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French Cavalry
During the Napoleonic Wars

"The French cavalry became most renowned
for their actions in large masses."


1. French Cavalry Under Napoleon.
2. Horses.
3. Organization.
4. Carabiniers.
5. Cuirassiers.
6. Dragoons.
7. Lancers.
8. Chasseurs.
9. Hussars.
10. Best Cavalry Regiments

1806 Campaign
A hussar of Lasalle's "Hellish Brigade" captured
Color of Prussian Queen's Dragoon Regiment - by J. Girbal

At Waterloo Sir Ponsonby together with his adjutant, Mjr Reignolds
made a dash to own line, and a French lancer began pursuing them.
While they were crossing a plowed field, Ponsonby's horse got stuck
in the mud and in an instant, the lancer was upon him.
Ponsonby threw his saber away and surrendered.

Reignolds came to his aid, but the lancer compelled both of them
to dismount under the threat of his lance. At that moment, a group
of Scots Grays happened to pass a short distance away, saw the three
and galloped shouting in their direction with the idea of liberating
Sir Ponsonby. "In a flash, the Frenchman killed the general and his
major with 2 blows of his lance then charged the oncoming dragoons
striking down 3 in less than a minute. The others abandoned the combat
completely incapable of holding their own ..."
A. Barbero - "The Battle"

French Cavalry Under Napoleon.
"When I speak of excellent French cavalry,
I refer to its impetous bravery,
and not to its perfection"
- General Jomini

at Austerlitz, Johnson - Napoleon's Cavalry and Its Leaders "Cavalry is useful before, during and after the battle," wrote Napoleon, and he stressed the need for audacity in its employment and careful training to achieve true discipline. He was also insistent that careful categorization according to role was of great importance... It was some time before the French cavalry reached its full potential, as it had suffered the loss of many officers during the Revolutionary period, but by 1807 it was reaching its prime. The great charges led by Murat at Eylau and Grouchy at Friedland played vital parts in the outcome of these battles." (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" pp 85-86)
"Under Napoleon, the French cavalry were, in contrast to the infantry, far more renowned for their action in masses than for their duty as light troops. They were deemed irresistible, and even Napier admits their superiority over the English cavalry of that day. Wellington, to a certain degree, did the same. And strange to say, this irresistible cavalry consisted of such inferior horsemen ... no soldiers are so careless of their horses as the French." ("The Armies of Europe" in Putnam's Monthly, No. XXXII, published in 1855)

The cavalry, artillery and infantry participated in numerous battles and campaigns. Albert-Jean-Michel de Rocca writes: "The various troops that composed our army, especially the cavalry and infantry, differed extremely in manners and habits. The infantrymen, having only to think of themselves and their muskets, were selfish, great talkers, and great sleepers. ... They were apt to dispute with their officers, and sometimes they were even insolent to them ... They forgot all their hardships the moment they heard the sound of the enemy's first gun.
The hussars and chasseurs were generally accused of being plunderers and prodigal, loving drink and fancying every thing fair while in presence of the enemy. Accustomed, one may almost say, to sleep with an open eye, to have an ear always awake to the sound of the trumpet, to reconnoitre far in advance during a march, to trace the ambuscades of the enemy ... they could not fail to have acquired superior intelligence and habits of independence. Nevertheless, they were always silent and submissive in presence of their officers, for fear of being dismounted. Forever smoking, to pass away his life, the light cavalryman, under his large cloak, braved in every country the rigour of the seasons. The rider and his horse, accustomed to live together, contracted a character of resemblance."

Murat The French cavalry was led by Marshal Joachim Murat. His father was farmer-inkeeper, his mother a pious woman set on making a priest of him. Murat was tall, athletic with a handsome face framed by dark curls. He was "woman-crazy; Napoleon complained that he needed them like he needed food." (Elting, - p 144) From his first thundering charges on the plains of Italy to his last grand charge at Leipzig, no commander more epitomized the dash and ambition of the French cavalry than Murat. He was the embodiement of the cavalryman. Murat habitually led in the very forefront of the charge, and his presence elicited courage and devotion from his troops. His flamboyant and colorful outfit, his bravery, and his fun-loving nature was all that many daring European cavalry leaders aspired to be. His love of war and glory made him the very incarnation of cavalryman. In combat Murat is supreme. Britten-Austin writes: "Riding out in front of a line of red and white pennons which stretches from the Dwina's swamp on the right to the island of forest in the centre, he intends to harangue the Polish lancer division - but finds himself in a most awkward, not to say comical position. The Poles need no exhortion. With tremendous elan, like several thousand pig-stickers, they charge, driving the King of Naples like a wild boar before them. And Murat, unable to see or command, has no option but to 'lead' them ... Only thanks to his Herculean physique and the prowess of his gilded scimitar does he survive in the ensuing scrum." (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 134)
Opinions about Murat:
Napoleon: "He loved, I may rather say, adored me. ... With me, he was my right arm. Order Murat to attack and destroy four or five thousand men in such ir such a direction, it was done in a flash. But left to himself he was an imbecile, without judgement."
Officer of 16e Chasseurs: "personally very brave, but has few military talents. He knows well how to use cavalry in front of the enemy, but is ignorant of the art of preserving it."
Von Roos: "Herculean in strength, excessively gallant, admirably cool in the midst of danger, his daring, his elegant costume inspired an extraordinary veneration among the Cossacks."
Victor Dupuy: "[The Cossacks had] almost magical respect for him.... I was riding ahead with three troopers when I saw Murat at the far end of a little wood ... He was alone. In front of him ... some 40 mounted Cossacks were gazing at him, leaning on their lances."
David Chandler: "Murat was one of the most colorful figures of his time. His military talents on the battlefield, at the head of the cavalry, were considerable, but his rash initiatives robbed him of any chance of earning repute as a strategist... he had many enemies among the marshalate but was greatly admired by the rank and file for his dash and undoubted charisma.... He became the model for many another beau sabreur of the 19th century."
John Elting: " ... cheerful courage, a frank and unpretentious comradeship with colonel and private alike. That he had no military education bothered him not at all; he boasted that he made his plans only in the presence of the enemy. (Napoleon complained that Murat tried to make war without maps.) As a combat leader Murat was unequaled, storming ahead of his howling troopers, riding whip in hand, white plumes streaming high. Tactics, except the simplest, he scorned: Put in your spurs and ride at, over, and through anything that gets in your way !"

Strength and Quality of the French Cavalry
Cuirassiers by Vernet Napoleon's cavalry consisted of the following regiments: 2 horse carabiniers, 12-15 cuirassiers, 15-30 dragoons, 7-9 lancers, 15-31 chasseurs and 7-14 hussars. Two regiments formed brigade, two brigades formed division and two-five divisions formed corps.
In the cavalry served more nobles than in any other branch of the army. Majority of the aristocratic officers left France during Revolution and the overall quality of French cavalry had fallen badly. It was Napoleon who made it as an effective force which would have parity with any enemy. Before the campaigns in 1805 and in 1812 the cavalrymen were intensively trained, supplied with splendid uniforms and horses and armed to teeth. They were enthusiastic and ready to fight. The officers and NCOs were battle hardened veterans. In 1812 Sergeant-Major Thirion described his cuirassiers: "Never had more beautiful cavalry been seen ! Never had the regiments reached such high effectives. And never had cavalry been so well mounted." Until 1812 the French cavalrymen were victorious over everyone they encountered on level above regiment. At Borodino they even captured a redoubt, a feat never repeated by any other cavalry ! Colonel Griois watched the cavalry attack: "It would be difficult to convey our feelings as watched this brilliant feat of arms, perhaps without equal in the military annals of nations ... cavalry which we saw leaping over ditches and scrambling up ramparts under a hail of canister shot, and a roar of joy resounded on all sides as they became masters of the redoubt." Meerheimb wrote: "Inside the redoubt, horsemen and foot soldiers, gripped by a frenzy of slaughter, were butchering each other without any semblance of order..."
Opinions about the French cavalry:
General Jomini wrote about the quality of French cavalry; "When I speak of excellent French cavalry, I refer to its impetous bravery, and not to its perfection; for it does not compare with the Russian or German cavalry either in horsemanship, organization, or in care of the animals."
General Welligton - "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."
Archduke Charles comander-in-chief of the Austrian army - "The French cavalry was, on the whole, poorly mounted and poorly equipped; its men were awkward horsemen. Yet it outclassed its opponents simply because, when order rang out and trumpets clarioned 'Charge !' it put in its spurs and charged all out, charged home !"
Officer Chlapowski of Napoleon's Guard Cavalry: "The enemy [Hungarian hussars] had charged us 3 or 4 times during this engagement. Some of them would break into our ranks, many passed right through and circled back to regain their lines, and after charge they ended in complete disorganization. The French, on the other hand, although they also lost formation after a charge, kept together far more and every time were quicker to regain order. ... although the Hungarians drove home their attacks with determination, they were harder to reform into some sort of order. The French, on the other hand, knew that their own horses lacked the Austrians' speed and endurance, and would launch their attacks from closer range and so retained formation right to the end of the charge, and regained it more quickly afterwards."

