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"French Lancers, Heavy or Light?" Topic

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repaint10 Mar 2017 3:43 a.m. PST

Are French Lancers considered heavy or light?

I am playing DBN (among other things) and was wondering about the category French Lancers would fall into?

Any thoughts?

thank you

mysteron Supporting Member of TMP10 Mar 2017 4:02 a.m. PST

Coincidently I have just been reading up on these, well the line versions anyway . My book classifies them as light . They were converted from some Dragoon regiments .

I dare say some of the other guys will be able to add more meat to the bone and provide you with more details as I am new to this period and don't currently have the knowledge

Eumelus Inactive Member10 Mar 2017 4:03 a.m. PST

Light cavalry, for certain. They were designated chevaulegers-lanciers; they were brigaded with chasseurs and hussars and assigned to infantry corps; and (especially by 1813) would have received smaller remounts than cuirassiers.

Brechtel19810 Mar 2017 4:48 a.m. PST

The lancers were light cavalry-employed and equipped as such.

In 1812 lancers were assigned to heavy cavalry divisions to give them light cavalry against Cossacks if necessary.

Sharpe5210 Mar 2017 5:00 a.m. PST

In my opinion they should be classified as light unless they are used for charges when the lance gave them a heavy cavalry strenght in first round of melee.

wrgmr110 Mar 2017 9:10 a.m. PST

Agree with above, light cavalry with a +1 on the first round of melee.

Marcel180910 Mar 2017 9:21 a.m. PST

Light cavalry, but with an extra bonus when charging against infantry.

RobSmith10 Mar 2017 9:35 a.m. PST

Hmm. I would be more likely to offer the lance bonus versus cavalry. Since infantry defense against cavalry is based largely on fire discipline, the lance does not really affect that. There are only a few (like 3) instances of lancers defeating infantry squares. Hardly enough for a bonus.

Even versus cavalry, there was a lively debate at the time and in the years following the Napoleonic Wars regarding lance versus saber. The opinion tilted toward lances for a while, but while the additional training to use the lance effectively might make it superior in at the beginning of a war, replacing the lancers is more difficult as things progress.

I think it was universally agreed that lancers excelled at pursuit after the combat.

Brechtel19810 Mar 2017 11:10 a.m. PST

After the Scots Greys were mousetrapped at Waterloo between Jacquinot's lancers and Farine's cuirassiers they might have expressed a different viewpoint-at least the survivors would have.

The British infantry overrun and virtually destroyed by lancers and hussars at Albuera might have expressed a different opinion also.

And it should be noted that the British Army converted four light cavalry regiments to lancers in 1816…I wonder why they did that?

steamingdave4710 Mar 2017 12:19 p.m. PST

I see them as light cavalry, not averse to giving them a first round bonus, even against infantry- having a 12 foot sharp stick means it's a bit easier to hit an infantryman than if you just have a 30 inch sword. Should definitely have a bonus if pursuing enemy.

von Winterfeldt10 Mar 2017 12:52 p.m. PST

The French lance was certainly shorter that 12 feet, the lancer regiments 1 – 6 were converted from dragoons, not in the same quality like regiments 7 – 8 of Polish stock.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP10 Mar 2017 1:12 p.m. PST

Lethal against a broken or unformed unit. Such as blown-horsed cavalry or infantry not in appropriate formation. Long reach, (for front rank only, remember), with well trained users, made lances nasty things to face (or flee).

The old argument of course, open field, without buildings to guard the flanks, as at Genappe, easily slaughtered by heavier cavalry, as at Genappe, five minutes later, facing Guards cavalry.

Must be difficult for dice throwers, as their value differed so much with circumstances. Horses/classification says light cavalry. If I was broken infantry trying to flee I would rather face (flee from) cuirassiers any day……..

Subsequent history was 100% military fashion. No such thing? So why so may units with a daft Dolman and Pelisse for the next 100 years?

Brechtel19810 Mar 2017 1:19 p.m. PST

When Napoleon ordered the French line lancers formed in 1811 from the 1sr, 3d, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 29th, five of the six regiments were in Spain. The regiments were not recalled, but what went north to form and organize the new regiments were the regimental headquarters and the cadres of two squadrons per regiment. The remaining troopers and horses were divided up among the other dragoon regiments in Spain.

The cadres consisted of the officers, NCOs, trumpeters and ten picked men per regiment. The new regiments were then filled out with new officers and recruits.

Art10 Mar 2017 1:20 p.m. PST

G'Day Liam,

"The old argument of course, open field, without buildings to guard the flanks, as at Genappe, easily slaughtered by heavier cavalry, as at Genappe, five minutes later, facing Guards cavalry."

But that is not what British observers stated…for in their opinion they wondered if the Guard would have gone as well, if they had not of been chagrining down a slope into the lancers…secondly…they also wondered if the guard would have fared any better in the same situation as their lighter brethren…

Best Regards

Brechtel19810 Mar 2017 1:31 p.m. PST

There were two French lancer regiments engaged at Genappe on 17 June 1815. One was engaged with a British hussar regiment and the 1st Life Guards. They defeated the hussars and then were roughly handled by the Life Guards.

