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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby jf42 » April 30th, 2016, 9:13 am

I alway find it salutary when considering questions of this nature to reflect on Sigmund Freud's concept of der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen- 'the narcissism of minor differences.'
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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby 1812 » April 30th, 2016, 9:49 am

I am probably interpreting 'battlefield' too narrowly but the greater part of the work of French light cavalry with the Grand Armee was not on the battlefield as such. From the very beginning of a campaign they were constantly engaged in forming a screen, providing flank guards, forming an advanced guard, carrying out reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and preventing the enemy gaining information. After a battle the light cavalry was to pursue and harry a retreating enemy, denying him an opportunity to regroup and make a stand. If things went less well light cavalry formed a rearguard and carried out delaying actions. All things considered they were hard working and effective.

Of course they took part in battles but this was a small part of their role.

I should explain that in general I am much more interested in the planning, staff work and logistics than in actual battles. Campaigns could last months while battles seldom lasted more than a day.

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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby DaveH » April 30th, 2016, 11:05 am

Is the difference also down to the type origin - hussars were Hungarian originally and so, anyone else's light cavalry have to be some kind of "light horse"? In Austria, the German light cavalry were Chevauleger (although they used Hungarian saddles) and the Hungarians were Hussars.
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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby Senarmont198 » April 30th, 2016, 11:11 am

janner wrote:
Senarmont198 wrote:The British cavalry in the Peninsula wasn't that impressive either. If it wasn't for the KGL mounted units, the British reputation would have been worse.


Thorough analysis demonstrates that British cavalry were, at the very least, a match for their adversaries in Iberia. However, it is hard to escape the odd catty comment from Wellington and Oman's obvious bias ;)


Why is Oman's assessment biased?

And Wellington's comment on the British cavalry arm was, as far as I can see, quite accurate (and it was an opinion shared by the French light cavalryman, Antoine de Brack, who left a very valuable memoir which is, in fact, a light cavalry field manual).

'I considered our cavalry so inferior to the French for want of order, that although I considered one of our squadrons a match for two French, yet I did not care to see four British opposed to four French, and still more so as the numbers increased, and order (of course) became more necessary. They could gallop, but could not preserve their order.'-Wellington to Lord John Russell, 31 July 1826.
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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby TheBibliophile » April 30th, 2016, 5:05 pm

Discipline was the problem, I believe. Chasing after the enemy like they would after a fox on hunting day and over stretching themselves, running into trouble on blown horses.
Still, I wouldnt want a squadron of light dragoons running at me, disciplined or not.

Im sure Unclearthur would have summat to contribute.
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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby janner » April 30th, 2016, 6:37 pm

Indeed, Mike, I think it safe to argue that such activities were the bread and butter of the light cavalry of every nation, be they called hussars, chasseurs a cheval, light dragoons et al :)

When it comes to the campaign performance of the British cavalry in Iberia, as I posted earlier, it is easy to be misdirected by the odd petty comment from Wellington or take Oman at face value, which is risky with any secondary source. :? Despite the occasional whinge, the data indicates that Wellington enjoyed regular and reliable intelligence from his cavalry, as well as his exploring officers (many of whom were cavalrymen), that enemy cavalry struggled to penetrate the British security screen or exploit British withdrawals, and, at the scale of mounted operations most common in Iberia, the British cavalry outmatched their opponents more often than they suffered a reverse. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, i.e. such claims should be backed up by data. So, where would you like me to start, Sen, examples of rearguard actions perhaps? ;)
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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby Senarmont198 » May 1st, 2016, 10:35 am

I'd start with Oman's Wellington's Army which summarizes the British cavalry in the Peninsula quite well...

Or, perhaps, you could begin with a general summary of the British cavalry commanders...?

Or, a overview of British cavalry training...?

Or, when that one particular cavalry charge of Anson's brigade ended up by running itself into a ravine at Talavera...?

Or examples when British cavalry were initially successful in a mounted action but were surprised and defeated by French cavalry held in reserve...?

And if you wish to discuss rearguard actions, perhaps the action at Villadrigo on 23 October 1812 where General Anson's cavalry brigade was defeated by ten squadrons of French cavalry, which included the Gendarmerie Legion of Burgos, in a sharp ten minute action...?

And the capture of Sir Edward Paget by French dragoons on 15 November 1812 during the French pursuit of the British from Burgos...?
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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby janner » May 1st, 2016, 12:20 pm

Excellent, I'm glad you up for it, Sen.

As I have twice mentioned now, I think Oman, whilst remarkable for this time, somewhat problematic. As a history teacher, I am sure that you're familiar with the Historical Method and might appreciate that we have a duty to double check such accounts.

