August 07, 2016

Field Guide to Napoleonic Cavalry

This book of Brigadier Gerard stories by Conan Doyle is awesome, but has forced me to review my cavalry subtypes, as it has been some years since my last Napoleonic wargaming:

Gerard is a Hussar - light cavalry on fast horses meant for scouting and
skirmishing.

Also used in actual battles

Then you have your cuirassiers - these guys wore an armored breastplate (the 'cuirasse'), so were meant for heavier fighting.  Must have had heavier horses, too, to carry the extra weight.



And your Lancers - Great for charging, but not great for fighting other cavalry, because swords work better than lances at close quarters:

Polish lancer vs. Austrian cuirassier

Also Chasseurs (Chasseurs à cheval, or hunters on horses) - these were light cavalry, but could dismount and fight if need be, or could be paired with light foot soldiers...mainly employed in combating irregular forces, at least originally, and the envy of every battlefield on account of their great hats:

"These outfits will terrify the Cossacks."

Carabiniers - mounted...originally armed with firearms, but Napoleon changed this and gave them back their swords, put them in heavy breastplates, and gave them the best helmets ever:

Not optimal for winter use, however

Dragoons - the middleweight cavalry between the heavy cuirassiers and lighter hussars and chasseurs, they could also dismount and fight if need be.  Napoleon supposedly liked to use the dragoons as his main striking force, to break the enemy line at the right moment.  The one on the right is sapper (chosen for size and strength), who had a special ax and would break in doors, gates, really anything that needed breaking at that particular moment.

Given their short life expectancy, Napoleon let them wear beards

These were the mobile elements of the feared Grande Armée - the shock troops - and all types were present at Waterloo for the final act, a 5,000-strong charge on the British center with Marshall Ney at their head, a desperate bid to break them before Blücher arrived...



...and when he did, the jig was up.

The Execution of Marshall Ney
Jean-Léon Gérome (1824–1904)