They in turn were driven back by the second French lancer regiment that was engaged. One of the French regimental commanders, Col Sourd was badly wounded and had his arm amputated then and there on the side of a road by Baron Larrey. Reportedly, he refused a promotion to general of brigade and rejoined his regiment in the field.

It should also be noted that British artillery Captain Mercer termed the French pursuit from Quatre Bras to Mont St Jean as a 'fox hunt' as there was considerable disorder on the British side during the pursuit.

As Andrew Field in his excellent volume of Waterloo remarks on the fighting at Genappe, 'the honors were even.'

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP10 Mar 2017 1:46 p.m. PST

I always considered them as light. But TDFG rules classifies them as heavy. I was told they were for their use as "shock" cavalry. Granted that is 1870 but they are pretty much the same French Lancers as was used in 1815.

dibble10 Mar 2017 2:26 p.m. PST

Same old Brechtel spouting from the same old out of date books:

About Genappe.

Lieutenant Standish O'Grady, was present with a squadron of 7th Hussars, commanded by Major Edward Hodge.

Cavalry action at Genappe:

"In this state of affairs Lord Anglesey (Uxbridge) gave us orders to charge them, which we immediately did. Of course, our charge could make no impression, but we continued cutting at them, and we did not give ground, nor did they move. Their commanding officer was cut down, and so was ours (Major Hodge), and this state of things lasted some minutes, when they brought down some light Artillery, which struck the rear of the right (the charging) squadron and knocked over some men and horses, impeding the road in our rear. We then received orders from Lord Anglesey, who was up with us, but not on the road during this time. The Lancers then advanced upon us, and in the melee which ensued they lost quite as many as we did, and when at last we were able to disengage ourselves they did not attempt to pursue us."

With the 7th Hussars forced back, Lord Uxbridge rode to the 23rd Light Dragoons and ordered them to prepare to charge. He recalled:

"My address to these Light dragoons not having been received with all the enthusiasm that I expected, I ordered them to clear the chaussee, and said, ‘The Life Guards shall have this honour,' and instantly sending for them, two squadrons of the 1st Regiment, gallantly led by Major Kelly, came on with right good will, and I sent them in to finish the lancers. They at once overthrew them, and pursued them into the town, where they punished them severely."

The charge had the desired effect of checking the French pursuit and from here on the retreat along the main Brussels road continued at a slow unhurried pace. The French had been given a bloody nose, and in the appalling weather conditions evidently showed a marked lack of enthusiasm for the pursuit. They continued to follow, and even skirmished, but nothing serious happened on the main Brussels road between Genappe and Waterloo.

As Lord Uxbridge later wrote:

"Having thus checked the ardour of the enemy's advance guard, the retreat continued at a slow pace, and with the most perfect regularity. Assuredly this coupe de collier had the very best effect, for although there was much cannonading, and a constant appearance and constant disposition to charge, they continued to keep at a respectful distance."

The French pursuit was not totally thwarted, however. Indeed, for the next few miles the British heavy cavalry demonstrated that the art of skirmishing was not the exclusive domain of Light Cavalry. The British cavalry frequently draw criticism for their wild behaviour and for their inexperience, particularly the Scots Greys and Inniskillings, but here, above the muddy slopes of Genappe, and indeed, for the next few miles or so, they skirmished in the finest style, frustrating all attempts for the French to pass round their flanks and cut them off. 'The Royals, Inniskillings and Greys,' wrote Uxbridge:

"Manoeuvred beautifully, retiring by alternate squadrons and skirmished in the very best style; but finding all the efforts of the enemy to get upon their right flank were vain , and that by manoeuvring upon the plain, which was deep and heavy from the violent storm of rain, it only uselessly exhausted the horses. I drew these regiments in on the chaussee in one column the guns falling back from position to position, and from these Batteries, checking the advance of the enemy.
We were received by the Duke of Wellington upon entering the position of Waterloo, having effected the retreat with very trifling loss.
Thus ended the prettiest field day of cavalry and Horse Artillery that I ever witnessed."

Colonel Sir John Elley, Royal Horse Guards, Deputy Adjutant General

Written by Lt Col Stovin Adjutant General, ADD MS 34706, FO 413

"I have had a long interview with Sir J. Elley-he is getting very prosey and much of self. At the period of the battle which you will show-he was wounded in 4 places and very exhausted from loss of blood-but he will look over the plan and questions and let me have both such observations that he finds competent to make. I wish you could see him and hear him for though prolix-[he] is always clear.
Of the Quatre Bras affair he gave me a clear history. He was desired by Lord Anglesey to take the Houshold brigade of heavies to the rear and take up position to cover the retirement of the Light cavalry-he first moved them in line on each side of the road-but from observation, finding that the Light cavalry would soon be pushed up the road, he moved the household brigade into column of 1/2 squadrons a cheval and the Heavy brigade into column on the left of the road.
The enemy pushed the Light cavalry back as had been foreseen and they passed to the left of the Household brigade who then formed squadrons and filled the road and drove back the French through Genappe. The guns behind the Household opened on the enemy as soon as the Light cavalry had got clear. After clearing them over the bridge the Household brigade retired slowly under cover of skirmishers on either side of the road (Furnished from the Heavy brigade) who had been in reserve and thus the whole got to Waterloo.

