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"French Cavalry Drill" Topic

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Comments or corrections?

malcolmmccallum13 Dec 2007 3:24 a.m. PST

I'm doing a little fiction exercise where my hero is in a Hussar unit and I'm trying to get the drill down and deployment down.

I found a civil war cavalry manual that was very helpful but am wondering what the differences were.

Did French Napoleonic Cavalry form by fours, twos, or both, as required?

It talks about forming line on the left if your front is at the rear but I gather this sort of thing would not be done in standard units. Would they not restrict themselves to 'front into line left' and 'right into line wheel'?

I was pleasantly surprised to see a note about how dressing by size was done in order to allow soldiers to commonly know who they would be standing beside. Any thoughts on how often a platoon would be resized? Was this a daily thing?

Likewise with dressings. A right dress could be a time consuming business with cavalry and would generally necessitate a slight forward creep. Any thoughts on how often this would be done with a unit at the halt or would the corporals spaced among the platoon continue informally dressing the lines?

The drill manual mentioned that farriers would be deployed behind the second squadron. The Regimental craftsmen did bear full combat responsibility, I guess, though I had always assumed they were off somewhere to the rear. I know that each horseman was responsible for carrying spare horseshoes but could the equipment required of the regimental craftsmen be carried on their person? Yes there were mobile forges but I suppose these were not always present and they'd have to find other means to ply their trades.

un ami Inactive Member13 Dec 2007 5:56 a.m. PST


One may try to start to give some answers, in hoping the some other colleagues will soon do much better.
It would be well if you did have the French language.

"French Napoleonic Cavalry form by fours, twos, or both, as required"

It is "as required". Habitually, when moving with the army, the horse, especially the light horse did not use the roads.

Let us have some back ground may be :

A régiment will be composed of 2-5 escadrons (3 and 4 were most usual). One escadron is typically that of the dépôt, and will not be with the others (although these can be grouped and sent in to a campagne as régiments provisoires).
Each escadron will be composed of two compagnies. In the ligne cavalerie, two escadrons will be commanded by a chef d'escadron (not "d'escadrons, until the restauration). The compagnies will be kommanded by capitaine. The compagnies may be referred to as "pelotons" in drill manuals and discussions of manœvres. In truth, they are compagnies in the period 1800-1815. For the hussards, the best hussards will be sent into the 1ère compagnie, called the compagnie d'élite, and will wear the kolpak. There will be a rough seniority of the other compagnies, by the seniorities of their capitaines, but this will not be too pure especially at the end of a campagne. There is no equalization of the compagnies nor ranging of the men by size in a compagnie, so far as I have never once seen it mentioned as actually beign done in the cavalerie légère of 1800-1815.
A compagnie will always form in two lignes. No matter what other thing is done, there will be two lines of hussards. Even in a column of 2's, the fornt and rear ligne will be seen to be in each two and the next two behind them. It is not unknown that the two of a fil will be "comarades de lit" in caserne – the beds were made for 2 men in some cases.
The strenth of a compagnie is typically 90-100 hussards, but they will be smaller to 70 or 80 and may be 120-130 at full strength. With 100 hussards the compagnie in line will be 50 fils in width. The régiment with 3 escadrons in the field to gether will number some 600 hussards.
One half of a compagnie is a peloton or demi-compganie : 25 fils
One-half of a peloton is a section or an escouade : 12 files.
To move across the country, the régiment will form a column of pelotons or of sections most often. The column of 4's and 2's would be to pass an obstacle. So, with 3 escadrons, or 24 sections, the movement in column of sections will be 12 fils wide and 48 rangs deep, plus gaps for each compagnie and escadron.
To form on the battlefield in a column, the mose usual will be a column of escadrons (100 fils x 6 rows) or compagnies (50 fils and 12 rows).
But any other column could be formed.
The formation of the compagnies will be some thing like this
1er escadron : company d'elite and 4e compagnie
2e escadron : 2e compagnie and 5e compagnie
3e escadron : 3e compagnie and 6e compagnie
4e escadron : 7e compagnie and 8e compagnie (dépôt)
1er escadron : company d'elite and 5e compagnie
2e escadron : 2e compagnie and 6e compagnie
3e escadron : 3e compagnie and 7e compagnie
4e escadron : 4e compagnie and 8e compagnie (dépôt)
We will then see a column of compagies formed normally :
company d'elite
4e compagnie
2e compagnie
5e compagnie
3e compagnie
6e compagnie
Ordre inverse is with the 6e compagnie in front
The manuals will re-number these 1 to 6 pelotons. I have never seen any actual usage of this for the cavalerie 1800-1815. The manual were wriiten, one suposes , by analogy to the infanterie. For these, it was needed to equalize the compagnies and the rangs (2 or 3) were all the same – a musket for French. In the cavalerie, the rangs may be different (lance and carbine). And there is no square, etc.

"It talks about forming line on the left if your front is at the rear".
On will want a way to go from any column (normal or inverse) to a line formed with the compagnie d'élite on the right or on the left and with the facing either the same front as the column, at some angle to this front or facing the other direction. Thus there wil be many specific drills.
Then each of these will need to be run the other way also, to create a column from a ligne.

