Napoleon Series Archive 2004

Re: French Massed Cavalry Charges

Kevin -

If you are referring to Liechtenstein's role at Austerlitz, I don't think the example is very well suited to assessing Liechtenstein's capabilities. As you point out, this was a formation assembled a few weeks earlier from elements of three separate armies, so cohesion was impossible no matter what L's abilities might have been. The force he commanded WAS 60 squadrons excluding cossacks, but lacked anything resembling cohesion by its very nature. Essen-2 went off half-cocked against orders (it may well be that he didn't consider himself obliged to obey an Austrian), but I don't think we can blame L for this "lack of control" under the circumstances (allies being liable to do unexpected things against orders, see Leipzig). Then L split his command, taking the three Austrian regiments to the south of Blaziowitz and leaving Uvarov to cover the ground north of Blaziowitz (22 squadrons and 20 squadrons), the two parts operating more or less independently for the rest of the day to plug two separate gaps. Hohenlohe's Austrians successfully delayed the advance of Bernadotte's cavalry-less divisions while Uvarov played seesaw with Kellerman and Nansouty for more than an hour (in cooperation with Bagration's cavalry), successfully stalling the advance of Lannes' infantry. Keeping his forces united and not plugging both gaps would have been far worse, so I'm not sure I see where L wasn't using his forces to their best advantage. More reacting to urgent necessity to the degree that he could.

But as noted, so much was going wrong for the allies at Austerlitz it is really just a matter of gauging how well he reacted, which seems to me to be as well as could be expected. I'm not familiar enough with the rest of his career to make any more general comment on his abilities.

For the rest, the Austrian regiments charged individually which meant masses of 8 squadrons as I mentioned further up. Uvarov charged his light cavalry and pair of dragoon regiments separately, 10 squadrons each. Murat at the same time was operating in masses by division - Kellerman and d'hautpoul with 12 squadrons each, Nansouty with 18. I'm not aware of any charges by Walther's dragoons, but Boye at Telnitz launched an initial charge with 6 squadrons, after which Napoleon sent in the remaining 12 of his division in a separate charge. The Austrian countercharge involved 8 squadrons. So yes, no large cavalry masses in action on the allied side, but not on the French side either. The masses engaged were roughly comparable and this seems appropriate on both sides considering the ground and the actual situation.

There might be a better example in 1809 - or maybe better yet, 1800.

Incidentally, despite the formal organization of his divisions, Bennigsen reformed his cavalry into three "masses" for his january 1807 offensive, and they fought at Eylau in these masses. Subesequent organizational shifts collected regiments by type, so we have a development towards something similar to the French cavalry reserve beginning 1807.

Regards,

Robert Goetz

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French Massed Cavalry Charges
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