Private Thomas Playford, 2nd Life Guards: From his memoirs

"….This day's work was more noise and sham than otherwise; each brigade retired in succession and the front had always a formidable appearance. For on one occasion I watched the mounted skirmishers of the French and English armies, firing at each other for more than twenty minutes, and not one man or horse fell on either side. The French artillery occasionally hurried forward and fired a few cannon balls at us; I saw the flash and the smoke, and heard the sound, but no harm was done; the gunners must therefore have been bad marksmen. Our guns opened a heavy fire in return; and now and then a Congreve rocket went hissing through the air; but I suppose little damage was done. And a heavy fall of rain cooled human ardour on both sides.

Some fighting took place in the village of Genappe and the Seventh Hussars were at one time in some danger, but a very gallant charge of the First Life Guards turned the tide of affairs, and the rear guard quitted the village without much loss.

************************************************** ****

Assistant Surgeon John Haddy James, 1st Life Guards: Rouilly, 8 miles from Paris, 9th July 1815

"….We had retired through & just the other side of Genappe, forming the rear of the brigade when we were ordered to halt & in about two minutes up came a part of the 7th & 23rd full pelt covered with mud & at their heels a body of cuirassiers & lancers of the Guard. It was fortunate for the army that our regiment did not follow their example. They immediately charged them and filled the streets of Genappe with killed and wounded. Lord Uxbridge was with the regiment & said that he had been deserted by his own (the 7th ) but the Guards had restored the honour of the British cavalry."

************************************************** ***

Private Joseph Lord, 2nd Life Guards: Brussels, 3 July 1815

"….This took us two hours or better and during this time such a storm as I never saw in all my life of lightning, thunder and rain, the water came in such quantities that merely to say it rained would be far short of expressing it, for we had nothing dry about us in 15 minutes. We never offered to cloak as it would have been to no purpose. After we had been retreating an hour and a half they came so fast upon us that we were called upon to arrest their progress as the light dragoons were very near and severely cut off and not able to stand their force. Our brigade formed & the 1st Regiment of Life Guards being the nearest, they were to charge them, which they did with great advantage, as they little imagined that we had such strong men and horses in our army. The 1st Life Guards had some men wounded, some took prisoners and some horses killed and wounded, but we got all the prisoners back, again the Blues were next, but the enemy in mean time had got some cannon to bare on us by which the Blues had 3 men killed and some horses, and some men and horses wounded, but they coming in such numbers that it was not judgement to charge. Accordingly we took up position about a mile or two to the rear and here they did not dare to engage us as Wellington had the remainder of his troops ready here. It still rained but in a more regular manner and continued so to do all night and all the army formed in line of battle, some of them to the knees in mud and water, nor had we a morsel of bread or meat nor anything for our horses. Here we stopped all night not able to lie down as we should have been smothered in mud and water…."

************************************************** ****

Captain Charles Edward Radclyffe, 1st Royal Dragoons: Brussels, 7th July 1815

"….Early in the afternoon, the cavalry also commenced their retreat, followed by the enemy. It appeared to me Lord U[xbridge] wished to bring on and the enemy to avoid a cavalry fight. However that may be, the movements on both were beautifully performed, though every now and then obscured by the heaviest storms of hail and rain I ever witnessed. Just on this side [of] Genappe, if it was the Lieutenant General's wish to have a fight, he was indulged, the 7th H[ussars] made an unfortunate attack on a corps of lancers; the 1st Life Guards retrieved and avenged them. I was at the time detached to cover with skirmishers, the front of our brigade and only saw the Life lGuards charge something. The following is the account given me of the affair by Captain Kelly of the 1st Life Guards who distinguished himself on the occasion. The Household brigade left in front, supported the rearguard on the great chaussee (the rest of the cavalry retiring in lines of columns on both flanks as the ground [allowed?]. On quitting Genappe a body of of lancers debouched from the town & Lord Uxbridge ordered the 7th H[ussars] to charge them; it was unsuccessful, the rest retired in some disorder. The commanding officer and some few others penetrated, were taken & killed the rest retired in some disorder. The rear of the 1st Life Guards were fronted in support, but on the enemy pursuing, they also went about by order. Lord Uxbridge called out to them ‘would they also dessert [sic] him'. He had previously rallied the 7th, but they would not stand or face the pursuing lancers, when Kelly, who did not belong to the rear squadron of the Life Guards brought them round & charged with half a squadron & fortunately broke, pursued & killed many of them. He retired when he found himself under fire of their supports.
They rallied & again charged them with equal success. On retiring Lord U[xbridge] thanked the Life Guards & called Kelly, shook him by the hand & said he had witnessed his exploits, he would not sleep before the commander in chief should be informed on his gallantry &c…."