Disaster of 1812 in Russia
Dead cuirassier during the retreat from Russia, 1812 It is estimated that 175.000 excellent horses of cavalry and artillery were lost in 1812 in Russia ! The remnants were mounted on Russian and Lithuanian peasant ponies. The rebuilding of the cavalry in 1813 was more dificult than infantry and artilery. Shortages of trained cavalrymen, officers, NCOs and war horses were critical. Promotions were rapidly handed out and temporary squadrons were formed.
In the beginning of April 1813 general Bourcier gathered 10.000 battle-hardened veterans from 60 regiments spread across the countryside. The cavalry centers were in the cities of Magdeburg and Metz. Horses were coming from northern Germany. During Armistice was more time to train the young troops and many regiments showed improvements in their maneuvers. But they never reached the level of pre-1812.

1812 Sacred Squadron [Escadron Sacré]
Marbot wrote: "Our cavalry was so reduced that it became necessary to form all the officers who were still mounted into four companies of 150 men each. Generals acted as captains; and colonels as corporals. This Sacred Squadron, commanded by General Grouchy, and under the orders of the King of Naples, kept the closest watch over the Emperor. "
Sacred Squadron:
Colonel: GdD Gouchy
ADC: CdE Carbonel
Chirurgien: Eve (he was also chief chirurgien of the Reserve Cavalry)

  • 1st Company: GdD St.Germain, GdB Jacquinot
  • 2nd Company: GdD Sebastiani
  • 3rd Company
  • 4th Company

  • ~

    "A man is only as strong as his horse."
    - ancient saying

    The northern part of France called Normandy was one of the world biggest horse-breeding areas (Studs of Le Pin and St. Lo). Napoleon valued these mounts highly and during reviews often asked colonels how many horses from Normandy they have in their regiments. In 1810 the horse grenadiers of the Guard rode on black horses, 14 1/2 - 15 hands tall, between 4 and 4 1/2 years old and bought in the city of Caen (Normandy) for 680 francs apiece. The German horse breeders from Hananover and Holstein and traders made fortunes as Napoleon purchased huge amounts of horses for his heavy cavalry. The Prussian large mounts were also accepted.

    The highest quality horses for light cavalry came from Hungary, southern Russia and Poland. These countries dominated light horse breeding in Europe in XVIII_XIX Century. For light cavalry Napoleon purchased horses from almost every province of France but especially from Ardennes, Taubes and Auvergne. In 1806 many Prussian (Mecklenburgian), Syrian and Turkish horses were purchased.

    After victorious war in 1806 Napoleon dismounted Prussian cavalry, and in 1805 and 1809 dismounted the Austrian cavalry. Thousands of horses were also taken from Saxony, Hannover and Spain. Many horses were purchased or simply taken from Polish farms. After the disaster in Russia in 1812, several Polish cavalry regiments were still in good shape. Especially the Lithuanian uhlans. Napoleon stripped these regiments of all their horses in an effort to remount the cavalry of Imperial Guard. (Nafziger - "Lutzen and Bautzen" p 9)

    John Elting wrote about the horsecare in French cavalry: "Too many French were careless horsemasters, turning their animals loose at night into fields of green grain or clover without supervision. Thousands overate and died of the colic. Germans and Poles were more careful."
    Britten-Austin described the situation in 1812: "Without a drop of water to drink and only an occassional nibble of wayside grasses, they arrive at the first bivouc utterly spent, collapse, and have to be shot by their riders, who, adding horsemeat to a soup of uncut rye, promptly go down with diarrhea, an affliction not conducive to brilliant exploits on horseback." (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 125)
    Graf Henkel von Donnersmark writes after the battle of Leipzig: "The captured [French] horse was big but in poor condition, so I exchanged it with a Russian officer for a strong Cossack horse; now I owned 3 such Don mounts. They are excellent for use on campaigns where there are lots of hardships, but they do have some beauty defects."

    Colors of horses.
    horses During peacetime the regiments of light and line cavalry had color of horses according to squadron :

  • I Squadron : 1st 'elite' company rode on blacks, 5th company on browns nad blacks
  • II Squadron : 2nd company rode on bays, 6th company on bays
  • III Squadron : 3rd company on chestnuts, 7th company on chestnuts
  • IV Squadron : 4th and 8th company on grays and whites
    But already after the first campaign (1805) only some colonels insisted on keeping up these peacetime practicies. The heavy cavalry rode on black horses. (Prussian king Frederick the Great insisted that the black horses should go to the cuirassiers. He considered the black of the coat as a sign of quality.)

    Height of horses.
    According to order issued on October 28th 1802 the horses for French cuirassiers and dragoons were to be between 15 1/4 and 15 1/2 hands tall (154.3m-158.3 m). After war in 1805 the minimum height for horses were relaxed, even for the cuirassiers. But when Prussian and Austrian horses were captured and new territories annexed the requirements were heightened. In 1812 the height of horses was as follow:

  • cuirassiers and carabiniers - . . . . 155 cm - 160 cm
  • dragoons and artillery - . . . . . . . . .153 cm - 155 cm
  • chasseurs and hussars - . . . . . . . . 149 cm - 153 cm
  • lighthorse-lancers - . . . . . . . . . . . . .146 cm - 150 cm
  • Polish uhlans - . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .142 cm - 153 cm
  • Polish Krakusi - . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137 cm - 142 cm (nicknamed by Napoleon "my Pygmy Cavalry")

    Types of horses.

  • The Arabian mounts were not as fast as European warmbloods but they were sure-footed. They were famous for elegance, toughness and almost legendary endurance. Arabian horses were very popular among officers and generals. Napoleon usually rode on Arabian ("Taurus" at Leipzig and "Marengo" at Waterloo). Napoleon encoraged the use of Arabians at the French national studs. Almost all European countries mixed their native mounts (coldbloods) with Arabians and getting new breeds (warmbloods). In 1800s the biggest studs of Arabians were founded in Hungary and Poland.
  • The Andalusian horse was called "the royal horse of Europe". Many war-leaders rode on the Spanish horses. This is friendly, docile, strongly build, brave (used for bull fighting) and of catlike agility.
  • The French horse Comtois of Burgundy was used by the army of King Louis XIV and by Napoleon. Characteristics: hardiness, endurance, good nature and easy to train.
  • The French horse Auxois of Burgundy was a powerful one. This mount was a quiet and good natured, used also by artillery.
  • The French horse Ardennais was a very popular horse in French cavalry.
  • The French horse Percheron was a powerful mount used by heavy cavalry. By XVII Century it attained wide spread popularity. In early XIX Century the French goverment established a stud at le Pin for the development of army mounts. The horse was docile, energetic and of big size.
  • The French horse Boulonnais of Flanders enjoyed a great popularity in every European heavy cavalry and among horse dealers. Napoleon purchased thousands of these horses for his cuirassiers.
  • The German horse of Frederiksborg enjoyed numerous exports which seriously depleted the stock.
  • The Hannoverian horse was used by light artillery and heavy and line cavalry. It was probably the most successful warmblood in Europe. The Hannoverian breeding industry has existed for 400 years. Even today this horse excel in equestrian disciplines of jumping and driving.
  • The Holsteiner horse was developed in northern Germany. Their reputation was such that only in 1797 approx. 100.000 horses were exported ! This horse has a good character, is fast and strong. Napoleon purchased very many Holsteiners. The famous Saxon heavy cavalry and guard rode on Holsteiners.
  • ~


    Theoretical strength of regiment was between 800 and 1.200 men. During campaign the numbers decreased. For example during crossing of the Rhine River (September 1805) eight cuirassier regiments had 484 men per regiment on average. In December at Austerlitz it decreased to 317 men per regiment. (It gives 35 % losses within 4 months. For comparison losses in twenty five regiments of dragoons were 40 % {counted without the foot dragoons}, in seven regiments of hussars 25 % and in nine chasseurs were approx. 32 %.)

    Most often regiment had 3 or 4 squadrons. For example at Austerlitz 44 cavalry regiments had 153 squadrons, on average 3.5 squadron per regiment. During the 1812-1813 campaigns there were several regiments 6 or 8 squadrons each. Below is structure of regiment four-squadron strong.

