Napoleonic French Dragoon
Napoleonic French Dragoon
The establishment of dragoons evolved from the practice of sometimes transporting infantry by horse when speed of movement was needed. In 1552 Prince Alexander of Parma mounted several companies of infantry on pack horses to achieve surprise. Another early instance was ordered by Louis of Nassau in 1572 during operations near Mons in Hainaut, when 500 infantry were transported this way. It is also suggested the first dragoons were raised by the Marshal de Brissac in 1600. According to old German literature, dragoons were invented by Count Ernst von Mansfeld, one of the greatest German military commanders, in the early 1620s. There are other instances of mounted infantry predating this. However Mansfeld, who had learned his profession in Hungary and the Netherlands, often used horses to make his foot troops more mobile, creating what was called an "armée volante" (French for flying army).
During the Napoleonic Wars, dragoons generally assumed a cavalry role, though remaining a lighter class of mounted troops than the armored cuirassiers. Dragoons rode larger horses than the light cavalry and wielded straight, rather than curved swords. Emperor Napoleon often formed complete divisions out of his 30 dragoon regiments and used them as battle cavalry to break the enemy's main resistance. In 1809, French dragoons scored notable successes against Spanish armies at the Battle of Ocana and the Battle of Alba de Tormes.
British heavy dragoons made devastating charges against French infantry at the Battle of Salamanca in 1812 and at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. 31 regiments were in existence at the height of the Napoleonic Wars: seven Dragoon Guards regiments and 24 cavalry of the line regiments. The Dragoon Guards and Dragoon regiments were the heavy cavalry regiments of the British Army, although by continental standards they were not the heaviest type of cavalry since they carried no armour (unlike cuirassiers). While some of the cavalry regiments of the line were simply designated as regiments of dragoons, the lighter cavalry regiments, which were particularly mobile, became regiments of Light Dragoons, employing the 1796-pattern light cavalry sabres. From 1805 four regiments of Light Dragoons were designated Hussars (7th, 10th, 15th and 18th Regiments), differentiated by uniform, and the wearing of mustaches. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars (starting in 1816) some regiments became lancers, identified by the lances that they carried.
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