************************************************** *

And seeing that Thomas Morris is wheeled out to 'prove' that a British square was broken, by 'Nappyists'; I give you this:

"….In Genappe was a portion of the enemy's cuirassiers, whom the 7th Hussars had bravely, but vainly' endeavoured to check, when the Earl of Uxbridge brought up the household heavy horse and drove the enemy back. I was an unwilling spectator to this scene, and too near them to be pleasant, but I was compelled to stop to remove some gravel which had got into my boots…."

************************************************** ****


I asked you before, so please post what Mercer had said of the whole retreat

"I have reread my old 1927 copy of Mercers Journal of the Waterloo campaign and I cannot see where you are coming from? so please point me to the page, chapter and sub heading."

All other accounts by others agree with those above. Show me any allied account that differs.

And just to state. Before Genappe, the allied rearguard was pushed hard. At Genappe, it all changed. The bottle-neck the weather and the French getting a bloody nose there, did not pursue so closely thereafter. When Mercer reached Mont St. Jean, he was surprised that after they got into position, an allied cannonade opened up behind them. The allied Army were already in place.

And I haven't posted Kelly's letters of 3rd May-25th June 1815 accounts yet! They can be found in volume VI of Gareth Glover's Waterloo Archive.

But I suppose that all those accounts above are lies because they are from British witnesses.

Paul :)

janner10 Mar 2017 2:51 p.m. PST

As indicated, half the new lancer regiments were former dragoons, ie medium horse, and they seemingly took their mounts with them. However, lancers had yet to be run as heavy horse at this point.

As an aside, I'm not sure why dolmans and pelisses have been described as 'daft' when both are perfectly practical pieces of kit, in my experience. The lance, however, is somewhat awkward for scouting and skirmishing, which is bread and butter work for light horse.

Same old Brechtel spouting from the same old out of date books:

I think that Brech's quote from Andy Field about honours being even shows that he is open to persuasion by thorough and even handed research.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP10 Mar 2017 3:01 p.m. PST

Not sure I have ever read so many accounts of the Genappe cavalry confrontation. This was the subject of a heated debate here before I recall, but, unless thumbing through my library turns up something unexpected, most of this is new to me.

I had the impression 7th tried to attack lancers face on down a narrow street. Not a good idea. 23rd were not at all impressed. Life Guards waited until they were out of the village and up a slope. Charge! Downhill, fresh horses, heavier horses, able to outflank and turn them… the rest is "history". I had not heard that a second regt of lancers then returned the compliment and defeated the Life Guards however.

Like many of the "sideshows" fascinating. What about Mercer's tale of the lane and turning the gun carriage around, while Uxbridge jumps a hedge and abandons them? Does that ring true to you????????

Brechtel19810 Mar 2017 3:27 p.m. PST

There was no 'medium horse' in the French army. There was light cavalry and heavy cavalry. As a point of fact, I have seen in French sources that even dragoons were classed as 'light horse.' I wouldn't put them in that class, but as heavy cavalry as they were equipped that way.

Interestingly, when the Grenadiers a Cheval were first formed, the troops picked came from the dragoons.

janner10 Mar 2017 3:45 p.m. PST

Horse purchase records suggest otherwise, Brech, as does the employment of dragoons. Whether they used the term or not, in my opinion, in practice French dragoons were mounted and employed as medium horse.

On the Grenadiers de Cheval, were they not drawn from dragoon elite companies, i.e larger fellows?

forwardmarchstudios10 Mar 2017 3:47 p.m. PST

Move light, fight heavy :)

seneffe10 Mar 2017 3:53 p.m. PST

Definitely light cavalry- although perfectly capable of performing a very effective role on the battlefield in the right circumstances. The 'conversion' of these regiments from Dragoons to Lancers is a misleading term.

As indicated above, only the officers, some NCOs, specialists (farriers, saddlers etc) and a few enlisted men stayed with the regiment after 'conversion'. Almost all of the enlisted men and ALL of the original troop horses were transferred to other Dragoon Regts still serving. They were basically completely new Regts by the time they took the field.

The horses issued to the new Lancer Regts were small- on average smaller than those assigned to Hussar and Chasseur Regts.

Brechtel19810 Mar 2017 4:04 p.m. PST

I would like to see a reference to French dragoons as 'medium cavalry' where none existed.

Opinion is fine, but I do believe that the term 'medium cavalry' is more a wargamer's term and not a historical one. The same applies to the use of 'converged' when applied to what is a provisional unit.

It is worth noting that in Murat's great cavalry charge at Eylau in February 1807, there were three dragoon divisions in the charge and only one of cuirassiers.

The Grenadiers a Cheval were formed before the the dragoons and light cavalry regiments were given elite companies by Napoleon. That happened during the Consulate period after the 1800 campaign. The Grenadiers a Cheval were formed before that and served in northern Italy with the Army of the Reserve.

And it should be noted that the dragoons in Spain were the de facto heavy cavalry of the French armies, with the exception of Suchet's as he had the 13th Cuirassier Regiment.

JMcCarroll Inactive Member10 Mar 2017 4:54 p.m. PST

Why not make the guard lancers heavy and the line light?

Brechtel19810 Mar 2017 8:07 p.m. PST

Why would the Guard lancer regiments be considered heavy cavalry?

dibble10 Mar 2017 9:55 p.m. PST

I had not heard that a second regt of lancers then returned the compliment and defeated the Life Guards however.

