The Sword is Longer Than the Pen
Editor of the Journal of the Association of Friends of the
In Waterloo - New Perspectives, David
Hamilton-Williams writes about Napoléon's Lancers:
"Able to impale a standing or mounted enemy by the force of
his forward impetus, he could also make stabbing thrusts at
men crouching or lying flat on the ground, something
virtually impossible for sword- or sabre-armed cavalry."
Now I've heard this said before, in chats at the The
Waterloo Society of Melbourne, and it is something that is
repeatedly contradicted by contemporary writings. In fact,
it was not only possible for a cavalryman to sabre prone
wounded troops, but it appears to have been common practice
by British as well as by French cavalry. Some examples:
- Writing about Waterloo, Kincaid tells us: "The French
[Cuirassiers] eventually broke and fled,
pausing only to stab wounded allied troops as they
rode over them. It made me mad to see the
cuirassiers, in their retreat, stooping and stabbing at
our wounded men. How I wished that I had been blessed
with Omnipotent power for a moment, that I might have
blighted them."  Of course,
some dismiss Kincaid as a raconteur who wouldn't spoil a
good tale by excessive considerations of accuracy; but
many other writers support him.
- Colonel Robert Wallace 
tells the following tale: "When charging at Waterloo, a
French trumpeter was passed lying on the ground. Few
of the regiment forbore to have a slash at their fallen
enemy, as they galloped past. But the kind-hearted
old Colonel was more merciful. 'I did not slash at him,'
he said, 'but the trumpeter slashed at me!'" 
- In Captain George Jones' Waterloo Memoirs is a
letter recounting another instance of a Cuirassier
stabbing at a wounded man on the ground: "The Major of
the 42nd , preferring to
fight on foot, in front of his men, had given his horse
to hold to a little drummer-boy. After severe fighting he
fell wounded near a brave private, Donald Mackintosh. The
drummer left the horse to assist his friend Donald. A
French lancer attempted to seize the horse, on which the
prostrate Donald exclaimed, 'Hoot, man, ye manna tak that
beast, 't belongs to our captain here!' The lancer,
little heeding, seized the horse. Donald, with a last
expiring effort, loaded his musket and shot the lancer
dead. A French cavalry officer [a cuirassier as later
becomes clear], seeing the major bestirring himself,
rode up and attempted to despatch him with his
sword. As he stooped from his saddle, the major
seized his leg, and managed to pull him off his horse
upon him. Another lancer, observing the struggle,
galloped up and tried to spear the major and relieve his
officer; but the former, by a sudden jerk, and desperate
exertion, placed the French officer uppermost, who
received the mortal thrust below his cuirass and
continued lying upon the major's body for near ten
minutes, sword in hand. A pause in the battle permitted
some men of the 42nd to carry their officer into the
square of the 92nd, where he was found to have received
- In the Scots Magazine we read, "Marshall,
 while sabreing a cuirassier
on his right hand had his bridle arm broken by his enemy
on his left, and had not proceeded much further when he
was beset by another crowd of French cavalry, and hurled
from his horse by a lance which penetrated his side.
While he was falling he received a heavy blow across the
body, and another which broke his right thigh. He lay
unconscious except when goaded into sensibility by the
hoofs of the enemy's horses passing over his mangled
body. The ground afterwards becoming somewhat clear he
espied a horse without any rider, towards which he
crawled, and was about to mount when a French trooper
galloping up cut him down in the midst of his hopes,
inflicting several severe wounds on his body [ie.
after cutting him down]. This part of the field being
again occupied by the French, a French artilleryman made
Marshall's body a resting-place for his foot while he
rammed his gun. For two days and three nights Marshall
remained on the field with 19 lance and sabre wounds. On
the regiment returning home he was discharged with 2s.
per day. Resided at Belfast where he was much respected.
Died there, 28th September, 1825."
- Another account indicates just how near to the ground
a mounted man could reach: "Llewellyn 
was an excellent horseman, and on one occasion in the
Peninsula, when employed on staff duty, he was galloping
after the retreating French when he came upon an open
portmanteau, in which he espied some silver spoons and
forks of an antique pattern. As he galloped past he
bent in the saddle and made a grab with his right hand at
the glittering contents. His dexterity was rewarded
with several specimens of old French plate."
Are we to discount all of these eye-witness accounts?
The nearest modern equivalent to this horsemanship is the
polo player, who strikes a ball only 3 inches in diameter,
on the ground. Interestingly, to accomplish this feat he
uses a mallet that is virtually the same length as the An IX
French Heavy Cavalry Sabre.
- Page 113.
- Page 169 in the 1981 re-print by Richard Drew
- Then a Captain in the 1st or King's Regiment of
- Related in a footnote on page 53 of The Waterloo
Roll Call by Charles Dalton.
- Battalion-Major George Davidson of the 42nd or the
Royal Highland Regiment of Foot.
- Troop Sergeant Major Matthew Marshall of the 6th
- Captain Richard Llewellyn, 28th or North
Gloucestershire Regiment of Foot.
- Footnote on page 124 of The Waterloo Roll
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