Napoleon Series Archive 2004

A Legacy of Massed Cavalry Charges
In Response To: French Massed Cavalry Charges ()

Digby:

I went plowing back through the 1759 "Regulations for the Prussian Infantry," translated by William Faucitt (having already gone through the cavalry regulations translated in 1757), and discovered the translators commentary on observed maneuvres in the back, a snippet of which might be of some interest.

"I had several opportunities of seeing the Prussian Cavalry in its order of march, both for coming into camp, and in its way to the exercising ground....

"The distances are observed, on a march, with the most scrupulous punctuality....

"The squadrons being formed the leading rank fo the column at the command of the general by whom it is headed, halts ; and the others immediately close with an interval between them of only 4 or 5 paces. It is from this disposition that the column begins its opening [HM: i.e., deployment] ; in order to be more clearly understood, I shall suppose it a column of 25 squadrons disposed in the manner abovementioned. In this situation at the word of command for opening, the column, the 13th squadron keeping its ground the 12 first turning their horses's heads to the right, march through their right flank, and the 12 last turning the heads of the horses to the left, march through their left flank : whenever the right file of the 12th squadron and the left file of the 14th squadron are come on the flanks, at the distance of the front of their squadron, they halt and face about ; the other files do the like, and the squadrons being thus formed, march forwards dressing on a line with the 13th squadron, which, on its being opened, has slowly advanced ; all the other squadrons successively doing the like, the line becomes formed without intervals and marching straight forwards. It is on a trot that the squadrons move to the right and left on the flanks. The precision of the Manoeuvre, it is conceived depends on the keen eye, exact sight of the officers commanding the squadrons, that they may, in teh exact point of time, stop the right or left file of their corps. By this method I have seen 35 squadrons form within 4 minutes into two lines, the first of 25 squadrons and the 2d of 10." ...

"The Prussian Cavalry executes three manners of charges ; one directly streight before it, without deflecting to right, or left ; in the second it turns off to the right for outstretching the enemy's line, by a squadron or two ; in the third, it bears to the left for outstretching the enemy's right flank.

"All these charges are performed at full gallop ; at the first word of command march, the line immediately moves in a trot, at the second it puts on a gallop ; thus it proceeds 5 or 6 hundred paces, till at the command the whole body stops and dressses."

Full strength squadrons at this point were 150 men, which would mean that 35 squadrons at full strength amounted to 5,250 cavalrymen...quite arguably a "mass" by any measure. In this period, too, I gather that brigades were generally formed of just two regiments, or about 10 squadrons, total, so this witnessed maneuvre is not just one of regiments, but of some 3 brigades, or so. I am impressed at the degree of implicit coordination and cooperation among 35 squadrons all from many regiments and several brigades that permits over 5,000 mounted troops to deploy ahead from column to line of battle (a conversion on the center?) in a mere 4 minutes. Not only as a "mass," but obviously exectued through capable leadership and a good deal of practice. It certainly lends added credence to Prussian handling at Rossbach and Leuthen.

And one can see that it would take relentless and continuous training to achieve such fluidity and cooridination among so many troopers. Yet, I am intrigued that all this is accomplished with little apparent intermediary command (the impression the regulations leave of a major general's job leading his brigade is one of supervision of the regiments, whose commanders are presumably supervising squadron captains). Moreover, one also gets the impression that such handling was expected to be properly accomplished whatever squadrons were tossed together (i.e., without relying on long association in a brigade or divisional command) and apparently with minimum staff work. Perhaps long association and good staff work are not necessary components, however helpful, for massed cavalry charge. Clearly, training, practice, practice, and more ractice count for a good deal...which may be where the Coalition powers fell far short during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, while the French were pulling their collective cavalry act together.

I suppose modern military events remind us of how quickly hard-won experience, konwledge, and abilities evaporate when not used or practiced.

Cheers - Howie

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French Massed Cavalry Charges
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[Anyone's] Massed Cavalry Charges
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The Russians are coming, The Russians are coming..
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Leuthen & Rossbach as Comparison
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Re: Practical Grand-Tactics?
A Legacy of Massed Cavalry Charges