The French lancers beat the 7th Hussars Genappe, not the Houshold cavalry who had a casualty list approximating to the digits of ones hands, and even some of those due to cannon shot.

As clearly stated above, the second attack by the lancers was also defeated. the Life Guards lost two or three men (Kelly) and the Horse Guards lost a few to artillery. They retired in good order and were not pressed outside of Genappe and not much from thence to Mont St. Jean…Why was that?

but they would not stand or face the pursuing lancers, when Kelly, who did not belong to the rear squadron of the Life Guards brought them round & charged with half a squadron & fortunately broke, pursued & killed many of them. He retired when he found himself under fire of their supports.
They rallied & again charged them with equal success. On retiring Lord U[xbridge] thanked the Life Guards & called Kelly, shook him by the hand & said he had witnessed his exploits, he would not sleep before the commander in chief should be informed on his gallantry &c…."

Because a French officer loses an arm but refuses to leave his regiment, does not prove success. And if the attacking French Lancers were so victorious, how come they didn't cause many casualties amongst the Heavies? And why didn't they attack the withdrawing Household cavalry who withdrew in good order?

Lancers should be seen as light Cavalry.

At Albuera, any French cavalry regiments would have caused the same damage that was made by the Lancers. The British were taken at a perilous disadvantage and unable to fire their muskets due to the rain.

Yes, the Lancer is a good tactical pursuing arm that ‘on occasion, put other light cavalry at a disadvantage and one that could also be devastating against an enemy who is broken or unformed as was to their advantage at Albuera and Waterloo, which was seen and taken on-board by the British by converting some of the light Cavalry regiments. But lets not forget that post-Waterloo the British army went semi-Frenchified with military fashion. The Heavy Cavalry readopted the Cuirass and the Light Dragoons (1812) adopted a uniform very similar to the French Chasseurs A Cheval. The Infantry adopted French style headdress in the form of the bell-topped shako and the full, tall bearskin.

It was only a few decades later that the heavy brigade of about 300 smashed a 2-3,000 mixed force of Lancers and Hussars at Balaclava.

Links to discussions some years ago about Genappe on another site here:



here is a nice account of the Genappe action.

PDF link

Paul :)

janner10 Mar 2017 11:17 p.m. PST

I would like to see a reference to French dragoons as 'medium cavalry' where none existed.

For historians and wargamer alike, whether the French used the term or not is, I suggest, less relevant than how they were mounted and employed in practice. The Iberian example you present being a fine example.

It's clear to me that De Brack didn't consider dragoons to be light cavalry as he does not include them alongside light horse units (he does include lancers though). However, neither were dragoons employed as heavy horse when better options, such as cuirassiers, were available nor were they routinely brigaded with heavy horse regiments.

I'm not sure when it first emerges as a term understood by professional cavalrymen, but Lt Jonathan Boniface covers types of cavalry in 'The Cavalry Horse and his Pack' (1903). Indeed, he classifies professional US cavalry of the 19th Century as medium.

von Winterfeldt11 Mar 2017 2:19 a.m. PST

French Dragoons – in my view – heavy cavalry, they were armed like heavy cavalry, were also used in cavalry corps like heavy cavalry.
They were in my view – the best cavalry in France, very versatile – flexible, could take on any role, a force d'elite.

French lancers – armed like light cavalry plus lance, added in 1812 to cuirassier division to act as "light" cavalry, so providing out posts, scouting etc.
Combat value – of regiments 1 – 6, very dubious – not as good as lancers from Polish stock.

janner11 Mar 2017 3:10 a.m. PST

The world would be a boring place if we always agreed grin

von Winterfeldt11 Mar 2017 4:04 a.m. PST

Reading about Prussian Dragoons in 1806 – despite their identical armament, only two regiments were classed as heavy cavalry, the rest as light !!

The destinction was the horses – horse height and race.

4th Cuirassier11 Mar 2017 7:15 a.m. PST

What I find interesting is that the British converted light cavalry to lancers whereas the French converted heavy. Well, dragoons, who weren't the heaviest for heavy but certainly weren't light.

Now to me that suggests that lancers were thought less effective than heavy and more effective than light, depending on the mission obviously.

Brechtel19811 Mar 2017 7:15 a.m. PST

[The French dragoons] were in my view – the best cavalry in France, very versatile – flexible, could take on any role, a force d'elite.

In Spain, eventually, and in 1814 in France that would be a correct assessment. But in 1805 and probably in 1806 that is not accurate. The dragoons had many teething problems, though their finest hour in 1805-1807 was at Eylau.

Napoleon sent most of the regiments of dragoons, all but six, into Spain to gain experience and enhance their combat worthiness.

Brechtel19811 Mar 2017 7:17 a.m. PST

French lancers – Combat value – of regiments 1 – 6, very dubious

The Scots Greys, those that survived Waterloo, might express a very different opinion.