    . . . . . . . . . Staff:
    . . . . . . . . . Colonel, Major, Quartier-maitre (Quartermaster)
    . . . . . . . . . 2 Chefs d'Escadron, 2 Adjutant-majors
    . . . . . . . . . Aide-major, 2 Sous-aides, 2 Adjutant Sous-officers
    . . . . . . . . . Non-combatants: craftsmen, surgeons and aids
    . . . . . . . . . Musical Band (usually formed of trumpeters)

    . . . . I SQUADRON
    1st 'Elite' Company
    5th Company
    . . . . II SQUADRON
    2nd Company
    6th Company
    . . . . III SQUADRON
    3rd Company
    7th Company
    . . . . IV SQUADRON
    4th Company
    8th Company

    . . . . DEPOT SQUADRON

    Originally there were 4 Eagles per cavalry regiment of 4 squadrons. In 1806 Napoleon ordered that regiments of chasseurs and hussars deposit all Eagles, dragoons deposit 3 and keep only one in the field and the cuirassiers retain 3 Eagles per regiment. Some regiments of hussars and chasseurs refused to give up their Eagles and in 1809 (and even in 1812 and 1813) they carried 1 in the field. In 1812 generally no squadron fanions were carried in the field, instead were used the small company fanions.

    Napoleon said that "squadron will be to the cavalry what the battalion is for infantry." The squadron always consisted of 2 companies, each commanded by a captain. The senior of the captains commanded the squadron. 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 with an average of 139 men per sq. On August 15th 1813 in the army stationed in Germany had the following numbers of cavalrymen:
    12.818 chasseurs were in 67 squadrons (on average 9.1 officers and 182 other ranks per sq.)
    7.203 hussars in 38 squadrons (on average 8.5 officer and 181 other ranks per sq.)
    3.546 lancers in 20 squadrons (on average 10.75 officer and 166 other ranks per sq.)
    7.019 dragoons in 45 squadrons (on average 8.33 officer and 148 other ranks per sq.)
    5.789 cuirassiers in 40 squadrons (on average 8.6 officer and 136 other ranks per sq.)

    French squadron
    French squadron

    Company in wartime in 1805-1807:
    . . . . . . . . . 3 Officers: Captain and 2 Lieutenants (Captain was allowed 3 horses, lieutenant 2 mounts)
    . . . . . . . . . 1 Marechal-des-logis Chef (Sergeant-major)
    . . . . . . . . . 2 Marechal des logis (Sergeants)
    . . . . . . . . . 1 Fourrier
    . . . . . . . . . 4 Brigadiers (Corporals)
    . . . . . . . . . Trumpeter
    . . . . . . . . . 74 privates
    . . . . . . . . . 3 Officers: Captain and 2 Lieutenants
    . . . . . . . . . 1 Marechal-des-logis Chef (Sergeant-major)
    . . . . . . . . . 4 Marechal des logis (Sergeants)
    . . . . . . . . . 1 Fourrier
    . . . . . . . . . 8 Brigadiers (Corporals)
    . . . . . . . . . 2 Trumpeters and a Drummer
    . . . . . . . . . 72 Privates and 46 foot dragoons

    Organization of company according to Decree of March 27th 1815:
    . . . . . . . . . 4 Officers: Captain, Lieutenant, 2 Sous-lieutenants
    . . . . . . . . . 1 Marechal-des-logis Chef (Sergeant-major)
    . . . . . . . . . 4 Marechal des logis (Sergeants)
    . . . . . . . . . 1 Fourrier
    . . . . . . . . . 8 Brigadiers (Corporals)
    . . . . . . . . . 2 Trumpeters
    . . . . . . . . . 58 dragoons, chasseurs, lancers or hussars, or 42 cuirassiers

    The farriers and fouriers would usually have been kept in the rear.

    The 1st Company in every regiment (except cuirassiers and carabiniers) was named Elite Company. Only brave, strong and seasoned men were accepted, and they rode on black horses. Sometimes the elite company was detached from regiment and served as an escort to a marshal. If there was several regiments the marshal took only 15 men from every elite company. Sometimes this was not enough and instead the elite companies were used entire regiments of cavalry. For example in 1812 marshal Berthier and his headquarters were guarded by 28th Chasseur Regiment and Saxon light cavalry. The colonels of cuirassier regiments decided to form elite companies but were reminded that they are elite. They received higher pay, were stronger and taller than other troopers, wore red plumes and epaulettes and had flaming grenade insygnia on coat-tails and saddlecloth.

    Sappers were part of the Elite Company. They opened roads, improved campsites and guarded the regimental Eagle. Only hussar and dragoon regiments had sappers (1 sergeant, 1 corporal and 8 privates).


    Horse Carabiniers

    carabinier On picture: French carabinier-a-cheval (horse carabinier). Museum de'Armee. Oficially the horse carabiniers wore white coats (jackets) but according to Rousellot (in 'Sabretache' 1987) only their officers wore white coats, the privates wore light blue ones. Faber du Faur also depicted the horse carabiniers in blue coats instead of white. According to some sources (for example Coppen) the carabiniers wore blue at Waterloo. Others claim that they also wore blue during the campaign in Russia (1812) and white only in the great battle of Borodino.

    There were only two regiments of horse carabiniers, the 1er and 2e. In 1792 the French Ministry of War ordered that the carabiniers must always be chosen from seasoned and reliable soldiers. They were armed with straight sabers and pistols. (They even briefly became 'Horse Grenadiers'). In 1801 the strongest and tallest men and horses from the dissolved 19e, 20e, 21e and 22e Régiment d'Cavalerie were assigned to the horse carabiniers. Despite the flow of soldiers into their ranks in 1803 the two regiments were only 2 squadrons each. Napoleon strengthened them with young robust recruits and brought their strength to 3 and 4 squadrons. In the ranks of carabiniers alongside the Frenchmen served also quite a few Belgians. The carabiniers fought well in the following campaigns 1805, 1806, 1807 and in 1809. In 1809 with the temporary absence of the Guard cavalry, the 1er Carabiniers formed Napoleon's escort.

    In 1809 the carabiniers suffered badly in the hands of Austrian uhlans and Napoleon ordered to give them armor. Chlapowski, among others, described this combat: "The cuirassier division arrived, with the brigade of carabiniers at its head. ... Soon an uhlan regiment in six squadrons trotted up to within 200 paces of the carabiniers and launched a charge at full tilt. It reached their line but could not break it, as the second regiment of carabiniers was right behind the first, and behind it the rest of the cuirassier division. I saw a great many carabiniers with lance wounds, but a dozen or so uhlans had also fallen." (Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" p 60)
    After this and another fight with the Austrian uhlans, Napoleon decided to give armor to the carabiniers. Their new helmet was of yellow copper, with iron chinstrap scales and a headband with the letter 'N' in front. The crest had a scarlet comb instead of the cuirassiers black horsehair. The cuirasses were almost identical in design to those worn by the cuirassiers, although they were covered with a sheet of brass (for officers red copper). The visual effect was astounding !

    Carabiniers vs Russian hussars at Borodino, by Rocco In 1812 at Borodino the carabiniers repeatedly clashed with the Russian cuirassiers, hussars and dragoons. They fought with gusto until the end of battle when they were defeated by Russian cuirassiers of the guard (Chevaliers and Horse Guard) and were charged - by mistake - by French cuirassiers. During the winter retreat from Russia they suffered horrible losses. The campaign in Russia broke their backbone and they never were the same.
    In 1813 at Leipzig they panicked before Hungarian hussars. Rilliet from the 1er Cuirassiers witnessed the encounter and described in detail the shameful behaviour of the iron-clads. The Saxon cavalry also had young soldiers in their ranks but performed wonders at Leipzig. Marshal Macdonald describes another combat with the carabiniers: "My cavalry came up at the right time and performed very well but the Horse Carabiniers did very badly. I saw with my own eyes, ten sabre-lengths away, how one enemy squadron overthrew them."
    In 1814 there was not much glory for the carabiniers neither, they stampeded before Cossacks. In 1815 some of the carabiniers deserted to Wellington even before the campaign began. There were so many carabiniers (and other cavalrymen) deserters that Wellington formed a troop called "Bourbon Cavalry Corps." At Waterloo, a sergeant of 2e Carabiniers and a thorough monarchist, deserted to the British just shortly before Napoleon's Guard attacked. He let the enemy know when and where the Guard will attack. (As claimed by British Sergeant Cotton) Captain Duthulit also stated that "this infamous criminal" was from the horse carabiniers, but he was an officer. Another carabinier deserted to the Netherland troops under Chasse.
    The remaining carabiniers however fought well at Waterloo.

    Horses and Weapons
    Until the disastrous campaign in Russia in 1812 the carabiniers rode on big black horses. In 1813-1815 they were more flexible and rode on blacks, browns and dark bays. All the horses were of high quality, one of the best in Empire.
    In 1805 the carabiniers received dragoon muskets. In 1810 their long straight sabers were replaced with slightly curved sabers (a la Montmorency). In 1812 the dragoon muskets were replaced with shorter cavalry carbines.