"dressing by size"
I do not know it have actually occurred among hussards. Actually in a section, a command for a sous-officier, of some 25 hussards, there wil be 3-4 "ordiniares". These are groups of men who will cook in common and split up the work of the horses, the finding wood, etc. They will aslo look to each other in a battle and re-form together after a formation is broken up in a combat. To move them around for size would not seem a good idea.

"right dress could be a time consuming"
The question of dressing, especially of close dressing knee to knee well-aligned is commonly mentioned for the cavalerie lourde. It is done and re-done by the officiers and sous-officiers. But for hussards, I do not recall it being such a fetische, or more likely the hussards did not have to stand and wait so much and thus did not have some much time to hear the counsels of their fears.

One will have no corporals, but rather brigadiers
a maréchal de logis is like a sergeant
a maréchal de logis chef is like a company sergeant major (one per compagnie)

"he drill manual mentioned that farriers would be deployed behind the second squadron. "
The French did have one or more maréchal ferrant. He is often not actually listed in the ordonnances, eespecially for hussards. He then did not get an extra pay. But, in a régiment there will some smiths, and these will do this work, and get a little fee from the officiers to work on thier own (private owned) hourses. He may be will have a little insignia on the upper sleeve. In dragons, the position is more formal. In any case he is a hussard or dragon regularly, and takes his place in the ligne de bataille.
There is usually no field forge, and the ferrants did just take over a local smith's place. In Poland and for Russia, the field forge was needed.
There is also a kind of clerk in each compagnie , called a fourrier . He is a brigadier with extra pay and sees to the lodging of the compagnie, its supply, its pay, etc. He will form among some other sous officiers behind the second rang (other sous offciers will be in the rangs). In a parade, the fourriers will form with the aigle of the régiment.

"The Regimental craftsmen did bear full combat responsibility"
These will be at the dépôt in most cases, to work on the equipment. Some may take the field, and will form with the régiment headquarters.

"spare horseshoes"
Required in dragon and lanciers (and a pocket in the saddle for them). One suposes that hussards would be wise to have them also.

OK, it is a start, one may hope,

-un ami

malcolmmccallum13 Dec 2007 6:30 a.m. PST

Thanks a ton.

I was trying to sort out the positions of the two brigadiers in the center of a platoon and how they get there as a drill formation and the section/escouade clears up that and some other things for me.

This is conjecture:

Sizing could be done by sections and the ordinaires would be divided up at the same time. So a section would have a few groups of 4 men (similarly sized incidentally) and they knew their place in the line. The right section would be formed with tallest on the right and shortest on the left and the other section would be the inverse. Sections would form up with brigadiers on either end to form a well ordered and consistent platoon. This system would allow redress of lines and ordinaires for casualties at the lowest levels where common sense could apply.

You'd always be fighting alongside your mess mates and looking out for one another.

un ami Inactive Member13 Dec 2007 6:47 a.m. PST


The ancien régime did make this sizing commonly, by compagnie (in pairs of 2 by fils, of course)

But for the 1800-1815 I just do not know if it in the ligne, especially for the cavlaerie légère.

Part of this may be I am poorly educated, a fact known to all I do sadly admit.

But also, the conscription was by a size. The men will be sent to the hussards/chasseurs à cheval, the dragons/lanciers and the cuirassiers/caracbiniers à cheval by size. So among the hussards, the total variation would be really rather small, from 5 pied to 5 pied 3 pouces from my poor memoire (1 French pied = 12 pouces = 32.46 cm)

- votre ami

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP13 Dec 2007 7:37 a.m. PST

"French Cavalry Drill"
At first glance, I thought this was a new diabolical weapon that James West would have to face :}

malcolmmccallum13 Dec 2007 1:27 p.m. PST

The advantage gained by sizing would be immense.

It meant that a sergeant could see at a glance when someone was not where they were supposed to be even if the variations were slight. You couldn't pick your place in the rank. I know how modern soldiers love to jostle for the 'best' places in a line so I could imagine it being much greater when superstitions and mortality were on the line. It would also mean that you couldn't pick your messmates. You'd be assigned your three other cooking pot companions based on the sizing and this wouldn't change until casualties and replacements required it.

It brings to mind a possible solution to another problem: Reading suggests that when a company, platoon or squadron deploys skirmishers, the ratio is one-in-four. I couldn't wrap my brain around how they could quickly get exactly a quarter of the line to go forward with a single command.

The command could be as simple as "#2s will skirmish." and the second man in each ordiniare would know it was their turn and go forward.

un ami Inactive Member13 Dec 2007 5:50 p.m. PST


For the French infanterie, the sending of tirailleurs was by fils (called by their number 4, 8, 12, etc, across a whole peloton = compagnie) or by the sections

For the French cavalerie, it was by the fils or sections also, but only from the flanqs, hence the name flanquers.

You will be amused, if you will look for the sizing. In the Russian infanterie, at least until after Austerlitz, they did size exactly. The uniformes (cuffs, tails, etc.) were then correctly made for the first and the last man. Then a line with chalk was put from the first to the last and the uniformes for all the others will be made to fit to the line, not to the man.


- votre ami

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