4th Cuirassier11 Mar 2017 9:05 a.m. PST

It is also worth recalling that the Brunswick cavalry at Waterloo was one uhlan squadron, plus hussar squadrons. That is a constructive uhlan regiment given that the front row only had lances. So putting the uhlan squadron up front makes a light regiment into an uhlan regiment. But does not make it heavy.

One wonders if the lance bonus, if any, should be allowed once per game. What impression did lancers make in their second and third charges of the day?

I make Bruce Quarrie right: heavy cavalry in a charge, light otherwise.

The Scots Greys were a well set up but green formation who would have been taken apart by Prussian Landwehr cavalry in the situation in which they placed themselves.

seneffe11 Mar 2017 11:39 a.m. PST

Winterfeldt- very good point about the 1806 Prussian Dragoons. I had thought though that there were three regts who retained the heavier 'German' horses – the 1st, 5th and 6th, though I admit that's just memory. I would bow to your superior knowledge on that point. Sorry to stray further off topic.

von Winterfeldt11 Mar 2017 3:24 p.m. PST


you may well be right, my statement – out of memory – I have to cross check on that

Le Breton11 Mar 2017 4:08 p.m. PST

"I would like to see a reference to French dragoons as 'medium cavalry' where none existed."

Well, since they usually didn't speak English to each other, the French would not call them "medium cavalry", which are two English language words.
But if you look in French, their language, for "cavalerie moyenne", you can find very easily ….

Bardin "Dictionaire" 1821
"De tous les genres de troupes, les Dragons sont celui donl le recrutement et la composition ont éprouvé le plus d'alternatives. Infanterie d'abord, cavalerie mixte, ensuite, ils sont devenus cavalerie moyenne, c'est-à-dire tenant, à raison de leur taille, le milieu entre la cavalerie proprement dite et les troupes légères."

Le Spectateur militaire 1831
"Cette ordonnance a l'avantage incontestable de diviser davantage les armes et les escadrons suivant la taille des hommes et des chevaux. Ainsi la cavalerie moyenne, dite de ligne, qui ne se composait que de douze régimens de dragons, le sera en outre six de lanciers."

le colonel de cavalerie de Carrion-Nisas "Essai sur l'histoire generale de l'art Militaire" 1824
"Cette cavalerie quitta le mousqueton et ne combattit plus qu'avec le sabre droit et le pistolet. Les vingt régimens de dragons, devenus peu à peu une espèce de cavalerie moyenne entre la cavalerie légère et la grosse cavalerie"

le comte Mathiue Dumas "Précis des événemens militaires" 1822
"La grosse cavalerie et la cavalerie moyenne (les dragons), formées en divisions , étaient réunies sous un général en chef qui recevait directement ses ordres."

de Thieffries de Beauvois "Manuscrit trouvé aux Tuileries" 1830
"On pourrait, avec des soins, se procurer pour la cavalerie moyenne , comme les dragons, et pour la cavalerie légère , comme les hussards et les chasseurs, les espèces de chevaux qui leur conviennent."

That said, I would think the more formal usage would be "cavalerie de ligne" for dragons and lanciers, "calaverie lourde" for cuirassiers, grenadiers à cheval and carabiniers à cheval, and "cavalerie légère" for hussards, chasseurs à cheval and mamluks.
I can guess that tatars lithuaniens, éclaireurs à cheval and gardes d'honneur à cheval were "cavalerie légère", but they were rather short-lived and not so likely to have received much attention from formalists.
And the gendarmes à cheval – and gendarmes d'ordonnance for that matter – were (senso strictu) "gens d'armes" and not really cavalry ("please ignore the horse I am sitting on ….").

Le Breton11 Mar 2017 4:14 p.m. PST

Super extra formalism : "chevau-légers lanciers", and *not* "chevaulégers-lanciers" or "chevaux-légers lanciers" and *really not* anything with "cheveux".

von Winterfeldt12 Mar 2017 12:40 a.m. PST


Regiment 4 and 5 kept to 2/3 "German" horses, while the rest got so called "Polish" ones.
Interestingly however – the cavalry regulations of cuirassiers and dragoons were identical!!!!
So what to make out of it? Despite smaller horses – heavy – or should we call them medium (as le Breton clearly demonstrated – it did exist) cavalry?

@Le Breton

Thank you for the response, so they occationally would class lanciers and dragoons in the same category.

How to treat them on the wargaming table – in my view – as heavy cavalry

4th Cuirassier12 Mar 2017 2:44 a.m. PST

All those uses of the term 'moyenne' are post-Napoleonic though. Did anyone call them that between 1792 and 1815?

Brechtel19812 Mar 2017 2:32 p.m. PST

Good catch. And I believe that those references being post-Napoleonic is significant.

When they were written, the Grande Armee and the Imperial Guard were no more, having been disbanded and a 'new' Bourbon army formed after Waterloo.

The term 'regiment' was abandoned, substitution 'legion' and giving the new legions departmental names. The dark blue infantry uniform was gone, white being substituted and other Napoleonic distinctions were forbidden.

The French army of the Restoration was not a viable fighting force, even though they managed an almost bloodless 'promenade' through Spain in 1823. Most of them refused to fight for Charles X, especially the new Swiss regiments, in 1830.