    1er Régiment:
    . . . . . . . . . 1805 - Prince C. Borghese
    . . . . . . . . . 1807 - F. Laroche
    . . . . . . . . . 1813 - F. C. J. De Bailliencourt
    . . . . . . . . . 1815 - A. Roge
    2e Régiment:
    . . . . . . . . . 1803 - P. N. Morin
    . . . . . . . . . 1807 - A. G. Blanchard
    . . . . . . . . . 1813 - M.L.J. De Seve
    . . . . . . . . . 1815 - F. Beugnat



    "One of French cuirassier regiments developed a unique test
    for newly assigned officers. You were given 3 horses,
    3 bottles of champagne, and 3 'willing girls' and 3 hours
    to kill the champagne, cover the girls and ride a 20-mile course.
    (Of course you could draw up your own schedule of events" :-)).
    - Colonel John Elting, US Army


    Wounded cuirassier, by W. Kossak While other types of cavalry had their important roles to play, it was the cuirassiers, the descendants of the medieval knights, who could turn a battle with their sheer weight and brute force. They looked dangerous everytime they ventured forward and the generals never employed them frivolously. When it came to hardware the cuirassiers were riding arsenals: body armor, helmets, carbines, pistols and long straigh sabers. The Russians called them zheleznye ludi (the iron men)
    There were 12 regiments of cuirassiers. Originally the 25 understrength regiments of l'Cavalerie were converted into 18 regiments. The first 12 received the strongest and tallest men and horses. Napoleon gave them armor and they became cuirassiers. They were considered as elite troops. Some British officers thought that the cuirassiers were "Bonaparte's Bodyguard." But for the Russians, Austrians and Prussians Napoleon's heavy cavalry was a familiar opponent. In 1805 at Austerlitz the 5e Cuirassier Regiment captured Russian flag. The cuirassiers also fought with the famous Hungarian hussars. Chlapowski writes: "... 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" (Chlapowski, - p. 63)
    One battle was enough for the British to learn a very healthy respect for the iron-clad warriors. Soldier Morris was so awestruck by the sheer size of the men and the horses, by their shining armor, that he thought "we could not have the slightest chance with them." After Waterloo the British gave armor to their horse guard (ext.link).

    The 13e Régiment was formed in 1809 from the 1e Provisional Heavy Cavalry Reg. The 14e Régiment was formed in 1810 from the 2e Dutch Cuirassier Reg. In 1812 war this regiment had only 2 squadrons, other squadrons were formed in Holland and became available in 1813. In May 1812 they wore the white old (Dutch) uniforms and the new dark blue (French). Regiment was disbanded in 1814. The 15e Cuirassiers was organized in 1814 in Hamburg from the elements drawn from the 2e, 3e, 4e Cuirassiers, officers were taken from many other regiments and all of them were mixed with big number of recruits. When the officers finally were able to mount one squadron the populace witnessed the warriors sprawled on the ground while their horses galloped away along the streets. They were disbanded in 1814.

    There were several cuirassier colonels and senior officers who attained the rank of general of division (1804-1815): Margaron and Berckheim (1st Regiment), Pully (8th and 10th), Murat-Sistrieres ?? (9th),Espagne (8th), Nansouty and Doumerc (9th), l'Herithier (10th), and Fouler (11th).
    Nansouty The most known cuirassier commanders were Generals Nansouty and d'Hautpoul. Nansouty came from aristocracy, went with the Revolution but did not put himself forward. Nansouty was a man of tradition, education and exactitude. "His men were always carefully trained and cared for. Yet there was no elan in his character, no readiness for an unexpected, all-out blow to save a desperate day. His disposition was mordant ... " (Elting, - p 162)
    "He was considered cautious ... or even reluctant to bring his squadrons to battle, but that was mainly on those occasions that Murat was in overall command, who Nansouty considered to be somewhat over zealous and headstrong ... Although he was considered a good, level headed, reliable and tactically sound commander he lacked the flare and initiative of a LaSalle or Montbrun." (Terry Senior, napoleon-series.org)
    In 1806 and at Jena, Nansouty commanded the 1st Cuirassier Division (1st and 2nd Carabiniers, 2nd and 9th Cuirassiers). In 1809 and at Wagram, he still led the 1st Cuirassier Division (1st and 2nd Carabiniers, 2nd, 3rd, 9th and 12th Cuirassiers) In 1812 during the Invasion of Russia and in the battle of Borodino, Nansouty commanded the I Cavalry Corps (6 cuirassier, 1 chasseur, 2 hussar, and 2 lancer regiments. He also had one German and two Polish regiments).
    Hautpoul D'Hautpoul (1754-1807) was a giant of a man, with enormous body strength. He was a self-confident and very proud individual. In contrast to Nansouty, d'Hautpoul was a fiery commander eager to charge at any time. In 1794 at Aldenhoven he crushed enemy cavalry twice as numerous and was promoted to the rank of general. In 1806 at Jena Hautpoul led the 2nd Cuirassier Division (1st, 5th and 10th Cuirassiers). In 1807 at Eylau the giant man led his armored cavalry against Russian infantry and artillery. Jean-Joseph-Ange d'Hautpoul was struck by a Russian cannonball, which dented his armor and shattered his hip. He was taken wrapped in his bloodstained cloak to the nearby village where he died the following day.

    Horses and Weapons
    The cuirassiers wore body armor. It was uncomfortable to wear in summer and expensive. In 1815 at Waterloo the entire 11e Régiment was without armor. After some summer battles many cuirassiers discarded their heavy armor. The cuirassiers were armed with straight long sabers and pistols. When in 1812 they received carbines they made considerable effort to avoid carrying them. According to one inspection only troopers in the 6e Regiment had cartridge boxes. The others kept ammunition in their pockets. According to regimental inspections only 20 % had pistols. Rousselot moted that most contemporary illustrations shows the cuirassiers without cartridge box and carbine belt. He wrote that inspections reports conducted in 1805 showed that the 3e, 4e, 7e and 8e Cuirassier Regiment lacked cartridge boxes and belts. The troopers caried few rounds of ammunition in their pockets. Inspections in 1807 again showed lacks of the same items in 4e, 6e, 7e and 8e Cuirassier Regiment.
    The cuirassiers rode possibly on blacks, browns and dark bays. All horses and men were big and strong. Only the horse carabiniers were (slightly) taller than the cuirassiers.

    The cuirassiers wore dark blue coat, a flaming grenade on coat-tails and saddlecloth, red epaulettes and plume attached to their headwear. Inspections conducted in cuirassier regiments showed lack of epaulettes on big scale. According to Decree isuued on April 7th 1807 : "From March 1st to December 1st the cuirassiers have to wear a mustache but must be clean shaven for the remaining 3 months." This regulation was until new one was issued on March 3rd 1809.
    Regimental color of lapels, collars and cuffs in 1815:
    1st, 2nd, 3rd - scarlet
    4th, 5th, 6th - aurore
    7th, 8th, 9th - primrose
    10th, 11th, 12th - pink

    Uniforms of French cuirassier regiments.

    No. Coat Breeches Collar Turnbacks
    1er dark blue white red red
    2e dark blue white red red
    3e dark blue white red red
    4e dark blue white orange orange
    5e dark blue white orange orange
    6e dark blue white orange orange
    7e dark blue white yellow yellow
    8e dark blue white yellow yellow
    9e dark blue white yellow yellow
    10e dark blue white pink pink
    11e dark blue white pink pink
    12e dark blue white pink pink



    French dragoons by Italeri In 1799-1800 France had 20 dragoon regiments.
    Napoleon formed 5 new dragoon regiments (22e, 23e, 24e, 25e, 26e) from the disbanded regiments d'cavalerie.
    The 22e Dragons was formed from the 13e and 20e l'Cavalerie,
    the 23e Régiment from 14e and 20e,
    the 24e Régiment from 15e, 21er and 22e,
    the 25e Régiment from 16e and 21er,
    the 26e from 17e and 21e,
    and the 27e Régiment was from the 18e and 22e l'Cavalerie.
    The 21e Régiment was formed in 1800 from Piedmontese dragoons.
    The 29e Régiment was formed in 1803 from Piedmontese hussars.

    In 1804 Napoleon had 30 dragoon regiments.
    In 1811 the 1er, 3e, 8e, 9e, 10e and 20e Régiment were converted into lancers.
    In 1815 there were only 15 dragoon regiments.

