frontal attacks were won by the heavy cavalry. Only in few cases the winner was light cavalry. Arguably the most shocking such case took place at Leipzig, Saxony.

    In 1813 in the Battle of Leipzig one regiment of Hungarian hussars advanced against a massive column of French heavy cavalry, all covered in armor and mounted on large horses. Rilliet of the French 1st Cuirassiers witnessed the encounter: "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 horse carabiniers.' But when the Hungarians were 100 paces away, the 1er Carabiniers turned about and fled leaving behind their brave general ! They hastily rode back on to the 2e Carabiniers and both regiments hooved away. It was such a disgrace that when after battle a group of carabiniers entered a farm seeking quarters, the cuirassiers from the 5e Regiment teased them: "If you want hospitality, try the Hungarian hussars !"

    7th Hussars in 1801-1803.
In 1806-7 part of 
Hellish Brigade.
Picture by Knotel.

  • At Villa Franca the Brunswick hussars routed French 13th Cuirassier Regiment (with no armor). According to one of our visitors - Rémi B. - in Suchet's memoirs is stated that the Brumswickers were driven back by 24th Dragoon Regiment. Other French sources, "Victoires et Conquètes, book 22, p 309, states that the Brunswickers were almost destroyed.)
  • In 1813 at Wartenmburg two brigades (12-15 squadrons) of French dragoons under Beaumont broke 10 paces in front of 6 squadrons of Prussian hussars and few guns. The dragoons were driven from the field.
  • On 14-15th September 1813 at Lipa (Lippa) the Austrian infantry began a gradual withdrawal to a second position. During the withdrawal, the Italian cavalry (French allies) took advantage of this situation and launched an attack. However, half squadron of the Austrian Radetzky Hussars (Hungarians) pushed through the intervals in the withdrawing Austrian infantry and drove back six squadrons of the Italian chasseurs-s-cheval under General Perreimond. (Nafziger and Gioannini - "The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy 1813-1814" pp 52 and 265)
  • In February 1807 at Burkersdorf in Eastern Prussia, the Russian Soumy Hussars and handful of Cossacks routed six (6) regiments of French dragoons under Milhaud (5e, 8e, 12e, 9e, 16e and 21e Dragons). Below are descriptions of this battle based on Russian, French and English sources. (According to French General Milhaud his dragoon division was harrassed by the Cossacks. The enemy moved through the woods and appeared on Milhaud's flank and rear. Milhaud's dragoons charged and pushed the Cossacks on the village of Burkersdorf. Fearing that a fresh force of Cossacks is in the village he ordered to halt the pursuit and disengage. The dragoons followed his order until 2 squadrons of Russian hussars and 200 Cossacks charged and pushed back Milhaud's entire right wing.
    Soumy Hussars. Milhaud was furious: "what will appear incredible and makes me indignant and afflicts me, is that a wretched charge of 200 cossacks and 2 squadrons of hussars, pushed back by my right ..." Milhaud with saber in hand, counterattacked with some success. But when 4 squadrons of hussars emerged from Burkersdorf the dragoons made half-turn and fled in disorder. Milhaud was unable to rally his dragoons until Uderwangen. Humiliated Milhaud added: "I would have liked to die in the fray."
    Russian General Yermolov wrote in his memoirs (p 87): "In early Fenruary, a detachment from the advance guard defeated an enemy detachment near Mansfeld and Bochersdorf. General Lambert distinguished himself with extraordinary good management in this action". And on the next page: "It had been noticed that French cavalry was in the most exhausted condition; so that when two of their squadrons were pursued on an iced lake all have fallen down and were taken prisoner."
    British historian Sir Charles Oman wrote in "Studies in the Napoleonic Wars" (published in USA in 1930) that six freshly remounted French dragoon regiments were routed at Bukersdorf in February 1807.
    Terry Senior writes: "He was present at Eylau then, on the 16 February 1807 Milhaud's command was surprised by a marauding, relatively small band of Cossacks who inflicted considerable damage and casualties, before being driven off. Milhaud was furious with his regiments' performance and complained to Murat that they had disgraced themselves and that he was ashamed to be associated with them. They subsequently went into winter quarters, during which time Milhaud had them drilled day and night."
    Russian General Bennigsen wrote that the Russian forces at Burkersdorf consisted of 8 squadrons of Soumy Hussar Regiment and 2 regiments of Cossacks. When Milhaud's dragoons appeared in the open field the Russians charged the head of the French column. The head of the column collapsed along with the remainder of the column. The Russians pursued the dragoons to the vicinity of Gross Lauth. There Milhaud's dragoons took cover behind the infantry. The dragoons suffered 400 killed and wounded and 177 captured. Russian losses were 5 killed and wounded.
    Sir Robert Thomas Wilson mentions the combat at Buckersdorff (Burkersdorf). According to Wilson the French lost 400 killed and 288 prisoners.
    Unfortunately Digby Smith's "The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book" don't mention this combat.

  • Sources and Links.

    Nafziger - "Imperial Bayonets"
    Nosworthy - "With Musket, Cannon and Sword"
    Rothenberg - "The Napoleonic Wars (History of Warfare)"
    Elting - "Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grand Armee"
    Muir - "Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon"
    Parquin - "Napoleon's Army, The military Memoirs of Charles Parquin"
    Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" (translated by Tim Simmons)
    Lord Moran - "The Anathomy of Courage"
    Arnold - "Napoleon Conquers Austria"
    de Rocca - "In the Peninsula with a French hussar"
    Photos of grand diorama of Leipzig. Courtesy of Udo Sixel, Germany.
    Pictures of Hussar of Death, and Saxon Garde du Corps - Steven Palatka

    Cavalry: Its History and Tactics.
    History of Cavalry.
    US Cavalry Association.
    Saber or sabre.
    Joachim Murat "The First Saber of Europe" - commander of Napoleon's cavalry
    Antoine-Charles-Louis de Lasalle - commander of "Brigade Infernale"
    Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz - one of the greatest cavalry generals
    Casimir Pulaski "Father of the American Cavalry"

    French cavalry ~ Polish cavalry ~ Russian cavalry ~ Prussian cavalry ~ Austrian cavalry

    Cavalry Tactics and Combat - Part 2
    Cavalry Combats at Austerlitz (1805), Alt-Eglofsheim (1809), Drouia (1812)
    and more

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    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies