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"Rare film of French Cuirassiers charging (made in 1896)" Topic

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4,295 hits since 17 Aug 2016
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Cuirassier17 Aug 2016 5:59 a.m. PST

Filmed by the Lumière brothers in 1896. Very, very interesting. Charge!

YouTube link

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP17 Aug 2016 6:02 a.m. PST

Great mustache on that man.

ThePeninsularWarin15mm17 Aug 2016 6:03 a.m. PST

A shame it is so short of a clip.

daler240D Supporting Member of TMP17 Aug 2016 6:05 a.m. PST

Must have been fascinating thing for people to watch in 1896!

boy wundyr x Inactive Member17 Aug 2016 6:38 a.m. PST

Cool find, thanks. And that is a great mustache!

FatherOfAllLogic17 Aug 2016 6:44 a.m. PST

So, did they go so slowly because that's the way it really was, or because they didn't want to overrun the camera guy?

Oh Bugger Inactive Member17 Aug 2016 6:52 a.m. PST

Grand to see, thank you.

Allen5717 Aug 2016 7:16 a.m. PST

I have read that cavalry charges generally started at a walk, increased to a trot (about the speed in the UTube clip) and only went to the gallop immediately before impacting their target.

My question is whether the skirmish line (??) preceding the main body was common. I cant see much purpose to it.

Ligniere Sponsoring Member of TMP Inactive Member17 Aug 2016 7:16 a.m. PST

Great find – thank you for sharing!

Martin Rapier17 Aug 2016 8:57 a.m. PST

Very impressive. They seem to be charging quite fast enough to me!

Who asked this joker17 Aug 2016 9:29 a.m. PST

Pretty freakin' awesome!

Ligniere Sponsoring Member of TMP Inactive Member17 Aug 2016 9:38 a.m. PST

My question is whether the skirmish line (??) preceding the main body was common.

Those could have been other regimental officers, that simply wanted in on the act. They had no place in the squadron formation, so simply took post ahead of the line.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP17 Aug 2016 9:44 a.m. PST

How ever did you find something this remarkable?

They would not have gone up the ridge at Mt St Jean at anything like that speed, nearly a century earlier

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP17 Aug 2016 9:59 a.m. PST

That would have made my hands a bit slippy on on me firelock, as they came on.


A gathered canter, I think we would call that.

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP17 Aug 2016 10:15 a.m. PST

" skirmish line" mightbbe terrain recon. They used to say it was lacking for ex. At Froeshwiller and the went bottled up by new wire fences they could not see from a distance.
Foss, holes. We did the same with tanks in rogh / woods. Chap on foot then.

Lonkka1Actual17 Aug 2016 12:12 p.m. PST


JARROVIAN Supporting Member of TMP17 Aug 2016 2:35 p.m. PST

Nice bit of footage

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member17 Aug 2016 4:04 p.m. PST

Interesting to compare the film in the OP with this (the aerial view from about 3:20 is worth watching for how quickly they become disordered once the charge is sounded):-

YouTube link

That would have made my hands a bit slippy on on me firelock, as they came on.

Me too! Worth bearing in mind that Lady Butler made the preliminary drawings for her famous painting of the RSG at Waterloo by getting her brother-in-law (then the CO of the regiment) to line the unit up and charge at her whilst she sat at her easel!

Found this on You Tube, as well:-

YouTube link

jeffreyw3 Inactive Member17 Aug 2016 4:07 p.m. PST

Great to watch--thanks for sharing!

Lascaris17 Aug 2016 9:24 p.m. PST

Super cool! As a huge 19th century fan I really enjoyed it. Thanks much.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Aug 2016 3:34 a.m. PST

Fascinating! I loved the way the main body pretty much maintained their formation and ranks the whole way. So unlike Hollywood where the cavalry becomes a mob the moment the charge is ordered.

Gazzola18 Aug 2016 4:25 a.m. PST

Supercilius Maximus

Great clips and you could see how hard it must have been to keep formation, even on what looked like flat ground. But to be honest the Scots greys looked like they were on a mass fox hunt. LOL

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member18 Aug 2016 10:24 a.m. PST

Yes, it didn't look much like a "charge" did it?

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2016 11:31 a.m. PST

Parades in that time were like that in line at the trot. Methink these were training for it.

tshryock Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Aug 2016 11:53 a.m. PST

I dropped my musket and ran away at the first sign of the charge toward me. What happened at the end?

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2016 12:29 p.m. PST

This charge seems really slow. Kind of disappointing.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2016 12:41 p.m. PST

Disappointing like in the movie "Gods and Generals" when Jackson's Corps charged at Chancellorsville. I always pictured charges as flat out running.

I picture them more like the Scots Greys at Waterloo.

YouTube link

Personal logo chicklewis Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2016 1:02 p.m. PST

Charge speed seemed right to me, much faster than a horse police charge I witnessed years ago. I ran.

Those swords are REALLY LONG !

14Bore18 Aug 2016 1:36 p.m. PST

Considering they are real troopers that might be the finest charge filmed. Hollywood and the like always have charges look like the men are riding wild sheep.

John Miller Inactive Member18 Aug 2016 4:50 p.m. PST

Cuirassier: Wonderful! Thanks for posting this. John Miller

Sparta19 Aug 2016 1:40 a.m. PST

I agree with 14Bore – best charge filmed. I think it is much faster than most actual charges. The comment about them not going fast enough makes me realize how strange a perception of warfare many gamers have – which could explain the popularity of some rulesets :-)

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2016 2:00 a.m. PST

Horse police charge is rarely uphill, not against squares and worst they face is sticks and stones. Highly effective though, stirrup to stirrup and deliberately slow to maintain formation and (though I did not think so at the time) they are most of them actually trying to not seriously injure anyone, but control a riot.

A wild charge, as per Hollywood, achieves nothing and., ona battlefield is rarely possible anyway. Up against a horsed unit maintaining its formation, the horses have more sense than the riders. They will not press it home.

One side always breaks or shies away when cavalry to cavalry. You do not want to be stationary but equally you do not want to be scattered.

This film is impressive (very actually)but is not what you would have seen through the smoke on that ridge top in 1815…….

Grognard1789 Inactive Member19 Aug 2016 6:17 a.m. PST

If you really want to see period cuirassier's look here;


Ligniere Sponsoring Member of TMP Inactive Member19 Aug 2016 6:38 a.m. PST

A quick count of the cuirassiers in shot is approximately sixty, which would represent about a company, or half squadron.
That puts it more into perspective when considering the cavalry charges at both Eylau and Waterloo.

Cuirassier19 Aug 2016 8:07 a.m. PST

Glad you guys liked the film.

I would bet that officer, the one with the impressive moustache, took part in some cavalry charges during the Franco-Prussian War.

How about some photos of the French 13th Regiment of Cuirassiers in 1895?


You can download these and other images with better resolution (and larger) here: link














Enjoy. ;-)

Scharnachthal Inactive Member19 Aug 2016 8:58 a.m. PST


Thank you very much for this gem.

Of course, the Lumières would not have shot this scene with regard to contemplators living a 120 years later. Probably, they just tested what could be done with the new art they practised (cinematics). For us, the most important thing to remember is that at the time the movie was shot, cavalry regiments actually existed as such and were trained for battle manoeuvres. So, this movie, despite of any "deficiencies" from our viewpoint, is a very accurate and precious document, indeed.

Marc at work19 Aug 2016 9:08 a.m. PST

Grognard – like that clip – how many cavalry were involved there do you reckon?

But they did look silly in ties – no wonder cuirasses look cool – they are obviously worn to hide the ties… grin

vtsaogames Inactive Member19 Aug 2016 9:54 a.m. PST

Hollywood cavalry charges are always at a flat-out gallop, with lines dissolving from the start. Many charges of French Napoleonic cavalry were made at the trot, to keep the troopers in hand. Some speculate that the reason many British cavalry charges went out of control is because they were made at the gallop, with both troopers and horses losing their cool.

Cuirassier19 Aug 2016 10:00 a.m. PST

About my last post… I forgot to say… Click on the images to enlarge them!

Cuirassier19 Aug 2016 10:30 a.m. PST

Excellent observation, Scharnachthal.

"For us, the most important thing to remember is that at the time the movie was shot, cavalry regiments actually existed as such and were trained for battle manoeuvres. So, this movie, despite of any "deficiencies" from our viewpoint, is a very accurate and precious document, indeed."

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2016 2:32 p.m. PST

I was under the impression the speed of advance might be valuable in terms of reducing the amount time that a cavalry force (a large target) was exposed to defensive fire before reaching its objective, but it would have an inverse effect in relation to its effectiveness when it hit home.

Isn't that why, ideally, cavalry should only gallop over the last thirty yards or so of a 'charge'?

The Charge of the Light Brigade began at a walk-march. The advance sped up and began to lose cohesion when the men realised that the sooner they got to the end of the valley the more of them would survive and take the Cossack guns. Mind you, they still took the guns. "Contrary to the accepted rules of warfare."

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2016 5:54 p.m. PST

The SOP for French heavy cavalry was to 'charge' at the trot just as they do in the movie. For the heavy cavalry, order was more important than speed. Here is a light cavalry charge: the French Republican Guard cavalry [two troops/squadron strength] charge at a full gallop.The cavalry does go through the walk-trot-cantor-gallop and then full gallop process that was used by light cavalry during the 19th Century.

YouTube link

Go to the end to get an aerial view of the charge when they go from a cantor to a full gallop and how fast the formation falls apart.

Lambert Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2016 2:09 a.m. PST

Captain Mercer's eyewitness account of the cuirassiers' charges at Waterloo says "Their pace was a slow but steady trot. None of your furious galloping charges was this, but a deliberate advance, at a deliberate pace, as of men resolved to carry their point".
A fascinating bit of film, maybe that is exactly what the charges at Waterloo were like.

Gazzola20 Aug 2016 4:34 a.m. PST


Do pay attention that boy! Supercilious Maximus had already posted that link on the 17th. Great clip though.

Noll C Inactive Member20 Aug 2016 1:58 p.m. PST

By late C19th cavalry would be well aware of power of modern rifles etc, so I suspect this is a lot 'quicker' than their predecessors of horse & musket era. Also on arrival they would face a much more dispersed enemy than the solid bodies likely to be awaiting them in Boney's days, so solid order mattered less. Even so a great reminder of how hard cavalry were to manage!

Tom Scott Inactive Member20 Aug 2016 2:36 p.m. PST

Thanks for putting this up. Fantastic.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP21 Aug 2016 1:50 p.m. PST

It is a brilliant find no doubt. It shows what could have been done by a highly disciplined unit, in the century before the Breach loading rifle, let alone the Maxim gun or Gatling.

The Republican Guard spin-off is the same. Great evidence that proper formation is just impossible at any increased speed. Without a coherent attack, cavalry are not so effective in our era.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP21 Aug 2016 11:56 p.m. PST

Despite the demonstrations of modern firepower in the Franco-Prussian war, in South Africa, and elsewhere, at the turn of the century, cavalry of the Great Powers were expanding use of the lance, the French had serious discussions about the spirit of the offensive and l'arme blanche and a hundred years after 1796 the British were still looking for the perfect cavalry sword.

It's a fair point to ask what targets a formation of cavalry would expect to charge circa 1900. Infantry advancing across open country in the old style would have been vulnerable- but then so would cavalry! There were, though, plenty of examples of massed infantry advancing in 1914 but cavalry divisions were not launched at them because rifle, machine guns and field artilley could do the job more efficiently.

basileus66 Inactive Member22 Aug 2016 3:00 a.m. PST

I don't know if you have noticed but the shot only last 43 seconds, with just 21 seconds of actual "charge". What could be the distance from the start of the charge until the cuirassiers stop? May be 150 meters? 200? That would be about 20-25 km/h for the actual velocity of the charge. Don't know you, but it doesn't look specially slow to me. And mind that it is possible, even probable, that the charge would have been launched at a slightly slower pace than in reality, in order to gave more shooting time to the filmmakers.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP22 Aug 2016 4:58 a.m. PST

Assuming French cavalry followed the same basic principleas the British, the footage might be seen as showing the third portion of a charge which preceded from walk, to trot to canter, with the full gallop representing only a short phase at the end- too fast and perhaps too messy to film.

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