    Foot dragoon, Musee de l'Armee Napoleon could mount only part of his dragoons. That fact, combined with Napoleon's modern ideas of combining fire power and mobility, led him to the conclusion that units of foot dragoons should be formed. For his planned cross-Channel invasion of England, he organized two divisions of dismounted dragoons. They were put into infantry-style shoes, gaiters and packs. They also received drums to supplement their trumpets. Colonel Elting writes: "The assignement was sensible, but troopers caught up in the shuffle remembered that veteran dragoons, who hadn't walked farther in years than the distance from their barracks to the nearest bar, ended up in the dismounted units, while their mounts were assigned to raw recruits. The results were rough on everybody: hospitals filled up with spavined veterans, recruits got saddle sores. Also, J.A. Oyon wrote gleefully, matters turned ugly when mounted and dismounted elements of several regiments bivouaced together. The limping veterans crowded over to check on their old horses and found them neglected, sore-backed, and lame.
    Blood flowed freely, if only from rookies' noses."
    The dragoons were trained in infantry and cavalry duties and for this reason their horsemanship "was wobbly" and their swordsmanship was not of the highest order. In the first phase of Napoleonic Wars they served on the primary theater of war, in Central Europe, charging in numerous battles and skirmishes. In November 1805 the dragoon brigade under Sebastiani took 2,000 prisoners at Pohrlitz.

    French dragoons in Spain, by M.Churms. After 1807 majority of the dragoons served on secondary theaters of wars, Spain and Italy. Many of the regiments in Spain lacked uniforms, horses and equipment. For example in Spain they were dressed in the brown cloth of the Capucines found in convents and churches. They also had difficulty in obtaining eppaulettes for their elite companies and chin straps. For lack of sufficient number of regulation sabers the old Toledo-swords with three edges were used. But the dragoons were efficient troops. They fought a grim and deadly war of ambush and retaliation against the hostile Spaniards. They guarded communication lines and escorted convoys. They also participated in battles with the British and Spanish armies.
    Lord Paget captured by French dragoons, by Dubourg In 1812 the second in command of the British army, Lord Paget (ext.link), was captured by the dragoons. Napier writes: "In one of these charges General Paget was carried off from the midst of his own men, and it might have been Wellington's fortune, for he also was continually riding between the columns and without escort." (Napier - "History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814" Vol IV, p 152)

    Many individual dragoons were brave. Costello describes another gallant dragoon. "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 "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" pp 66-67)

    Colonels and senior officers of dragoon regiments who attained the rank of general of division (1804-1815): Arrighi (1st Regiment), Grouchy (2nd), Wathier (4th), Beaumont, Milhaud and Louis Bonaparte (5th), Tilly and Fauconnet (6th), Sebastiani (9th), Dejean (11th), St. Sulpice (12th), Roget (13th), Tilly and Blaniac (14th), Landremont (17th), Lefebvre-Desnouettes (18th), Caulaincourt (19th), Boussart and Corbineau (20th), Delort (24th), and Ornano (25th).
    Grouchy Grouchy, the future marshal, was promoted lieutenant-colonel of the 12th Chasseur-a-Cheval Regiment in 1791. In 1792 he became colonel of the 2nd Dragoon Regiment (in July he was colonel of 6th Hussar Regiment). John Elting writes: " [he] was of the ancient chivalry of France, his family acknowledged aristocracy from at least the 14th Century. ... From the first it was clear that he was 'a horseman by nature and cavalry soldier by instinct.' Better, he knew how to handle forces of all arms and took good care of his men. When he was suspeneded in 1793 because he was an aristocrat, his troopers came close to mutiny. ... Grouchy's correspondence shows a thin-skinned man, reluctant to assume responsibility yet conscientious in discharging it. Actually he was abler than he realized. He failed to show the necessary initiative during Waterloo but, left isolated after that battle, managed a masterful retreat. As a cavalryman, he was far superior to Murat in tactical skill, administrative ability, and common sense. Clean-handed and very courageous ..."
    In 1806 and at Jena, Grouchy led 2nd Dragoon Division (10th, 11th, 13th and 22nd Dragoons). In 1809 and at Wagram, he led Dragoon Division [Brigade ?] (7th, 30th Dragoons, and la Reine Dragoons.) In 1812 during the Invasion of Russia and in the battle of Borodino, Emmanuel Grouchy commanded the III Cavalry Corps (4 dragoon, 3 chasseur, and 1 hussar regiment. He also had three German regiments).

    Horses and Weapons
    Napoleon had problems to find the right horses for his dragoons. In 1805 approximately 6.000 of them were without mounts and were organized into 4 foot dragoon regiments. Their duty was to guard the artillery reserves and the baggage trains. After the 1805-campaign Napoleon mounted the foot dragoons on captured Austrian horses. Then after the 1806-campaign Napoleon mounted the rest of the "walkers" on captured Prussian and Saxon horses. The hardships of war in Spain, plus poor horsecare killed thousands of dragoons' mounts. For example in May 1811 the 3e Dragons had only 139 horses left out of 563 ! The situation was so desperate that in 1812 was issued an order that all officers in infantry regiments have to give their horses to the dragoons.

    The dragoons were armed with straight sabers and muskets. Their muskets were longer and had longer range of fire than light cavalry's carbines. While a light cavalryman's eqipment included a carbine sling as a means of keeping his weapon readily available for use, the greater length of musket issued to dragoons made a sling impractical. Thus the stock of the musket was seated in a boot attached to the saddle, and irs barrel restrained by a strap attached to the pommel. When the dragoons expected to go into action they drew sabers and muskets slung on their backs. In 1814 they gave away their long muskets for the infantry.

    In February 1808 Napoleon gave each dragoon regiment 8 sappers. They wore red eppaulettes and bearskins but with no front plate.

    The dragoons wore gren coats, white breeches and tall black boots. The distinctive headgear of the dragoons was their brass, neo-Grecian style, helmet with its black horsehair. Troopers had a brown fur turban around it, officers an imitation leopard skin. The dragoons wore insygnia of elite troops, but only a flaming grenade on coat-tails and saddlecloth.

    Uniforms of French dragoon regiments.

    No. Coat Breeches Collar Turnbacks
    1er green white scarlet scarlet
    2e green white green scarlet
    3e green white scarlet scarlet
    4e green white scarlet scarlet
    5e green white green scarlet
    6e green white scarlet scarlet
    7e green white crimson crimson
    8e green white green crimson
    9e green white crimson crimson
    10e green white crimson crimson
    11e green white green crimson
    12e green white crimson crimson
    13e green white pink pink
    14e green white green pink
    15e green white pink pink
    16e green white pink pink
    17e green white green pink
    18e green white pink pink
    19e green white yellow yellow
    20e green white green yellow
    21e green white yellow yellow
    22e green white yellow yellow
    23e green white green yellow
    24e green white yellow yellow
    25e green white orange orange
    26e green white green orange
    27e green white orange orange
    28e green white orange orange
    29e green white green orange
    30e green white orange orange


    [Chevau-Légers Lanciers]

    French lancer, by Bellange French author St.Hilaire wrote about Napoleonic lances: "The Polish lancer, as well as the French lancer distinguished himself by his elegant appearance; but the looks of this last were softer and the colors of his origin moderated, in respect to the military roughness of the first figure. As brave as the Polish lancer, the French lancer had a lively mood; he was more sober especially in his way of living, while the intemperance of Polish had become proverbial in the army."

    The Poles were acknowledged to be the finest lancers in Europe and Russia, Prussia and Austria recruited their uhlan units from among the Polish subjects. It was followed by an imitative creation of lancer regiments all across Western Europe (France, Germany and and even the British got around to it after Napoleonic wars).
    Before the Russian campaign Napoleon wanted to oppose the Cossacks who were nimble, tough warriors. The 1er, 3e, 8e, 9e, 10e and the 29e Régiment des Dragons were converted to 1er, 2e, 3e, 4e, 5e, and 6e Chevau-Légers Lanciers. The Vistula Uhlans and the Polish Guard lancers sent their troopers as instructors to the newly formed French units. Once trained by the Poles the regiments received tough lot of French officers "such as Perquit... who didn't recognize any danger." (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne") The 7e and 8e Chevau-Légers Lanciers were formed from Poles, by conversion of the 1st and 2nd Vistula Uhlans. They wore their traditional Polish style uniforms (no helmets). The 9th Regiment was made of Germans. It was formed by conversion of the 30e Chasseurs.

    In 1811 at Albuera the entire brigade of British infantry totally disintegrated after the charge of Vistula Uhlans. The Poles captured several cannons, several Colors and took hundreds of prisoners. The panick stricken redcoats surrendered en masse; they threw down their arms, stripped themselves of their belts and ran to the rear.
    In 1815 at Genappe Colonel of 2e Lanciers was badly wounded and his arm was amputated by surgeon Larrey. But Surd insisted on maintaining command of his regiment and in fact led his men all day long against the Prussians at Plancenoit !
    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. Some British cavalrymen on foot slipped in the mud and tried to ward off the lance blows with their hands but without much success.
    At Waterloo Sir Ponsonby together with his adjutant, Major Reignolds made a dash to own line, and a French lancer quickly began pursuing them. While they were crossing a plowed field, Ponsonby's horse got stuck in the mud in an instant, the lancer was upon him. Ponsonby threw his saber away and surrendered. Reignolds came to his aid, but the lancer compelled both of them to dismount under the threat of his lance. At that moment, a small group of Scots Grays happened to pass a short distance away, saw the three, and galloped shouting in their direction with the idea of liberating Sir Ponsonby. "In a flash, the Frenchman killed the general and his brigade major with 2 blows of his lance, then boldly charged the oncoming dragoons striking down 3 in less than a minute. The others abandoned the combat, completely incapable of holding their own against the enemy's deadly weapon." (Barbero - "The Battle" p 163)

    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.)

    Uniforms of French lancer regiments.

    No. Coat Breeches Collar Turnbacks
    1er green green scarlet scarlet
    2e green green orange orange
    3e green green pink pink
    4e green green crimson crimson
    5e green green light blue light blue
    6e green green red red
    7e dark blue dark blue yellow yellow
    8e dark blue dark blue dark blue yellow
    9e dark blue dark blue ? ?


    "Among the bravest chasseurs in the regiment
    was reckoned a corporal of the Elite Company
    who, when he was only a trumpeter, and barely
    at the age of 15, made captive with his own
    hand a gigantic dragoon of [Austrian] Latour
    regiment." - Parquin: "Napoleon's Victories"

    Horse Chasseurs

    Chasseur, by Bellange In 1798 the Directorate had 22 regiments of chasseurs but Napoleon increased their numbers. In 1804 were already 24 regiments, in 1811 as many as 31 regiments. Only in 1815 were 15 regiments. There were several reasons why the Emperor formed so many units of chasseurs. Their uniforms were cheaper than hussars', their horses cheaper than cuirassiers'. They were capable of dismounted action (like dragoons) and were suited to reconnaissance duties (like the hussars). Some regiments were also trained for several months (at least in 1805) to handle the guns. But according to Charles Parquin of 20e Chasseurs "we never had the opportunity of using the talent which we acquired." Many of chasseurs were reckless bravados - in one of the battles of 1809 an officer of 20e Chasseurs dismounted so that he could go a little toward the enemy in order to relieve nature. When he was standing with his legs apart and facing the Austrians, a cannonball hit him killing on the spot. In 20e served Charles Parquin, in 23e was Marbot, both wrote interesting and enterteining memoirs. In 1805 at Austerlitz 5e and 26e Chasseurs captured Allies flags. They were able to fight dismounted. In 1809 "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)

    The chasseurs thought being equal to hussars. The hussars however thought otherwise. Frequent quarrels arose between the two on the most triffling pretext. The chasseurs were best suited for small warfare. On 8th February 1814 a half squadron of 31er Chasseur captured 150 Austrian infantry near Massimbona. Another squadron captured 300 infantry between Marengo and Roverbella. Even the scouts of the regiment did something to be proud of, they captured an Austrian baggage column, which was moving into Villafranca with its escort. (Nafziger and Gioannini - "The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814" pp 160-162)

    There were however also defeats and ambushes. De Rocca writes: "Not far from the village of Mia Casas, the Spaniards had placed several squadrons of their best cavalry in ambush, this chosen cavalry fell unawares upon the chasseurs of our advanced guard, who were marching without order ... Our horsemen were overpowered by numbers ... and, in less than 10 minutes, our enemies completely destroyed upwards of 150 of the bravest of our 10th Regiment. ... We arrived too late; we saw nothing but the cloud of dust at a distance, which the retiring Spaniards left behind them. The colonel of the 10th was endeavouring to rally his chasseurs, and tearing his hair at the sight of the wounded strewed here and there over a pretty considerable space of ground."

    Colonels and seniors officers of chasseur regiments who attained the rank of general of division (1804-1815): Montbrun (1st and 7th Regiment), Sahuc and Excelmans (1st Regiment), Laboissiere and Le Marois (2nd), Latour-Maubourg (3rd), Hautpoul (6th), Pire and La Grange et de Fourilles (7th), La Baroliere (9th), Ordener and Subervie (10th), Treillard, Bessieres and Jacquinot (11th), Defrance (12th), Lepic (15th), Durosnel (16th), Colaud and Murat-Sistrieres, La Coste-Duvivier and Castex (20th), Latour-Mauborg and Bordesseoule (22nd), St.Germaine and Bruyeres (23rd), Pierre Soult (25th), and Digeon (26th).
    Montbrun One of the most known chasseurs was Montbrun. Louis-Pierre Montbrun (1770-1812) joined the cavalry in 1789 in the age of 19. According to Terry J. Senior of napoleon-series.org "This soldier was a superb equestrian, with a brilliant sword arm, and a terrific combat record. He possessed an exceptional talent for controlling large formations of mixed cavalry. Rated ahead of LaSalle on the basis that he was less headstrong and more calculating than the legendary hussar commander." Elting writes: "Montbrun was a worthy comrade. Very tall, scarred, and soldierly, with an eye that compelled obedience, active and tireless, he had risen from private to colonel of the 1st Chasseurs-a-Cheval. Davout got him promoted to general of brigade. He was at once prudent and reckless, careful of the lives of his men yet a driving, aggressive leader. In August 1812 he was suffering an attack of gout when the Russians attempted a counteroffnsive; unable to pull on his boots, he rode to the rescue in his stocking feet. A month later at Borodino a chance cannon shot killed him." At Borodino Montbrun commanded the II Cavalry Corps.
    In 1809 and at the Battle of Wagram, Montbrun commanded Cavalry Division (1st, 2nd, 11th and 12th Chasseurs, 5th and 7th Hussars). In 1812 during the Invasion of Russia and in the battle of Borodino, he led the II Cavalry Corps (4 chasseur, 4 cuirassier, 2 carabinier and 1 lancer regiment. He also had two German and one Polish regiments).

    In no other branch of cavalry served so many foreigners, six regiments of chasseurs were formed of foreigners:
    16e - Belgians.
    19e - Swiss, later of Italians.
    26e - formed in 1802 of Italians.
    27e - formed in 1808 of Belgians and Germans.
    28e - formed in 1808 of Italians.
    30e - formed in Feb 1811 of Germans, in June became the 9e Chevau-Legers Lanciers.

    The chasseurs wore shakos, green coats, green breeches and short boots. The elite companies wore colpacks instead of shakos. Many chasseurs kept their hair braided and were proud of their mustaches. Charles Parquin of 20e Chasseurs was not so lucky in this aspect, he wrote: "to my grief, my moustache had refused to grow despite constant encouragement with the razor." ;=)

    They were light/line cavalry armed with carbines, bayonets and slightly curved sabers. Actually in early campaigns they were armed with two types of sabers: a la husarde and a la chasseur. Both weapons were replaced by light cavalry saber Pattern XI. The bayonets were disliked by cavalrymen, they were used for digging up the potatoes and then threw away.

  • ~


    The hussars had the cleanest bodies
    and the filthiest minds.

    For the hussars "The wolrd was divided by them into two parts,
    the happy zone, in which the vine grows, and the detestable zone,
    which is without it." - Albert-Jean-Michel de Rocca, 2e Hussars

    Musee de l'Armee On picture: robust hussar of Lasalle's "Hellish Brigade"
    Reenactor Group at 7eme Regiment de Hussards.

    "The last type of horsemen to join the ranks of the French cavalry were hussars, a form of mounted unit composed of Hungarian light cavalry who forged their methods of combat fighting against the Turks. Hussars were true light cavalry, used best for raiding and scouting. They rode smaller horses, carried somewhat lighter weapons and curved sabers, and wore costumes typical of their origins. Proposals for cavalerie hongroise came in 1635, and by 1637, at least 5 companies of such exotic horsemen showed up on French rolls, but they disappeared with the Peace of the Pyrenees. The first genuine French hussar regiment was raised in 1692 from Imperial deserters, and by 1710, the French counted 3 regiments of these often outlandish cavalry, regarded by some more as thieves on horseback than as true cavalrymen." (Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle" p 492)
    During a parade the sight of the hussars would the women’s hearts made wildly pounding. In combat they rode yelling most unearthly, cursing and brandishing their weapons. They had their own code - that of reckless curage that bordered on a death wish. The hussars were the eyes, ears and … egos of the army.
    With their look suitably piratical their hair plaited and queued they were one heck of mean buggers. Some regiments were composed of fellows who had a natural longing for a fight (or trouble !) The mutually supporting camaraderie of the hussars was important factor of their esprit de corps. Tactically they were used as scouts and screen for other troops and due to their combativeness were also used in pitched battles. It was not a rare sight to see a hussar in a forefront of a hack-and-slash melee, gripping his reins with his teeth, a pistol in one hand and saber in the other.

    He considered himself as better horseman and swordsman than everybody else. Bragging, smoking a pipe, drinking, and duelling - these were their funs. There was a saying: "The hussars were loved by every wife and hated by every husband". The hussars liked to sing songs that insulted dragoons and considered themselves distinctly more dashing than chasseurs. In 1805 at Austerlitz the 2e Hussars captured Allies flag. The 2e was a famous unit. Raised in 1734 by Count Esterhazy, this regiment too the name Chamborant from its colonel. "The color of its uniform, a most distinctive chestnut-brown with sky-blue facings and breeches, was reputedly suggested by Marie Antoinnette who remarked upon the color of the habit of a passing monk when Chamborant asked what color she would suggest for the uniform of his regiment." (Philip Haythornthwaite)
    the 1er Hussars was not worse than the 2e. In 1806 before the battle of Jena the Guard cavalry had not yet arrived in time and the 1er had acted as the Emperor's body guard !

    Senior officers and colonels of hussar regiments who attained the rank of general of division (1804-1815): de Gau Fregeville and Gerard (2nd), Houssaye, LeBrun, and Le Ferriere-Levesque (3rd), Merlin (4th), Grouchy, Lagrange, Kilmaine, Roche and Pajol (6th), Rapp and Pierre Colbert (7th), Marulaz (8th), Mermet, Beaumont and Lasalle (10th), and Fournier-Sarloveze (12th).
    Lasalle The most famous hussar commander was General Antoine-Charles Lasalle, "the man for high adventure and reckless deeds. In 1806 after the Battle of Jena, with only 900 hussars at his back and no weapon heavier than their popgun carbines, he bluffed the great fortress of Stettin, with 200 guns and a garrison of 5,000 men, into surrender. ... He had no enemies and rode with open heart and open hand. Utterly brave, loving danger, laughing at his own hardships, frequently charging with a long pipe instead of a saber in his hand, he had too much heart and too little head to handle masses of cavalry, and so got himself uselessly killed at the end of day at Wagram ... His trick of the trade was to charge at the trot, holding his men solidly in hand to meet an enemy exhausted from galloping." (Elting, - p 163)
    Lasalle wore striking uniform, admired by all hussars. It was an ultimate showoff. His horse was one of the best in the French Empire. Only Murat was more popular among the French and Polish light cavalrymen.
    In 1806-7 Lasalle commanded the famous 'Hellish Brigade' (5th and 7th Hussar Regiment). In 1807 he led the II Cavalry Corps (the I Cavalry Corps was under Murat). In 1809 and at Wagram Lasalle commanded Cavalry Division (8th Hussars, 13th, 16th and 24th Chasseurs).
    Junot The Colonel-General of Hussars was General Andoche Junot. He gave Napoleon absolute loyalty, his whirlwind bravery earned him the nickname "the Tempest." Junot however was becoming erratic, the result of several head wounds.

    Although adventure and war were the breath of their nostrils they were also boasters as no troops are invincible. In 1807 at Golymin General Lasalle led his legendary "Hellish Brigade" (5e and 7e Hussar Regiment) against Russian battery of 12-15 guns. The hussars charged with vigor but then were abruptly seized with panic. The two regiments turned about and, in an indescribable disorder officers and men mixed, stampeded back to the rear. "Of the whole brigade only the elite company of the 7e Hussars, placed immediately behind the generals, remained firmly at their posts." (Dupont - "La panique de Golymin" Cavaliers d'épopée.) Lasalle was furious. He rode after them, halted and brought them back. Lasalle kept them within a short range from the Russian guns as punishment for their earlier behavior. Now nobody dared to leave his post.
    One of the most known cowards was squadron leader of the 5th Hussar Regiment "whose colonel had even undertaken in General Montbrun's presence to issue him with a certificate of officerly cowardice any day he asked for it. Several times he'd let his men charge without accompanying them. At Inkovo he'd even slid from his horse and surrendered !" (Britten-Austin - "1812 The March on Moscow" p 381)

    In 1798 the Directorate had 12 hussar regiments.
    In 1803 the 11e and 12e Régiment became 29e and 30e Dragons.
    In 1804 were 10 hussar regiments numbered 1er-10e.
    In 1810 the 11e Régiment was reraised from Dutch 2nd Hussar Reg.
    In February 1813 the 12e Regiment was reraised from the 9e Bis Husards (which was made of detached squadrons). Between Jan and Dec 1813 existed 13e Regiment. This unit fought well and suffered heavily. It was disbanded and its remnants were put into new 14e Regiment formed in Northern Italy in 1813. Majority of them were Italians. The 13e Regiment was reraised in January 1814 from hussars of Jerome Bonaparte.
    In 1815 there were only 7 hussar regiments.

    Uniforms and Weapons
    The hussar was armed with pistols and curved saber. Some had carbines. The hussars were the most flamboyantly dressed part of every army. Their brilliant uniforms exemplified the panache with which they lived and fought.

    Uniforms of French hussar regiments.

    No. Dolman Pelisse Breeches Lace Cuffs Collar
    1er sky blue sky blue sky blue white red sky blue
    2e brown brown sky blue white sky blue brown
    3e blue gray blue gray blue gray red red blue gray
    4e dark blue red dark blue yellow red dark blue
    5e sky blue white sky blue yellow white sky blue
    6e red dark blue dark blue yellow dark blue dark blue
    7e green green red yellow red red
    8e green green red white red red
    9e red sky blue sky blue yellow sky blue sky blue
    10e sky blue sky blue sky blue white red red
    11e dark blue dark blue dark blue yellow red red
    12e red sky blue sky blue white sky blue sky blue


    At Quatre Bras, French cuirassiers, Private Henry and NCO Gauthire
    captured King's Color of the II Btn. of 69th Foot [GdD Kellermann wrote
    in his report (now in S.H.A.T. C15 5) to Ney after the charge:
    "We took the Color of the 69th which was captured by the cuirassiers
    Valgayer and Mourassin" (added with pencil by another hand:
    "Albisson and Henry ?").]
    However the British 69th "at once ordered its regimental tailors
    to make up a new flag, and denied any loss. Unfortunately,
    Napoleon had already announced the capture."
    (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne")

    Best Cavalry Regiments.

    Charge ! On picture: charging hussar. Maughan - "Napoleon's Cavalry Recreated in Color Photographs".

    The light cavalry enjoyed reputation for bravery and an uninhibited joie-de-vivre when not. There were many excellent regiments of light cavalry, including the 1er Husards, 2e Husards, 3e Husards, 1er Chasseurs-a-Cheval, 5e Chasseurs-a-Cheval or any of the lancer regiments. NCO Guindey of 10e Hussars killed Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. NCO Pawlikowski of Vistula Uhlans captured Prince Liechtenstein. Between 1809 and 1812 the Baden, Saxon and Hessian outfits were superb. We have selected several units for their achievements on the battlefield, awards and number of battles during the Empire (1804-1815).
    The heavy cavalry was not worse. In 1809 arriving at Ratisbon, the 2e Cuirassiers took part in a fight with the Austrian Merveldt Uhlan Regiment first and then against the Hohenzollern and Ferdinand Cuirassier Regiments. Charged three times, the Austrians were routed, the 2e Cuirassiers took 200 prisoners fortified in a village.

    1er Regiment de Vistule Lanciers (In 1811 the "Vistula Uhlans" were renamed to 7e Lanciers)
    6 Enemy's Colors Captured
    0 Battle Honors: no battle honors were given to this foreign troop. Not even Albuera (!)
    42 Battles: 1806 - Naples and Gaete, 1807 - Strigau, Dantzi and Saltzbrun, 1808 - Tudela, Mallen, Alagon, Saragosse and Almaraz, 1809 - Guadalajara, Jevenes, Ciudad-Real, Santa-Cruz and Alenbillas, Talavera, Almonacid, Santa Maria de Nieva, and Ocana, 1810 - Sierra Morena, Baza, Arquillos, Orgas, Tortosa, Almanzor and Lorca, 1811 - Cor, Albuera, Olivenza, Baza, Berlanga, 1813 - Magdebourg, Naumbourg, Bautzen, Dresden, Pirna, Leipzig and Hanau, 1814 - Montereau, Neuilly-Saint-Front, Chalons and Chartres
    Colonels: 1808 - Konopka, 1811 - Stokowski, (1813 - Tanski ?)
    The uhlans defeated Prussians at Strigau, Austrians at Hohenlinden, at Mallen and Tudela trounced the Spaniards, at Albuera and Talavera routed the British, in 1813 it was turn for the Russians. No other light cavalry regiment participated in so many combats, in so different terrain and climate, took so many Colors and prisoners and fought even after Napoleon;s abdication. NCO Pawlikowski of Vistula Uhlans captured Prince Liechtenstein. During the Siege of Saragossa they climbed down from their saddles and stormed the entrenched enemy camp.