In my opinion, British cavalry commanders, like their contemporaries across Europe, were a mixed bunch. Lord Paget's handling of the Hussar Brigade during the Corunna campaign is hard to fault with his units winning his three cavalry engagements without the loss of discipline you seem to insist was the norm - Sahagun, Mayorga, and Benavente. John Gaspard Le Marchant proved an effective commander in the field - at least until his death leading his brigade at Salamanca - and I'm sure you need no reminding of the conduct of his heavy dragoon brigade during that campaign. I'd add Robert Ballard Long to that list given his performance at Campo Major and Los Santos. However, then we have John Slade to consider, who's behaviour risks being labelled cowardly on occasion and incompetent at best. Cotton, I'd put somewhere in the middle - safe enough, but hardly premier league.

On training, British cavalry tactics were based on Dundas' Instructions and Regulations for the Formations and Movements of the Cavalry, which introduced a uniform system of training. This provided the basis for Paget's training camp in Woodbridge, which was for the British cavalry arguably as innovative and effective of that of Moore et al at Shorncliffe for the light infantry. Le Marchant similarly reinvigorated mounted swordsmanship with his manual of 1797 and well-regarded new light cavalry sabre - sadly the heavies were less fortunate.

Talavera does make for an interesting example of the dangers of superficial analysis and it has to be placed within the context of successful cavalry actions elsewhere, such as at Albuera, Salamanca et al. When I walked the battlefield back in 1994, it was illuminating to see the valley through which Anson's brigade charged. As I rider, I would doubt the ability of a formed body of men to traverse it at more than a steady trot rather than the gallop. In this context, confusion caused by the unforeseen dry watercourse is overstated I believe. The brigade had been ordered to check an infantry force backed by cavalry and artillery without enjoying similar support - so it was never going to end well. Despite taking heavy losses, the unit completed its mission of pinning Ruffin's infantry in place and prevented the assault on the northern end of Wellington's line.

On British cavalry successes that were overturned by the intervention of a French mounted reserve, yes, there are a few examples, but the defeat of the Guard Chasseurs à Cheval at Benavente wasn't one of them. In fact it was the British reserves that caught the overconfident Chasseurs. Nor were the 8th Dragoons able to overturn the destruction of the 1st Provisional Chasseurs at Sahagun, but were routed by 15th Hussars under Paget in turn. Then we have Usage, more on which below.

On Anson's brigade, should we not also consider the affair at Alocentre on 17 November 1810, when he overtook Masséna's rearguard? How about the rough handling of eight French squadrons with a further four in reserve by only three squadrons of British light dragoons at Carpio on 25 Sept 1811? I'd suggest that three squadrons do not defeat eight enemy squadrons who have another four in reserve in the straight fight if they lack discipline and cohesion. This was all on the same day as the forty charges made by KGL cavalry and 11th Light Dragoons at El Bodon. Forty in a single day, again not bad for cavalry that were allegedly unable to be rallied after a single successful charge. Then we should consider the performance of Lumley's brigade in the aftermath of Albuera, such as when he caught Labour-Maubourg in pursuit of the Spanish cavalry at Usagre and destroyed Bron's brigade of dragoons.

If we are to discuss Paget's capture, should we not also consider that of général de division, Count Lefebre-Desnouettes of the French Imperial Guard mentioned above or how about the French Lieutenant Colonel, and twenty seven dragoons under their troop commander by a eight strong party of British and German cavalrymen at Blasco Sancho on 26 July 1812. You see, it is easy to find similar examples of French cavalry performing poorly, including the much-lauded Imperial Chasseurs à Cheval in battle.

The British cavalry certainly had their share of defeats with Vimeiro and Talavera serving as obvious examples for those who seek to portray them at their worst. However, is it not sensible to also look at their overall performance, both on the battlefield and off, before following the well-worn track. It was the challenge of the light cavalry to be audacious in seeking out intelligence and rock steady in maintaining the security of their own forces, and it was not an easy one for the riders of any nation. I can find multiple examples of successful British cavalry piquets and patrols, Wellington seemingly never found them wanting in that regard. Similarly, in battle, the British cavalry generally seems to have punched above their weight, but in performing the aggressive shock action demanded of cavalry, were caught out on occasion - as were their French counterparts.
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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby TheBibliophile » May 1st, 2016, 8:15 pm

Senarmont198 wrote:I'd start with Oman's Wellington's Army which summarizes the British cavalry in the Peninsula quite well...

Or, perhaps, you could begin with a general summary of the British cavalry commanders...?

Or, a overview of British cavalry training...?

Or, when that one particular cavalry charge of Anson's brigade ended up by running itself into a ravine at Talavera...?

Or examples when British cavalry were initially successful in a mounted action but were surprised and defeated by French cavalry held in reserve...?

And if you wish to discuss rearguard actions, perhaps the action at Villadrigo on 23 October 1812 where General Anson's cavalry brigade was defeated by ten squadrons of French cavalry, which included the Gendarmerie Legion of Burgos, in a sharp ten minute action...?

And the capture of Sir Edward Paget by French dragoons on 15 November 1812 during the French pursuit of the British from Burgos...?


Its not like you to denigrate the British in preference to the French Sen :roll:
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Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby Senarmont198 » May 1st, 2016, 9:25 pm

It isn't denigration if it is factual-it just is...
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