The bottom line in 1815 was that the old regimental numbers and traditions were scrapped by the Bourbons who wanted nothing to do with the traditions dearly bought from 1792-1815.

janner12 Mar 2017 11:26 p.m. PST

They were certainly penned after 1815, 4thC, so it is reasonable to seek earlier examples.

However, I suggest that it is unsafe to simply disregard them, Brech, for it does not follow that the authors are not drawing from common usage during the Napoleonic Wars. Bardin, for example, was somewhat busy prior to turning his hand to writing in 1818, but that does not that mean that his content must be treated as anachronistic.

By such logic we must also disregard de Brack's observations on French light horse during period because he wrote his treatise some fifteen years later.

von Winterfeldt13 Mar 2017 1:59 a.m. PST

"However, I suggest that it is unsafe to simply disregard them, Brech, for it does not follow that the authors are not drawing from common usage during the Napoleonic Wars. Bardin, for example, was somewhat busy prior to turning his hand to writing in 1818, but that does not that mean that his content must be treated as anachronistic.

By such logic we must also disregard de Brack's observations on French light horse during period because he wrote his treatise some fifteen years later.

Yes indeed, but isn't that typical again and again and again. Le Breton clearly deonstrates competence and supplies helfpull contribution, the other side – just cannot comprehend how important context, evalutation of sources and how to treat soruces are – respectively fail

4th Cuirassier13 Mar 2017 2:43 a.m. PST

@ janner

I tend to take the view that the people of the era broadly knew what they were talking about when they were talking of something specific to their era. I wouldn't believe now anything a Napoleonic era doctor wrote on medicine, but if a light infantry officer says that Bavarians made the best light infantry, I'd tend to believe him.

Likewise if Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout, Duke of Auerstaedt, Prince of Eckmuehl, marshal of France and minister of war, said in 1815 that the 3rd and 4th Grenadier and Chasseur regiments were Old Guard, I likewise tend to believe him over someone of today who writes Ospreys and tells me they were Middle Guard reeely.

If Napoleon thought cuirasses were useful, then they were, and cuirassiers should get +1 in melee. Anything else is to assert that I'm right and Napoleon was wrong, which is impossible.

So. The Bardin etc quotes are certainly interesting, but it would be interesting from a historical perspective indeed if one could find references to "cavalerie moyenne" only after 1815.

I say that because academic historians don't in the main go ferreting around in the archives trying to prove that the facts were otherwise than thought. What they mostly do instead is analyse how we got from thinking this about Napoleon to thinking that about Napoleon. Revisionist historians thus aren't mavericks outside the mainstream valiantly challenging stale assumptions. They're a predicted and expected part of the mix and it's just a question of looking at the context in which they wrote to understand why the revisionism happened just then.

So someone writes A about Antietam and it is guaranteed that at some point someone else will come along and write B about Antietam and then along will come C and write something different again about Sharpsburg. A historian's job is to sift out what's the cyclical and to-be-expected revisionism from the main strand of thinking that's actually useful.

In the same way, what is interesting about the above quotes is that we've not seen anything from the era that talks about medium cavalry (although we may), but we have observed a forming of consensus around it afterwards.

This is an opportunity to observe history being assembled from whole cloth. It's like discovering a transitional fossil. So while by 1850-odd we may have a view that a dragoon was medium cavalry, nobody seems to have called it that at the time, any more than anyone referred to a Charleville as an "M1777" musket. Thus by 1850 odd do we have agreement that, unknown to Napoleonic dragoon generals, Napoleonic dragoons were of course and obviously medium cavalry.

You have to watch this history stuff. It's not what it used to be.

Le Breton13 Mar 2017 2:51 a.m. PST

What you can find in google book searches usually lags actual usage a few years for the obvious reasons (the writers wrote after the fact, there is some delay for publishing, there is more publishing in peacetime, newer books survive more and are easier to scan, etc., etc.). I wrote initially here beccause it seemed that someone was saying that the idea of "cavalerie moyenne" did not exist in the era. It did.

Before 1789, dragons were routinely classed with the tropes légères, and they had long arms, and they were expected to dismount, and had horses of smaller size and greater endurance. They were a separate arm of service, with thier own colonel-général (as did the hussards from 1778)
The cavalerie de ligne was armed with sabres and pistols and mounted on larger horses of less endurance and called simply "cavalrie".

By 1789, the rôle of the dragons seemed to be already moving toward a different definition:

Procès-verbal de l'Assemblée Nationale 1789
"L'on a demandé que la Cavalerie de ligne fît une arme ; que les Dragons , les Chasseurs et les Hussards en fissent une autre. Quelques Membres ont démandé que les Dragons et la Cavalerie de ligne composassent une arme , et les Chasseurs et Hussards une autre"
They decided that all mounted troops would be a single arm of service.

Journal des débats et des décrets 1792
"Cavalerie de ligne, composée de 29 régimens de cavalerie , et 15 de dragons , portés tous à 4 escadrons"
And dragons were no longer among the troupes légères.

The change brought by Napoléon was the creation of a a new category "cavalerie de réserve" and the dissolution of the old regiments of "cavalerie", transforming them into cuirassiers and (mostly) dragons. I think it was only from 1805 or even therafter that one could really see the French considering that thier cavalry was composed of "cavalerie lourde" (cuirassiers, carabiniers) suitable for service as "cavalerie de réserve", "calvalerie légère" (chasseurs, hussards) suitable for use as light troops and a rather newer idea of "cavalerie de ligne" as "cavalerie moyenne" on medium sized horses (and dragons decreasingly equipped with long arms) that could be employed in concert with heavy cavalry in the réserve, in concert with infantry in detachments, and to defeat enemy light and irregular cavalry.

Under the 2nd restoration, these fine points of Napoléonic usage seemed to have been simplified : the dragons, carabiniers and cuirassiers were increasingly grouped together, as were the chasseurs and hussards : simple light and heavy. The lanciers were disbanded. The quotes published then that I previously posted did not describe then-current usage very well – the usual lag in publication.

I have no idea why the use of "légions" was brought up. During the second restoration, from August 1815 to October 1820, the infantry's cantonments were assigned to the local areas of their recruitment, typically one per département, and so named "légions départementales". This had nothing to do with cavalry, and it had nothing to do with the conflict in Spain in 1823.

Le Breton13 Mar 2017 4:14 a.m. PST

"So while by 1850-odd we may have a view that a dragoon was medium cavalry"
Please, we respect and without antagonism, I quoted : 1821, 1831 (was decribing historically the Napoleonic era), 1824, 1822 and 1830.
At which time, the dragons were in France classed with the heavy cavalry.
As you say, the later quotes that one can find (1850's and 1860's and later) are possibly polluted by then-contemprary usage, so I did not quote them.

4th Cuirassier13 Mar 2017 5:53 a.m. PST

@ Le Breton

My bad – 1830 it is. And indeed someone may surface something from earlier in the era that demonstrates an earlier usage.

My general contention though is that if something was not demonstrably considered to be X at the time, then to describe it as X is an ex post historical judgement, a bit like saying the Velvet Underground were the first punk band.

The whole debate about light vs medium versus heavy is very interesting though. I grew up reading wargame rules in which you could forget about pitting light cavalry against heavy ever, unless the latter were completely blown. Absent that, the heavies would simply swat the light. In 40 years of reading since I've come to the conclusion that the whole thing was a lot more nuanced than that, and indeed so are the categories. Eg I venture to think that British light and heavy dragoons performed different roles, but were little different from one another in a fight because horseflesh.

janner13 Mar 2017 6:13 a.m. PST

@4th Curiassier

Agreed, but Le Breton's quote from Bardin makes unsafe to assume that the use of 'cavalerie moyenne' only came after 1815, which is what as Brech seemingly argues. Another source written three or four years earlier would be helpful, but Le Breton's point about publishing lag will be familiar to any academic historian.

Whilst contesting your point about academic historians, as my research is overwhelmingly archive-based ferreting, I understand the point you are making with regards to historiography. In this case, however, Guillaume-Mathieu Dumas held the post of intendant-general for the invasion of Russia, Etienne Alexandre Bardin had commanded an infantry regiment in the Imperial Guard, and, crucially, Col Carrion-Nisas had served as a dragoon in 1814. These eyewitnesses all penned their works in the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, so it is arguably more likely that Napoleonic dragoon generals knew they commanded something that was neither light nor heavy cavalry, but something in between, they were just too busy to write about it whilst on campaign.

More nuanced – most certainly, I agree wink

4th Cuirassier13 Mar 2017 8:19 a.m. PST

Hi Janner

Your points well noted. I did say that historians don't in the main go ferreting about. Glad to hear some do :-)

I think it's an interesting discussion to have. If we take as the hypothesis the idea that there was such a thing as medium cavalry and that dragoons were such, but that the terminology was settled on only later, then one could test this against the evidence. What would prove or disprove such a hypothesis?

A rigorous analysis (which I'm not about to do) might then be one that sought to identify whether there was evidence of agreement by later writers on the specific role, group of roles, tactical use or origin of such units, accompanied by evidence of this within the era. You'd also look at whether any aspect of the description fitted any other type of cavalry as well. So if the definition of medium cavalry were "one who routinely fought on foot", you would have to discard it if chasseurs a cheval were found to do so, for instance.

If the actual usage of such cavalry cohered with the role outlined by your 1815 to 1830 cites, then you have a strong case for arguing that medium cavalry was a thing.

It's a bit like WW2 terms such as "blitzkrieg" and "mission command". AFAIK neither of these terms was used much or at all at the time, but it's possible nonetheless to discern in operations a consistent meaning and instances for both, and to use them as labels for a certain type of action.

I don't have a dog in the fight, because I actually think re cavalry that these differences were quite fluid across armies and campaigns. Indeed, vide the Prussians having dragoons of which some were light and some heavy, the Austrians converting dragoons from heavy to light, the British converting light dragoons to lancers and the French line dragoons to lancers, I question what difference distinctions in light dragoon versus heavy versus lancer actually made to battlefield effectiveness. The fact pattern suggests it was not straightforward.

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