    7e Regiment de Hussards(part of the legendary "Hellish Brigade")
    5 Battle Honors: 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Heilsberg, 1812 - Borodino, 1813 - Hanau, 1814 - Vauchamps
    33 Battles: 1805 - Mariazell, Affleng, and Austerlitz, 1806 - Gera, Zehbenick, Prentzlow, Stettin, Lubeck, Czenstowo ?, Golymin, 1807 - Eylau, Heilsberg, and Konigsberg, 1809 - Peising, Ratisbone, Raab, Wagram and Znaim, 1812 - Vilna, Smolensk, Ostrowno, and Borodino, 1813 - Borna, Altenbourg, Leipzig, and Hanau, 1814 - Vauchamps, Montereau, Reims, Laon and Paris 1815 - Fleurus and Waterloo
    Colonels: 1803 - Rapp, 1803 - Marx, 1806 - Colbert, 1809 - Custine 1810 - Eulner, 1814 - Marbot
    This regiment was part of the legendary 'Hellish Brigade' under General Lasalle. In 1806 member of this regiment captured Color of Prussian Queen's Dragoon Regiment.

    5e Regiment de Hussards (part of the legendary "Hellish Brigade")
    5 Battle Honors: 1792 - Jemmapes, 1806 - Jena, 1809 - Eckmuhl, 1812 - Borodino, 1813 - Hanau
    20 Battles: 1805 - Austerlitz, 1806 - Crewitz, Stettin, and Golymin, 1807 - Waltersdorf, Eylau, Heilsberg and Konigsberg, 1809 - Eckmuhl and Wagram, 1812 - Borodino, Winkono, and Berezina, 1813 - Bautzen, Leipzig, and Hanau, 1814 - Arcis-sur-Aube, 1815 - Ligny, Waterloo and Versailles
    Colonels: 1794 - Schwartz, 1806 - Dery, 1809 - Meuziau, 1813 - Fournier, 1814 - Liegeard
    This regiment was part of the legendary 'Hellish Brigade' under General Lasalle.

    5e Regiment de Chasseurs-à-Cheval
    2 Battle Honors: 1805 - Austerlitz, 1807 - Friedland
    45 Battles: 1805 - Munich, Wasserbourg, Haag, and Austerlitz, 1806 - Schleiz, Furstenberg, Waren, Crewitz, and Lubeck, 1807 - Morhungen, Lobau, Krentzberg, and Friedland, 1808 - Pont d'Alcolea, Baylen, Burgos, Somosierra (?), and Pont d'Almaras, 1809 - Medellin, Torrigos, and Talevera, 1810 - Cadiz., 1812 - Bornos, 1813 - Alembra, El-Coral, Caracuel, Olmeda, Hilesca, Burgos, and Vittoria, 1813 - Juterbock, Dennewitz, Mockern, La Partha, Leipzig, and Hanau, 1814 - Orthez and Toulouse, 1814 - Remagen, La Chaussee, Mormant, Troyes, Bar-sur-Aube, Sommepuis, and Saint- Dizier
    Colonels: 1800 - Corbineau, 1806 - Bonnemains, 1811 - Baillot, 1814 - Duchastel

    23e Regiment de Chasseurs-à-Cheval
    3 Battle Honors: 1809 - Eckmuhl, Essling and Wagram
    26 Battles: 1805 - Varone, Passage of the Brenta, and Tagliamento, 1809 - Eckmuhl, Essling, Wagram and Znaim, 1812 - Lakubowo, Oboiarshchina, Polotsk, Jakubowo, Beresina, Plechenniki and Kowno, 1813 - Dantzig, Buntzlau, Katzbach, Goerlitz, Wittenberg, Geyersberg, and Leipzig, 1814 - Chaussee, Vauchamps, Meaux, Troyes and Fere-Champenoise.
    Colonels: 1805 - Bruyeres, 1806 - Lambert, 1811 - La Nougarede Lagarde, 1812 - Marbot
    Marbot served in this unit.

    Below are the best heavy cavalry regiments.
    (Battle record and colonels from the period of 1805-15 only)

    1er Regiment de Carabiniers-à-Cheval
    0 Battle Honors:
    25 Battles: 1805 - Nurembourg and Austerlitz, 1806 - Prentzlow and Lubeck, 1807 - Ostrolenka, Guttstadt, and Friedland, 1809 - Eckmuhl, Ratisbonne, Essling, and Wagram, 1812 - Borodino, Winkowo, and Wiazma, 1813 - Dresden, Leipzig, and Hanau, 1814 - Montmirail, La Guillotiere, Troyes, Craonne, Laon, and Reims, 1815 - Quatre-Bras and Waterloo
    Colonels: 1805 - Prince Borghese, 1807 - Laroche, 1813 - d'Bailliencourt, 1815 - Roge

    5e Regiment de Cuirassiers
    3 Battle Honors: 1805 - Austerlitz, 1809 - Wagram, 1812 - Borodino
    25 Battles: 1805 - Hollabrunn, Brunn, and Austerlitz, 1806 - Jena and Lubeck, 1807 - Hoff, Eylau, Wittenberg, and Koenisberg, 1809 - Rohr, Eckmuhl, Ratisbonne, Essling, and Wagram, 1812 - La Moskowa and Winkowo, 1813 - Leipzig and Hanau, 1814 - Montmirail, Bar-sur-Aube, Troyes, Nogent, and S.Dizier, 1815 - Ligny and Waterloo
    Colonels: 1802 - Noirot, 1806 - Quinette,1811 - Christophe, 1814 - Gobert

    8e Regiment de Cuirassiers
    3 Battle Honors: 1809 - Wagram, 1812 - Borodino, 1813 - Hanau
    11 Battles: 1805 1805 - Caldiero and Tagliamento, 1807 - Heilsberg, 1809 - Essling and Wagram, 1812 - Borodino, 1813 - Leipzig and Hanau, 1814 - Vauchamps, 1815 - Quatre-Bras and Waterloo
    Colonels: 1805 - Grandjean, 1813 - Lafaivre, 1815 - Garavaque

    11e Regiment de Dragons
    3 Battle Honors: 1805 - Austerlitz, 1807 - Friedland, 1809 - Alba-de-Tormes
    24 Battles: 1805 - Landsberg, Ulm, Amstetten, Hollabrunn, Rausnitz, and Austerlitz, 1806 - Zehdenick and Prentzlow, 1807 - Eylau and Friedland, 1809 - Alba-de-Tormes, 1810 - Busaco, 1811 - Redhina, Fuentes-de-Onoro and Cuidad Rodrigo, 1812 - Les Arapiles, 1813 - Vitoria, 1813 - Leipzig and Hanau, 1814 - Saint-Dizier, Brienne, La Rothiere, and Montmirail, 1815 - Strasbourg
    Colonels: 1805 - Bourbier, 1807 - Dejean, 1811 - Thevenez d'Aoust, 1815 - Montagnier

    20e Regiment de Dragons
    3 Battle Honors: 1806 - Jena, 1807 - Friedland, 1811 - Albuhera
    31 Battles: 1805 - Wertingen, Memmingen, Neresheim, Ulm, and Austerlitz, 1806 - Jena and Pultusk, 1807 - Eylau, Heilsberg, and Friedland, 1808 - Andujar and Tudela, 1809 - Ucles, Ciudad-Real, Almonacid, Ocana, Salamanca, Pampelune, and Tamames, 1811 - Albuera, 1813 - Leipzig, Dresden, and Hanau, 1814 - S.Dizier, Brienne, La Rothiere, Mormont, Monterau, and Troyes, 1815 - Ligny and Waterloo
    Colonels: 1800 - Reynaud, 1807 - Corbineau, 1811 - Desargus, 1815 - De Briqueville

    Sources and Links.

    Colonel John Elting - "Swords Around a Throne"
    Bukhari - "Napoleon's Cavalry"
    Rousselot - "Napoleon's Elite Cavalry"
    Maughan - "Napoleon's Cavalry Recreated in Color Photographs"
    Johnson - "Napoleon's Cavalry and Its Leaders"
    Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns"
    Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars"
    Charmy - "Splendeur des Uniformes de Napoleon: Cavalry"
    Napier - "History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814"
    Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" (translated by Tim Simmons)
    The fighting 7th Hussar Regiment
    French cavalry 1812 - Uniforms.
    French Cavalry
    Pulaski, Father of the American Cavalry

    Cavalry Tactics and Combat
    Types of Cavalry, Weapons, Armor, Organization, Tactical Formations
    Cut and Slash vs Thrust, Charge, Melee, Pursuit, Casualties
    The Best Cavalry

    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies